Many children, adolescents and young people are struggling to cope in a fast-changing world says Arts Psychotherapist Varia Williams. “Coming out of Covid, the mental health stresses arising out of isolation and loss of opportunities is still being felt in a very real way – and we’re seeing this through increased self-harm and other social, emotional, behavioural and mental health challenges”.
Varia recently returned from pursuing a Master of Arts in Drama and Movement Therapy – a method of Psychotherapy which incorporates and utilises creative arts in the therapy. Already well-known as a theatre practitioner and drama teacher in Barbados, Varia’s experience over the past 15 years as Managing Director of Mustardseed Productions – a company recognised for its bold and innovative productions while promoting culture, creativity and identity – has laid the groundwork for this new venture which she is now undertaking.
“During the pandemic we couldn’t meet, we couldn’t perform, and we saw the impact on our young people. It forced me to refocus and reconsider my training to address deeper needs within society” says Varia, “the course of study I chose is still very much related to my passion for people and the arts, but now focuses more on the field of psychology, psychotherapy and mental health and wellness” she added.
Varia, whose 2-year immersive programme at the University of London’s highly respected Royal Central School of Speech and Drama earned her a distinction, saw her complete several job attachments, including working in a forensic hospital for men with mental illnesses and who have committed serious crime. Varia also worked with both verbal and non-verbal children and youth, in schools dealing with such issues as anxiety, grief and suicidal ideation.
Her dissertation titled “Limbo State of Mind” addressed specific mental health considerations derived from the transatlantic slave trade and the legacy of colonialism for Caribbean communities. In it, Varia posits how continued suppression, repression and oppression of race-related issues contribute to many mental health challenges, as black diasporic communities continue to address issues of identity, rage, shame, grief and disenfranchisement.
“Life took me to this next stage”, revealed Varia. “Mustardseed was always about inclusion, about welcoming and recognising differences. About allowing children and adolescents to learn about themselves and community, while gaining confidence through drama and theatre. So, this is a natural progression for me.”
Going forward, she added “my primary focus will be on establishing a treatment practice using movement and drama in therapy and bringing in other elements of creative arts therapy. I will be working with individuals and groups – children, young people and adults, on issues related to mental health.”
Varia explained that Arts Therapy is a fast-growing specialist area of psychotherapy. The Therapist, working within a theoretical framework of developmental and analytical psychology, applies techniques using movement, drama, art, play, images and symbols to make connections between conscious and unconscious states to encourage integration and balance.
“We have a mental health crisis on our hands, and one of the key challenges is to destigmatise and normalise the discourse around this critical aspect of our wellbeing,” stated Varia “I expect that my new skills will complement those already available in Barbados to support these needs. I’ll be looking for opportunities to collaborate with other mental health professionals, programmes, and agencies over the next coming months to do just that.”