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Bringing the arts to the people

Sue Spencer continues her campaign to bring poetry and expressive arts into healthcare. Her experience working with community nurses has made her realise that this is more important than ever ...

It will probably come as no surprise to you to find that once again I am writing about the role of poetry and other expressive arts in healthcare. Just today I had two very energetic and exciting conversations with colleagues that may lead to bringing expressive arts to more people.

Over the last few months I have been part of a project delivering workshops to community nurses. As part of this workshop I have been offering an expressive arts exercise. The purpose is to encourage participants to explore how their own experiences, thoughts and feeling about death and dying might impact on the way they work with patients and families when making decisions about end-of-life care. I have invited people to draw images, list words, write stories and compose poems.

Some have embraced this enthusiastically, most have been a bit wary, and a very few have rejected it outright, but from doing these workshops I have realised how important all of this is to me.

Over the last year I have increased in confidence in my approach and I no longer apologise about what I am offering, but wait and see what happens. Not trying too hard and not explaining too much is difficult for someone who likes to explain and get people on board. I have now realised that not everybody is going to see where I am coming from, but that doesn't matter.
Patients are individuals and so are practitioners, and so when providing education we need different approaches in order to engage people in learning.
I read some poems to community nurses today from The Poetry Cure,(1) and discussed how the poems might inform practice and provide insight into people's experiences of healthcare and illness. We discussed the challenges that community nurses, particularly district nurses, are facing at the moment in their perceived marginalisation from healthcare policy and the invisibility of the work that they do. We discussed how the complexity of healthcare delivery is now confusing and potentially alienating for patients and families. Community practitioners can be left out of the communication loop and are often called to advise and support vulnerable people without being involved in discussion about treatment and care options.

In talking to and with community nurses I hope that we can start articulating the way forward for practice. From discussing these issues with students I can see that there are clear roles to be identified in helping people navigate their way around living with long-term illnesses.(2)
I don't think I have any answers but I hope to provide community nurses an opportunity to share their ideas and concerns about the future. Community nurses spend a lot of the day working on their own and are often not provided with an opportunity to discuss issues that arise in practice with anyone.

I am hoping to evaluate the workshops I have been offering and explore the possibilities of using the same model to provide coaching and supervision in practice. If you have any comments or experiences of these issues then I would love to hear from you.


1. Darling J, Fuller C, editors. The Poetry Cure. Bloodaxe Books Ltd; 2005.
2. Kralik D, Van Loon A. Transition: moving through life's adverse disruptions [Poster]. Available from:

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"Do ride on sister! Creativity is needed in any change process. Nursing needs this other silent side to add to its professionalism. Might take a bit of time/energy/focus but you are already standing on the shoulders of powerful change agents who went ahead. So be strong and courageous. Twill work!!" - Enomfon, Hounslow