Kimberley Iyemere is the manager of Arts Therapies at Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT). Asia Prusinowska is a fibre artist who volunteers in Kimberley’s service; together, they have combined their talents to facilitate an innovative art therapy group for older people living with advanced dementia on an acute hospital ward. They hoped that the fusion of Asia’s fibre art practice and Kimberley’s extensive art therapy experience could be beneficial for the patients and therefore ran a series of sessions described as ‘Mandala Art Therapy’ on the dementia ward.
Kimberley recently published an article on her art therapy approach for older people called ‘Recovered Moments’, which describes her person-centered approach and focusses on using art as a cathartic and creative non-verbal medium that facilitates communication. The aim is to transform moments which may be filled with isolation, loss and disorientation into moments that feel safe, where patients can be understood, and where difficult feelings can be released and new creative and positive feelings can be enjoyed.
Asia has spent seven years researching and experimenting with fibres, and, as a result, discovered a correlation between the process and an improvement. She found complete balance through working with fibres as they had become a meditative experience where she could completely lose herself. She believes that through colour, texture and the felt-making process, we can tap into our deepest emotions and thoughts, access our very source, unleash our spirit and express ourselves. Asia uses the felting process as a vehicle to tap into creativity and intuition, encouraging a holistic and integrative healing process.
She started creating fibre art mandalas, circular shape artworks, during her Fine Art Postgraduate Degree. Asia has compared the process of creating Mandalas to an active meditation; a mindfulness and a self-expression through felt-making experience in the present moment. She found the experience so therapeutic and beneficial for her own health that she hoped to bring it to others; the opportunity to do this arose through the volunteers’ service and the Arts Therapies service at CPFT.
Both Asia and Kimberley were interested in creating a calm sanctuary offering support for general wellbeing and for people who may be experiencing emotional or physical distress. They were regularly surprised and in awe of the creative potential, the heart-warming life stories and the tender emotional moments when the older people in the group, who live with dementia, shared their pearls of wisdom from lifetimes of experience that shone through and were remembered during the creative process.
The felting process encouraged patients to experiment with fibres, colours and texture. Asia introduced merino wool and the participants worked together to separate the yarn, enhancing socialisation within the group. The wet felting process of rubbing warm water and soap round and round on the wool, was found to be extremely therapeutic for patients; there was laughter, concentration and relaxation during this process.
The final part of the process, throwing the felt to ensure the fibres bound together, was greatly enjoyed and gave a feeling of liberation. This tactile experience helped participants to connect more deeply with themselves and enjoy the present moment, moving towards a greater sense of wellbeing and wholeness.
In later life, endings can appear ever-closer, but the mandala making put participants in touch with an ever-regenerating circle and hence brought great joy, laughter and tranquility; something that should always be accessible for all of us, at whatever stage of life or circumstance we find ourselves in.This collaborative project appears to have been extremely beneficial and rewarding for the patients, as well as for the artist, art therapists and staff on the dementia ward. The art therapist found the felt medium fascinating and was delighted to see the positive effect the process had on the patients on the ward who are living with dementia.
Asia and Kimberley have now been invited to display the artworks made by the service users in an exhibition within the hospital, and they have gone on to run another series of sessions for a different client group. Their work has also been referenced in the recent article by Paul Maghee, where he commented on Mandala Art Therapy sessions, observing, ‘hands remembering movements their minds may have forgotten ‘ and took the picture above.