arts and health Finnish approaches to wellbeing Uncategorized

Why Finland features in the Fellowship: day 1 from Helsinki

Over the next few weeks I will visit colleagues in the field of arts and health across Finland, in Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Jyvaskyla and Rovaniemi in the Arctic Circle.

I aim to understand and communicate the Finnish approach to promoting arts for wellbeing by visiting several centres of excellence and meeting key workers in the field of arts and health. This will inform my work back in the UK in research, policy and practice.  The programme has been prepared by Kirsi Lajunen, who is a National Artist for Art and Wellbeing employed by TAIKE, Arts Promotion Centre.

I arrived on the first leg of the Travelling Fellowship on Friday 19th May, to Helsinki, my ‘basecamp,’ which turned out to be a lovely studio apartment with a nautical theme, a free bar and a Martin guitar on loan!

A three-week long programme around Finland has been prepared by my colleagues / wonderful hosts who are Arts Promotion Officers for the Finnish Government. Clearly I will need to make sure I am a good girl for Santa too.

Day 1 in Helsiniki: Ministry of Education and Culture

Yesterday – Monday 22nd May – I went to the Ministry of Education and Culture to meet  with the steering group meeting of one of Finnish Governments Key Projects: ‘Promoting the Arts and Culture Activities for Health and Wellbeing’. I learned that since 1972, Finland has had established roles for artists within Government in a unique system where the arts for wellbeing are promoted from the top down.

Recently an interested party exclaimed to me, “Art, and health? But they have nothing to do with each other, art is for entertainment and health is necessary.” This was a very useful perspective for me to consider and a call to action! (He later revealed he had been pulling my leg).

Yesterday in Finland’s Government, there was an acceptance that the arts are useful tools for creating wellbeing. Social inclusion is a major route to community health, as is the reduction of hopelessness and stigma – all of which can be targeted through community arts and engaging people in cultural activities. I did not need to defend this idea, instead the Finns have accepted this and now take an active problem-solving approach. This has led them to make social policies that prioritise free education for all (private education is rare and subject to licence!), quality childcare, equality and social inclusion – wherein art is a vehicle and catalyst via a number of routes towards this.




A key point to emerge from this first discussion included how we develop effective models for training staff in the field:

Preparing artists to work in healthcare settings

There was a shared view that there is a need to develop training and experiential courses that allow artists to access and work to the best abilities healthcare settings. It is unfair to expect artists to work with clinicians and service users with little to no training on basic clinical skills.

My view on this is that in general, artists are people who are attuned to emotions and are empathic. For me, a lot of this preparartion would be around increasing people’s confidence that they probably already have the necessary skills, and skilling them to work with client groups who might be have communication difficulties, be in distress or have special needs.

Clinical staff preparation, too

Similarly, it becomes clear when working between artists and healthcare professionals that the latter would also benefit from considering some of their expectations around working in arts-based ways. For just a few examples (I will certainly write more about this in my final report), a series of ‘true tensions’ commonly arise, the most obvious one being,

  • Organised/scheduled Vs Flexible/responsive

Healthcare professionals tend to have a more regimented approach and predictability is a big part of service provision. A simple exploration of the different, more experimental and playful ways artists tend to approach an activity prior to beginning is likely to be useful to all parties.

  • Process Vs Outcome

In the early days of the Dementia and Imagination project, the team discovered that health professionals would place a lot of worth or value on the final product of the arts sessions. The artists, however, were more inclined to recognise the intrinsic value of art-making, and viewed the sessions as engendering enjoyment, connection, pride and celebration of abilities, regardless of the final product.

  • Ability Vs Impairment

Just by virtue of our training and backgrounds, people will have different focuses. Healthcare professionals learn about illnesses through symptoms and impairments, and ways to work with this. This means that on some level, it is the the symptoms, impairments and disabilities that are looked for. Artists are not provided a background on people’s impairments, and therefore do not always spot them! This means they are very solution-focussed, look for what can be done, and do not see the disabilities like clinical staff might.

Finally – I am having a brilliant and nourishing time and this blog is about to get busy!  The week before I came to Finland I attended an Arts in Health Away Day in London, which is a post in itself. I have a full programme of events and will be recording some of them here, as well using the time away from home to populate this new blog with additional related articles – both original and signposting to other useful articles.

Thank you for your interest!

Background – Why I am in Finland for this work?

The population of Finland is 5.4 million and there are around 3 million saunas! There are 188, 000 lakes and nature is a very important part of Finnish life. Schools close for 10 weeks in summer and most families spend time in summer homes by lakes. Freedom to Roam is a Finnish right and anyone can camp, forage and fish anywhere.

Finland has high taxes, which finance some the best standards of education, social security and healthcare in the world. Private schools are uncommon and subject to licence in Finland and this system ensures that the rich contribute to quality state education for all. Children start school aged 7, and in the early years are expected to go to school for around 20 hours a week. No homework is given. The approach to education emphasises connection, adventure and experience, and values child-led lessons. The system offers choice and expression, aiming to create happy individuals who can self-direct according to personal preferences and strengths. Play is key and children are encouraged to explore in order to learn and discover their individuality.

As in other Nordic countries, the state is committed to offering high quality services to support families, including accessible day care. Children benefit from access to in-built support services at their schools, including child mental health practitioners. If a child does develop behavioural or emotional problems, this is seen as a manifestation of a collective failure which should be addressed through support rather than punishment.

Equality and inclusion are key principles (see my second blog about Finland). The calculation of speeding fines is based on an offender’s annual income and hierarchical structures in the workplace are not visible. Interestingly the Finns have only gender neutral pronouns; consider the implicit effect this has on gender equality.

Watch a 3 minute video on Finland’s schooling here.

I'm a British clinical psychologist with a research background. I manage the Greater Manchester i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme, part of the national transformation of children's services. I also have an NHS clinical role in Lancaster and Morecambe working with children, young people and families (CAMHS). I began this blog in 2017 to record a WCMT Travelling Fellowship, from a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. I began clinical psychology training (DCLinPsy, Lancaster) in 2010, and studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of creatively managing extremes of mood in adolescence and throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including Manchester University in suicide prevention, the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University (notable for service user expertise), and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

2 comments on “Why Finland features in the Fellowship: day 1 from Helsinki

  1. Pingback: Dementia and Dancing Babies – Art Thou Well

  2. Pingback: TeleVisiting: Taking Parties into Prisons at the New York Society for Ethical Culture – Art Thou Well

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