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Origami Art Therapy for Mental Health post image

To send light into the darkness of human beings~
such is the duty of the artist.”  Schumann

The therapeutic gift that origami can bring to people who are mentally ill is something that Rosemary Browne has seen first hand.

Rosemary is a passionate origami teacher who has been helping people overcome their mental challenges by teaching them the art of paper folding. Since 2008 she has been sharing origami with patients on the psychiatric unit at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail, Canada.

She has kindly agreed to answer some questions on how the practice of origami helps psychiatric patients.

• Please share with us some of your experience teaching origami to the patients on the psychiatric unit.

It has been a wonderful journey for me to be able to share the magic of the art form of origami with literally thousands of people.

I am as passionate now -if not more so, as I was eight years ago when I first approached Tamara Hamilton, Activity Coordinator of the Daly Pavillion, with my idea of bringing origami into the hospital.

Together we have watched as the paradoxical ability that origami has to distract and focus simultaneously has relieved patients from their emotional pain.

Tamara had never folded before she met me and I feel honored to have worked with her. She has an incredibly quick mind, pick up new folds and bases easily, while at the same time scanning the table to see who is in need of help.

Tamara’s compassion for those who suffer with mental illness combined with her love for the origami art form has contributed tremendously to this program’s great success.

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• What beneficial effect has origami brought to the patients you’ve taught?

Origami works the left and right hemispheres of the brain intensely.

Origami is, in my opinion, mental as well as spiritual nutrition. There are times I can visibly see the effects of the sedative medication as well as the stimulation to the brain as a result of folding.

Origami usually wins the battle because of the act of being mindful – the moment-to-moment awareness overrides the medication and brings clarity to the mind. I greatly admire the patients’ courage for engaging in the folding experience.

I have often said that once we are in the group room and begin to fold you would be hard-pressed to know you were in a hospital let alone on a psychiatric ward. We are quite simply people folding to our hearts’ content.

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• What have you found to be the hardest part of teaching origami to psychiatric patients?

Tamara and I know that the hardest part of our work is getting patients to join the group as they are often in a state of mind where initiative and decision-making are paralyzed.

However, once they’ve arrived, are seated, and the sheet of paper is in front of them, the magic begins.

• What type of origami models do you teach your patients?

Prior to a class it is not unusual for me to spend hours searching for and practicing with different models. That said, there are occasions when the patients’ ability levels will be so diverse that I will have to pull something out of my hat to accommodate these varied capabilities.

For the most part though, I would say that all the models I choose are at a low intermediate level. I do believe in the “challenge” of a more difficult model though as I know the pride the patients feel upon completion and that such a model will be a “keeper.”

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• Please share with us some recommendations for people who would like to teach origami to psychiatric patients.

  • To approach this special population with “understanding” is the key for success. Patients are very often stigmatized by their stay on a psychiatric ward, as well as being sick, and the freedom to come and go has been removed; as they are in a locked facility. To validate their feelings of apprehension and frustration creates an instant bond.
  • I am also very candid about my “humanness” which may and has included over the years making mistakes and at times of personal stress going completely blank during the teaching of a model. As I have told many students we are only human after all.
  • When teaching never assume anything. A patient might not know what folding in half means, or what a diagonal is.
  • Disregard whatever disability it is that brings the patient to your class. Your job is to make them feel better.

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