by Marlize Swanepoel

“We flocked. Close together, sharing warmth of connections and caring. And we listened, artfully, carefully, deeply, with reflections and assurances that we were really hearing what the other was feeling. Being with whatever was there at that moment, shifts happened as healing began”

 (Omidian, 2016).
Carer and Child Arts Playdates, 2019.

When sp(i)eel arts therapies collective was registered in 2015, the intention was to offer a platform for arts therapists, arts activists, applied and community arts practitioners to collaborate in practising healing through the arts in various spaces. We knew that we needed each other to work together on addressing the mental health crisis in our country. 

Our name is derived from two Afrikaans words and means both ‘to play’ and ‘mirror’. It refers to the function of the arts as a mirror to society for making sense of our human experiences. It also speaks to the therapeutic aspect of the arts therapies, where the art form is held up as a mirror to Self for exploration, reflection and making meaning. Furthermore, the arts invite a playfulness that helps us to connect with our innate creativity so that we can be flexible in the roles we play every day, and innovative in how we solve problems. Being in play means to be fully present, body, mind and heart, and adaptive to whatever circumstance we find are in. The ‘i’ in sp(i)eel has been put in brackets to symbolise the therapeutic nature of our organisation, which is to always hold the person and their well-being at the core of our work.

Flocking can be understood as a strength-based response to ongoing trauma and oppressive social circumstances.

Over the past seven years we developed a model of practice that is based on Professor Liesel Ebersöhn’s (2019) idea of ‘flocking’ as mentioned in the quote above. Flocking can be understood as a strength-based response to ongoing trauma and oppressive social circumstances. When people flock, they identify needs and mobilise and source social resources in a very sophisticated way. Flocking means there is social support to counter consistent challenges and adversity. You can read more about our model of practice here:

We are in partnership with GroundSpring Playback Theatre Company and Frontline Support (an arts therapy initiative that was established during lockdown to offer free tele-arts and in-person therapy services nationwide). Both partners share our vision of amplifying the use of the arts in communities of choice, identity and location (Masolo, 2002), to develop collective resilience, address inequality and intergenerational trauma, and to assist in the development of a community model of mental healthcare.

We know that currently in South Africa there are no government posts available for arts therapists, whilst arts therapy interns and newly qualified therapists face huge challenges in having to build networks, initiate funded positions and advocate for the arts therapies. Those who are interested to work outside of institutions and private practice, are having to fundraise for projects and often need the backing of a registered organisation with a track record of good governance. With this in mind, and in collaboration with Frontline Support, we are developing a Seedling Programme that seeks to offer support in networking, initiating new projects, fundraising and project managing. It is a ‘plug and play’ programme where arts therapists and practitioners with a shared vision and ethos can run their programmes autonomously with the support of sp(i)eel’s governance structures and the backing of an experienced team. It is our way of activating the flocking response within our community, so that we can resource each other to continue to do this work.


Marlize is a drama therapist and the founding director of sp(i)eel arts therapies collective. She serves on the steering committee of the national Arts for Health Community of Practice, representing arts practitioners and arts therapists. She enjoys being in spaces of learning, unlearning, connecting and dancing. Her area of interest lies in the development of trauma-informed arts-based psychosocial practices that are relevant to the South African context and address the issue of equitable access to mental health services.


Ebersöhn, L. (2019) Flocking Together: An Indigenous Psychology Theory of Resilience in Southern Africa. Springer: Switzerland

Masolo, D. (2002) Community, identity and the cultural space. Dans Rue Descartes 2002(2): 19-51

Omidian, P. (2016) in Wildflower Collective, 5 February 2022 ‘Today I will share a beautiful post from Pat Omidian from Focusing Initiatives International’