The arts: creating new connections – with yourself and others

It is not uncommon for people to turn to the arts as a form of release from the day to day stresses of life. What’s the relevance of this for the social services?  That’s what we at IRISS are exploring.

For example, a recent Guardian article, “Music therapy helps children who have witnessed domestic violence”  highlighted research from a Housing Association in England into the use of a therapeutic music studio for young children who have witnessed and experienced domestic abuse. The article states, “not only have we found that music instils a sense of achievement and confidence, but it boosts children’s key skills in communication, listening and technology”. The Housing Association also creatively supports the women attending the refuge; setting up a choir, for example, was particularly effective in building self esteem and confidence.

IRISS is similarly interested in the power of music to connect us with our own experiences, as well as connecting us with those around us. So much so, that we’ve designed an event (Tuning in: the social power of music) to bring social services practitioners and artists together to explore these issues. The event is open for bookings and will be run by Jane Bently (whose current work involves developing music in mental health, from secure units to community settings) and will cover the following:

  • THEORY: the foundations of our innate musical potential and how it engages both social and communicative development

  • PRACTICE: case studies of exemplary music projects in mental health, dementia care and social services

  • RESEARCH: examining the broader evidence base

  • DEVELOPMENT: practical group work that can be adapted for a variety of health and social care settings – and used by ‘non-musicians’!

  • DISCUSSION: where do we go from here?

So, sign up to come along and hear about how music can be a potent tool for developing both bonding and bridging social capital, particularly for those whom communication and social engagement can be challenging.

But music is just one art form that can help people. Health research has shown that creative interventions for people who have suffered physical or emotional trauma can reduce the psychological impact of that and aid healing. A while back, Trevor Hopkins informed me of a study (over three decades of research) by Dr James Pennebaker on creative writing and immune response/healing (here is a link to a BBC Radio 4 programme that features this work: )

The main gist of the intervention is that people with various illnesses were given the task of creatively/expressively and writing down their feelings for four consecutive days. The individuals were given free reign to write about whatever they wanted – related or unrelated to their condition. The results of the research found that writing about painful experiences could enhance immune response, reduce recovery times, and promote physical, psychological, and social well-being.

Interestingly, the research highlighted that it wasn’t the act of documenting experiences that was the therapeutic element (in fact, often people didn’t write about themselves at all!), but it was the expression in a creative form that helped the healing process. Dr Pennebaker says, “People who are able to construct a story, to build some kind of narrative over the course of their writing seem to benefit more than those who don’t.”

These are just two examples out of countless creative endeavors that are relevant to social services. To understand better what is happening in Scotland we have set up a survey to find out from you how you are using the arts and creative interventions to support people better – if you haven’t completed it already, there is still time: