Museum-based Art Psychotherapy Group for Young Adults

Museum-based Art Psychotherapy Group for Young Adults

The Group aimed to:

  • help participants to understand themselves better;
  • foster the ability to form and sustain positive relationships with others;
  • encourage social inclusion;
  • inspire creativity;

The Group was developed and delivered by 2gether NHS Foundation Trust Art Psychotherapists, working with adults with severe and enduring mental health difficulties. This was the first time that the Trust had used museum objects, exhibitions and environments to facilitate psychological therapy.

Description of the arts activity

18 weekly Art Psychotherapy sessions. Usually each 90-minute session had four parts:

  • an opportunity to share thoughts and feelings, and an introduction to the session (about 15 minutes)
  • exploration of objects/exhibitions (about 25 minutes) followed sometimes by a brief discussion
  • reflective artmaking, with a variety of media available (about 30 minutes)
  • verbal reflections on artworks (about 20 minutes).

Sessions were based in a private meeting room, with participants leaving the room to explore exhibitions but returning for artmaking.

Details of the project participants

Participants were referred by their mental health Care Co-ordinators and met with the therapists to assess the suitability of the group for their needs. Ten people started the Group, and seven completed it. The participants were all aged between 18 and 25 and between them they had diagnoses of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, Bipolar Affective Disorder, Recurrent Depressive Disorder, and Anxiety.

Project management

The group was run by Ali Coles, Art Psychotherapist, and Fiona Harrison, Honorary Art Psychotherapist, with supervision from Angela Burton, Trust Lead for the Arts Therapies. The group was run within the Trust’s Complex Psychological Interventions service and there were no costs to participants. The evaluation protocol, including gaining participant consent, was approved by the Gloucestershire NHS Research Support Service.

Evaluation methods and findings


The evaluation aimed to:

  • assess the psychological impact of a museum-based Art Psychotherapy Group for young adults
  • explore the role of the museum collections and setting in this.
  • The following data was gathered:
  • feedback from Care Co-ordinators about their perception of any changes in participants’ problems, function, wellbeing and use of services
  • reflective interview with participants after the group ended
  • facilitators’ reflective diaries of sessions, including photographs of participant artworks
  • UCL Museum Wellbeing Measure (Younger Adult)1 – end of each session
  • PSYCHLOPS2 – measure of problems, function and wellbeing
  • Rosenberg Self-Esteem Questionnaire3.


The evaluation of this pilot project appears to confirm the idea that a museum setting could contribute towards Art Psychotherapy with this group of service users.

  • The drop-out rate (three out of ten) was similar to other psychological therapy groups run within the service.
  • Five (of seven) participants experienced a significant decrease in problems and increase in function and wellbeing according to pre- and post-therapy PSYCHLOPS scores. Two participants experienced a significant increase in problems, and decrease in function and wellbeing; they both experienced events during the course of the group which their Care Co-ordinators identified as very challenging.
  • Two (of seven) participants’ self-esteem increased greatly according to pre- and post-therapy Rosenberg Self-Esteem Questionnaire scores (at least an 11 point increase out of a maximum of 30 points). Four participants had a small decrease or increase in self-esteem (a difference of four points or less).
  • All participants and Care Co-ordinators identified some positive changes in line with the overall group aims. No-one felt that the group had impacted negatively on the participants. All participants except one felt they had achieved all their own personal goals for the group. No service users or Care Co-ordinators reported that the group had impacted negatively on the participants.
  • There is evidence that the setting contributed to the group aims of helping participants to understand themselves better, fostering the ability to form and sustain positive relationships with others, encouraging social inclusion and inspiring creativity. In particular, the setting appeared to:
  • help participants to reflect on feelings and experiences
  • facilitate interaction between members
  • encourage independence
  • help members to feel valued and connected with the world outside mental health services
  • foster motivation and creativity.

It is notable that all participants and Care Co-ordinators were positive about holding the group in museums; no-one identified any negative aspects. The Art Psychotherapists running the group consider that the therapeutic process for this group of young adults was greatly enhanced by the museum setting.

Steph Davies (Expert by Experience and Group member):

“Doing art therapy in a museum is different from normal art therapy. It is in a public space so it feels less clinical, more relaxed and you feel like you are a real person working on your own personal goals rather than just a patient going through treatment.

“Being in a museum, it helps bring out your creative side. You get a chance to look at a wide variety of different exhibitions, both historic and modern which brings a bit of excitement; in turn, this helps bring out the artistic and imaginative qualities in you. It makes you think outside the box which tricks your brain into looking at things in a different way. You get the chance to see things that you wouldn't normally consider relating back to your own life, and this gives you a new insight into your experiences and thoughts and feelings.

“You wouldn’t necessarily have thought that pulling objects out of museum boxes and wandering around looking at artefacts would help you feel better or make progress in recovery, but you would be surprised. Even if you don’t think you are creative, the work you create after spending time in the museum will amaze you.”

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England