Britta Von Zweigbergk: www.brittavonzweigbergk.com


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ART THERAPY IN BEXLEY HOSPITAL

WORK EXPERIENCE

Britta von Zweigbergk became interested in art therapy in the early 1960’s, initially combining the interest with a young family. During this period she had read of the work of Adrian Hill and of Edward Adamson, the former first familiarizing her with the term ‘Art Therapy’ and the latter with his non directive art therapy sessions at the Netherne Hospital in Surrey. She found both inspiring.

In 1967, her younger child had just started school and she began working twice a week initially, in the mornings as a hospital artist/therapist. The settings were the old psychiatric wards Constance and Christopher at West Hill Hospital in Dartford, Kent. She worked individually with patients and in groups.

That year she made first contact with BAAT (British Association of Art Therapists) and shortly afterwards, joined.

By 1968, the two acute psychiatric wards had been moved to another large General Hospital, Joyce Green, on the outskirts of Dartford. A refurbished centre was established with the addition of a day hospital, the idea of which had become very much the treatment of choice at that time. The Day Hospital was well supplied and it became possible not only to use paint /crayons, pastel charcoal etc, but also clay with the setting up of a small pottery room with a kiln.

During the sixties she also worked concurrently in Further Education for the London Borough of Bromley, painting, drawing and modelling in clay with adults. She maintained a particular group for twelve years. Facilitating art workshops and classes in Further Education confirmed her earlier observations on the therapeutic effect art activity had upon a group of people working together. The sessions were excellent grounding in the practical use of materials and the exploration of various methods and techniques. Much more importantly however it revealed how beneficial the slow creation of trust and empathy and the gradual uncovering and sharing of feelings and conflicts could be. Her involvement in these weekly groups continued until 1976 alongside other sessional and part time work.

She spent time as a visiting artist in her children’s primary school. This was very useful experience in the emphasis of play and exploration and continued to hone her general observations on the therapeutic quality of art expression. This was further enhanced by a two year period of working for Kent Education Committee, one evening session a week with adolescent boy offenders in a Remand Home situated at Sutton on Hone, near Dartford, Kent. A challenging but ultimately rewarding period.

In 1973 she accepted a post as art therapist, initially very part time, at Bexley Hospital in Kent and the sessions grew and developed until the art therapy department closed in 1996.

During 1976-77 she was a member of BAAT Council and was active in promoting the art therapy department at Bexley as a placement area for art therapy trainees from Goldsmiths and St Albans (later University of Hertfordshire) A constructive partnership that continued throughout her time of working with the NHS.

The open sessions in the art therapy department particularly concentrated on those individuals who had lived many years inside the asylum walls and did not always fit in with to other more structured programmes. The open, creative and non directive approach, paid dividends in terms of re establishment and encouragement of personal identity. Many long stay patients discovered the pleasure to be had from unlocking latent creativity and being encouraged to use the art materials in a spontaneous and feeling way. A network of other art therapists, students, volunteers worked together to create a memorable environment from which pictures, clay models and words flourished in an atmosphere that promoted the individual as against the collectivity of institutional life.

As with living in Swanley, she hadn’t originally intended to stay so long, seeing it as a stopping off and learning period, but stay she did for a further thirty one years, by which time Bexley Hospital had disappeared and in its place had arisen Oxleas NHS Trust. She had always struggled for the survival and growth of art therapy and found that it was possible to transfer the open, flexible and non directive approach into community work and consequently developed an outpatient service for the Bexley area.

She retired as Head Art Therapist for Bexley and Greenwich Art Therapy Services in 2004 and enjoyed some locum work for West Kent and then Kent and Medway NHS Trust until 2011, having worked for the NHS for over forty years.