Harnessing the healing power of dance in young adults with psychosis
The Alchemy Project has tested how a dance-led intervention could help young adults who are accessing early intervention in psychosis services.
Who: The Alchemy Project, an enterprise established by Cultural Utilities & Enterprises (CUE) in association with Dance United Yorkshire (DUY)
Start date: February 2015
End date: March 2016
Grant value: £151,040
Psychosis leads to suffering and disability and, without early intervention, has long-term cost implications for healthcare services. South London and Maudsley’s (SLaM) Early Intervention Services (EIS) support young people aged 18 to 35 in Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham and Croydon who are diagnosed early.
The Alchemy Project is a co-production between Cultural Utilities & Enterprises (CUE) in association with Dance United Yorkshire (DUY) and SLaM’s EIS in psychosis and builds on a successful pilot in 2013, also funded by us, which led to a clinically significant increase in the wellbeing of participants.
Created specifically for people with no dance experience, the project uses contemporary dance as part of an integrated recovery model for young adults accessing EIS, becoming a catalyst for radical change and helping individuals to realise their potential.
Project launched and recruitment of participants for first intervention begins.
The first intervention is delivered, culminating in a live performance at the Shaw Theatre in London.
Recruitment of participants for second intervention gets underway.
The second intervention is delivered concluding with a performance at the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells.
Independent evaluation is completed.
The Alchemy Project involves training individuals living with psychosis, and with no experience of dance, to perform a contemporary dance piece in front of a live audience. Interventions with two groups of participants were delivered in 2015 as part of the project.
Participants are immersed in four weeks of intensive dance training (up to six hours a day, five days a week). Team-building and trust-building exercises complement the dance element, and participants learn to work together and to support each other as a dance company.
The teaching methodology is innovative and holistic; the training requires mental discipline and bodily control, and participants develop a new understanding of, and relationship with, their bodies, of themselves and of others. Dance demands stillness and focus, an ability to remain in the moment and to be aware of the body at all times.
The intervention is delivered by a team of dance artists and support staff, working closely with the EIS team. The final performances are presented in a professional theatre setting to invited audiences. After the performance, the team have a further few days with the participants to provide post-intervention coaching and action planning to help cement the intervention outcomes and to inspire their progression towards education, training and employment.
“Funding from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity has enabled us to test the impact of this radical, dance-led intervention. To date it has enabled us to demonstrate that, compared to other interventions currently available, it delivers markedly better results in the wellbeing of participants within the same time frame.”
Gwen Van Spijk, Executive Producer of The Alchemy Project
“It is striking that the Alchemy Project has shown it can repeatedly deliver a distinctive, popular, engaging intervention to people recovering from early psychosis. The increase in wellbeing scores for three separate cohorts is a particularly striking achievement. The Alchemy Project is offering something that is not provided by conventional services, and it seems to be getting results that other approaches do not deliver.”
Dr Matthew Taylor, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Bipolar Disorder, Institute of Psychiatry
“One of the priorities for our arts strategy is to demonstrate how the arts can improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people, and Alchemy is one of our exemplar projects. This innovative project is now achieving clinically significant results in the mental wellbeing of the participants. We are delighted that our support has helped to deliver these successful intervention and to share the important findings of this programme more widely.”
Nikki Crane, Head of Arts Strategy, Guy's and St Thomas' Charity
Psychosis is a major health problem, and is particularly prevalent in Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham and Croydon, where the rate of new cases is double that of some other areas. It is during the first few years that those with psychosis, and particularly young adults, are at the greatest threat of social and physical harm. There is, for example, a 20-fold greater risk of serious violence and self-harm in early psychosis compared with any time later in the illness.
Young adults often also struggle with relationships, body awareness, getting up in the morning, maintaining energy and optimism, and physical fitness. These issues impact their confidence, mental wellbeing, physical health, social and vocational functioning, and life expectancy.
With targeted early intervention, these first years offer the opportunity to avoid social exclusion, and promote full recovery and a return to quality of life and wellbeing. However, there is a shortage of evidence-based interventions.
In 2013, a methodology originally developed by dance company Dance United was trialled in a mental health setting for the first time. The pilot project had promising results with participants moving from below-average wellbeing to normal wellbeing levels. In 2015 project was proposed to test if the findings of the pilot could be replicated.
The Alchemy Project is an enterprise established by Cultural Utilities & Enterprises (CUE) in association with Dance United Yorkshire (DUY). The Action Research project in 2015 was co-produced with SLaM Early Intervention Services.
The pilot project, 'Seabreeze', explored whether this dance-led model could work in the context of SLaM EIS. Using the same methodology and deploying evaluation tools, including the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, in 2015 The Alchemy Project tested the findings of the pilot and confirmed its efficacy.
To date, three cohorts have demonstrated clinically significant improvements in wellbeing as a result of being engaged in the dance-led intervention. The results also show improvements in participants' self-belief, self-efficacy, confidence and trust in others over the course of the intervention, and a positive impact on quality of life.
Since improving wellbeing through recovery after episodes of psychosis is a common goal of Early Intervention Services, the findings from the interventions are very relevant and aligned with the services’ aims.
Download the independent evaluation report.