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Arts Therapies Conference – Sameness and Disturbance: An exploration of Identity and Place

Hosted at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre, in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands, the first Arts Therapies conference to be held in the Outer Hebrides will explore the pertinent themes of identity and place in relation to human experience, as well as how continuity of self might be maintained despite disturbance to a person’s sense of self, identity and place in the world.

Over two days, delegates will have a chance to hear four different presentations interpreting this theme from Scottish and UK-based arts therapists and researchers as well as the opportunity to explore further through the arts in two experiential workshops each facilitated by arts therapists.

The conference will be hosted as a hybrid event, with an in-person audience and a live Zoom meeting for those attending remotely. Please note the experiential workshops are for in-person delegates only.

We have a small number of one-day tickets for the conference, for those who can only join in-person on either day.

All in-person ticket holders will receive a link for the Zoom event, just in case you cannot attend on the day.

Identity – 4/10 definitions
  1. The state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions. 
  2. Condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, etc, that distinguish or identify a person or thing. 
  3. The state or fact of being the same one as described. 
  4. The sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time and is sometimes disturbed in mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. 
Place – 6/29 definitions
  1. A particular portion of space, whether of definite or indefinite extent. 2. Space in general: time and place
  2. Any part or spot in a body or surface
  3. Position, situation, or circumstances: 
  4. A region or area
  5. A mental or emotional state: I’m not in a good place right now. 

Conference Information

The idea for this exhibition and conference came as a response to the beginnings of the Arts Therapies Service based at Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts and Heritage Centre. Set up to serve the communities from North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra, this creative approach to mental health and wellbeing has been well received in these, southern isles of the culturally Gaelic western isles of Scotland, and is now expanding to include music therapy as well as art therapy.

The four disciplines of Arts Therapies, used in all kinds of settings professionally since the mid-20th century, adapt art, drama, movement and music to create an ethical therapeutic practice. The social, cultural and political context and client group shape the intervention and arts therapists have been exploring this in their reflective practice and research for many years.

Gallery-based art therapy is increasingly popular and this raises again the identity of the art therapist. As a profession which spans art and the science of psychology, there is increasing demand from funders and strategists for a scientific evidence base. Most art therapists have previously trained as artists and a major strand of art therapy in the UK developed from artists working in post-war hospitals, psychiatric institutions and prisons.

Keynote speaker Dr Chris Wood, Art Therapist, Lecturer, and Research Fellow, who led the MA training programme for Art Psychotherapists over many years in Sheffield has written and published several papers, chapters, and a book. The themes of her writing have often been about the places we inhabit and share. She has also written a little about the quest for evidence. Here she will present a paper exploring the studio and the different ways the arts therapies have offered meeting places and how these can be part of what is needed when we feel distressed. Publications are listed on the orcid system, here.

Identity in the arts therapies necessarily involves art therapy clients at the centre of the work and it is in their best interests that arts therapists serve. Music therapist Alastair Robertson will explore the idea of ‘self and other’ and the identity and place of a client diagnosed with both Autistic Spectrum Condition and a Learning Disability as they transition from the hospital world to the community. Music therapy in this journey plays a part in the bridge or pathway created from one person to another and one place to another.

Developing an arts therapy service in a rural island culture where the population maintain Gaelic language and culture makes an exploration of identity and place through the art therapy frame layered and fascinating. The Lead Art Therapist at Taigh Chearsabhagh, Catriona MacInnes is currently undertaking doctoral research at UHI on adapting arts therapies to this island community, where her own family roots lie, taking into account socio-political and cultural influences and the potential psychological impact of losses experienced in relation to Gaelic language and culture over generations. She will share some of this exploration in her presentation.

Online work in the arts therapies has become a normality in the last two years of the covid pandemic and Dr Ania Zubala from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) is at the forefront of research in this field. The rural nature of the Highlands and Islands presented the opportunity to research online arts therapies some years ago and the potential of the online therapeutic space as a place with a very specific identity takes art therapy into new dimensions. Publications are listed on Google scholar, here.

For in-person delegates, there will also be an opportunity to explore the themes arising from the conference and exhibition through the arts in a combination of visual, material, somatic and musical meaning-making. The two experiential workshops will be held in the middle of both days and each facilitated by two experienced arts therapists. On the first day Ingrid Bell, also one of the exhibiting artists and Marge Matheson, an art therapist living and working in Lewis and Harris, will offer an experience based on visual art making in combination with a body-focused technique used in EMDR. Bridget Grant and Alastair Robertson will facilitate delegates in a workshop on the second day combining techniques from art and music therapy also with the incorporation of the somatic technique ‘felt sense’.

Throughout the two days of the conference in person, delegates will have an opportunity to explore the art materials outwith workshop times in the conference space and enjoy ceilidh, food and drink together in the traditional way. There will also be a showing of the new film Dùthchas, directed by Andy MacKinnon and Kirsty MacDonald, which is opening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 20th August 2022.

Catriona MacInnes        15th July 2022

Arts Therapies Conference Programme Downloadable PDF

Taigh Chearsabhagh will also be hosting a linked exhibition which opens the evening before the conference. The exhibition will present the work of three artists whose practices have an existing relationship to Identity and Place. For more information, please visit the exhibition event page, here.


Dr Chris Wood
Art Therapy as a meeting place

My paper for the conference is about the different ways the arts therapies have offered meeting places and how these can be part of what is needed when we feel distressed. The presentation will draw on several publications concerned with the connections we all tend to make between public and private spaces.

Alastair Robertson
Influences on our Identity through relationships and environment.

Starting with the baby’s growing relationship with the world (mother) and the developing sense of self, I will then focus on the place of Arts Therapies in the journey from hospital back to health in the community.

Catriona MacInnes
Imaging into self; mythopoeic connections, ancient and contemporary in Scottish Gaelic imaginal realms, arts therapies and transition.

This presentation discusses the importance of cultural continuity to a sense of identity and self through exploring breaks and disturbances to that experience. The discipline of the art therapist in approaching the non-directive, art therapeutic frame illuminates contemporary art therapy as a creative practice which may bridge past, present and future.

Dr Ania Zubala
Online art therapy practice: beyond physical spaces and into new dimensions.

Online art therapy may be a great equaliser, increasing access for anyone who finds it difficult to move between physical spaces, for whatever reason. In a virtual space, the client and the therapist find themselves in a new territory, as equals. This space may feel special, the work more focused and the therapeutic process in fact intensified. It may feel liberating to be, create and connect outwith the confinements of familiar places. At the same time, the physicality of spaces from which to connect online is in fact enhanced, shared and can be exposed. Online art therapy seems to happen between the physical and virtual spaces, adding even more complexity to practice, bringing entirely new challenges and creating unique opportunities for the therapeutic process to develop in ways not yet explored.

This presentation will discuss some of the key findings from a nationwide survey of art therapists and evaluation of an online art therapy pilot in the Western Isles, considering in particular art therapists’ recently adopted identity as online practitioners and the concept of an entirely new therapeutic space intertwined with the intimacy of a home environment.

Conference Contributors’ Biographies

Ingrid Bell

Ingrid is a practising artist and has over 20 years of experience as an HCPC and BAAT registered art psychotherapist and clinical supervisor. She has also undertaken the Institute of Human Relations diploma in Therapeutic Skills with Children and Young people and become an accredited EMDR Practitioner. Ingrid continues to be engaged with the latest research integrating select modalities tailored to each client. Ingrid has a particular interest in the impact of trauma throughout one’s lifetime and the effects of this on mind, body, interpersonal and cultural experience.

Ingrid works as a Private Practitioner and Clinical Supervisor for a number of organisations and has continued her work as a practising artist throughout her career as an art therapist.

Bridget Grant

Bridget is an HCPC registered Art Psychotherapist and listed with The British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) as a Private Practitioner and Clinical Supervisor. Bridget qualified as an Art Therapist in 1997 and has worked in many different contexts including the voluntary sector and the NHS. She is an experienced group and workshop facilitator and is a lecturer in Art Psychotherapy on the MSC Art Psychotherapy training at Queen Margaret University.  Bridget is particularly interested in how the image, metaphor, and imagination combine with somatic and neurobiological processes to help cultivate the resources needed to create positive change. Bridget’s own art making is essential to her personal and professional life alongside her interest in research and writing.


2021:  And if the bough breaks: The use of individual Art Therapy within a perinatal mental health service. In S. Hogan (ed.), Therapeutic Arts in Pregnancy, Birth and New Parenthood. Routledge.

2022: Sarah Haywood & Bridget Grant (2022) Reimagining art therapy for the digitally-mediated world: a Hexagonal Relationship, International Journal of Art Therapy, DOI: 10.1080/17454832.2022.2084124

Catriona MacInnes

Catriona qualified as an Art Therapist in 1997 and works as a registered Art Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor. She has taught regularly in the MSC and MA Art Psychotherapy Trainings in Edinburgh and Sheffield as a visiting lecturer. She now lives in North Uist and works as the Lead Arts Therapist at Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts and Heritage Centre to serve the communities of North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra. Catriona is currently also a PhD student at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI). Her doctoral research examines possible psychological trauma and its trans-generational transmission arising from losses experienced in relation to the historic disintegration of Scottish Gaelic oral culture. She continues to explore how arts therapies might be culturally adapted in Uist and Barra to bridge past and present respectfully and sensitively.

Marge Matheson

Artist and HCPC registered art therapist from the Isle of Lewis. Worked as an art therapist for Western Isles Council since 2009 with children and young people within education settings. Interested in attachment regulation, making discoveries through materials and recognising the individual voice.

Alastair Robertson

Originally from Fife, Alastair now lives in Edinburgh, where he works with adults with a learning disabilities. Since training as a music therapist in 2004, he has worked in the NHS and third sector.


2019: Shared Experience: Learning from other modalities in Therapeutic Work with an adult with Autistic Spectrum Condition. In Dunn H., Coombes E., MacLean E., Mottram H. & Nugent J., Music Therapy and Autism Across the Lifespan: A Spectrum of Approaches, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Chris Wood (PhD)

I continue to teach, work with service users in the NHS mental health services and help arts therapists (art, music and drama therapists) register for PhDs and further research. For over twenty years, I was Programme Leader consecutively in two universities. I continue as a senior lecturer with the Art Therapy Northern Programme in Sheffield and as an HCPC registered art therapist. I am fortunate to work alongside a small team of Art Therapists in the NHS and as a research fellow at the University of Sheffield, alongside Professor Brendan Stone and Dr Anthony Williams. Also, I am privileged to be a trustee of the Art Refuge charity, which aims to acknowledge people who are refugees.

I feel that there is a worldwide inspiration to be taken from the development of service-user movements. I am interested in how people manage to live well despite hardship and injustice, and I often think about the contribution that art and art therapy might make. I think where we live and the politics of our time have an impact on our mental health.

I have written and published several papers, chapters, and a book. The themes of my writing have often been about the places we inhabit and share. But I have also written a little about the quest for evidence. My publications are listed on the orcid system, here.

Ania Zubala (PhD)

Dr Ania Zubala is a psychologist and psychotherapist by training and has been researching and establishing an evidence base for arts therapies for over a decade. She has undertaken a number of systematic reviews, piloted a group art therapy intervention for depression and consulted on projects establishing and evaluating art therapy services for young offenders with learning difficulties and for children with long-term conditions. She supported the evaluation of music therapy services of Nordoff-Robbins Scotland and co-developed an evaluation framework for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Her most recent research focuses primarily on opportunities of digital technologies for art therapy practice, particularly in more rural and remote communities of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Publications are listed on Google scholar, here.

Photo credit: Preys B (Installation shot), 2022 by Clee Claire Lee; Photograph by Peter Martin, Shared Programme.