Latest News

Project wins funding to tackle depression through arts

A pioneering project led by Edge Hill University and developed in collaboration with the University of Salford, which uses the arts to tackle depression, has been awarded new funding to scale up across the North West of England. 

Arts for the Blues is a collaborative research project between artists, therapists, universities, NHS trusts and cultural institutions. It has been developed to address a vital need in the North West, which has high levels of mental health problems, exacerbated by economic conditions and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Now, the team behind the project has been awarded £145,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to build on these positive results. 

Currently, mental health provision predominantly focusses on talking-based therapies. However, this excludes many people for whom talking therapy is not a viable treatment; including those who struggle with verbal communication or don’t have a strong command of English. 

The high levels of drop-out from primary care mental health services (IAPT) – calculated at 63% by NHS Digital in 2021 – show that further options are needed, which is why Arts for the Blues has been developed.  By using a creative psychological therapy that encompasses movement, visual arts, drama, music, creative writing and talking, people can experience and express emotions, share with others, and develop useful techniques to use outside of the therapy. 

Over the last five years, the project has worked with hundreds of adults and children in schools and mental health services across the North West. Results from adults showed decrease in anxiety and an upturn in wellbeing. A pilot trial with 56 children suffering emotional or behavioural difficulties was similarly successful; 12 months after the intervention, there were sustained improvements in their quality of life, quality of sleep and overall wellbeing.

The AHRC funding boost will facilitate working with healthcare and cultural institutions in the region providing training to develop the skills to deliver the interventions themselves as well as co-produce a strategy of scaling up the Arts for the Blues model across the North West. 

Professor Vicky Karkou, Director for the Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing at Edge Hill University, is the principal investigator and said of the news:

“Arts for the Blues has already shown how it can have a tremendous impact, using a new approach to tackle a massive problem. I’d like to thank AHRC for this support, which enables us to expand on this progress and improve even more people’s lives across the North West.” 

Dr Scott Thurston, Reader in English and Creative Writing at the University of Salford, and co-investigator on the project said:

“It was really refreshing that the AHRC recognises the impact of arts and culture, nature and other forms of community assets in addressing health inequalities and decided to focus this funding on scalability. We feel that Arts for the Blues has so much more to give to the North-West and can’t wait to find out how best to expand what we do.” 

Dr Joanna Omylinska-Thurston, Counselling Psychologist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust and Lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy at the University of Salford, is also a co-investigator in this project and co-founder of Arts for the Blues. She said:

“I’m particularly interested in bringing Arts for the Blues to Improving Access to Psychological Psychotherapies (IAPT), to offer clients a wider choice of treatments in order to address significant health inequalities in the region. Clients and staff in the NHS ask for creative interventions and I am delighted we received funding from AHRC to offer Arts for the Blues to them. This sounds really exciting and I look forward to enabling this across the North West.”

Edge Hill’s Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing has developed over the last decade from an active research group which has engaged in interdisciplinary research activities in the form of research projects, publications, events and masterclasses.

Healing Arts New York

In November 2021, The Arts for the Blues project was featured at the Healing Arts New York symposium at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This exciting event showcased arts and wellbeing projects around the world, including the Art for the Blues. Watch the video, shown as part of the event at The Met and online, here:

Training day event

16 January 2021

This weekend we had such an inspiring day with a wonderful group of therapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists, who together explored the creative possibilities for online delivery of the Arts for the Blues model. 

We are so thankful to connect with everyone. 

Here are some of the creative outputs from the day! 

Who are you? How do you feel right now? Introducing ourselves using a whiteboard (beginning of workshop)


How do you feel now? (closing of workshop)



A poem by Scott Thurston, compiled from chat contributions during the Arts for the Blues training event

I. Beginnings


Stretched out we float, flow expansively:

A blooming ripple, roots open, spinning

Round and spiralling here, a dizzy star.


The whole centre is full. Slowly it’s pulled,

Swirling, bubbling, here! Wide dozzy dizzy

Butterflies landed, moulding fire symbolism.


We are rotating, within without, fluid

Drifting: absorbing slow, open sprinkles.

Let’s go changemakers!


We are fragments in a bubbling bucket:

warm, hopeful, bright, emerging smiles

absorbed in playful flourish.


II. Closings


My confidence grew as the day progressed.

Just what I would hope would happen over

the course of creativity and connection.


All that you need you have already, it might just be

in disguise. Bring the creative and the therapeutic

closer together, outside the box.


Fun and connection, re-resource and re-connect

with how I can use our creative skills on the line.

A community is taking shape, fertile.

Nourished and resourced by deeper understanding

of process and components, how to integrate into

who I am.



Real connection

to the value of



Creating a group ‘story’, one example of a creative activity with therapeutic underpinning that could be delivered online.  Here we used a whiteboard on Zoom to create an island, exploring opportunities, challenges and relationships using imagery, symbolism and metaphor (key ingredient:processing at a deeper level).

Supritha Aithal

We ended with a wonderful group movement and sound sequence led by Supritha, a dance movement therapist and Bharatanatyam dancer, who made four distinct sounds which we each connected to an individual movement. From these four movements we created our own sequence that we played with through sound and shared as a group, connecting us to each other through sound and movement. What a fabulous way to end the day!

Release of a new Arts for the Blues publication!

The Arts for the Blues team are delighted to announce their third publication which presents the twelve session creative psychotherapy model for depression

This article details the approach taken by the team to inform the model and presents the eight key ingredients that underpin the therapy. 

Omylinska-Thurston, J., Karkou, V., Parsons, A.S., Nair, K., Haslam, S., Dubrow-Marshall,  L., Starkey, J., Thurston, S., Dudley-Swarbrick, I. and Sharma, S (2020). Arts for the Blues: the development of a new evidence-based creative group psychotherapy for depression. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research


Depression affects many adults in the UK, often resulting in referral to primary care mental health services (e.g. improving access to psychological therapies, IAPT). CBT is the main modality for depression within IAPT, with other approaches offered in a limited capacity. Arts psychotherapies are rarely provided despite their attractiveness to clients. However, the recent dropout rate of 64% within IAPT suggests that clients’ needs are not being fully met. Therefore, in order to expand clients’ choice we developed a new creative psychological therapy integrating evidence‐based approaches with arts psychotherapies.


A three‐level approach was used: (a) thematic synthesis of client‐identified helpful factors in evidence‐based approaches for depression and in arts psychotherapies; (b) studio practice exploring Cochrane Review findings on arts psychotherapies for depression; (c) pilot workshops for clients with depression and therapists.

Findings and Discussion

Eight key ingredients for positive therapy outcomes were identified: encouraging active engagement, learning skills, developing relationships, expressing emotions, processing at a deeper level, gaining understanding, experimenting with different ways of being and integrating useful material. These ingredients were brought together as Arts for the Blues for clients with depression: a 12‐session evidence‐based pluralistic group psychotherapy integrating creative methods as well as talking therapy.


The evidence‐based foundation, creative content and pluralistic nature of this new approach aligned with eight client‐identified key ingredients for positive therapy outcomes make it a promising therapy option that can be adapted to individual therapy. Implications include consideration for NICE approval as an additional therapy for depression.

Release of manuals and findings: therapeutic dance interventions for breast cancer

Dancing with Health is multi-site pilot study that aimed to evaluate a sixteen week dance programme for women in recovery from breast cancer across five European countries. Edge Hill University led the UK pilot which was delivered over 2019-2020.

The study has now released two manuals on it’s website, which cover the rationale, design, delivery protocols and findings of the programme. The website also has training videos for practitioners who are interested in delivering the sessions themselves. This study will be of interest to dance and dance movement therapy practitioners as well as health professionals interested in the physical and psychological aspects of breast cancer recovery.

A publication is currently underway, which will further explore the statistical findings from the primary outcome data in relation to anthropometric and fitness measures next to cancer related quality of life.

This project was funded by the Erasmus+Sport programme of the European Union

E-Arts for Covid Blues: online workshop

ESRC Festival of Social Science

Tuesday 10 November 2020

Covid-19 and lockdown have affected people psychologically in different ways such as struggling with stress, anxiety, depression and loss.

In response, the Arts for the Blues team are offering a free online creative psychological therapeutic session for working with these problems, as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science. We will use simple creative tools such as movement, drawing or writing as well as talking and the session will involve small and large group work. The workshop will last 90 minutes (10:00-11.30) followed by a 30 min break and then we are reconvening for a one hour group discussion (12:00-13:00). Private space, internet connection and basic art materials are essential. No previous artistic experience is required.

The workshop is intended to be beneficial for participants and could be mildly therapeutic, although it is not offered as therapy. It will also give space to reflect. You will asked to carefully check your eligibility against the inclusion/exclusion criteria before you attend. 

As the sessions are part of the larger research study called Arts for the Blues, we intend to gather data from this event to further the study. This will involve the completion of some online questionnaires. Full information will be provided nearer the time and you will be asked for your consent to this.

To book please follow the link here booking information link

Engage: Performance and the Maternal

We invite you to join ENGAGE….conversations conceived across performance studies and the maternal. A series of online forums which consider, through different artistic and academic perspectives, how maternal performance helps us to understand the lived condition of motherhood. Each forum responds to a themed-provocation (question) and features a panel of guest speakers plus a Q & A.

Emma Perris and Prof Vicky Karkou from Edge Hill University will be amongst several presenters on the forum titled Health, Policy and Impact – Maternal Performance Matters on 3rd November. This session will ask ‘What are the pressing questions for maternal health and policy? How might performance help us to explore those questions?’ Emma and Vicky will present their adapted version of a new creative psychotherapy, Arts for the Blues for postnatal depression as part of Emma’s PhD study. Other Speakers: Prue ThimblebyHelena Walsh,  Michelle Hartney, Leah Salter

Book this free online event by clicking below

Performance and the Maternal is an 18 month research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council delivered by Dr Emily Underwood-Lee and Georgina Biggs at the University of South Wales(Cardiff) and Dr Lena Simic at Edge Hill University (Ormskirk).

Arts and Therapy in the Time of the Pandemic

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 18-June-small-image-1024x633.jpg

From Thursday 18th June 2020

In collaboration with the International Arts Therapies Doctoral Alliance led by New York University, a series of presentations, panel discussions and workshops will be recorded and showcased online, exploring the contribution of the arts and arts psychotherapies to health and wellbeing during the 2020 pandemic .

Guest speakers and panelists will present current initiatives and research on the physiological and psychological benefits of the arts. In particular discussions will focus on the contributions that the arts therapies can make to tackle isolation, loneliness, offer opportunities for resilience and support for the wellbeing of the general public, health and social care staff and patients. Ways in which the arts therapies can act as psychological interventions for the prevention and treatment of depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder will also be explored, highlighting the value of this field at times of crisis. 

Videos will also be posted via twitter with the hashtag #artstherapiescovid19 we would like to encourage everyone to use this tag to provide your thoughts and any creative responses to the resources and together create a forum where we can meet and share.

Keynote presentation by Christopher Bailey, Arts & Health Lead at the World Health Organisation ‘Composed at Present, Composing the Future:  Arts and Healing in the COVID world. This is followed by a Panel Discussion exploring the role of arts and arts therapies in the context of the pandemic, with the four featured arts therapists below (Dr Nisha Sajnani, Prof Felicity Baker, Prof Vicky Karkou and Dr Azizah Abdullah).

Short 1min 30 taster

Full length presentation and panel discussion 1hr4min

A series of presentations from prominent international arts therapists talking about how their discipline and research activities can contribute to health and wellbeing during the times of the pandemic.

Vicky Karkou staff photo

Workshops and reflections of internationally recognised practitioners in dance movement psychotherapy, art psychotherapy, music therapy and drama therapy.

If you would like to be added onto our mailing list for future events click below

Any queries, please email us [email protected]uk
Facebook @artswellEHU

Creative Resilience and going OFFLine during Lockdown

As part of Voluntary Arts’ Creative Network, I was recently invited to talk with Nick Ewbank, Chair of ISR’s External Advisory Group, about everyday creativity in the context of the response to COVID-19. In particular, we were looking at David Gauntlett’s definition and how he emphasises the idea of ‘making is connecting’, and advocates the importance of the internet for creative people. 

Nick subsequently published his own compelling, and more nuanced, understanding of everyday creativity and its potentially vital role in helping to heal the damage done by the lockdown, in an article last week for Arts Professional. In calling for a paradigm shift, Nick argues that the ‘initial goal should be to reach a shared, science-based understanding of the central importance of everyday creativity in our lives’. 

Certainly, the cultural sector has done much to try to support people through what has been a distressing period, if we consider the ways in which theatres, museums, dance companies and musicians inter alia have made their work available for free online. However, the way people have applied themselves to creative challenges at home, supported by various initiatives such as Voluntary Arts’ Get Creative at Home or Fun Palace’s Tiny Revolutions of Connection, is potentially more significant, most especially because not everyone has access to the internet or smart technology. If nothing else, what the pandemic has laid bare is the stark digital divide that pertains in the UK; wherein large swathes of the population remain isolated, unable to benefit from these online cultural resources and opportunities.

In my own recent article with Tristi Brownett, we argued that community cultural festivals can be important generators of wellbeing through their ‘collective effervescence’. Even if physicaldistancing means festival spaces are not open to us at the moment, community initiatives are heartwarmingly proving that people are not socially distanced. They remain collectively effervescent, and creative in their resilience. The Leigh Film Society volunteers, for example, have been busy delivering orange bags containing DVDs to families who do not have access to online streaming services. Meanwhile, in Leeds, Mini Playbox is a community partnership project between artists distributing boxes of creativity, activities and fun during lockdown. The emphasis here is on OFFline activities for families and individuals within communities, and this is happening within communities all over the UK.

The value of everyday creativity, both online and off, should be at the heart of a resilient, sustainable, caring society that supports, protects and nurtures the health and wellbeing of all its citizens.

Prof Owen Evans is a Professor of Film in the Department of Media at Edge Hill University and a member of the Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing