An update: New Beginnings

2017-13-07-14-20-08

 

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!

 

Advertisements

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

big-magic

 

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

An open letter…The margins of therapeutic practice

IMG_1258

To: All practitioners working at, and in, the margins of mainstream structures.

Last year, I presented a paper at The British Association of Dramatherapists’ Annual Conference, exploring the dynamics of visibility between margins and mainstream. I presented and reflected on my work as a therapist in a marginal profession with a marginalised client group, HIV+ gay men. I defended that more must be done to move Dramatherapy and the work that we do as a profession, from the margins, to the mainstream.

I am here now, to challenge and dismiss that assertion, and to accept, embrace, and own my place at, and in, the margins of therapeutic practice.

Some of the most common feedback I receive in my sessions goes like this:

“I was really anxious about this session, but I feel so much better now. I don’t know why.”

“What we did last week really shifted something in me, but I don’t know why or how.”

“At first I thought this was weird, but then it made sense. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Do you notice anything about those statements?

Yes, they all include “I don’t know” why, how, what, etc. And guess what? Most of the time, I don’t know either.

Now, let’s look at this scientifically.

In fact, let’s not. If I wanted to be a scientist I would have studied Psychology or Psychiatry. And not to say anything in particular about those disciplines, but I studied Dramatherapy. And that’s that.

I never had a scientific mind, or enjoyed that process very much. I was always a “feelings” and “energies” type of person. I could always sense things and knew them to be real. Could I prove it? Not really. Did I feel the need to prove it? Not at all. Why? I always felt that an authentic connection between people did not need a piece of paper to validate it.

I read clinical articles sometimes and think “What else is new? Tell me something I don’t already know!” Now, I completely understand and value the process of rigorous methodologies and studies in order to prove something, and create the necessary robustness that a health care profession needs in order to be registered and protected. But I never felt the need to go through those processes myself. I’m currently writing my first clinical article, and the headaches this is giving me are quite something. The idea of finding theories to prove the dynamics of human connection, is frankly stressful. I know, crucify me already!

However, somehow in between the beginning of my training as a Dramatherapist, and my current work almost two years post-graduation, I have found myself trying to be part of the clinical psychology establishment. Me! Of all people! Me, who has always pushed against established ways and systems.

Yes, for the past few years, I have found myself trying to seek the validation of senior clinical teams who demanded evidence-based research for my work and approach, and for years I have endured this fight with openness, poise, and willingness to learn. And yet, I have continued to be on the losing end of that fight, and I have finally understood why: I have been trying, mostly unconsciously, to make a marginal and relatively new therapeutic approach part of the established mainstream. And I have been trying to do this on my own, in my little corner of the Dramatherapy world.

Thus, after a renewed demand that I stop using the term Dramatherapy because there is no evidence-based research for drama as therapy, I finally decided to claim my own boundaries, and respectfully said no. No to this demand! As a registered and protected title, a Dramatherapist IS a therapist, and it is my professional and legal right to use it. Moreover, I will cease to attempt to be part of the mainstream, because, guess what? I doubt Dramatherapy will ever be part of the mainstream therapeutic establishment. And for the first time since I have started studying and practicing this approach, this is perfectly okay. I have experienced this recent situation as a classic case of “I’m not good enough.” Somehow, I have felt inferior to other psychological therapies, and this has been my drive to be part of, to be accepted, and validated by the more established professions in psychology and psychiatry.

And, if I may say so, I sense this is a general feeling amongst the profession. Not consciously, per se, but if I have been experiencing this, I can’t be the only one, right? I still remember a few years ago at the AGM of our professional association, there was a motion to seek out accreditation from the BACP (Counselling and Psychotherapy association), and a member of the community stood up and asked why we needed such a thing, if we were already a registered and accredited profession? I think this has stayed with me until now, because now I get it. Why, indeed? If we are strong, authentic, and boundaried enough in our conduct, why do we need others to tell us what great work we do? And if we don’t think we are good enough, then let’s all look at that, and have a conversation about it.

I can honestly say that it was a rude awakening this week to realise that, actually, I didn’t think I was good enough all these years of studying and practicing. That a part of me carried the belief that Dramatherapy was not good enough. That perhaps other professions had a point of challenging every single one of my moves and decisions. As I was going through my process of awakening this week, this anonymous quote came through on one of my social media feeds:

“Stop asking why they keep doing it and start asking why you keep allowing it.”

And then it all made sense. It’s not just that people keep challenging my profession and training, it’s also that I ALLOWED IT to happen. I kept accepting their authority without question.

No more allowances on this front. I have put in place a healthy boundary: a boundary which whilst remaining open to new ideas and approaches, is also protecting and taking care of my own approach and my sense of growth within it.

By asserting this boundary, I am saying: this is what I do as a Dramatherapist. I use drama to explore the depth of individuals’ emotional experiences, and facilitate the sustainability of long-lasting change and fulfilment in their lives. No more, no less. No comparisons to other professions and approaches. No further explanations. This is it. I experience the value and worth of my training and talents on a daily basis, by the feedback I receive and transformation that I witness. And that is enough for me!

I choose to focus on causes. On people. On human connection. On compassion. On experience. On living, and thriving. And this is my commitment to all my clients, and myself.

 

Ask the Dramatherapist… “Addiction”

2017-17-4--16-40-34

 

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

2017-14-4--16-51-52

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

2017-15-3--22-00-50

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?

Reflexions…On the Duration of Therapy

2017-01-2-13-03-20

I have recently experienced a shift in paradigm, in relation to how I experience therapy. I experienced this in the context of my own personal therapy, and I am currently questioning many aspects of my training and practice – which is both frightening and exciting!

For the sake of context, I studied and trained to become a Dramatherapist for 3 years. One of the requirements of that training was that I needed to be in personal therapy throughout that period of time. This included group and individual therapy. Both of those experiences were long-term: I spent 30 weeks in group therapy, and the remaining 120 or so weeks were spent in individual therapy.  Say what you will, but that is a lot of time to be spent in continuous self-reflection and processing of emotional and behavioural dynamics.

Combined with that experience, is my own experience of my tutors and lecturers, and even of available research, whose presentation of clinical case studies seemed to always feature long-term cases. I am not saying that the content only featured those cases, but the ones who stuck with me were often of long-term therapeutic relationships.

And I must admit, that up until this recent challenge to the paradigm I was following, I wasn’t even aware I was following such a paradigm. This paradigm entailed that effective, long-lasting, and authentic healing therapeutic relationships, could only occur in the context of long-term therapy. No one ever told or taught me this, but somehow, through the experiences of my training and studying, I had unconsciously adopted this as dogma. Even though most of my clinical experiences as a therapist have been facilitating short-term interventions! But I recognise now, that I always had this longing to “find” a client with whom I could work with for years. I still do. And I will probably be able to have that experience at some point in the future.

But this is not a debate between long- and short-term therapy. This is simply an awakening, a new perspective, and the curiosity to see where this may lead.

It is very poignant that the first question someone submitted to my “Ask the Dramatherapist…” feature was about uncovering old wounds and the potential negative effects of such actions in a therapeutic setting. I wrote in that post that, often, old wounds are uncovered unexpectedly. That dealing with something here, will trigger or awaken something else over there. And that we won’t know that will happen, until it happens.

This is what happened to me recently. I received some life-changing news in May 2016 and decided to go back to therapy to process the information and its manifested and potential effects on my life moving forward. In the process of doing this, a very painful and traumatic memory re-emerged from the depths of my unconscious and demanded to be processed for the first time in two decades. I had not planned this at all. In fact, I had “worked” so hard at keeping it hidden that not even the intense psychological process of studying Dramatherapy for 3 years had come close to unblock or shift certain life experiences. They were carefully and deeply locked, hidden, and mostly forgotten. The psychological split and disassociation around this experience were very effective.

But then, May 2016 happened. And many “problems” became irrelevant. I was able to finish many chapters, close many stories, and retire old roles that had overstayed their position in the spotlight. Many layers were peeled, which left the core exposed. I felt incredible relief at this purge of old personal narratives, but felt equally apprehensive about the core. I had never addressed it, let alone give it a voice, or time and space. Now, I can easily run away from something if its presence is faint or mild, but if it’s staring me right in the face, I tend to just go for it.

And so, in open and honest discussions with my therapist, I decided to engage in intense trauma work, using a technique and approach called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), often used with PTSD to reduce the long-lasting effects of distressing memories, by engaging the brain’s natural adaptive information processing mechanisms, thereby relieving present symptoms. In EMDR, in careful agreement with the therapist, the client chooses a, or the most, painful memory they have about a specific event, and reconnects to the feelings it created, the messages it produced, and the effects it had. Whilst recalling all of this, the client receives one of several bilateral sensory inputs, such as side to side eye movements. I will let you conduct further research on this, if you are interested.

The main point, however, is that through EMDR, I was able to experience the memory differently, in the sense that the feelings it created, the messages it produced, and the effects it had, changed. Not dramatically, not completely, but they changed. And this shift has had a profound effect. And for Dramatherapists reading this, as well as other professionals working with psychodynamic approaches, you will hopefully understand when I say that I cannot explain what the shift was. Only that there was a shift, and that I feel different, lighter, and more relieved. Somewhere in my unconscious, the perspective of this event changed. And this happened within 8 weeks of treatment.

The week after a particularly intense session, I sat down with my therapist and she asked me where I would like to go next. And even though she didn’t verbalise the different options, as a therapist myself, I felt what they were: to stop or to continue. And this is where my paradigm shift happened.

I knew I could continue. I could choose more memories – and trust me, there are a ton of them now! – and continue to follow that process. But like I said earlier, there was something different in me. Reprocessing that particular memory had shifted how I perceived other memories, how I perceived myself and my role in my own life.

We had purposefully agreed to meet two weeks after the intense session, so that I would have time to process it, by simply living my life. And as I started living my life more openly, freely, and emotionally, I realised that I was okay. At least, for now. And that, right now, I didn’t need to continue reprocessing memories, even though I could. And this stopped me in my tracks: I could continue, but I didn’t need to. I didn’t need to continue with this therapeutic relationship, because, right now, my catharsis was enough. And I didn’t need to continue to prod, analyse, investigate, explore. In fact, I didn’t want to. I had spent two decades trapped by something I couldn’t even recognise, and now that something was no longer there. All I wanted, correction, all I want, right now, is to simply live my life. To start new chapters, new stories, and allow new roles to take centre stage.

This is not a defence of anything in particular, simply a sharing about a shift in perspective. That therapy doesn’t always need to be long-term. That profound catharsis and change can actually occur within a short period of time, and that both experiences can be equally valid.

This is a commitment to follow my curiosity in what feels like a brave new world to me: could my Dramatherapy practice enable this as well? What can I do to be more effective in my efforts to facilitate long-lasting change in the context of short-term therapy interventions?