Words. Dense little packages that unwrap themselves, setting off spirals of reflections and sensations. Literary taste bombs bursting in the mind.
This last week they have been coming at me, not just from my work, but from the art world as well. It is Warwickshire Open studios fortnight, when I meander around various artist’s houses and studios, exploring what I like and what I don’t, and generally admiring the outpouring of creativity.
Last year I was very impressed by Jo Roberts, and went back to see what she’s been working on. This is where I met the words, embossed with a characteristic border and a sentence or two attached; an on-going project where Jo and author David Southwell exchange a word a day online and share their response. More information can be found on Jo’s blog .
In the other part of my life, online therapy is becoming increasingly important and I’ve been reflecting upon how significant the choice of word is when counselling via email or synchronous chat. I know at the recent BACP online conference, Jeannie Wrights’ workshop explored some of these areas.
A written word sits and stares . It perseveres through time, always available to confirm or challenge our perceptions. It can reassure us or it can confirm our worst suspicions. We can take it to heart, squirrel it away, get it out and look at it, burn the paper it’s printed on, embroider it into the way we see the world. It perseveres for good or ill, whether a subsequent email tries to modify it or not.
Psychotherapy has always been concerned with the conversation between live bodies in a shared space. At their best, words can convey the deepest emotions and bring us into relationship with others; they can also be bodged and fumbled attempts at communication. But the live presence enables an instantaneous feedback and mutual monitoring that facilitates negotiation.” That’s not the word I would choose.” “Perhaps you could suggest a better one?” In group therapy, there may be multiple choices – ‘this is how I see it’ – ‘yes, I like that phrase’ – ‘oh no, it’s too blunt’, – and so forth. Some words become shorthand for a whole series of group explorations. Side board is a memorable one. ‘This is on the sideboard’ came to mean that ‘what I am about to say doesn’t not directly follow on from anything that’s been said before, but it’s come into my head and we’ve agreed as a group that those things are important so I am going to share it with you’.
We can only communicate at depth when the meanings of the words are shared and negotiated. If my version of ‘spirit’ is not the same as yours, we need to use more words to try to clarify what I am trying to share with you. Or perhaps we need a picture?