Success is being invited into other people’s worlds
I ran my first face to face workshop yesterday, the first one since March 2020. I had been mulling over what I was going to deliver, for the past week. My dreams were filled with ideas: examples of what I had used before in workshops, mixed with creative writing and art activities I was using with my one to one clients in therapy. I finally, succumed to the overload of ideas bursting through and was up at 5 am writing down the outline of my offering.
The workshop was part of a project being run by the Living Well Consortium, for homeless families in temporary accommodation. I was representing Spring to life, a member community interest company, where I am an assosiate therapist.
As a write therapist, I was eager to pass on my favourite tool, journalling. Each participant would be given a journal which had an inspiriational message on the cover and a pack of coloured pencils, pens and paper.
I set up and eagerly waited for people to join me. There were young children running around, seeing a new adult face, they asked me what I was doing and if the activity was for them. I told them they could join if they brought their parents. Their attention was soon taken over by an adult that was there to offer the children activities.
But one little girl aged about 8 years old, kept coming back to me and looking longingly at the paper and coloured pencils, she asked if she could sit with me. Mum was nearby so I invited them both. Mum and daughter chose their journal.
I asked them to write the following on the first page, ‘Who Am I? I shared my example, ‘I am Christina, I am a therapist and a mum’. The little girl, who I will call Helen (name changed) quickly started scribbbling away. Mum, whose English was limited, looked stumped. I reassured her she could write in her own language. Her daughter, whose English was perfect, translated.
Satisfied that they were happy with what they were doing I looked up to see if I could entice anyone else to join us. There were two teenage sisters who had asked earlier if they could join me, who were hanging nearby. I called them over. They chose their journal and with some hesitation they wrote the little paragraph of who they were. I reassured them that they did not have to share with myself what they wrote.
The following activity was a build on from the last one. I asked them to think about what they liked, their values and strengths. This is a favourite activity I use with individuals and groups. So much is revealed about the self, and almost always positive. I asked them to write their name vertically down the page and they were to think of something about themselves beginning with the letters of their name.
Helen was relishing the exercise, she wrote ‘helpful’, as the first word. I told her she could also draw an image by the word. She drew two hands together. Her mum’s smile beamed.
In the meantime, the sisters were struggling to think of anything. They were about 12 and 14 years old. They were from the travelling community and had limited education. I reassured them spellings didn’t matter in this workshop and I would help them if they wanted. One girl wrote ‘Active’ from one of the letters in her name and the other ‘Loving’. Their younger brother joined. He was very uncomfortable with writing so I suggested he draw. The sibling dynamic became unsupportive and when my back was turned they disappeared leaving their activity.
At first I was dismayed and worried that I didn’t reach them. But when I noticed they had taken their journal, I smiled to myself. That was my intention, before the session. I wanted to spread the journalling tool. I was pleased that I had given suggestions of how they could use it; write their feelings and thoughts, write lyrics to songs, make lists of things they like, draw, doodle, keep it as a diary and much more.
Helen ws also getting bored by now. She had finished her acrostic name poem and it was both inspiring and beautiful. Dad had joined the table and he was looking through her creation smiling to himself. I said he must be proud. He agreed, but a sadness shadowed his smile. He worried about his younger son, as he said he was bright too but was having behaviour issues. Dad wanted to do the best by his children.
I told him how using art was a great way to open up conversations with children about their feelings, safely. I showed him how using colour and marks on a page to express an emotion was powerful and second nature to children. His eyes lit up and asked if we could try it on his son. He called him over. I asked his son to pick a colour to show me how happy looks like on the paper. He picked orange and drew a smiling sun. I then asked him what colour he would pick and what would he draw if he was sad. He picked a dark blue, drew a spiky circle with a sad face. I asked him what he would like Dad to do when he feels like that drawing? He simply said, Hug!
Dad’s eyes moistened, my heart melted. The little boy hugged his daddy and ran off to play.
Driving back home I was reflecting on the workshop. Despite there not being a huge number of participants or not using all the content I had planned to deliver, it was a success. The participants had had an opportunity to spend some fun, inspring, family time together learning about themselves and each other using tools that they would be able to use again.
Art expressing emotions whilst poetry translates.