Where Psychology and Creativity Meet

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Picture an individual sitting across from a therapist, unable to voice their innermost battles; unable to vocalise hidden shame or trauma; unwilling even in this safe space, to speak aloud their fears….

Now, imagine the same individual given a sheet of silver, handed the freedom to express themselves with art, physically moulding, filing, shaping a blank sheet, waiting to tell a story through a piece of jewellery. Encouraged to create, the patient subconsciously lets their guard down, and with it, acceptance of trauma and emotions. Art therapy is where psychology and creativity meet.

Every Thursday, Open Workshop runs from 5:30pm-8:30 pm at Exodus Youth Worx, where participants have complete freedom to design pieces of jewellery. We believe that jewellery is extremely personal and conveys a story, which is why we allow attendees full artistic control over their projects.

Additionally, the first Thursday of every month there is jewellery making alongside other art therapy projects. These projects often centralise around identity, goals or even just simple art projects to reinforce the significance of creativity on the person and community as a whole. These evenings are more reflective and personal to the individual, allowing them to dive deeper into themselves, again enhancing mindfulness and self-healing.

Activities such as these have proven to assist a person in expressing inexpressible emotions as a result of trauma, family circumstances, school etc, through a gentle approach where a process of self-healing starts. Unlike the jewellery making classes, these projects are able to be replicated at home in their own time whenever they may feel the need to reconnect, recharge or be mindful. A lot of people investigate ideas about their interests, hobbies, heritage, friends, and families in their art works, therefore allowing them to reconnect with what gives them joy and purpose in life. Whether the individual has a mental illness or not, we can all get caught up in the busy lifestyle of today’s society, therefore, it is always helpful to every now and then reflects on what brings us peace and satisfaction in life. Thus, Open Workshop also teaches lifelong lessons.

Social work and counselling are often accessible to a certain extent no matter what status or income of the patient, which is positive for those who benefit in these spaces. However, the cost for art therapy in the Georges River Council area is extremely expensive and not accessible to all who may benefit, as most programs are a minimum of $250 for 4-6 weeks. For example, a two-day soldering class is $360, a four-day course to make your own sterling silver ring is $475 and a basic jewellery skills course for 7 weeks is $670. The tools, materials, equipment, and the expertise required to teach a jewellery making workshop are intense to manage, we are not denying that, and these classes at other organizations have proven to be very beneficial for specific parts of the community. We however are currently providing all of this plus more at an accessible price, a $5 donation with all equipment required and the teaching done by two professional jewellers. Therefore, resulting in our program to be accessible to people coming from a low socioeconomic background. 

Not only is the cost at other organizations often exclusive to people with a certain income but the lock-in commitment may not be feasible for someone with a mental illness. For example, someone experiencing depression may not feel mentally or physically prepared to attend every single session, therefore if they pay for 7 weeks and only attend a few sessions, it is almost a waste. Hence why the nature of our organization assists in creating an “easy come easy go” atmosphere, as we are a drop-in center. It is generally recognised that loneliness is a very real issue in Australia, as 1 in 4 Australians feel lonely (Psychweek.org, 2018).

We also focus heavily on a sense of community. There are not many programs in the area where anyone, young or old, is able to come together but also be mindful in their own right. As the Georges River Council population consists of 45.5% of people born overseas, and 53.5% of people speak a language other than English at home (2016), it is shown that 1 in 2 people are migrants or of migrant descent, thus displaying the diverse nature of the area. Emphasizing the need for a program like this which brings people of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs together. With our youngest regular attendee being 13 and our eldest being in her 60s, the room on Thursday evenings, to a certain extent, represents the people of the Georges River Council.

Further, we make it a point to have dinner together at around 7 pm, as food is an integral aspect of all of our programs at EYW, reinforcing that sense of community. Eating together, sharing a meal, breaking down barriers and being in company with one another. Open Workshop has also proven time and time again to be a safe space, where art therapy is a gateway to allow individuals to learn from each other, share stories and grow together. When asked if the program enhances their relationships with others in the community, a gentleman in his late 20’s replied saying, “I think it does because we meet and learn from other people.”

Mindfulness-based art therapy within community blends meditation, creativity, and belonging. Hence, addressing the intense anxiety rates and loneliness in today’s society. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, on average, 1 in 4 people will experience anxiety and is affecting millions of lives at any given time. In light of this statistic, Open Workshop is a safe haven, allowing attendees to release emotions into art whilst being focused on specific tasks, easing the mind and overall emotional pain associated with anxiety. The individual involved in a practice of mindfulness tunes into the present moment, and for someone who struggles with a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, a ten-minute silence of thoughts whilst filing a piece of silver that will eventually become a ring, is completely priceless.

The positive effects of art therapy are multifaceted, depending on the person, self-esteem is an intangible goal, creating something that you thought you were not capable of is an incredible boost of confidence. During this program, we often hear comments including: “I’m not creative enough” or  “I don’t think I can do that”. The transformation in mindset and capability once someone has completed a piece of jewellery that they have made, is indescribable. We truly believe that anyone can make jewellery – so we welcome beginners! Further, associated with mental states including anxiety and depression is often a loss of meaning of life, the National Arts Participation Survey 2016 shows that 76% of Australians interviewed agree that the arts make for a richer and more meaningful life.

“I never in a million years thought that I would be capable of making my own silver ring, let along necklace charms. multiple sets of earrings as well as several gifts for friends! Open Workshops has been a gateway for me to gaining more self confidence and a mindset of ‘yeah, I can do this’ whatever ‘this’ may be throughout life” 
17-year-old female participant

In conclusion, Open Workshop strengthens a community of all cultures, genders, and ages. It improves health and overall wellbeing through creative projects, allowing for access to mindfulness and creation, no matter your status or financial situation may be. Therefore, creating a platform for individuals would better their lives.

Dealing With Loss

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Loss and pain is inevitable and we all have different ways of feeling and expressing pain. There is no right or wrong way. Regardless of one’s experience of pain or loss…

at Senior Connect, we discussed that the solution is to actually grieve, to understand that grief is a process and normal part of human life.

We all need to express our emotions and talk about our experiences openly without feeling guilty or judged. The key is to be available for each other and actually listen not to give advice but to share the journey and be present in the moment.

Grief could be a source of hope and strength or sadness and bitterness. It’s your choice!

Dealing With Loss

  • Loss can be:

    • personal (parent, a child, relationship or even a pet)

    • financial

    • something or someone precious (identity, freedom, health)

  • What is certain is pain is the result

  • The SOLUTION is actually to Grieve

Why is there Pain?

  • To understand why is important to the grieving person and/or the person trying to provide help.

  • By understanding why allows the person or situation to move forward.

  • However, pain is felt differently by different people.

  • Pain is expressed differently by different people and different cultures.

  • But regardless of personality or culture there is no grieving without pain.

MAIN AIM : Repair

  • We must understand that this is a process

  • Stages of grieving

    • shock or disbelief

    • denial

    • bargaining

    • guilt

    • anger

    • depression

    • acceptance/hope

  • Repair is achievable, nobody is impossible

First Stage: Facing the Loss

  • Doing something to dull the pain

  • This can be harmful, eg: drug use, alcohol abuse, oversleeping, internet, etc all lead to further pain. Just causes distractions or delay to healing

  • Need to confront the loss but need to give them a time frame, this way confrontation with grief has a life and the person does not get stuck in the sense of loss or paralysed with self pity.

Let the pain out

  • There is no right or wrong way to express or feel pain

  • Cry, screaming into a pillow, taking a long run, standing in the rain, anything can be an outlet for pain as long it is not harmful to the person or others

  • Remember loss is an emotional time to learn how to cope with pain and not make matters worse

Sharing feelings

  • It is healthy to talk about loss

  • It is very important to be among people

  • Most people want others to just listen, it is their way of sorting their own emotions and not a means for answers

  • Person(s) needs to be a set of ears, that is because often what is said is confusion, uncertainty, rambling… not your job to make sense

  • Grieving people need to be surrounded with compassion, empathy patience and sensitivity

  • Sometimes there is nobody!

Guilt can be overwhelming

  • Especially with positions of great responsibility

  • Need to focus the person not on what could have been done but can be done, looking forward throwing other responsibilities into there path

  • Remember the good times, love, friendships:- these can never be taken away

  • Mementos can be good to keep but for some they are best placed in a safe keeping box

  • Get help to help move forward

  • Don’t feel bad for feeling good!!! 

Stage Two: Working towards Happiness

  • Happy thoughts

  • Keep a diary of good memories

  • Distract yourself by keeping busy (careful work and sorrow world)

  • Do things that bring peace to the person, eg: fishing, gardening, cooking, drawing, writing, etc

  • Try and shift the persons focus from their own problems to the problems of others

  • Contemplate the natural beauty

  • Celebrate the memories and the next stage of living

  • Spend time with good company

Know the person

  • Need to be able to detect a change of behaviour

  • Yes allow the person time to heal but there is a healthy path and unhealthy path

  • Look for signs of depression and forced or fake happiness

  • Remind them that they are precious

  • Try to instil a sense of purpose and responsibility even towards themselves

  • Remind them that sadness is not the purpose of our existence!

For more information, support or free counselling please contact us at info@exodusyouthworx.org.au, call us on 9597 4330 or 0468 329 206 or PM us on Facebook or Instagram. We are here to help, listen and support with 100% confidentiality.

The True Spirit of Community

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I know I say this a lot, but every day I come into work I really feel blessed to be doing something that I really love…

Every day is a challenge, it’s never boring, it’s mostly a lesson. The great thing about that is that the more I learn, the more I can share, and that’s the true spirit of community.

I think back to the beginning of this year and I never could have imagined what we have achieved. It was such humbling experience to be invited to the UK by H.E Bishop Angaelos in August, where we got to meet a passionate, enthusiastic group of young people who can’t wait to get started on the Exodus Youth Worx UK chapter. It makes me feel like we’re doing something right. Well I always knew we were, but the recognition just highlights all of the good work.

One of my other very favourite things that I got to do this year was to deliver our Lifeworx program at a local high school. Part of my role at EYW is to be a support person for young people who are referred to us by Juvenile Justice, as well as go to court with them and sometimes even visit them in prison. Programs like Lifeworx, that are all about life skills and early intervention, can be the one thing that stands between a young person and bad decision. I vote for this program be mandatory in all schools.

Our iWorx program is running at its fifth year now. It has evolved a few times over the years, but the most consistent thing about it has been the amazing confidence that our young people develop. This comes from encouragement and a real belief in their own ability that may not have ever been nurtured before, for whatever reason. It’s inspiring to watch a young person tap into their talents and quite literally change their life.

I’m also really grateful to have been a part of the learning experience for our Social Work, Community Services and Youth Work students. To be a part of that process is very meaningful, as it makes us better at what we do.

It’s great to be part of such a diverse and dedicated team. We support and encourage each other, and this makes our ideas achievable. Of course, we would never be able to do any of this without the generous support of our donors and volunteers.

The programs and services that we offer at EYW are unique. The feedback that we get from families and other services is that nobody else is doing what we do and that inspires us to even bigger things.

Janet Habashi, Senior Case Manager