Storm

wind-trees-wallpaperThe last time I wrote it was autumn and I was basking in the remembered warmth of a late holiday. Now we’re approaching the end of February with the promise of spring in greening hedgerows, the softer air, and in lengthening days.

Yesterday though, with Doris making her presence felt and starting play therapy with a new young client, I came to thinking about how both suddenly, and slowly, our lives can change and outside our control. Whether from a shocking event that upturns settled family life – like wind bringing down trees and buildings – or the transitions occurring with age from puberty to adulthood, menopause and ‘third age’.

Much of what happens to us in life can feel like that storm – chaotic, wild, dangerous, destructive and frightening. Yet, after that chaos and mess, some good can be found. The storms of winter remove dead wood from trees allowing new growth, the winds drive out dark clouds to reveal sunshine and blue skies. The storm seems to release energy and tension giving an opportunity for calm and reflection.

Looking around me today, our garden city strewn with the aftermath of the strong winds that made feel like Dorothy before Oz, I am reminded of the value and parallels of these tempestuous times. Not just to nature but to my self also.

Without these, there can reside a tendency to cleave to the status quo, to be on an even keel, to know where we are – for safety and certainty. Yet, therein lies stagnation, fear, inactivity and inwardness, inhibiting creativity and the potential for experience, wisdom and insight, enriching and fulfilling our soul.

We need those storms, painful, bewildering and disturbing though they be, as they stimulate us to grow, to look anew at ourselves, to release that we no longer need or benefits us.

‘Let it go’ says the song so, as the trees let go, I’m learning to let go of who I used to be and finding a new way of being as no longer young. This transition, unlike the sudden storm, has been slow and difficult, and inevitable. A workshop I attended recently prompted me to reflect deeply, unwillingly, on who and where I am now, holding up uncomfortable recognitions – repressed feelings of envy, self-hatred and frustration with my inability for action due to base beliefs of inferiority and incompetence.

These dark clouds have now lifted a little, the storm an apt metaphor for this recent psychic struggle. I have passed through more than just the eye of the storm. I will find serenity and the calm today so embodies.

I am alive. I am here. I am me.

 

 

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Welcome to Hotel Transactional Analysis

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I’ve recently spent a week’s relaxation in Majorca celebrating 20 years of marriage. We stayed in a beautiful, tranquil spot in a small natural park a few minutes saunter from two perfect pink-white sand bays with crystalline water: a beach lover’s heaven.

What I hadn’t expected from this late summer treat – we’d already been away in July – was the realisation that hotels turn us into dependent babies. This disturbed and challenged my sense of self, creating psychic tensions never before considered.

For some years we have embraced life under canvas for summer escapes, travelling to various locations in France as well as in the UK. I’d camped with my family but the experience as an adult, although rekindling the fun I’d had as a child, also brought essential elements to my adult life: freedom, re-connection with the earth, and even Maslow-style primary needs like building a shelter. OK, so I didn’t catch my food but, cooking outside, watching the stars emerge and being IN nature met some unacknowledged need for simplicity, self-reliance and connection with the universe.

I enjoyed being a bit ‘feral’ – living in shorts and flip-flops or bare feet – and not worrying what I looked like, luxuriating in the sensory and sensuality of warm sun, cool earth and moving water (we stay near rivers or the sea).

There was also the sense of empowerment: going where and when we pleased, and doing what we wanted without watching the clock, living with nature’s rhythms.

Going ‘properly’ abroad for the first time in years (as in taking a plane and staying in an hotel) gave me sleepless nights. I’d forgotten how to plan a trip of this kind, feeling all kinds of tension surrounding booking a flight, seats, baggage allowance and finding the perfect accommodation. In my case, perfect meant inexpensive, small and personal, away from crowds and any packaged ‘entertainment’. After a couple of false starts and cancellations, I booked our home from home. Cue the beginning of a creeping, increasing anxiety and weight of responsibility. What if it was awful? Would my husband enjoy it (a very real fear after the summer trip went a little awry due to his work induced stress and inability to relax and be in the moment). I also have a mild fear of flying – a lovely euphemism that isn’t it?

We arrived at 1.00a.m. after a delay and a magical mystery tour, first to find the transport I’d booked and then along little dark roads leading to seemingly nowhere. Yet the hotel was welcoming, simply furnished but adequate, and extremely clean. Relief flooded me as I finally slept, dreaming of the sea.

So, what felt so wrong?

It took me several days to understand the source of my discomfort: I wasn’t in control.

I couldn’t just go to the kitchen and make a cup of coffee or a sandwich. I had to wait to be fed.

I couldn’t stay in my room all day if that’s what I wanted as the maid came to clean.

I couldn’t speak the language, having only basic phrases.

I felt bad and feared judgment if the room were left messy.

Then I had my epiphany: the hotel was our playpen and nursery. We were omnipotent infants with all our needs being met on demand by benevolent adults.

And I wasn’t sure I liked it. I felt really discomfited. Out of control. A guest checks out their personal power when they check in.

Perhaps world-weary executives in spa hotels are only indulging in infantile fantasy – in a more socially acceptable way than dressing up as babies and being bottle fed.

This sense of dependence was enhanced by being remote from all but a tiny shop and a couple of beach restaurants (in addition to the breast in our hotel).

I adored the serenity- watching bats fly around at dusk and snorkelling in warm clear water with fish dancing around, beneath and above me. Yet I felt impotent and irritated at a subliminal level, resenting reliance on what the hotel gave us to eat, feeling displaced when unable to enter our room, fearful of being stranded and abandoned.

Yet I also became territorial, wishing the day visitors would go away and leave ‘our’ coves in peace. I also didn’t want to go back to reality. The holiday ‘bubble’ had provided a secure base from which to explore being together again, without concerning ourselves with anything more onerous than whether to have another beer or go for a swim.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that I work with children with attachment disorders arising from neglectful parenting, mothers with mental health disorders, and dysfunctional families. Was all I felt really just a projection of their discomfort and need to control and impose order on their chaotic early life experiences.

I’m curious how these reflections will impact our holiday plans next year: will it be a self-catering apartment or back to the Wendy House tent?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On looking forward

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I’ve been feeling rather guilty lately, as I’ve not posted on here for… a year. Just where have those 12 months gone to – a common call when we look back and feel we have not achieved or done what we had hoped now that time is lost. Yet, as we cannot regain that time passed nor make more of any opportunities or put right wrongs we cannot live our lives based on having ‘something to look forward to’.

My blog is a window on my state of mind and energy thus, feelintg guilty about writing is yet another example of me being passive-aggressive to myself.  There is no purpose to this self punishment (I was trying to find a play on ‘selfie’ here to please my little ego that’s saying “show your critics you are clever oh yes, that’s myself mainly”) other than reaffirming core beliefs that I’m not good enough and other uncomfortable feelings I thought I’d unpicked during therapy. It seems not. Maybe I have just unearthed another strata of discomfort and shame that needs sifting through to filter out the issues upsetting the smooth running of my path. Oh Mrs Superego is having fun today.

I’ve not felt able to write here –  some resistance to ‘putting myself out there’ – even if my writing is not read or seen by anyone: it is in the public domain. I believe I have been partly inuring myself against the testing reality of life after uni and finding work in a complex and competitive marketplace. I am learning new things about myself that I’m not entirely sure I relish but, which I am going to work on as without uprooting these weeds I cannot flourish. I have been hiding behind being busy but, in reality I have been busy avoiding. Avoiding making contact directly, avoiding peers, avoiding real engagement: because it feels so hard and unfair and I don’t believe I can succeed or have what it takes to ‘win’. I have a sneaky suspicion that I roll over and give up, as it’s less painful (at the time), than engage direct, strong, sustained effort to achieve what I would like to do. I sound like a child who hasn’t been given the toy they want and can’t understand why. I don’t want to be that child, I want to the one who picks themselves up when they fall and find themselves stronger, more determined, and with resilient self-belief.

I realise with a pang, that it is this quality that I have envied in others, and consequently been on the defensive in their presence and feeling suspicious, and protective and dislike. What I am actually doing, is defending my inner self from the threat of destruction whilst also attacking myself for lacking the quality I admire and wish for myself. My supervisor recently commented “does it have to be and/or, could it not be and/and?”. I realise I have spent most of my life comparing and finding myself wanting.

So, what of this and looking forward?

I felt inspired to write today when listening to The Archers whilst re-varnishing our dining room floor. You get to thinking, sitting and painting. I can’t recall the story line but when a character said, “Lovely, something to look forward to” it caught me; I mused on how often this is said without considering what that might mean at an unconscious level. Someone I know always has to have something to look forward to, booking holidays way in advance and spending hours and £££ deliberating what clothes to buy to make the trip perfect. I often wonder if the goods deliver – physically and emotionally. A young client over anticipated forthcoming events, embuing them with all kinds of significance. Yet, after they had happened, he didn’t talk about his experience at all – although his body gave away his disappointment.

What is the obsession with looking forward to…. is it a positive life-affirming outlook, a defence against facing up to what is happening in the now, other fears, or an attempt to control our existence in an unpredictable world?

What drives us to think like this: boredom, dissatisfaction with our lot, avoidance of problems with our relationships or with ourselves:sublimating narcissistic pain onto making plans that validate existence as worthwhile, vital, interesting people?

Having goals and dreams is different, but both this active engaged planning and wishful forward thinking can negatively affect how we life now, if they topple over into obsession and avoidance. The only elements over which we have control is how we feel, act and think in the now.

This is why DMP can be so powerful: it persuades us to be in the moment, our bodies integrating our internal world with external reality with physical sensation, sensory perception, and the rhythm of our hearts.

I am looking forward to being, to living, to taking control and making each precious moment count. For that’s all we truly have.

 

 

On being a yellow coat

Hi di hi Yellowcoat

Oh it felt so good to move and be with a group again: to experience those moments of blissful, spontaneous, synchrony, and attunement.

This was my first paid ‘gig’ as a DMP, although I wasn’t offering therapy at all: the workshop was called ‘Expressive Dance’ and held at a centre for various complementary therapies and movement classes. The web ad and poster specifically invited ‘over 50s’ and those who had yearned to dance but never felt able to try.

The workshop mainly delivered what it promised: 3 of the 4 attendees were indeed over 50, although one of these included me!

All three members – not clients – were also united in their desire to move.

I had spent some time planning before the event but, equally, had felt comfortable about being able to change the plan depending on what the group brought along. With the support of my supervisor, I also realised that simply people in the room moving together was what I should aim for, rather than trying to run before I could walk…

But, I had two hours to fill.

I made a playlist, edited it, edited it again.

I decided what not to wear and painted my toenails.

Finally, I put my mind to the actual content.

I elected to have a ‘coathanger’ on which to base the workshop, an image that led strangely on from the yellow coat fitting of the previous post. Yellow coat – whah – I’ve just noticed that sounds like Hi Di Hi…. one of my most hated programmes ever yet loved by many. “I want to be a yellow coat” was the plaintive cry of Peggy, Su Pollard’s character: was that what I felt about being a DMP?

And there I was thinking it had been about fitting into a new identity, trying it on, and making alterations to suit. None of it: this was pure yearning to do what I had trained for, yet felt so tauntingly out of reach.

As I had been reading ‘Beyond Dance’ by Eden Davies on Laban and Lamb’s work within business, I was inspired to use LMA shaping and efforts to underpin the workshop content. This worked well. I didn’t immediately introduce the concepts: we first warmed up and moved as a group, each being given the opportunity to lead by changing the movement in gradual ways, encouraging involvement and confidence. After we had moved in this format for some time, with swaying arms, swinging arms, flicking hands and twisting torsos, we had a moment’s break, I then brought in shaping in planes, then efforts, drawing attention to how we had moved earlier and described these movement components. As a group we also embodied these, adding images to help somatic comprehension.

Later in the workshop, I used the ‘name game’ to generate individual movements which we could share, put into sequence, and expand upon. The elder of the two women seemed undecided about her movement but, encouraged by the imagery of the door plane we’d explored, she stepped forward boldly and opened her arms into a wide vase-shape as she said her name: accompanying this with a confession that “I never do this” (making her presence known). I felt moved and itched to do more work with this woman.

Next, came a short exploration of the props, mostly the mesmerising ribbon wands which weaved magic in the room, conjuring metaphor and play.

The elder woman went to find an instrument “a drum” as she wanted to make a noise. She settled for maracas and we moved a stretch cloth wiggling and rippling to her rhythm. As this section came to a close, we regrouped into the corner where the props were laid out. Without words, we each chose an instrument and began a multi-layered percussive rhythm, adding our own personal signatures, ending with a bang on the tambourine, followed by full silence.

After a cool down and relaxation, I asked the group about how it had been for them: relaxing, losing tension, feeling freer. Feelings and sensations I could identify with closely.

We finished by leaving something in the room, in the middle of our circle. I gave gratitude for how the group had embraced the workshop and their courage in trying something new. The elder  woman blew a kiss to the circle centre, the younger, a ribbon swirl. The other member, a man, gave a simple formal bow.

I came home hot, elated, exhausted but happy. Despite only a small group it had happened, and I had held it together, psychologically and physically.

Now I’m hungry for more.

Yes, I am a yellow coat – albeit one with ‘P’ plates.

The DMPeror’s new clothes?

DMP at LCHLOh what a week that was.

I’m left feeling somewhat ambivalent, holding both good and bad feelings about events and prospects.

After a time of incubation I finally delivered the first of two scheduled ‘free’ talks on DMP to a local centre offering complementary medicine and holistic therapies.

I wasn’t expecting the 70 that had crowded the centre for a rather more illustrious and established therapist but, I was a little disappointed only to have 10 people: two of whom were also linked to the centre so I felt they didn’t ‘count’ (OK, Mrs Superego, thank you for that helpful comment).

I had prepared fully – even making a short PPT slide show – of images – not death by bullet point.

I’d even checked the day before that the laptop spoke the same language as the projector. No more lastminutedotcom for me.

On the way home from this dry run, I felt warm and content inside – a happiness rush if you like – and an image of a fitting for a new tailormade coat came to mind. In yellow, with wide cuffs. I could see the stitching where the fabric had been marked for alteration for alignment and fit. It felt right.

I practised out loud… added anecdotes from clinical work and pre-DMP life … and allowed myself to use my body in ways that feel natural to me, not constrained by the concept of formal presentation.

I helped set up the room – somewhere I knew well – with a Chacian circle in mind. Well, a horseshoe to be precise so the slides were visible to all on the wall. Looking back, I felt something to look at would take the focus off me and prevent my audience from seeing my anxiety with X-ray specs. And PPT slides are professional: I had done many presentations during my previous career.

I think I paced myself and structured the talk well, with a bit of context, theory and principle, and then a chunky ‘experiential’ section. Playtime with props. This was received really well, with rich imagery of butterflies, womanly curves, childhood games and more. Despite being a demonstration, I also realised that amongst the playfulness, darker issues lurked in the corners – exclusion, loneliness, self-imposed constraint, body image and escape. I could almost smell it.

At the end of the session, there was a palpable energy in the air – excitement even – and a reluctance to leave. I thanked the group and they said no, thank YOU.

But what next… this therapy when experienced seems to move people yet the understanding and attitude towards adoption seems fraught with doubt and denial and distrust. Or are these my own concerns which I’m projecting onto potential clients and employers?

Emily d’Anunnzio – an American DMP and regular blogger – has recently commented on a similar issue, including her clamber for more qualifcations to validate what she offers. I understand this well too, having taken a further uni course in CBT last autumn (which I passed well): it was a case of ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’. Now, I no longer view CBT as the enemy, rather as a useful and valuable strategic partner. Like the coat in my image above, one size or item of clothing does not fit all or all situations. Therapy is infinitely variable and flexible to meet the shape and needs of each client and their experience. Sometimes you need the structure of a tailored suit, at others, the freedom of flowing silk.

The following day I felt a sense of hollowness, of a light dimming, especially when my second talk – scheduled for tonight – was cancelled. Maybe Friday 13th wasn’t the most auspicious date.

The hollowness has faded and the light begun to glimmer once more. I tried one approach which produced a positive response. It will happen again. In fact I have been asked to hold two short sessions/talks at a women’s group health and wellbeing day. Who knows where that might lead?

Perhaps the way in is to engage people physically, to embody DMP, and from that maybe my fledgling career will begin to find its wings.

Participatory arts and the effect on well-being

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I read a quote the other day that said ‘medicine treats the body, but art heals the soul’ or words to that effect and it struck me how necessary it is to recognise this distinction and symbiosis in our increasingly technologically driven world.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with technology per se – it’s what I’m using now – but with many things in life, it’s a question of balance. When societies lose sight of the worth of cultural arts – and participation in them by everyone not just an elite few – then we’re really in trouble. Yet this leads on to the tricky issue of evidence base and ‘proof’ that something works and why it does. Many people accept what scientists tell us about quantum physics and nanotechnology and quarks etc – without needing to understand the principles. Yet, with the arts and well-being, it seems there is much more cynicism about the value and impact – despite arts having been around since the dawn of civilisation, albeit in rather simpler forms. Cave paintings and Egyptian friezes must say something about need for expression and the human condition and the creative drive that underlies all our development: including that of the technological explosion.

Participating in arts connects people, whether in dance, music, drama or art and allows people to express, communicate and respond at a deeper level – even where language might prove a barrier.

I’m ecstatic that the arts and creativity seem to be enjoying a little renaissance, especially in the area of healthcare for young and older people. Medicine and surgeons can do wonderful things but not heal the psyche and as the famous ad once said, arts can refresh the parts other treatments cannot reach.

I am going to hold on to these thoughts as I continue my process in creating work opportunities for therapeutic dance and Dance Movement Psychotherapy. This kind of work IS needed and vital to bring us back into our bodies, reconnect at a physical level, and celebrate the human spirit.

This new journal from the Arts Council – Create – is a fascinating insight into how wellbeing and the arts are inextricably linked. A survey accompanying the publication found that two thirds (64%) of adults think the arts can improve people’s overall sense of wellbeing and three in five adults (60%) saying that having more arts and culture in their local area would make it a better place to live (from People Dancing website).

Create – a journal about the impact of arts on wellbeing

 

No sugar-coating – a new ballet about psychosis

Wow, this is fascinating: I think I’m more intrigued by the process of constructing this new ballet than possibly watching it. Ludovic Ondivela observed people with psychosis in hospital and used the movement patterns including twitches and other “ugliness” (his words) to bring a sense of realism to the more usually ‘ethereal’ realm of ballet. No floaty sugar princesses here…

Cassandra – article from The Independent

Dance Movement Psychotherapists also use movement observation and analysis tools to help understand a person’s psychological or emotional state. We use Laban Movement Analysis to look at the intention behind a client’s way of moving – which can be amplified during creative dance sessions. We also use the Kestenberg Movement Profile which links patterns and rhythms of movement to developmental stages: think about the oral fixations of smoking or chewing gum? Underneath the person is seeking soothing and satisfaction from their mother to take away frustration or inner conflict. We’re alot more complex than that but it’s sometimes the little things that tell A LOT.

How about the person who pats you on the back as you hug, as a signal to let go?

They have had enough of intimacy and need to separate: it’s akin to an infant’s bite reflex that tells Mum in no uncertain terms the child has had enough.

Movement analysis is about more than body language, which tends to be static: these tools help look at a person’s whole being, including connection or disconnection between body parts and how they respond to the environment. Fascinating stuff. It certainly makes a Tube journey infinitely more interesting.

So, back to Cassandra: will she be cured, should she be cured, what constitutes being ‘cured’?

Should pharmacotherapy prevail in cases like this or could it be a ‘chemical cosh’ suppressing a person’s identity to make them ‘fit’ our view of normality. Could there be a different way to help people manage their mental health problems whilst retaining their soul?

That debate could run and run: I hope the ballet is received well too and raises discussion and awareness of its subject.