Still Life

A Therapist's Responses to the Challenge of Change

Excerpts from PART I - Awakening

Introduction
Falling Leaves
(page 8)

Looking out my window, I suddenly see that our maple tree is bare of its vibrant yellow leaves. I hadn’t noticed the wind that had been moving through the autumn days. The change was predictable but its process imperceptible. Equally, the constant realignment of our lives often goes unnoticed as we move through our seasons of life. We fail to name the small increments that have grounded such change until it suddenly seems upon us.

At other times changes of pattern are dramatic. Sometimes they are nothing short of a seismic shift, requiring a disorienting realignment of one’s identity and one’s place in the world. Clients turn to us with untenable life circumstances: A woman is locked into an abusive relationship. A man has lost a third career and is desperate to learn why. In these cases, an urgency for relief cries out. But if we succumb to this urgency we may forget the full extent of what significant change entails. Success in dealing with dramatic, life-altering changes may depend upon careful preparation, a risk inventory, practice, and strong lifelines. The more deeply entrenched the patterns and the greater the urgency for relief, the more important is patience.

 

Workshop Designs
The Arc of Change (page 9)

Change is not for the faint of heart. It strikes fear, and offers exhilaration! In this book my attempt to deconstruct the phenomenon of change has been designed to develop intelligence and sensitivity in me as a therapist and in my clients—and in you and yours—in their discovery of their own approaches to change.

Ten workshops are described in this book, each with its own theory and techniques, one in each chapter. Many of these grew out of training events developed with and for the psychodrama trainees of the Saskatchewan Centre for Psychodrama. We were seeking to free up spontaneity with some creative questioning and action techniques. In encouraging the forces that were propelling us towards change, we found ourselves facing squarely many of the obstacles to the very changes that we most longed for. A workshop designed to focus on one aspect of this process would illuminate it, raise questions, and spawn another model and more revelation. I came to see the entire process as an arc that was widely applicable, and not just to that group. In encountering change in all its forms, we seem to move from discomfort with the status quo, through the painful discovery of how hard it has been, to coming to grips with the self-talk that imprisons us, letting go, imagining richer lives, and practising new responses. Finally, from the celebratory position of a more peaceful coexistence, we seek to build community and contribute to a more just society.

Chapter 1 - Discomfort and the Emerging Self ROLE THEORY IN ACTION
The Foundation: Moreno and Role Theory (page 14)

Because it involves expanding our courage to choose, change involves taking the focus off the demands and expectations of others (i.e., the reacting self) and bringing energy and intention back to the centre of our own lives (what Blatner calls “the choosing self”). Such a Copernican shift involves transformation, since each new, authentic response to the world involves a realignment of our beliefs about the world and our place in it. This reconstruction rests upon a number of concepts of how people grow.

.....Our well-being can be measured by the number of roles or selves we encompass.  Each developed, integrated role gives us another possible set of responses to the world.  Every time we expand a role, we empower ourselves and take another step towards a coherent whole.

 

Chapter 2 - The Arts as Mirror MOVIES THAT MOVE US
Film as Dream (page 30)

We can lose ourselves in movies. Movies are like dreams: They come to us from outside our conscious intention, and yet, if we have the awareness and curiosity to investigate our reactions to them, they bring us messages about ourselves and our lives. The vivid images that remain, the bodily sensations that we have upon awakening from the movie-watching trance state, and the feelings that keep us awake may reveal the connections to our daily life, if we take the time to stay with them and ask the questions. Why that scene? Where am I in this story? Then the film will disturb or inspire us, inviting a response.

 

Chapter 3 - Who Knew? THE FIVE FACES OF CATHARSIS
(page 41)

Catharsis is the great indicator of change, the breaking through of the new that marks a loosening of our grip on the old. It can begin to touch our hearts and minds in so many ways—at the movies, holding a newborn, hearing a well-known musical phrase as if for the first time. Most often, it has an unexpected quality, bringing with it a hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling. We may plan for change, yet often change comes upon us unbidden. The direction we choose—our trajectory—has an influence over not only the choices we think will lead us in that direction, but somehow, mysteriously, on the kinds of events and choices that then present themselves to us. Change that seems unbidden may not be. We may, even unknown to ourselves, have been preparing for it all our lives.

In this chapter I will speak about the nature of catharsis as I understand it, and its relationship to change. Here I will speak directly to therapists and counsellors, whose work is to navigate the turbulence of what Daniel Siegel calls the “sea inside.” I will name five forms of this turbulence, or catharsis, that I use to inform my work: abreaction, integration, inclusion, meaning, and spirit. In the therapy office, I find it really important to take the time to name clients’ cathartic experiences. Then, together, we can learn to acknowledge the shifts they mark in their lives and in my own as I respond to them.

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