How newcomers find adaptation and support through the Artist’s Way

There is a stigma that when we talk about creativity, we often mean some applied art. However, working with emotions, especially those deeply buried, and expressing or releasing them, is also an art. In the 12-week Artist’s Way program that OpenEmbassy applied for newcomers, we use Julia Cameron’s methodology to restore creativity and emotional resources. Find out why this is important in a process of integration and adaptation in the new society.

Empowering new beginnings

Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way – a twelve-week guide for newcomers to foster integration, adaptation, and self-support

The Artist’s Way is a twelve-week program for restoring creativity created by American writer Julia Cameron. Each week is dedicated to restoring one aspect: safety, strength, compassion, independence. Participants are encouraged to reflect, seeking the truth from within. The questions Julia poses are usually straightforward but often overlooked, leading to noticeable results.

Additionally, Julia recommends writing morning pages every day and going on artist dates once in a week. Overall, the Artist’s Way is a time to reconnect with oneself, discover and achieve values and goals.

“This is probably the biggest insight for me right now in immigration, helping me make the right decisions, supporting myself.” — says one of the participants.

Why Morning Pages and Artist Dates

— a place for emotional recovery among newcomers?

Few talk about it, but immigration is an uncomfortable process, while forced immigration brings many disturbing emotional experiences. Often, these emotions are suppressed because more critical integration moments take precedence: searching for housing, work, enrolling children in school, etc. There is no time to think about oneself. Yet, there are experiences or the loss of loved ones left behind in a war-torn country, or instability in the home country due to a natural disaster. Either way, it adds difficulty and blocks all emotions in general.

Morning pages is the first step in reconnecting with oneself, a tool for working with preserved memories and emotions. By freely writing three pages of text daily, topics that a person tries to hide eventually surface. It is a safe space where no one will judge, allowing for processing difficult personal experiences. Therapists working with this tool report stress reduction, anxiety management, and dealing with depression among clients, as our program participants have confirmed.

“What stands out for me is discovering morning pages for myself. Sometimes when I have doubts, problems, life difficulties — I sit down to write; this process reminds me of a tangled ball of thread that unravels with each subsequent word. These are my remedies for mental rock bottom.” — says one of the participants.

For the same reasons, newcomers lose connection with themselves, their goals, values, and life focus. Everything that requires energy is concentrated on surviving and somehow attaching oneself to the new country. Therefore, creative dates are a place without external criticism and condemnation, allowing more space for self-contact, becoming a more useful member of the new society in both the long and short term.

The Artist’s Way

— a therapeutic process for newcomers

As of December 2023, 26 million people have left Ukraine, with about 100 thousand seeking refuge in the Netherlands. According to Pharos research, 13-25% of newcomers suffer from PTSD, not to mention integration issues, and the invested resource for starting life in a new country, having experienced war constantly on a background. 80% report increased anxiety, experiences, and depressive states, impacting the medical system and reducing work efficiency. Does this affect the situation in the country where only 100 thousand Ukrainian newcomers are present?

From research conducted by OpenEmbassy, newcomers often do not seek psychological help for several reasons:
* fear consequences,
* believe it is expensive,
* not aware that they need it.

Therefore, the Artist’s Way became a form of self-therapy, and with the decision to involve a therapist in the program, this space truly became healing.

“Focusing on reducing stress levels and providing support to establish a stable footing is crucial in the context of successful adaptation. Through active participation in discussions and exchanging thoughts with other participants, Ukrainians were able to find solutions to their own needs and adjust to the new life in the new country. Providing support in understanding their own emotions and state helped Ukrainians take a step forward in the adaptation process and prepare them for successful integration into Dutch society.” — Svitlana Kravchenko, psychologist.

How a program for newcomers fosters community support

Created to reconnect with oneself, the Artist’s Way program was re-tailored as a 12-week journey for newcomers. Among all benefits it’s essential to mention an intimate and strong community that was created during this period.

For newcomers, often grappling with the challenges of a new environment, it provided not just a roadmap to unleash their creative potential but also mutual support. The communal bonds forged during the program play a crucial role in easing the adaptation process, offering understanding, encouragement, and a shared journey toward a new sense of belonging. What’s most important is that it provided tremendous support during the navigation of the new country with its rules.  In essence, this community (that still after half of the year functions by itself) becomes a vital compass for newcomers seeking not only artistic inspiration but also a supportive network that intricate paths of adaptation and integration.

Speaking of results, participants talked about raising their levels of life energy, readiness to change jobs, or allocate time to resourceful moments. One participant dared to move from a country where she did not feel happy. Also, among the participants, a mini-support community was created, which was also an important result of twelve weeks among people with similar experiences.

But the most important conclusion I see in this comment:

“The Artist’s Way gives a person the opportunity to recover and find the strength for adaptation and integration.”

Author – Anna Bilenka Moderator | Researcher | Communication Strategies
Photo – Markus Spiske

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