28 November 2018

PsychART is an annual conference that was founded by Psychiatry trainees in 2015. Its aim is to bring together professionals in the field to celebrate creativity and the role of the arts in therapeutic practice. This year, the Trust and  ELFTArts as well as colleagues from the Royal College of Psychiatrists partnered with  PsychART to produce and host the event in Jewry Street, in the heart of London’s East End.  The focus this year was very much to explore the role that the arts can play in the lives of those living with the challenges of mental ill health, as well as the rewarding experiences and opportunities available to those working in the field.

With a vast range of speakers and practitioners taking part, this year’s event was proof positive that PsychART is on track to become an essential part of the calendar for those involved in strengthening mental health networks.

ELFT Consultant Psychiatrist, Professor Frank Röhricht introduced the day. His research interests include the impact nonverbal therapies have on the treatment of severe mental illness.  Team leads from ELFT Arts presented on how they work to emphasise therapeutic arts as a  co-productive process, and how the Trust works to put access to the arts at the centre of experience for both service users and staff. Professional Lead for Arts Therapies in the Trust, Jennifer French said that she has seen a particularly low drop-out rate for people taking part in using  therapies. ‘It’s the equivalent of bums on seats,’ she said. ‘People come, they want to come, they stick it out.’

Perhaps one of the most moving sections of the day was the presentation made by the collective Pecha Kucha. For this, a range of young psychiatric doctors came together, some to talk about their own lived experience of mental ill-health, but all of them with a shared vision on how the arts can work to truly transform lives. The breadth of expertise and talent during this presentation  was impressive  – from theatre directing to painting and story-telling, this  quartet of practitioners are clearly blazing pathways for outstanding  practice in their profession. 

The day’s keynote speaker was  actor, writer and director Stephen Fry. Stephen received rapturous applause for his presentation on how the arts can work to open doors to the self and the World. As a champion of those who refuse to allow mental ill health to be a stigma, Stephen emphasised how the creative process is absolutely central for him in terms of what it means to be human.

ELFT’s Dr Clara Belessiotis, one of this year’s PsychART conference organisers said that some of the day’s highlights included ‘ the positive and inclusive atmosphere overall; the inclusive and interactive workshops that were run by service users, and the sheer pleasure of being able to hear from a range of different professional perspectives across the whole day, as well as of course Stephen Fry’s keynote speech and his views on mental illness.

‘From the point of view of the organisers, we felt that a real strength of the day was its interdisciplinary nature. We received positive feedback from people regarding the lack of hierarchy and the mutual respect inherent throughout the event. It's rare as trainees that we get to attend an event that feels co-produced along with other healthcare professionals and service users; we think that the arts in mental health is a field where that can happen and we intend  to continue to  provide a platform on which to celebrate this.’

The Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Arts Special Interest Group, Dr Peter Macrae said that ‘PsychArt was a great opportunity to connect with artists and arts organisations including Mental Fight Club, Key Changes and Performing Medicine. These organisations are using the power of the arts to enrich the lives of service users, and to improve the training & well-being of mental health professionals. The arts offer us a unique opportunity to improve our relationships with service users, by infusing empathy and a desire for collaboration.’

Summing up the day, The Trust’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Paul Gilluley said: 

'East London Foundation Trust are delighted to co-host the PsychArt 2018 Conference this year, and especially delighted to be able to welcome all the amazing speakers and performers that took part, including Stephen Fry, with his message that experiencing  mental ill health is not something  that should be stigmatized. East London Foundation Trust will continue to seek out innovative and effective ways to support people in their journey back to well-being, and at the heart of that are the therapeutic arts. '

More information about PsychART can be found here.