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Bonnie Meekums
SEC3: The Third Annual University of
Leeds Student Education Conference
 July 2012: Riga Stradins University hosted a 10
day Erasmus funded lifelong learning intensive arts therapies with different client groups.
 1 tutor and 6 MA Psychotherapy and Counselling
students travelled (the tutor also facilitating some
of the learning).
 Each student asked to keep a reflective log.
 Students also told at the outset that they would
be expected to co-operatively plan and deliver a
Saturday experiential workshop to all three year
groups of the programme in the late autumn of
2012, supported by the tutor.
Preparation for the intensive
 Long lead-in: planning and paperwork over ~
18 month period
Involvement of European Office
Needed to identify student participants –
including new starters
Some misunderstandings and budget changes
(resulting in personal financial loss)
Staff time commitment at a time when could
be doing research – need to feel it is worth it
(though also wrote for minor publication)
The intensive
 Residential: some students expected to share rooms
 Cultural differences – tea breaks non-existent
 Long days, very highly structured and little down time –
students expected to participate
Lots of time spent on buses (without toilet stops)
Sometimes taken to places without clear planning or
communication – e.g. to beach but not told to bring
costumes, or to see open air performances without toilet
Leeds students joined by others from Latvia, Lithuania,
Estonia, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in the UK
Highly experiential workshops in art therapy,
dramatherapy, dance movement therapy and music
Art therapy
Dance Movement Therapy
Music therapy
An outdoor performance
Student feedback on return
 Evidenced learning about self, client work, research and
culture, together with increased confidence:
‘I have more confidence now to be able to offer creative art
materials to clients.’ (Isobel)
[I have discovered] ‘how to enable clients to express their
voice through where they hold it – in movement and in other
forms. I have heard the music of the client’s voice.’ (Jo)
[I have realised that] ‘Movement can be as powerful as
reflection.’ (Abi)
[I now have] ‘Lots of ideas … wider possibility for therapeutic
work.’ (Abi)
Overall, the experience was deemed to be ‘transformational’ student evaluations were overwhelmingly positive despite
previously expressed reservations re. down time etc. (see
The peer workshop
Room opened 10 am (Saturday)
10.15 – welcome by tutor.
Slideshow by Stephen, our official photographer
Short personal introductions including expectations/fears/hopes.
Reminders re. confidentiality and personal responsibility.
10.30 – Activity 1 [Claire: drama]
11.30 – Activity 2 [Isobel and Madeleine: solution focussed art
therapy and body image]
12.30-1.00 – lunch
1.00 – Activity 3 [Stephen: using art images to think about client
2.00 - Activity 4 [Abi and Jo: movement]
3.00 – Plenary and final group movement exercise.
3.30 – finish
Gathering feedback
following peer workshop
Using simple electronic proforma:
 Name
 Year group
 Three learning points from the day
 Three highlights of the day
 Three suggestions for development or change
in the applications of arts therapies to
counselling and psychotherapy training
10 responses – approximately 50% (mostly first
Findings: year 1 learning
 General (cognitive) learning about the subject
 Personal /experiential /affective learning about
the body and its role in emotions
 Personal /experiential /affective learning about
the power of the arts in: making sense of
emotions; potentially revealing and hidden
connections: allowing a person to express
themselves without using language; gaining fresh
insights and experimenting with new ways of
being (some links also to own client work)
 Personal /experiential /affective learning about
self and other
Findings: year 2 learning
Learning was exclusively personal / experiential:
 About the body (more linked to own body)
 About self and other:
• Taking risks and stepping outside comfort
zone (linking this to work with own clients)
• New reflective learning on own current
• Increased awareness self in relation to other
• Learning co-operation and facilitation skill
with a peer and evaluating this
Findings: year 3 learning
 Personal /experiential /affective learning about
the arts, specifically that they can provide a direct
route into emotions and meaning-making and
that this route is different from / complementary
to cognitive approaches.
 Personal /experiential /affective learning about
self and other, which included an awareness that
using the arts to work in relationship with another
can give inspiring and unexpected results.
 Learning about work with clients, and
considerations of new ways for working (NB
qualifying at the end of this year).
Highlights identified
 Engaging with the arts through experiential
learning (a relatively new experience) – and a
sense that the experiential nature accelerated
learning (years 1 and 2)
 Learning about self and other – for second year
students, this included seeing how far they had
come since they were in year 1 and looking
forward with increased confidence to year 3.
 Experiencing and building community.
Suggestions made
 Overwhelmingly, wanting more!
 Develop a specific module.
 Incorporate research on the arts therapies.
 Acknowledgement that arts therapies do not
suit everyone.
Coda: Stephen
2.7.13, Email from Stephen, now preparing his
dissertation, to the whole group – message line
‘We’ll always have Riga x’:
 A year since our trip to Latvia already and
memories of what a special and amazing
experience it was are on my mind. Just
wanted to get in touch and wish you all well.
All the best, Stephen
Coda: Abi
Abi (who had now completed the course)
responded to Stephen on 3.7.13:
 Hi all, I have been thinking about it recently,
it was one of the best times I've had in my
life- it really expanded my world and my
perspective. I'm very grateful for the
experience, the opportunity, and also all of
you and the lovely group relationship we all
made- and had loads of fun … So also
thankful for your thought Stephen.
Coda: Isobel
On 7.7.13:
 … thanks Stephen for prompting some group reflection on our
adventure. I was talking about the trip only 2 weeks ago when we
had our annual 'review' at work and shared our highlights of the
year. I found myself sharing with our counsellors, youth workers,
young people's group and board members a fondly remembered
experience of creative therapy! … Though I personally found the
experience exhausting, I loved it and it clearly sits in my mind as
something worth sharing with others, a year on. I may have been
the most wooden dance movement participant, but hey,
participating at all can be the biggest personal achievement. Isobel
And on 18.11.13, after hearing about her distinction:
 I spent some of today writing a report for the Board of Directors at
my workplace, after they released me for the scheduled uni days,
and I found it a useful exercise to re-engage with the whole
experience. As has been said before, Bonnie.... We'll always have
Riga! And yes this certainly stood out as a highlight and privileged
opportunity - however exhausting!! Thank you for the opportunity
and experience. Best Wishes, Isobel
 Small sample
 Limited response rate
 Limited means of obtaining student feedback:
basic, electronic proforma
 Just one MA programme: highly motivated,
mature students
 Not linked to assessment / credits
What can be repeated /
 Learning experientially, including through the
arts: deepens learning due to affective and
embodied engagement.
 Community days, where all three year groups
come together: helps promote sense of
identity within a given programme area.
 Peer learning: students appreciate learning
from each other, in particular how they
overcome difficulties and succeed.
 Relevance for broadening? Mind and Body
discovery theme – need a module on this?
 Experiential learning (e.g. through the arts) offers
the opportunity to embed insights within an
embodied / affective pedagogy, which can be
 Community days with all three year groups offer
the opportunity to both build a sense of belonging
and confidence in evolving identities
 Intensives abroad offer the opportunity to build
relationships and provide experiences that are
reflected on for some time after the event
 Long term effects on employability or personal
development require further investigation
My thanks to
 Isobel Baker,
 Claire Kelly
 Stephen Millward
 Jo Prowse
 Abigail Wilkins.
 Madeleine Wood
 And the team at Riga Stradins University