Social prescribing: Art therapy referred by GPs offers ‘breakthrough’ to chronically ill children

A Lothian art therapy charity has launched a social prescribing project with GP surgeries amid “heightened anxiety” of chronically ill children during the pandemic.

The Teapot Trust, based in Musselburgh, operates across the UK, working in hospitals and communities.

The charity has begun offering art psychotherapy to children through referrals from 38 GP practices across Edinburgh, allowing those facing lengthy waits for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to access support.

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Children take part in eight to 12-week programmes of one-to-one therapy, which can often be a “breakthrough” for them, said Teapot Trust CEO Sarah Randell, as in many cases talking therapies are ineffective.

Picture: The Teapot Trust

Working with GPs has allowed the charity to increase its reach in more deprived communities, she added.

“What we wanted to do was extend our reach and impact,” she said.

“Under the social prescribing banner, working with GPs just seemed like a logical extension of what we've been doing anyway and being in communities.

“The trigger for this is really that we've become increasingly aware that there's a correlation between chronic illness in children and social deprivation.

Picture: The Teapot Trust

“So it makes sense to be in areas of deprivation, and that's where most of our hospitals are as well.

“So we've reached a wider group of people than we otherwise would have from being in communities.”

Families can approach the Teapot Trust direct, or be referred by GPs, social workers or other children’s charities.

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Some children have already been referred to CAMHS, Ms Randell said, and faced long waiting lists.

“The children whose needs we meet, they've got a physical chronic illness, and it's causing mental health issues… anxiety, depression.

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“Often people have been directed to CAMHS or somewhere similar for talking therapy, where they have a long waiting time.

“But we don't have waiting lists because we put on everything in response to need.

“It's almost a way of short-circuiting getting help, they can just come directly to the website and start the process.”

She added: “An awful lot of the children who we help, talking therapies have spectacularly failed for them.

“The issue is that because their physical condition doesn't often have an outward sign, people don't realise they're ill.

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“That carries its own stigma, and often people say there doesn't seem to be anything wrong.

“So there's a whole load of anxiety built up about their condition and not being able to talk about it.

“That's why art therapy is particularly helpful for them. It’s a bit of a breakthrough really when people discover it.”

Teapot Trust’s work with GPs was funded with a grant of £10,000 from real estate investment trust Primary Health Properties (PHP), managed by community foundation Foundation Scotland.

Jennifer McPhail, Fund Adviser from Foundation Scotland, said: “The Community Impact Fund launched at a critical time following the height of the pandemic.

“As our NHS continues to be under immense pressure, this is a fantastic initiative from PHP to help improve patient wellbeing outcomes, quality of life and emotional wellbeing.”

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