In my ‘Exploring Creativity’ blog series, I’ve spoken to inspirational and fascinating artists about their creative processes and settings. This time, I’m finding out about using creativity for our wellbeing with Deborah Humphrey, who worked in mental health nursing and education for 30 years before setting up The Wellbeing Story, her integrative creative coaching business. Deborah uses writing and other creative concepts to help people improve their wellbeing.
I began by asking Deborah how The Wellbeing Story came about.
“In my last few years in mental health, I wanted to do something different. I really like the process of writing – not publishing anything but creating and facilitating. My passion is health and wellbeing, and doing something creative really helps with emotional resilience and mental health, so I decided to do a coaching diploma with creative intentions, and it all came together from there.
“In my coaching, I use creativity to tap into a different part of a client’s mind, where they can visualise what they can’t verbalise. You don’t need to be a good writer and I never look at what a client writes, it’s not about good grammar or properly formed sentences, it’s about sparking a different part of your brain. I encourage them to do 10 minutes of free writing about whatever’s on their mind, then we might choose a poem and think about the impact it has on them, moving on to something like collaging. Adults often find it difficult to get over their embarrassment of getting the glue and paper out to create a collage, but it really frees up their ability to talk.
“I like to find ways for specific clients to use creative texts. For example, I worked with a guy who found it hard to talk about himself. He came from a creative-writing background, so I asked him to write a script and put himself into it.”
I can see how powerful using writing in coaching would be. I find that I can write down things that I can’t always easily say. Sometimes stuff can be written that you didn’t even know was there! I asked Deborah why someone would come and see her.
“They might be looking for coaching, it’s often word-of-mouth recommendations around my space at the Wellbeing Clinic in Headington. I explain how I work and suggest different creative techniques to help them tackle an issue. For instance, if someone is struggling at work, we’d investigate where they hold the problem in their body, and then we’d maybe go for a walk to find an object that resonates with them and we talk about it. I worked with someone who was very unconfident, so we drew and named the imposter (from their imposter syndrome), which we put it in a metaphorical jar and physically moved away during the session.
“I also love working with groups in a similar format. We start with a creative mindful activity to loosen up, such as drawing round their hands and writing what they want to achieve in the fingers, like a palm reading. Then we’d write something individually or create a group poem – there’s never any pressure to share what they’ve written. I’ve been asked to do a workshop for new nurses where I’ll use these creative techniques to help them look after their emotional resilience at work.”
There are distinct similarities to Open Stage Arts – working with individuals at our drama and singing classes, then with groups for team and skills building out in the workplace. With The Wellbeing Story, clients are using their creativity within a wellbeing situation.
“More and more organisations are interested in using creativity to think about how they can unleash something inside them to improve their wellbeing. People have so many preconceived ideas and barriers about their creativity and, for some, using creative interventions is really frightening. However, as the coaching progresses and they trust me, they open up to trying something different.
“I also practice what I preach! I take part in creative therapy as it’s important that I’ve experienced it myself so I have empathy with others. I really enjoy working with adults in this way and giving them something practical to take away – some people have stuck their collage on their office wall – I get a lot of pleasure from that.
“Looking ahead I’d like to do a mix of community coaching and workshops in larger organisations. Using creative interventions in coaching isn’t an area that’s very well developed, in fact I’m going to be giving a talk about it at Oxford Brookes University soon, so there are exciting things to come!”
You can find out more about Deborah’s creative coaching at http://thewellbeingstory.co.uk/ and if you’d like to get in touch, contact her on 07778 351885.