Tag Archives: group therapy

Psychotherapy and writing fiction.

Somehow if I go away I do far more drawing.  The Peak District looked stunning with the hills streaked in snow, although my attempts to draw the sweeping landscapes were just that – attempts!   But I did like this one of my friend’s front garden. Untitled artwork 2013-04-03 (06.02.43-272 Now, back home in a familiar landscape, writing has taken over.  At the same time as the next episode of the Wednesday Group is taking shape in my mind, I am busy thinking about the links between psychotherapy and fiction writing.

The Wednesday Group involves creating members of a therapy group and exploring their lives and interactions, as well as those of group therapists. The context of the fiction obviously connects with my working life as a group psychotherapist but I wonder whether, if I was writing a completely different story, it would be all that different.

It is a cliché that in the process of creating a fictitious character they begin to come to life. …. but they do. Writer and characters begin to develop a relationship, and the writer discovers more through giving them time and attention. They reveal themselves, or that’s how it seems to me. When I first wrote about Stevie, the main character, I had a very sketchy idea of who she was. She gradually lets me see different aspects, tells me more about herself, and even acts out in front of my eyes. In many ways it is like getting to know a client; being patient, not jumping to conclusions, working hard to get a sense of what it feels like to be them, trying to see the world through their eyes.

Trying to see the world through another person’s eyes, and being able to hold onto our own vision is for me one of the central aspects of psychotherapy. What I understand about human development, attachment, psychodynamic patterns, thoughts and feelings, embodiment – the assortment of accrued information or even wisdom that I gave gained – this all has to be integrated with a concentrated attempt to sense how it is to be the other.

That is what happens in the writing too. I am trying to get a feel for the characters, looking at the world from their perspective, not mine. Of course, these are all people who live in my head or on a computer screen – rationally I can’t divorce them from my own experiences and perspectives. But it is the magic of creativity that liberates them from those confines and sets them free to be themselves. Then if I want to get to really encounter them, I can’t assume that I already know and understand them. There is always more to be discovered, just as there is more to the people in our lives and to us as well.  And as for that maidenhair fern I have been trying to draw, there is obviously far more to get to know there too.


The colourful therapist

It’s been a good week for drawing, and for meeting other sketchers. I’ve seen some very impressive painters too, but I’m at the stage where colour  seems a step too far – or so I tell myself. But then look at this, from the latest episode of The Wednesday Group. Doodling on the iPad is never colourless. Somehow in my mind this is completely different from the drawing that I do. Is this dissociation?  Pencil split off from iPad?

Stevie's volcano of anger

Stevie’s volcano of anger

I had another interesting conversation this week with a poet and writer, talking about styles of writing, and the sorts of books we prefer. I ‘m not very patient with descriptive, carefully crafted prose unless it can carry me along with an energetic story line. I want to know what happens next, rather than how sensuously the voile curtains are catching the breeze through the open French windows…. if you see what I mean. Is this somehow related to my focus on line rather than colour?

Maybe this plays out in the therapy room in my search for a coherent narrative, and a degree of impatience with the colour? I wonder what the colour consists of in this case. It isn’t the same as detail, because those are often fascinating. It’s very hard for the beginner to draw hands and feet, but unless you get them right, the figure never looks real. That carries over into therapy. There are certain details that jar, or don’t make sense, that have to be looked at much more closely. There are key areas that you have to work at repeatedly in order to begin to grasp the whole figure.

So what could colour mean in this context? And what makes a colourful psychotherapist? In our attempt not to overwhelm or impose upon the other person in the room, do we end up as 50 shades of grey? (That would make a great sketch, incidentally!)  I’m going to ask Phillipa Perry – she stands out for me as a potentially colourful psychotherapist. Anyone else you can suggest?


Listening to the radio … or not!

I don’t listen to the radio very much, and one of the reasons is about to unfold. A few weeks ago, after a young woman had taken her own life, there was a lot of discussion about the legal process in rape cases, and whether or not it should change. It is something that rightly stirs up strong feelings, and I tuned into a programme that advertised itself as discussing the complexities involved. Perhaps that’s what it became after 10 minutes, but I was too annoyed to listen for that long. It turned out to be one of those ‘discussions’ which was nothing to do with dialogue and a lot to do with dominance – winners and losers.  No –one was interested in other people’s perspectives, but just wanted to prove their own point, repeatedly….. like a political ‘debate’ where one side of the House shouts at each other.

When I finally get to be in charge, things are going to be different. Every primary school is going to teach children how to resolve conflicts through words. All those existing under funded projects to teach conflict resolution are going to become mandatory, and we are going to learn at last that listening and being listened to can produce healthier and more effective solutions to many of our current dilemmas. And the media is going to light the way with wonderful examples of intelligent conversations where people think together, and work out how to manage differences.

In the meantime, it makes me very appreciative of the psychotherapy world, where at least some of the time people are struggling hard to genuinely listen to others, even when their ideas and opinions are different.  Group therapy[i] in particular offers an opportunity to get beyond the adversarial and into genuine dialogue. The formula may be very simple: each party has the opportunity to be heard, uninterrupted. Those who are listening discuss their understanding of the points of view, and what they think might be going on, whilst the ‘protagonists’ listen. Then everyone talks together about what they have understood from the conversations so far. What usually happens is that the ‘third parties’ can say things that enable the protagonists to soften and begin to listen: they can both support them and challenge them. When the whole group then join together in conversation, something has shifted. Once it becomes possible that “I” could be wrong rather than “You” have to be, then we are really talking!

Of course it doesn’t always have a happy ending, and it may be revisited over and again. But the rewards are worth waiting for and worth working towards.

[i] Interestingly, Group Therapy FM is one radio programme that I do listen to, because it manages at times to do exactly that!