Creative Art Workshop for People with Psychiatric Disorders

Project location: Italy, Rome
Project start date: April 2014 - Project end date: October 2014
Project number: 2013-076
Beneficiary: Associazione La Casa di Massimo Onlus


The goal the Association has set is to stimulate the creative functions of people with mental disorders who have already undergone appropriate medical treatment.
The Association has long been responsible for providing assistance to people attending two centres for mental health in Rome: the first one, Villa Letizia, dedicated to young patients with their first episode of psychosis and the second, Villa Chiara, for patients with a psychiatric, but chronic, estabilised illness. In addition, with specialised tutors, La Casa di Massimo assists patients in their homes. These patients, once they follow a specific care protocol, must be pharmacologically treated for a long period, some of them in their homes, others in the premises of the two centres for mental health, Villa Letizia and Villa Chiara. These patients need an appropriate stimulus to their creative and artistic functions, in order to keep the imaginative and symbolic capacities alive and active.

Since its inception, art therapy (a psychological approach born in the mid-20th century to use the visual arts for therapeutic purposes) has been based on the idea that visual representations or the construction of objects using plastic materials can contribute to the creation of deep meanings and therefore help to resolve psychic conflicts. Many researchers have been concerned with this, often on the basis of psychoanalytic principles, helping to define the expressive product or the artwork as a vital sign whose essential material trace is humanity, humankind leaving a trace of memory. One of these researchers, Naumburg, stated that art therapy is based on the recognition that our most fundamental thoughts and feelings are derived from the unconscious and often reach expression in images rather than words. Pictorial expression is therefore a method of symbolic communication that has an enormous importance in ensuring a harmonious relationship between man and his environment. According to other researchers, inspired by the great English psychoanalyst and paediatrician, D. Winnicott, art therapy acts on deficiencies due to insufficient development of creativity. Establishing an encouraging environment that symbolically shelters that which is offered to the child by a not sufficiently positive environment, it promotes an authentic identity. This kind of intervention involves the use of different perceptive, sensory and expressive channels. Involvement, personal gratification and external approval of the finished product increase self-esteem and contribute to restoring the fragile sense of identity of the patient.
In this way, the use of expressive therapies is motivated by their ability to help people resolve problems and conflicts through non-discursive, sensory and affective mental representations.

The offer by public institutions
The facilities Villa Letizia and Villa Chiara mostly offer their services to the citizens of the Municipality XII of the city of Rome. In this territory there are no expressive therapy groups for people with mental health problems. The same public services for the treatment of this illness are not equipped for home care or long-term care in the community, to the extent that accredited private facilities are used almost exclusively.
Citizens with mental health problems, once they are pharmacologically and psychologically treated, have no opportunity to be followed long-term in expressive therapy programmes capable of restoring their creativity, dignity and capacity for aggregation. For this reason, an expressive-pictorial therapy group is an emerging necessity in this context. These forms of social intervention are widespread throughout Italy and almost totally supported by private Foundations and Associations with a humanitarian and social mission.

For these reasons the Association thinks that a painting course, conducted by an established artist in the contemporary art system, may enable to achieve the above described purposes in a modern and successful way. In addition, once learned, the painting technique belongs to the individual who can practice and continue to paint and draw by himself, enriching his or her wealth of experience and communication with himself and with others. The rehabilitative power of art therapies is strong if, after the acquisition of specific skills, the learned pattern can be successfully applied also outside the therapeutic context.

It is essentially an art workshop run by an established painter in the national contemporary art system, selected with the advice of a historian and art critic expert in the field.
The artist will serve as a teacher of painting and art techniques in general.
The group of learners will consist of a maximum of 12 people with mental disorders (stabilised patients able to follow a course) coming from the centres for mental health Villa Letizia and Villa Chiara in Rome. Other patients-attendees will come from private and social centres, people who have completed treatment in the institution and are assisted and cured by the staff of La Casa di Massimo Onlus.
Other figures present in the workshop will be a psychotherapist with the role of coordinator and mediator of the group and one or two social workers with the role of assistants, companions and facilitators.
The idea is to form an art collective inspired by the artistic-biographical path of the artist, integrated and symbolised by the psychotherapist, in which the diverse human sensibilities can meet, mix and produce works that are both personal and collective, since they are the result of a complex relational experience and constant exchange of sensibility.
The duration of the workshop will be of about six months (three consecutive hours per week, March-October 2014, summer break included). It will take place in spaces distinct from but next to the two health care centres to facilitate the protection from the institutional dynamics that are often an obstacle.

The workshop aims to be a place of work, training, construction of identity, interpersonal skills, expression, artistic skills.
Two elements converge in our project: on the one hand, the psychotherapeutic group techniques, on the other, the specific characteristics of a painting course run by an established painter in the contemporary art system. The Association believes that this convergence can enable achievement of goals of wellness and personal growth in a modern and successful way. Relational skills and painting techniques, once learned, will remain as an active wealth of experience in people.
The families of the participants will be involved in the motivation of the attendee, in the organisation of the final exhibition and in the communication to the citizens.
The families will play an active role in raising funds through the sale of the works made during the workshop.
In addition, this is a pilot project for this Municipality as well as for many private and public institutions dealing with both social services and contemporary art production that have already been informed and involved in the conception of the project.
The success of the project could be a model for future possibilities of implementation of projects that will see the collaboration between public and private social institutions and contemporary artists, who are increasingly aware of the social value of human development that contemporary art can offer to society in general and in particular to the most fragile people.

Associazione La Casa di Massimo Onlus
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