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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Lunchtime concert - Refuge

Had a wonderful concert from Refuge yesterday. They came all the way down from Leicester, arriving at Wonford House Hospital at 10.30am. Unfortunately, I discovered that the Ballroom, where the concert was happening, was being used for a meeting - I was sure I'd booked it for 11am, but was told I'd have to wait until 12pm. So, I took the band to the Hospital cafe and we chatted about all sorts of things. They write amazing songs about the struggles of living with mental illness (Peter, the lead singer, has Bipolar Disorder). The lyrics are often written by people they know who have various conditions, and in the first album, Allowed a Voice, these conditions are named at the beginning of the songs about them. Their most recent project was a lyric writing competition - the winners had their lyrics put to music and put on an EP. Full details here where you can download the album for free, with the option of making a donation to several mental health charities.
Once we got access to the room, a technically minded colleague (thanks Alex!) plugged them in - electric bass, two acoustic guitars, vocals - and they were ready to go. The food had arrived, I'd set up circular tables and scattered chairs around them. The band tucked into some food while they had a chance and then people started drifting in. About 25 in total I think, and the great thing was that that a large number of people from one of our wards turned up - I'd popped into their morning planning meeting to remind them about the concert. They looked anxious on arrival, but the combination of free food, unlimited free hot drinks, and wonderful music, soon relaxed them. I spotted a client of mine, leaning back, eyes closed, just letting himself slip into the music. These were the people I really wanted to be there, so I was so pleased to see them enjoying it so much and clearly moved by the content of the songs. Peter and I were also interviewed for local radio show padded wireless - this will be broadcast between 7 and 8pm this Sunday. There was lots of food left over, but, as last time, the mother of one of my clients offered to take some to a local homeless shelter, Gabriel House (details here) The music ended far too soon, I could have listened all afternoon, but best to keep an audience wanting more than outstay your welcome. Peter and the band stayed around for a while to talk to people that had been moved by their music - doing this is, in some ways, as important as the music itself. Connections are made, experiences shared, common humanity acknowledged.
Thanks to Peter and his superb band for making the effort to come down to us and to give such a beautiful and moving performance. I hope I can get them back again soon!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Conference Thoughts Part Five

So, we come to Friday morning, which began with breakfast in the Cafe Quadrifoglio (four leafed clover) and moved on to an outdoor voice and movement warm up led by Eran Natan. It had aspects of the workshop he gave, with stretching and making sounds and guiding each other. This time we guided by putting our fingertip on the guided person's fingertip and moving around the garden of the Hostel. We could take our partners round different plants and flowers, making it a multi-sensory experience. It was very enjoyable and a good start to the day. We then all gathered at the Real Collegio for a master-class with world famous dramatherapist, Robert Landy . He was introducing the idea of the Hero's Journey, a technique based on Rasa theory and involving 9 basic emotions: Joy, Fear, Disgust, Surprise, Balance, The Comic, The Erotic, Sadness, Loss. He had marked out the main hall in to 9 rectangles joined together, with a large piece of paper in each one. These had the emotions written on them, with the central one being Balance. As we had 31 different nationalities represented, the first thing he asked us to do was to go round and, if we spoke a language other than English, to put our own words for these emotions on the paper. We did various exercises about which feelings we identified with and then the main exercise began. Robert then asked us to think about how we felt at the beginning of the conference, where we wanted to be at the end of it, which emotion would help us get there, and which would hold us back. For me that was Fear, Balance, Surprise and Fear (again!). To a backing soundtrack of Indian tabla music ( I later found out from Robert that the music was  Glen Velez' Rhythms of the Chakras), we moved through these emotions, allowing our bodies to express them freely, and finally reaching our destination. This was all very interesting, but then  the exciting bit happened! Robert asked for a volunteer to go through this journey in front of everyone (most of the 400 or so delegates were there!). After waiting a little while to allow other people the opportunity to volunteer, I stepped forward! After all, you only get out of a conference what you are prepared to put in. First I had to choose four people to represent the emotions on my journey. For fear I chose my former colleague, Dance Movement Therapist Jeanette MacDonald , who was one of the founders of Dance Movement Therapy in the UK, having danced with Nuryev and Fonteyn in the Royal Ballet. For balance I chose another Dance Movement Therapist who I had chatted to in the previous days, Ana Gutkowski. For the fear that holds me back I chose Belgian Dramatherapist Lieven Desomviele, who I'd enjoyed talking to over a meal the evening before. Now for the big surprise - I chose the great Shaun McNiff to be Surprise! He was suitably surprised, and, he said, very touched. Then I was given the option of choosing people for the remaining emotions. I took my time over this, raising the tension, and mainly choosing people I knew. The difficulty came in choosing Disgust and the Erotic - what kind of message would I be sending to the chosen ones? In the end I chose a big bloke with a beard, who looked suitably disgusted to be chosen, and a student, Sam, from the Exeter Dramatherapy course, who knew me well enough not to take it the wrong way. So, due to time constraints, I then had 4 minutes to complete my journey. The first thing that happened, as I approached Jeanette, was that I was grabbed from behind by Lieven - he was taking his role as blocker very seriously. I had to grapple with him before escaping to Shaun where we surprised each other delightfully. I'm not sure of the exact sequence of events after this, but there was shouting back at Di Gammage who was Anger, there was some tears shed at Loss, a laugh with the Comic Mary Booker  a further tussle with Lieven and  a shimmy with the Erotic Sam before I finally reached Balance - Ana was perched on one leg and I mirrored her. Cue rapturous applause! Afterwards people asked if Lieven and I had planned what he was going to do - the answer was no, but I was very grateful to him, as he provided the impetus for the journey, something for me to work against. I then had to say a few rather breathless words about how it was for me before disappearing back into the crowd. Afterwards lots of people came and said how brave I was, etc etc, but for me it was just a privilege to work with Robert Landy, and to have the power to choose who I wanted. It reminded me how intoxicating power can be, and how dangerous if handled badly.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Conference Thoughts - part four

On the Thursday afternoon I headed, with several others, to San Michelotto Convent, guided by a student helper, for a workshop by Eran Natan a dramatherapist from Israel who uses voice and movement techniques. There were about forty of us in a large wooden floored room, none of us quite sure what to expect. What we got was one of the most inspiring, and amusing, workshops I've been to. We had various exercises to get us moving and breathing, including pretending to reach out for objects around us, breathing in as we stretched, then out as we grasped the object and brought it towards ourselves. Then came the main substance of the workshop - exploring different "locations" of our voice and the roles they take us into. This bit is one of those things where a written description will not be sufficient - you really did have to be there! However, here's my feeble attempt to describe it. If we speak from the top of our head we tend to speak in a high pitched voice and take on the role of a child or princess. If we allow it to come down to our nose, we may still be smiling but the nasal voice leads us into being a witch character. Down to the chest and you start strutting around like you own the place. You'll smile with open arms, but the message is clear: you'll do what I say - think of some politicians, Obama has that sort of feel to him sometimes, Blair tried to, Cameron can't!
Then the voice goes down to the hips and becomes earthy, maybe turning into a monster from the primeval swamp! The smile may become more of a leer. Eran got us to explore these roles and go round the room communicating to each other non-verbally in role. We also explored the transition between them, allowing our voices to sink and rise and getting slightly carried away by our roles at times.
       Another exercise we did was working in pairs as guide/guided. The guided person would have to close their eyes and follow the guide's sounds. These could be any sound you like. The guide could also go down to the floor, as well as all over the room. I remember the young Italian lady who guided me saying, in a quiet but high pitched voice, something like "Toro, Toro", but I don't think she was calling me a bull!
      I found this workshop liberating and exciting, and have already incorporated some ideas into a group I run jointly with a dramatherapist.
      After this I had about half an hour to get to the School of Art in Lucca, and managed to grab a delicious, and in my opinion, well deserved ice cream (pistachio and nocciola (hazelnut) seemed suitably nutty!) on the way. I was heading to an Art workshop by well known Art Therapist Marian Liebmann on Anger. There were some problems at the venue getting hold of the art materials which meant that, by the time we were asked to paint Anger, we were all suitably annoyed! It was interesting comparing with each other - we were in pairs and I was with Eran Natan - seeing similarities and differences. Men often had a circle of black in the centre and some kind of eruption, perhaps reflecting the way that a lot of men bottle their anger up until it has to explode out. There was more variety in  the women's art, but hard to find a common element. After this exercise we talked about what lies underneath anger - our own unmet needs and distress - and we painted these layers. Again I found that men had similar elements, with darkness at the bottom, unmet needs and unrecognised distress lurking below the centre. Marian held all this very well with her calm unflappable nature, and by silencing us quickly when necessary - she would raise her hand, and wait for everyone else to do the same. Simple, but effective! This finished at 6pm, so a long and intense day. After freshening up I went out for a meal and a few sips of wine with some lovely people from the UK, Belgium and other countries (my memory is fading already, but Deborah, Gosia, Leuven, you all know who you are!) Collapsed into bed about 1am exhausted but inspired, trying not to disturb my snoring room mates. The following morning was going to be the most exciting of the conference....

Monday, 3 October 2011

Conference Thoughts - part three

After the keynotes on Thursday morning we had a choice of presentations. I went for Henk Smeijsters, who I enjoyed listening to at the 7th European Music Therapy Congress in 2007. He is Professor of Arts Therapies and Head of Research of KenVak He has a particular interest in the work of Daniel Stern whose pioneering works on mother infant communication, and on the use of arts in psychotherapy, have been a great inspiration to me. Henk's presentation looked at Damasio's concept of the core self, an area of "felt meaning" beyond words. This is the "intelligence of the body" and links with art forms. Damasio wrote that "The core self at the bottom of the mind resembles Arts", and we believe that the Arts Therapies can express what is beyond cognition and words. Smeijsters says that "The felt experience of life can be put into gestures, pictures, sounds and movements. Art Forms are experienced as a felt match with the core self" (From his Powerpoint). He then linked this with Stern's concept of Vitality Affects - feelings/emotions that are felt in the present moment. They can be measured in parameters of art, such as rhythm, tempo, dynamics and form. So, Smeijsters says, "vitality affects are formed as art forms - when we experience art forms we experience vitality affects". This also means that as arts therapists, when we work with art forms, we work with the client's core self. I found Henk's presentation very interesting, combining the insights of neuroscience and psychology to show how the arts are central to the expression of our core self.
This was followed immediately by Malvern Lumsden, Dance Movement Therapist and Professor of Community Mental Health, University of Agder, Norway. He also looked at the way neuroscience backs up the work we do, summing this up in four hypotheses:
  1. The integration of lower and higher levels of the brain, of right and left hemispheres, and the resulting sense of self is essential for the "intelligence of feeling", but may be blocked by adverse experiences in development.
  2. The resulting lack of "emotional intelligence" - not to speak of a range of psychiatric "diagnoses" - can be seen as a consequence of this lack of integration.
  3. The arts and arts therapies are an important channel for promoting the development of the disordered brain (eg right and left hemispheres) and the fragmented self (many facets) both during development and subsequently.
  4. Since movement (involving the body, space, cognition, affect and social interaction) is fundamental to the early development of the brain and the self, dance movement therapy is seen as particularly relevant in the context of pre-verbal developmental and relational issues.
He also talked about the concept of "flow", using Laban's theories as a starting point and identifying three main types of flow - body, social and spatial. It is important to have mindful bodies, to be aware of the imapct of mind on body and body on mind. He reminded us that "emotion" literally means moving or pushing out, thus reinforcing the physical movement implied in the word.
Malvern also talked about another highly influential neuropsychiatrist Allan Schore who believes that all early forming psychopathology is connected with attachment disorders, leading to a failure of self and/or emotional regulation.
He also recommended The Meaning of the Body by Mark Johnson which also explores these issues.

The combination of these two papers was well planned, as they both linked current developments in neuroscience with the work we, as Arts Therapists do. I headed off to lunch in the Real Collegio courtyard, my head full of ideas, and looking forward to some more active learning at the afternoon workshops.