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The Birth Event

By Hephzibah Kaplan

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On one weekend in January 2018 London Art Therapy Centre hosted Professor Susan Hogan and her colleague Kate Phillips for a special 2-day event to learn and reflect about their work on the Birth Project they have been conducting at the University of Derby.

On the Saturday we had a Film Event. There were 24 guests, mostly arts therapists and art therapy trainees. There were also two medical doctors, one of whom was an obstetrician and pioneer in natural child birth, the other a holistic medical doctor and psychotherapist. Three of the participants were pregnant and one participant came with a very young infant, breast-feeding as needed.

The art studio was set up as a cinema, with lots of popcorn, fruit and drinks. There were two films shown, with an interview and reflect discussions, facilitated by integrative arts therapist Pia Jones, who runs the Nest and Rest Group at London Art Therapy Centre.

Each film showed small groups of mothers sharing their experiences post-birth, using art therapy as part of their reflective and healing processes. While groups of women have traditionally shared their highs and lows of childbirth in formal and informal discussions, the use of the arts in these settings provided an opportunity to deeply access and express the multitude of feelings. In art one can simultaneously show the interweaving ambivalent feelings and the artwork in the films showed creativity, pain and playfulness as well as seemingly coming from a deep knowing place, at once familiar to the female psyche but not always expressible in words.

Everyone in the audience filled out short questionnaires after each screening. These will be collated to the ongoing research by Susan and her colleagues at Derby. It was excellent to meet art therapists involved in academic research, contributing to the developing canon of research in art therapy.

In delivering a vote of thanks, Dr. Brian Kaplan, spoke of the PTSD that many women have suffered post-childbirth and said that the films showed how art therapy had been used effectively to prevent post-trauma develop into a long-term syndrome. This in itself is an invaluable offering.

On Sunday Kate Phillips ran a three-hour art therapy workshop on the same theme.

The workshop was full and there were as many people on the waiting list as participants. The interest generated in attending this workshop reflects the hunger for more arts therapists to develop this area of work and to offer it more widely. If you are an art therapist looking to move into this area, you are urged to make contact with the University of Derby to contribute to their research in this area. If you would like to attend a group for pregnant and post-natal mothers, please contact Pia who runs these groups here.

Please see accompanying article by Prof. Hogan entitled ‘Mothers Make Art’ describing the project.

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