Life

Strangford psychotherapist shares her faith in the healing power of art

Strangford woman Geralyn Mulqueen is bringing together her experience as a life coach, psychotherapist and artist to benefit people who have suffered trauma, mental illness or anxiety. She tells Jenny Lee how we can all benefit from creativity

Strangford psychotherapist Geralyn Mulqueen has benefited personally from the healing power of art. Picture courtesy of Joe Laverty Photography

ACCORDING to the Mental Health Foundation, one in four of us will experience a mental health-related issue in any given year yet art can, for many people, have a curative effect.

Much research has been carried out into the therapeutic benefits of art therapy for reducing anxiety and increasing self-esteem. Using art to help people deal with emotional trauma and build resilience before the need for medical intervention is the goal of Strangford artist and psychotherapist Geralyn Mulqueen. She is so passionate about achieving this that she has organised a public discussion with experts from the world of social work, health and art.

'Art for the Senses – a journey of resilience and recovery', will take place at Belfast's MAC theatre later this month, its aim to bridge the fields of art, psychotherapy, health and social policy.

The event is part exhibition and part discussion – with panellists Paula Matthews, a writer and social worker, Dr Jolene Mairs Dyer, a lecturer in media production at Ulster University and former mental health social worker and therapist, and Dr Francis O'Neill, consultant psychiatrist at the Belfast HSC Trust.

The first in an anticipated series of such events, it is aimed at social policy makers, politicians, therapists, teachers and artisans of all levels.

"For some time now, I have wanted to share my own story with a wider audience but also communicate the value of art and its importance in self-care and wellbeing. I firmly believe that everyone has an inner creative spirit that can be channelled for good within each of us," says Geralyn, who worked as a barrister for 10 years, before taking a break for motherhood.

After having benefited personally from psychotherapy, to deal with her own past, Geralyn decided to retrain as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and is currently in private practise in Belfast and Dublin.

Her studies coincided with her developing a passion for painting. Working in acrylic, her colourful abstract paintings, which she describes as "an emotional translation of what's going on within myself", have been exhibited as far away as Berlin and Paris.

"On reflection, I was using art as a theraupetic medium for myself. Art was a way for me to find a sense of relief and freedom and express something I found verbally difficult to articulate," she says.

During her time working in the legal world, Geralyn witnessed first-hand the effect of the lack of mental health services available to young people, and has a deep desire to help others to use art as a means of expression, therapy and empowerment.

"Art can have a calming effect on anyone. Regardless of your experience and ability to paint, art offers incredible healing potential. Creativity should be at the forefront of education and wellbeing for children and young people and on a par with academic studies. We need more creative spaces to express our emotions and enable people to survive," says Geralyn, who is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and received its support to move her Art for the Senses initiative forward.

Geralyn admits that the loss of a sibling two years ago was a huge trigger for her desire to help others and bring her work as a psychoanalyst into creativity.

"My personal grief and response to it made me realise the power of art and creativity in emotional recovery and rethink how I wanted to share my lived experience to help others," she explains.

Last year she held a series of practical Art for the Senses workshop in Strangford.

"Some people haven't lifted a colouring pencil in years, but that doesn't matter. Nor does the creative outlet – it could be writing, movement or film-making," says Geralyn, who is holding another workshop in Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal, next month.

She has also recently been appointed artist in residence for the Stendhal Festival, in Limavady in August and is looking forward to having a "blank canvas" of opportunity to engage with festival goers.

:: Art for the Senses – a journey of resilience and recovery takes place at Belfast's MAC on Friday March 29. It is free to attend, though places are limited. To register your interest email explore@artforthesenses.com. For further information visit Geralynmulqueen.com

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