Drama Therapy and God's Promises
Promoting emotional Wellbeing and mental health within the community:
A Christian Dramatherapist's Perspective:
There are often negative headlines and messages in the media about mental health services; messages of fear and hopelessness, messages of an over-burdened sector in crisis. A picture is often painted of a sector struggling to cope, with only limited services and not enough funding to keep up with the ever-increasing demand to treat those with mental health difficulties. But is there actually another message – a message of hope?
As a professional working with vulnerable children and adults, I fight against these perceptions of fear and hopelessness. I see, and experience frustration and anger over strict criteria scoring and limited resources, the result of which is, all too often, many falling through the gaps and unable to access support. I have seen first-hand the consequences of long waiting lists and assessment criteria which sets the treatment bar so high that young people and adults are left little option but to escalate their risk factors in order to be noticed and get short term support, either within a hospital or the community. It can be disheartening.
However, as a Christian these experiences cause me to push further into God's biblical promises. His message, time and time again, is that there is always hope. And it is a message that is bigger than budgets, waiting lists and impersonal criteria. It is by fixing my eyes on this hope that inspired me to bring together those who have a heart for mental health care to see how we could serve from within the community on a voluntary basis. In this way, rather than getting frustrated at the system, I get to see a host of servants, some utilising their professional abilities, take the lead in providing creative ways of bringing hope and empowerment to those in our communities who are struggling with mental health difficulties. Even more rewarding, I get to do this in the context of my faith too.
One practical way in which this has been occurring is through monthly 'well-being mornings' held at, and supported by, a local church. These mornings are open to anyone in the community over 16 years of age, and create a consistent and professional service that often (if not always) cares for those who would fall through the nets of statutory criteria.
This service was set up to promote an inviting and safe environment to ‘just be’ and to explore ways to look after one's emotional well-being and mental health. It is facilitated by a Christian therapist and counsellor, and other professionals. The morning begins with a warm welcome, and then various 'stations' are set up which our guests can wander between, such as beauty treatments (including self-pampering), hairdressing, massage, arts & crafts, chill out zones with visual and sensory stimuli, prayer, chat and other stations that target mind, body and soul.
There are also times of guided group relaxation. During the session, there is the opportunity for guests to be sign-posted, where relevant, to statutory services or relevant agencies. At the end, the guests are presented with 'self-help blessing bags’ with a practical guide to ways of looking after your well-being at home. All these stations are run by volunteers who are passionate about serving and loving those in the community, and they offer their time and services for free.
It has been running for 6 months and has already successfully partnered with 6 mental health agencies, as well as the local council and educational organisations. It is offering a weekend service where there is a need, providing a safe space to relax, unwind and break down stigma. In particular, it is changing the way that many within the church view those with mental health struggles, and in turn changing the way that the community (especially various agencies and statutory services) view the church's role in caring for those with mental health difficulties.
It has also been a way in which non-Christians are engaging with the church, as we have various non-Christian volunteers who support these mornings whole-heartedly, whether by volunteering themselves (some in their professional capacity), or in their positive reaction when they hear what is going on.
This has only been running for a short time, and yet so far it has been incredibly energising to be a part of seeing the church partner with, and be an asset to, statutory services and other organisations. . It changes the message from fear to hope, isolation to love, and closed-door criteria to open-door invitation.
What the church and volunteers can offer:
Jesus' way of ministering to the vulnerable and hurting gives invaluable direction and guidance when looking to serve those with mental health difficulties. He did not discriminate, or avoid those who made society uncomfortable. He embraced them; he made time to notice them; and yet he honoured the law. I believe that the church that can be a driving force in bridging the gap between the statutory/charitable services and those in need and change the way we serve those in the community with emotional well-being difficulties. I have found from my experience there is often a need for a more varied choice of therapeutic services, especially those choices which offer treatment which is proactive and spiritual.
This is what I, as a facilitator, educational consultant, and therapist, like to explore in my chosen field of Dramatherapy. I offer an alternative way of thinking, where I marry up psychological and spiritual health with a view to each person taking ownership of their mental health and well-being. As I have mentioned before, there is currently a limited access to alternative therapies, particularly those which enable a Christian perspective. I believe that the answer lies within the church members, who can lead by example and be proactive in partnering with other organisations and starting up conversations on how they can use creative arts in their own church setting to reach out to our communities.
Written by Sarah Milligan
Registered Dramatherapist with The Health Professions Council (HPC) and a full member of British Association For Dramatherapists (BADTH). Offering Individual and group therapy, individual and tailored workshops, training and consultations.
Sarah Milligan, 10/04/2017