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Making and healing

27 April 2010

Anne Holmes welcomes a study linking hope with imagination


Creativity, Spirituality and Mental Health: Exploring connections
Kelley Raab Mayo
Ashgate £50
Church Times Bookshop £45

THE scope of this book is wide-ranging. The author seeks to bring together her former experience as a university teacher in classics and reli­gious studies and her current work as a mental-health chaplain in Ottawa. Two chapters focus on theory concerning spirituality and creativity, and three consider clinical application in mental-health settings.

In the first of the theory chapters, Mayo seeks to rehabilitate the work of the psychoanalyst Marion Milner, whose interest in mysticism and creativity was explored in several books, notably On Not Being Able to Paint, in which drawing was used as a medium for expressing unconsci­ous processes.

Milner’s belief in the psycholo­gical value of both mysticism and creativity is used as a basis for an examination of other psychological sources, as well as mystical artists such as Hildegard of Bingen. Crea­tivity is seen as a “medium for both self and sacred knowledge”. This can bring hope to those with mental-health problems — as can be seen in the work of occupational thera­pists on many of our psychiatric wards.

Mayo considers the scope of varying religious traditions, and explores the difference between religion and spirituality. Specific mental illnesses are described, and one chapter is devoted to eating disorders. She has a gift for sum­mar­ising many of the books listed in the extensive bibliography, and her book would be a useful addition to chaplaincy libraries.

At times, her romp through the scholarship of others can be a little dizzying, and I would have liked more examples of her own thinking. There is a cultural difference in that relatively few of our mental-health chaplains are trained psychothera­pists; so readers might check out their own capacity to try out the author’s interventions. Clinical supervision would be essential.

The author’s emphasis on imagination and story chimes with the growing interest in narrative as a therapeutic and biblical tool. Her work is realistic in showing how people can be creative while man­-ag­ing a lifelong mental-health condi­tion. She affirms those whose par­ticular faith is built into their identity, while helping others who have been hurt in the past by reli­gious encounters.

I recommend the book as a welcome addition to health-care literature, not least because of the connections made between imag­ina­tion and hope in the context of healing.

The Revd Anne Holmes is Chaplain of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Partnership.

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