Creating arts-in-health partnerships: "Reflect, reshape, remap, and grow together".

Q&A with Georgina Aasgaard, a cellist and music and health practitioner based in Liverpool.

Content provided by Georgina Aasgaard

Edited by Joanne Worsley

We spoke with Georgina Aasgaard, a cellist and music and health practitioner based in Liverpool, about her passion for taking music from the concert hall to different NHS contexts, such as in-patient settings and community services.

We asked Georgina about the power of music for people’s health and wellbeing. She shared insights with us about how arts in health partnerships can work on the ground, what non-clinical music interventions are, and how such interventions can be set up successfully. Georgina also reflected on some of the challenges she has encountered.

Q: First of all, Georgina, can you explain what non-clinical music interventions are?

By non-clinical music interventions, I mean interventions that are delivered by musicians who are non-trained music therapists, and therefore are not working with a specific long-term therapeutic goal. From my experience working in inpatient NHS mental health services, non-clinical interventions can be highly therapeutic and do not depend on clinical services even though patients are often referred to them by clinicians.

Georgina delivering a music session at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.

Q: Could you tell us how arts-in-health partnerships are brokered?

Arts organisations and health providers collectively identify priorities, aims, and objectives to create a partnership. I think arts-in-health partnerships can be brokered by answering the following four questions: Why do you want to create a partnership? What are you looking to deliver? Who are you addressing? How are you going to deliver the intervention?

Q: How are arts-in-health projects set-up? Can you provide an example?

Arts and health projects can be set up successfully by creating a pilot intervention. The first pilot project I delivered at Stoddart House [an in-patient unit based at Aintree Hospital] was the starting point of a partnership between Liverpool Philharmonic and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust. The pilot project was evaluated by service users, allowing both organisations to reflect, reshape, remap, and grow together. This partnership is now well established, with Liverpool Philharmonic delivering their music in mental health programme across a range of different settings.

Q: How do arts-in-health partnerships work?

When setting up a partnership, it is important to consider the environment and context. Each partnership will be unique, involving a range of different stakeholders, such as facilitators, healthcare staff, practitioners, and participants. For example, via the partnership between Liverpool Philharmonic and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, I deliver the project following the aims and objectives that have been agreed by both organisations.

Live Music Now North West’s Lulllaby project in Toxteth, Liverpool, working with families from the Sudanese community.

Q: How do practitioners contribute to maintaining partnerships?

Practitioners are the primary contact with the participants who are at the centre of all relationships involved in a partnership and who must be considered as experts in lived experience. So, as practitioners, we have the responsibility of delivering personalised care: What matters to you and am I able to cater to what matters to you? So, this is really about identifying participants’ needs, catering for their creativity, and celebrating their individuality. I think this person-centred approach is key to a successful partnership.

Q: What have been the challenges and how were they addressed?

The challenges in setting up a successful art in health project can be triggered by a disconnect between the theory and practice of delivering arts interventions, or a lack of training and awareness among staff and professionals who surround an arts intervention. Strategic communication around a patient’s care, including arts-in-health partnerships they are involved in, is vital to the success of such an intervention. Where healthcare staff are fully aware of such programmes, they can play a crucial role in creating a welcoming environment that allows artists to deliver more engaging and effective interventions for participants. Similarly, where policymakers and management teams are given time and space to understand what such interventions look like and how they work on the ground, they will be able to better understand the resourcing and training needs of these programmes, leading to more successful and efficient projects.

Q: What training do practitioners need to deliver arts-in-health projects?

There is a huge gap in training which is something I am hoping to address in the next few years through my PhD research. Unless you train as a music therapist or art therapist, there are no accredited courses in Arts and Health that formalise the role of a practitioner in a health setting. I think this is due to the lack of evidence-based practice. My own training has been solely through practice, reflexivity and reading the work of others in this area: Daisy Fancourt’s book Arts in Health: Designing and Researching Interventions (2017) has been particularly useful to me as I’ve been thinking about all of these issues.

Summer Sounds Unplugged | 20 Stories High: bringing uplifting and healing music to young people in their communities.

Q: How do organisations identify their own training needs as well as their practitioners’ training needs?

Organisations can identify these training needs by reflecting and constantly reassessing their interventions, considering strengths and weaknesses and by putting training in place to address gaps and challenges. As every setting is different, training resources need to be context-specific. Artists could be encouraged to adopt reflective practices, such as using journals or reflective diaries, and be supported by being given access to supervision sessions by the organisations.

Q: What are the access routes via which people can participate in arts-in-health projects?

From my experience of working for the Liverpool Philharmonic and Mersey Care Partnership, participants have accessed the music sessions either through referrals or through community services. I am hoping that the development of social prescribing services in the city will help in making the services more accessible.

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