Books…..

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.

Landscapes real and imagined…

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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…

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Denali in summer

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

Landscape: the desert

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Snow in the Arizona desert

Writing about landscape and place, real and metaphorical, is a way back to the self. Different landscapes connect us with different aspects of our self and experience. The desert is one landscape which evokes strong internal responses in people, whether they have real experience of it or not. It’s a place where survival becomes real, it’s an environment in which people find themselves, confront themselves, meet themselves. Mystics and aboriginals have always ventured into the desert to deepen their mental, spiritual and physical encounters.

What is your experience of the desert?

In her book Refuge: an unnatural history of family and place, Terry Tempest Williams writes:

I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages

because you learn humility.

I believe in living in a land of little water,

because life is drawn together.

And I believe in the gathering of bones

as a testament to spirits that have moved on.

If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place

that allows us to remember the sacred.

Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert

is a pilgrimage to the self.

There is no place to hide and so  we are found.

I’ve used this piece with groups with some profound results. Some people initially recoil from the idea of desert landscapes saying they seem arid, empty and full of snakes, others are drawn to them for the space and solitude they offer.

Journal prompt:  What is the desert for you?

Ask yourself these questions:

What is the desert in me?

What does the desert want to say to me? Write a letter from the desert.

When you contemplate the desert, what do you truly see?

Notice what happens when you read your writing. Leave a comment or share your writing on this post.

There are many and varied responses – some people are surprised to find that when they answer these questions they find in the desert a more benevolent aspect, a place beyond their resistance and denial, a place where they begin to see themselves with a greater clarity.20150103_120318

Terry Tempest Williams is speaking at the Boulder Library on Friday 29th August 2016

Mary Reynolds Thompson and I are writing a chapter called Inner and outer landscapes: bringing writing into the therapeutic relationship through expressive writing for a new book, Environmental Expressive Therapies: Nature-Assisted Theory and Practice, in which we will explore how writing about place can be therapeutically significant.

 

Literature & Landscape

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Moose in Brainard Lake

Summer has come late this year, is still coming, not settling. Everything is damp, the air is humid. Visitors from England comment on how green it is here. The landscape is full and juicy, unusual for Colorado in July.

The period of the last two months has been filled with lots of events and activity. This started with the World Congress in Existential Therapy in London in May, where I taught a workshop:

Pourquoi Ecrire? Where Jean-Paul Sartre & Journal Therapy converge

This period has just ended with the July writing workshops I’ve been teaching with my colleague Mary Reynolds Thompson on Landscape & Psyche.

In our workshop Landscape Literature and Imagination: How we connect self and place, we begin by asking participants to think about a book, poem or song in which landscape is a strong aspect, a landscape that they connect to in some way or which made a lingering impression on them.

Journal prompt: List the books, poems or songs that have strong landscapes for you. Think about at what time in your life you discovered them. What spoke to you?

Thinking about this before the workshop I realized that I was brought up on the wild literary landscapes of northern England, in particular the Lake District. This landscape ran like a thread through my reading in the first 20 years of my life.

Copyright Chris Warren

Ullswater: Copyright Chris Warren

First there was Beatrix Potter in my pre-literate days, then Swallows & Amazons and Arthur Ransome’s other novels about children escaping supervision by adults to have adventures on the lakes and in the fells. Then later Wordsworth, The Prelude (to which I still return), perhaps the greatest landscape and psyche poem ever written.

This landscape was also physically real to me, the place of many childhood holidays, the Lakeland fells familiar from many walks and explorations.

Journal Prompt: Choose one of the books from your list. Imagine you are holding it in your hands. When you open the cover there is a picture of the landscape, a frontispiece. It could be a watercolor, a photograph or an engraving. Look at it closely and then, when it has come into focus begin to describe what you see. Describe it in as much detail as you can

Wild Soul Stories….

Wild Soul Landscape

Wild Soul Landscape

My friend and colleague Mary Reynolds Thompson (yes, really – no relation) and I love working together – see our upcoming workshop at the end of this post. This week she interviewed me and invited me to tell a Wild Soul Story. When Mary invited me I went to diaries I had kept in earlier life and found an experience from early adolescence to talk about. You can listen to our conversation by clicking here. I could have chosen many other Wild Soul Stories…..Landscape has always been a powerful agent for my relationship with the self.

A Wild Soul Story is an account of an occasion when you and your environment, your inner and outer landscapes engage in significant ways. Mary says:

No one Wild Soul Story is like any other.  To all of us, however, it bridges the false divide between inner and outer nature, Earth and Soul.

Living this story, we come fully alive. We embrace a sense of self that is connected to the Earth and to our own true nature.

Journal Prompt: Think about a time when you became deeply aware of your environment.Write a Wild Soul Story of your own. Write about how it affected you at the time and how you remember it. Has it changed your relationship with yourself or with nature?

Mary Reynolds Thompson and I are teaching our popular workshop on December 17th:

WORKSHOP: Literature, Landscape, and

Winter Landscape

Winter Landscape

Imagination

December 17 @ 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Book Passage,

51 Tamal Vista Blvd,  Corte Madera,  CA 94925 United States

+ Google Map

A strong landscape has an emotional effect; it creates a type of memory in which the landscape plays a vital role and becomes fused with the self. We will explore how landscapes––real, literary, and imagined––can create a topology of memory that infuses our writing and lives with deeper awareness and creativity.

We hope you can join us.

Let us know if you’d like us to bring our workshop to a location near you.

Inner and outer landscapes…………

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?

Elizabeth Bishop – Questions of Travel

 

This summer I’ve travelled to different places, both new and familiar. Now I’m happy to be home but I still think of places I’ve been.

Colorado landscape

Colorado landscape

In the last few weeks I’ve spent time in other landscapes that I used to call home and still feel viscerally familiar and beautiful. There are landscapes which become part of us, part of our inner landscapes. Just as we imprint the places we pass through, so they imprint us, leaving a trace which we can explore later in writing.

In Autobiography in Landscape: Telling our stories through the places and landscapes of our hearts, minds and souls in Derbyshire this September participants explored places that have been significant to them and also the landscape where the workshop took place – using the present as a doorway to the past and re-discovering aspects of the self in those other landscapes.

When the sun came out we went into the woods across the road to write. It was a different experience to write in nature, to observe closely the scene around us, from the ants to the water, the sounds and smells as well as the sights.

Journal prompt: Write outside.  Take your notebook and pen and go out into the landscape. If wild nature isn’t within reach, find a park or a garden. Write what you observe through your senses (sight, smell, sound, touch). Notice details that you don’t normally see as you walk or pass through these places, distracted by other thoughts or conversations. Write about your experience of the place in the present moment.

Some participants found that writing in the woods reminded them of other woods  – by scraping away the present landscape they were able to find memories of other woods layered beneath. We might call this a palimpsest –  where one landscape has been overlaid by others in our memory and we can uncover those which lie below.

Yorkshire landscape

Yorkshire landscape

 

Journal prompt: Allow yourself to make connections to other places in your life. Follow your own memory trip to other places that have been significant in some way in your life. Find yourself in them and what they mean to you. 

 

What are the places that have been important to you? Share your significant landscapes here.

 

 

Spring Landscapes

 

Spring in Arizona

Spring in Arizona

I’m just back from speaking at the Center for Journal Therapy symposium, Passion to Profit, and the National Association of Poetry Therapy annual conference in Arizona. The temperatures  contrasted (96°F in Arizona, 33°F in Colorado), as did the landscapes. It’s always wonderful to connect with your community and these meetings were particularly stimulating and full of creative energy. 

Mary Reynolds Thompson (no relation!) and I facilitated our workshop called Literature, Landscape and Imagination at the NAPT meeting. Reading literature and inhabiting landscapes are both acts of imagination, framed by our perspectives and our perceptions. In her book Reading Middlemarch Rebecca Mead says:

Spring in Colorado

Spring in Colorado

 

 

..”when I read her [George Eliot’s] books I am restored anew to that place of childhood. She shows me that the remembrance of a childhood landscape is not mere nostalgia for what is lost and beyond my reach. It does not consist of longing to be back there, in the present; or of longing to be a child once more; or of wishing the world would not change. Rather it is an opportunity to be in touch again with the intensity and imagination of beginnings. It is a discovery, later in life, of what remains with me.” p253

 

Journal Prompt:

Think about the spring landscapes of your childhood. Choose one which has a particular resonance for you right now. Think about how old you were when you inhabited it (however briefly – perhaps a holiday place, perhaps your home). Who else was there?

Write about it in the 1st person, present tense, use the language of the senses to evoke your experience of it.

Read it through and write a few sentences of feedback (e.g. When I read this I notice…..When I read this I feel….. )

What does that place have in common with where you are now?

Winter Landscapes

Winter landscape

Winter landscape

The clocks changed this weekend, taking the US an hour closer to Europe for the rest of the month. Suddenly the evening lasts longer and spring seems a possibility although this is still a winter landscape, deep snow, the trees still dormant. But it feels time to emerge and experience landscape again, to be physically connected to it.

What is landscape? According to Simon Schama in Landscape and Memory the word entered the English language

along with herring and bleached linen,as a dutch import at the end of the sixteenth century. p10

Landscape differs from scenery or land or background in that it is always framed, it is the framing of an image, picture making, whether by an artist’s eye, a camera’s lens, a Claude-glass  or the interior eye of memory. It is a relationship between viewer and place.

Journal prompt: Think about the winter landscapes that you know. List them as you think of them.  Describe the one you can see with your outer or inner eye. Is it in front of you? Is it a memory? How do you relate to it? How far away are you?

In The Old Ways, his book about ancient tracks in Britain and beyond, Robert Macfarlane writes:

Winter Landscape

Winter Landscape

I have long been fascinated by how people understand themselves using landscape, by the topographies of self we carry within us and by the maps we make with which to navigate these interior terrains. p26

Writing about such places takes us into much larger realms of the self and experience than we can imagine. Our personal history is also our personal geography. In writing we can re-inhabit the landscapes of our lives but we can also use the distance of memory to write about how we have got here from there.

Placeless events are inconceivable, in that everything that happens must happen somewhere, and so history issues from geography in the same way that water issues from a spring: unpredictably but site-specifically. p147

Who are your favourite writers on landscape (fact or fiction)? Leave a comment on this post.

 

After the flood…….

Boulder Creek Flood

Boulder Creek Flood (Photo credit: JGColorado)

The floods in Colorado have devastated lives and landscape. Now we are re-grouping and returning to some kind of normality even though many are still displaced, not sure what the future may hold or when they can return to their homes. It has stolen more than 2 weeks of our lives, and we’ve been lucky – for many people this has been a truly devastating and life changing event. Our sympathies are with those who continue to suffer the effects.

There comes a point where the crisis can become an excuse rather than a reason for not getting back to routine lives. When we’ve done the big clean-up, services are restored and the rest of our life is calling, people can be unsettled, distracted. Somehow it’s hard to settle back into routine.

Journal Prompt: Write about a time when your life was disturbed, upset or disrupted by something (a small thing or a big thing, something external). How did you get back to your routine? What helped you? Did you resist the return to Normal? Was something changed?

Flood is a powerful image.  Poets have written about literal and metaphorical floods throughoutA Flood - Frederick morgan the ages, including John Clare, Seamus Heaney, Robert Frost, James Joyce. Leave a comment and share your favourite flood poem or reference.

Journal Prompt: Explore the idea of flood as metaphor.

Travelling through time and back again……

Orkney Islands [GB], 2004, Skara Brae.

Skara Brae, Orkney (Photo credit: Fiore S. Barbato)

This summer has been a journey through time from the Neolithic in the north to the Victorian on the frontier, from treeless islands to high mountains. My travels took me to 5000 year old settlements and tombs, the bare ruin’d choirs of Medieval buildings and Victorian frontier towns; so many different ways of living to imagine, so many different kinds of life.

All in the space of a few weeks and many thousands of miles.

This certainly allows a different perspective on home & life, being so temporally and geographically displaced. But at the same time always seeing the past through the lens of the present.

St Andrew's Cathedral

St Andrew’s Cathedral (Photo credit: djenvert)

Journal prompt:

Here’s a 3 part perspectives write for when you are taking a trip, for vacation or work, away from home for a time or simply taking a walk near your house.

As you turn towards home reflect on these 3 questions:

1) What am I looking forward to returning to?

2) What am I ambivalent about returning to?

3) What do I not look forward to returning to?

Write 3 lists. Reflect on each category and see what you notice – how can you celebrate the first, clarify the second and address/change the third?

The Bridger Mountains just outside of Belgrade...

The Bridger Mountains, Bozeman, Montana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some landscapes feel familiar even when they aren’t; something happens when we see something that reminds us of somewhere else, an almost physical memory of place.

Have you ever been anywhere that so reminds you of somewhere else that you are temporarily dis-located?

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