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A man and a woman sit next to each other painting masks as part of the Arts for the Blues programme.

News story

Project using the arts to tackle depression wins international award

November 7, 2022

An innovative project which uses the arts to tackle depression has been awarded the top prize at an international counselling and psychotherapy conference.

Arts for the Blues is a collaborative research project between artists, therapists, universities, NHS trusts and cultural institutions. The project team, made up of academics and practitioners from across a range of disciplines including performance arts, literature, wellbeing, health and social care, has developed a new evidence-based creative psychological therapy for treating depression. 

Now, the group behind the project, which includes staff from Edge Hill University and the University of Salford, has been awarded the Senior Prize at the International Conference on Pluralistic Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Over the last five years, the Arts for the Blues project has worked with hundreds of adults and children in schools and mental health services across the North West. Results from adults participating in the project showed a decrease in anxiety and an upturn in wellbeing. A pilot trial with 56 children suffering emotional or behavioural difficulties was similarly successful; 12 months after the intervention, there were sustained improvements in their quality of life, quality of sleep and overall wellbeing.

Professor Vicky Karkou

Professor Vicky Karkou, Director of the Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing at Edge Hill University, said: “Arts for the Blues has already shown how it can have a tremendous impact, using a new approach to tackle a massive problem. 

“This fantastic award is recognition of the successful project work we have done over the last five years.  

“Creative psychological therapy can have a real impact on reducing depression and anxiety as well as improving wellbeing and quality of life, and we are excited to continue to develop this work in the future.”

Dr Joanna Omylinska-Thurston

Dr Joanna Omylinska-Thurston, Counselling Psychologist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust and Lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy at the University of Salford, is a co-investigator in this project and co-founder of Arts for the Blues. She explained: “We are delighted to receive this award and with the success of the project. 

“We know that traditional talking-based therapies exclude many people for whom talking therapy is not a suitable treatment; including those who struggle with verbal communication or don’t have a strong command of English. The high levels of people who drop-out from primary care mental health services – calculated at 63% by NHS Digital in 2021 – show that other options are needed. 

“By using a creative psychological therapy that encompasses movement, visual arts, drama, music, creative writing and talking, people can experience and express emotions, share with others, and develop useful techniques to use outside of therapy. We now hope we can continue to expand the project even further to help more people.”

November 7, 2022

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