Monthly Archives: December 2014

Searching for home in dark places

The word ‘home’ is dripping with emotional colour. It evokes so many images, tangled with family, security, memory – and all so different for each one of us. I’ve been collaborating with Jo Roberts on a project called just that – ‘Home’ – and it has led us down some very diverse pathways.

I am interested in the feeling tone, the emotions that the word conjures up; a sense of security, of comfort, of being held, of belonging, of things being alright, for example. Because of who I am and what I do, however, it is the absence rather than the presence of these elements that strikes me most forcibly. Most of my working life is spent trying to come to terms with and ameliorate the effects of the lack, the loss or the inadequacy of the emotional ‘home’.

Psychotherapy as I understand it is a relationship between therapist and client that emotionally involves all parties. As a therapist, my own personal experiences are very relevant – although I don’t usually talk about them, they inform my understanding and responses. I can travel to some dark places with people and feel ‘at home’! In the world of therapy, that all seems unremarkable, and it is only recently that I have begun to appreciate that these dark places, translated into my new ‘art’ world, have a different impact.

Maybe it’s a peculiarity of the art groups I belong to, but there don’t seem many gloomy or miserable images in the room. Cheery blue skies, winding lanes, sun -dappled paths, copied holiday photos, and a spattering of flowers. It took me a while to realise that I was a bit out of step.IMG_0203

Searching for Home

‘Hope you’re not still feeling like that’, someone said, looking at my grey landscape.

There has been a lot of publicity lately about mental health, and how as a society we need to be more tolerant and less fearful of the wide range of psychological struggles that are going on in those around us – and how we need to invest to create a decent healthcare system that responds to this need. There is still a stigma lurking around ‘mental illness’ despite efforts to overturn this, and once outside of my familiar world of counselling and psychotherapy, I can sense it. It has taken me by surprise, this subtle pressure to tidy away the darker and messier bits of myself lest they cause any disturbance to others.

Much of the pressure comes from myself of course, because I have internalised those unspoken rules about what makes an acceptable person. We absorb these rules in the process of becoming a member of any society, without even being aware of it, and this process of internalisation is brilliantly efficient at maintaining the existing definitions of who and what is acceptable. The gold standard person is still white, male, heterosexual, of a certain social class, of ‘sound body and mind’ – and those of us who fail the test in any or all parts have to struggle with our own harsh self judgments.

Maybe an important part of the definition of ‘home’ is a sense of acceptance; home is a place where we can put down the burden of self-criticism and feel comfortable, however and whoever we are. How on earth do I do that in a painting, I wonder?

 

 

 

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Safety in numbers? Sketching with the group.

There’s been a lot happening on the urban sketching scene since I last wrote. Inspired by the Oxford workshop, we have set up a small group who have met 4 times now to ‘SketchCoventry’. We are lucky to have an excellent art gallery, The Herbert, where we meet up, and it looks as if there may well be an Urban Sketchers workshop here in Coventry next April! This is timed to coincide with the exhibition Recording Britain that is touring the country and which I caught up with last year in Sheffield. It feels good to be involved in such a fascinating project, and amazing to think that it has all come about thanks to three of us pushing at some doors and finding that they opened!

We are a small group so far, but that feels fine to me. We meet up for coffee, decide where we are drawing and sometimes split into smaller groups; then we join up for lunch to look at the sketches. In the afternoon there is another foray, followed by more refreshments and more learning from each other’s drawings. It is very flexible and friendly, with ex-Oxford workshop sketchers making the effort to come from London, Shrewsbury and Banbury. Last 12 Months - 21

The Herbert Gallery was having a WW1 ‘family day (!) so there were lots of children clutching huge tissue paper poppies that they had made.

Sketching out in public is still a challenge, but is transformed by the group effect. I don’t feel nearly so conspicuous or vulnerable when there are two or three people drawing nearby. We give each other a sense of security and confidence; it seems that as a group we are far less likely to be interrupted or criticised than on our own. I wonder whether this is objectively the case or is something that, like a placebo, just makes us feel good.Sketch Cov2

We huddled together on the sofas in ‘Fargo Village’ to draw one of the vintage clothes stall.

The idea that there is ‘safety in numbers’ is set against a range of fears about the dangers of groups and I can see this good group/ bad group split in my therapy group too. The good version brings mutual understanding and support; the other side is the capacity to cut deep, to ignore, reject and challenge. This all reminded me of an article that I wrote for Therapy Today some time ago, and when I checked it out, this is what I found –

“Joining a group is rarely an emotionally neutral event. It holds both a promise and a threat. Depending on the sort of group, it may promise learning, companionship, support, relationship, and intimacy, for example. But it also contains a threat – of isolation, humiliation, lack of autonomy, domination, dependence, and attack. The relative force of ‘promise’ or ‘threat’ is shaped by the particular nature of the group itself, and by our previous experiences of group life.”

As far as SketchCoventry goes, there is a lot of promise and very little threat. Having said that I recognise how anxious any newcomers are about the quality of their own sketches – just like I was in Oxford last summer. The possibility of humiliation feels real, even though it is far more likely to be some internal critical voice of our own than anyone in the group. This I am sure connects with our previous, probably early, experiences in groups. It’s hard to find anyone who does not have a tale of being humiliated at school, for example…. and as for the family, that’s a whole other story brewing up for the next post!