Monthly Archives: May 2013

Imagination and psychotherapy: Drawing things out

Drawing from the imagination has always been a favourite activity of mine, but because of my skills deficit it usually ends up as some abstract doodle. Now I’m being challenged to take it further, and the results are surprising. 20130502_145822 The task in the drawing class was to use this collection of dried cordyline leaves  as a basis for some imaginative work using charcoal.

After an hour or so of various attempts, largely in the form of landscapes and ponds, this picture emerged. It seemed to draw itself, very quickly in the last thirty minutes of the class and it took me by surprise. It’s not my usual stuff at all, and I felt quite moved by it.the wig

Later it made me think about the phrase ‘drawing out’. In the conversations that make up psychotherapy, we are often drawing things out; trying to see more clearly that which has been obscured, buried, denied. Sometimes what emerges is painful and shocking, but not always. There moments when what emerges is surprising and beautiful. We can think of this as revealing something already present but hidden, or as I would want to claim, as a more creative process. In the conversation, a new possibility or image is co-created by client and therapist.  It is a drawn from the interplay of memory, intuition, experiences – and imagination.

The relationship between psychotherapy and imagination has engaged many theorists and practitioners for years. All of the writers that were influential in my development as a psychotherapist find a significant place for it – Marion Milner, Stephen Mitchell, Bob Hobson, and Winnicott, of course, are just a few that spring to mind immediately.

I think of empathy and imagination as different but related. The capacity to tune in to another’s emotional state seems partly hard wired into our neurological systems, although we could all cite examples of people who seem to have missed out on this particular piece of wiring!  But imagination takes us beyond this. When I am trying to grasp, intellectually and emotionally, the other’s reality, I am not only tuning in to ‘what is there’, but translating it into language. I use visual imagery a lot, sharing with clients the image that comes to my mind in the attempt to understand them. Sometimes it doesn’t speak to them, and is discarded. At other times the image seems to capture something significant for them, and enables them to see their own experience in a subtly different way.

This can be very powerful in group settings, where one person’s image can serve to draw out others that complement or animate each other in surprising and refreshing ways. Drawing together, whether with charcoal or with pictures in the mind,  can bring us to some unexpected and stimulating places. Imagination  is fundamental to the task of doing things differently. We can together imagine all sorts of scenarios and emotions that go beyond those familiar rehearsed experiences that often bring people into therapy in the first place. Without this creative element, we could only draw the same picture over and over again.


sketching, psychotherapy AND gardening!

Untitled artwork 2013-02-18 (11.46.43-334

This blog is expanding sideways! After a weekend spent training to be a ‘master gardener’ at Ryton Gardens, I realised I need to broaden my ideas to link up sketching, psychotherapy AND gardening. It’s a big project, but I’m hardly a trail blazer here. The therapeutic benefits of gardening, or even just being outside in natural surroundings, have been known and explored well before I appeared on the scene. Everyone on the weekend who asked what job I did assured me that their own therapy was gardening, and I know what they are talking about. There is a relationship between us, the land  and nature that can restore and nourish us at those times when nothing else seems to help. Tim Bray has written a beautiful chapter about his relationship with nature in ‘Self Awareness and Personal Development’. This is a book primarily written to help therapists learn more about themselves but it’s full of interesting ideas for anyone who wants to know more about the person that they have become.  In his chapter Tim writes very powerfully about the central importance of nature in his own life and development – do read it if you can.

Linking therapy with gardening doesn’t seem a problem, whereas for me the label ‘master gardener’ has at least two. One is the clear implication of expertise, which certainly doesn’t fit in my case, and the other the whole gendered construction whereby excellence is the property of men. However often I am reassured that ‘man’ is a generic term meaning all of us, or that ‘master’ just means you’re good at something, I am not convinced …..  especially as the person reassuring me is usually male. It’s not as if there aren’t lots of alternative labels that would describe the project more accurately – ‘community gardeners’,’ gardening helpers’, ‘stop me and grow one’, ‘ growing together’,  and so on. Maybe there could be a competition to find a new name that demonstrates a sensitivity to difference and equality? And whilst that is going on, perhaps all the excellent literature and hand-outs could be translated into some of the many languages that the local community actually speaks?

Well, that’s the critical part over with. the quiz-001Now I can go on to say what a brilliant course it was.  I can’t recall any therapy CPD training that equalled it in pacing, information, facilities, humour, and good food! Add to that the beautiful garden setting and you have a winning combination. Thank you to all involved, organisers, helpers and the other interesting and friendly trainees. Now all I have to do is get my T shirt on and persuade the world (5 people really) to grow organic food….