Ask the Dramatherapist… “A session with my psyche”

Exactly two months ago, I began to experience a nagging sense of questioning what I was doing with my life, and even wrote about it in the March Reflexions feature. I rarely experience this, particularly in the professional context.

I was always fairly certain about what I wanted to do, but the how has been through some dramatic changes. And today, the how was questioned to such an extent, that it also made me question the what.

“Do you want to be a Dramatherapist? Do you even want to continue helping others?” Talk about a slap in the face! I haven’t questioned my what in about two decades.

As someone who has been actively working on self-awareness and reflection for the most part of the last 10 years, it is very clear to me that these questions will be around for a while. Particularly that second one. When the what is questioned, one must pay very close attention. I guess this is what growing older entails. Can I go back to my playground, please? Anyway…

This post will begin to address the first question above, in a way which I have never done before in this blog. I was so taken aback, that I decided to try and do some Dramatherapy on myself. For all the non-Dramatherapist readers… have you ever wondered what it might be like? Well, here it is.

One of my favourite tools in Dramatherapy is my deck of Archetype Cards, by Caroline Myss (2003; http://www.hayhouse.co.uk/archetype-cards-a-80-card-deck-with-guidebook).

From the accompanying guide book:

Archetypes have been around since at least the time of Plato (…), but it was the 20th century visionary Swiss psychologist Carl Jung who put archetypes on the map of modern consciousness.

In essence, most archetypes are psychological patterns derived from historical roles in life, such as Mother, Child…; they can also be universal events or situations, such as Death. Along with our individual personal unconscious, which is unique to each of us, Jung believed that “there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature that is identical in all individuals.” This “collective unconscious” (…) is inherited, rather than developed, and is composed largely of archetypes and mythological figures.

Although archetypes are both ancient and universal, they become personalised when they’re a part of your own psyche.

Now, from theory to practice. I use these cards in various ways, but this is one of the most common ones. I asked myself “Who am I as a Dramatherapist?”, and went through the deck, picking out the ones which instinctually resonated with me. The instinctual resonance is key here, because it prevents the rational mind from making too many decisions. Below, is the result of this first exercise: 11 cards.

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Fig 1. 11 Archetypes: Shape-Shifter; Companion; Alchemist; Guide; Prostitute; Child:Wounded; Seeker; Healer; Pioneer; Artist; Addict

Immediately, I felt drawn to some of them and not others, so I removed the ones that didn’t hold enough resonance, which left me with 7 cards, as below.

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Fig 2. 7 Archetypes: Addict; Prostitute; Child:Wounded; Artist; Pioneer; Seeker; Healer

As I looked at this second selection and got in touch with feelings and sensations, by taking a few deep breaths and grounding myself, I began to gain some clarity on feelings of who/what was in control – expressed by the Shadow attributes of the Addict (allowing addictive patterns to have authority over inner spirit), the Prostitute (placing material considerations and security above self-empowerment), and the Healer (failing to care for oneself).

What does this mean? I interpreted it in the context of what I’ve been feeling – an overemphasis on business, rather than passion, and a focus on others’ wellbeing, before my own.

There were also feelings of neglect of the following Light attributes – Artist (expressing a dimension of life that is beyond the five senses), the Wounded Child (awakening compassion and desire to serve other Wounded Children), and the Healer (passion to serve others by repairing the body, mind, spirit connection).

I felt this neglect was mainly about passion, and the fact that I have been feeling disconnected from the purpose of why I do this work.

Three main observations from this exercise:

  • The aspects of the Healer were present in both groups – I realised I was feeling controlled by its Shadow attributes and neglecting its Light attributes.
  • I realised I was quite angry at the concept of Pioneer.
  • The Seeker felt completely invisible and ignored.

I was curious about the anger directed at the Pioneer, and realised that this archetype had driven all the other ones to their extremes, and that its Shadow attribute of a compulsive need to keep moving on has been the driving force in my psyche for many months.

I then proceeded to engage in an instinctual dialogue between myself, as therapist, and the Pioneer archetype. This type of dialogue is done by following a flow, allowing the unconscious to speak by writing the first things that come to mind, rather than to rationalise it or try to make sense of it.

This dialogue revealed that the Pioneer was running away from something by pursuing something else in the future, rather than facing its fear in the present. It also allowed me to understand that part of my motivation of being a therapist was not appropriately aligned to the present and future, but still stuck in a distant past, which led the dialogue to an end, for the Pioneer couldn’t get past this obstacle.

I then went back to the cards I had previously picked and asked myself, which one of them could the Pioneer reach out to first, for help? I often pose this question to clients, because ultimately all the archetypes can be helpful, but it is also important to establish which one of them could be helpful in the here and now, when facing an obstacle in the present. Having many sources of help can often be overwhelming, so sometimes it’s important to identify and focus on one of them, and take small steps. The answer this time pointed to the Artist.

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Fig 3. 2 Archetypes:  Artist; Pioneer

I employed the same dialogue technique, but this time between the two archetypes. The content of their conversation was not that surprising: lack of passion, burnout. The realisation that my motivation for wanting to be there for others because I didn’t have anyone there for me, has led me to the exact same place: to feeling like there is no one else there for me. I continue to support others, whilst feeling unsupported.

At the end of this “session” I am left with the questions: how and where do I find others for support? And how do I re-ignite my passion?

This blog has aimed to show a glimpse of what a creative psychodynamic process can be like in Dramatherapy, as well as that the therapeutic process is often about trying to answer a question, only to find more questions.

I feel that the questions will never stop, but I also feel that life, and living, happens in the process of answering questions as they appear in our lives. 

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Reflexions… On Not Knowing.

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“Maybe you just need to be honest about it and say:

 ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t have all the answers.’

My dear friend, and fellow Dramatherapist, was absolutely right. I don’t have all the answers. No one does. But it’s difficult to admit to that sometimes.

We were talking about my personal life, relationship experiences in particular, and how I tend to struggle so much sometimes with expressing myself clearly and openly. More importantly, how I tend to struggle so much with saying “I don’t know”. With taking time to breathe, pause, and say “I don’t know what the answer is”.

And, as it is usual in a therapist’s life, matters which are calling for a personal healing or cleansing, will often show up in the therapy room through clients’ own life experiences.

A few weeks ago, this showed up through the often difficult life experiences of mothers, who are also recovering addicts. With both clients I worked with, the main struggle related to the notion and belief of being a bad mother, of having ruined or negatively influenced their children’s lives, of not being good enough. Even if you have never had children, I believe anyone can relate to the feelings attached to not being good enough.

I needed a moment in both cases, for this is my inner dialogue in situations where my instinct doesn’t seem to be flowing:

– Say something!

– What? I don’t know what to say! What could I possibly say?

– You’re the therapist! You should say something! You should know what to say!

– I know! How can I make her feel better?

In terms of silence, the first thing to be aware of is that they always feel longer than what they actually are. In any situation, but particularly during a therapy session.

The second thing to be aware of is that the voice inside my head uttering those words is the voice of my ego: doubtful, insecure, scared, reactive, needy, etc.

The third thing to be aware of is that if you want someone to feel something, you need to give them the time and space for that. Often, giving people a tissue, hugging them, telling them ‘it will all be okay’ too soon, it will actually hinder the expression and exploration of a feeling. This is a delicate balance.

The fourth thing to be aware of is that the function of the therapist is not really to make the client feel better, when something uncomfortable appears. If sadness appears, it is important to acknowledge it, to honour it, even. To do anything less than that, is to dismiss the feeling, and by extension, the person or situation which caused it.

Lastly, it is important to be aware of the fact, that maybe, just maybe, I might not know something in that moment. I might not know what to say, what to do, or even what’s best. I mean, what to say to a recovering addict mother who is considering throwing her son out of the house, because he is in active addiction? Somehow, “It will all be okay”, seems reductive and patronising.

The first step to dealing with something, is to become aware of it, to acknowledge it.

Once I admit it to myself, that I don’t know, the pressure disappears. My inner monologue begins to change:

– It’s okay. Breathe. Relax. It’s okay not to know. You’re not here to give them answers, anyway. Remember that! Your job is to help them find their own answers, not to give them the answers. It’s okay. Let go. Whatever you do, it is good enough. You are good enough. Now, what do they need? What do they need, in this moment?

Note the change from inner dialogue to monologue. Whenever I hear a clear monologue inner voice, I know that I’m on the right path. This is my personal sign that I’m beginning to allow instinct to come through.

I can feel the difference straight away. As soon as I’m able to integrate two or more inner voices, into a clear one, and to switch my focus from myself, to the client, I know something helpful will come, whether it’s a question, a gesture, a word, an idea.

And if it’s not great, or what the client might want to hear, it is still good enough.