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Connecting mental health patients through art

November 24th, 2015

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Did you know that the AGO offers a free program for mental health clients and professionals? We believe the Gallery can be a unique space for psychological engagement and well-being—one where people can feel safe and comfortable visiting regularly.

That’s why we developed a variety of meaningful, participant-centred tours aimed at engaging and familiarizing mental health clients with the AGO. The program, Accessibility for Mental Health Organizations (AMHO), also provides training and support for healthcare practitioners so they can facilitate visits for their own clients.

Since 2010, more than 2,500 clients and their mental health care workers have visited the AGO for Education Officer-led tours, enjoying our facilitated and curated discussions, and the chance to engage with art in a comfortable environment. Here’s what they’re saying:

[The tour] was a really inspiring evening for our group (some of whom had never had an opportunity to visit the AGO before), both because of the aesthetic pleasure of being in the gallery, and because of the opportunity to really explore some of the artworks from the perspective of mental health. I’m so glad that this program will be continuing, and very grateful that we were able to participate.

—Reesa Grushka, Disabilities Counsellor/Educator, York University

The chemistry between the Gallery and the Hospital was extraordinary. I wanted us to create a safe-enough space to allow these women—some of whom had never been to an art gallery before—to feel they belonged. I had no idea how successful the project would be. More than one of our participants reported that the group made the difference between a lifetime of suicidal feelings, and feeling OK about herself. You don’t often hear that after 12 weeks of regular talk therapy.

— Eva-Marie Stern, Art Psychotherapist, WRAP & Trauma Therapy Program, Women’s College Hospital

These outings are so valuable to me and have made me a better therapist because I’ve learned new ways to open discussions with my clients and see different sides of their personalities. These monthly visits have become so vital to our programming.

— Wendy, Recreational Therapist, Bellwood Health Services Inc.

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If you would like to participate or know someone who would benefit from this experience, please contact Melissa Smith by emailing Melissa_Smith@ago.net or by phoning 416.979.6660 ext. 268. AMHO offers:

Facilitated tours: organizations may book free hour-long tours led by AGO Education Officers who are trained to facilitate visitor-centred discussions in the Gallery. Mental health care workers accompany their group. The content can be custom developed collaboratively with staff and clients. The range of topics is vast including such topics as: hardship and resilience; body language; love; Canadian identity, etc.

Community memberships: each organization can receive four AGO family memberships to loan to group members for visits on their own or with friends and family.