Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Arts and Elderly People

Good News!  I have been awarded a Churchill Fellowship for 2012-2013.

I am able to travel to the countries of my choice to study and research my chosen themes 'Arts and Elderly People' for up to 8 weeks.  My travel, insurance and lodging are paid by the Fellowship.  This means it is a bit tough for freelancers who are not salaried and therefore cannot get paid leave.  So I am having to work twice as hard for the moment!

I shall go to St Petersburg (3 weeks) for my main visit because they have a hospital and centre where all the arts are developed with older people, and I shall be documenting the visits on this blog as I go.

I am also going to Malaysia (2 weeks) because I am particularly interested in the attitudes towards older people and their roles, as well as what the arts are contributing to their well-being. My third country has to be Czech Republic, (2 weeks), birthplace of my beloved late husband.  I shall be carrying out interviews with leading care workers as well as seeing the work in several homes and day centres for older people.  This gives me one extra week for any necessary follow-ups.

Watch this space for updates and do let me have any contacts you may have in these countries  What an adventure!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Who is helpless?

In the moment I felt completely helpless - being screamed at by a young female Israeli  at a checkpoint just outside Jerusalem.  The setting was just glorious, expansive blue sky, masses of cherry blossom, and hibiscus.  I had been to Beit Jala, a Palestinian township just outside Jerusalem to meet with an old friend and colleague Marina Barham.  She runs a remarkable theatre group 'Al Harah' who perform social theatre and political theatre as well as leading workshops for community leaders and people working in rehabilitation.

We had a simple but delicious meal in a well known street cafe and then started the journey home.  The sign post said Tel Aviv and there was nothing to suggest I should not be there or that special documents were needed.  I was travelling with an Arab friend, actor and dramatherapist, and we were stopped by a male soldier who said I needed a blue card to go through this check-point, and we asked very nicely to speak to his senior colleague.  A young woman of about 20 years started to abuse me verbally at the top of her voice, screaming to go away...  I won't repeat the remainder of her vitriol, but I was shaking as a result.

Why does this need to happen?  Will anything go anywhere for anybody if this is communication.  And of course it is far worse for the Palestinians and Arabs who live with this all the time.

Is this woman feeling helpless?  If I saw her in my clinic I would know exactly what to do  But why should anyone, let alone a foreign traveller, be subject to this abuse on a public highway?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Paradox of Israel

Sitting under the lemon trees, writing yet more ideas for people and their difficulties:  whether they are feeling victims, aggressors, rescuers, peacemakers, persecutors...It is all here, all I do is write about the specifics for individuals, here it is being acted out on the Middle East stage with everyone playing everyone's roles and nothing changes; the roles just get swapped over.

My friends are having a practice of flute, harp and piano and making beautiful music that really restores the soul.  There is a poignancy that all of them are also experienced therapists and working with extreme abuse, disturbance, and sudden bereavements.  Making music also helps to mend their souls in a therapeutic world in a war-torn country.  International concert pianist Benjamin Oren is giving them a 'master' class today and their playing becomes even more idyllic.

Three hours away there are bombs and rockets between Gaza and the Beersheva desert; a constant bombardment to and from, bright light tracers against the dark velvet sky.  It could be fireworks  but we know it is rather more lethal.

We also know that if people had basic education, jobs and water supplies near their crops, and a chance to trade the fruits of the earth and the products of their labour, there would be some shift towards some resolution.

The music continues...

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Five Great Ideas for Working with the 'Victim-Aggressor-Rescuer' Triangle

Triangulated relationships are very difficult to change as so often the participants have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  We can observe 'victim-aggressor' relationship in families, the work place, the social setting such as the gym.  Therapists, counsellors and social workers are all prone to try and play the role of the rescuer, and may identify with the victim because of their own victim experience.  Ironically it is easier to identify with the victim role rather than admit we have played the aggressor.  However much we feel empathy for the victim, it is essential that we stay neutral if the possibility of change is to happen.

1) Try working in groups doing pair work of 'victim-aggressor': one person says 'You must' - the other says 'I can't'; let the dynamic evolve and lead to a conclusion.  Change round so both people experience both roles.
2) Repeat the idea in (1) but this time it is non-verbal - use gesture to convey 'You must-I can't' and experiment with using the whole body with very exaggerated movement.
3) Repeat the task again, but this time it is very subtle: small movements, a look, a status position, an expression.
4)  Create a 'body-sculpt' of 'victim-aggressor' and invite all members of the group to share which of the sculpts affected them most.

After the exercises 1 - 4, invite people to share any feelings that have been produced - do they link to body memories?  What part of the body are they located in?  Finish with a deep relaxation exercise for people to let go of any tensions.  Use these exercises as a warm up for the story in 5). 

5)  Explore all the roles in the ancient story of 'Theseus and the Minotaur'; how Theseus goes to slay the Minotaur and is helped by Ariadne who gives him a sword and a ball of string.  After Theseus has slain the Minotaur, he goes away with Ariadne and creates a new life.  Eventually he abandons her and she is rescued by Poseidon and is turned into a constellation of 5 stars, (see Introduction to Dramatherapy, 1998 JKP).  We can see in this ancient tale how all the three main characters all play variations of the triangulated 'Victim-Aggressor-Rescuer' roles.

(more to come on this theme)

Monday, 12 March 2012

Five Best Ways to Play with Children with Difficulties

I have just read a fabulous new book - Dennis McCarthy A Manual of Dynamic Play Therapy (Jessica Kingsley 2012). The sub-title really gives the clue: 'Helping Things Fall Apart, The Paradox of Play'. 

McCarthy emphasises the safe exploration through imagery and symbols of the child's often turbulant issues, especially aggression.  As a very experienced play therapist he points out:

 'Play is both and act of creativity and discovery.  This can allow the residual effects of the trauma in their bodies and psyches to resolve in the very same play.  Of course this will not happen quickly, but that it will happen at all is astonishing.  What gets depicted needs to be tolerated by us and not "made nice" or interpreted.'

This last point is so important as it is easy to think we know what is going on!  Most of the time we don't - we need to be an engaged and focussed witness.

1.  Many children need time to play in their own way and not directed into what we think they should play.

2.  Many children are helped by the opportunity to play in messy ways: wet sand, wet clay, sloppy jelly, mud-pies, water play...

3.  Many children need an adult to set the limits especially of time and space: acknowledging when it will be time to stop; establishing that messy play is fine in the play-room (or bathroom or garden) but not just anywhere

4.  Many children need an active adult to read stories that engage the child; stories that have straigh forward themes and structures where the outcome is fair.

5.  Many children need reassurance in a life that can be overwhelming with changes and lack of clarity about their future; just being that presence that has time can be very helpful

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

My Five Best Ideas for Managing Sleeplessness

Tossing and Turning?  Imagining it is the dawn chorus when really it is the clock turning?  We are supposed to sleep more for long life and at my rate I should have gone years ago.  I have always slept for around 5 hours and with all the changes in my life it is less.  Waking up and expecting Peter to be there, waking up and getting confused on the wrong side of the bed, waking up and just wishing that clocks could be turned back.

What helps?

1.  Putting on a favourite DVD that I know well (Inspector Morse, especially the early ones) and letting it lull me into relaxed security - it will turn itself off eventually.

2.  Childhood routines: Horlicks made with extra sugar, hot-water bottle and fleecy pyjamas!

3.  Deep  breathing: watching in my mind's eye the rise and fall of chest as my breathing gets deeper and deeper...zzz

4.  Getting up and starting all over again with a bed-time routine, and telling my body and mind that it really is bedtime!

5.  Reading a familiar and favourite book: for me it is one of the Brother Cadfael stories, for example The Rose Rent or The Sanctuary Sparrow.

It is re-establishing a familiar and known routine when something unfamiliar and non-routine has happened.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

My Five Favourite Techniques for Managing Loss

All of us need some support to keep our own integrity when we have experienced loss, and so many people think that they know what we want!  And yes I do feel cranky and burst into tears unexpectedly, and then use lots of energy and do lots of things and then crash out in the middle of the day and then stay awake half the night.

This is grief, the complete distortion of all my systems when my beloved Peter died just 8 weeks ago.  And no I cannot make decisions about his possessions or how I want to spend my future or whether I want his ashes preserved in  a crystal ring or whether I want to wash his jacket because then I lose a sense and smell of him. 

What is helping?

1.  Having my special box (from India, where we spent great times together) to put special mementos.

2.  Taking my time about 'sorting' about so much stuff (what to give, what to keep, what to throw and what to go to the charity shop.  Remembering that I might keep certain things 'for the moment').

3.  Starting an album of photos and people's comments on their cards, letter and emails.  It is easy to forget all the insights and memories of others, I have messages from Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic, Israel, India, Australia, Greece,Ireland as well as all parts of UK.

4.  Plant a pot or trough of your beloved's favourite flowers and herbs.  Peter loved Lily of the Valley (he wore them for our wedding), and used thyme in all his cooking.

5.  Find your favourite photo of your partner and also one of you both.  Reduce them to business card size, laminate them and put them in your purse.  For quiet times and and reflective walks

'I was one among many thousands in the square
But always too late, too far at the back to see'

The Odyssey, A Stage Play by Derek Walcott 1993