How therapists help clients change…new pathways….

When you take an action, a neural pathway is created which allows that action to be taken more easily next time. This is the ‘learning to ride a bike’ thing. You can’t ride a bike, then suddenly you can, and you don’t forget again. My father learned to swim at the age of 70. Throughout my childhood I knew ‘Dad can’t swim’. Then one day out of the blue my mother telephoned, and announced that he could swim. He had learned – he created a neural pathway and now (he is in his nineties) he is a swimmer. So the neuroscience is clear, if you create a pathway for something it becomes a possibility. This is a form of neural plasticity – the brain can change.

How can this be harnessed for therapeutic change? This is simple. Understand that when you get in to action, you create some sort of a pathway. So for example, if you forgive someone who has wronged you, something shifts inside of you. A pathway is created within you. Probably you will feel this in the chest/heart area. As you let the hurt go, and re-open to goodwill for that person, you are DOING something in your body, there will be a sensation (an actual sensation) in your heart area. This is the creation of a pathway. Next time you take the same path (forgive that person, forgive another person) it will be a bit easier.

In trauma, one of the things that happens is that we have a moment of sensing that there is nothing that we can DO. We freeze. We might be right about this – it

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may be that in the trauma moment there is no action open to us. So in working with people who are struggling with trauma, one of the most simple interventions which you can make is to help them to take an action. Notice where a person might be experiencing something non-optimal (particularly to do with their freedom, their body) and notice where they are not taking ACTION to alleviate the symptom. When your client walks in to the room, are they clear where they want to sit or are they waiting for you to indicate? Instead of indicating, experiment with offering the person the chance to make the choice, and to take an action. Then to change the action if they want (choose) to. Do this countless times. Make it conscious (in other words, begin a dialogue with the client about actions and freezing).

Therapists know that it is often the smallest of interventions which make the difference in the transformation work with someone. Paying attention to bodily action is a way of addressing embodiment which is unthreatening, effective, and holistic.

Ode to Autumn. Keats. Landscapes of imagination.

Beautiful poetry for a beautiful time of year. Thank you to John Keats for his eye which could see this and his vision which led him to write it down.

One of the things I have always loved about this poem is the personification of autumn – it brings the sense of the imaginal world in to focus, as being present. In the same way, when we dream we feel that we are walking through an actual landscape – well we are, but it is a dream landscape. This focus in different ways of understanding ‘landscape’ is very important when trying to understand the ‘inner’ world (what James Hillman called the soul). The inner world is a landscape. It is a landscape as peopled as the landscape we see in the ‘outer’ world, but it is of a different order.

This point about the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds is the essence of depth psychology, and it is where deep, imaginal psychology – the work of beauty and meaning and spirit – differ from the science of a psychology which lives in the mind only. There is nothing wrong with science, obviously (speaking as a researcher who works within a Health and Social Care department of a university I am very comfortable with science and psychology!). But it is limited. The exploration of the ‘inner’ and the ‘outer’ world – the imaginal, the soul…..that is where the poetics of our work can begin.

So here we have the poem – always worth reading at this time of year. I hope you enjoy it.

1.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Close bosom friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit, the vines which round the thatch eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; and set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees

Until they think warm days will never cease

For summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.

 

2.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twine’d flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou doest keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cider press, with patient look

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

 

3.

Where are the songs of spring? Aye, where are they?

Think not of them. Thou hast thy music too,

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies. 

 

John Keats. Obviously. Fabulous.

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Omnipollent nature – beauty in the ordinary

Just in case you wanted another miracle (and the The upward pointing icicle and other miracles was always a popular post on this blog) here we have a bee with blue knees. The pollen she is collecting comes from one of these lace cap hydrangeas. But the whole blue suede knees thing is to be encouraged I think.

Gathering the beautiful and extraordinary in the ordinary is a life enhancing practice. As a psychotherapist I spend a lot of my working life wondering what it is that makes some people able to feel content, delighted in life, peaceful and fulfilled, and what makes others frazzled and despairing. Obviously there is circumstance – some situations militate against joy and peace. But often it is about our attitude, and noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary is one easy and reliable way to up your quotient of satisfaction. So I am offering this bee image today.

Bees gather pollen to take back to the hive as a protein food. Their carbs come from the honey they make (obviously enough), and they also gather water (for cooling the hive and for the manufacture of honey), and propolis (tree resin) which they use as glue and wood filler, and for mummifying dead mice in the hive in the winter (yes……really…..don’t dwell on it, it is gross). But pollen is the other thing which they gather and store for later use. Sometimes when you open a beehive you can see all kinds of different pollens which have been gathered. This blue one is this year’s favourite  and has been announced ‘seasonal miracle’ here at Alchemical Towers.

 

One for the money

Two for the show

Three to get ready and

Go, cat go! But don’t you step on my blue suede [knees]!

You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede [knees]!

 

(are you dancing yet?)

 

 

Overcoming trauma – a transpersonal roadmap

Here are four easy principles for working with complex trauma – your own and your clients’ traumas. If you follow these principles you will not go far wrong. This is based on the work of Bessel van de Kolk, and David Emerson. The reason I have posted this is to begin to address the growing sense of anxiety and diminishment of confidence about working with trauma. An integrative therapist can and should be working with trauma – this is how.

A word of clarification – complex trauma is the term given to an accumulation of difficult experiences over time, which disrupt the person’s capacity to experience normal cycles of arousal and rest. Where the ‘trauma’ is much more of a single event there are other interventions which can be of great benefit and which work on that specific event. This post is about complex trauma.

  • Encourage present moment awareness. Bring the therapy in to the here and now, work with breath, presence, and conscious in-the-room-nowness. In trauma we are whisked out of ourselves and our present moment – tackling trauma involves rebuilding faith in the present moment.
  • Encourage choice. Do not made decisions for your client. In trauma choice seems to be removed, we feel we lack choice about what happens to us. So in tacking trauma we need to restore the truth that we have choices.
  • Get in to action. In trauma we ‘freeze’. Tackle this by taking an action. You feel hot? take of your jumper. You have a tickle in your throat? Cough. These basic actions (and look how basic they are!) are about taking ACTION to change your circumstances. Working like this with trauma means we are addressing the freeze.
  • Foster rhythm. Humans are rhythmic beings and trauma bounces us out of rhythm. Get back to rhythm. Think heart rhythm. Think breath. Think routine. Keep stable weekly appointments. Boundaries, rhythms, and this will correct the crazy.

 

And that is how you work with trauma. Be generous and loving. Be kind. Remember that it is scary. But take these four principles to the heart of your work with trauma and people will recover. Really they will. What you don’t want to do is just operate a flimsy talking therapy which ignores these basic principles. Present moment, choice, action, rhythm.

How is this a transpersonal roadmap? I use the expression because there is a lot of confusion about how transpersonal work only works with energies which can often seem to be quite disembodied. Disembodied work will NOT work with trauma, either specific trauma or complex trauma. The only way to make any kind of effective and safe intervention with trauma work is to restore a sense of whole-being embodied presence in the moment. Restoring a sense of being an embodied being. That is what this road map seeks to do. So this is transpersonal work par excellence.

Present moment, choice, action, rhythm. Be calm. Be reassuring. You can do this.

 

Emerson, D., & Hopper, E. (2011). Overcoming trauma through yoga: Reclaiming your body. Berkeley, Calif: North Atlantic Books.

Van, . K. B. A., Pratt, S., Gildan Media Corporation., & Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma (this ref is for an audio version of this classic).

Rigidity and fracture – be a willow tree…

When structures harden, and crash in to other hard structures, they fracture, fragment, and break. Rocks,  tectonic-plated continents, religious systems, political ideas, and of course, hearts. The hardening of our ideological positions holds the danger of rendering us brittle, subject to cracking up down the fault line of our weakness. What might once have been a powerful, beautiful, coherent whole runs the risk of shattering in to meaningless parts. Being too hard, too intolerant of ambivalence and otherness, makes us vulnerable. It does not make us stronger.

There is always doubt in faith (whether that is spiritual and religious faith, or faith in a more secular ideal). Doubt is what makes faith real, it is that which removes it from the realm of fantasy in to the realm of choice. By knowing doubt, and where you stand in relation to it (willing to have it behind you), you can have an honest, flexible, vulnerable and surrendered faith. The fault line of our faith is our gold.ecotherapy ecopsychology transpersonal psychotherapy katy baldock

Fanaticism is a failure of flexibility. It is a denial of otherness, a pathological incapacity to know the world may look different through the eyes of the other. The incapacity is in all likelihood born of fear, a fear of what the other may do if they are not controlled. It operates within the psyche as well – in oppression of inconvenient longings, fears, thoughts – in the denial of our doubt.

Opinions, including very strongly held opinions, are a life-giving pillar of our inner and outer life. We orientate ourselves around our opinions and values, create systems for living out of them. But when we become hardened, rigid, monolithic, then we risk crashing in to the opinions of others and breaking up. In an earthquake zone, architects take care to build flexibility in to their structures, so that when the earth shakes the building can move with it. A willow tree bends with the breeze, flexibility allows it to stay strong and standing when met with great force. The heart – and our faith –  needs to be the same – strong, stable, but not hard. Clear, but not fanatical. Open, not closed.

 

 

 

 

Dignity, the antidote to terror.

Dignity, endurance, calm, peacefulness, establishment and maintenance of strong boundaries. Commitment to order, sustaining and preserving balance, exercise of compassion, mercy and care in our dealings with one another. Defence of values of tolerance, defence of the rule of law, defence of the freedom of your heart to flourish and express your knowing fully and however you want to – within the boundaries of love, care, and compassion.

Remaining dignified is a heart practice. It is not the same as drawing yourself up on to the moral high ground, and it is not the same as putting up with bad behaviour. It is the refusal to allow your fineness of being, your essential goodness, the rhythmic beat of your heart,  to be hijacked by the attention seeking tantrum of another.

There are a lot of different energies which we know about as human beings. There is the passionate, impulsive, bright fire of intensity – the hot blaze of which can consume, destroy, purify, transform. There is the persistent, connecting flow of relating, love and empathy, which reflects, soothes, dissolves pain and division, makes everything in to a new spring. The energy of dignity is the enduring, strong, protecting and preserving force, the force that gathers, persists, grows wise and contains all the rest – creates and maintains the conditions for life to flourish.

None of the energies are better or worse than one another, but for everything there is a time. Here, from the wisdom texts, is a way of understanding this:

 

 

transpersonal psychotherapy ecotherapy Katy Baldock
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3 (1-8)(KJV)

 

Each of us has to contemplate our rhythm, what the time is for us. What is required at this point? But the thing about this text is that the responsibility for finding the proper response to circumstance is with the responder. Do not be provoked away from your wisdom in to an untimely and inappropriate course of action, arising out of your fear, your terror. Do not do that. It is not necessary. Terrorism seeks to pull society, and each one of us, out of our wisdom. It seeks to hijack the agenda – hijack the ‘time’ – and unbalance and wrong foot the response.

Dignity, endurance, calm, peacefulness, and the establishment and maintenance of strong boundaries. And love, compassion, and mercy. Lets not be terrorised out of that. ecotherapy ecopsychology transpersonal psychotherapy katy baldock

Confounding Perception – use of collage for transpersonal psychotherapy

Any good definition of transpersonal psychotherapy includes something about how we can consolidate, ground, and embody moments of transpersonal knowing.  Over time, these moments can begin to come together in to a coherent pattern, a change of heart which opens new vistas of awareness and understanding for the person. Transpersonal approaches to psychotherapy seek to give value to these more expanded ways of knowing. One of the problems faced by therapists working with this material is how elusive it is, how hard to give words to.

Adopting creative approaches is of immense value to psychotherapists working in this way. Making a piece of art, whether it is a poem, drawing, sculpture, or collage, can be a way of communicating the ineffable. The glorious history of religious art is testament to this way of knowing. An art piece can hold things beyond the conscious awareness of the maker, which can then be thought about, felt through, known more fully, by the maker themselves and by others with whom they want to communicate.IMG_8979

A feature of collage is that is captures fragments. The fragments are then brought together in to a new image within wIMG_8980hich a new form, a cohesion, can be seen. Things are brought together in a new way. This is particularly helpful in psychotherapeutic work, of any kind, but in transpersonal psychotherapy the value is especially pronounced, as the person grapples with expanded ways of knowing.

Collages have to be viewed with an open and flowing awareness, otherwise they can just seem jumbled, irrational, confusing ragbags of only loosely connected imagery. This is similar to dream work. When we first begin to look at a dream, it can seem non-sensical. It is only through sitting with the imagery, feeling our way in to it, allowing intuition to operate to guide us through it, that gradually the dream yields to awareness.  We begin to make sense of it, and even see the guidance it is offering. Working with collage can have a similar effect.

To work with collage effectively it is important to allow intuitive process to guide the work. Have a theme which is being worked around – perhaps the description of a spiritually meaningful experience or arising knowing, or perhaps a problem or issue which seems to have a greater significance than the personal, egoic struggle. Pick a few magazines at random (2 or 3 is enough), and go through them quickly, tearing out the pages and images which speak to the problem. Spend more time in refining the cutting out process, and placing and sticking on the page, but don’t think too much. Then sit with the result. What is new? What is coming forward in the new synthesis here? I sometimes then take a further step of writing a poem or piece of prose about the collage.

Alchemical imagery is often presented in collage form. In creating collages in transpersonal work, the person is building up their own treasure trove of alchemical emblems, describing stages and aspects of the process of transformation.

Here is a poem written when contemplating the otter collage – a poem which remains part of a process, but takes the understanding one tiny stage further on, in this case in to a prayerful and surrendering place (from an initial starting point of discomfort with the ‘sea-change’ happening in life at that time).

Otter Song

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My heavy bones will bring me to the sea bed

To prey. To pray.

My heavy bones will bring me down

To pray.

And from this place so close to earth, as I press my face to the mineral place in me, I can plant seeds. Enormous acorns.

Deep in my body, deep in my bones, the secret places under the sea.

If I pray with all of me

If I prey with all of me

Stalking surrender…

Sea and land and sky…

If I pray with all my heavy bones.

So I would commend the use of collage as in intervention in any form of psychotherapy, but in particular in transpersonal psychotherapy. It can offer new ways of bringing together hard-to-articulate material, it offers a conduit for intuition, and a container for non-ordinary ways of knowing. By using collage you are joining a long and illustrious line of alchemists (transformation experts par excellence!), and religious art makers (in all traditions) in honouring intuition and creativity.

Darkness

There is an empty, hard, cold, chilled and chilling place in the psyche. It is a prison, a place of suspended and interrupted life, isolation, and despair. In that hellish room nothing beautiful seems to live. It is a place of thirst. A place of confinement, restriction, and hardness. We all know it – hate will take you there, resentment will turn the key and self-righteousness will lock you in. The way out is through the heart.

Only the heart, only love, can release you back to the sunlight. Only love can warm this place, make you live again, connect again, release you back in to the beauty of Being. Only when you can turn within and find the love that lives in your beating, rhythmic, beautiful heart can you quench your thirst and return to wholeness. The only way out is in.

I am writing this today when there has been a terrible and atrocious bomb attack on people, children, in Manchester at a concert. It is easy for us to condemn the constricted life-view of the murderers, and condemn it we should. This killing is the extreme of where self-righteousness can take a person, to the  point of slaughter, cold hearted, cold blooded, incomprehensible acts of horror. For those of us who observe, stopped in our tracks by the enormity of the cruelty, there is a job to do. The job is to recognise our own darkness, and to fight it. We fight it by not giving in to it. By not becoming it. We might slam ourselves in to our inner cell of cold hell when things like this happen, enraged and hurt and roaring with our pain – but we have the capacity to live again. We have the capacity to not let hate win. To not let hate win, don’t let it win in you.

As Leonard Cohen put it ‘when hatred with his package comes, you forbid delivery’. That is the skill to reach for in dark times. Be angry yes, enraged, yes of course. But do not become hard, or cold, or hateful because that will not help you, or the beautiful world. Harness your anger for its heat, its passion, its life-giving, life-enhancing drive, and let it live alongside love. Do not hate just because others hate. Do not give in to the cold heart.

 

The uses of water….

This bee is thirsty. She longs for the water, she and her sisters have been covering the fountain today, crowding close to the water, sipping, flying off, coming back for more. Obviously bees need to drink water for their own metabolism, but also they use it to regulate the temperature and humidity of the hive, and in the production of honey. In particular, when honey is too hard and crystalline they use water to make it usable. This bee is probably doing that – there is some hard old honey in her hive and she is, in all likelihood, on honey-dissolution-duty.

The symbolism of this is striking , how we use our water nature (the flowing, reflective, life-giving, soft and connecting aspect of us) to break up what is compacted and unusable, so that our gold can come back in to service. We also, like the bee, use water to regulate our temperature – our fire.  Water is essential to life as we know, but it is also essential to our emotional life. When we get hard and stuck we need to find the refreshing cool beautiful flow.

Make sure there is a bee pond in your garden this summer, if you can. They like to have somewhere to stand so they don’t fall in and drown. But water is important – an upturned dustbin lid will be enough, regularly topped up. And make sure you know where your inner pond is as well, so you can sip from the flow when your heart needs a bit of regulation.

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