The purpose of the professional: Promoting Young People’s mental health through creative arts

As dance tutors, we have a responsibility and a role to teach and deliver dance activities, and with that come obvious physical health benefits that young people will feel from participating in the activities we provide. However, during my three years of professional study, I have come to realise that we should not underestimate the value of the benefits that we are providing for the mental health of young people also. Through my dissertation study, (A study which investigates delivering dance through youth work programme’s), I had the opportunity, whilst carrying out my consultations with young people, to dig a little deeper; into the impact that as professionals, we have on the lives of those we work with…

The National Youth Work strategy for Wales (2019, p,12) discusses young people’s rights to “benefit from relationships with trusted adults and peers- to guide and explore new experiences”, from this we learn that as a professional, whilst we have a responsibility to deliver physically engaging activities, it’s also within our role to support young people in their social and emotional wellbeing….through building trusting relationships which ultimately provide the tools to be able to support young people through any issues they’re faced with.

Through these relationships, we have the potential and the platform, to become a safety net, a form of stability, a trusted adult, a role model; someone who leads by example, and models true citizenship and manner. We become someone who can be turned to in times of need, someone who will listen without judgment, who creates a feeling of empowerment and worth, someone who acts as a positive, even when other aspects of a young person’s life may not be so.  

Whilst in practice, I’ve recognised that it’s these relationships which separate G-Expressions from your typical dance school; for we don’t just play a part in the lives of young people for the hour duration we see them in the studio each week, but also in the time, they spend outside of our watch…. Their choices, their hardships, their worries, their joys… we hear about it all, we witness it all through seeing and identifying their personal growth and self-discovery.

We talk through it all…. and when a conversation is too hard to be spoken in words, we support young people in expressing, communicating, and understanding themselves… through the power of creativity, movement, music…. And dance. Our relationships with those we work with, allow us to hear what is not being said, and identify changes in behaviors that may indicate a need for support. These relationships are built and formed over time, with patience, commitment, and dedication; to young people, but also to their families; all whilst in an environment and surroundings where young people feel safe.

Dance primarily acts as our tool kit. Our purpose however, is far deeper.

The Mental Health Foundation (2016) explains that a key positive factor to a young person’s mental health is-taking part in local activities, and supported by Barnwood Trust (2016) goes onto teach us that “respondents who feel a sense of belonging to their local area are more likely to demonstrate higher levels of mental wellbeing than respondents who did not feel a sense of belonging.”

“The tutors have really helped me to find my confidence”

“Tutors always have time for us. And they care”

“It’s a place to escape if school is stressful”

“We connect…. It’s a family feel”

“I like the sense of community, everyone supports one another”

As professionals we cannot claim to solve issues faced by young people, however, we can meet them halfway by providing them with the tools they require to help themselves; Be it through self-confidence, empowerment, encouragement, the feeling of belonging… or simply an environment in which they can have fun, be themselves and forget about the outside world for an hour. These are all within our role. These are all our responsibilities; and through continuing to build on these ever-growing relationships that we hold with members of G-Expressions; we can continue to enrich young people’s lives with a place of enjoyment, safety, friendship, and positivity.

That’s our true purpose.

For more information around supporting young people’s mental health, or for signposts to resources for professionals, please see the suggested reading list below;