Gavin Wallace, making a career out of art & healthcare

28 Apr 2016

Similar to the lemons into lemonade proverb, when life gives you artful talents and a passion for helping others, you turn them into a colourful counselling career. 

Gavin Wallace has always loved painting and other creative endeavours so nearly a decade ago he enrolled in an art programme at Waiariki. At the same time, he was also weighing up the idea of studying toward the Bachelor of Nursing.

“I did the first year of the art diploma, in 2007, then I got into mental health work. I was looking for psychiatric work and found a position at Pretoria Lodge in Rotorua as a support worker. I did that for about two years, then took a position at Lakes DHB where I did diversional therapy work for two and a half years. Then there was no more government funding so the programme ended and I went back to support work.

“I wasn’t mentally prepared to go into nursing then; I’d just had a baby and bought a house, plus my writing isn’t that great so I felt I needed some foundations skills.”

While working at the hospital, Mr Wallace involves his patients in drawing, painting canvases and murals, and even baking and making chutney. He says that talking to them while they’re being creative and more relaxed facilitates their treatment. 

Combining art with mental health “just fell into place,” says Mr Wallace. “Art was really big up there [at the hospital]. I’m always encouraging my clients to paint and draw.

“It can be quite complicated, mental health. With art therapy, you can see how they’re feeling as they work. It also gives them a focus and can start the healing process. You can see where they’re at and you can talk to them while they’re doing something and you can work out where to from there. You also build up a rapport with the clients, you get to build up that relationship straight away.”

Setting up the aRt 4 Recovery Trust with a colleague and sponsorship from Resene was a highlight for Mr Wallace. When the patients’ paintings were sold at an art auction, $5,000 was raised for victims of the Christchurch earthquake. 

“Eventually, this year, I started my [BN] training. I’m still doing casual work at the hospital, in two roles; in ED or surgical, I can fill in there, or on the mental health side. I like it, the mind, and seeing people at their worst and helping them through it.”

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Page last updated: 02 May 2017