Elspeth Scott is an art therapist in South West London

What attracted you to become a therapist?

I have always been interested in people’s wellbeing and whilst teaching art and design in a large secondary school in North London, I was drawn to the pastoral side of working in the institution. I became interested in helping young people but not necessarily through teaching and embarked on a career counselling programme through the CCS (Career Counselling Service). This provided me with helpful insight into things that I enjoyed, valued and was good at.

At the same time, I discovered that there was such a thing as art therapy and the idea of becoming an art therapist gave me an immediate feeling of something falling into place.

I had also begun seeing a Jungian psychoanalyst and will always remember the moment that I informed my therapist, about half way through a session, that I was going to apply for the art therapy training. Again, there was a sense that I was moving along the right path.

Where did you train? 

I did an MA in Art Psychotherapy at Hatfield, University of Hertfordshire.

Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?

I work as an art therapist, which is a form of psychotherapy that involves the use of art materials. It is important to know that the work does not require any kind of skill and the images are not judged on artistic merit, but are seen as possessing potential meanings, such as thoughts, feelings, dreams and memories. 

The artmaking can be used as a way of communicating things non-verbally that might be too difficult to put into words. The client can find their own meanings within the images and image making process. Of course, it is fine to talk too, and the client is free to make use of the time in the sessions as they wish.

Art therapy began in the 1940s and the term was coined by an artist called Adrian Hill who noted the beneficial effects of painting whilst recovering from tuberculosis.

How does art therapy help?

Art therapy can be helpful for people with a wide spectrum of needs and difficulties.

Although some people may find the idea of making artwork anxiety provoking, the act of doing something creative that doesn’t involve a need to be skilful or to make something aesthetically pleasing – be it through painting, drawing or experiencing the sensory input of materials such as clay or sand – can be very soothing. 

It can also evoke other feeling states that are able to be explored within the safety of the sessions. It is a way of helping a person communicate their inner state, as well as release their feelings, and work through a process of self-healing over which they themselves have some control. 

What sort of people do you usually see? 

Much of my work has been in schools with children and young people, particularly teenagers. I also see adults, as well as young people, in my private practice.

Have you noticed any recent mental health trends or wider changes in attitude?

Whilst social media has played a positive role in helping people to understand more about mental health, there have been some negative trends connected to social media that I have seen in my work. This has particularly been the case with teenagers around bullying.

I have done quite a lot of work with young people on the autistic spectrum and there appears to be a growing understanding and awareness of autism, particularly in girls with whom autistic traits can be harder to identify than with boys.

What do you like about being a therapist?

I love helping people along their healing path. Work in the therapy can bring up difficult feelings, but it can also be very playful and this is often a beneficial aspect of our lives that becomes lost.

The sessions offer a safe space where a client can bring their vulnerable self, together with emotions and feelings, such as fear or sadness, that are often not so well accepted and supported outside in society.

What is less pleasant?

Sometimes, people may not have heard about art therapy. There can be a wariness of the unknown around therapy in general, and in my work with young people I also have to be mindful of adults who they rely upon to enable them to access the therapy. Often people are curious and it’s about explaining how art therapy works and how it can help in a given situation.

How long have you been with Welldoing and what you think of us?

I have very recently joined Welldoing and am impressed by the clear visual appearance and easy format of the site, which works well for both clients and therapists. I am just beginning to explore the many interesting and educational articles and videos that are available to access.

What you do for your own mental health? 

I have an allotment where I grow my own fruit, vegetables and flowers. Experiencing a connection with the earth and nature is an essential part of my life that nourishes me both mentally and physically. 

I also keep up my practice as an artist and I enjoy cooking and cycling too.

You are a therapist in London. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area? 

Much of my work as a therapist has taken place in Westminster and my private practice is in the neighbouring borough of Kensington. The population in both boroughs is very diverse and people come to art therapy for a wide variety of reasons.

What’s your consultation room like?

The room where I work has been specially designed for use by therapists and their clients. It is private, comfortable, light, nicely decorated and is easily accessible via public transport.

What do you wish people knew about therapy?

I wish people knew how having a consistent time for oneself each week seeing a therapist can bring about such worthwhile changes in one’s life. Often it can be vital and I would encourage anyone to take those steps.

What did you learn about yourself in therapy?

There are many layers to what I have learned about myself in therapy, some of which I have come to understand more fully later on. As a creative person, I like to visualise a sort of pattern with many interconnecting parts that represent our own unique set of experiences, relationships and circumstances that form the changing pattern of our lives.

Contact Elspeth here

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