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'More powerful than words': Interview with Kathryn from 'my illustrated mind'

I had the joy of interviewing my hugely talented friend Kathryn Watson about 'my illustrated mind', her practice of making art about mental health and schema therapy.

Kathryn is both a doctor and an artist and has presented her work at the PsychArt18 conference in London, as well as The Royal Academy of Arts. She is currently showcasing her illustrations at an exhibition entitled 'In The Mind' at Free Space Project, alongside Elsbeth van Der Poel (until April 10th).

When did you start making art about your mental health experiences?

For the last couple of years, I had been using art purely as a means of distraction. I was actually trying to set up a pet portraits business! Then, at the beginning of last year, we began some of the experiential aspects of schema therapy and these included imagery exercises. My therapist knew about my interest in art and encouraged me to draw on this to help me communicate my experiences. That’s when ‘my illustrated mind’ was born!

How does art help you?

My artistic practice has and continues to help me in several ways. By allowing me to express myself, it facilitates emotional catharsis and enables me to communicate my experiences in a way that is more powerful than words alone. This in turn helps me find validation, both from within and from those with whom I share my work.

Being able to gain an objective and visual view of my suffering has also been pivotal in helping me develop self-compassion.

Lastly, art continues to help me explore and better understand my relationship with my different emotional states. This has been essential in the process of emotional healing.

Does art allow you to connect with others?

Yes! The connections art has brought me have honestly been completely unexpected, often overwhelming (in a good way!) and thoroughly heartwarming. I frequently do art in cafes, which has led to impromptu conversations with members of the public and so, is great way to help break down taboo and stigma. However, most of my public engagement is via social media with peers/service users and therapists.

People have said that my work allows them to feel less alone and to understand themselves better.

My illustrations have also been used to facilitate communication in therapeutic settings and for training purposes. In addition, I was particularly touched to learn that my work inspired people to do projects surrounding borderline personality disorder and start drawing for themselves. Finally, it has opened doors to exciting communities like Graphic Medicine and ‘Arts in Health’. I’ve been very lucky that all these things have brought many new friends into my life!

What are your hopes for the future in terms of your artistic career?

My main goal is to use my illustrations as a means through which I can communicate the cognitive, emotional and behavioural battles that underpin mental illness, in particular borderline personality disorder. By doing so, I hope to improve understanding, challenge stigma and change perceptions of these conditions and also help others gain insight into their own internal struggles.

As part of this, I hope to get involved in education and training, to help health professionals and individuals with these kinds of difficulties engage better with each other. I also hope to publish my work in a book, with an educational emphasis, which will hopefully be a useful resource for peers and health professionals alike.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start making art?

Do it! It’s a powerful way to develop a greater insight into ourselves and to communicate things that are often too difficult and complex to put into words. Aside from that, it can be a good mindfulness activity or distraction.

The most important thing about it is how you feel when you’re doing it.

I’d encourage people not to worry about making a ‘mistake’ or what the finished product looks like. And you don’t need any artistic training whatsoever! I haven’t had any!


Kathryn's exhibition is showing at Free Space Project, Kentish Town Health Centre, London, until April 10th 2019.

Dr Kathryn Watson

Twitter: @017kat

Please do not use images without the permission of the artist


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