The Best of Today: Informing Art Psychotherapy Dementia Practice Education

In our Building Bridges AHP Practice Education Programme, we are committed to finding out what is working well today to work out how to best move forward tomorrow. The students on placement are really our placement experts so it is really important that we can listen to their perspective. In this blog, I ask Shirelle Young, student Art Psychotherapist about her recent placement at Alzheimer Scotland.


Question: Reflecting on the therapeutic environment, what really mattered?

Answer: “It was very important to have a space that was private and quiet and easily adapted or use as an art room in a short space of time. It was important that it was recognised as a confidential exclusive place whilst the art therapy session was in progress, and free from interruption.”


Question: Concentrating on the process of art making, what worked well?

Answer: “I think it worked well to have several materials available for use. At first I had quite a lot of materials on show but I learned to limit this but still have them available if required. Once I got to know people, I was better able to gauge what materials the clients may want to experiment with in the future and suggest options for them when appropriate.”



Question: Focussing on the therapeutic relationships that developed, what made a difference?

Answer: “Talking to participants as a person first, without letting dementia over-shadow their self. Giving my people the time and space to express themselves without pressure to talk was vital. Given the sensitive nature of dementia I feel that time is needed to let people build trust and their self-esteem in order to feel comfortable enough to express themselves both creatively and verbally.”


Question: Thinking about your own reflective processes, what was helpful?

Answer: “It was helpful to look at myself and realise that when I become emotional about issues relating to clients that this is not a fault, it is normal. If I can recognise it as empathy and work with it then I can become a more productive practitioner. I should take credit for my strengths and accept compliments graciously.”


Question: Looking at how you have adapted your approach to meet the needs of people with dementia and their carers within Alzheimer Scotland what has been important?

Answer: “I think patience is very important, to slow down and work at their pace. To enjoy the process alongside them and take pleasure in their accomplishments. To try and become a better listener and learn to respond rather than react to things you experience with your clients.”


Question: In working towards becoming a dementia skilled practitioner, what has been useful?

Answer: “It has been useful to work closely with people living with dementia and this includes the carers who sometimes have different challenges but no less relevant. It is good to read all the books, articles and pamphlets but the experiential learning that takes place within a placement is invaluable. It is only through relating to and building the therapeutic relationship with a person living with dementia that we can learn to become an informed and empathetic therapist”.


Question: Looking back at your placement at Alzheimer Scotland, what are you really proud of?

Answer: “I am proud of how people used the art therapy sessions to explore their own feelings, to experiment with art materials and to be supportive of me in my work with them at a time when they are dealing with their own personal challenges living with dementia. I am proud that I motivated and inspired some people to take their art and display it in a public exhibition. I am proud of how I dealt with working autonomously during the organisational changes taking place within Alzheimer Scotland. I am proud of the staff that supported me during my placement, even though they were under their own work pressure.”

Over to you

Having shared some of Shirelle’s thoughts, we would be interested to hear about your experiences of being creative and the impact on your health and wellbeing… What has made a difference for you?

About the author:

Adrienne McDermid-Thomas
Allied Health Professional Practice Education Facilitator


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