Art and wellbeing

The power of language, visuals and the ownership of wellbeing

Yesterday we had a new car delivered, not on a large flatbed, like I had expected, but driven to our door by a 75 year old man. When he arrived I asked him how he was getting home, to which he happily replied,

“Oh, I’ll just get on the train.”

I insisted he come in and have a cup of tea and that rather than walk, once my partner returned he could drop him off at the nearest station.

As we chatted he told me he had driven down from Devon where he currently lives.

“Do you like it there?” I asked.

“Yes, its lovely,” he said, “we used to live in the Lake District, but in Devon it’s much easier to get around.”

One topic led to another, until he lighted upon ‘the accident’.

“I used to be about 3 inches taller, but I had to have my discs fused together, so I’m quite a bit shorter than I was,” he told me.

As it turned out 15 years ago, Trevor, a Prison Warden, was held hostage during an outbreak, his spine smashed by rioting inmates.

“But I’m fine now” he added, “still smiling” and he flashed me a grin.

And he was.

Beyond the mind-bogglingly, horrific nature of his experience, the thing that caught my interest was not only Trevor’s positive attitude, but his use of the term ‘the’ accident to describe his experience; not ‘my’ accident, but a distanced ‘the’.  The notoriety of the incident could have easily become self-defining (also known as a secondary gain), but clearly it hadn’t.

In contrast, I recently met a woman whose diagnosis of a vertigo producing illness had the same effect on her as being star of a reality TV show. Similarly, I listened to her use of language and it soon became apparent that no self-respecting illness would ever abandon such a welcoming home.

How we choose to perceive our experiences is at the cornerstone of their impact and crucial to our wellbeing.  Each of us has within ourselves the ability to re-frame, either verbally or visually, the negative impact of personal challenges and to subsequently diffuse their power.  That is…if we can evade the seductive notoriety of ‘being ill’ or ‘mistreated’.

Asking ourselves ‘what is our relationship with personal negative experiences’ and listening to our own use of language can be both interesting and enlightening. I’m certainly not advocating denial but it seems clear that the simple use of the term ‘my cancer’ versus ‘the cancer’ for example, establishes our sense of empowerment, ownership and position in relation to the disease.

Where we catch ourselves embracing negative experiences, a simple visual exercise can also be used to re-frame habitual language. Rendering a symbol of an issue, anything from an illness to a challenge in the workplace and drawing smaller and smaller versions of it (until it diffuses to nothingness) can have a deep and profound impact on our perception; dictating to our unconscious mind how we choose to view our relationships with personal challenges.

It is an empowering visual strategy.



Breast Cancer and Wellbeing

Over the past several months I have been workings with women contending with the many challenges of breast cancer at the Haven in Fulham. The Haven offers a unique environment with a wide variety of supportive and life enhancing programming from Qui Gong to nutritional advice and belly dancing. As my relationship and experience of this remarkable venue has developed, I have begun to see how, for many women, the experience of breast cancer is such a life changing event – and one that is not always entirely negative. There is the fear, of course, there is no denying that. The not knowing, the lack of control, the re-defining of who we are (all themes we have explored metaphorically in our art workshops), but this is where for many women the transformative qualities of breast cancer come into play. The opportunity to take stock, to look at our lives and say ‘I’ve been living this all wrong, I need to change, my life is precious’.  Amid the fear, many of the women I have met have seen their cancer as a strange door opened to possibility. We all need to take stock, personal stock and find ways to create moments to celebrate, to refuel and to nurture our own well-being. Mental well-being is not something that someone can give us, it can only be facilitated, the ultimate responsible lies with us and far from being frightening, that knowledge is empowering.

Exploring Creativity Workshop in Review

A Sample of feedback from our Exploring Creativity Workshop participants:

“Thanks to all of you for a most stimulating and enjoyable day. The setting was great as were all those involved. Hope to see more of you.”

“Thank you very much for enabling me to participate in these sessions; and to share them with others whom I found unfailingly interesting. It was a great pleasure and a valuable experience.”

“I was amazed at how far we could go in so little time.”

“The mix of creative forms worked beautifully.”

“I genuinely thought the whole day, the structure, the content and the thought that had gone into organising it was fantastic.”

“This will spur me to find some time for myself and my creativity.”

“I approached it an open (but fundamentally cynical way..) and was pleasantly surprised by every session, they all can be applied to my life.”

“The rooms, the arrangements and the organisations were all supurb.”


Exploring Creativity

~A one day workshop and symposium~

Final phren head


Create time for a  stimulating day of writing, sculpture, drawing

and engaging group discussion

 in the beautiful setting of Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham

Saturday, March 21st, 2009.

10:00 – 5:00





Programme of events:


“Inventing Confidence” – an introductory talk examining the role of self-belief in creativity

“The Organic Process of Writing” – in this hands-on workshop Novelist and Writing Coach Jacqui Lofthouse dispels the myths around planning in advance.

“Drawing from Within” – a practical drawing workshop suitable for all levels with Artist and Life Coach, Lee Campbell

“Creating Visual Goals” – focus your aspirations using sculpture and metaphor with Conceptual Artist, Julia Ruppert

“Ornament and Perception” – explore the impact sculpture has had through history on our experience of the landscape with Antiquarian, Sharon Powell







£75.00 per person including materials, refreshments and lunch. 

Please call 07711 938 921 for more information or email