“Promoting the use of art and creativity to facilitate personal well-being.”

NIGAT is its members

We are committed to working as a team, using the skills and commitment of the members.

NIGAT offers:


3 Day Meetings a year
Annual Summer School
Regular Newsletter for Members

History Of NIGAT


The first NIGAT publications ‘Review of Art Therapy’, Part 1,1976, Part 2, 1977 and Part 3 1978, were the obvious starting point to research the Group’s 36 year history. In Part 2 was an article, ‘Beginnings’, by Rita Simon referring to three art therapy pioneers of 1942 in England (Adrian Hill, artist; Irene Champernowne, analyst; and herself) “It seems that these three simultaneous visions have grown and multiplied mightily over the past 35 years. I do not think that visionaries create things so much as offer themselves as vehicles by which a more general intuition becomes explicit. However, to bring a vision to life, enormous energy and passionate commitment are needed.” NIGAT has shown itself to have the same admirable vision, energy and commitment, progressing from 1976 for another 36 years.

As a direct result of Rita’s 1975 and early ‘76 introductory classes and residential courses for Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), several participants began to meet informally, thus NIGAT was established in May 1976 at her home in Holywood. A steering committee of three was elected, Rita as Chair, with four co-opted members and supported by the five others attending. The Group would provide three day meetings a year in order to present papers, use art materials, have literature available, disseminate information and promote art as therapy. Open membership was and always has been advocated: for example from artists, therapists and counsellors, health services, education, probation and prison services, voluntary agencies – and for all who were interested. Membership was the princely sum of £1 per annum! Rita’s courses for QUB continued, assisted by NIGAT and visiting lecturers, thus ensuring a supply of enthusiastic members.

From these early days NIGAT became a dynamic collective contributing much voluntarily at Group meetings and as outreach, helping to establish art therapy groups, posts and training. Newsletters and an annual report were distributed; members contributed to textbooks and to journals in UK and abroad. Courses progressed with evening classes and residential weekends through the Metropolitan College Belfast, University of Ulster (UU) and QUB.A weekend at Oxford Island, Lurgan was £15!

NIGAT members attended conferences, short courses, career conventions and gave lectures and workshops in Ireland, UK and Europe; established exhibitions in N Ireland; compiled a survey on Arts and the Handicapped; hosted therapists from the Republic of Ireland and when their separate association was formed, continued to share meetings and trainings. Before Rita Simon moved to London in 1984 (returning frequently over the years to conduct trainings, e.g. for QUB/NIGAT at Murlough, Co Down ) she wrote three important documents: an extensive report on the Group’s work, a research proposal to bring qualified art therapists to N Ireland and a detailed proposal for a two year postgraduate art therapy training here, to be led by NIGAT.

The Group’s meetings relocated to Bangor for 12 years mainly at Bayview Centre, by kind permission of EHSSB. Then began an invigorating stage – several NIGAT members qualified as art therapists in England. Some returned to arranged posts, others established new ones, bringing fresh life to the Group and teaching on many introductory and follow-up courses for both statutory and non-statutory bodies. 1988 saw a continued professional relationship with music, drama and dance therapists in organising a successful Shared Creativity Conference at UU.

A formal committee, constitution and AGM were formed in 1989, enabling an application for charitable status. Later NIGAT’s funds increased: e.g. through Children in Need grants and from active members who obtained sponsorship by cycling, walking, marathon running and place kicking football! NIGAT’s information leaflet was published demonstrating its aims and objectives, and clarifying the relationship between art therapists and artists. In 1992 the Group had a record membership of 119. Rita, Honorary President, published her long awaited book and the first of many NIGAT Art Exhibitions was arranged.

Another milestone was reached by 1993 when the first week- long Art Therapy Summer School, was organised at UU College of Art. This has become an exciting annual core event building on its early success.


Over ensuing years NIGAT developed the use of internet technology to promote its aims, respond to continuing enquiries and connect with the art therapy world in Ireland, UK and internationally. Another five members trained in England during the mid 90’s and introductory courses continued in further education. By the Group’s 20th anniversary the following year, discussions were underway about a possible training at UU. Members worked as far apart as Musgrave (Belfast) and Malaysia; throughout N. Ireland, sessional and short and long term posts were established, many members volunteering before obtaining employment.

In 1997 the day-meetings moved to their present home at Ballyowen Centre, by kind permission of N&W Belfast HSC Trust. That year, NIGAT was represented at the launch of Rita’s second book in London – in the company of Marion Milner who talked of her friend Melanie Klein, both eminent analysts! At Derry/Londonderry, Make Your Mark, an Art Therapy charity for children was established and staffed by several Group members. The late 90’s saw an expansion of art therapy exhibitions, by patient and client agreement. A very well received conference in Newtownabbey, ‘Costing Creativity’, showcased the practice of art therapy as a profession to possible future employers.

NIGAT continued its representation on various professional bodies, such as UK Health Professions Council, British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) sub-groups, International Networking Group and NI Arts Care. 2001 saw the Group’s 25th Anniversary exhibition and celebration in Linenhall Library, Belfast and Rita’s last year as Summer School keynote speaker.

This was followed in 2002 by another momentous event after intense work and negotiation by the Group. The first MSc Art Therapy at QUB, in partnership with NIGAT and supported by Threshold NI, was approved by the Health Professions Council (HPC) and led by Caryl Sibbett. In 2005 the initial cohort graduated; this news delighted Rita when a small number of the Group’s founder members celebrated the publication of her final book in London. Congratulations to graduates of ’05,’ 07,’11 and to four NIGAT members who have obtained doctorates, thus raising the profile of Art Psychotherapy even higher. The training relocated in 2008 to the Centre for Psychotherapy, Belfast, validated by the University of East London and continuing to be led and taught by NIGAT members.

In 2004 a major fundraising art exhibition, Signatures Withheld, took place at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast. NIGAT members belonging to BAAT established the new Regional Group (20) NI, of the association and Caryl Sibbett was nominated as the first Co-ordinator. That year the Summer School moved to Stranmillis College, Belfast, later to Lisburn College, and in 2009 moved to NI Council for Voluntary Action, Belfast. In recent years, the Summer School is run at Corrymeela, Ballycastle. It goes from strength to strength, offering an eclectic selection of speakers and workshop leaders, national and international.

Members’ Days became a feature of each year providing creativity, fun and a social occasion! NIGAT committee reorganised the working groups on development, funding, editorial and summer school and generous donations were received to fund art therapy in the community and provide bursaries . A prestigious tri-annual conference of the International Society for Psychopathology of Expression and Art Therapy was successfully organised and hosted by QUB led by Dr Caryl Sibbett, in association with the Group, at Belfast in 2006. Some other achievements in the following years were: five members, involved in the UK ‘MATISSE’ trials, researched the contribution of group art therapy to mental health; NIGAT web site expanded and membership numbers grew. In 2010, a core member was elected as a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, later also as Trustee/Governor of BACP. The 2011 Vision Day produced an exciting strategic three year plan, including consolidation of the committee and an in-depth members’ questionnaire.

After Rita Simon’s death in 2008 the Group was honoured to receive her extensive collection of art therapy books and a very generous donation towards the development of a library. Therefore in 2012, NIGAT was delighted to establish a reading and study room in Holywood, which was near her home where the Group began! In 2016, the Reading Room relocated to the Lisburn Road in Belfast.

Membership still continues to benefit from being an eclectic and enthusiastic group of therapists and non-therapists, led by another inspirational Honorary President. The past and present voluntary post holders and committees have done sterling and remarkable work promoting art therapy, and evolving NIGAT into a strong force with all the original “vision, energy and commitment” of 1976.