Changing the conversation about health

“There’s no pressure to produce anything” Art counsellors reveal how simply doodling can boost mental health and well-being

Nour Saleh says she first realised the positive influence of art as a child, noticing ‘the power of it to gather people and unite them’ and how drawing or doodling ‘appeased’ her own emotions, offering moments of calm.

Nour, a graduate of Central St Martins and founder of Art Breath, and art counsellor Catriona Alderton have seen their two Art Journeys sessions for the College of Medicine this year in high demand, with a waiting list for the hour-long sessions quickly filling up.

The classes, which begin gently with havening techniques and breathing exercises before art challenges – requiring little more than a piece of paper and some pencils – are introduced. They’re designed to use the creativity of art to enhance mental well-being, reduce anxiety and boost positivity.

Catriona Alderton (pictured top) and Nour Saleh have led two highly successful Art Journeys classes for the College of Medicine in 2021

No two classes are the same and the teachers say they experience the class in the same way those attending do. What’s on the participants’ papers at the end of the class matters not, say the pair.

Nour explains: “Art doesn’t judge. It doesn’t matter what’s produced at the end. It’s not about creating the best work of art, it’s about expressing oneself and showcasing emotions, about using art as a form of relief and expression, be it melancholic, happy or sad. It can be a medley of emotions.

“We also both go on the journey, it’s not a ‘top-down approach’ at all – we also participate. It’s a new journey each time, it’s spontaneous.”

The hour-long classes use havening techniques and breathing techniques before participants are encouraged to put pen or pencil to paper and explore art – with zero pressure to produce anything

Hesitancy is common, says Catriona, as people often dial into the online sessions protesting ‘I can’t draw’… but the pair are quick to allay fears.

She explains: “If you can hold a pencil and write your name then you can create art – you can do something creative that is going to make you feel better.

“Once you put yourself in that space, the possibilities are endless. When we go outside our boundaries, that’s when we learn.

“Challenges are what teach us; we’ll start off with something that’s a bit restrictive that none of us particularly like but then we’ll evolve the art using more colour. Colour is very good for you, it’s very good for soothing emotions.”


Nour agrees: “It’s art for art’s sake. Pressure is off; there’s no pressure to produce or compare anything; it’s just about going with the material.”

She says she’s experienced first hand the power that art can have on well-being. “As an adult, I noticed that when I went through a period where I didn’t have art in my life, I couldn’t see clearly.

To help participants relax, Catriona and Nour will often encourage them to start on a scrunched-up piece of paper – to show that what the artwork looks like is secondary to the creative journey and its powers to boost positivity and well-being

“If you think about when you’re drawing or if you’re hanging art on the wall, you take a step back to see the bigger picture – you can see a lot of perspectives. That’s what we try and do in the class, to take people on a journey along with us, to formulate their own journey.”

Those who have participated have told Nour and Catriona that they ‘loved the opportunity to try something different’ and said the havening techniques/breathing exercises that start each class helped to ‘release tension’.

One participant told them they felt ‘much lighter afterwards’ while another suggested that classes could potentially work well for both healthcare staff and patients in promoting well-being.

For more information on future classes, email Catriona and Nour on