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Tourettes diagnosis leads student to PhD study and a successful business

PhD candidate Bliss Cavanagh’s Tourettes diagnosis led her to embark on an investigation into the benefits of sensory environments which has resulted in PhD study and a retail business.

Cavanagh, who is currently completing a PhD at the University of Newcastle (UON) on – Art and Sensory Environments: an exploration of Tourette syndrome and the art of abstract play to enhance mental health and inclusive quality of life – says her interest in this topic grew from her Fine Arts Honours year at UON when she created a multi-sensory art installation called Sensory Overload.

“I embarked on this journey to create my own personal sensory environment,” Cavanagh told the Newcastle Post journalist Amelia Parrott. “Everything I was creating using clay and ceramics, soft materials and textures, it was all really therapeutic and I actually found that it really helped to alleviate my tics and nervous tension and other symptoms of Tourettes.

“Once I realised I was helping my Tourettes through my art, it sort of completely transformed me as a person and I became much more confident and was able to really come to terms with it and start creating something much more positive out of the disorder.”

Cavanagh’s PhD is being supervised jointly byAssociate Professor Carole James and Kirsti Haracz from the School of Health Sciences, and Dr Miranda Lawry – a Senior Lecturer in the School of Creative Arts. Dr Lawry, whose areas of expertise include Arts Health, says there’s a growing body of evidence that shows the benefits of patients engaging with art.

“Bliss’ research represents a new direction for creative arts students who are working at driving specific cross disciplinary engagement with researchers in areas such as health and science to assist in driving arts health research outcomes,” said Dr Lawry.

“All of my work is inspired by my personal experience of living with Tourette syndrome,” Cavanagh said. “I have become a strong advocate for building positive awareness surrounding Tourette’s and through my PhD research I am striving to inspire social change and a shift in mentality around mental health and wellbeing by demonstrating the power of arts to communicate ideas.”

Cavanagh now operates a retail outlet in Market Square on Hunter Street Mall called Studio Bliss Designs. Starting out with the support of Renew Newcastle in March 2013, Bliss was able to create a multi-sensory retail environment that showcased her sculptures and a growing product range available for sale to the public. She has also been commissioned to design sensory environment installations at special events around the country. In early 2015 Studio Bliss Designs ‘graduated’ to a commercial lease, adding vibrancy to an already growing creative scene in Newcastle’s CBD.

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