Threads of Gold…

I read a fascinating online article recently about the Japanese art of kintsugi – the art of repairing broken pottery with a special laquer dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum. It is an ancient art based on a philosophy that nothing is ever truly broken – and, as the article pointed out – a great metaphor for life in general.

The art of Kintsgi emphasises the damage rather than hiding it.  “Kintsugi beautifies the breakage and treats it as an important part of the object’s history, and the broken pot not as something to discard, but as something more precious than it was before. “ (Mercedes Smith: BBC Four Japan Season).

“Despite being a highly visual technique, Kintsugi draws attention to the life, rather than the look of a pot…… “To throw the pot away is to destroy its unique story. To repair it the Kintsugi way is to continue its tale of adventure and triumph.”

In the western world, we discard too easily anything that is flawed, and that doesn’t only go for objects, but people too. But the damage is part of the story, the life, the history of the object or person.

I like that.

In my own life, certainly I have achieved great successes, along with some spectacular failures and dramatic crashes. Each and every one of these experiences makes up my life and history. Each and every one of them is part of who I am today.

We are human beings. We make mistakes. It’s part of who we are. Sometimes we simply fail or don’t quite make it. Sometimes we make flawed decisions. Sometimes we create our own catastrophes and crises. Sometimes we simply “get it wrong”.

On a personal level it can be difficult enough, but if you happen to be in the public eye in any way, it can be disastrous.

But wait….don’t throw it away. Don’t discard the broken pot. Don’t dismiss the person behind the behaviour, the incident, the debacle.

Good therapy can be about repairing the damage. Great therapy is about enabling the client to incorporate the damage into a new life with a rich history.

Using the crucible of the therapy space to find the seam of gold to repair the brokenness sounds to me a beautiful and honouring way of working with that brokenness.

It seems to me that it recognises the treasure that we are as human beings. It recognises the thread of gold in this flawed world. It recognises that life is too precious to discard even with the broken bits.

Anyone who has watched any of the tv auction valuation programmes will easily recognise and acknowledge that objects with repairs are just as valuable, and sometimes even more so, than those in unblemished condition.

They have a rich story to tell. All of it.

Unfinished business…

Both the online Certificate in Counselling, and Certificate in Humanistic Counselling include exercises working with Gestalt techniques. Some of the more familiar of those techniques are the “no send” letter and the “empty chair”.

Gestalt itself focuses a lot on completing unfinished business – those experiences in the past that we haven’t resolved in some way for ourselves. The letter and the chair dialogue facilitate these processes very powerfully.

They are creative techniques, and some find that difficult, but they are techniques which support personal development as well, as much as techniques for the therapy room.

Recently, I was reading online about three young woman who had produced vlogs entitled “A message to my mental illness”. I guess it’s an updated version of writing a letter or dialoguing with someone or an aspect of yourself in the other chair.

The vlogs are very powerful messages, and just as in the gestalt techniques, enable expression of emotions, feelings, thoughts and words that might otherwise stay inside festering and crippling on an emotional, mental and physical level.

It’s an interesting feature of training that we learn techniques for working with clients in therapy and yet don’t consider using those same techniques for ourselves on a personal development level.

Part of the process of therapeutic training is developing that element of the internal supervisor by reflecting in notes and in supervision on clinical work. But part of the process must surely also be about managing our own personal development – working through personal issues, unfinished business, the touch points of our lives – engaging in self-therapy to ensure we are “fit for purpose”.

The online Advanced Certificate in Life Coaching also connects with this theme and includes an exercise which asks what personal issues might impact on your clinical work.

The challenge is to reflect on that, and engage with work to address your own unfinished business.

I have sat with many clients as they read out their “no send” letters to a deceased family member or friend, or as they have dialogued with someone significant in their own life or even an aspect of their personality that they struggle with. They have been powerful moments.

I’ve also written a letter to my late father in my grieving process, and argued the toss with a part of my personality that has a tendency to sabotage aspects of my life. They too have been powerful moments.

What’s your unfinished business today?

Going round circles…

I’ve realised as I’ve I spent a lot of time listening to others, there’s sometimes a strong feeling of going round in circles. One individual repeats the same story time and time again, sometimes till I know it almost as word perfect as they do.

Now in a therapy session, as in everyday life, that can get irritating and depressing.

On occasions, I have been able to reflect back to a client “I’m conscious that you tell me that story quite often – is there something important I’ve missed?”

On occasions too, I have felt that sinking feeling in my body and not expressed that sensation in any way.

In those two responses, the congruence of the former opens up the potential for the client to explore the impact of a past event on their present. The disengagement of the latter locks the client into that process of going round in circles.

I have often found myself reflecting later in my notes and in supervision on the underlying need to repeat the particular story. Wondering what else that person is communicating without directly saying it.

It may be something they haven’t identified for themselves, so the need to repeat the story continues.

It may be something they feel deep within that they are holding onto, and haven’t really engaged with.

They may even be aware of something subconsciously, and actually want or need to hold onto in order to justify present day behaviour or beliefs.

So, if I change my belief from “here we go again…I’ve heard this before…..I’m switching off” to something more along the lines of “what else is being expressed here….what am I missing…….what need is being filled by holding on to this story?”…..the process changes.

It’s no longer about going round in circles, it’s more about experiencing a spiral – each journey round is at another level, with another element to the process.

Exploring that story needs to expand into exploring the feelings and sensations attached to the story; exploring the thoughts, ideas, beliefs attached to it; exploring the needs fulfilled in the telling and re-telling; exploring the question “what do you really want to tell me?”

So at the next re-telling of the story, dare to engage with exploring the all the sensations, feelings, beliefs and needs. Reflect on the non-verbal as well as the verbal aspects of the story-telling. Be congruent.

And experience the spiral not the circle.

The Washing Up…

If, like me, you don’t have a dishwasher, life sometimes seems to contain rather a lot of washing up. When I engage with hosting social events, entertaining friends and neighbours, experimenting with new recipes, having family to stay, or simply cooking a treat for myself, there’s always the washing up at the end.

Now I know you are already thinking “what has this got to do with therapy?”

Trust me on this. Stay with me here!

Washing-up is a very physical activity – even if you have a dishwasher, you have to scrape and stack the plates etc! It’s an integral part of an event – an experience, however you do it.

I remember one very busy day in a work department finding that I only was left in the building when we seemed to have used every single mug and teaspoon in the kitchen – and I was left with the washing-up!

But washing-up is not only a physical activity. It brings a time to reflect on the event or experience that has produced the washing-up. It’s a time to enjoy moments again; to review what worked and what didn’t work so well; and to prepare for the next event, experience; or simply set things in order again.

After each session of therapy or the end of a therapy process, there needs to be a time of review, reflection, clearing up, sorting and straightening out. At times that will be practical, as in my busy day example above.   Or the room may need clearing up if you work creatively and have moved things around to enable the therapy session itself. But there needs to be time also for reflection, review, remembering.

Of course, with family events, there may be a lot of helpers to do the washing-up – or they may all go home and leave you with everything! As therapists, we generally find it to be a solitary activity or a one-to-one experience in supervision – though obviously also a peer group or group supervision session will support the emotional & mental washing-up.

But remember – washing-up is part of the dinner party, and the therapy session. It’s part of the whole process. It’s simply not possible to work without it. The rest of the process depends on your washing up emotionally, physically and mentally.

It’s an essential part of the balance in the whole process.

So don’t forget the washing-up!

Conversation Starters…

“How are you today?”

That little question can be a conversation starter, or an everyday politeness that doesn’t expect or require an answer.

Often, if we answer that question at all it’s all about practical or physical issues. But that’s only part of the picture isn’t it?

There’s been a lot in the news recently on the subject of starting conversations about mental health issues.

But there’s still some stigma attached to those conversations. What effect will it have at work? Will I lose my job? Will I be overlooked for promotion? Will people avoid me? Will I lose my friends? Even worse – what happens if I own up to being in therapy?!

Well, if it’s good enough for Prince Harry and Brad Pitt, then it’s good enough for me – and you!

Opening up the conversation is one thing, but it’s really just a starter. The conversation needs to continue. It needs to lead to action, change, development. It needs to include the whole spectrum of mental health issues alongside the physical and emotional elements.

Engaging with those issues in therapy can be tough enough. But which is tougher – talking about our mental, emotional and physical difficulties in therapy, or talking about them to our friends, family and neighbours?

One of my freelance contracts has a medical centre attached on site and recently sent out a leaflet full of information for staff on managing sickness & minor injuries, sickness reporting, attendance etc. They managed to produce this leaflet and get it through all the reviews without including one single word about mental health issues.

And yet there are many staff members with mental health issues who feel unable to report to supervisors, managers or nurses.

So the conversations are still starting.

We need to develop them in the everyday settings of our normal home, work and family lives.

We need to engage with those discussions with our colleagues.

We need to initiate those conversations; share our own experiences; model acknowledgement and acceptance.

So, “How are you today?”

« Older posts

© 2017

Chrysalis Not for ProfitUp ↑