In 2012 I started my first shift as an Arts and Crafts Therapist at St John’s Hospice.
Words: Rachel Horne
Photography: Rachel Horne
I’d never been to a hospice before, but I’d worked for over a year in a Dementia Care Home developing and programming creative activities. I loved this job; I learnt first-hand the importance of creativity in a caring setting.
If you’re not really sure what a hospice is, here’s a short intro. The concept has been in Europe since the 11th century, in particular, Roman Catholic hospices were places of hospitality for the sick, wounded, or dying. A modern hospice focuses on caring for patients that are chronically, terminally, or seriously ill. Medical, holistic and volunteer staff work together to attend to the patients’ pain and physical symptoms, along with their emotional and spiritual needs. Unlike many hospital settings, there’s access to a hair salon, counselling and spiritual support, but also a range of complementary, pet and art therapies.
Art therapy is a very broad term which started as a branch of psychotherapy focusing on a way for patients to express themselves in a therapeutic way. Art therapists can be found in working with children in war zones and last year many were drafted from around the country to work with the children who were affected by Grenfell.
Every week I work with up to 12 patients who attend Day Hospice. Patients are picked up from their home by a volunteer driver and once everyone has arrived, there’s tea, coffee and biscuits. Getting to know the patients quickly is very important. It’s about building relationships so that patients can feel comfortable enough to let go and create. The more I find out about a patient, their lives, their memories and interests, the easier it is to connect and engage them in a meaningful way. Most people haven’t heard of art therapy. Many think it won’t be for them. Often people were told at school that they’re not creative and sometimes it can be hard to convince people otherwise. Despite all this, it’s my job to draw out that creative side, no matter how much it’s been hidden away.
This month I’m celebrating my 6th year working at the hospice. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Every session is filled with creative conversations, laughing and sharing. I have made some of the most amazing relationships in this job and wish the alchemy that surrounds the building could spill out into the rest of the world. It’s the most compassionate, loving space and a true honour to work there.
I believe everyone is creative. You might not be the next Leonardo Da Vinci but being creative comes in many forms. It might be the music you listen to, the way you talk and crack jokes, your personal style, choosing beautiful colours for your home, or the way you sit and get lost in knitting or crochet at night.
At the hospice I try and find projects for patients o take part in that they will enjoy and find meaningful. This could be a memory box for a family member, painting a silk scarf as a gift, or knitting premature baby hats for the maternity unit at DRI.
To do this work I have had to develop an armoury of creative techniques and ideas which I can use at any moment. It’s impossible to predict what someone might take an interest in. That an ex-miner in his 80’s may want to start weaving, moulding clay or arranging flowers makes my job more difficult. When someone has got the bug, I constantly need to be developing new ideas and techniques to respond to what people want to create.
Overall, it never fails to amaze me how creative and unique each person I work with is. If I gave people the same sheet of paper and coloured paints, each person would produce something completely different. Every ten-minute sketch will reveal something unique, a trace of ourselves, a frozen moment in time. Just like our ancient ancestors’ cave paintings, it’s people making their mark. It’s the essence of our humanity spilling out on the paper. Even quick marks or squiggles are a mirror to that person in that specific moment in time. It’s impossible to recreate those marks again. I find that humbling and fascinating.
The most important aspect of my job is helping those that come into the hospice to leave feeling better and lifted. It might not be medicine, but it does seem like magic the way it can help people to feel better.