As you know, the Alef Trust delivers postgraduate education in the areas of consciousness studies and transpersonal psychology. It is perhaps less known that we also lead and support applied projects, tackling some of the major challenges of our time. Creative Alternatives is an arts and health programme supporting adults experiencing stress, depression and anxiety – some of the most prevalent mental health conditions of our time. Our local programme branch runs in an area of England that has one of the highest suicide rates anywhere in the UK. Economic deprivation, long-term unemployment and lack of access to opportunities have left local people in the area bereft of a sense of identity and purpose. Creative Alternatives works with Public Health to offer a rounded programme of creative wellbeing activities, aiming to rekindle people’s hope and vision.
Creative Alternatives is part of a wider landscape of ‘social prescribing’ projects that are beginning to lift off all over England and that offer non-medical, community-based activities to help improve people’s health and wellbeing. Social prescribing recognises that health challenges must to be approached in holistic and integrative ways, addressing the many social determinants that impact on human health – from our diet, to our living spaces and our social networks. The social determinants of health go some way toward reflecting a major tenet of transpersonal psychology which advocates for whole-person approaches to growth and flourishing, honouring the deep nature of our being which is rooted in an interconnected and evolving ecosphere.
In the UK social prescribing is coming of age, with the establishment of a national Social Prescribing Network organising major conferences and supporting research and advocacy across England. On 11th & 12th July this year the network hosted its second international conference at the University of Westminster, at which our director Jessica Bockler presented the results of our recent online pilot programme, delivering Creative Alternatives through the internet. The results of the pilot were exciting, indicating that our online work may be as effective as our local programme in improving people’s lives. As one of our participants said:
“The course gave me experiences and tasks that were life-affirming and allowed me glimpses of the hidden creative parts inside me. […] They were still there. The relaxation and calmness that came with some of these tasks were like little oases in horrible times. It was like finding the real me was still there.”
The conference featured a lot of exciting emergent research, shining a deeper light into the value of social prescribing. Professor Dean Ornish, president and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, California, shared significant findings on the value of ‘lifestyle medicine’. Dr. Marie Polley, Co-chair of the Social Prescribing Network, mapped the broader outcomes of social prescribing. Dr. Daisy Fancourt, Senior Research Fellow at University College London presented extensive data on UK cohort studies, highlighting the substantial health outcomes of cultural engagement. For further information on the research undertaken click here.
Article by Jessica Bockler