Creative Arts Therapies Embraces the Great Outdoors

Whitecliffe student Sarah Rossiter is transforming the lives of Wellington locals with a nature-based arts programme that promotes creativity, well-being, and connection.

Each week Sarah and her small posse of artists head out to local beaches and nature reserves to gather inspiration from the world around them – whether that’s connecting to the environment through their senses, making plant pressings in clay, or creating collaborative sculptural works from found materials. By teaching new ways of connecting to nature, Sarah helps participants tap into fresh creative outlets as they build their confidence and strengthen their relationships with themselves and others.

“Spending time in nature is very grounding and therapeutic,” says Sarah. “I love having the opportunity to take people outside, explore new places and connect them to the energy of plants and animals.”

Currently in her final stages of the Master of Arts in Creative Arts Therapy (Clinical), Sarah is deeply passionate about the role Mother Nature plays in boosting mental health. Her captivating sessions are designed to harness that power, combining art, therapy and nature in unique and exciting ways.

“We do all sorts of different things, like creating brushes and drawing tools from natural materials, dying fabrics with natural dyes and plants, and making mandalas from plants, leaves and flowers. Artists are encouraged to express themselves in ways that feel comfortable and authentic to them and if certain emotions or concerns arise during the sessions, we can talk about and move through them.”

The programme has proven to be extremely helpful not only in building people’s connection to nature and the environment but also in regulating their emotions and nurturing their wellbeing.

“I love the transformative ability of Creative Arts Therapy. It's such a powerful tool for unlocking emotions and supporting clients to navigate their way through them. I've found people often find the concept of arts therapy difficult to grasp, just seeing art as generally therapeutic, but when you add the presence, awareness, and clinical knowledge of a therapist you can create some real shifts. Where verbal communication is difficult, art can do the talking.”

Sarah runs the programme out of the Wellington community art studio Pablos, where she also teaches art outreach sessions for people living with disabilities. It’s rewarding work and is the culmination of many years of study and practical training.

“I gained my Bachelor of Fine Arts through Whitecliffe back in 2006 and then spent ten years working in youth and social work roles, residential care, women’s shelters, youth justice and community centres in both Aotearoa and Australia. In 2018 I began teaching art to students in prisons across New Zealand, and after 18 months in the role, I decided returning to Whitecliffe to study Creative Arts Therapy was the best way to further my passion for this type of transformative work and allow me the ability to work in a more therapeutic capacity.”

It was a great decision.

“I've loved the exploration of self and deep immersion into therapeutic practice throughout my master’s degree study. I enjoyed beginning placements and working with clients in a therapeutic capacity, building presence, a deep empathy and active listening.”

Now just awaiting marks for her final master’s dissertation, Sarah is just a few short steps away from gaining her full registration, and she can’t wait to launch her career as a fully qualified Creative Arts Therapist.

“I’m looking forward to working one-on-one with private clients and I also hope to pilot programmes where there's a need - in vulnerable communities, with youth, in mental health and prisons. I plan to write more research and journal articles, and continue to advocate for the de-stigmatisation of mental illness and the benefits lived experience can have when working in the therapeutic field. I'm open to all opportunities that may arise and enable me to support people in therapeutic and transformative ways.”

Find out more about Sarah’s nature-based art programme here:

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