Healing through self-expression

April 3rd, 2018 7:10 AM

By Aisling Meath

Anthea Hirons, Karen Billing and Claire O'Neill getting into the creative spirit at Lisheens House Training and Support Centre in Skibbereen.

Share this article

‘Body Change' – an exhibition in Lisheens House – is the result of a workshop designed to help people cope with the consequences of serious illness, writes Aisling Meath

Amongst the many activities provided by Lisheens House Training and Support Centre in Skibbereen is a series of art workshops facilitated by arts co-ordinator Karen Billing entitled ‘Caring2Create’, which support recovery in the aftermath of trauma and serious illness.

Participating in the creative arts has been proven to be very therapeutic. When people are offered a space where meaning can be generated, it contributes towards building up confidence and self-acceptance and aids in recovery and struggles with mental health.

A robust evidence base exists to support this and active participation in the arts is growing apace in healthcare settings. Caring2Create is organically tailored around the experiences that participants have encountered or may be still going through – be it bereavement, trauma, depression or other life challenges.

The first in this series of workshops, entitled ‘Body Change’ was held over a six-week period recently and evolved after Karen’s conversations with women who all had experienced life changing medical conditions requiring intervention.

‘I found the sessions really helpful in coping with what had happened to me’ said Claire O’ Neill.  ‘ I was struggling to come to terms with the sudden onset of Bell’s palsy, and sharing my struggle with the other women in the group who had also gone through difficult health challenges really gave me support.’ 

Bell’s Palsy is a condition that can alter the appearance of the face, and Claire struggled to cope with its sudden onset and effects. 

‘ Like most women, I felt very self conscious that it affected my face,’ she said, ‘but over time it improved greatly after a lot of physiotherapy sessions.’

‘Karen was really empathetic,’ she continued. ‘She encouraged us to paint what we felt. I love colour and exploring the creative side of myself was wonderful. Lisheens house is a great organization.’ Participants in the group explored their feelings by first discussing and then painting and drawing their journeys in coming to terms with both their physical and emotional scars. The results have culminated in a very powerful art exhibition that can be currently viewed at the centre on Ilen Street in Skibbereen.

Karen is a trained nurse and an artist, so she was very cognisant of the painful memories that could be provoked whilst working through some emotional aspects of the healing journey. Therefore in tandem with the workshops, Lisheens House provided free counselling for the participants if they wanted to avail of it, and will do the same for ‘Caring 2Create’ workshops in the future.

‘I experienced a great sense of peace through attending the workshops,’ said Margaret, a former teacher who participated. ‘I didn’t have much experience in art beforehand and I found it very therapeutic to share with the others. I now can hear an ambulance without crying.’ 

 Margaret had experienced a ‘Takotsubo’ heart attack – a temporary condition where the left ventricle changes shape and enlarges and typically affects more women than men. 

 ‘I collapsed at work. It was caused by stress. The evening before I had my heart attack my daughter said to me – “Mam slow down or else you’ll get a heart attack.” 

The next day I found myself in an ambulance on the way to CUH. I could hear everything that was going on. I remember the ambulance crew saying “3.53 Cork” – that still stays with me, and I incorporated it into my piece.’ she said.

‘Body Change has been the most powerful workshop I have ever facilitated,’ said Karen. ‘I was in awe of the courage shown by the women and struck by their emotive words and phrases, which were so evocative of the fear and trauma experienced that it inspired me to make an art piece around those specific words,’ she said.

‘It put the whole experience of my cancer into perspective,’ said workshop participant Anthea Hirons. ‘It empowered me to feel that the best revenge that I can have is to live well.’ Anthea had struggled with the life altering experiences of cancer and her husband leaving at the same time.

 ‘It helped me put things into perspective, and reminded me that I’m lucky to be here. Plus I have a piece of work now that I’m very proud of.’ she said.

Mick Kearns, manager of Lisheens House added: ‘We are delighted to host Caring2Create. It’s a sign of how much we have grown and diversified the range of services we provide. It also highlights that taking care of one’s mental health is not confined to one-to-one counselling. Furthermore it reinforces our will to continue promoting positive mental health and well-being through a wide range of activities going forward.’ he concluded.

 The exhibition can be viewed at Lisheen’s House until April 16th.



• For more information on Caring2Create workshops contact Karen:086-3155146

Share this article