Gladstone’s Library and Happy Christmas

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of spending a few days at Gladstone’s Library in Wales.  Visiting this Prime Ministerial library gave me a chance to spend some time reading and preparing a piece of writing on the trafficking of cultural property and organised crime*.  I wanted to share my experiences of this beautiful library in case there is anyone else out there who would like to escape and make some writing progress in 2017.  Gladstone’s Library is a residential library so you really can spend days silently working in the wood panelled library itself, being sociable in its open spaces, or enjoying one of the courses delivered there.  Many modern libraries have been rebranded as learning centres and it can sometimes be difficult to find somewhere that is a genuinely silent working space.  Escaping the sound of cappuccinos being made, tinny music seeping out of headphones, and the frantic battering of dozens of computer keyboards can be difficult, but not at Gladstone’s Library.  This place really is silent and also incredibly cosy.  Sitting still for long periods of time in a Victorian building in December could have required a blanket but the library is warm and welcoming in every sense.  The food is also excellent and there is very little reason to leave once you’re there!  The only discomfort I experienced at the library was hand pain.  I haven’t written so much with a pen since taking my exams as an undergraduate.  The exam induced bump on my right middle finger came back after hours of writing, but this minor malformation is a small price to pay for being able to sit quietly and learn about something again.

So, if you need peace and quiet to write in 2017, you should try to get to Gladstone’s Library and enjoy an inspiring environment.

Happy Christmas everyone.

* Once I’ve finished my essay and received some feedback on it, I’ll share it.



Earlier this month I was invited to an exhibition at HMP Barlinnie where Theatre Nemo put on a display of the work it had been doing with prisoners.  This work included taiko drumming (which there was a performance of), drawings, writing, guitar playing, and singing.  I found this very interesting and the prisoners themselves appeared to have enjoyed producing the work immensely.  Attending this event put a lot of ideas and questions in my head about the potential therapeutic role of creative activity for prisoners and for other groups of people.  It’s unlikely I will ever get the chance to do any of my own research in this area but that didn’t stop me having a browse of the work that has already been done.

Discovering the journal ‘The Arts in Psychotherapy’ was a bit of a treat for me.  It might not have the biggest impact factor out there but it was full of just the kind of research I was curious about.  It was difficult to decide which article to pick for discussion so I may present a few over the coming weeks.  An article by Jang and Choi (2012) investigated the use of clay to build ego-resilience in adolescents.  The results suggested that the use of clay over 18 weekly sessions lasting 80 minutes each produced a statistically significant increase in ego-resilience.  This increase was seen within the clay group over time and between the clay group and control group.  Increasing ego-resilience allows individuals to deal better with change and threatening situations without experiencing emotional or behavioural problems.  Ego-resilience is about effective adaptation and it is something a person can develop rather than an unchanging characteristic.

In Jang and Choi’s study the 18 week clay programme was split into three periods: the beginning stage (sessions 1 to 6); the middle stage (sessions 7 to 14); and the final stage (sessions 15 to 18).  During these sessions there was self-exploration, building rapport with other members of the group, self-perception, emotional regulation, and promoting optimism as well as regular displays and discussion of the pottery that had been made.  All of these experiences can help to build ego-resilience and this appears to be heightened when developed alongside the clay based activities.

The authors surmise:

“The continued and repeated experience of pottery-making throughout the sessions contributed to bringing about a positive change in the regulation and expression of emotions.  In addition, the plasticity of clay made it easy for the participants to finish their clay work successfully.  Curiosity, toward the process through which a clay piece was transformed into glassy pottery and molding techniques or kiln firing that were learned in each session were factors that contributed to the positive changes.” (page 249)

There is already a history of using clay in therapeutic ways (see Sholt & Gavron, 2006) so this study adds to that but uses a more experimental/quantitative approach.  There are some criticisms that can be made of Jang and Choi’s methodology but I have put these aside for the purpose of this blog.  My aim is to discuss different types of work and different themes rather than offer a lengthy and detailed critique on a single piece of research.  This paper encouraged me to think about psychology as having a much more physical dimension and gave me a better understanding of the mechanism that may be at work with the Theatre Nemo participants.

Jang, H. & Choi, S. (2012).  Increasing ego-resilience using clay with low SES (Social Economic Status) adolescents in group art therapy.  The Arts in Psychotherapy, 39, 245-250.

Sholt, M. & Gavron, T. (2006).  Therapeutic qualities of clay-work in Art Therapy and Psychotherapy: A review.  Art Therapy, 26, 66-72.


Welcome to my first blog posting,

Today was the summer solstice though you wouldn’t know it from the relentless grey skies and rain we’ve had.  The grim weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of our graduates though as they collected their degrees this afternoon at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.  Graduation is one of the happiest parts of my job and although my palms were left sore from over an hour of clapping, I couldn’t stop smiling as I met proud parents, friends and relatives of our new graduates.  As students come to the end of their final year they often look tired, stressed and dispirited from all the work and pressure placed on them.  At graduation they always look delighted and revitalised and it’s a lovely way to end the academic session.  It’s also entertaining to see colleagues dressed up in their gowns (even though mine has the colour palette of a Manchester City strip).  Every year we take some photos of each other so I’ve put a few below along with other scenes of the day.

I’m now looking forward to having some time to develop new research ideas and seek out interesting events and pieces of research for this weekly blog.