Michael Sobell House Hospice in Northwood has an expressive way of helping its patients come to terms with having a life-limiting illness. Reporter SIBA MATTI spoke to art therapist Nicole Weinberger to find out more
CREATING a piece of art has long been a means of self expression, but it can also boost self-esteem and confidence, and give people a sense of control - as many patients at Michael Sobell House Hospice have discovered.
The hospice, a centre for specialist palliative care, based at Mount Vernon Hospital in Northwood, hosts art therapy sessions to help patients overcome the challenges associated with a life-limiting condition.
And according to art therapist Nicole Weinberger, the classes can immensely improve patients' quality of life.
"We offer all sorts of activities, including drawing, oils and pastels, glass, tile and silk painting, card making, clay modelling, collage and papier mâché and even knitting," says Nicole, who emigrated to England 12 years ago from her native Chile.
"The sessions are aimed at people aged from 30 to 90, although we once had a 103-year-old lady who took part and really enjoyed it!
"They are designed to give patients the opportunity to relax and express thoughts and feelings which are often difficult to understand, in a meaningful way.
"Some people are suffering from anxiety and depression and many find it hard to deal with feeling out of control as result of having a life-limiting illness - especially people who have been in high-powered jobs with a lot of responsibility.
"Art therapy can help them to regain that control and give them a sense of empowerment, and people often say how much lighter they feel at the end of the sessions.
"They also feel comforted by the fact they can make something to leave behind for loved ones to remember them by."
Formerly an architect, Nicole took a career U-turn by studying for a masters degree in art therapy at the University of Hertfordshire, before joining Michael Sobell House.
"I don't see it as that much of a change - designing structures is a well-established form of art and I have always been very interested in how it can have an impact and help people get in touch with their inner self," she says.
The married mother-of-one now runs about four classes per week, with the help of arts and crafts assistant, Julia Chipperfield, mainly in open groups of about eight people, but also on a one-to-one basis.
"The classes are a great way to meet people, work together on a group project and achieve a fantastic result - such as the rainbow glass painting in the day centre lounge, which everyone contributed to," explains Nicole, whose own mother, Betty, lost her battle with cancer in May this year.
"It is also about encouraging people to develop a stronger awareness of the artistic and maybe even nurture a talent they never knew existed.
"It's not always the first thing people think about doing, and some are afraid because they might not have been artistic as a child, and don't have much faith in themselves, but after just a few sessions they begin to enjoy it.
"In fact, some of the work produced has been of such a high quality, we displayed it in a recent exhibition, our second in the past three years, which has raised more than £500 so far.
"There are so many people here with interesting stories to tell, and when they attend the sessions, and you see the positive change in them, it makes the job immensely rewarding."
Michael Sobell House Hospice needs to raise £1.2million every year to maintain its current level of patient care, including the art therapy sessions.
* For more, visit www.michaelsobellhouse.co.uk.