Make Your Mark

Make Your Mark

‘Piloting the use of Arts Award in therapeutic work with children and young people’ By Joanna Stevens, former Lead for Arts Therapies at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and Cindy Cox and Catherine Orbach, Co-Directors, Culture Shift.
In June 2013, Sussex Partnership held an introductory session on Arts Award for 25 health professionals in collaboration with Culture Shift. Participants’ feedback confirmed they saw using Arts Award in mental health practice as a valid area of enquiry and practice development.


The project was commissioned by Trinity College London as part of the Arts Award Reaching Out programme.
Our aim was to get a better understanding the value and challenges of Arts Award and to produce guidelines to promote further use of the award in art therapy practice with children and young people. The objectives were to:
- Train 10 arts therapists as Arts Award Bronze and Silver level advisers
- Support the trained advisers to identify and work with young people to achieve Bronze Arts Award within the context of their therapeutic relationship
- Initiate up to 25 Bronze Arts Awards with young people in one to one and group contexts
- Thoroughly review and reflect on the value and challenges to inform guidance for other professionals.

The Arts Awards were undertaken in a range of settings e.g. with groups of young people and in an individual therapy context: towards the end of therapy, post therapy (by therapist), post therapy (as a follow on intervention) and outside the therapy context.

The project took place from September 2013 – May 2014.

Description of the arts activity

Once the funding and scope of the pilot was agreed the opportunity was advertised across arts therapies services in Sussex, Hampshire and Kent as well as to those supporting young people through other Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) programmes such as the Participation Programmes. Ten therapists applied to join the pilot programme. One member of CAMHS who was already trained as an adviser but hadn’t taken people through the moderation also joined the project.
All were trained as Arts Award advisers at Bronze and Silver level. They were asked to identify at least one young person to support towards moderation in March 2014.

Two of the eleven therapist-advisers sought to deliver the Arts Award with groups of young people, the remaining therapists worked on a one-to-one basis. Some introduced the Arts Award as an option at the initial assessment stage; others were more established in their relationship with the young people.

Eight young people were put forward for moderation in March 2014. In initially engaging the young people within the one-to-one context all therapists carefully considered who they approached to undertake the pilot. This was influenced by the stage of the therapeutic relationship as well as the interests of the young person.

The pilot provided many examples of Arts Award helping young people to connect with others in their network – teachers, family, key workers etc. This assisted in maintaining momentum. It was also a chance to go out and engage with the wider world and have shared experiences.

Details of the project participants

The target population was young people under 25 accessing Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Recruitment was through the trained therapist-advisers – either young people they had previously worked with, young people they were working with, or young people in the initial stages of accessing therapy.

Project management

The therapist-advisers were coordinated and supported by Joanna Stevens, Lead for Arts and Health at Sussex Partnership, and psychology graduate intern Flo Horwood. Therapist-advisers could also access Arts Award support from Cindy Cox at Culture Shift by telephone and a pre-moderation face to face surgery.

The practical aspects of setting up as an Arts Award centre and registering for moderation were undertaken by Sussex Partnership.

Evaluation methods and findings

Evaluation data was collected through a focus group and individual feedback from participants.
Arts Award was well received by the art therapists and the young people they worked with in almost all instances. The training and pilot delivery resulted in the following:

  • Eight young people were entered for and achieved their Level 1 qualification, Bronze Arts Award at the March moderation. The Arts Award experience also held therapeutic value for those who were not yet entered for moderation or who voluntarily withdrew.
  • Ten therapists were trained as Arts Award advisers and given the immediate opportunity to trial Bronze with support of an Arts Award training agency. All therapists have experienced professional development through new approaches and knowledge, and have added Arts Award to their ‘toolbox.’ They also valued working together as a supportive peer group.
  • Several of the therapists intended to continue working with young people who were not ready to submit at the March moderation.
  • The Arts Award structure and content delivered on therapeutic goals and provided a bridge between therapy and ‘outside.’ It has positively influenced therapeutic alliances and positively activated support networks surrounding the young people. There was significant personal growth and immense pride in the finished portfolios of artworks, film, photographs and written reflections.

The Arts Award has proven a valuable tool in enhancing therapeutic goals, bridging this with young people’s lives and interests outside and providing tangible outcomes to be proud of.

The involvement of a wider network was valuable for both the young people, whose Arts Award experience gave concrete avenues for parents, keyworkers and teachers to connect, and the therapists who appreciated the professional dialogue and support from each other, Culture Shift and Arts Award.

Delivering Arts Award in these contexts means the stakes are high. The therapists carried a palpable, occasionally overwhelming, sense of responsibility towards their young people whose vulnerability meant ‘risk of failure’ was an issue. On the positive side the achievements associated with succeeding within Arts Award are all the more significant, and even where the Arts Award was not completed for the March moderation the therapists were able to use the experience to positively support the therapeutic process.

The project resulted in the creation of a set of national guidelines for using Arts Award in therapeutic practice settings.
Link for further information: http://www.artsaward.org.uk/site/?id=2625

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England