In creative pursuit of recovery

Everyone knows Richard has talent. The room falls silent as he clears his throat, pulls the microphone close, strums an intro chord and eases into a soulful ballad.

Richard is a patient of St. Joseph’s Mental Health Care Program at Parkwood Institute. He’s performing one of his original songs, just as he does most Tuesday evenings at the weekly Belong to Song jam session. When he sings, he shines. His voice is captivating, his passion mesmerizing, and it permeates the audience. Music, after all, is said to be the universal language.



Richard performs his own original song during a Belong to Song music session at Parkwood Institute’s Mental Health Care Building.

Belong to Song is just one component of Parkwood Institute’s Recovery Through Creative Arts Program, which connects mental health inpatients with community artists from the London Artist in Residence (LAIR) program – part of London Arts Council.

Funded by St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation, the program provides therapeutic opportunities for healing and recovery through the arts. Inpatients are encouraged to attend activities on a drop-in basis including music sessions, drama, visual arts and creative reading/writing classes.

Another inpatient who looks forward to the Tuesday evening music sessions, chooses to sing along karaoke style while Belong to Song band members play his song of choice. Those watching can see him connect with the music. He is in the moment and everyone is there along with him.

The use of creative arts in health care has long been recognized as integral for the recovery of people with significant psychosocial complexities.

Spoken word performance
A patient sings along karaoke style with the Belong to Song musicians – part of the Recovery Through Creative Arts Program at Parkwood Institute.

“The Recovery through Creative Arts Program helps patients develop or strengthen coping strategies and relationships to support their journey of care” explains Jennifer Speziale, Mental Health Program Director. “We are truly fortunate for this partnership with the London Arts Council, which is helping us bring meaningful activity into the lives of our patients.”

By participating in these activities, patients and their care teams can set personalized goals to help with self-development and personal growth, as well as a successful transition into the community upon discharge.

“Peer supports develop naturally when individuals are engaged in collaborative art-making,” says Catherine McInnes, LAIR Program Manager and facilitator for the Belong to Song program. “One of the project's main goals is to encourage participation in similar programs that are available in the community so when they leave the hospital, they can continue to benefit from the arts as well as the relationships they built.”

Making art together
Sheri Cowan (left), a local artist-educator with the London Arts Council assists a patient during one of the weekly visual arts drop-in sessions.


Drama group at Parkwood Institute
Director, playwright and actor, Jim Schaefer conducts a drama workshop with participants of the Recovery Through Creative Arts program.
Creative writing group
Andy Verboom front right, a local author and poet works with patients as they learn to write their own Haiku poems during a creative reading and writing session.

Components of the Recovery Through Creative Arts Program are:

  • Music with ‘Belong to Song’: Belong to Song is a community-based music program led by professional musicians and individuals with lived mental health experiences. Similar to karaoke, but with live musicians, both beginners and experienced musicians alike make music together in a fun, supportive and creative atmosphere that encourages musical expression. 
  • Visual arts: These sessions offer a fun and relaxed atmosphere with a wide variety of creative experiences to choose from, including drawing, painting, print making and textile art. 
  • Storytelling and drama: In the drama sessions, patients have the opportunity to tell tales in creative and thought-provoking ways. Participants can tell stories from their own experiences or create new ones, play improvisation games and even try some acting. 
  • Creative reading and writing: These sessions focus on creative and fun group reading and writing activities, which encourage self-exploration and sharing through the power of the written and spoken word.
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