People who know me better as a writer or theatremaker sometimes ask how it is primarily being a psychotherapist now and working on a doctorate rather than fiction. I respond that I don’t think they’re all that different. Here are some of the whys.
I had a lovely creative mentoring session this morning with a friend who is creating both a new book and a new show. My role with her today was to listen and notice, see where my interest showed itself, share that with her, listen and notice again. Not dissimilar to directing or dramaturgy, I find that my creative mentoring work – whatever the project people are working on – always has these elements. Prime among them are to listen and notice, listen to the maker, notice what is going on for me, share it if it seems relevant – and sometimes when it seems irrelevant, who am I to decide for the writer/maker what will strike a chord with them?
After the session I went for a swim and met old friend and sometime co-workshop leader of Arvon courses, Toby Litt. We talked about where he is now and where I am. About writing and writing teaching and how our work has changed over the years and how it has not, of how the world has changed.
With Chris Cleave, my friend and colleague in existential psychotherapy/counselling psychology training, I have been developing and sharing workshops in existential phenomenological writing. That is, writing that clarifies moments, opens up possibility – the written equivalent of improv’s ‘exploding the moment’. We’re in the early stages of this work, so far largely sharing it with therapists, but am sure there is a wider place for this form, not least because we believe anyone can join in and find something useful from the listening and creating they can offer themselves.
Yesterday I worked with seven clients in therapy. Each one brings their own story, their own stories, their versions of who they are now, have been, who and how they are being-becoming. My role, as far as I can define it, is to listen and notice. To attend. Etymology, from Latin, attendere; to stretch toward, give heed to. I love that, give heed to, stretch toward. Differently for every person just as I work differently for every novel or short story or theatre piece.
Last week I wrote a short story, the first piece of fiction I have had time to give myself over to in months. It was unnerving to be writing fiction instead of theory or thesis. It was also intensely liberating and joyous, not least because it is hugely influenced by my thesis research. I’d like to bring some of that joy to the next work I do on my thesis, to allow in more of my wild. I can always edit to make it more examiner-friendly later, but I suspect starting from the more wild will be useful. I suspect starting from the wild, the impossible, the dreaming, the dark and the brilliant, the full and the empty – the much – is always useful.
In writing, in theatremaking, in therapisting, in mentoring, I think we are giving heed to, listening out for – the story, the heart, the core, the desire, the unspoken, the as-yet-unheard, the denied, the shamed into silence, the maybe. Heed etymology (yes, I love etymology): Old English hedan “observe; to take care, attend, care for, protect, take charge of”. How beautiful are those terms? Each one of them can apply to a work-in-progress or a life-in-progress.
My thesis research is in the embodied experience of postmenopause. What it is to live our lives after menopause, ageing, becoming old, living this final phase in and of our bodies, which are our only way of being in the world. So far, the strongest learning I have from the research is that acknowledging, attending to transition, while allowing that change is difficult for many of us, is far more liveable than fighting it.
Everything changes, all the time. Living our lives is a daily, hourly, moment by moment, re-creation. I think the real work is to find the story in this moment, even as we know it will become a different story in the next. To live this story and stretch toward the next, lived from the stories we have lived, told, experienced, believed (and sometimes mis-believed) from the past. I think this is the work of creativity and of psychotherapy, I think they are deeply connected.
As ever, it’s all joined up.