Arts and mental health

Dancing into recovery with The Alchemy Project

Thanks to generous donations, young adults accessing Early Intervention in Psychosis Services have been taking part in the innovative dance-led scheme, The Alchemy Project. The project aims to support the young people in their recovery alongside their existing treatment programmes.

The dance intervention has proved very successful for its participants. Clinically, wellbeing has measured to have improved significantly, and personally, lots of positive feedback has been received.

The benefits of early intervention

It was after the success of SeaBreeze in 2013 that The Alchemy Project was set up. The aim was to further test the outcomes of dance-led interventions, and in particular, whether the model would prove successful more than once. SeaBreeze had positive results and high attendance levels, so being able to develop the initiative further with the help of donations has been welcomed.

‘By investing our efforts early on in the course of psychosis, we can really transform lives,’ explains Matthew Taylor, Consultant Psychiatrist in Early Intervention. ‘This early investment pays back the effort that takes twenty times over.’

Motivation through movement 

The project runs for four weeks, with groups of twelve young adults and six peer mentors. Participants have lessons in contemporary dance, intensively learning and rehearsing an original dance work. At the end of the four weeks participants perform the piece to family and friends, allowing their loved ones see them in a different light and for them to all celebrate their achievements together. The performance is staged with professional production values, further enhancing the experience for its participants as well as for the audience.

‘It’s a kick-start for them to think differently about themselves and what they could do in their lives,’ says Carly Annable-Coop, Project Director. ‘Dance allows us to make that shift; in terms of meeting new people, building new relationships. They build a bit more motivation in their lives.’ 

As well as teaching dance, the workshops aim to improve participants’ wellbeing by focusing on what people can achieve rather than their deficits. The workshops can also be a great help for various important aspects of recovery, such as counteracting symptoms like apathy and lack of motivation through physical exercise, and creating social connections to help people overcome feelings of isolation.

‘When I go there I forget that I’m having this problem,’ says one participant. ‘I can step out of myself, I can be normal again.’

A swell of support

The Alchemy Project was delivered last year and received a swell of support from major mental health bodies. Project leaders are now exploring ways that the programme can be sustained longer term into the future, and hope to encourage these groups to adopt the model. 

Programmes like The Alchemy Project are not only valuable interventions for service users, but also vital in helping to challenge the preconceptions of mental health professionals in what young people suffering from psychosis can achieve. Contact for more information on the project.

Without support from donations, service users at South London and Maudsley would have far less access to innovative extra services like this. Get involved today and help support life-changing projects at SLaM.