Experiences of freedom and personal growth in a community arts group for mental health: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
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Turner-Halliday, F. (2013) Experiences of freedom and personal growth in a community arts group for mental health: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, no. 181.
Background: The relationship between art and mental health has evolved from a main focus on art therapy to include community arts approaches with wider and more socially-based links to health. The proliferation of community arts approaches across the UK is not met, however, with a research focus that provides insight into the mechanisms by which the activity might contribute to improving mental health. Aims: The aim of this study is to qualitatively explore the meaning of taking part in community arts for those with mental health problems and to learn about the process and ethos of group experience that was interpreted to form a necessary foundation for mental health benefit. Methods: The community arts experience of six art group members was explored through semi-structured interviews (four of whom participated in a second round of interviews). Data was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Findings: Community arts for mental health, in this particular study, span multiple aspects of participants' life contexts that were found to fall into two main aspects of meaning; that is, a sense of freedom from expectation and a trajectory of personal growth. When taken together, these two superordinate themes further represent the meaning of art group experience as a process whereby the art group culture can allow, and facilitate, positive change and long-term development. Conclusions: The investigation of benefit and outcome in relation to community arts for mental health can only go so far in providing insight into the journey of participatory experience. Instead, this study's exploration of the meanings of art engagement within a group context goes beyond description of benefit to suggest a complex process whereby the 'ingredients' of the art group culture is pivotal to the role of community arts in improving the lives of those experiencing mental health problems. The journey of growth that was experienced by participants evokes important and complex questions for community arts in relation to public health goals, therapeutic approaches to improve mental health and concepts within mental health arenas, such as the nature of 'recovery.' Furthermore the study suggests a pivotal role for health psychology in sparking a collaborative dialogue about the learning that can be gained from community arts approaches, as well as in facilitating community arts in designing approaches to working with mental health groups that are based on the insightful reflections of those who engage in them.