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The power of creative therapy

Chheng is a Peer Worker who works within the Royal North Shore Hospital Mental Health Inpatient Unit.

Chheng in an art therapy room

She has a lived experience of mental health issues and draws upon her own experiences to offer support to people during their stay. She works with individuals to understand their strengths and interests and focuses on their personal recovery goals.

“It is important to take an individualised approach in helping others to develop skills and strategies which support their own recovery and foster a sense of hope and optimism,” said Chheng.

Chheng is particularly passionate about the use of creative therapies such as art and music therapy.

Kelley Yates, Service Director for North Shore Ryde Mental Health Service said that, “Music and art therapy sessions provide people with opportunities to encourage self-expression, lift spirits, decrease boredom, and reduce feelings of isolation and agitation.”

Art therapy activities include mindful colouring, origami, and self-expression with paint, pastels and watercolours.

Music is a powerful tool which can be used to support feelings of wellbeing and bring on a sense of calm. This is important both during a hospital stay and to continue after someone has been discharged.

These activities also provide important opportunities for social interaction and connection. Patients appreciate the personalised approach to their care and often share how important it is to their recovery.

“Therapy makes people feel calmer, it improves their sense of wellbeing and it builds confidence, self-esteem and energy,” said Chheng.

Your donation to the NORTH Foundation tax appeal today can help support and grow important patient wellbeing initiatives like music and art therapy across our mental health units.

Life changing family support

John and Anna took on the guardianship of nine-year-old Kate* in 2019 after her mother died suddenly from alcohol and drug related issues.

Coral Tree

After experiencing neglect and abuse in her childhood, Kate had various social and behavioural issues that often involved hurting others.

As Kate’s distant relatives, John and Anna welcomed her with open arms but found themselves in need of support and guidance from trauma experts to help understand Kate’s behaviour. Both teachers, John and Anna understood some of the basics of how to support children with complex needs, but even they admit they were out of their depth.

Anna reached out to six services before finding Coral Tree Family Service just before Christmas in 2020. When she first spoke to a staff member over the phone, Anna remembers expecting to be told to call back in the new year, but instead she was asked to share her story.

“When we found Coral Tree, that’s when the good started to happen,” said John.

The family stayed at Coral Tree in April 2021 for four nights as part of the service’s residential program that provides a goal-orientated treatment package. For the family, the whole experience was “life-changing.”

“The staff really listened and worked closely with us, identifying Kate’s behaviours, giving us honest feedback and helping us to come up with next steps and tools that would work for Kate and our family,” said John.

The family learnt a lot over the four days and the staff helped to provide a different perspective on how Kate was responding and reacting to various interactions.

While staying at Coral Tree, the family played a board game together 15 minutes before bed for connection time with Kate to help her sleep better, a technique the family still uses today. Techniques like this have allowed the family to better understand each other and build a safe and happy home environment based on Kate’s specific needs.

The family is very grateful to Coral Tree and they hope that the service can expand to allow more families to benefit from the same attention and care that helped them.

“We can’t thank Coral Tree enough for changing our lives – we couldn’t have done it without them,” said John and Anna.

Your donation can help support the Coral Tree Family Service to improve their facilities and expand to allow more families to benefit from the same care that helped Kate and her family.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

The wonder therapy dog

When Ella the cattle dog-staffy-mastiff was brought home from a pound by her owner Penny nine years ago, neither of them knew that she would become a regular visitor to Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital.

Penny and Ella

In 2020 Ella became an official volunteer animal therapy dog for the acute mental health ward at Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital. After training and passing a test, Ella and Penny started to visit the hospital once a week.

As a semi-retired mental health and community nurse, Penny has been caring for the health and wellbeing of patients in and around Hornsby for more than 30 years. Since becoming Ella’s owner and volunteering at the hospital where she spent her career, Penny has enjoyed seeing the positive impact her pet has had on the people in the ward, including the staff.

“Ella is a wonderful therapy dog because she loves people and makes such a positive impact on them just by being close to them,” said Penny.

For Penny, the best part of volunteering and bringing Ella into the ward is the buzz she gets from seeing faces light up when Ella walks into the room.

Leanne Frizzel, the Service Director for the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Mental Health Service said, “80% of our patients report that having animal therapy in the ward creates a sense of warmth.”

Particularly in the mental health ward, Ella helps to create a sense of calm and joy. For a patient who might be quite isolated or struggling to communicate, a visit from Ella can bring about a dramatic and remarkable change.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased, Penny is allowed to bring Ella in again for weekly visits. Sometimes patients are even able to take Ella for an accompanied walk.

“There are so many benefits of going for a walk with a dog, from the physical benefits of being outdoors and staying active to the mental health benefits of being quiet and sticking to a routine,” said Leanne.

Leanne hopes one day to have animal assisted therapy in many more wards, from paediatric wards to aged-care and dementia wards because she believes it’s such a unique and wonderful offering.

By donating to our 2022 tax appeal today, you can help support the growth of our animal assisted therapy program so that dogs like Ella can provide comfort and support to patients in more wards across more hospitals.

Donate to our tax appeal

If you loved these community stories or if you’re grateful for the care that you or your loved ones received at one of our hospitals, please consider making a tax-deductible gift to support our 2022 tax appeal.

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