Reclaiming Our Heritage Project

Episode One: How Has Therapy Changed Over Time?

In this episode, Halina Rifai speaks to guest Cheryl McGeachan, senior lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Glasgow, on the subject of how therapy has changed over the years with the help of testimonies from the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive. 

Reclaiming Our Heritage is a Mental Health Foundation podcast inspired by its two-year oral history project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project’s aim is to record and preserve the spoken testimonies of the mental health community between the 1950s and early 2000s. 

Each episode will explore themes that have come out of these spoken testimonies, and these will be further discussed by a professional guest. The full interviews by these contributors and others are available in the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive.

In this episode, Halina Rifai speaks to guest Cheryl McGeachan, senior lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Glasgow, on the subject of how therapy has changed over the years with the help of testimonies from the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive. 

The Reclaiming our Heritage project is funded by a number of donors including an “Our Heritage” grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

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Episode Transcript


Isabel: Instantly, it seemed as if they just, people just came to life. And I thought, this is what we shouldn’t be doing.

Fiona: These organisations were very much about using the arts, using creativity to enable people to take the veil from their own eyes, if you like and see that, in fact, they did very often have sufficient skills and resources within themselves.

Gerry:…and visit about the therapeutic side of growing plants, on people with mental health issues. So you know, that again is another side of what I do you know, the environmental and ecological side of things, feeds into the art I make.

Cheryl: Therapy for me has a very spacialised formation, it is about producing space, whether that be an imaginative space or whether that be a physical sense of space and, and I think that becomes really important in our considerations or mental health in all different capacities.

Halina Rifai: Welcome to Reclaiming Our Heritage, a Mental Health Foundation podcast inspired by its two-year oral history project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project’s aim is to record and preserve the spoken testimonies of the mental health community between the 1950s and early 2000s. The full interviews by these contributors and others are available in the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive on the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival website.

My name is Halina Rifai and in each episode I will explore themes that have come out of these spoken testimonials and these will be further discussed by a professional guest.

The Reclaiming our Heritage project is funded by a number of donors including an Our Heritage grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

On this podcast, we’ll be exploring the subject of how therapy has changed over time and hearing from the different voices on this theme from the Reclaiming our Heritage Archive.

We’ll also be exploring themes of creativity in the arts, because the thing that ties all these voices together is their involvement in mental health and the arts. Our expert on this episode is Cheryl McGeachan.

HR: Hello, if you could introduce yourself and tell us what you do.

Cheryl McGeachan: Yeah, sure. So my name is Cheryl McGeachan. I’m a senior lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Glasgow. And my whole career has really been based around trying to understand the lived geographies of mental ill health. And it’s a real passion of mine, both professionally and personally. And I’ve done this both in a historic sense, but also in the contemporary landscape as well.

HR: Yeah, it’s fascinating, having just gone through parts of your bio as well. And so what I want to ask you briefly, just before we kind of kick off is, you became so interested in the subject of historical mental health and the arts. What was it that drew you to that?

CM: Yeah, so, I started my professional, I suppose, career in mental health through my PhD, which was on the topic of the Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing. And I became really interested and thinking about humanistic forms of treatment and relationship to mental health, but also really a humanistic way of understanding the experiences of mental ill health in all its kind of various formations. And I was very lucky enough during my PhD to meet with a lovely curator of Glasgow museums called Anthony Lewis. And he really introduced me to lots of different kinds of artefacts, the material remains, if you like, of, particularly institutional life, of mental ill health in Scotland, and one of these was a collection of outsider art called “Art Extraordinary”, and the minute I saw, it just became so fascinated by these pieces of creative work that just spoke so loudly to the various experiences of mental ill health. And I was so drawn to them, and so inspired by them, that we decided to develop many, many collaborative projects and learn so so much about what I really didn’t know was this very kind of underground creative landscape that goes on around mental health in institutions and out with them as well. So that’s how I really got into thinking historically about creative practice, around mental health.

HR: It’s a beautiful rabbit hole once you start going through and discovering who’s doing what, and especially in Scotland, I was overwhelmed by it. So yeah, I totally agree. So it’d be a great point now just to explore some of those voices and we’re going to talk about that theme of how therapy has changed over time further. So for listeners’ benefit we’ve listened to the clips on this episode and I’ve given you a bit of background on each of our speakers but for them, purposes of our audience, we’re going to start with Isabel. So, Isabel was interviewed by volunteer Emily for reclaiming our heritage project and for our listeners just to give that background information: full name Isabel McCue MBE, a remarkable woman born in 1944, and grew up outside the Gorbals in a place called Hutchesontown. She lived there until she was 21. And she’s the founder of Theatre Nemo now Nemo Arts and works with adults in recovery from poor mental health. And they do this through creative workshops and Theatre Nemo’s inception was inspired by Isabel’s lived experience with her son, John, who sadly took his life after years of mental illness and failure by the system. So let’s hear from Isabel.


EW: And what was your first role that encompassed mental health and arts?

IM: The first time that it came to mind was really because my son, my oldest son, had became mentally ill and he himself was very creative. And when he was in the hospital what we found was that they were just medicated to such a point that they couldn’t do anything. It was just medication, there was no… There was so many doors of opportunity opened and none of them was ever taken up. It was just medication, medication, medication and…well, that was first when I thought why are they wandering about in a psychiatric hospital, shuffling about, mumbling and… It was just so horrendous to watch. This would have been ‘93 or ‘94 and I just thought that that definitely isn’t right. So that was the first time I had ever been in a psychiatric ward or had any knowledge of, you know, poor mental health or mental illness.

EW: And what was the role you then took on, did you work with the hospital specifically?

IM: No. I don’t think the hospital were all that terribly keen, to tell you the truth, they kept shoving me out the road. What we did was we would just go in and sing, you know, some of the other family – we would go in and we would sing and John was a beautiful singer – and we would try and just talk to everybody. And in a short space of time, a couple of weeks or something – we got people literally shuffling in to see what we were doing. And then gradually they started bringing me poems that they had just written on wee bits of paper and telling me their stories and things and just instantly it seemed as if people just came to life. And I thought this is what we should be doing instead of just medicating – sit there, shut up, don’t annoy us, we’ve got too much to do, watch the telly or whatever and…there we go.

EW: Mm. And so how did that move on then? Did you work closely with a group of people that were in the hospital with your son?

IM: We didn’t work closely; it was just when we were up visiting we just communicated with everybody. It was just when we went in. It wasn’t until about…well, ’98 we thought we could do something here and invite people when they’re coming out the hospital, invite them to come in and have music classes or whatever. So that was the first…well, we never really got started although we did start up the…the charity and got charity recognition and things but we never really got anything done until sort of mid-2000, just because…everything, our home life, was just so chaotic that we just couldn’t get anything done. You know, we were thinking about how can we do this and speaking to people and saying this is what we’re planning to do.


HR: So that was Isabel interviewed by Emily. Now what I wanted to start with, first of all, before we move on to speak about Isabel and some of the themes is, is about this word “therapy”, as I think it can be a bit of a polarising word at times, and there’s still quite a lot of stigma attached to it. How would you define the word therapy?

CM: Yeah, I mean, I absolutely agree. It’s a term that has so many meanings. They’re very individualised at times. They’re also very pluralised as well, and I think in many ways a lot of the work that I’ve done is around issues of so called asylum and thinking about asylum in all its multiple formations from thinking about as a police of safety, to thinking about it as something that is a something that is more confining, and perhaps abuse of at times as well. So I think therapy can have those dimensions as well. It’s very much about support and provision of space, a space of some some kind of space of safety, as we say, of confinement, a space of talking a space of peace. But yeah, I think it has a very complicated meaning that is particularly individualised depending on your own experiences of being in those spaces. But as a geographer, therapy, for me, has a very specialised formation it is about producing space is whether that be an imaginative space, or whether you have physical sense of space. And I think that becomes really important and our considerations or mental ill health in all different capacities.

HR: That’s a really fascinating way of explaining it. Isabel talks about her son being mentally it, being placed in psychiatric ward and the level of medication he was given without another option. Have you come across similar stories like this in your research? And if so, what are some of the notable impacts?

CM: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I find it as a bell story really powerful. I think her voice, in and of itself is a very powerful political voice, in the kind of realms of thinking about mental health care and mental health treatment more broadly. Definitely, these stories arise, in lots of reads across the history of mental health. Often we don’t hear from family members, though. And so what I found really wonderful hearing Isabel’s voice is that we have these people on the margins, if you like, but that are so central to the process of care of mental health, we have families, we have friends, we have people that just care about individuals coming into the scene, and particularly when Isabel talks about coming in to see her son, and then being kind of encapsulated into this world where she was extremely concerned about lots of people that were on these wards, lots of people that were, you know, being in her words, perhaps neglected, perhaps ignored, or just highly medicated and, and not being given a sense of your sense of existence. And I think hearing those stories is so vital and so important for our development of these narratives and these histories of mental ill health. And it made me really think about the fact that maybe what we need to do is go back through these records, these historical records of, of whether it’s the asylum or the mental hospital, whatever it might be, and actually look for those hints of family narratives and look for ways in which, how can we include these vital people of care that we often hear nothing about the experiences, which, as you could tell from Isabel’s on voice, they are harrowing at times, and they are particularly poignant at times on how care comes into being in different ways. So I was just really, transfixed and inspired by the fact that Isabel’s voice became part of this narrative of care, I really, really thought that was a wonderful achievement of this kind of project.

HR: Yeah. So she talks also about how creative aspects of life like singing, storytelling, poetry, which you’ve touched on, seem to immediately make an impact on the people on the wards. Why do you think that this method was not explored more in some of these places as a means of therapy?

CM: Yeah. And again, I think it was really interesting that she was talking about the 1990s, which, to me seems incredibly late for, you know, not having this progressive system of the arts being part of these worlds. We know from historical work that this stuff was happening across the century, if you like, the last century, right up until the present day, we know it happens. But what really is, why it becomes invisible is because it’s not valued. It’s not valued by people to keep these materials that are produced, to record these materials that are being produced. And so what tends to happen is it gets forgotten. But I was very intrigued to hear that the institution that John was in at the time, was not having any kind of creative practice going on, because it seems quite, quite late. I think these kinds of things often happen on an underground level, we often get what is official about an institutional day and then you get the kind of underground networks and Isabel becomes part of this underground network that just brings things to life in different ways and institutions. And I think that happens an awful lot. We just in the historical record don’t really know much about it. So I think a lot of the work that I’ve been doing is around remnants of things that have happened that nobody has taken any notice of and that people throw away literally in the rubbish bin. And it takes people to find these remnants, and then think about them and think how they can tell a story. So I definitely think I was surprised by Isabel’s sort of highlighting in the 1990s, that this somehow wasn’t visible in any kind of way. And that particular place, and actually really quite sad.

HR: Totally agree. Isabel’s gone on to create something just extraordinary with Theatre Nemo, not only in the memory of her son, but also fueled by the want to kind of help and show that there are other methods. Do you think there’s a snobbery or even an archaic attitude when it comes to creativity assisting mental illness? And how would you like to see that progress in the future?

CM: I think there’s a snobbery attached to the arts, I think. During, you know, my work, I’ve spent many, many times in institutions, in community settings, you know, individually with people that are what they would term artists, and they’re doing creative work. And I find that it is incredibly rewarding, incredibly inspiring experience. But when you take that work, potentially, outside into this art sphere, it then becomes part of something that can be labelled, it can be judged, it can be perhaps even just kept in a bubble in the work that I do outsider art, which isn’t always very helpful for inclusion is actually can can do the opposite. In terms of mental health, I think it actually comes with the open and really kind of considered a fantastic thing to encourage creativity in mental health. So I haven’t come across anyone feeling that it’s a negative thing at all. Often, what’s missing, for people that experience mental ill health, and I’m sure, and in this forum, we don’t need to tell anybody ever like that. But this idea of shame, and guilt, and this kind of notion of never of failing of not being good enough in these kind of models that we make within the Western model of medicine actually really has a very harmful effect on ever thinking about how we experience life and how we can actually not become better because I think better is a strange way of thinking about our mental health. It’s on a permanent trajectory, but to live an existence that is meaningful to you. And is healthy to you and the people that that you love around to have the ability to do that in whatever capacity you feel okay with should be valued.

HR: Totally. And I’m going to come on to that later with another one of my questions. I’m going to move on to our next person and testimonial and introduce Jeanette so she was born in 1961. Grew up in Glasgow, she spent a brief time in Fife as a child but then moved back to Glasgow. An occupational therapist with the NHS for 18 and a half years with her first role at Crumpsall Hospital in Manchester, but then became head occupational therapist at Dykebar in 2000. And she’s worked, lead and facilitated numerous arts initiatives and projects associated with mental health. So let’s hear this clip from Jeanette being interviewed by volunteer Eilidh.


EH: …what was your first role within Scotland then?

JA: Within Scotland, I became head occupational therapist at Dykebar in the year 2000 and we have always had creative activities that we did. We’ve always probably two art groups a week. Sometimes we had tutors from Cardonald College came in and ran an art group or sometimes the OTs did them. And I’ve used art within counselling and therapy.

I remember working with a lady, whose story’s on record actually, who had significant abuse from childhood and when she was regressed and not able to talk as an adult, we would use art for her to draw. And she drew very childlike ’cause she was kind of in a childish place. And it was very powerful to be able to see the images about things that she couldn’t talk about.

So creativity in the arts has been something that we’ve used. We’ve done exhibitions within Dykebar, we’ve used metaphors of recovery. And I suppose as it became more on-trend, we were more intentional about using art in a therapeutic – well it’s always been therapeutic – but in an intentional way with themes and projects.

EH: And lastly, how would you like the relationship between mental health and the arts in Scotland to develop over the next five to ten years?

JA: [Pause] How would I like to see it develop? I think it’s on the right track. I think there’s still…well social prescribing was kind of around for a bit. I’m not sure that it’s really taken off as it might be. I would like to see more of that, that you know, that you don’t need to go perhaps to an anxiety management group, although perhaps you should go to drum group as well. I mean, the drumming group that we’ve set up in Ardrossan called Drum for Your Life, has been a huge impact on people’s wellbeing. Because it’s that sense of belonging that people get.

So I think more awareness within…with mental health clinicians, psychiatrists, practitioners, that the arts…I mean I think there is recognition but perhaps the medical model is still prevalent in some areas. Certainly, within Ayrshire where I live now – well I’ve always lived in Ayrshire but now down on the west coast – Ayrshire hasn’t had a mental health festival until last year. So there’s not awareness of it within the mental health field as there would have been in Paisley because we got so involved in it there. So I think expansion of understanding that the arts has got a significant contribution. And building on the research that mental health is improved by the arts would be good to build on the evidence base.

EH: And do you have any final message or anything else you’d like to say that we haven’t covered yet today?

JA: [Pause] I think the understanding that [pause]…I think in my early career occupational therapists were just seen as people that distract. So do an activity to pass the time. You know. Actually, I used to get on at my staff about doing colouring in books ’cause I thought it was too juvenile. And look how on-trend that is now. Yeah, I think understanding that, certainly within my profession, that the arts and creativity are hugely important. As important as the scientific input or the interventions but within the general population that doing something creative is good for your wellbeing. Have a dabble.


HR: Dykebar Hospital is a mental health facility in Paisley, and I think people may have sometimes heard of the role occupational therapist, but they perhaps think it’s more to do with physiotherapy or something more physical in the classic context of recovery. Jeanette talks about using art, how have you seen this method progress over the years with any research that you’ve done?

CM: Yeah, I mean, I think occupational therapy doesn’t get the credit it deserves at all. I think it’s such a fascinating field and such an incredible historical, particularly women have taken on this role and really developed in so many different ways. So it really, I think it does need a bit more research. I mean, I don’t know there may have a lot out there. But I don’t think it’s got enough, because we need to understand where the role of these individuals in the development of not only creative practice within institutions, but also actually just the care and the support that they obviously give it in a massive amount of ways. Yes, I’ve definitely seen the role in operation. And I’ve definitely seen how much, it really, really helps people to feel confident. And again, I think something about mental illness that is very, very distressing is it strips away your confidence, it strips away your ability to believe in yourself at times, particularly if you have been institutionalised for a certain amount of time. And that doesn’t mean any patient staying necessarily No, but being connected to an institution for a long time, can actually really strip away your ability to believe that, that you can do things that you are more than the institutional label that is attached to you. And I think occupational therapy and people that work and create of practice within these institutions have an incredible ability to empower people to have a sense of belief, whether that’s through theatre or song, or, you know, tapestry, knitting, writing, whatever it may be, you can actually see the power of it on an individual, both in their bodily sense before the session, they might be very, look very low. And by the end, you haven’t necessarily taken their, you know, issues away. But what you’ve done is you’ve allowed them to feel and believe in themselves.

HR: What’s been the biggest transformation you’ve perhaps seen in your research when it comes to mental health care?

CM: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s been positive to be honest. I think a lot of the work that I’ve done, was looking at sort of asylum here, which was obviously back in both the 1800s and 1900s. I spent a lot of time looking at institutions in sort of the 1950s and 1960s in Scotland. And I think we can all agree that while some people had good experiences, of course, seated, the majority of people were being treated, were being incarcerated rather than cared for and maybe with the best intention possible by some of the staff, it just wasn’t necessarily a caring environment. I don’t think we’ve necessarily found a utopia of care. I think there are a lot of problems. And again, I think these problems are structural, I think there is no investment or not enough investment and mental health care services, the processes of deinstitutionalisation have literally split systems apart, have led to people maybe being able to experience a better time at home, than in an institution, but has led to a very complicated and messy procedure and practice of people’s daily lives. So we’re neither kind of transporting people across the city or expecting people to be able to live their life in a very kind of frenzied way across space. And it works for some, it’s difficult for others. But I do think we’ve, we are working towards a system of care, I definitely see a lot of care. I think we’re starting to really notice when people are not happy about their care. And that’s so fundamentally important, because that was not allowed to be heard in past times, or was very difficult to hear. We’ve got a long way to go. I don’t know what the answers to the system issues are, I want to hear about them. And I want to learn about them. But I certainly think it’s complicated and what we need are more people with lived experience, to be able to have the space to make decisions, not only just tell people what the problems are, but actively make the decision and say, this is what we’re changing and this is how it’s going to be done.

HR: I totally agree. Jeanette was asked how she would like to see the relationship and arts develop over the next decade. And she makes comments about social prescribing and about more recognition around the arts. But there’s also an argument and we’ve touched on it already about the shift in attitude has been a major factor. What are some of the shifts that you’ve seen in perhaps a geographical and social sense?

CM: Yeah, I think people are more open to embracing the arts and mental health. Now, I think that there is a sort of break, the more people talk about it, the more people show people what they’re doing. And the more conversations, the more Jeannette mentions research, there does have to be more research into what does the arts actually do? Because I think we get a lot of people saying of course it’s positive, because I can see it, and I certainly can, and I sit and I watch and I think Oh, my goodness, this is outstanding the difference it makes, but then I have to go back to university and fill in a form and say what was that impact. And I go, it just looked amazing. They just looked full of, you know, empowerment, they were, you know, going to do their daily tasks in a more empowered way. And they’re like, did it cure them, and it’s like, well, that’s not the point. So our systems need to be more open to understanding but we need more research in both the qualitative, and the quantitative sense of what is really going on when people create, but I do think it would be helpful, particularly around policy, to help us have real strong policies that advocate for the arts within mental health and make it not just social prescribing, I think it’s a wonderful thing the Jeanette suggested, but also, to actually just have it as a fundamental part of mental health care. There’s so many great people out there that, like Jeanette, have changed so much for people and are now talking openly about that change. That’s what’s really positive. So yeah,

HR: No, definitely the perception I think still with the word arts, people think you know, some kind of fuddy duddy upper middle class aspect, and it’s just like, No, it can be absolutely anything.

CM: Do a handstand, there we go, that’s art!

HR: Yeah, exactly. We’re gonna move on to our final testimonial. And I’d like to introduce Gerry, he was born in 1948. And is a writer and artist, I’m known for poetry, amongst other things, and trained in ecology and environmentalism, and very much focused on this still in terms of leading lives on the planet. He trained as a facilitator with the US Navy Neil Holy Loch, and the role was associated with alcohol, drugs and substance abuse programs. And from there realised that there was more to these problems and took more of a holistic approach. So let’s hear from Gerry.


GL: The kind of artist I am, I work with natural objects, I create…I wouldn’t say…some people say I make gardens, I do that, but it’s artworks which involve plants always, and obviously there are whole other areas that you could usefully discuss and visit about the therapeutic side of growing plants on people with mental health issues. So that again is another side of what I do, the environmental and ecological side of things feeds into the art that I make, so I had always been aware that clearly I felt much better when I’d spent the day in the garden than when I’d been chained to a desk, as it were. So I mean, that’s an observation of my own, and yeah, the first concrete realisation that that could be therapeutic was in the hospital setting, not just for me, but for other people.

EW: And what was it that…what was that reaction from the patients that made you feel like that?

GL: I’m not sure I understand.

EW: Sorry, so you said the first concrete realisation of seeing that…those had an impact not on just yourself, but other people, but what was it that you experienced from the patients or the doctors?

GL: Well, essentially feedback. People would say why…that they had enjoyed something, we’d pursue the matter a little bit and say, well, why? And in various ways people would say, because it makes me feel happy, in various sort of like long-winded ways or short-winded ways, but that was the upshot of it. It takes me out of myself as another kind of bit of feedback, and those were intentions, you know, those were our intentions, and we were delighted that it had in some small ways perhaps worked.

EW: And was there challenges working within a hospital setting that…feels like a bit of a no brainer, but…

GL: Excuse my language, fucking bureaucracy. [laughs] Oh Jesus, have you worked at all with the National Health?

EW: [laughs]

GL: You know, you had to speak to sort of 17 people to get one result, you know, across the board, whatever it is, and it’s always met with suspicion. Why are we putting money in? Who will it help? [laughs] Basically how will it help? So yeah, bureaucracy, but also in one hospital, we were in right at the beginning, Donald and I, in the transition, in Dumfries, between the…what was then the Crichton Royal and the new hospital that was being built, because the Crichton Royal was a Victorian building and deemed not fit for purpose anymore.

And we had added difficulties as a result of being onsite, we were almost from day one, with architects, with landscape architects, and not only them, but with the builders, had to sort of like sign in, wear your hard hats. We were viewed with great trepidation, because…ah yeah, so those were the problems, basically bureaucracies.


HR: Gerry is, he talks about how important the environment is to his work, when it comes to therapy, do you feel that we are starting to regress in terms of trying to explore therapy, and by that I mean, technology and the evolution of modern life can be a blessing and a curse. But there’s often this discussion for space, the outdoors, nature, and a big part of that assisting us. How have you perhaps seen that discussion shift?

CM: Yeah, no, I think it’s fascinating. I think this idea of environment has always been very fundamentally important to the ideas of around therapy, I think environment is something that isn’t just there, it’s also within us. So we’re always in this exchange between ourselves and our environments, or I would probably term it, our world. So we live in multiple worlds all of the time. And I think this notion, or the Gerry brings up so powerfully, is this idea of awe thinking about our environmental futures and thinking about the way in which the environment is something that’s both lived in and aspired to. And this notion of really being entwined with your environment is so important. And I think, with the rise of awareness, or in the climate crisis, and what that is doing, to not just our planet, but ourselves and our sense of, of wellbeing in the world. I think that is a kind of increasing notion of what if we can use the environment? Or what if we can be part of a wider part of the environment is that going to help us to reconnect and to somehow make ourselves feel, I guess in a, in a better sense to the world, we do need to reconnect with our worlds before they disappear. And if we can do that, then I’m sure that things like therapy will definitely take a massive part in us connecting with our world again. So I definitely seen debates around environment shifting, for sure. And I think just Gerry really encapsulates that through his use of plants and has one to really show the natural world and use the natural world. And I think that is a really powerful way of him communicating. I think the sort of really important aspects of the environment and are in our well being.

HR: Yeah. He talks about the hospital setting and the challenges it posed and he’s obviously quite open about that with regards to the bureaucracy. I know from experience that it’s why people set up their own personal and grassroots projects. And it’s obviously a been a theme that’s come up in this podcast as well. Do you feel that there’s a fear over the unconventional?

CM: Probably although I think we’re in times where the unconventional is the conventional which is a weird thing to say, but I actually think we’re much more critical of, you know, the actual structures that are in place, we’re actually more critical about the conventional systems. And I think that’s really positive, because I think we should be, but I think sometimes we have to check ourselves around that as well, because it can be oversimplified to, you know, always critique, what is conventional? And what happens, because actually, for some people, it saved their lives, you know, the conventional has worked, the conventional is something that has held them together and pulled them through, I think sometimes we have to have this acknowledgment that actually, is it too easy to be too critical here? And actually, can we step back and check ourselves? Because it also could be the same for a lot of grassroots projects, it’s extremely difficult to be critical of them. I’m not saying we should be. But just as we should be open minded to think, is this really working? What does it really do? We should apply the same thing to grassroots projects, too, because they want to be, you know, seen in exactly the same light as conventional systems of care. And as they should be, there should be no hierarchy between them. But absolutely, I think grassroots, I think it’s fascinating, especially in these audio clips, to hear the stories of how group grassroots movements around mental health and emmerge, and I hear it time and time again, in the conversations that I have with people, and I think what we need are more projects like this one that record those emergent moments of these grassroots organisations, or, or projects or wherever they might be, because it’s that emergence that tells you so much about not only what is wrong as the as Isabel’s, you know, narrative highlighted, but also what is her as an emergent moment, what came together Jeanette and Gerry, both allude to that really powerfully. So there’s so much more that we need to do to salvage the histories of grassroots movements, not just now, but going forward as well, so that we can actually reflect on them properly, and think about them properly, and recognise their incredible work that they do.

HR: Totally. I have to ask about access, whether that be access to therapy, access to the arts, within that sphere, particularly for minority groups, those on low income, the most vulnerable? How have you seen that progress over time? And what work do you feel still needs to be done in that area?

CM: I find it heartbreaking actually, that we are in a time where we have the most wealth in the world that we’ve ever had, and it is shared so unequally and the mental health sphere is a microcosm of our capitalist society. And I think unfortunately, I think we are seeing a system that is so so under struggle that it is broken, it is absolutely breaking, we are seeing people the most in need being turned away. And we’re seeing the most in need, unfortunately, taking their own lives, because they’re not getting the care that they desperately are calling out for. And something has to change about that. And I think what’s happening is that people are turning to alternative forms of care in whatever way they manifest themselves. And I’ve seen some wonderful, wonderful examples of, again, just like Isabel, Jeanette and Gerry people stepping in to fill a void that has been created by our politicians effectively. And I think that is wonderful. And we need to recognise that and give recognition to that. But it shouldn’t have to be the case. So I think one thing that we really do have to advocate for in mental health at the moment as for care, we have to really fight very hard I think and put a lot of energy and resource into making sure that our systems can take on people they can provide care to our most vulnerable. We’re all responsible. We all have responsibilities, whether it’s to challenge our politicians, whether it’s to distribute our wealth as well as we can, whether it’s to just stop in the street with that person that is in distress and just ask them, are you ok? And see what you can do for that.

HR: I think our government has so much work to do as well, I think that there’s a lot to be done. So final question. You’ve mentioned there about advocation of care, things going forward, particularly with that which you’re clearly passionate about, and quite rightly, so. What would you like to see evolve going forward when it comes to the arts and in particular therapy?

CM: Yeah, I mean, I think quite similarly to Jeanette, I just feel very positive about the arts and mental health, I think it has a very strong position. I think it is very valued. Certainly in Scotland, and I think it is being publicised to the well, I think more that can be done is obviously investment, we have to invest in the arts to keep it alive. But we also have to be very encouraging, I think of more people that have experienced mental ill health, to be running and developing their own arts and creative therapies for themselves. So we have to empower people and invest in people to be able to do that, because I don’t think there’s anyone better to develop these programs for the future, then people that really understand what it does what it’s for. And it’s different kind of manifestations as well. So I would just love to see and to help facilitate people in the future to take it on. And to develop it in new ways. I think one of the issues that we’ve got with creative practice in mental health is everyone’s just reinventing the wheel all of the time. So every art group is starting, which is incredible, as they’re starting on the basis that they know what’s happening everywhere else. They don’t know how to communicate with people necessarily, or they don’t know where to look to get resources or to help and things like that. So I think if we had a stronger collective presence, and really, we’re very open to sharing resources to sharing ideas and expertise, and, and all these kinds of things, and I think it could really take it to the next level. But I would love to see as loved experienced led, and I’d love they’re not even led, just completely driven. But I certainly think in Scotland, like Jeanette, we’re in a strong position. There’s so many people doing their most incredible and creative stuff, stuff that I’m like I can’t even dream of that. And I’m so inspired and so proud of everyone for being able to share their work because it’s not an easy thing to do and to just to do the work in the first place.


HR: Isabel, Jeanette and Gerry are completely inspirational in their fields and each offer powerful testimonies. They have all approached and considered therapy based on lived experience, their understanding of the wider impacts of mental illness but fundamentally their love of the arts has fuelled their respective journeys.

Cheryl helps in positioning the macrocosmic meaning of therapy in its dimensions in that it should offer support and a space of numerous dimensions. There are also the complexities to consider when it comes to its relationship with mental health as everyone ultimately has different needs.

Time has progressed and whilst the arts have been used as a form of therapy in multiple forms, Cheryl points out its the value that’s placed on it. It’s this value that Isabel, Jeanette and Gerry along with countless others bring to this field and thanks to platforms such as Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, their stories can be recognised further.

It will be interesting to see how therapy will move forward with the help of the arts and there is no doubt an agreement that whilst its a proven method to help a wealth of people, it will need more investment and value placed on it from higher powers.


This podcast has been presented, produced and edited by me Halina Rifai for the Mental Health Foundation with music by Lucy Parnell, the reclaiming our heritage project is funded by a number of donors including an “Our Heritage” grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.