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The Healing Power of Creativity
by Tom Cullimore


One of the joys within this world is personal discovery and we communicate what we unearth in a exuberant mix of expressive forms. Creativity is considered a core ingredient to self expression, as well as a great healer of suppressed emotions. On our personal journey of discovery, we connect and develop with creative communities, where each individual is encouraged to make their thoughts and feelings known.

Take a leap of faith
Creative lives are often shaped by schooling. Many people develop negative beliefs about creativity in their childhood, being told that they are not artistic or they are just left feeling that 'art' is quite narrow, appearing merely in the forms of drawing and painting. Rebecca Ephgrave found art classes at school left her a little uninspired. She didn't expect to include creativity in her career and, after school, got a mainstream job. "I had been working for the civil service for 12 years since I was 18,” recalls Rebecca Ephgrave, who during this time did numerous in-house courses and trained as much as possible, but was left feeling unsatisfied. “In the past year I have been using creative outlets more and more and enjoying it immensely,” says Rebecca.

It's no accident, then, that her understanding of herself has deepened. "I do everything from writing poetry to creating decorative items for my home," she confirms with obvious enthusiasm. When Rebecca discovered a particular talent for paper-flower making, she was inspired to take a leap of faith by starting up her own business and founded paper-flower making company, FlairforFleur.image Rebecca uses origami and paper craft flowers to create alternative, sustainable bouquets, and loves that her work reflects her developments on a personal level. recommends anyone who has held a negative belief about their creativity since childhood to "give it another go!".

She talks about the need to find the right creative outlet, having stumbled across paper-flower making from the incredibly diverse range of choices out there. "It’s not about painting a masterpiece, becoming poet laureate, or being the next Mary Berry," she says. "The important thing is that you connect with it, and that it provides an emotional release." Creativity is a means of self-understanding for Rebecca, as for many others who engage in creative practices.

Creative schooling
Thankfully, times have changed from the archaic schooling systems, where only the 3 Rs were valued. Mainstream schools still don't prioritise the encouragement of each child expressing themselves creatively, but approximately a century has passed since private 'alternative education' options have been added to the schooling mix. Creativity can now be central to their offspring's learning life if parents have the financial means.

The development of Waldorf education during the 20th century, taught in Steiner schools, was pivotal in this shift. Steiner schools now form the largest group of independent non-denominational private schools in the world. Waldorf education offers children a course of creative development, encouraging them to encounter their creativity at every stage of their progression. Participating in free play in DownloadedFile1kindergarten and artistically-mediated learning in middle-school, the children then apply their own expressive forms to problem-solving upon reaching the final stage.

This process of learning-teaching – where the learning is led by each child, rather than the teacher – is at the core of their ethos. “The development of this educational self-sufficiency develops the children's capacity for self-healing," explains Kevin Avison, from the Steiner Waldorf Advisory Service. Kevin refers to the former Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, as a 'healer' of a nation in the wake of the Brevik massacre, and remembers how Stoltenberg talked about being "rescued" by his Waldorf education as a young man.

Healing our past
Opportunities will always be available to people who have missed this educational experience in their childhoods. Communities are out there by the dozen, bringing new members into their diverse folds all the time. And people with mental health problems may also reap related benefits from art therapy. "When words are hard to find, art making can be a better vehicle than 'talking therapies'," explains Liz Lumley-Smith, an art therapist in the UK. "The art work, once made, can then provide a safe external object from which a dialogue can emerge about their deeper issues."

Art therapy actually began when the British artist Adrian Hill encouraged fellow sanatorium patients to undertake artistic work inHilloneamongst the late 1940s. Soon after, another artist, Edward Adamson extended Hill's endeavours to the British long-stay mental hospitals, with hundreds of patients benefiting over his 35 years of service. He witnessed how they recovered or, in his terminology, 'healed' through creative expression. The key for Adamson was not psychological interpretation, but the provision of studio space and materials for art-making - the act of expression could simply unfold.

America was the leading force in art therapy with alternative styles being tried at roughly the same time as when Hill was institutionalised. Margaret Naumburg, primarily both an educationalist and a psychologist, opened an alternative school in New York City and developed Dynamically Oriented Art Therapy, a diagnostic practice which she based on Freudian theory. On the flip side, Edith Kramer helped hospital patients to harness the therapeutic power of art, considering the artistic product as equally important alongside the art-making process.

Therapeutic writing
WritingWhilst some people excel in visual expression, others are more attracted to therapeutic writing. “I encourage my clients to have thefreedom to write and share without having to be correct or perfect,” clarifies Janie Walker, a facilitator of therapeutic writing. “I help who, mainly for fear of ridicule, would normally not dare to write and certainly wouldn't share their writing with others," she explains, keen for them to find their potential for sharing – their voice. This discovery extends the catharsis, relaxation and confidence which Liz associates with art making - it, amongst other benefits, demonstrates that participants can trust others to engage with their expression.

Trust forms communities
During her school years Emilie Joy Rowell was conscious of her lack of coordination. "I remember being made to play tennis on my own," she recalls, "hitting balls at a hula hoop." Quite ironic considering she's now a joyful hula hooper – both teaching and performing thistumblrm81fm4Wh2H1qflxb9o1500 unusual art-form. It took this non-competitive physical activity to allow her the space to unleash creatively. And she found that a supportive community was waiting to help. "The community embraces failure as part of the process of learning and discovering new things," she says.

Emilie helps to bind the community by teaching anyone from toddlers and bankers to policemen and pensioners. "A lot of people tend to live in their heads and get caught up in ideas that perhaps are no longer true," she reasons. "If you don't think you are creative, find something that appeals to you where you can engage physically and get out of that head space. Whether that's crochet, dance or drawing, just play and don't worry about getting things right, being perfect or even 'being creative'."

Our true nature
Society often ingrains in us high expectations and pre-conceived ideas of how things should be. Through expressing ourselves creatively, and refusing to be concerned by the 'correctness' so often stamped on our behaviour, we can release fears of rejection and expectation. Creativity liberates us from our assumptions about how we 'should' be, hatching a fresh and spontaneous life in which our true nature can emerge.

uploaded 09/01/14