How the arts and mental health can be positively linked

Commune For Arts, a free virtual program hosted by actor / theater director Ho Lee Ching, was set up to help people cope with the pandemic and manage their mental health.

This goodwill initiative, which will last for three months through Zoom, is supported by the 2020 funding program of the Cultural Economy Development Agency (Cendana) and carried out in collaboration with the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center (KLPac) and the Malaysian Mental Health Association. . (MMHA).

“Times are dark. I think it’s important to take time to look after your mental health.

“Creative art therapies allow us to slow down, relieve anxiety and rumination, improve self-efficacy, and help relax, motivate and energize your system,” says Ching (as she prefers to be called) .

“We can also feel empowered and valued just by being in a safe and supportive group,” she adds.

Initially, Commune For Arts was conceived as a weekly session that would take place on the outdoor lawn of KLPac. But the project was put on hold after the pandemic hit the country last year. Ching, 30, decided to relaunch it after receiving funding from Cendana and pivoted online given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic.

“We also made the decision to work with Creative Arts Therapists instead. This change was brought about mainly after assessing the state of mental health in the country over the past year.

The three-month program of the Commune des Arts. Photo: Handout

“Honestly, I also fought myself. And in a mental health peer support group that I run online, many spoke about how their anxiety had worsened over the year. Therefore, the transition to working with Creative Arts Therapists made sense to me, ”says Ching.

Ching is no stranger to shedding light on mental health issues through the arts. In 2018, she staged her first director’s show at KLPac called TOC who explored the experiences of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and in 2019 she produced a physical theater performance on neurodiversity called Enter exit.

She admits that like some people with Gilles de la Tourette syndrome and several mental health comorbidities, Commune For Arts is a very personal project.

“It promotes values ​​and beliefs that I hold dear – the amalgamation of an inclusive community environment, the arts and mental health advocacy.

“By offering this landscape, I believe and hope that Commune For Arts can have a positive impact on the participants, through individual changes at the level of society,” Ching suggests.

Commune For Arts offers three types of Creative Therapy and Therapeutic Art Creation sessions, namely Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), Art Therapy and Therapeutic Writing Sessions. A clinical psychologist will also be present.

Commune For Arts will begin with therapeutic writing sessions on October 16, hosted by writer Shivani Sivagurunathan. Two time slots (morning and noon) are made available, limited to six participants for each session. In therapeutic writing, participants will explore the art of self-expression through creative writing. The sessions will also take place on October 30, November 13, November 27 and December 11.

Ho Lee Ching says that creative art therapies allow us to slow down, relieve anxiety, and energize our system.  Photo: HandoutHo Lee Ching says creative art therapies allow us to slow down, relieve anxiety, and energize our system. Photo: Handout

The DMT sessions, which will take place on October 17, October 31, November 7, November 14, November 21, December 12, December 19 and December 26, will be facilitated by licensed dance movement therapist Janet Moo. Limited to 20 participants per session, the one-hour course will focus on strengthening body-mind integration, improving cognitive organization and regulating emotions through the use of movement.

Finally, the art therapy sessions, which will take place on October 23, November 6, November 20, December 4 and December 18, will be led by licensed artistic psychotherapist Dana Kaarina. Art therapy sessions, limited to 15 participants, will involve a variety of creative expressions, including painting, drawing, coloring and sculpture. For participants who cannot afford art materials, limited communal art kits will be made available.

“I believe the arts can be a tool for transformation. Commune For Arts is my first step in engaging a community and helping the public realize the value of the arts through advocacy for mental health.

“I hope that Commune For Arts will be a platform that explores the humanity we all share, bringing together a diverse community, enriching the arts and cultural scene in Malaysia,” concludes Ching.

More info here.



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