Friday, June 03, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 2

Returning to Professor Levine's Arts Therapy

Model early Irish Monastery at Glendalough. May 2011
I wish now to continue my commentary on Stephen K. Levine's wonderful little book Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul (Jessica Kingsley, London, 1997) which I began more than six months ago but left off completing for one reason or another in these pages.  The book is essentially a thoughtful and philosophical treatment of the use of the arts in therapy.  Levine cogently argues that poiesis, which is essentially the creative act itself, is also the very act by which we affirm our identity and humanity.  Being such it has much to say to and do with therapy in its multifarious forms.

Expressive Arts Therapy is just that - it does what it says on the tin.  It's all about enabling the self or the individual soul to express itself as creatively as possible.  Hence, these types of therapy comprise the whole spectrum of the human soul's creative abilities - music (including human song and poetry), painting of all types, sculpture, design, drama, creative writing and many more besides.  In all of these, the human soul seeks to put to flight, to take off, to soar, to sing itself whole in the beauty of its very being, in the beauty of its own very soul-song. The aim of Expressive Arts Therapy to my mind is simply this - to enable the soul to sing itself whole in the beauty of its very being.

How does a person become an Expressive Arts Therapist?

It is to answering this pertinent question that Levine dedicates chapter five of the book, though he does not number his chapters.  A person can become a healing artist by undergoing a system of training or more precisely a "hands-on", experiential education which not alone equips the candidate to become an effective arts therapist, but one which also brings about a potent transformation in the trained person himself/herself.  He calls his method of training a "presentation." (See op.cit., pp 43 ff.) 

Giving a Presentation

Modern copy of an old manuscript, Glendalough May 2011
Levine gets his would-be Expressive Arts Therapists to present to the group some inner conflict or personal issue, and that conflict or issue must be presented through one or more artistic media.  When the student has given his/her presentation, the group is invited to engage in some feedback to help the presenter.  initial feedback takes the following format: "I feel that...," "I imagine that..," or "I remember that..,"  or "I resonate with what you say..."  Then, further feedback can be expressed in artistic format.  Moreover, when the presentation is complete, the student must write  a process report, in which he or she reflects on the process they engaged in.

In short, what the trainee Expressive Arts Therapist is at is presenting themselves to the group, or in Levine's words "they are showing the pain and suffering in their lives." (Ibid., p. 44)  Now they are not merely representing this pain or suffering, they are actually re-enacting it or making it present in the here and now.  In all of this, the student must be aware of their own responses and reactions and those of the others in the group.  Levine informs us that these presentations do not always work, but that when they do, they authenticate both presenter and the participating group.  In this way, the would-be therapists face one another with openness, authenticity and a sense of communion.  Further, the participants encounter their own vulnerability and that of others in the group.  In this way each participant shows his/her "psychopathology,"  in the original root meaning of that word, i.e., a logos of the pathos of the psyche or a telling of trhe suffering of the soul.  Let me conclude now with Levine's own words:

If the presenter "talks about" his or her suffering instead of putting it into artistic form, it remains distant from us; it is not actualized in the here and now.  On the other hand when the moment of opain is re-created in an artistic form, then it becomes real as if it were occurring for the first time.  We cannot help but be affected or moved by it. (Ibid., p. 45)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 1

Accepting the Brokenness of Things

Falun Gong, Dublin, Christmas 2006 - Healing brokenness
None of us can buy experience.  It comes at very high price indeed, and that price is sheer living and it is counted out in years, many long hard years.  How often have we wished that we could turn back the clock and start our working lives with the lived experience we have purchased expensively with great toll on our minds and bodies and souls, giving vent to such Utopian thoughts, sheer wishful thinking, such as "If only I knew then what I know now!"  As the old proverb goes, "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."  I return briefly here to a small book I reviewed in these pages last year, namely Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul (Jessica Kingsley, London, 1997) by Professor Stephen K. Levine. (See this post and following here:Going Beyond Fragmentation  In his introduction to that work, the learned professor averred that "a major theme of my thinking is the necessity of fragmentation, the refusal to find premature solutions that would only cover over differences in a facade of unity.  At the same time I find myself striving always towards integration, motivated by a hope for wholeness and reconciliation.  It is this activity of working through disintegration that I consider to be at the core of the creative and therapeutic processes.  I call this act "poiesis" (following Heidegger's use of the Greek word for poetry), and consider it to be the center of human existence."

Fragmentation and the Modern Mind: The Creative Artist

Evening sky, Phoenix Park, June 08
I have long been a lover of Samuel Beckett even though the landscapes and/or backgrounds against which he situates his drama, his novels and his poems are often rather too bleak for me.  I have to be in a certain mood to attend any of his dramas or read any of his novels.  An Italian journalist who taught me Italian, Professore Enzo Farinella believes that Beckett is far too negative and far too depressive about life and believes sincerely that this has a lot to do with the very gray weather we experience in Ireland.  That Beckett lived most of his life in Paris Farinella never mentioned.  However, Paris does experience some of the Gaelic grayness we get here in Dublin.  Whatever about Signor Farinella's opinion, one thing is sure - there is a drive to fragmentation in all the literary output of Beckett, though Uhlmann, Houppermans and Clément  in After Beckett: D'apres Beckett (Éditions Rodopi, B.V. Amsterdam, NY, 2004) (See this link here for this book: Beckett and Fragmentation)  on balance suggest that while the oeuvre of our Nobel Literature Laureate does tend to fragmentation it never ends in total disintegration nor does Beckett reject out of hand the possibility of integration.  In other words Beckett's oeuvre avoids the "premature solutions," detested by Professor Levine, or any covering over of cracks in our human condition, a condition in which there are many, many, many of them.

In short, modernist and post-modernist writers and artists do tend towards fragmentation and avoid like the plague any premature integration of the many aspects of the human condition into a rather sloppy and super-imposed whole.  In this way, art does express the collapse of old certainties and old visions, giving way to a certain sense of lostness and an equally obvious lack of definite direction for the whole human enterprise.

Rushing in where Angels fear to tread

Graffiti, Howth, April, 2008
I return always to Dr Eugene Gendlin's wonderful small book named Focusing which deals with how the body carries our brokenness in its very sinews.  His therapy, called focusing, is essentially all about listening attentively, sensitively and imaginatively to the body's pain.  In that book, somewhere in the introduction, he tells us that the client/patient who comes to therapy knowing what exactly is wrong with him/her is the one who makes the least recovery in the long run.  It is, rather, the patient/client who is lost, confused and knows very little, indeed is quite frigfhtened about what is happening in and to him/her both in body and soul or in body-soul, who makes the quicker recovery.  I like the term body-soul as modern psychotherapy abhors the Cartesian dualism which has warped the Western Mind and Soul for the lat 400 years.

At work, I notice that it is those teachers/professionals who have all the answers who teach less effectively than those of us who are seeking the answers with our charges or students.  Okay, the teacher should be an expert in his/her chosen field, but that is not to say that he/she has all the answers or should even pretend to have all the answers.  The true teacher is an academic who is open to learning more all the time.  This requires that he or she should be possessed of the true humility and lightness of learning that goes with the teaching role.  The true teacher is also a facilitator who seeks to allow the student develop himself/herself in the most natural way possible.

The pupils I deal with in the ASD class have Asperger's Syndrome, which is essentially a developmental disorder, are lacking in the areas of social skills, communication skills and in imaginative ability (the last of these means that their sense of empathy for others is severely hampered).  However, as a trained teacher in SEN I use strategies to help strengthen, improve and develop these abilities in my charges. In many cases these students also have many comorbid disabilities/disorders like ADD, ADHD, ODD, OCD, Dyspraxia and so on.  They experience a certain brokenness which we do our best, with our support team in the HSE, to assuage and improve.

Outside this ASD class, I teach many other students with a wide variety of brokenness and fragmentation like parental desertion (practically all cases are male as fathers are the ones that desert in my experience!), broken homes, alcohol and drug abuse, self-harm, grief and loss and so on and so forth.  A boy of seventeen whom I and the school counsellor are dealing with presented recently with cuts on his wrist recently.  This particular boy, though not in immediate danger from suicide (as adjudged by a HSE psychiatrist and psychologist, and quite rightly so in my estimation), is a severely maladjusted young man who is always looking for attention and who is constantly rowing with father and mother.  He is currently undergoing family therapy.  This is only a taste of the brokenness and fragmentation that the human condition presents us with at school.

To attempt to come into any such situation as I have outlined above with a ready solution or with a value judgement is to do severe damage to the very nature of any situation.  There are no solutions from outside or from above.  All solutions have to be worked at and worked out in and through the very situation.  In  other words the "premature solutions" abhorred by Professor Stephen Levine and avoided by modernist and post-modernist writers and artists speak to each other very potently indeed.  We have to, in line with the learned and wise professor's insights train our students/clients/patients to work creatively through their experience of disintegration, no matter how painful or how long that will be, to journey with them in their brokenness, to walk with them, to support them.  This in itself is sheer creativity and openness to the power of the creative forces working through us.  In this way we allow the healing art of poiesis to play in the very sinews and veins of our suffering fellows.