Heart and Soul of Pyschotherapy
Twelve Principles of Omega Transpersonal Drama Therapy
The following twelve principles underlie the ideal practice of Transpersonal Drama Therapy in all of its many forms. A case example demonstrates how the principles can be applied practically in the clinical treatment of one individual.
1. Assuming health rather than pathology.
As Transpersonal Drama Therapists, we assume the innate health and wholeness of our clients, rather than focus on pathology. Whatever our clientsí problems and challenges, we view them in the context of a larger identity that is whole, balanced and pure, both individually and in the greater consciousness of humanity. The transpersonal drama therapist supports the individualís transcendence from all identification, lifting the individual from his or her own world view to one in which ìthe individual would presumably identify with both everything and nothingî (Walsh and Vaughn, 1991).
2. Shifting the identity from a limited sense of self to the essential Self.
We aspire to help our clients shift their identity from a limited sense of selfóe.g., from an identification as wounded, a victim, an addict, worthless, inept or other negative qualities, to an identification with the essential Self, higher Self, authentic core Self, or soul. We do not deny human experience, and in fact help people honor these experiences. However, while the trauma and abuses our clients have experienced may be terrible, we help them understand that this is not who they are, but rather what has happened to them. If they can come to identify with who they are in their essential soul self, the source of their innate strength, they can heal more quickly. When our clients learn to identify with their soul’s essence, they begin to overcome a personal sense of limitation and low self-esteem and work through their limited self images from early and later conditioning. As they go more deeply into the traumas and challenges of their lives, an identification with soul or ìbest selfî qualities ñ compassion, beauty, love, intuition, humor, wisdom, joy, empathy, spontaneity, creativity, peace, and many others ñ serve as sources of strength. From this perspective, and relying on essential soul qualities, the individual is far less defended and blocked in examining painful experiences and aspects of the limited or conditioned self.
Using the methods of ancient esoteric and contemporary spiritual traditions, clients learn the tools taught in other cultures, such as meditation and breath work, to access and identify with this essential Self. A variety of theater and meditation exercises, described throughout this book, help people access this part of themselves.
3. Embodying/Roleplaying the therapeutic issues.
By using action methods embodying the emotional issues through movement and enactment, clients are able to recall memories by using feedback from the body and senses. Kinesthetic, propioceptive, visual, auditory and touch senses are used as tools to reveal more information. Transpersonal Drama Therapy works with the clientsí body in relation to his/her heart, mind and soul. In this way, clients go beyond mental machinations, enabling them to discover important, new material in their transformational process. Using different forms of role-playing, developed in psychodrama, very powerful ways of embodying challenging relationships are possible: with oneself, (different inner roles or parts of oneself in conflict), with significant others, with choices one is facing, with struggles in oneís life, i.e, an addiction, a trauma, financial crises, job dissatisfaction or loss, grief, physical and mental illnesses, (See Sam Case Example). By using oneís whole body, all of oneís senses, physicalizing oneís own presenting current life challenge as a character, playing a role, can be a very effective way of facing the challenge directly, beyond the mind and linear thinking about the issue. Becoming the ëmonsterí challenge, feeling its feelings in oneís whole body, all of oneís senses, creating its sounds/language and movements, interviewing the monster by oneself or by group members all serve to elucidate the issues at a deeper cellular level, where healing and transformation can make a difference.
The Transpersonal dimension of this includes helping clients connect to their higher wisdom self after becoming and playing out the challenges. When they embody/roleplay that inner wisdom self and offer advice to the challenged one, from the mountain top perspective, from a state of light and clarity, it is astounding what can be revealed. If someone was just asked to tell us about the wisdom perspective about an issue, they often cannot do it. However, becoming that being from a quiet place of their light filled being, they are most often able to see much more clearly and offer inspired counsel to their challenged self.
4. Making the unconscious conscious through symbolic/metaphorical approaches
In order for healing to happen at the deepest levels, it is important to bring unconscious content to consciousness, through approaches that draw on the right brain, which access our intuitive, creative, symbolic sensory experiences, bypassing the linguistic/left brain thought process. This is important at all ages, but essential when one is trying to access early prenatal and perinatal memories, impressions and feelings. Very often life patterns can be traced back to life in the womb, the birth process and oneís early precognitive babyhood. There has now been significant, undeniable research results that give testimony to the evidence that even very young fetuses are affected emotionally by the state of the mother and the father through the mother, as well as by other environmental and physical factors in gestation. All of these experiences are in our muscle memories as well as in our unconscious and can be accessed for healing.
Working with peoplesí dreams is a very effective way to uncover what is in the unconscious. In fact, dreams have been called a gateway to the unconscious. Perhaps they are such powerful vehicles for transformation because dream images are created out of the imaginal realm in oneís own psyche. It is hard to deny oneís own imagery. The images arenít from a parent, spouse, teacher or therapist, but from themselves. When dreams are shared in a group, enacted and processed, insights and energy shifts toward healing happen easily and transformational learning and healing is very possible. Dreams are understood through their symbols and metaphors. Clients can be helped to understand their own dream language, especially as they enact the images and watch others dramatizing parts of their dream. It is possible to help people remember a very early dream and a recent dream and as different as they may appear to be, the parallels about their source of strength as well as ongoing life challenges can be seen. The goal is always to place any limitation or life challenge in the context of who that person is in their essential self.
Other transpersonal ways of working with the unconscious include working with different meditative breathing practices. Out of each practice, people can be directed to create a spontaneous character. These characters become symbolic representatives of inner guides in different ways. People are uncovering ìshadowî characters, in Jungian terms, characters that are hidden, sometimes as supportive elements and sometimes as shut down or destructive elements in our psyches. This is all rich material for learning. Clients/students can also create mandalas, masks, improvised songs, stories, poetry, dances, which can culminate in creating personal myths. These are other forms of working with symbols and metaphors, all of which can be used as vehicles for making the unconscious conscious, toward a deeper healing outcome.
5. Working with archetypes.
The Transpersonal Drama Therapist holds an inner concentration on and identification with four archetypal roles, including healer, artist, educator and shaman or spiritual guide. The therapist is first and foremost a healer in leading the client back through the dense and dark matter of human experience to an identification with his or her soul. The therapist is an artist in using the arts to help the client access the imaginal realm and find symbolic expression, particularly for experiences so sublime ñ or so traumatic ñthat they defy words. He or she is an educator in teaching the techniques needed to maintain awareness of the essential Self, such as meditation, breath work, sound and light practices, visualizations, and in using Transpersonal Drama Therapy as the vehicle to educate the body, mind, heart and spirit. Finally, the transpersonal drama therapist is a shaman or spiritual guide in working in the twilight worlds between the conscious and unconscious, matter and spirit. The shaman part of us, as therapists, is able to see the client in his or her essential core self by using the tools of meditation and the intuitive arts. Eventually, it is possible, to sit with a client, attune to his or her breath and experience him or her are on many levels simultaneously. This, of course, requires training and practice.
Additionally, we help our clients draw on archetypal motifs in world mythology, such as gods and goddesses, heroes, masters, saints and prophets, as well as on the archetypal elements in nature, such as earth, water, fire and air, animal totems, oceans, forests, and mountaintops, to help them work through their current issues and negative memories and find meaning in their life experiences. We also work with archetypal human themes such as finding love, overcoming great adversity, returning from grief, and rising from the ashes of devastating experiences. When people can recognize and identify with the archetypal symbols in their psyches, we can help them use these symbols to find healing and transformation.
6. Embracing love while holding all emotions as sacred.
by Jelaludin Rumi
translated by Coleman BarksThis being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
As transpersonal drama therapists, we embrace the totality of the heart’s experience. It is said that all emotions ñ even fear, anger, rage and frustration ñ have love as their base and can be used as guides back to our essential Selves. By holding all emotions as sacred, we honor all facets of emotional life as a natural part of the human life journey. In so doing, we can come to love ourselves and others authentically, thus overcoming loneliness and alienation. In our therapeutic work, we teach clients to honor their own emotions as well. We work with them in a way that feels sacred, rather than succumbing to programmed emotions such as shame and guilt. In this manner, healing can take place in a more fluid manner as clients come into their own authenticity. Holding the thought that emotions are sacred, the transpersonal drama therapist works to facilitate the clientís return to love, albeit through a hall of distorted mirrors. In truth, there is no split between the godly and ungodly, the holy and the profane: It is important to honor whatever feelings we experience as sacred. Jelaluddin Rumi, a Sufi poet from the middle ages, captured this sentiment beautifully and profoundly in this poem.
7. Creating a sacred space.
For healing to progress, it is important to enter a sacred space where we can reconnect to our soul essence, which is never tarnished by life experience. Beauty in the therapeutic environment helps to transmute the ugliness of emotional trauma. The atmosphere can become like a beautiful rose holding the client in her warm embrace and lovely fragrance. Whether working with an individual client, a therapy group, an educational group, or an audience attending a transformational theater performance, the transpersonal drama therapist creates a sacred atmosphere to inspire people to connect with their essential selves and to allow for the possibility that the client will take a meaningful step in his or her own transformational growth and healing process. Physical beauty in the healing environment ñ flowers, soft colors, beautiful fabrics, and works of art also helps people to feel better and to open to deep, dark places that need to be healed.
Creating simple warm-up exercises that awaken the body, mind, heart and soul help participants to build trust and develop a readiness to be present with themselves and the group. In the therapeutic, educational and theatrical settings, the transpersonal drama therapist strives to create a temenos, or sacred container to hold the truth of the clientís emotions and experiences. Through the therapistís compassionate, nonjudgmental witnessing, the temenos provides a sense of emotional safety that allows the clientís deepest Self to surface, including suppressed and hidden aspects of the psyche, and to engage in the therapeutic process.
8. Fostering an experience of interconnectedness and unity.
The Transpersonal Drama Therapist works to create experiences of the unity, connection, and interdependence of all living things, including human beings, animals, plants and the environment. It also relates to a holistic healing approach, working with the body, mind , heart and soul connection. Much of the work of healing concerns entering the consciousness of those with whom we are in conflict and working toward embracing their emotional experiences and points of view. We thus create exercises in nature that are designed to receive the healing power of Mother Earth and set up improvisations, meditations and creative exercises that relate a person’s own experience (including challenges and future possibilities) to the experience of the earth and its cycles of birth, death and rebirth and the seasons. We also create experiences that allow one individual to see into the soul of another individual, gaining insight into old wounds and conflicts and come to resolution with the ones who wounded us, whether living or dead.
Transpersonal drama therapists also work with communities to help them experience the unity of different religions, races, and ethnic backgrounds as part of a larger system. Realizing that we are part of a larger, interconnected ecological system helps overcome the distinctions and differences that divide people and helps overcome our essential aloneness. We embrace and become part of a global culture and family. As we identify with larger socio-political concerns and issues, we realize that we exist together in an interdependent world.
9. Seeking mastery through self-discipline.
The development of personal capacity to manifest our greatest potential depends on conscious thought and action. Discipline and focus lead toward the realization of the Self. Many great teachers and masters have taught us that mastery lies in stilling the mind and directing it toward what we desire. Whatever we think about, we will attract. If weíre feeling and thinking positively, we will attract that, if we can master the discipline of becoming mindful of our thoughts. The lesson in this principle is that, although we work in the transpersonal realm and frequently process the contents of the unbridled imagination, the work of transpersonal drama therapistsóand their clientsómust ultimately be grounded in the quest for personal mastery through self-discipline. This may involve compliance with recommended practices, stretching beyond our emotional comfort zone, and other forms of inner work. Mastery of our inner and outer lives ultimately produces harmony, health, balance, and the achievement of our lifeís goals.
10. Achieving balance.
The essence of the ëMessageí of today in many spiritual traditions is balance: balance of receptive and expressive energies, yin and yang, activity and repose, inner masculine and feminine, (anima, animus), spirit and matter, transcendence and immanence. As noted, mastery, self-discipline, and balance all work together to facilitate the clientís evolution. Accordingly, the transpersonal drama therapist nurtures experiences of balance in the therapeutic situation that can then be generalized to other aspects of the clientís life.
11. Identifying and achieving our life purpose.
Beyond working to heal family of origin challenges, we also want to help identify for ourselves our life purpose and help our clients to do the same. We want to guide our clients to use their unique gifts to serve the larger humanity, each in his/her own way. An ancient teaching says that our purpose is like the horizon, and the closer we get to it, the further it recedes. Our interests are clues to what our purpose is. By accessing a relationship to the numinous, or sacred, we can come to better understand and manifest our unique life purpose. 12. Creating oneís life as a work of art.
The culmination of this work is when we apply our learning creatively in our everyday life and integrate the arts and beauty into our daily lives, in speech, thought and action. This allows for symbolic communication that transcends thinking and words. Then our lives can become beautiful, shining works of art. Inspiration is drawn from the light within and interconnectedness to our higher source, which is reflected in family, community and the world around us. This is our ultimate goal for ourselves, as transpersonal drama therapists, and for the people we serve in our work.
Sam: A Case Example
I first met Sam, a single man then in his early forties, when he came to our transformational theater workshop, which met once a week for 20 weeks. He was bright, articulate and clear about his Tourette syndrome, explaining the ticks and outbursts that we could expect. He had been an advocate for others with Tourette and became a spokesman for the disorder on the television show 20/20. It soon became apparent to those of us in the workshop that Sam became virtually symptom free, when he was acting improvisationally on the stage.
After the workshop was over, I didnít see Sam until a few years later, when he asked to enter private therapy with me. Samís ticks and outbursts had increased in frequency and severity and many other many physical and emotional challenges were revealing themselves. These included obsessive-compulsive disorder, sleep apnea, debilitating allergies, pre-diabetes, depression and, most recently, an arrhythmic heart. He was no longer able to drive because of his ticks. He couldnít write or use his computer for the same reason. He needed to vacate his apartment because the carpeting and heating system were greatly exacerbating his allergies. Sam had become so identified with his string of disorders that he was losing his natural optimism and any sense of well-being and falling into a deep, dark hole.
I took a many-leveled approach in the work we did together. My overarching goal was to help Sam, an amazing and resilient being, to dis-identify with his physical and emotional disorders and begin to identify with his resilience, talent, intelligence and other qualities of his essential being. I applied the principles of Transpersonal Drama Therapy as follows:
1) Assuming health rather than pathology. When Sam first came to us, he participated fully in the improvisational theater work. He shared his experiences with Tourette syndrome as others shared their greatest challenges. Sam received encouragement to support his healthier self, which I later carried over in the private therapy setting. He related well to the other group members, was creatively engaged with them in many improvisational dramatic exercises, and created a transformational theater piece that he powerfully performed.
2) Shifting Samís identity from a limited sense of self to his essential self. When Sam began private therapy, he was heavily identified with his diagnoses and his difficult childhood. In a transpersonal psychodrama, Sam named each of his maladies and represented each one with pillows and other objects in the room. After placing them in relation to each other as he experienced them internally, he stepped into the space where each was, one at a time, and role-played that malady. When the enactments were completed, I took him by the hand and we moved away from all of them in an act of separation, distancing himself from these health challenges. I then asked him to look into the light from a lamp in the room and role-play his wisdom self, his higher self, whose identity was separate from the illnesses. He was directed to enter this Self from identifying with the light, the clarity, the wisdom of this core self. He did so and, from the vantage point of his essential Self, offered a new, transpersonal perspective about the meaning of his health problems as learning opportunities. He began to see that he was more than his health challenges and that he might be able to learn something from each of his conditions. Eventually, Sam began to understand that his purpose was to counsel other people with disabilities. Each health issue he struggled with could be seen as part of his training to be able to better understand and help others.
3. Embodying/Roleplaying the therapeutic issues. In his individual therapy something magical happened each time I had Sam get up out of his chair (he was usually quite tired) and begin to embody the characters in a relationship or characters within himself that represented different parts of his psyche who had conflicting points of view or his different ailments. He also role played ìthe systemî that included people who were preventing him from getting his needs met. He always came alive when he embodied these different characters and was able to move between different emotional states that were catalyzed by these enactments. When he talked about these same issues, it wasnít nearly as effective therapeutically. People like Sam who are intelligent and are used to fighting for everything they have are very articulate and can use the talking as a defense. Doing non-verbal enactment and role playing with his whole self seemed to cut through the circular arguments and opened him emotionally.
4) Making the unconscious conscious through symbolic/metaphorical approaches. Sam and I worked with his dreams, when he could remember them. It was hard for him to write them down. I suggested he try to speak into a tape recorder, which I could lend him. His sleep apnea challenged balanced sleep rhythms to easily remember them. Similarly drawing was difficult. When he played larger than life characters many symbolic images surfaced. We also used objects, pillows, chairs to represent different feelings and dynamics in his life. For Sam, enacting was the most effective way to uncover new material.
5) Working with archetypes. One of Samís greatest challenges, from the age of 19, has been accessing available support for his disabilities, which made it necessary for him to repeatedly encounter the archetype of the authority figure. In this regard, Sam has had some horrendous experiences dealing with the multiplicity of state and federal disability-related departments. He has also experienced enormous discrimination, threats and serious danger from a range of other authority figures, including police officers, because of his outbursts. Sam has learned how to explain to everyone about these outbursts and even when he does, he has often been threatened, even with his life. He began to identify himself as a victim of the system and its many representatives. It was true that Sam had in many respects been victimized, yet to identify with the role of the victim is to give into despair, futility, and paralysis. Thus, much of my work with Sam focused on helping him dis-identify with the archetypal victim role and help him find ways that he could be empowered. In one session, to reconfigure his relationship to those in power, Sam enacted several scenes in which he played various authority figures from his life experience ìvillains,î frequently reversing roles with himself as Sam to express both sides of the story in a dramatic manner and find new, more adaptive ways to respond to authority figures. To help add to the reality of the scenes and challenge Sam to go deeper into the scene, I at times took on the role of the villain. Once Sam had demonstrated this role, I took on the affect, words, posture, gestures, and action of the villain as he had expressed them, allowing him to interact with this villain. This proved to be an effective way for Sam to express his understandable rage and begin to transform it.
6) Embracing love while holding all emotions as sacred. It was important for me to honor all of Samís emotional experience. At first, it was difficult for him to honor his rage and frustration as well as his longing for love from family and friends and perhaps, someday, a partner. Sam expressed his feelings in a variety of ways. Drawing and writing werenít easy forms of expression for Sam because of his ticks. But he could always do embodied movement, role-playing and other drama exercises.
As our work evolved, Sam was able to reveal more of the secrets of his past. Some he felt shamed by and others he felt were survival mechanisms in an unjust world. One of the healing roles I played was to hold these secrets. As trust developed between us, Sam began to feel safe. There were many scenes that Sam and I played in which different emotions were expressed fully. Usually he began with his anger/rage toward someone who had mistreated him. He would then play that person in a different emotional state. Finally, he would role play his light-filled, loving, caring, wisdom self, who could honor all those who mistreated him, as well his own flawed human self..
On one occasion, we worked with the Rumi poem, The Guest House (see page __). I read the whole poem to him first while he was standing, suggesting that he feel what I am saying in his body. Then I had him act it out as I read it, after which we broke the poem down. “Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness.” I had Sam select a person in his life who embodied “a joy” to him. He had a hard time thinking of someone in his life who was joyous. We moved to “a depression.” He named and enacted his driver and another individual. Next, a “meanness.” He played a woman who was a paralegal who represented the state against him. First it was humorous. Then it was very moving to witness him play this ‘mean’ character, who had been so insensitive and rude to him. This cathartic enactment was followed by “some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.” He acted ‘as if’ he had a momentary awareness and it served as a warm-up to come to another level of awareness. Then we moved to the verse: “The dark thought, the shame, the maliceÖ.” He role played each as characters with their own physical, vocal and emotional expression: In the role of the dark thought, he said: “Alone, void, nothingness, emotionally destituteóso emptyóa dessert without an oasis.” In the role of the shame: “I feel so cursed. What did I do? It’s me. I canít bear to look at myself.” In the role of the malice: “Iím powerful. I can strike you down when I want. I will tread upon you like crumbs under my feet. It gives me pleasure to watch you whither in my shadow, to whither in pain and agony. I grow stronger as you grow weaker.”
Then, a breakthrough: “meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.” The act of embodying laughter and welcoming and greeting his emotions as guides certainly had an effect on Sam. For this moment, he was distanced from the dark thoughts, the shame and the malice that he often felt and began to think about how they might be guides. I invited him to take a moment and embody each of these feelings as guides and as his wisdom, higher self to offer guidance to his limited self of dark thoughts, shame and malice. “Iím feeling aloneness. Somehow, each has shown me something.” His guidance to this negativity in himself: “Breathe deep and full and see the good and see that your destructive energy fuels my energy to fuel the answers. Your negativity becomes my positiveness. Hate becomes love. Cold becomes warmth. Slight of hand becomes vision and clarity. Anger becomes gentleness. I know there is a rhyme and reason for being here in this time and place. Your presence gives me energy and I want to thank you for that. The fear, illness, anger are all parts of me, as well as the guidance.”
Through this and other therapeutic interventions, Sam began to embrace all of his emotional and physical experience, to gain perspective, and to learn to tap into an inner source of guidance that brought him into greater emotional balance.
7) Creating a sacred space. In the therapeutic session, a sense of coming back home to oneself is created first, through the space, and second, through the intention of holding a sacred presence. To begin to awaken a sense of beauty within the turmoil of my clientsí lives, I create a studio space that is attractive, often has fresh flowers and a sense of order, with a lot of free space. Sam and I worked in this large open studio and a smaller office space. Eventually, we ended up working largely in the studio, which offered greater possibilities for enactment work. When I visited Samís apartment, I witnessed the chaos in which he lived with things and papers everywhere. Because of his allergies he didnít sleep in his bedroom, but rather on a reclining chair in the living room. The curtains were drawn. He was sensitive to light and so his space reflected the darkness and stress of his inner life. His obsessive-compulsive disorder exacerbated the challenge for Sam of keeping things in order. We spent a session organizing papers, trying to model how to organize what he had, in order to create a more ordered and pleasant and even beautiful space. He was able to do this when I helped him. Hopefully, he will at some point be able to do this himself. If Sam could hold his own home as sacred space, it would make a big difference in his life.
8) Fostering an experience of interconnectedness and unity. Samís closest friend was his cat. He cared as well for this cat as any good father would care for his child. During the time that Sam was working with me, the cat became quite ill and required numerous visits to the vet, with Sam paying high fees for medicines and making numerous calls to animal experts about the maladies of this beloved pet. When finally the cat died, Steve was insistent on creating a proper funeral and burial for his special friend. I was introduced to the world of animal cemeteries.
Sam and I created a dramatic ritual ceremony to honor his cat. Samís two friends were invited, along with a minister and the catís vet. An alter was created and Sam orchestrated the service with minimal help from us. Candles, music, scriptures, poetry and people speaking about the animalís life were all a part of the ceremony, as might be true of any human memorial service. It was very moving. Held in the animal cemetery environment between trees and greenery, Sam became his High Priest/Rabbi/Shaman self as he guided his four-legged friend to other realms of light. The whole experience was very therapeutic for Sam and moving for all involved, as we experienced the deep interconnection between Sam and his beloved cat. Placed in nature, we all experienced a deeper connection to all living beings through this ceremony.
9) Seeking mastery through self-discipline. From the beginning of our work together, Sam and I have spoken about and worked with the importance of eating healthy food and exercising. We have set up several brisk ëwalkingí goals, including walks with his driver, who is a friend of Samís and engaged in his own recovery process. This works more or less consistently and needs to continually be encouraged. I have given Sam calendars for the last two years, to be used as planners to keep track of the many appointments he has. Maintaining a positive attitude amidst so many challenges takes mastery.
When doubting his ability to earn an advanced degree, Sam role-played an indomitable spirit. Speaking to his doubting self from the indomitable spirit character: ìYou know, you have what it takes to get that degree and use that degree to make a difference. Either fight the good fight to get what you need, use people who are helpful to you, or sit back, bitch and moan. Keep your eyes on the prize. Donít let yourself down.î The transpersonal drama therapist working with someone with so many life long challenges needs to master the discipline of maintaining an attentive presence, being patient and knowing that the client may take one step forward and two steps back. What is important is to stay with the process without having expectations for the client to ëachieveí some goal you would want for him in some pre-determined time table. Staying honest and loving, firm and relaxed, when necessary practicing ëtough love,í while being compassionate is the discipline needed of the transpersonal therapist.
10) Achieving balance. This is an ongoing challenge, of course, given the number of health maladies and difficult life circumstances that Sam faces daily. At this writing, with a newly diagnosed heart arrythmia, Sam now sees 22 health-related practitioners. Keeping track of his appointments alone is a major balancing act. Different medical doctors have told him that he shouldnít have to manage all of these appointments and therapies. One doctor went as far as to set up a listserve, but, since I was on it, I.noted that it petered out very quickly as these busy practitioners couldnít manage staying in touch.
Balance for a client like Sam, means helping him focus on more equanimity in his emotional life, by learning to be still each day, watching his breath, for example, or walking regularly as a kind of meditation in motion. The important thing, in every case, is to apply these principles in different ways to each person with whom one works. Clients need to be encouraged to design “action plans” with the therapist, not only for life goals but also to stay in foundational balance, in order to be able to work on outer goals.
Also undermining Samís balance were his challenges in finding adequate, allergen-free housing. To enact this challenge, I asked Sam to move around and connect with his feelings about his housing-related problems. He did so, and then built a sculpture of all the obstacles facing him out of pillows. Using the same pillows, Sam built a sculpture of new possibilities; and role-played each one.
11) Identifying and achieving oneís life purpose. After I got to know Sam better through the individual therapy, I saw that one of his major disappointments, beyond his health challenges was that he had not found his vocation, his purpose in life. He so wanted to make a difference in the world. Samís intelligence, desire to help people, his natural insight, his ability to be present in his heart with all of his feelings, and his ability to be able to express compassion towards others, are the qualities of an effective therapist. For Sam to become a therapist for disabled people is even more to the point. We are in sad shortage of psychotherapists who are disabled, who could serve that population in this way. Samís natural theatrical gifts with improvisation could position him to become a drama therapist for people with disabilities. This could well be the vehicle for Sam to make a difference and be a wonderful vocation through which he might express his calling.
Over a two year period, Sam and I worked diligently together to create a realistic study plan for him to complete a Master of Arts in Independent Studies at Lesley University in ìDrama Therapy Studies and Working with People with Disabilities.î With the support of Lesley University faculty, Sam was then accepted into the graduate program at Lesley University, with a realistic picture about how he would get logistical and emotional support to be able to be a successful graduate student. It was all very promising. The current challenge is how to get funding from the state to do this or how to do a public campaign to raise the funds. One of his proposed Mastersí projects is to create a theater piece about his life, his challenges and his desire to help others and to invite teachers and government agency officials to witness his story and his perspectives about how to transform the systems within which disabled people have to operate.
12) Creating life as a work of art. When someone has so many psychological and physical challenges, perhaps the most important thing is to become a therapeutic companion on the clientís journey, and not have any expectation for particular results. It has been shown in various studies that the most important thing in psychotherapy is the therapeutic relationship. The combination of a strong, trusting, caring relationship with embodied drama and other creative arts therapies has been demonstrated to be very powerful and effective. Since Sam has no living relatives, our exchange on birthdays and holidays of small symbolic gifts that awaken a sense of order, beauty, sacredness and hope has been a part of our connection. After years of working together, when he had the chance to get tickets to a Robin Williams comedy show, Sam invited me and his two friends to go with him, as his way of saying thank you to all of us. This was a moment where we changed roles. He was the ëhealthyí provider and host. I was the invited, appreciative guest. It was a joy to see how Sam so admired Robin as a master of comedy. The evening demonstrated to me that this client had learned to value humor and to maintain a positive outlook whenever he possibly could, as he continues on his journey of healing.