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Choose Memory…..

6 degrees

6° F – so cold and bleak

In January people are often concerned with looking forward, making new resolutions , moving on. But what about remembering? What, or rather how, do you choose to remember?

On Tuesday it was 6°F, bitter cold – but a few days later it’s 60° F. I can choose what to remember about this and how to remember it  –  the temperature was a fact but there was beauty and some excitement in the extreme.

Joy Harjo’s poem Remember (which I have used in groups recently  – one person said ‘at last you’ve found one I like!’), invites us to remember many things about ourselves and the world. She exhorts us to connect with our lives and our worlds, and encourages resilience and strength. It begins:

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.

and continues with invitations to remember many things including:

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

The poem calls us to Remember, as an injunction, 15 times.

People in my groups wrote deeply and movingly in different ways in response to this. Several people wrote about mothers, living or dead, someone wrote emotionally about her mother but also compassionately about her troubled self when her mother died. Some people wrote about their values and their beliefs, others wrote about specific people or events. They saw that they could choose what and how to remember – in writing about the past they chose how to think about it.

Jean-Paul Sartre said that there are things about the past that can’t be changed or denied, the facticity, but we can choose to change our attitude to those things.

In Christmas Days – 12 stories and 12 feasts for 12 days Jeanette Winterson echoes this:

…it’s a fact that our memories change as we do….you can go back in time, you can heal the past. It may be fixed as a fact – what happened happened – but it isn’t fixed in the ongoing story of our lives.


6 degrees and sunny

6°F and so beautiful and sunny

Journal prompt: Think about things you want to remember, choose the details and the attitude. Write a list poem (or simply a list) beginning each line:


When you’ve finished read it through and give yourself some feedback beginning:

When I read this I feel………….

As 2018 begins – choose what you want to remember and what you want to bring with you. Leave a comment below.




Hope is the thing with feathers…….

Winter snowHere is the link to the third in the series of free audio workshops on Writing for Resilience: Shifting our emotional landscapes that Mary Reynolds Thompson & I put together in response to the fires in northern California, the floods and hurricanes in other places and the general turmoil in which we live. In this one we begin to look at regeneration and renewal.

Thank you to everyone who has commented on these, shared their responses with us and the links with others.

Continuing this theme – here’s a poem by Denise Levertov, another transplant from the UK to the US, who swapped the landscape of her birth (Ilford, England) for the landscape of the west (Seattle, USA).

Hope It’s True

I have a small grain of hope –
One small crystal that gleams
Clear colors out of transparency.
I need more.

I break off a fragment
To send you.
Please take
This grain of hope
So mine won’t shrink.

Please share your fragment
So that yours will grow.

Only so, by division,
Will hope increase,

Like a clump of irises which will cease to flower
Unless you distribute
The clustered roots, unlikely source—
Clumsy and earth-covered—
Of grace.

–Denise Levertov

©material used for educational purposes.

Journal prompts:



What is hope for you?

List the people with whom you share hope

Write a letter to someone who gave you hope or to whom you gave hope.

Write an 8 line list poem, beginning each line

I hope………..



Literary landscapes…..

20160811_101102The second free mini workshop in the series Writing for Resilience: Shifting our Emotional Landscape is available for you to listen to here. (The link to workshop 1 is in the previous post.)

In this Mary Reynolds Thompson and I guide you through a two part write about a favourite literary landscape. This exercise is adapted from our chapter Inner and Outer Landscapes: bringing environment into the therapeutic relationship through expressive writing in Environmental Expressive Therapies.

There are many books with a strong sense of place, where the landscape itself becomes a character. I can remember many books I read as a child that featured strong or memorable scenery – some landscapes were familiar to me, others gave me access to new and different worlds. As an adult, reading books set in previously familiar but now distant landscapes is another joy and way to re-connect with my past.

Journal prompt: Make a list of landscapes in books that have made an impression on you. What do you notice about this list? Make notes on the significance of each one.

Do let me know what books with strong landscapes have made an impression on you, an impression that perhaps you have retained. Please leave a comment on this post.

Writing in troubling times…….


winter lakeAlthough the lake here is full at this time and we have snow on the ground, there is not the same calm and safety for many people and communities that we know. Perhaps you or someone you know is personally affected by the fires, floods, earthquakes indelibly changing the landscape, or perhaps the  news brings it into your awareness with brutal immediacy. In these troubling times, when there are natural disasters affecting so many people and communities, it is so easy to feel paralyzed and helpless whilst simultaneously wanting and needing to offer something in whatever way we can.

So I was delighted when my friend and colleague Mary Reynolds Thompson suggested that we record a series of free audio mini-workshops on Writing for Resilience: Shifting your Emotional Landscape.

You can listen to the first of three mini-workshops here.

This episode offers a three-part writing prompt emerging from our joint work on the relationship between Inner and Outer Landscapes. The intention is to help you ground yourself in these troubling times, whatever challenges are facing you.

We hope it may be useful to you or someone you know.

Writing holds a special place among the activities that people use to calm and heal themselves. It is physical, patterned, organised, rhythmic, and directed at a goal. But it is more. It also creates meaning as it flows.

from Surviving Survival: the Art & Science of Resilience by Laurence Gonzales





This is officially the first day of autumn or fall in the northern hemisphere. The beginning of Keats’ Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

The aspen change minute to minute outside my window, becoming gold. The temperature drops.

For some people there is a tinge of melancholy but for others this is a time for new beginnings, changes, re-adjustments – habits begun with the cycle of the school year and which go deep and continue,

Journal prompt: What does autumn/fall mean to you? What changes do you notice in yourself, in your surroundings as the season changes?

Are you looking for a new educational, professional or domestic activity? Check out the local or online offerings for groups or classes that interest you, make your ‘to do’ list including the ‘want to do’ items.

Do you have a favourite poem or book for this time of year? (leave a comment at the bottom of this post). Ali Smith’s novel  Autumn, called by the New York Times ‘the first great Brexit novel‘, came out a year ago but still seems timely and uplifting – celebrating the connectivity of people and things in uncertain or confusing times.

A Writing & Hiking Workshop in Boulder, Colorado


Environmental Expressive Therapies: Nature-Assisted Theory and Practice (Paperback) book cover

 This is a  new textbook which covers a wide range of creative therapies, and how people incorporate nature into the work. Mary Reynolds Thompson & I co-authored the chapter:

Inner and Outer Landscapes: Bringing Environment into the therapeutic relationship through Expressive Writing


 Don’t forget:you can request this or any of the other titles from your local library

Journal Prompt: Explore your relationship with reading over your life – has it changed? Can you remember learning to read? Who was involved with your early reading?

What ‘bookish’ memories come to you?

A version of the following article appeared in the June edition of Integrating Connections

I am a compulsive reader – I read to learn about the world and to understand my own world. The urge to create a meaningful narrative from the events of a life, to understand and to learn, is one of the reasons people come to psychotherapy. Psychotherapists and authors might therefore agree that we read to make sense of our lives and our experience.

Sometimes our professional and personal lives align in a novel in ways that can illuminate both. Recently I picked up a couple of novels from the New Books Shelf at my local library. By chance, they both contained adoption themes:

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See

A Book of American Martyrs – Joyce Carol Oates

I work a lot with clients with adoption stories (from different parts of the adoption triad). I run a group for adoptees. I am an adoptee. Perhaps this makes me particularly sensitive to these themes; I know I am profoundly grateful when I find them. These stories occur in adult fiction from Wuthering Heights to The Orphan Train. Children’s literature has always been full of adoption stories  – think of Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, The Once and Future King. Novels are extra resources I can suggest to clients and show me new perspectives on their stories and my own.

The Novel Cure – An A-Z of Literary Remedies (Berthoud and Elderkin 2013) has a very short section on adoption – if you have come across any books (fiction, non-fiction – as I said, I’m eclectic) with these themes please do let me know at kate@katethompsontherapy.com or leave a note on this post.

Doorways, thresholds and liminal spaces……

How many thresholds do you cross each day? How many doorways do you pass through? These can be literal (your front door, the grocery store, workplace) or metaphorical (moving between parts of the self, embracing a new activity, authoring a change in behaviour). Do you linger in front of the doorway, pause in that liminal space or cross the threshold boldly, with determination?


Journal prompt: Make a list of doorways you enter and thresholds you cross as you go through your normal life. Make a map of your day by listing the thresholds you cross – see how many times a day you make that decision.

Adrienne Rich’s poem Prospective Immigrants Please Note  begins:

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

The poet weighs up the possible implications of going through and then of not going through:

If you do not go throughdoorway
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?


The poem ends:

The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.

Click here for Adrienne Rich reading her poem.

The poem tells ‘prospective immigrants’ that going through the door will involve both losses and gains, but that there are choices to be made about how to live, and consequences of choices. In that sense we are all immigrants and face those choices often.

So what does crossing the threshold mean for you?

Journal Prompt: What is the door in front of you right now? What is on the other side? What is the choice you are being asked to make? What holds you back? Imagine you open the door – will you go through?

We also have choices about what to take through the doorway and what to leave behind, for example, from one year to the next.

Journal prompt: What have you brought with you from 2016? What have you left behind?

(In December I became a citizen of the United States of America. I went through the door,  I’m waiting to see what is on the other side.)


Reading and reflecting….


Happy Thanks Giving Turkeys

Reading is one way of finding solace in uncertain times – and reading about other people’s lives can help us think about our own in new ways.

Writer Alexander Masters discovered 148 diaries (or journals) in a skip in Cambridge. He, of course, tried to make sense of the life described. Eventually his exploration became his book A Life Discarded: 148 diaries discovered in the trash and as readers we come to understand the title refers to both the diaries as representative of a life, and the lived life of the diarist.

The entries from this time raise the interesting idea that, although Laura wrote the diaries, she didn’t read the. She filled the pages but didn’t know what they said.

A Life Discarded p 195

Masters recognises her missed opportunity:

Laura clearly did not read what she wrote, or did not understand what her words meant…she did not grasp the essential message of these pages, which any other reader spots at the first glance: namely, that …

A Life Discarded p197

So journal or diary writing alone is not productive; it provides the seeds for learning and insight but another stage is necessary – that of reading and reflecting. Jean-Paul Sartre reminds us that every writer needs a reader – and in journal therapy we can be both writer and reader.

As I thought, catharsis is not enough, though for many it is the necessary first step.

Do you read your own journal entries?

If not you may be be missing the key opportunity for reflection and insight, the way to turn your journal into a healing tool.

Journal Prompt:


The first snow

Look back over one of your journal entries. Read it through and then write a few sentences of feedback to yourself beginning:

When I read this I notice……..

When I read this I feel…………..

The Feedback Loop (Thompson 2010 p34) is a simple process with real therapeutic gains. It’s also one that we all forget to do  – especially in difficult times.

Leave a comment on this post and share your experience of this process.

And of course:

What are you reading at this time?

Landscapes real and imagined…


View from my window – aspen gold

Leading up to the autumn equinox the aspen have started turning gold – some of them already bright, others yet to lose their green.

I’ve been thinking a lot about landscape as I’ve just submitted the chapter  Mary Reynolds Thompson and I have co-authored (Inner and Outer Landscapes: Bringing Environment into the Therapeutic Relationship through Expressive Writing) for a new book (Environmental Expressive Therapies: Nature Assisted Theory and Practice eds Kopytin, A. & Rugh, M).

It gave us the opportunity to align our different ways of working (from ecological and existential therapy approaches) and really explore the common ground, looking at our shared favourite authors and discovering new ones. We consider the power of writing about landscapes, both real and imagined, and how that affects the psyche. There are three circles in the writing process we have developed, with exercises for each stage.

Here’s just one of the exercises adapted from our chapter:

Journal prompt: A Framed Literary Landscape

Sometimes landscapes in books can become as real and affective as actual inhabited landscapes. “Books, like landscapes, leave their marks in us” (Robert Macfarlane  The Old Ways) As Jean-Paul Sartre and Robert Macfarlane remind us, we are all readers before we are writers.

Structure, pacing and containment are established by the idea of a framed picture which captures a moment, just as a photographer frames a shot through the camera lens or an artist places a painting in a frame. The use of a literary, rather than a physical landscape, allows people to be less immersed in the lived experience of their own lives an its potential for anxiety

1) Think of a book that made an impression on you at some time in your life, where the landscape has entered your imagination and memory because it was almost a character in its own right.

Allow the landscape to come into focus as though you are looking through a camera, or at a picture in a frame.

2) Describe what you see within that frame, as though you were looking at a picture hanging on your wall.

3) Use the present tense, notice the colours, imagine the sounds, smells, see the relationships between the objects that make up the landscape.

Feedback Write: When I read this I feel…


Denali in summer

Let me know what landscapes in what books have left their marks in you. Leave a comment here on this blog.

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