Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Going beyond Fragmentation 2 - Re-fashioning Humpty Dumpty

Old wooden post Portrane, Co. Dublin, October 2010
If mental ill-health is anything it is a slow descent into disintegration.  The mind loses its central focus and the personality/self or soul, call it what you will descends into chaos.  Contrariwise, if mental health is anything it is the slow ascent to integration.  Mental illness or mental breakdown is about fragmentation while mental health concerns the putting together again of those scattered fragments of self.  This latter task is a life-long one in many ways as perfect mental health simply does not exist - it is an on-going aim or goal of healthy life.  For those of us who have plumbed the depths of depression or despair the slow ascent back to mental health can be slow.  However, even if it is slow, there is much that we can do.  These few posts that I am at present writing here are about poiesis - that essentially creative act of putting the fragmented pieces of the self back together.  We are all very well aware of the line from the famous nursery rhyme that once Humpty Dumpty had fallen from the wall that "all the King's horses and all the King's men could not put Humpty together again."  There is some truth in that nursery rhyme, but often times the re-assembled pieces or fragments can make up a new, purified and strengthened self.  Again, there is a good piece of wisdom which states that what does not kill or destroy us makes us better.  There is no little truth in that aphorism.

Poiesis is the creative act or, indeed, the essential healing or therapeutic act of integration and re-integration.  While poiesis in its original Greek sense may refer to poetry, here in Levine's work as in the writings of other psychotherapists it is used metaphorically to refer to all artistic activity.  For Levine as for Hillman and many other psychologists and psychotherapists poetry in its restricted as well as its metaphorical sense is very much the language of the soul.

Crushed shells, Portrane, October 2010
Stephen Levine outlines the tasks facing the Artist/Therapist which he sees as essential to our very survival as a species, that is so that we won't end up wiping ourselves off the planet in a nuclear holocaust or in the ensuing nuclear winter.  Let us listen to his prophetic and deeply holistic words:

.... if, as we have said, art and therapy are essentially united then it may be most proper to think of the expressive arts therapist as an artist/therapist.  Artist/therapists need to be situated at the borderline of art and psychotherapy; ideally they will draw from both fields.  Their intention is to heal and to create: to heal by creating.  Artist/therapists have the dual task of understanding both the therapeutic and the creative processes....

In addition, artist/therapists must have undergone and be constantly undergoing the therapeutic process within themselves.  They must be familiar with their own pain and suffering and with the attempt to transform them through creative action.  Working as a therapist is itself a way of re-fashioning the personality.  Artist/therapists must be continually open to self-transformation if they are to be able to assist others in this task. (Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul, Stephen K. Levine, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1997, p. 6)

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