Creativity and Chronic pain

Its a dreary day out there, drizzling rain, though really mild for the middle of Febuary. It seems to be taking me forever to get my first post  of 2017 written!
Looking back over the last twelve months I am  heartened by all I managed to achieve.  Doing the Pain management program,  which was run by Chronic pain Ireland,  certainly helped me.  For me, meeting people, having goals and a structure to my day, make such a  difference to the quality of my life.  Honestly,  living with chronic pain is always challenging , but sometimes its worth taking a chance and stepping outside  of your comfort zone.  

Unexpectedly, towards the end of 2016,  I got the oppertunity to participate in a very interesting course…..

A creative oppertunity


‘Creativity and Wellness’,  is an Art therepy course  based at the  Rua Red Arts Centre in Tallagh. It is run over ten weeks by  the Creative centre for Arts and  Health, which is based at Tallaght Hospital, and available to people who have chronic pain. I was very excited to get a place as I had heard a lot of positive things about it.  Aimee O ‘Neill is the  Art therapist, whom I found to be  an excellent teacher.

Art therapy by definition is a form of psychotherapy that combines visual art-making and psychotherapy to promote self-exploration and understanding (Canadian Art Therapy Association, 2008).. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy / Vol. 45 No. 2 © 2011 Pages 112–131

Once again I found myself heading over to Tallagh. Its a least five years ago since  I did a  writing course there,  at the local library. At the Rua Red centre we all met up for a coffey and a chat first. I was a little nervous but also looking forward to starting something new. The two hours flew by. To be honest  my over riding memory of that  first day, was of been so shattered, I  could barely walk to the car!

It got easier…..

The course was  very well structured, with different ‘themed’ projects each week. Most weeks Aimee would start the class with a meditation.  This was a  grounding excercise helping us  to get in touch with different sensations in the body along with emotions we were feeling.  Arising from this, we were then given time to create a piece of art.  There were no rules, no judgements.  At the end of the seission we shared our work with each other, and Aimee gave us feedback. It never ceased to amaze me how honest and beautiful everyones work was, and indeed how revealing they were. Initially I did find it hard, as I’m very self critical and find it difficult to relax both physically and mentally.

I feel I am always trying to excavate something, trying to get to the’heart’ of the matter…….extract from my Journal

Gradually over time  I got used to the process ,  and that  critical voice in my head took  more of a back seat! It was good to focus on what was positive and working in my life also, as it is all too easy to get overwhelmed by pain and negativity.

The last class came around all to quick.

There were many days that stood out, in particular the week we did the ‘body map’. This involved  standing against a  large sheet of white paper while  someone  else drew  an outline of your body! That in itself had its  humourous moments! We then drew a second figure or figures  which represenedt our supports  in life. The sheer physicality of this project was challenging but also absorbing and exciting. Thankfully it was spread over two weeks. Everyones approach was different, adding  words and symbols to tell there own stories.  I included  lines from a Leonard Cohen song – Dance me to the End of Love….

“dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in”

Two sides of pain


...More specifically, the process involved in art therapy also “helps people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight” :Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Vol. 45 No. 2 © 2011 Pages 112–131

I came across an interesting book that covers this topic, Mindfullness,  and the Art Therapies, (Rappaport, 2013 )

I always looked forward to Monday afternoons, meeting everyone,  and wondering what  Aimee would have in store for us! It  re-opened my eyes to the richness of the creative process and its power to heal. Thanks to Chronic pain Ireland for giving me the chance to attend this course and I hope it  continues into the future.



8 thoughts on “Creativity and Chronic pain”

  1. Very interesting to read this Ber and of course the work is very beautiful. Your use of colour and fluid line combine to make deeply sensitive and exciting work. I look forward to seeing your artworks. In general they connect you to the viewer in a way that they might know who you are. This is travelling to the high peaks of the artistic mountain!
    Keep on making work, please.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this Bernie. I think the work you’ve shown and made looks really positive, has a beautiful tone/direction and at the same time realises a description of the challenges of your daily life. I believe we all take our lives for granted every day to some extent, Thank You for sharing and reminding us that it is not a life to be allowed to just ‘Be’, but rather our duty to re-access our time, form and space every single day. I am inspired by you, thanks for sharing. And the very best of luck with your ailments.
    Kindest Regards:
    Declan Greaney

  3. I finally found my way here Ber! Great to see such a positive and thoughtful reflection on the programme and hopefully will inspire others, me included, to take our chances but never for granted.

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