Tag Archives: therapy

The importance of doodling

Learning to paint seems a serious project at the moment, with only the smallest signs of progress. Light relief has come in the way of doodling.

I have a long history of doodling, which has seen me through hours of staff meetings, lectures, conferences, and workshops .Talking on the phone is another great opportunity to draw patterns, fantastical landscapes, and weird animals, on whatever lies to hand. Proper drawing gets done in sketch books, which are always somewhere else when you want them. Doodles are the product of whatever is at hand – the biro and a ‘to do’ list usually. Recently I’ve been doing them whilst sitting in front of the TV. It’s that same divided attention which seems to free up the doodle line and make the viewing/listening experience so much more entertaining.

I feel as if I have been doing this for as long as I remember, and have never taken it seriously. Two things have challenged that lately. The first was posting a tv doodle on twitter and finding that quite a few people enjoyed it.buildings The second was even more puzzling.

In the art class this term I have been working on a series of small acrylic paintings of figures walking away from the viewer. More than once I have been asked what I am copying, and when say that it’s in my head, am met with ‘How can you do that? ‘as if it’s some strange talent. It’s happened often enough for me to think more about imagination. I’ve always believed that imagination is something that everyone has but not everyone develops. People who are musical tell me that of course I can sing, I just need to practice and enjoy it, and I see imagination in the same way. As a therapist I’ve always encouraged people to value and nurture their imagination, that their dreams and phantasies are significant and valuable parts of who they are, and that their creativity is precious. Yet here are people in the art class who are proficient painters telling me that they can’t produce anything ‘out of their head’ and need something to copy. What is going on here?

Copying is wired into us: It’s the bedrock of our development . All our skills from movement and language to relationships start from copying and mapping others. My granddaughter complains that I can draw better dogs than she can, and sets about copying mine – but I am confident that once she can draw ‘my’ dogs she will soon be drawing her own. But these recent experiences have made me appreciate how potentially fraught that transition is, from copying the other to creating your own version. And of course I am not just thinking about painting and drawing here.

So let’s celebrate the doodle, as one possible way to cross this bridge. It’s informality and scruffiness might be just what is need to draw out (!) our own imaginative powers.


Words, pictures, therapy.

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 .

OOZE.  Think about it. Menacing? Friendly? What does it set off for you?20130705_130224


One of the great things about Jo is that she always sparks some response in me. I want to go home and draw! So this is my ‘ooze’. ( Thinking of French holidays, clearly!)20130709_131516

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?

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….