Arts Therapy: Finding Peace Through Creativity

Arts therapy is one of the holistic treatments that Hospice West Auckland provides to support the care of our patients and their whānau. It utilises a range of art modalities to support people with expressing their emotions and thoughts in creative ways - a powerful tool as one’s experience can at times be too hard to put into words.

Hospice’s Arts Therapist Kathrin Marks joined our team in late 2020, and after navigating the recent challenges of the pandemic is enjoying being settled into her role. With a wealth of experience as an arts therapist and counsellor, she loves seeing the way people respond to her arts therapy sessions. In a typical week she sees 7 – 8 people both at Hospice House and out in the community. The sessions she offers are for patients as well as for whānau members and other loved ones. Some of the people she sees are as young as 4 or 5 years old and in some cases she continues to work with the bereaved, travelling alongside them as they navigate their grief journey.

An experienced therapist, Kathrin loves the way that creative mediums can be used to support people, and explains that artistic talent is definitely not necessary. “You don’t have to be good at art – it can be just as much about talking, feeling and expressing rather than making any creative masterpiece,” she says. Her collection of creative tools include drawing, painting, collage, nature, movement, and sculpting as well as using drama, stories, and talking. “Often I begin visually, I might be asking the person: what is a colour that speaks to you, nourishes you, and brings you light? Or maybe is there a material that you are drawn to?” Kathrin explains. “We begin wherever feels comfortable for the person and then see where this takes us. Sometimes it’s just too hard to find the words to express what you are feeling… so we use other methods.”

While every session is as unique as its participants, one aim is to create an element of joy, lightness, and playfulness, with the hope being that people  are gradually building capacity to hold their challenging experiences and to feel more grounded at the end of a session. For Kathrin it’s a privilege to be a part of each person’s journey. “To be granted access to those challenging, tender, complex spaces and to be allowed into that final journey - that a person has no practice with and where there is nothing to fix anymore - is sacred,” she says. “Those moments where we are present here together are beautiful to see.”


Kathrin weaves her words to paint us a beautiful picture welcoming summer: 

The beginning of December brings with it the start of summer, a welcoming of long days and shorter nights, of evenings in a park for an impromptu picnic, of enjoying the warmth of the sun alongside a delicious cooling breeze. Summer always reminds me that no matter how long the winter in Tāmaki-makau-rau/Auckland might feel, with its seemingly never-ending days of mist and wind and rain, there will always be a summer again. The sun will come back. I will feel her warmth again.

Summer also always manages to invite me to spend more time outside. To go for a walk before or even after dinner. To drive to the beach, dipping my toes into te moana, the ocean. To breathe in its expansiveness, its warmth, as I reengage with te taiao, the natural world around me. Whenever I am at the beach, I invite myself to be present with all my senses. I feel the warm soft coarseness of the sand underneath the soles of my bare feet. I listen to the song of the waves mingling with the calls of the sea gulls. I breathe in the ocean spray, smelling and tasting the salty scent. I feel the warmth of the sun, the sea breeze travelling over my body. I see the vastness of the ocean, connecting us to the world, I see bush-clad cliffs and layers appearing and disappearing as the sea spray travels.

Whenever I am at the beach, I invite myself to walk slowly, paying attention to where I place my feet, paying attention to any taonga, any treasures the beach might have gathered from dancing with the tides moving across the sand. I might pause when I spot a shell that calls out to me, a shell that holds the song and scent of te moana and that holds the memory of a beach walk. Shells remind me of summer even in the midst of winter.

As this summer unfolds, I invite you to find a beach that calls to you and go for a walk. As you approach the beach, take your time if you can, pause, even if just for a moment. Breathe in the salty air, feel the warmth of the sun and the breezes travelling along the waves and along the beach. Pause for just a moment… breathe in summer. Breathe in te taiao.

And then, when you’re ready, invite your feet to take you on a walk, feeling the sand, the water maybe, the sunshine. You might pause every now and again or you might find a place to sit and be for a while. Whatever you choose to do, invite your eyes to pay attention to shells, to pieces of driftwood, to curious wee rocks, to sea glass, or any other taonga that might call out to you. I invite you to take these things home with you and to create a wind chime or a mobile with them, celebrating the soul of summer.

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A rewarding place to work

Karen Talbot, Director of Health & Social Care Services

“Hospice West Auckland is a rewarding place to work as we deliver specialist palliative care services to a population of varying cultural diversity. Our Community Palliative Care Team collaborate to deliver an excellent service to our community.”