An update: New Beginnings

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As I alluded to a few weeks ago, I recently found myself in a situation in which I had to say NO.

This NO started out as a “No, I’m not going to call myself anything other than Dramatherapist, whether or not there is any evidence for it!” In doing this, I terminated an almost 4-year relationship with an organisation with which I had been working since my trainee days.

And as someone who doesn’t believe in coincidences, this situation occurred in the same week that my clinical supervisor explicitly warned me that I was probably very close to burnout. Professional relationship ends abruptly and supervisor tells me I need to stop. I mean, what bigger sign does one need, really?

It has now been more than a month and many things have changed. I didn’t foresee this, as we rarely do, but this NO opened up quite the process for me. Mainly, I found myself questioning things that I had never questioned before, such as what I really wanted to do with my life and what my purpose was. Not that this was always clear to me, but I always had feelings and instincts which led me to do the many things that I have done. But after that happened, there was nothing. I felt like I was facing a massively tall wall and couldn’t find a way to get past it.

All I had were these nagging questions, which kept me up at night, and distracted during the day:

What happens when your dreams, instincts, desires, motivation, and ambition, lead you to a spiritual, emotional, and mental junction?

What happens when, out of nowhere, at the age of 30, you feel that you don’t know what to do with your life, for the first time in your life?

What happens when the thing that you thought was finally going to bring you all the fulfilment and sense of purpose you’ve always craved, actually leads you to a place where you lose sight of the horizon?

What happens when all the risk-taking, faith-leaping, and universe-trusting, leads to a sense of emptiness and numbness?

What happens when you realise that making a living and making a life are pointing in opposite directions?

What happens when you realise that you have been willingly putting yourself in a box of limited thinking and creativity?

What happens when everything which made sense to you, no longer makes sense?

I have been mourning whilst answering these questions lately. Mourning the fact that life is not how I thought it was or was going to be. This came with a great sense of loss and disorientation.

Initially, I rushed to do many things to try and salvage my then almost unemployed status, but nothing worked or caught on, which created even more anxiety and stress. And then, I remembered this saying, present in many spiritual traditions: when you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. I embraced stillness and being uncomfortable, panicky, restless.

By saying NO to further diminishing of my self, and my skills and talents, I had inadvertently said YES to many other things: ideas, creativity, intuition, desires, motivations. I realised that these had always been there, but they had been under some kind of repressive system, ruled not by fear of failure, but by fear of powerful potential and manifestation of my own light.

One of the first things that emerged from surrendering to stillness was the certainty that I hadn’t made a mistake, and the intuitive confirmation that remaining in that role would have further confined my creativity, integrity, talent, and potential. That it was time to embrace the alternative aspects of Dramatherapy, to stop justifying and defending, to just do the work, and to let go of the various forms of mainstream shackles I had been living under.

Another thing that emerged was a performance. Now, I hadn’t created or performed any work – outside of academia – in about 8 years. In the space of two weeks, this idea came through, I sat down to write its first draft, performed a preview at an open performance night, and found a director.

Many other events have been taking place which have led me to my current journey of allowing myself to express my potential in its various forms. I watched a TED talk which I found very inspiring and which deeply resonated with me. In it, the speaker presents and discusses the idea of being a person with many talents and passions, and not having to dismiss some in favour of others, or subscribe to the pressure of being only one, very definable, thing. She references the idea that during the Renaissance, people were encouraged to master many different disciplines, and that the focusing on one talent/skill emerged as a result of the Industrial Revolution and its need for efficiency.

Watch it here: https://www.ted.com/talks/emilie_wapnick_why_some_of_us_don_t_have_one_true_calling?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tedspread

Watching that talk, made me realise that I had been focusing and putting pressure on only one of my talents/skills, to the detriment of my other talents. I began to consider this deeply and felt that this was the direction I wanted to take: to not just be a Dramatherapist, but to also be other things. To expand my label. In fact, to not be bound by labels. To fully embrace all that I am, and all that I can do.

To do this fully, I am creating something new: a different, more expansive, more artistic, and more authentic practice, of which Dramatherapy will only be one of three branches.

I will be taking a long break to do some inner work, to create more, to live more, to be more, and ultimately to honour and unveil the parts of me that I have been neglecting. I will return in a few months with a new brand, image, work, and ethos.

I guess I’m doing that which my Dramatherapy tutors always encouraged me to do: taking care of myself.

See you all soon, and take care!

 

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Ask the Dramatherapist…”What is it all for?” – Creativity and Big Magic

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As you may have read in my previous blog post, some big changes have been happening in my professional world, which are inextricably connected to big changes in my personal world.

I have been asking myself many questions lately, and have been seeking answers and wisdom from different sources. However, and even though I know this to be true, answers haven’t really come to me until this morning, for the simple fact that this morning was the first time that I allowed myself to listen to myself, to my intuition, to the inner resonances of my soul.

I am very aware that clients often think that the only healing taking place in a therapy room is theirs, when in fact, the healing is mutual. I learn and heal as much as my clients do. As Yalom said: “it’s the relationship that heals”. Not the theory, or technique, but the relationship between therapist and client. Why? At the end of the day, we are simply two human beings connecting. And if that connection is founded upon authenticity, openness, and compassion, then I think healing will always manifest itself.

One such example occurred yesterday. I am currently seeing a client who is a performer, and we have been engaging in exciting, authentic, truthful, challenging and compassionate explorations of what it is all for. Why do we create? Why do we make art? And holding the space for this client to find their own answers, has allowed me to find my own answers.

In my recent questioning of what it is all for, I have started reading a wonderful book, Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert (https://www.elizabethgilbert.com/). She is the author of Eat, Pray, Love, which is one of my favourite memoirs, and I have always resonated with her ever since I first read that book 8 years ago. She is a creative being, with an active spiritual consciousness, and I relate to that deeply.

But going back to Big Magic! Yes, I had had this book on my bookshelf for more than a year, and a week or so ago, I found myself in my bed wondering “What is my next step, what should I do next?”, and this book caught my eye. So, I got up, picked it up, and began to read it. I must say, it is not a book that made me go “WOW!” or anything, but it was a book that moved me deeply. And this is what we fail to notice in life, sometimes. That the messages and signs are simple, quiet, but deep. We always think that life happens in the big moments, but it’s often the combination of smaller, quieter, simpler moments that add up to form our legacies.

There are many, many, many nuggets of powerful wisdom in this book, but the biggest thing I’m taking away from it is the motivation to create. She asks a question towards the end of the book which is a trickster play on the famous self-help question “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

Instead, she asks: “What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail? What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?”

Let me ask that again: WHAT WOULD YOU DO EVEN IF YOU KNEW THAT YOU MIGHT VERY WELL FAIL? WHAT DO YOU LOVE DOING SO MUCH THAT THE WORDS FAILURE AND SUCCESS ESSENTIALLY BECOME IRRELEVANT?

She also addresses the question earlier in the book of what happens when someone doesn’t actually love anything that much, but that’s a matter for another time.

Right now, in this moment, I want to write about this. What do I love so much that failure and success become irrelevant? I don’t necessarily have the words to describe it, but in a Dramatherapy session is when the client and I both experience a revelation at the same time. There is a burst of energy in the heart space, the eyes open up, the lips form a smile, and there’s a deep breath. A deep knowing has been reached. A wall has collapsed. The flow is flowing again.

I have thought about these moments a lot, and I feel them as creation. As life. It’s my very own way of contributing to the flow of life on this planet. The act of creation: to allow something to be born, or released. And that right there, is what I love. And that, my friends, does not depend one bit on whether I fail or succeed. I will always love that.

As I continued to think about that, I realised that I have been neglecting the artist in me. The uniqueness of any arts therapist is that we are all both artists and clinicians: we are painters, sculptors, craftspeople, musicians, singers, dancers, actors, directors, writers, poets. And we know how to channel the creative process to facilitate the connection between unconscious and conscious living. We create with our clients. We create! That’s what we do!

And this is what it is all for, for me: to create. Full stop. To create without an agenda, without the saviour/rescuer/helper complex. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert very wisely writes: “it is very kind of you to want to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive, because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.” Ouch! When I read that, I felt like I was being slapped across the face. And I felt that because it was true. Because I have made my whole life about helping others. I mean, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I could still feel an imbalance, you know?

I felt not only an imbalance, but a dependency. That my creativity was solely to help others. And then Big Magic made me question this, at the same time that I have been questioning many other things, and it dawned on me this morning, that my creativity was for its own sake.

That creation is creation is creation.

Life is life. Creation is creation. Art is art.

I encourage my clients to stay in the moment, in the process, and always reinforce the fact that Dramatherapy is not about the outcome of showing anything to anyone. That the process of Dramatherapy just is. We create, in order to create some more.

And this is what I’m left with in this moment of my own process of questioning and reflection.

What is it all for? To just be. We don’t need to justify our creation, just like we don’t need to justify our existence. This is my commitment to my very own Big Magic, which is a term Elizabeth Gilbert uses for the flow of inspiration: to create and enjoy the process. Full stop.

I exist in order to exist more. I live in order to live more. I create in order to create more.

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.
Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.
Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise – you can make anything.
So please calm down now and get back to work, okay?
The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, in Big Magic

Reflexions… On Loving Thyself

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I have been proactively studying and practising spirituality for 7 years. It has rarely conflicted with my Dramatherapy practice and studies, and I find that it actually complements my professional training.

One of the main teachers of my spiritual practice used to say this about the teachings of any religion or spiritual practice: “Love thy neighbour as thyself; and the rest is commentary.”

Meaning that, everything that everyone ever needs to know, and do, is in that little sentence. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not so much.

I have been observing for many years, that whilst most people understand the premise of that teaching and reality, they often leave out the last part of it. In fact, how many times do you just see “Love thy neighbour”? We are all trying to love and accept the “other”, but we often fail to love and accept the “self”. We forget the “thyself” part of the equation, and then we wonder why there is so much hate and misunderstanding in the world around us. We can only love and accept others in relation to how much we love and accept ourselves. If we don’t see enough love and acceptance towards others around us, is because there isn’t enough love and acceptance towards self.

I think most people know this, but not everyone feels this. Someone once told me that the most arduous path there is, is the one that connects the mind to the heart. And I’m not even adding the soul to that equation. Connecting the mind and the heart is a big enough task to start with.

Why am I writing about this today? Firstly, recent events and the ways in which we perceive the “other”, hate, and love. Secondly, a dear friend was questioning his spiritual/sexual identity recently, and I found myself using this teaching to make the point of acceptance clear. Thirdly, every point/topic/theme/concern/issue/etc. in the therapy room boils down to this: being able to love thyself. And yes, I can hear people scorning about this and its corniness/naivety, but I stand by this statement.

At one point or another, due to a myriad of circumstances, everyone’s development is affected by someone else’s words and/or actions, which then becomes internalised as a belief that “there’s something wrong with me” or “I’m not good enough”. Logically, it might be simple to state that there is nothing wrong with anyone and that everyone is good enough, because that information comes from elsewhere. It doesn’t come from the individual. No one internalises the belief that they are wrong, without an external influence giving them that information. But emotionally? Well, understanding this emotionally can take years, even decades!

Why? Because at the same time we might be receiving the message that we’re wrong, we’re also learning about right and wrong. Is anyone taught to love and accept what’s wrong? I feel and observe so many of us growing up under the conditioning that there is something wrong with us, having great difficulty accepting certain parts of who we are and of our history, hiding and hoping no one will notice. Even if no one else notices, do you know who will always notice? The other parts of you.

One of my favourite theories/techniques is that of Subpersonalities, by John Rowan. In it, there is the idea that we all possess distinct subpersonalities in our psyche, with different functions, motivations, origins, beliefs. No other aspect of my training has been more influential to me than this. The core principles of Integrative Dramatherapy – Self-Compassion, Relationships, and Integration – all stem from this. It is a technique I always return to, because it offers amazingly profound insights into someone’s behaviour, emotions, and traumas. Within someone’s subpersonalities, there is usually a very neglected, and a very over-compensating one. They are usually very dependent of and reactive to each other. They tend to disrupt the functions of other subpersonalities. Moreover, sometimes the very neglected and very over-compensating one, become one and the same. Their functions, motivations, and beliefs merge, and their origins disappear. The neglected becomes a bully and takes over the entire psyche, as it loses track of what it was there for in the first place.

Subpersonalities are very powerful (and surprisingly real) metaphors for our unconsciously-motivated behavioural and emotional patterns. The optimal goal is to have them all working together, interdependently, in an integrated manner. Integration, therefore, is not simply about having the “right” subpersonalities running the psyche, but to have all of them doing so, according to their own function and strength. Fear is a great example, for instance. Fear appears in our lives for a reason, often primitive and instinctive, but what happens to fear, and many other emotions, is that it overstays its mission, and its function becomes corrupted. It is there, but it is no longer serving the psyche, and becomes a block.

Thus, when a part of us begins to accept the conditioning that there is something wrong with us, according and in relation to others, a respective subpersonality emerges in the psyche to make sense of that new information. Depending on subsequent life experiences, that subpersonality will then live out its function and integrate, or it might overstay and change its function, which then permeates the entirety of the psyche. The individual is no longer able to recognise it, but it is still developing ways in which to express itself.

Subpersonalities tend to overstay their mission when they are neglected. We think we are taking care of something by ignoring it, but we are only forcing it to find new ways to express itself. This often appears in “random” events, behaviours, or emotional outbursts. We say “I was not myself when I did/said that!”. And we’re probably right. The subpersonality was ignored in its authentic expression, and so it found a new way to catch our attention, by changing itself completely and being someone/something else.

In short, this subpersonality was not shown any love or acceptance. It was deemed wrong, and forcibly ignored, and put to the side, or the back of the psyche. So, over time, the neglect turns into something else: resentment, anger, shame, disgust, hate, sadness, destruction. All of this, because it wants to be listened to, seen, cared for, validated… loved. The psyche, in the form of behaviours, emotions, and physical sensations, is constantly reminding us to focus on the “thyself” part of the equation. Love your neighbour as THYSELF! This is the paradox: the most important part of the teaching, comes last. It is a test in itself. Can we get past the obvious and notice what the core message is?

We believe we must always love others first, but the opposite is true. Without self-compassion, it is hard to create and maintain healthy and authentic relationships. Without helping our subpersonalities relate to and love each other, we cannot expect to treat others in ways which are balanced, authentic, and loving.

A client told me the other day, that they were not willing to change until the rest of the world changed too. Perhaps exacerbated, I challenged that position by asserting that the world was not sitting across the room from me, and that I was not being the world’s therapist, but an individual’s. And this is the trap: because we place the emphasis on others, we believe that others are responsible for loving, accepting, and validating us, and yet, we are often incapable of doing that for ourselves, and even go so far as rejecting that responsibility for the self.

LOVE THYSELF! The rest is commentary.

Ask the Dramatherapist… “Addiction”

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I recently had the privilege and pleasure of being a visiting guest lecturer at the Dramatherapy programme in Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. I presented and delivered two different sessions, related to my clinical specialisms: addiction, and sexuality in the LGBTQI+ community.

During the Q&A section of the lecture on addiction, one of the first-year students asked me whether I believed addiction is something people can truly overcome, or not. This is a great, and yet complex, question.

Prior to my work in addiction, I had no experience in this field. I had a very strong personal motivation and curiosity, and general knowledge of reading different research sources on drugs, and treatment approaches. I also had personal experience of addiction, as a family member and friend, and of substance misuse in my personal life.

I don’t share this very often, but I spent a big part of my early 20s drinking irresponsibly and dangerously, and dealing with the consequences of such behaviour. I felt very confused at times, because at one point, I recognised that I had stopped being able to do certain things without alcohol. Things like dealing with overwhelming emotions. Or going for a meal. Or a party. Having sex. Sometimes, even, going to sleep. At the time, I didn’t have anyone that I could confide in with these doubts, and so I kept avoiding the question of whether I had a problem.

And then, on the night of 22nd July 2011 someone spiked my drink in a club and I lost consciousness for most of that night. I woke up feeling completely ashamed and confused at a dear friend’s house, and made my way to my small flat in Camden. As I lay in bed that morning, wondering what had happened to me and feeling completely lost, I received a text which said: “Have you heard what happened to Amy Winehouse?” This was a big life-changing moment, for as I lay in my bed wondering whether I needed to stop drinking, I received news that Amy Winehouse – who lived literally around the corner from me – had died from alcohol poisoning.

I took it this a sign, and decided there and then to stop drinking completely. And I did – for two whole years. And what happened in those two years was that something shifted, and I was able to understand my escapism for what it was, including the understanding that it wasn’t about alcohol at all. And so, I have been able to go back to drinking, without abusing it, or without escaping into it. How? I’m not sure. If I knew, I would package it and help make millions of people feel better.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because, ultimately, this is what drives me. The experience of this shift, from feeling helpless to feeling in control. The experience of managing my self-destructive part. Because I don’t exactly know how this happened to me, I remain completely open to everything when it comes to addiction treatment and approaches. I am open to the medical/disease model, the 12 steps model, the harm reduction model, the relapse prevention model, to name just a few. I am open to everything because I have also learned that different clients will need and connect to different things, or a mix of things. Some clients actually find it helpful to think that they have a disease, and others don’t. I go with what is helpful for each client. Who am I to say anything, anyway?

I am driven to finding the answers that will enable people to stop the suffering in their lives. I never assume that I know something. Sometimes, I think that I do, and a client proves me wrong. And I never feel defeated about it. Not even when a client dies. It makes me more determined. One thing I always mention when referring to addiction, and which people tend to forget or dismiss, is that addiction truly is a matter of life or death. When a client tells me that if they pick up a bottle again, they will die, I believe them unconditionally, because it is the truth. To me, this work is not textbook. It is real life, about real lives. When a client goes to sessions for weeks and then they stop going, there is always a feeling of dread. And this feeling is very real.

Another thing that I notice in my addiction work is the weight of the consequences. I would argue that shame, guilt, and regret, kill more people than the drugs themselves. Of all the things that I believe that I know and learned through the years is this: we need to be more mindful of the language that we use in treatment. The idea of lapsing or relapsing may carry with it such overwhelming weight for clients, that when they lapse or relapse, they end up feeling worthless, like failures, and a waste of space.

I don’t claim to possess answers to anything at the moment. I feel that I spend most of my time listening and following what is needed. The weight of a lapse or relapse is absolutely unnecessary. It carries with it the illusion that someone needs to start again from the beginning. I would always argue that we never fully go back to the beginning, because making a mistake does not imply that we have lost our skills or knowledge. We will always be slightly more ahead than we think. This goes for me, and my clients.

I work from the position that yes; addiction can be overcome. Always. This is my hope and my guiding light through the darkness of active addiction and its aftermath. How is this achieved? I am still figuring that out, but I know that it starts with the following:

  • Looking into, listening to, and treating each person, as a person.
  • Caring deeply, and unconditionally, because they are living beings and for no other reason, and many people don’t even know what this feels like.
  • Being open to dark and light, death and life, and everything else in between.
  • Practising, and encouraging, meaningful and authentic connections.

I am a firm believer that the opposite of addiction is authentic human connection.

Reflexions…On Butterflies

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It may be a strange analogy within the context of therapy, but do you ever experience being in a clinical session with an individual client, or a group, and the dynamics of that session give you some kind of butterflies? That feeling of excitement because you want to know more, of hope that the unknown will turn out okay, of belonging because you feel you are in the right place, of achievement because you have found something special, and of awe because you have witnessed someone’s spark?

I recently saw my first clients with pronounced clinical depression, and the bleakness of those presentations stopped me in my tracks. Every day, I work with chaos, anger, sadness, ups and downs, glimmers of hope and joy, life and death, shame, guilt, anxiety, to name just a few. But bleakness to the point where there is no alternative, no hope, no light, no movement… well, I was not ready for that.

And this got me thinking about a lecture in my first year of Dramatherapy training, where a lecturer said – and I’m paraphrasing here: “Just because you’re becoming therapists, it doesn’t mean that you can, or should, work with everyone and every kind of condition. You actually have a choice on that.”

I remember how deeply that resonated with me, because I recognised that a part of me did think that I would be somehow responsible to respond to all the problems of the world. I remember mumbling that to myself for days… “I have a choice. I have a choice. I have choice.”

Sometimes there is nothing scarier than having choice. It means that a decision must be made. That something must be left. That something must be taken. And that we are responsible for the consequences of whatever that decision is.

I also remember thinking “How selfish!”. How selfish that I, a therapist, could refuse to help someone, when I’ve been given all these tools to do just that. And yet, there was also a relief: I didn’t have to help everyone.

And through the years, I have been not only actively and consciously making this choice, but I have also been noticing something else. That, perhaps, whatever butterflies a therapist experiences towards a specific client group or clinical context, may be in alignment with some kind of inner talent, skill…an aptitude. Allow me to expand on this.

In my first year of training, I also remember having a chat with one of the lecturers about which client groups I wanted to work with, both practically in terms of my clinical placements, but also generally, in terms of profession and career. It was always very clear to me that I wanted to work within addiction, and with gay men. These were clearly aligned and influenced by my own lived experience and by wanting to know more about myself, by helping others through similar experiences.

It sounds selfish, I know. But I believe that this is something mostly unconscious at first, rather than conscious – this idea that we might want to know more about ourselves, by working with others who share similar life experiences. This became more conscious to me, the more clients I met and worked with. And also, sometimes it’s not even about the condition or context, but about the effects, the aftermath of an experience. For instance, a great friend of mine has never spent time in prison, and yet, she has great affinity and aptitude to work and empathise within that field. Even in my work within addiction, I notice it every day, that I have much greater empathy and affinity towards clients who have overcome active addiction and are now in active recovery. I tend to find the aftermath of active addiction much more fascinating.

Why has this come about now? I have been noticing through the years, and particularly in the past few weeks, that there are certain clinical presentations to which I’m really drawn to and am greatly curious about, and others to which I’m not. And when this occurs in a session, when I’m not drawn towards something or feel no curiosity at all, I notice it immediately, because I always feel like I have to “work at it”.

I felt this particularly during the sessions where I was presented with complete bleakness. I was taken aback, not simply because I couldn’t get through, but also because there was a part of me which, frankly, didn’t necessarily want to get through. This got me thinking about the why of this occurrence, and also why I literally feel so alive in certain clinical contexts, and so indifferent in others. As I’m writing this, my inner therapist just said: “There’s probably a reason in your lived experience for why this is, and if you give it enough time and space, you’ll know exactly why.”

He’s right. My inner therapist tends to be right. And as I think about it further, without getting into much detail, I can connect why I tend to distance myself from both intense bleakness and active chaos – such as psychosis, or drugs withdrawal. I’ve learned and witnessed how well I can create deeply profound connections with individuals who, whilst still experiencing chaos and distress, are also willing and stable enough to want to create some kind of change in their lives.

I feel this may be related with my 7 years of active spiritual practice. If there’s a willingness and an awareness that change is required, no matter how faint this is, and no matter how many difficulties that individual has experienced in the past, or is experiencing in the present, then my curiosity, my drive, my empathy, are fully there. But if I can’t feel that from the client, then those traits don’t seem to make an appearance.

I have been very aware of my choices recently, both in relation to what I feel curious about, and to how much chaos I am willing to engage with on a daily basis. I have been noticing that my aptitudes, and my butterflies, may lie in clinical contexts and presentations where someone has already decided to change, no matter how determined or faint that decision is. And then I look at and talk to some of my colleagues and realise that their butterflies lie elsewhere.

This is the beauty of healthcare professions, and where we can find relief from the potential pressure of wanting to help everyone: there is always someone who is interested, driven to help, experiencing butterflies, in every single clinical presentation that exists. I don’t have to worry about helping everyone, because there are other professionals who are helping people at every single stage of their recovery. I don’t need to feel guilty about not feeling more curious at the earlier stages of someone’s treatment, because someone else is, and I feel that the combination of my knowledge, skills, and talents, is better served when there is a certain level of, or potential for, stability and balance.

Reflexions…On Questioning

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It’s been a prolonged silence since my last post. I have been sitting with this resistance, trying to make sense of what exactly was going on inside me, and realised that, ultimately, I have been questioning myself, my role, and my profession.

I found myself in clinical supervision the other week, questioning whether I would like to be a therapist for a long time, or not. A great gift I’ve received in my life is an ability to learn lessons quickly. This ability goes hand in hand with my other key ability of being able to empathise deeply and sensitively with almost everyone. By feeling deeply, I have often arrived at insights and personal resolutions, quicker than other people in my life going through similar trials and tribulations. But this may often also feel like a curse. The deep and intense feelings, followed by insight and resolution, followed by a continuous “what’s next?”. Sometimes, this is extremely tiring. And I feel that this is where I have been recently.

I am a therapist who believes that whilst a therapeutic training and education can indeed be used to help anyone in any kind of circumstance, the therapeutic relationship can also be much deeper and purposeful when I work with clients going through the lessons that I’ve been through. I often say that my areas of expertise are not an accident.

And maybe it’s a phase that every therapist goes through – but no one really talks about – or maybe I’m particularly tired this month, but I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that this question popped up in my mind this month, startling my sense of identity and purpose: “Is this really all I want to do and be?” The answer was a very strong NO, which is still echoing in my heart.

I feel that I have come to this standpoint after a continuous and quiet questioning of the therapeutic process itself. What is its purpose? How do I understand healing, personally?

I used to think that therapy was supposed to help people overcome internal obstacles, and by default, external ones as well. And that healing would come from that process of transformation. But I guess what I have been really questioning is this idea of overcoming. I’m not necessarily basing this on any specific theory or methodology, simply on my own experiences and understanding.

Because what I continue to witness in my therapy rooms and sessions is a revolving door of the same presentations, conflicts, histories, narratives, in different people, with slightly different nuances, but the same. Even with the same person, when I think something has been processed, there’s another layer. And I wrote about this in a past blog entry. This idea that, yes, we can always keep digging, there are always more layers, more nuances to explore, more depth, more intensity, more pain, more trauma, more, more, more. But at what point do we stop looking backwards, into the past?

These questions are for me, really. I don’t intend to imply that every therapist might be questioning this, and maybe for some professionals these matters are very black and white. I just feel that I spend a lot of time in the grey areas, wondering what the balance is between past and future. And wondering whether we actually overcome anything? Does an experience such as a trauma ever disappear? How does overcoming and healing apply to trauma? Does it ever go away? What is my job in relation to these questions?

For instance, the complexities of gay men’s mental health. And when I say complexities, I mean that, based not just on clients’ experiences, but also my own. All these studies and articles of how gay men are more susceptible to more ill mental health, substance misuse, addiction, compulsive behaviour, suicidal ideation, bullying, abuse, etc. Sometimes, I’m reading academic or clinical articles, and I’m thinking “No kidding!”. I could write an article about my life and use that as a template.

Many other client groups have this experience – I’m calling it the intersectionality of pain. Pain does not discriminate, and it often doesn’t just stay on the one lane. It’s a complex web of experiences, which by moving something here, will trigger something there, and then by going there, will trigger something else further away or down, and on, and on. This is just my own process. And if I go through this, I am certain many others experience the same. All of us could spend the rest of our lives in therapy. But is that the point? Is it possible to move forward, simply by moving forward?

And I bring this particular example up, because its constant presence in clinical presentations makes me question whether the therapy may also focus on other aspects of a person’s life. I have created this session for groups which I lovingly call “The Gift Session”. It’s a session where I help individuals become aware of their inner qualities, their inner light. Just because. No other reason, no agenda. Just that. And someone usually asks “How is this relevant? I thought we were here to deal with our pain?” So, in every “Gift Session”, I usually need to explore why people tend to reject the gift of becoming aware of their inner light, and why/how that awareness could actually be the key to the end of their suffering.

Could therapeutic work focusing on qualities and inner light literally and figuratively illuminate the way through the suffering and chaos? How much healing and peace can we find through continuous exploration and analysis of pain and trauma?

Ask the Dramatherapist…”The Client’s Role”

crayons

I was recently invited to participate in a research study about Dramatherapy as a psychological therapy and profession. I met up with the researcher last week, where she asked me a series of questions about the different aspects of my practice. After asking me what I perceived the role of the therapist to be, she asked me “What is the role of the client?”

I will admit to you, as I admitted to her: I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that question before, and I don’t know if I have spent much time considering it either. This startled me, and I have been thinking about it ever since. What is the role of the client? WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE CLIENT?

Have other therapists considered this before? Am I alone in this?

I mean, I have considered many aspects of the client’s experience and process, but I don’t remember anyone ever phrasing it in such a way. What is their role?

This is my response, and reflection, as of February 2017, a week after the question was first posed to me. I believe that my views on this will probably change as time passes, and experience settles, but this is my here and now, and good enough, response.

As it is often common in the life of a therapist, whenever a big question comes up, it tends to show up within therapy sessions, in very unexpected ways.

A few days ago, as I was concluding a group session and making a summary of the work and insights the group had undertaken and experienced, I found myself talking about my role, and their role.

Within that discussion, I was stating that I tend to see the therapeutic process, not so much as a discovery of something, but as a re-discovery. Meaning that, I truly believe each person knows themselves better than anyone else, but their intuition and reason are often clouded by judgement, fear, doubt, expectations, pressures. Everyone has and experiences glimpses into their core every now and then, which we tend to dismiss as “odd”, “peculiar”, “unreasonable”.

My perception of what I do as a Dramatherapist is often of a guide through these clouds. I’m not influenced by someone’s judgement, fear, doubt, expectations, or pressures, which makes me able to navigate through these clouds with curiosity, empathy, and clarity. My role is often about helping to remove the clouds, not so that clients can discover themselves, but so that they can re-discover themselves. Everyone has and experiences glimpses into their core every now and then. We all know what we feel and think, whether or not we have the vocabulary to express it to others. These are different matters: the knowing and the expressing.

And so, as I continued with this metaphor of clouds and removing them, I found myself saying to my Monday group that their role was to make decisions, to choose. Let’s pause here and imagine that I am guiding you through your clouds. As a Dramatherapist, I will do that through prompts: “I notice that… your body language has changed; your tone of voice is different; you said this but did that; where would you like to go next?; what would you like to do next?; to say?; breathe, don’t forget your breathing; pause, take a moment or two; what does it look like, feel like?; it’s okay; I’m here.”

These prompts represent opportunities for the client to choose: to say something, to do something, to ask something, to express, to hide, to move forward, to move backwards, to remain, to settle, to change.

As I guide someone through their own clouds, I will make observations about what I see, notice, and feel, in the therapy space and all of this is meant to create clarity about the different choices a client has in those moments, but also in their lives outside the therapy room. I can do that for them, but then I can’t make any choices for them.

However, to make a choice, one must have the awareness that one has a choice. It also then involves personal responsibility and autonomy. The therapeutic process, and the therapist, must aid in this: the empowerment and awareness of personal responsibility and autonomy. This may sound like too much, but that’s why therapy isn’t always easy, and it shouldn’t be. It should make things simpler, but not necessarily easier.

And a choice doesn’t have to be of the life-changing capacity either. A choice can be as simple as choosing a pencil over a crayon. And the more often one makes simple choices, the easier it becomes to make more complex ones. But the choice must always be made by the client, and this is how I see the client’s role: to make a choice.

It feels like this: I guide a client through something, I make my observations and present the choices at hand, momentarily remove myself from the dynamic so the client can make a choice, and once the choice is made, I return to the dynamic to continue the journey through the clouds. That split second and moment of temporary withdrawal on my part is designed to allow the client to feel that they have made a choice on their own. Small moments like these, of choosing a pencil over a crayon, or the colour of a piece of paper, is what signals to the conscious and unconscious mind, as well as someone’s heart and spirit, that they are in control and empowered.