Working Poetically in Therapy
by Anita Jones
“And the future will be nothing less
than the flowering of our inwardness”
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
I have always valued the role of poetry in my life – its poignancy, truth, rawness and eloquence – carefully chosen imagery and pared-down words, the deliberate sounds and rhythm capturing the exquisite pathos of what it is to be human. I ride on those words which capture the resonance of shared emotions, felt experience – held securely amidst the tides of melancholy, soar on the wellspring of joy and float upon all that lies in-between. Poetry encapsulates the journey and I know that I am not alone. Indeed, Freud is reputed to have said “everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me.”
Poetry became an important tool for self-care and self-expression throughout my training – personal and reflective but I now also use poetry in my work as a psycho-spiritual counsellor, encouraging my clients in their own expression of their own experience. Lyrics and lines are quoted from David Bowie to Dietrich Bonhoeffer which not only open up the therapy to explore the personal significance of those remembered lines but they also deepen the ‘felt sense’ between us in the room, a shared moment of intimacy – the client, myself and the poet.
In his book Dark Nights of the Soul, Thomas Moore however encourages us to find our own poetry, finding “unexpected pleasure in the aesthetics” of our own choice of words and imagery, providing further reflective insight and deepening our sense of Self within our own narratives. Reframing our stories, refining the details, finding our own resonance – a dark beauty in the melancholy as well as in the lightness of joy. There is poetry to be found digging in the depths of the earth as well as gazing at the beauty of its flowers.
However, the idea that we can work ‘poetically in therapy’ goes beyond well-chosen or remembered words and can, I feel, become a dynamic and creative process for us both: to hear the language, to feel the rhythm of the session, to be present to the emotions, allowing them to affect us both whilst I remain safely and mindfully rooted.
I am lucky. My counselling practice is based in my Garden Room at home, overlooking a garden planted with trees, flowers, herbs and more than the odd weed – crowded, mixed, intentionally organic – a metaphor of welcome and equality, I like to think. There is a beautiful Red Kite too which swoops and calls outside the window… The garden changes of course, reflecting the cycle of flourish and slumber of the seasons. Some clients notice the garden, some do not; some clients approve of my gardening ‘style’ and some do not, however I carry its natural rhythm into my work as a spiritual counsellor.
The French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard talked about creating “felicitous space” – the idea of cultivating and deepening the poetic, the sacred, the warmth and safety within the intimacy of our inhabited space. This space is truly felt; a visceral and phenomenological experience. I like to think that my clients are ‘held’ therapeutically in the “felicitous space” of my Garden Room amidst the amateur triumph of the efforts of my sweet peas, the sound of the rain upon the roof or the wonder of the stars in the night sky.
Implicitly, I can be ‘a poet’ in the therapeutic relationship whilst subtly encouraging my client to do the same, providing the space, safety and the relationship to express, to create or just ‘be’. I work fluidly, echoing the cadence of poetry, at times mindfully proactive in the relationship, being fully present ‘in the moment’ and honouring the client’s experience whilst at other times, I step back and allow the poignancy of the moment to have its own voice in the stillness which appears between us, aware that we are sharing its presence, but allowing the client to find its meaning, its own poetry, for themselves.
This work is ultimately a dance between two souls, a meeting in both therapy and in a deep spiritual connection – surely, this is poetry…
“Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispered healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then like a hand in the dark
it arrests the whole body,
steeling you for revelation.”
The Lightest Touch
Psycho-Spiritual Counselling takes the Soul, rather than the Mind, as its starting point of balance. It has an expanded view of life, recognising that the world is a complex mystery and it takes into account belief systems, universal & personal energy systems, intuitive psychic realities, karmic interplay, subconscious and superconscious states of awareness, metaphysical experiences, spiritual theology, spiritual presence and higher-self cosmic connections.
Spiritual Counselling sees that life is innately personal and individuals want to build their own unique, flowing relationship with it, organically and without force. With the Soul being the starting point individuals come from the heart, whilst not forgetting their head, and from this heart space they care for the sacred interdependence of all life. Compassion for self and compassion for others is a core concept for their personal and collective growth. As Spiritual Counselling is holistic there is no separation, no duality between personal or collective responses and reaction, all is intrinsically linked. There is awareness that life experiences become the greatest tool, with the integration of personal pains and personal journey. The aim is for clients to express themselves and their world with intimate wisdom, spiritual awareness and personal authenticity; using integrity and wise use of their spiritual gifts, skills and knowledge.
Spiritual counsellors need a cross cultural awareness and an understanding around spiritual emergency and other issues of spirituality. They recognise, and are committed to, a spiritual journey in their own lives, and the lives of others. By focusing on their core inner connection, creating an open heart connection and a mindfulness state, they create a holding and sacred space for the personal unfoldment of their clients. Continue reading
As a counsellor and also as a human being who desires to be happy, I think a great deal about mental health and what it actually means to be mentally well. The phrase ‘mental health’ is a part of modern language. It’s used all the time in lots of different situations from the medical profession to singer Lily Allen, in her track ‘Smile’, telling her ex that he ‘messed up her mental health’. But what is mental health really? What does it mean in relation to our everyday lives?
When is a person mentally ill?
The dictionary defines ‘mental’ as: ‘relating to the mind’ or ‘relating to disorders of the mind’, whereas ‘health’ is perhaps best defined as ‘a person’s mental or physical condition’.
So mental health then, is a statement about the wellness of someone’s mind. It isn’t however as simple as that! Mental health seems to take in other things – our state of contentment; whether or not we can derive pleasure from things; our relationship to others and to the world; our spiritual state; whether or not how we experience the world is in line with those around us or with societal ‘norms’. Continue reading
I gained my Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling through Sweet Track, qualifying in October 2015. In many other industries, gaining a professional qualification would mean that I would have started looking for and applying to jobs, however in the field of counselling, without accreditation (550 client hours), the cuts to public services over the last years and living as I do in a rural area, although I looked there are very few jobs. I took the decision to go part-time self-employed and set up in private practice.
There were several issues to work through to be able to do this, the first being, where would I work? Most therapists tend to work at home but I lacked the space and didn’t have a separate room to use, or even a garden where I could potentially have converted a shed to a therapy room. I only had a through lounge (with kids’ toys & books at one end), the usual furniture as well as a dining table. Therefore I found space to rent at a therapy centre. However it didn’t work for me as I had no client base and the other therapists that worked there were mainly body workers, so what I offered didn’t really fit. I ended up sitting in an expensive empty space a lot of the time. I couldn’t afford to wait it out and take that financial hit, giving notice after a few months.
Having exhausted other possibilities, I eventually did end up working from home with clever use of folding screens and rearranging the furniture / taking down pictures, when preparing for clients to arrive. It has its pros and cons, but mainly the flexibility suits me and I have few overheads. Also my house has never been so clean!
The next major consideration was a website. Having very few funds, I decided that I would do a create-your-own website course at the local adult education centre. It didn’t bode well when we were told on the first session that the duration of the 6 week course had been halved in length due to lack of numbers. The course turned out to be technological gobbledygook, taught by someone who obviously knew their stuff but couldn’t transmit that in an easily understandable manner to us, the students. The best thing about it to me was that I found out that the cheapest domain names and hosting were available from UK2.
I scraped together some cash, luckily my mum helped me out, and found a website designer. The first website was not what I’ve ended up with now, but it gave me a starting point and the designer created, on my instructions, my logo for me. What I discovered about website designers is, choose one who actually listens to you! I’ve since rewritten my website content about 3 times over the last 18 months or so and changed the images and look of it until now I have one that I am happy with and that reflects me and what I am offering in an authentic way – although I still retain the original logo. I found a great designer (on a friend’s recommendation) who does listen and upgraded my website to one that I can change details on myself, rather than always having to pay out to someone else to do that for me.
Other things I needed to do was take the BACP (Br. Ass. of Couns & Psychotherapy) proficiency certificate, which required a trip to Bristol and a month’s wait to see if I had passed. I also had to create a working contract, which I have altered and added to as I have evolved my practice and find out about tax and tax returns with all that entails. I needed to create an invoice & an assessment form for my clients. As well as this I had to make sure I was aware of BACP’s guidelines around CPD, data protection & updates on the ethical framework.
I also decided to take the Level 5 Advanced Diploma, also with Sweet Track. Although I found this quite gruelling with stopping and starting the business, caring for my younger children as a single parent and struggling for money, the huge advantages were that I consolidated my knowledge, got the support of a group half of whom were also setting up in practice and now I am offering a workshop based on the research project that I did on the course.
I had specialised in bereavement & end-of-life a little way into my practice; the bereavement work I loved and had a lot of experience in through one of my voluntary placements, which I continued to do as I progressed through the Level 5. The end-of-life work had always appealed to me, but I found when I went to the training days at a hospice that I simply did not want to do any more voluntary work and the role that was on offer was not in the professional capacity that I wanted. At the end of the first day I came to the decision not to continue and the sense of relief I felt as I drove away told me that I had made the right decision. Likewise after 4 years seeing clients on behalf of a bereavement charity, I realised that I needed to free up my time so that I could earn a living, or at least work towards that and that again, I was so over voluntary work although grateful for what it had given to me in terms of experience and client work.
It is over 2 years ago that I began my journey of setting up my counselling practice and it is only now that I feel fully grounded in what I am offering and that it reflects all facets of me as the person I am. This includes also offering shamanic healing and a fusion of shamanic techniques and spiritual counselling, which I have called shamanic counselling. I tiptoed around offering this for a long while as well as what to actually call my counselling work – ultimately for me I am here on earth as a spirit having a human experience – so ‘spiritual’ counselling it is!
I am glad to report that my practice is now gradually growing, but it took a lot of false trails, explorations in trial and error, as well as the determination of my own inner knowing that this is the work that I am here to do, so I better persevere despite any setbacks. I am now learning all about marketing – the journey continues!
*For more information on what I offer please have a look at: www.seeinginthedark.co.uk or contact me on email@example.com / 07572 848925.
A few years ago I embarked upon some 1-1 counselling. I was guided to a Psycho-Spiritual counsellor (unbeknown to me at the time). “Just a few sessions” I said on the phone – maybe six at the most – when he phoned to organise our first appointment. Three years later, transformed and self-actualised I emerged! I was far more confident and self-assured and I had made several personal life changes for the better. I had learnt to listen to myself deeply, using my art and the skill of visualisation as kind of ‘doorways’ in. I also learned to be honest with myself, to sit with pain and other difficult feelings, to understand myself and my relationships with others with greater clarity.
Two years into my 1-1 counselling I decided to embark on my own counselling training. I had previously applied for Art Therapy training, to no avail, and I wanted to work more deeply with people than my special needs teaching was allowing. Psycho-Spiritual training has been the right thing for me, it has actually enhanced my artwork and creativity tremendously and has led to a fascinating exploration of what spirituality means to me.
This painting is the second of what turned out to be six large oil paintings (they are all 1.5/1 metre) that follow on from each other. This painting ‘Coming Home’ 2015, came about, inspired by a meditation we experienced during the first weekend of my Level 2 Psycho–Spiritual counselling course at Sweet Track. To my surprise I astral planed. This left me with a slightly disassociated physical feeling for a few days, but it allowed me to be emotionally and spiritually ‘uprooted’ from my current situation. The experience allowed me to make a ginormous and necessary leap of faith in my personal life. In isolation the experience would have been scary. But it was the final push needed for me to make a necessary change and after two years of counselling, I was ready. Continue reading
I believe that a person is more than just the sum of their parts – whether those parts are our physical body, the contents of our minds or something more difficult to define.
In Psychosynthesis a person is said to embody of a host of ‘subpersonalities’ – all the different roles into which we fall and the different people we become in different situations. However, above and beyond all of these subpersonalities is something more – an ‘I’ – who could be described as the central core of who we are. A classic Psychosynthesis exercise that I learned from Will Parfitt , draws our awareness to all the parts of us but then helps us to see that they alone do not totally describe us. In the exercise, attention is drawn to our bodies, our minds and our emotions. Once we have noticed each of these things, it is easier to let go of the various ‘identifications’ that we carry and to look beyond them to try to find the ‘I’ at the very heart of our Selves.
In the practice, we focus our attention on aspects of ourselves – body, mind, soul, emotions and say ‘I have a body, but I am more than my body’, I have a mind, but I am more than my mind’. I found this exercise was immensely useful in expressing the idea that I was all these different things yet none of them entirely defined me. I believe I am more than all of the parts of me – there is something more.
The nature of this ‘I’, this ‘something more’ is a question that has occupied humans for as long as we have existed and the opinions are as numerous as the individual people who hold them. In some sense, this search or connection with this part of oneself can be thought of as a spiritual act.
Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment, and to life. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. (The Community of Interbeing)
Mindfulness is not a belief, an ideology or a philosophy; it is a description of mind, emotion and suffering. It is an idea that develops over time and is greatly enhanced through regular disciplined practice, both formally and informally, on a daily basis. Mindfulness helps to disengage individuals from automatic thoughts, habits and unhealthy behaviour. (Perls).
Mindfulness is attention to and awareness of the present reality, and when we are aware in this way we are able to observe both our inner, and our outer, environment. Mindfulness practice helps us to see more clearly the patterns of the mind, and allows us to stay more fully in the present moment. Living in the here and the now, rather than spending our time reliving the past or pre-living the future. First of all we learn just to be conscious and accept whatever is arising within us. Acceptance means seeing things as they actually are in this moment. We cultivate acceptance by taking each moment as it comes and being with it fully, as it is! And by this very acceptance we will experience that change happens within this space.
Mindfulness requires a complete emotional experience of this present moment without the influence of our typical escape or all our creative avoidance patterns. It allows us to perceive things deeply, and with clarity, but it cannot exclude us from the natural difficulties and pains of life.
We are all identified with our self image, view of the world, specific beliefs, attitudes, feelings, sensations and so on, identifications that change as we go through life. What is important at one time, for example, a particular relationship or religious belief, may become less important at another time of life. This is because we have disidentified, are no longer attached in the same way (you might still care for the ex-partner but you are no longer obsessively in love; you cannot imagine how you became so caught up in that religion, and so on.) Whatever we are identified with controls us and so, conversely, whatever we disidentify from we have choice about. The purpose of disidentification is to create the right conditions for this to happen, that is, to be able to separate from the contents of the personality (albeit temporarily) and take a separate position from where we have not only a clearer perspective but also from where better choices can be made. If we don’t disidentify, in the words of Ferrucci (2000, 63) our identifications “can submerge us, control us, limit our perceptions, and block the availability of all other feelings, sensations, desires and opinions.”
The Symbolisms and Archetypal Qualities of Astrology
The 12 Constellations of the Zodiac
‘I am the creative fire’
The sign of Aries is the spark of Life. It is your burning desire to express yourself with a free creative spirit. It is time to act impulsively, to become fired-up and meet head-on the race and challenges of new beginnings. Wearing your heart openly, you act out your passion, whilst waving high the flag of courage to mask your vulnerability. You may feel compelled by fate, driven by desire, or overwhelmed by intensity, but immediately direct your enthusiasm behind your willpower, for this force can be short lived, hot, and easily consumed. Shout out loudly your own praises and explode out into life. Aries symbolises where you must forcefully push ahead using your creative self, with a bold enthusiasm that demands immediate action and attention.
‘I am the abundance of Earth’
The sign of Taurus, the sensuous Bull; slow, methodical and in no hurry, ploughs through all the mundane tasks. Connect with the powerful stability of the earth, and work alongside the organic cycles of nature, appreciating the texture and beauty, to touch and feel the world around you. Then move these physical sensations in your body, to flow in an exquisite display of embodied spirit, thus releasing your creative passion. Dig down deep your heels to ground firmly your stubborn determination and strong will-power; for you are productive, and must create to enhance the security you desire. Taurus symbolises where you take your time and work methodically to embody and materialise your purpose in a practical and physical form. Appreciate the abundance and beauty of the world around you, along with the security it offers.