When I started this business, I had a pretty definite idea of what creative therapy was. It was things like sandplay, art, movement and dance. But the more I think about it, the more I see creativity in many things that we do.
I find fascinating by a survey of three and a half thousand knitters, who reported the same kind of benefits from their craft, as I see happening every day in sandplay and art. The knitters reported feeling more relaxed and less stressed. They had reduced levels of anxiety and (this is the one that got me the most) a feeling of connection to creative traditions.
So, what does creative tradition actually mean?
What is the creativity that seems to belong in the past that we have now lost?
One of my earliest memories is of sitting in front of the fire with my grandma, crocheting. She would ask me how my day had been at school. Then, she would talk to me about her memories of being a girl in a fishing village in Northumberland. The flames lit her expressive storytelling, above hands that were moving rhythmically through wool, in order to create something beautiful.
And today what do I do for a living?
I encourage children and young people to tell me about their day at school, whilst we move sand around with our fingers and make clay pots. There is something comforting, tactile and eternal about this kind of connection. A comfort that we also try to get from box sets, but to me, that’s colder and less personal than winding bobbins of wool in front of the fire.
The psychotherapist Carl Jung went all around the world collecting stories passed on verbally (rarely written down) told around fires between generations. He saw something essentially human or archetypal about this access to the Collective Unconscious. It was the storytelling of the creative imagination. Jung also warned of the dangers to us as a species of losing this intimate connection.
I really think we can only progress so far before our instinctual creative traditions and nature kick back in. There have been waves of it before. Think of the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites or the furniture of William Morris. They were connecting back to nature and the mythical in the face of the concrete, industrial revolution.
And creative tradition has also come to our rescue before.
World War One veterans suffering from shellshock (which we now know is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) wove baskets and embroidered as a way of soothing their fragmented souls. Knitting became very popular in mental health units in the 1970s. About ten years ago, I worked in a unit, where there were regular knitting competitions between the patients and the nursing staff.
And now, in our post-industrial cyber world, we turn to adult colouring books and quilting to bring ourselves back to our senses. Literally. Technology can never replace the feeling of something real and organic in our hands, and the smile of someone sitting with us whilst we do it. Indeed, children created sandplay therapy, feeling the need for that creative witnessing.
I have been at a couple of scientific trauma conferences this week and some colleagues asked me the inevitable questions about the evidence-base behind sandplay.
Part of me wants to get out all my randomised controlled trials and dust off my slide shows. But I have to admit that a larger part wants to take my colleagues by the hand, light a fire and offer them a ball of wool.