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Kintsugi Hope: self-help group to keep people off the rocks

12 May 2023

Huw Spanner finds out about a course that offers hope of better mental and emotional health

The CEO of Kintsugi Hope, Patrick Regan

The CEO of Kintsugi Hope, Patrick Regan

KINTSUGI HOPE is not yet a household name, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or WeightWatchers, but one day, perhaps, it could be. The issues that it addresses, of emotional and mental health, are pretty much universal. As one of its advocates says on its website, “Kintsugi is for everyone (even those who don’t know it yet!). Even for those who feel they have it all together.”

Its name is taken from the Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold or silver, so that, its history of brokenness is not hidden, but, rather, the fracture itself becomes part of the design.

Kintsugi Hope was founded in 2018 by Patrick Regan, who had been appointed OBE five years earlier for his work with the urban youth charity XLP, which he set up in 1996 (Interview, 13 July 2018).

He has long been prey to depression, and he explains that, in 2010, he experienced “a perfect storm of everything going wrong at once”. One of his children was very ill for six weeks; he himself was diagnosed with a degenerative condition that required him to have both his legs broken in three places and rebuilt inside a metal frame, which “terrified” him; then his father had cancer, and his wife had a miscarriage.

“I’ve always struggled with anxiety, but when you go through something that traumatic, it adds rocket fuel to your anxiety. It was like: Wham! I felt I was spiralling out of control.

“When I told some people at church, they said I needed to trust God a bit more, to pray harder, to think of all the people in the world who were worse off than me. Or they took verses out of context and hit me with those.

“I felt like I’d let God down, like I’d let everyone down. I got to the point where I wasn’t even sure I wanted to live any more, because I was such a burden. It was then that I started searching for something a little bit deeper.”

The “something” that his search resulted in was a 12-week course, loosely modelled on AA, that examines, in turn, issues of honesty, anxiety, depression, shame, anger, disappointment, loss, perfectionism, forgiveness, self-acceptance, healthy relationships, and resilience (there are shorter versions for students and young people).

The charity that he set up with his wife, Diane, provides carefully vetted “facilitators” with three-and-a-half hours’ training and a wide range of materials, so that they can create “a safe and supportive space for people who feel, or have felt, overwhelmed”. The aim is to help them to accept themselves, to understand their worth, and to grow towards a more resilient and hopeful future.

The course, Mr Regan says, offers seven different learning styles, from watching videos to creative activities — “if you love that sort of thing. It’s like a buffet rather than a set menu. . . What we are trying to do”, he elaborates, “is three things. The first is to give people tools that can help them when they’re struggling.”

He gives an example from his own toolkit. “One technique I’ve learnt to use is known as ‘the resilience river’. Beneath every river there are rocks; for me, one rock is anxiety, another may be my physical health, because I can’t do any exercise because of my legs. When I’m drained and my river is low, I’m more likely to crash on those rocks. So, I think: What do I need to do to keep my resilience river higher?”


THE second element in Kintsugi’s approach, he says, is “peer-facilitated mentoring: that sense of ‘We’re all in it together; we’re journeying alongside each other.’ Loneliness escalates any mental-health or well-being challenge you have, and something amazing happens when someone else says, ‘I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve had that as well.’

The Revd Dave Johnston next to his wife, Cath, and Heather Woodfield, all of whom have led well-being groups, based on Kintsugi Hope, at Christ Church, Chislehurst  

“The third element is that, where people are facing more challenging issues, we direct them to more specialist help.”

He emphasises that a Kintsugi group is for people who want to invest in their well-being, not for people who are struggling with severe mental illness.

He and his wife devised the material in partnership with activists and practitioners: psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, mental-health nurses, and occupational therapists. They worked especially with Waverley Abbey College, he says, “which I believe is one of the biggest trainers of Christian counsellors in the UK”.

Mr Regan says that he is “surrounded by experts. On our staff, we’ve got professional counsellors, therapists, and theologians. My job was just to create a framework where people would be able to connect with this stuff.”


IS KINTSUGI HOPE genuinely for “everyone”, even “those who feel they have it all together”? The Vicar of Christ Church, Chislehurst, in south London, the Revd David Johnston, has been leading Kintsugi groups for three years. “None of us has perfect physical health, and the same is true for emotional and mental health,” he says. “If we’re honest, we all have ups and downs.”

Why would someone who does not suffer especially from anger, say, want to sit through a session on that? “At the beginning of every course we run, I say: ‘One or two of these topics will really resonate with some of you, and others will resonate with other people. This course is not just about learning to manage your own emotional and mental health: it’s about learning to understand what other people are dealing with.’”

There is nothing explicitly Christian in the material that Kintsugi provides, although its ethos is decidedly Christian, Mr Johnston says. “It is very much rooted in the idea that God wants us to be whole, emotionally, mentally, and physically, and it does encourage you to have a prayer at the end of each session.”

The Revd Canon Julie Bradley

There are now Kintsugi groups running in schools, universities, coffee shops, hairdressers’, and in farmers’ markets, Mr Regan says. A branch of the Mothers’ Union is running one with survivors of domestic abuse. He believes that the Church is uniquely placed, because it can offer “a gentle presence” in every community in the country. “I think that’s an amazing opportunity,” he says.

On the other hand, when Kintsugi Hope worked with the think tank Theos two years ago, on the report Mental Health Friendly Church, they found that many churches were not “mental-health-friendly” at all. One culprit is faulty theology. “I come across this quite a lot,” Mr Johnston says. “People say to me, ‘But the Bible says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” As Christians, we shouldn’t be feeling depressed or unhappy.’

“I think there can be a bias against exploring emotional and mental health because of teaching that suggests that once you become a Christian, you no longer have permission to struggle with any of this stuff.”

Another culprit may be unchristian attitudes. Kintsugi groups may themselves provide a safe space, but what if the congregation of a church that hosts one is inclined to be judgemental? It is important to change the culture of a church so that people feel comfortable talking about these things, Mr Johnston says. Anyone who applies to lead a Kintsugi group in a church must show that they have the backing of its leadership.


ONE church where Kintsugi Hope has been embraced is St Michael’s, Stoke Gifford, on the northern edge of Bristol. Canon Julie Bradley, who is Associate Minister there, says that, when she arrived, almost 40 years ago, “it was a very different church. There was quite a lot not going well within me, and in my early years here I felt more and more emotionally crippled. I felt very alone, with nowhere to go for help.”

Kintsugi Hope was picked up five years ago by one of the congregation, Jean Allchorne, who also was carrying “a lot of emotional baggage”, Canon Bradley says. She heard Mr Regan speak at Spring Harvest, and “became a passionate advocate for Kintsugi from that moment”. Sadly, Ms Allchorne died last year, but the service celebrating her life was “just astounding”, attended by hundreds of people on whose lives she had had an impact.

Canon Bradley had been seeking emotional healing herself, “long before Kintsugi was ever conceived”. Does she see it as something novel, or is it old wisdom in new packaging?

“What it does is normalise [insights] that have been around for ever and a day,” she says. “Kintsugi’s strapline is: ‘It’s OK not to be OK.’” The material is excellent, she says, “and makes it very easy for people to begin to engage with these issues in a way that is quite transforming”.

Abbie Rayner (left) and Jessica Ottaway (centre), Kintsugi group co-leaders at St Michael’s, Stoke Gifford, with their mentor, the late Jean Allchorne

One of Mrs Allchorne’s protégées at St Michael’s is Abbie Rayner, who has done the course twice and is about to co-lead a group herself. “If you go to a doctor, you may be given CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] or counselling, one to one, and you may not see other people who are dealing with the same sort of issues. Kintsugi brings people together, and together you identify areas that wouldn’t necessarily be touched on in a normal clinical experience.

“Also, it’s a journey. You don’t do the course and then stop — I’m still in touch with the people I did the course with a year down the line, which is lovely. It’s a support network.”

Jessica Ottaway is another facilitator at the church. “I’ve taken antidepressants, I’ve had counselling, I’ve had CBT — both on my own and in a group — and I’ve done Kintsugi Hope, and all of these things have been really helpful,” she says. “The things that make Kintsugi different are that you don’t have to go on a waiting list, you don’t need to pay for it, and you’ve got people who are on a journey facilitating you, not clinical professionals.

“A key part is sharing your testimony. Obviously, you’re not compelled to, but I had someone the other day say: ‘Normally, I would never have just come out with the thing I’ve just said, but I did, and it was fine.’

“I don’t think you get that in a clinical setting, and I think it is testament to the way that Kintsugi groups are set up.”

“It is all about the quality of relationships that get built as we share the journey,” Canon Bradley says. “The trust builds and compassion develops, and you genuinely express care for each other — and, for a lot of people, that is healing in itself.”

“The whole point is that we’re not meant to be trained counsellors,” Mrs Ottaway says. “What we can do is speak from our experience; we will share a testimony at some point, just as we encourage others to do, and, when we give information, it’s very much: ‘This is something that [someone else has] found really helpful: let’s try this.’”

“We’re there to support other people rather than tell them what to do,” Mrs Rayner says. “It blesses us, and helps us to continue our healing journey as well.”


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