Tag Archives: Marion Milner

Celebrate the doodle!

The doodle returns! It has been buried beneath more important and worthy projects such as book writing, editing, printmaking, gardening and even dog walking. But now as the year closes down, in the long dark evenings – kerpow! – doodling is back!

It’s hard, though, not to be dismissive. It’s just a doodle, a repetitive mark making exercise, a trifle, only valuable for using up the backs of old envelopes.

But in a past life of psychotherapy training, wasn’t it a possible route to deciphering ‘the unconscious’? Wasn’t it something that once decoded could provide valuable insights into the mysterious interior processes that shape our lives? So I find myself once more reading passages from Marion Milner’s ‘In the Hands of the Living God’ – a detailed account of her 20+year professional relationship with a female patient where drawing/doodling was a key aspect. In many ways I find it a difficult read now but it is still a fascinating testimony to the communicative power of ‘art’ in a therapeutic relationship.

Most of us, however, are not doodling in that context; we are more likely to be stuck in some situation such as a lecture, meeting, phone call, where our attention is split between what we are supposed to be attending to and the shapes emerging from the end of our pen. For my part the resulting doodle is generally despatched to the recycling box without a second thought these days.

This is the doodle that emerged as I was thinking about this blog post…. probably ripe for analysis!

 

But here I am, obviously thinking about the process again. There must be some magic pull in the doodle – why does anybody do it?

Often it involves repetitive mark making, going over and over the paper with the same hand movement. There is something soothing in this, but also like many other repetitive movements such as knitting, it seems to free up some part of the mind to wander.

Being ‘just a doodle’ rather than a drawing or a sketch frees it from any judgment of artistic merit, and it can wander where it will, liberated from criticism. In a parallel fashion, our minds can wander too, sometimes making their way to that very mysterious and wonderful place we call creativity. Inspiration can often spring from doodling! (Claudia McGill , artist, is a good example here!)

It works in psychotherapy settings too. I’m thinking of a supervision group for group facilitators where the introduction of ‘doodling’ has had a very liberating and creative effect. It seemed difficult to generate a freely flowing conversation, despite it being a group that was experienced and committed to reflexive practice. When we explored the inhibitions, some were about fears of judgment; not good enough, not thoughtful enough, and some the familiar  ‘your business is more important than mine’ theme.

Doodles are not open to either of these restrictions. One person’s doodle is as useful as another’s; doodles are neither good or bad, they just are. Once we got hold of the idea that when we spoke in the group, we were doodling, and that we could doodle together, the conversation could breathe…. And we got to some very interesting and creative places as a result.

Let’s celebrate the doodle!

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.