arts and health Finnish approaches to wellbeing Healthcare Policy

Modelling social change: Arts Promotion Centre, Finland

At TAIKE in Jvaskyla, Arts Development Manager Pauliina Lapio and I held a 3 hour open meeting for people working in the arts and wellbeing field in Central Finland. I am starting to identify some of the key differences between here and the UK.

The key points of this post are:

  • A groundswell that began with arts and health professionals spread to frontline care staff, after they observed the benefits for both patients and staff
  • Following repeated efforts from many sectors, Managers and Government Ministers mandated the use of the arts in healthcare with Arts and Culture for Well-being, an action programme initiated by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, lasting five years.
  • Social change has really happened during the last 7 years following the implementation of this act
  • The need to prepare and train artists to work in healthcare settings – and clinical staff to work in arts-based ways – have been repeatedly identified.


The TAIKE team observed that I might have an idealistic view of Finland’s education, health and social systems. However, later (and with a humility typical among Finns), they agreed a lot had changed since around 2010 in Finland. I have found the same turnaround with other officials who are reluctant to see themselves a progressive leaders, but acknowledge that the Nordic countries enjoy high standards of living and health. 

One priority of the Government now is to spearhead the programme to embed it further.

How did this happen?

Between 2010 and 2014, Art and Culture for Well-being was an action programme initiated by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, lasting five years. The aim of the programme was to promote health and well-being through culture and to strengthen social inclusion at the individual, communal and societal level.

This programme was co-ordinated by my host, Kirsi Lajunen: an interview with her will feature here very soon.

 Embedding the arts in the healthcare sector

From this programme, one million euros was shared to the public health sector with the only instruction:
Spend it hiring young artists under 30 to deliver participatory arts in health settings.

Kimmo Suortamo, Planning Officer at TAIKE, suggested that at first, this “seemed silly, to give us this money with no further instruction.” He believes this happened because officials were unsure what the instruction should be, but that this “happy accident” has led to a flourishing of creative approaches to wellbeing. People outside of the arts and wellbeing field saw the benefits themselves and pushed for further change.

The team at TAIKE found there was interest in arts for wellbeing among a small number of practitioners, which spread among the frontline healthcare professionals working with them. But, there was a lack of courage and confidence, and of the knowledge to contact artists for this kind of work. Prior to 2010, seminars about these kind of approaches were well attended by artists and healthcare staff, but managers did not tend to turn up. Those people who were engaged in arts-based healthcare interventions, or who witnessed them, started to see the benefits and the goal became for the managers to take notice of what they were seeing. “The problem was high up” said Kimmo, “but it has turned around – within the last 6 or 7 years.”

The change seems to have happened from a groundswell which, after the ideas were promoted by those in the field, began to enter the imaginations of public officials, who after firstly rejecting the idea, became familiar with it. Now the Finns are getting to a place “where it is taken seriously. The role of arts, specifically a move away from arts on walls and towards more participatory arts, has become recognised and embedded among the structures of power at top” said Kimmo.

Modelling Change

Pauliina described her experience of developing the arts in healthcare. Firstly, you introduce the idea, and even if people are initially reticent – usually due to unfamiliarity with the concepts – you have succeeded in alerting them to the potential. As Pauliina siad, “It stays in their mind.” Secondly, you go back and repeat it and they contemplate it more. It is tried and tested psychology! This reminds me the Stages of Change model, commonly used in Motivational Interviewing, held in mind when supporting a person towards change (most commonly with substance use).

Stages of Change graphic

Public Perceptions

When I asked Kimmo for an idea of how the arts in wellbeing are perceived in Finland, he did not hesitate to say, “Hospital clowns.” I spent yesterday motoring around Helsinki in a tiny boat (named Lempi, meaning Favourite) with a manager in the national organisation of Hospital Clowns. This wonderful, worldwide profession began in New York in 1986 and there are around 50 practising clowns in Finland’s Children’s Hospitals today.

I am going to post my programme here next because I am meeting so many people at so many institutions I can barely keep up!

Next time: You don’t have Hospital Clowns? You can’t be serious!

And then: What are the barriers to expanding arts for wellbeing? A day at Taikusydan, Finland’s ‘Heart of the Arts’

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.

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