Tag Archives: therapy

Writing the therapeutic journey #1: a part of my story

Anniversaries are interesting things. As human beings we seem fascinated by them. I suppose they give a focal point for remembering, for reflection, for noticing the years are passing (on their inevitable march towards our demise), for coming together, for apology, for celebration…

One anniversary is knocking on the door of my consciousness: it is four months since my final therapy session (ever? I doubt I would ever claim that.) Four months ago, after a period of seventeen years of regular therapy, I stopped having sessions with my current therapist.

I would not claim to be ‘sorted’. I consider that I live with depression rather than I am ‘cured’ of it. I do recognise that I am much more resilient emotionally and psychologically. I feel more comfortable with who I am, I accept more readily my vulnerabilities and failings. I understand how my history continues to intrude into my today. I feel joy and the support of others. The word journey is probably much over-used, but it fits here, it has been a long, challenging, difficult, fascinating, enriching journey.

I take up my battered Pocket Oxford Dictionary with its loose and thumbed pages. ‘Journey’: to travel, expedition, voyage. From the French ‘journee’ meaning day. Connected (importantly for me) to ‘journal’ (more on that later).

I have had three therapists over the years. I miss all of them in different ways for what they brought with them to sustain me and my journey. I certainly miss my most recent therapist, Annie, some days more than others.

There are two important legacies bequeathed by my therapists. Firstly, the space they (we) created together in which it was okay to examine me, my story, my life. Finlay calls this the ‘between’ ‘The mysterious intersubjective space between, where we touch and are touched by the Other in multiple, often unseen ways…’ (Page 3. Linda Finlay, Relational Integrative Psychotherapy, engaging process and theory in practice. Wiley Blackwell. 2016.)

I like the Dixie Chick’s definition:

‘When the calls and conversations
Accidents and accusations
Messages and misperceptions
Paralyze my mind

Buses, cars, and airplanes leaving
Burning fumes of gasoline
And everyone is running
And I come to find a refuge in the

Easy silence that you make for me
It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me’

                                                     Easy Silence, Dixie Chicks

Though in truth, rather than keep it at bay, the ‘easy silence’ allowed me to examine my world, without becoming totally overwhelmed by it.

The second legacy is that my therapists’ words, their ways of being, have stayed with me. They are a gentle and nourishing counter-balance to my own tendencies to self-criticism and towards self-annihilation. Tendencies which can sometimes become augmented by the attitudes of others and events. I have left my therapists, but they do not leave me.

There are other significant things which have brought me to where I am. Good support from my husband, my sister and friends. A healthy diet, exercise and yoga. Making more of a connection with nature. And last, though certainly not least, writing and my writing journal. Having reached this particular way-station, I thought I might return to my continuing passion: writing for wellbeing. On this blog, over the coming weeks/months, I will explore ideas around the connection between writing and wellbeing. I hope there will be readers who will want to join me on this particular branch line.

7 things you need to know about: Poetry Therapy

By Victoria Field

vickyfVictoria Field qualified as Certified Poetry Therapist with the National Federation for Biblio-Poetry Therapy in 2005 – she has since done a two year training as a mentor-supervisor for the, now, International Federation for Biblio-Poetry Therapy. She is a poet, playwright, fiction and memoir writer,  a member of the British Psychological Society and an International Fellow at the England Centre for Practice Development at Canterbury Christ Church University – full details on www.thepoetrypractice.co.uk  Read her inspiring and thought-provoking new book, Baggage: A Book of Leavings – part travelogue, part memoir, part reflections on loss and redemption – https://goo.gl/mZgz1m

Poetry Therapy is not just poetry
We work with the ‘poetic’ in all literary forms – and even beyond ,with music, movement, film and visual arts. The arts open an imaginative space in which we can encounter the full potential of our lives and humanity.

But poetry is special
The way a poem can convey rich ambiguity, be beautiful, memorable, moving, personal and universal, is for me, something magical. I never tire of taking a poem to a group and hearing the infinitely varied responses of individuals encountering it in the moment. I’m always surprised.

Connection is everything
In a typical session, we connect with a poem, our multi-faceted selves, the selves of others and the world around us in a way that is profound and meaningful. Being disconnected is, I believe, at the root of distress whether individual, collective or universal. Finding connections is a way of getting to know yourself better and that can lead to improved life choices as well as being able to respond in a nuanced way to this beautiful and broken world. 

Poetry therapy is accessible and inclusive
Working in community settings, I often have no idea who will turn up to a session. Somehow, once we are a group around a table – which mimics the way human beings have sat in circles around the fire for millennia – the social trappings fall away and we see ourselves mirrored in the poem and in each other. 

Poetry therapy is both receptive and expressive
We read poems on the page and write in response. In the UK, these are often seen as separate activities but the US-model in which I trained is based on close reading, discussion and then creating in response. One of the pioneers in biblio-poetry therapy was a librarian, Sister Arleen Hynes, at St Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington who noticed that when patients discussed books they’d read, they seemed to benefit more and when this was done in a group, the impact was even greater. 

What if I don’t like poetry?
‘Poem’ is shorthand for a text that can elicit an emotional reaction – a feeling response rather than an intellectual one. We use all kinds of texts and these can be film clips, stories, memoirs, songs as well as every kind of poem. If someone actively dislikes the poem, that’s all grist to the mill. How about writing a letter to the poet? What would you say? How can that illuminate your own values and enthusiasms? 

What if I don’t want ‘therapy’?
Poetry Therapy works with the ‘positive psychology’ model of what it means to be human. We all have strengths and weaknesses and suffer losses and challenges and medicalising these can be unhelpful. Sometimes, though, suffering is so profound, or behaviour so challenging that specific treatments of disease or illness is called for. Poetry Therapy, like all the expressive arts and anything we do that is absorbing, meaningful and contributes to a common good, can be useful in most situations whether we talk about therapy, healing, wellbeing or use another word entirely.

Healing Words Workshop – 7th March 2015

Growing into Ourselves, using fairytale narratives to reflect on where we are in our journey. Scarborough Counselling & Psychotherapy Training Institute (SCPTI), 1 Westbourne Grove, Scarborough, YO11 2DJ, 01723 376 246, mail@scpti.co.uk

Fees: Early bird before 15th January 2015 members SCPTI £75/non-member £95. Non-early bird £90 (member SCPTI)/£110

A day of gently facilitated writing exercises which will use fairytales as a starting point for exploration and creativity. The fairytales we probably encountered when young come from a long tradition of oral story-telling, where the narrative was taken and moulded by each re-teller at each re-telling. They were vehicles for passing on wisdom, as well as for creating a sense of self and community for the story-teller and listener alike. When fairytales were written down in the nineteenth century, for the most part, they became stuck in the societal mores and outlook of Europe at that time. It is time to reclaim the fairytale for our day, for our lives, for our own journey.

Tutor: Kate has been a writer for 30 years. Her non-fiction, short stories and poems have been published and she has created two audio installations using poetry for Coastival. In 2013, her book Pathways through writing blocks in academic environments was published by Sense Publishers. She is a trained as a psychotherapeutic counsellor. She has been working within therapeutic environments with creative writing for over 10 years. She has run a group for people with depression and anxiety for four years and has been poet in residence for Hospital Arts in North Yorkshire working with terminally ill patients. She has also facilitated training for clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors and writers. She is a member of Lapidus (Literary Arts for Personal Development, http://www.lapidus.org.uk/).

Therapists in Fiction

Given I am writing novels which have a central character who is a counsellor and encouraged by Anne Goodwin’s blog: http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/category/fictional%20psychologists%20therapists24b0d33baa I have been investigating how some writers have chosen to portray therapists in fiction.

My holiday reading was The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers and two of the Frieda Klein mysteries by husband and wife team Nicci French. Both therapist characters in these books come to ask interesting questions about therapy and their role as ‘helper’. However, there were moments when both novels stretched my credulity beyond breaking point.

The seven-hour therapy session at the heart of the Vickers’ book was one of these moments. Not only could I not believe that this would ever happen, but also the fluency of the client’s recall, especially of exact conversations, was implausible. But then, one of my compulsions in my writing is about memory and how narrative is always a fashioning, whereas this was obviously not a concern for this Vickers.

In terms of the Klein books, firstly it was her managing to fit meetings and lunch in the odd hour she has between clients, something I would never even attempt to do, particularly if I had to travel across London to do it. And secondly, and more crucially, her constant rushing into intruding on other people’s lives and private spaces. Klein apparently doesn’t like people coming uninvited to her own house, sees it as an intrusion into her privacy, yet she has no questions about pushing her way into the homes of others (including clients). There are hints at complaints and disciplinary action, which come to nothing (because she keeps solving the cases) but she herself appears to have little hesitation. And the she seems to have only started doing this since she began working ‘with’ the police, it’s almost as if she’s a repressed peeping tom given permission to go on the loose.

However, for me there is one glaring omission in the two books. Both Vickers’ narrator and Klein should be having some decent supervision. The need for this doesn’t stop when a therapist becomes ’eminent’. In addition, in my own humble opinion, they could also do with their own therapy. And the writers have missed out on an excellent technique for telling the narrative. I have found with my novels that supervision and therapy sessions are ripe with possibilities in terms of plot and character development.

I do like that these novels do explore the therapists’ vulnerabilities. The idea of the wounded healer is strong in the two stories. It is also an aspect of my novel series and an issue that as a counsellor I recognise only too well.

Healing words – new dates

Healing words is a series of workshops that I am facilitating looking at the therapeutic worth of creative writing. It is for health professionals who want to bring creative writing into their practice and for writers wanting to work in therapeutic environments.

The next workshops are:
Saturday, 23rd November 2013, Healing Words (5): Working with resistances. What stops us from writing and how resistances can be tools for insight and understanding.
Saturday, 18th January 2014, Healing Words (6): Therapeutic creative writing in different contexts, theory and practice.
Saturday, 29th March, 2014, Healing Words (1): Finding the story, using fairy tales to explore our own and other’s stories.
Saturday, 31st May 2014, Healing Words (2): Embodied writing, exploring how creative writing can encourage working more holistically.
Saturday, 19th July 2014, Healing Words (3): The wonder of metaphor in therapeutic creative writing.
Saturday, 20st September 2014, Healing Words (4): Poetry and therapeutic creative writing.
Saturday, 22nd November 2014, Healing Words (5): Working with resistances. What stops us from writing and how resistances can be tools for insight and understanding.
Saturday, 7th February 2015, Healing Words (6): Therapeutic creative writing in different contexts, theory and practice.

All workshops are held in Scarborough and receive Continuing Professional Development hours from Scarborough Counselling & Psychotherapy Training Institute. You can come on individual workshops or sign up for the series. For more information contact: mail@scpti.co.uk.


I’ve just returned from the Lapidus AGM/conference (5th-6th October, Bristol). What an excellent event. Lapidus (www.lapidus.org.uk) gathers together people – health professionals and writers (and those of us who wear both hats) – interested in the literary arts (writing and reading) for good health and personal development.

There was plenty of time for networking, discussion and the exchanging of ideas. On the Saturday we were entertained by performance poet Matt Harvey: ‘Down-hearted of Suffolk seeks Norfolk broad./Lady with life-raft sought by man overboard.’

On Sunday we were enthralled by the gentle wisdom of Ted Bowman (www.bowmanted.com). He gave us some resources for our journey, including Given Poems by Wendell Berry: ‘…And then/we must call all things by name/out of the silence again to be with us…’

In response I wrote: Sometimes I am beyond words. In reply to the question, ‘How are you?’ I say, ‘Fine.’ I leave the naming, the true naming, to another time, another person. Sometimes I am beyond words, is that OK for a writer? For someone indulging in talking therapies? Sometimes words, names, just don’t nail it, however hard we try.

‘Not everything that is faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed until is faced.’ James Baldwin.