For the past two years, I worked solely as a Dramatherapist. It was a professional identity that I took seriously, felt deeply, and thought about constantly. It brought together many things that I was passionate about and interested in, such as performance, psychology, spirituality, healing, creativity, helping others. It slowly sipped into other identities, and sometimes it integrated itself, but other times, it overtook aspects of myself. I took it as a badge of honour and tried to fit in, in ways which were actually counterproductive to how I am and what I value. This took me by surprise, and it showed me a lesson: evolution is constant. It’s not about reaching a place in life and then resting. It’s about going through life’s motions and paths, and taking each moment as it comes. That’s all we will ever have, ultimately.
I am not rejecting this identity, I am simply expanding it. I still don’t have a name for the current identity that is forming, though. I feel what it is but I can’t define it yet. I know that it has liberated itself from the Dramatherapist label, to include other identities/talents/passions, such as performance, creative collaborations, countercultural communities, movements at the fringe and margins of the mainstream. I’m trying to follow my instincts on this one and letting it become clear whenever it becomes clear.
In the meantime, here is what I do and know. Whilst I eventually found myself in a place of stuckness with Dramatherapy, I did learn immensely in the past two years, post qualification and graduation. I worked in the fields of addiction, sexual health, and adult mental health, and loved every single moment of learning or insight I experienced in my consulting rooms. By now, I have conducted more than 150 individual sessions, and more than 400 group sessions. That is a lot of people! That is also a lot of stories, pain, joy, tears, laughter, fear, and love. It is, above all, a lot of connection! And this is the most important notion I am keeping with me, from the past two years: connection. To be more precise, interconnection. A big part of my therapeutic approach consists of instinctive interactions in the moment. I often found myself saying something, which I didn’t know where it had come from. I often joked with colleagues that I wish I had a recorder with me in sessions, for I would have been able to write a nice book by now, just by transcribing my sessions onto paper.
This always told me something: that I am blessed with a gift that goes beyond the theory and practice that I learned in my training as a Dramatherapist. A gift which often allowed me to get to aspects of my clients’ stories and lived experiences, in a much quicker, deeper, and more contained manner than other therapists who had also worked with them. A gift which allowed clients to connect with me, even without having to disclose anything of myself. A gift which immediately made people feel safe in my presence as soon as we started our first sessions together. A gift which was always accepted by the clients, but often misunderstood by colleagues, and other professionals. Interestingly, I recently read a quote by Carl Jung which said something along the lines of: learn all the theory that you possibly can, but then leave it outside the therapy room. Why? Because the most important thing is to meet the person as they are in that moment: not their personal or clinical history. I have always done this instinctively.
And what I noticed, time and time again, was the theme of interconnectedness: inner and outer. By inner interconnectedness, I mean the notion that every part of us is connected. As I said in my previous post, we are not mind AND body AND heart AND soul. We are MindBodyHeartSoul, every second of every day that we are alive on this Earth. That’s why so often in therapy we may be dealing with some kind of problem in a particular area, and another problem in a completely different area pops up. Mental health is not just mental, just as physical health is not just physical. They are deeply connected. And so is our psyche. I often described it as a spider web to clients. The spider may be at one end of the web, when a bug touches the other end, but that vibration will travel through the entire web. When we work on a particular area in therapy, that vibration will travel through the entire psyche, and we have no way of predicting what the reaction might be. This doesn’t happen solely in therapy, though. It can happen at any second, of any day. Something happens at work, for instance, which will trigger something else which may feel completely unrelated, but it isn’t. And in real life, people don’t often have the support they need in certain situations. That’s why safety is such an important concept in therapeutic settings: when things do pop up, there will be a safety net in place to catch whatever it may be. Outer interconnectedness is our relationship to each other. We are also part of one giant organism and soul, affecting each other without a real awareness of what we are doing, and of how much we are actually influencing everything around us.
It was with this in MindBodyHeartSoul, that I have provisionally come up with the 7 core principles of InterBeing. In no particular order, because they are all interconnected.
In the processes of holistic healing, wellbeing, and transformation, I perceive Emotional Integration as the removal of labels of good and bad, right and wrong. It’s not about judging aspects of ourselves which manifest as blockages, negativity, or ego. Everything in our psyches has a function, therefore it is important to understand what that function is, and help that part of you integrate with the others, i.e., work harmoniously together. For more on this, I highly recommend watching the Pixar/Disney movie, Inside Out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRUAzGQ3nSY). People often joke about it, but that is exactly how I work with clients, and their different emotions.
This is my preferred term to work on the self. To me, it implies an intimate relationship with the self, one that does not require a comparison to external circumstances. Whilst our relationships with others are immensely influential in our lives, it is also necessary to discern where someone’s opinions/feelings/perceptions of us end, and where our own opinions/feelings/perceptions of ourselves begin.
Becoming aware of the boundaries between us and others is extremely valuable, as it helps with self-preservation, self-esteem, self-worth, and self-compassion. If there’s no sense of self, how can one start the process of healing and transformation? Once we discover the sense of self, it is then important to learn to be compassionate toward, and about it. We have all spent too long showing nothing but contempt towards our own sense of self, and it is time that we stop that.
Relationships: one of the big ones! I would say one of the biggest reasons people go to therapy for is due to relationships. The process of relating to others is extremely significant. I believe that there is only so much healing, processing and developing that one can do on their own. Certain aspects of what it means to be human, may only be worked through, by relating to others. And this is where this core principle comes in: most clinical presentations in a therapy room had their origin in an interaction with someone else. And, one way or another, everyone expresses the same needs: to be seen, to be heard, to be validated, to be loved, to know that they matter. These can only occur and be healed in relationship with others.
But what does interdependent relationships mean? That there are healthy boundaries between each individual in the relationship. That both parties have a sense of self, that is not dependent on the other. It’s not about saving the other, or being completed by the other. It’s about remaining yourself whilst in relationship to the other. Two individual parties coming together, but not becoming one and disappearing into each other. Remember: we are already One, in our souls and with the universe around us. We were born to be our individual selves, not someone else.
Easier said than done, right? Healing is simple, but not easy.
Post Traumatic Growth
This term comes from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (https://optionb.org/book), which she wrote after her husband died, and I absolutely love the idea behind it. Most people are familiar with the term PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But as in with many clinical conditions and diagnoses, we always see people who are subdued and people who move through. In Sheryl’s case, she describes feeling a certain level of clarity, after months of grief, which made her realise that she was growing. She had gone through something traumatic, and that trauma will always be part of her life, but she was now experiencing growth, and not a stress disorder.
Reading this made me give her an imaginary standing ovation! I had never thought of it that way. All the trauma I have experienced personally, as well as the trauma of the hundreds of clients whom I have worked with…there was growth there, of course!
What I find so exciting about this is that it still acknowledges the trauma, which is imperative, but is no longer ruled by it. There is growth! The focus shifts from a disorder to emotional growth! And isn’t that what we, who have lived through trauma, want? To move from the disorder and into some kind of growth? I adopted it immediately as a core principle!
Therapeutic Performance & Art
Arts can be used with therapeutic intent, and can be therapeutic in themselves. Schools of thought in the arts therapies often fall under these two categories. But why should it be one or the other? They are not mutually exclusive. In my previous role as Dramatherapist, I often followed and fell under the first option: using the elements of drama in therapy. And I forgot about all those times that I had performed on a stage, or rehearsed something, and felt the therapeutic benefits of playing/being/re-enacting/embodying something or someone. This is a commitment to have more fluidity between these two schools of thought and practice, in my personal and professional lives, but also to invite everyone to merge them a bit more in their own processes. For performers, for instance, the invitation is to spend more time in the process, not the performance, and explore the feelings and experiences in a more reflective manner. For others who only use the arts as tool, to spend more time being creative, letting go, even performing or sharing the art with others, and letting the art itself do the talking.
In the practice of Dramatherapy, there is this concept of witnessing. It’s more obvious in a group setting, but it is present in individual sessions as well. It means that one is not simply watching someone play or be someone, or looking at someone’s art work. One is watching or looking, but one is equally paying attention to how those things feel in one’s lived experience. It’s not about liking it or not, it’s about being open to and aware of feelings that arise during that experience. There is an active participation element to it. The question to witnesses is never “What did you think?”, but “How did it feel?” or “What’s with you in this moment, and where is it?” It requires presence in each moment: to watch/look, to feel, and to reflect.
The groundedness aspect is twofold: by being present in each moment, one becomes grounded. By becoming grounded, one is able to better listen to one’s heart, soul, and intuition, and discern motivations and paths to follow.
I actually wrote my MA thesis on intimacy between HIV+ gay men, and this has been a big part of my Dramatherapy training, and professional work. It has also been a big part of my personal life, because I have carried around for many years, this internal narrative/story that “I struggle with intimacy”. I was always consciously and unconsciously drawn to things that I struggled with and most of clinical work reflected this need to find out more about myself, through working with others in similar experiences. It didn’t make my clinical work any easier, let me tell you that!
With most things, the more I looked into intimacy, the more I saw and discovered, the more I questioned what I thought I knew, and the more clarity I gained. For myself, and most people I have worked with, intimacy tends to be associated with sex, or with other behaviours in close relationships.
This might be controversial, but I experienced very deep connections with clients over the years, both with clients in 1:1 sessions, and between clients in group sessions. Connections which I would describe as intimate. The main characteristics of these connections were emotional depth, healthy boundaries, mutual healing and transformation, and unconditional compassion, which manifested physically through sustained eye contact, instinctively mirrored body language, and proximity.
Because a lot of my work revolved around building positive relationships, I often made them aware of these happenings and experiences, in an effort to make it obvious that they were, indeed, able to connect deeply with others, without the world falling apart. I call this process awakened intimacy: to experience intimacy instinctively, to become aware of it, to reflect on it, and then apply it further.
My aim, then, in this new phase of personal and professional identity formation, is to apply and encourage all of these in my work with people, whether as a therapist, a performer, a speaker, or a collaborator.
I hope you join me.