LonePack Conversations- The Alternative Therapy Series: Narrative Therapy ft. David Newman

When you’re asked questions like “What’s your story?”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Today let’s take time to realise the importance of the stories we tell ourselves, and others, while talking about our lives.

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Valerie – Welcome to LonePack Conversations! I’m Valerie.

We’re in conversation with Narrative Therapist, David Newman. He has an independent counselling practice through Sydney Narrative Therapy, works at a psychiatric unit for young people, and is a faculty member of the Adelaide based Dulwich centre, one of the homes of narrative therapy and community work.

Hey, David!

David – Hi, Valerie. It’s nice to be here.

Valerie – Thank you for agreeing to talk to us. Let’s start with you telling us what narrative therapy is and how it relates to and aids our mental health.

David –Well, in short Narrative Therapy is an approach to therapy and community work. It’s something that social workers and psychiatrists and psychologists and nurses will do in their work, when they’re doing counselling work or therapeutic work. But if I just go back just a tiny little bit, Narrative Therapy found some of its understandings through the cognitive revolution and the idea that we are meaning-making and thinking people, the human race, and that one of the ways that we make sense of things or make meaning is through the lens of a narrative, that in order to be able to make sense of things, we need to have the lens and it’s through the lens of a narrative. So that’s where some of the ideas and the impetus of Narrative Therapy came from and these go back in time to probably about the 1950s in terms of what was happening in psychological theory at the time. 

Now Narrative Therapy is an idea that you might say comes from a post-structuralist understanding that is about the plurality of life and about the inconsistencies and the contradictions in life and in identity and one way that that’s taken up in narrative practice is to say that life is always multi-storied, so as a narrative practitioner, we’d always be assuming that someone is not just the problem story, they’re not just a bundle of despair or anxiety or panic, but there’s also other glimpses of life that are outside of those stories and the narrative practitioner is wanting to breathe life into those glimpses, when people aren’t being able to cope or take action in life. 

Life is multi-storied but Narrative Therapy also contextualizes it. Identity is seen as a contextual and social achievement. In other words, we are really interested in looking at what happens around people so you might call it a sociological approach or analysis to the shaping of stories. What that means in terms of Narrative Therapy practices is that broadly speaking, the first thing you might say about Narrative Therapy is that it looks at the context of people’s lives and not the problem with people, so it does what we call “externalizing the problem”. Externalizing the problem is imagining and speaking or writing or drawing, or whatever it might be, as if the problem stories are separate from people. So people are in a relationship to despair, people are in a relationship to a suicidal experience, people are in a  relationship to addiction or conflict, or whatever the problem might be. That’s called externalizing and that’s a big part of the conversation. 

The second thing to say about Narrative Therapy practice would be that when we find an aspect of life outside of the externalised problem story, we really want to ask a lot of questions and be very curious and listen out for stories that can be built on, like stories of coping, stories of skills of living.

Valerie – That’s really interesting. You look at it from a perspective of knowing that life is multi-storied and that you don’t just look at the problems but you try to look at it in context to your life and then try to work around that.

David – Yeah, that’s right.

Valerie –  Personally, what is it that got you interested in narrative therapy?

David – So Narrative Therapy, for me, is not just critique. Narrative Therapy is certainly critique and is responding to some of the politics of psychology and counselling and therapy and community work at the time, in the 80s and late 80s but it wasn’t just critique, it was also practice. So seeing in these ideas a strong engagement with power, a strong engagement with issues of culture and a non-pathologizing stance but there were full of very very elegant practices. Very elegant and very effective practices. So it was both a critique mixed with practice and I was really drawn to that.

The other thing that drew me to Narrative Therapy was that it is very non-individualistic. It was about connecting people and joining people around similar experiences including joining people with their own communities. So therapy or community work wasn’t sort of cut off from life so much, the world of the person was brought into therapeutic process much more than I’d seen in other approaches.

Finally, I was really drawn to the way that Narrative Therapy engaged with personal story, the personal story of the therapist. Around the time in the 70s and 80s, there was quite a lot of pathologizing of what was considered sometimes problematic motive for why people would get engaged with therapy – that they had something often that would be spoken of as an unmet need and in Narrative Therapy, there was an engagement with personal story that would be acknowledging and honoring a personal story as shaping of purposes that you brought to the work – that because you know something about how hard life can get as a therapist, you want to bring that kind of purpose to the work because maybe if you know a little but about what it’s like to have a parent who has an alcohol problem, you’ll bring that determination to do something about it and have skills around what you can do around those experiences, that you can bring to the work. So it’s engaging with their personal story in a way that was acknowledging and honoring, rather than pathologizing and dismissing.

Valerie –  It’s beautiful that would help somebody with their personal problems and personal story in a way that you engage with them as opposed to stigmatizing it, and then you help them through that in a way that you’re also concerned because you can connect it to something from your own personal life.

David – Yeah. So for instance, one practice of Narrative Therapy would be to let people know, let couples or families or individuals know that you have been taken somewhere else in your life as a result of the conversation, you have other ideas for your life as a result of the conversation or as a result of the work. You know that as a result of hearing how determined this person is to listen better to their child, that you will take that with you too in your parenting or something like that. So yes, there are particular practices where we let people know how we’ve been moved somewhere else as a result of the conversation. Typically in Narrative Therapy, this is an aspect of re-telling someone’s story, it’s honoring or acknowledging re-telling a story when we tell them how someone’s story has taken us.

Valerie –  Yes. David, what age groups have you found narrative therapy impact the most and what are the different ways through which people can tell their stories? 

David – I would say that because Narrative Therapy really engages with meaning-making, that’s what it’s interested in and the meaning-making lens as I said earlier, that is privileged in narrative practices is storytelling, I would say anybody at any age can take part in these conversations and in this work. I would say for children who are very young, there might be some limitations in terms of language but I would say even from as young as 3 or 4, I think, children can use language to describe their experience in ways that we can shape a therapeutic conversation of sorts. I think the limitations to the age is not so much the age of someone, it’s the limitations of the workup and the extent to which they’re bringing particular practices and ways of talking that are resonant for the person, they’re a part of the person’s culture, they’re a part of the person’s way of doing things, or style. 

In terms of how stories can be told, I think it can be not just about the spoken word, and quite often therapists will ask people to draw a picture of their worries or a picture of depression. That’s a way that we can engage with meaning-making or some sort of communication. There’s also ways that therapists have been exploring music, and that’s another option. There has been a huge explosion of using metaphors as well in Narrative Therapy, so we bring a metaphor that might be resonant, often the metaphor of the tree of life and how people might use a tree as a metaphor to speak about their lives – the roots are where you’ve come from, etc. and that’s another way that we can tell stories. This is another more recent development over the last ten years of how metaphors are being richly engaged in telling stories as it has lots of advantages including that people can speak indirectly about experiences which can help enormously when people have had a traumatic experience and it’s very hard to speak about it directly.

Valerie – David, can you give us a further insight into what happens in a Narrative Therapy session? How does a narrative therapist understand people and help them through their problems?

David – I think something that’s reasonably common to many approaches to therapy and community work is that the narrative therapist is really interested in the experience of someone. They really want to get a rich sense of the experience of someone. Narrative Therapy is very interested in using and reflecting back the language that someone uses. In fact, Narrative Therapy would take a position against re-wording what someone says and representing it through a professional expert kind of language or psychiatric language. It would be about trying to use the language that people bring. Someone might speak about way out thoughts or dire thoughts as opposed to for instance the psychiatric term that gets imposed sometimes as “suicidal ideation”. 

A Narrative Therapist is listening out for a problem story and how they are being described, and the effects of the problem story. So if someone did speak about dire thoughts, we would be asking about the effects of the dire thoughts, what the dire thoughts might be saying, what gives the dire thoughts power,  the context through which the dire thoughts might be getting a lot of power but we understand, because life is multi-storied, we understand that there are always glimpses of life, often they’re in the shadows of the problem story but there are always glimpses of life outside of the problem story and the narrative therapist is always listening out for those glimpses and trying to take note of them, listening carefully for them. 

So we’re listening for the problem story and we’re listening for glimpses outside of the problem story, which in Narrative Therapy, we call alternative stories or preferred stories, sometimes they’re also referred to as second storis or subjugated stories, and we want to breathe life into those other stories and help them come out of the shadows of the problem story.

Valerie –  Is it possible for people to find their stories through the stories of others’ lives, or while playing a role in someone else’s life?

David – I have been very interested in the idea of people finding their stories through the stories of others’. For the last eight or so years, I’ve been working part time at a psychiatric unit for young people in Sydney, and I do many many groups. In these groups, one thing I’ve noticed is that people will often find their own language and their own experience, when they hear someone else’s experience. I might be doing a round in a group and the opening question might be “What’s something that’s rough for you?”. Someone might say “I really don’t know” and then we’ll go through a few people answering what they think is rough for them and then all of a sudden someone who didn’t know how to describe just how rough things are and how to describe the turmoil will find words for it. They’ll find words because they realise that there’s an overlap of an experience or story with someone else, or the opposite – they’ll know that that story or experience does not speak to them, and in that sense, they’ve got a sense of what does speak to them. They have a sense of a little bit of what their story is

This concept of people finding their stories from the stories of others’, I’ve found incredibly helpful in work because it means I put much less pressure on people to speak because they’ll speak once they hear something either of their own experiences reflected in others or not reflected in others. I also use this very much with the written word. These alternative or preferred stories, in Narrative Therapy, there’s a long tradition of writing down these stories so people can have them when they go, or that they can donate these stories to other people who are going down a similar path. We share these stories later or documents in the group so that people get a sense of their own stories through the stories that have been written down. So that’s one thing that I’ve found very very helpful.

Valerie – David, thank you so much for talking to us about Narrative Therapy. There is so much that we got to learn from you today, getting a better insight into what Narrative Therapy is. We learnt that it’s about meaning making and making sense of things through the lens of a narrative. We learnt that life is always multi-storied and you look at the glimpses of life outside your problems. That is such a beautiful thing, that you connect with experiences, you connect people with experiences and you can also relate to other people’s experiences to form your own narrative and find your story through that. Thank you so much for talking to us about Narrative Therapy today.

David – My pleasure, Valerie. I hope it was of use.

Valerie – Thank you.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is ASD?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or just ‘Autism’ as it is referred to commonly, is a neurological disorder that is known to cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges in the development of an individual. It is known as a ‘spectrum’ disorder because the people affected experience a wide range of symptoms, each of them unique in severity. 

People with Autism often need a lot of help navigating day-to-day life, but the degree of help required varies depending upon how well the individual is able to balance their disorder and life. 

They usually do not look any different from those who are unaffected; the only tell-tales are in the way they behave and interact with others. However, it is important to remember that they are full human beings with valid feelings, too, which should be acknowledged and respected.

What are the signs and symptoms to look out for?

Children and adults with Autism face difficulty in social situations, especially when it comes to communicating what they want to say. They also have trouble conveying their emotions, and tend to avoid human interaction altogether due to this. 

Some common signs that individuals with Autism display include:

  • In children: Delay in learning to speak
  • Inability to create or hold eye contact
  • Hypersensitivity or Hyposensitivity to sensory stimuli
  • Have difficulty in reading others’ gestures and intentions
  • Often want to be alone
  • Have trouble relating to others or forming connections
  • Repeat their motor movements
  • Have very rigid thinking patterns
  • Shy away from human touch
  • Avoid talking about their feelings
  • Have trouble adjusting to changes in routine
  • Repeat certain words and/or phrases: Echolalia

However, people with Autism are also more often than not, extremely talented in other non-routine activities. This is called the Savant Syndrome. 

For example, there might be someone who can’t concentrate in Mathematics class, but can do 1359357 x 1359357 in his mind at the drop of a pin. There might be someone who could replicate the Mona Lisa, but would not be able to smile at societally-dictated occasions. Darold Traffert, famous psychiatrist, has extensively studied this syndrome, and suggests that, ‘savant skills may result from the formation of exceptional neural structures during prenatal brain development.’ While there is controversial evidence mounting against the study of this syndrome, evidence suggests that there is a strong genetic link between family members displaying similar talents. 

It is extremely vital that we treat them just as we would treat anyone else, and not differentiate based on ability. 

What are the causes of ASD?

We do not know all the causes of ASD, but we do know that there are predominantly genetic and biological factors involved, such as:

  • Taking certain medicines meant for epilepsy and cancer during pregnancy, such as valproic acid and thalidomide
  • Children born to older parents are at higher risk
  • Children with a sibling with ASD are also likely to inherit ASD
  • Individuals with certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as tuberous sclerosis, can have a greater chance of having it
  • Children with very low birth weight are also at risk

ASD occurs among all racial, ethnic, and blood groups, but it has been found that it is 4 times more common among boys than in girls. 

How can we diagnose and treat ASD?

Since there is no blood or other medical test that can diagnose ASD, doctors have to look at a child’s early behaviour and development to make a diagnosis. 

Another problem with ASD is that it takes a longer time to diagnose, which means that children don’t get the early help that they require. There is also no known cure as such for ASD. However, research shows that early intervention in the form of helping children learn essential skills such as walking, talking, basic speech therapy, etc. 

While learning these skills can make a child feel extremely self-conscious and unsure, it is crucial to a child’s development, and it is important to ensure that the child receives it at the right stage. 

How can we be more empathetic towards people with Autism?

It is human nature to fear and discriminate against that which we don’t understand. The same is the case with respect to people with Autism. It is sad because they are often subjected to derogatory and hurtful name-calling such as ‘retard’ and ‘dork’, when in reality they’re just as human as everyone else. It would be very upsetting for any ‘normal’ person to listen to such things, so imagine how it would feel for those extremely talented people who have been misunderstood all their lives. 

So how can we be more empathetic towards such individuals?

As a parent, encourage the talents of your child. 

As a teacher, be vigilant and identify the signs and symptoms as early as possible. 

As a friend, make sure the person isn’t left out in whatever you do together.

As a decent human being, be more accepting.

Remember, Autism is just an illness that a person has. The person is not the illness, themself. 

LonePack signs an MoU with Patrician College of Arts and Science to deepen the efforts on mental health awareness

To all our supporters, here’s some good news from us—LonePack and Patrician College of Arts and Science signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) last week to forge collaborative initiatives in the mental health space.

Under this agreement, LonePack aims to work in tandem with the faculty and administration in some key activities around LonePack Buddy, online and offline workshops, volunteering and practical learning.  

  • We’ll be working together with the students of the college and helping them take up the LonePack Buddy Sensitisation Course, a credential for training volunteers to be listeners on LonePack Buddy. Once they qualify the training assessments, students also get hands-on experience by being the support system on Buddy’s free peer-to-peer chat spaces. 

  • Along with this, students will be able to take up volunteering opportunities across our research, content, and marketing teams, helping us in real-time with all the content, promotional, and partnership projects.

  • The students and the college would play a key role in conducting outreach programs and mental health workshops for youngsters, on behalf of (and with) LonePack’s team.  

Dr. Senthil J Kumaran, Head of the Psychology Department, quotes, 

“We are happy to establish a mutual support with LonePack in which our students will be equipped for 4.0 demands of mental health and in return we are positive in supporting the research division of LonePack with all the resources we got.”

Most of LonePack’s projects and activities are facilitated via the website, social media platforms [Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook], and Buddy chat app. LonePack is happy to be collaborating with students who bring forth a wide range of their psychological and entrepreneurial skills, and we’d be crediting their contribution with e-certificates and Letter of Appreciation. 

We look forward to working together with the academic department and students, and we’re excited for all the activities in store for us. 

Thanks to each one of you! Do keep supporting us, as we together with the students bridge the gap and shatter the stigma around mental health.

Cheers,

The LonePack Team

Toxic Masculinity and Mental Health

written by Shridula Gopinath

In September last year, India’s Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry launched “Kiran”, a 24/7 mental health helpline. An internal report, accessed by “The Hindu”, recorded data gathered between September 16th 2020 to January 15th 2021 which showed that over 70% of the calls received were by men. The inequality in these numbers is far from a coincidence. Instead, it exposes a much larger structural problem surrounding the issue of gender and mental health which millions of men battle with everyday. Canetto and Sakinofsky (1998) argue that there is a Gender Paradox in suicide, where women display higher suicidal ideation, but men have higher suicide rates. This paradox is likely to be explained by reluctance of men to report mental health issues and suicidal ideations. This raises questions about the ideals of masculinity and why they appear to be so incongruent with help seeking behaviour.

Where does it stem from?

The subtle practice of quelling emotional expression in men tends to begin with gendered socialisation at a very young age. Irrespective of our gender, we have all heard the phrase “Boys don’t cry” used when growing up. What about “don’t act like a girl” or, later on, “Man up”? Not only does this discourage men from showing emotion and communicating openly, it adds a stereotypical female connotation to all things related to feeling. This becomes more apparent as a problem when we take the wider patriarchal context into consideration. In societies like ours, things viewed as traditionally female are almost always synonymous with being inferior, shallow, and weak. General misconceptions about, and stigma surrounding, mental health are, therefore, made even more difficult to shatter when another layer of perceived shame is tightly fastened around almost half of the population. This barrier is even more difficult to penetrate since it is so deeply indoctrinated within us, to the extent where it is closely linked to one’s own identity. These toxic messages have been reinforced through cultural institutions and socialisation agencies, such as the media, and ridicule and criticism faced for failure to meet expectations of traditional masculinity, cements these notions. 

How does this ignite the problem?

Anybody who has experienced any mental illness for any period of time will agree that one of its most debilitating effects is the alienation and detachment one feels from their loved ones and the rest of the world, and more often than not, having somebody who makes you feel heard, be it a friend or a family member or a professional, can go a long way. This support and reassurance, that you are not alone in your experiences, can only be found when one feels able to open up and share their honest vulnerabilities and struggles- which is something men are usually discouraged from doing. As a result, the tendency to silently endure the pain by themselves, and not seek support from others, causes feelings of isolation to grow to the point where it may feel consuming.

The Kiran Helpline and The Gender Suicide Paradox

The Kiran helpline keeps the identity of the callers anonymous. There is no face-to-face interaction with the person at the other end, nor any worry of knowing the person on the other end personally. With these added layers of protection, men no longer need to worry about how they will be socially perceived. There is something to be said about the culture we have fostered if the only time when people feel comfortable enough to reach out for help is when they are able to divorce their issues and experiences from their individual and social identity. 

Mental illness does not target any specific demographic but the solution for it seems to. Canetto and Sakinofsky (1998) conclude there being an “underreporting on the part of suicidal males because of fear of social stigma, as well as underreporting by researchers, who may miss suicidal cues in males”. This argues that people may not be able to pick up subtle signals, if put across as cries for help from men. These indirect hints may, however, be the only ways in which men may be comfortable asking for help, since more upfront confessions of their struggles could feel intimidating and difficult to express.

Is this only a male issue?

Since men who suffer from mental health problems are a large section of the population, the stigma does not affect just them in particular. Much of this repressed sadness could release in unhealthy ways, such as anger. Anger is a gendered emotion and is typically perceived as more masculine, and therefore a more acceptable reaction from men, despite it being far from the truth. Although anger is a natural response to various situations, it is not exclusive to a particular gender, and the actions that follow unchecked emotional outbursts could have negative consequences for all those involved. In extreme cases, it may lead to physical or mental abuse of oneself or others around. This is just one example of the ways in which the combination of toxic masculinity and mental health issues can have disastrous impacts. Maya Salam, a writer for the New York Times, explains “Toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly; that they have to be “tough all the time”; that anything other than that makes them “feminine” or weak. (No, it doesn’t mean that all men are inherently toxic.)”. It’s a seemingly impossible situation which benefits nobody but is perpetuated by many.

Mental health advocacy and awareness has done wonders over the years, but it still has a long battle to fight. With more articles, resources, and research, coming out everyday, and people being more open and speaking out about their honest experiences, the cold hard casing of toxic masculinity is beginning to slowly melt away. Gender equality activists also raise awareness about the destructive capacities gender roles have on everybody, and with the rise of information, access, and acceptance, more people of all genders are beginning to feel less alone in themselves, and more willing to seek help. The responsibility to keep doors to help open, and check in on how friends and family members are feeling, falls on everybody. Regardless of their gender identity and expression, everybody is equally deserving of help, and should feel just as able as the next person able to reach out and be heard.

References

Canetto, Silvia & Sakinofsky, Isaac. (1998). The Gender Paradox in Suicide. Suicide & life-threatening behavior. 28. 1-23

Damini Nath. “Ministry’s Mental Health Helpline Sees Most Calls from Men.” The Hindu, The Hindu, 7 Feb. 2021, www.thehindu.com/news/national/ministrys-mental-health-helpline-sees-most-calls-from-men/article33774872.ece. Accessed 9 Feb. 2021.

Salam, Maya “What Is Toxic Masculinity? (Published 2019).” The New York Times, 2021, www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/us/toxic-masculinity.html. Accessed 22 Feb. 2021.

LonePack Conversations- The Alternative Therapy Series: Drama Therapy ft. Anshuma Kshetrapal

The ancient Greeks used drama for catharsis. Theater is known to help tap into emotions, build self esteem, and reduce feelings of isolation. Let’s find out how Drama Therapy can aid our mental health.

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Valerie- Welcome to LonePack Conversations! I’m Valerie.

Today we’re talking to Anshuma Kshetrapal, a Drama and Movement Psychotherapist. She is the founder of The Color of Grey Cells, the co-founder of The Arts Therapists CoLab, and a founding member of the Indian Association of Dance Movement Therapy.

Welcome, Anshuma!

Anshuma- Thank you so much for having me, Valerie.

Valerie- Thank you for being here. Could you start with telling us what Drama Therapy is and how it supports mental wellness?

Anshuma-  Drama therapy, like you said, is ancient in nature. It’s simply put – the idea of creating alternative ways to look at our therapeutic processes. Therapy typically would want you to delve deeper into unconscious elements and the arts are a wonderful way of doing that. The arts perpetually have a way of bringing out our unconscious aspects. So when you pick a pose or when you pick a character to work with or when you pick a story, what guides your motivation to pick those things? We look at that more closely. In a typical session, we would go into role play, enactment, stories, and do all kinds of kooky things to understand what your unconscious self wants to communicate to you. 

Valerie- Right. If someone is seeking conventional psychotherapy, how do they know when they should try drama therapy?

Anshuma- Well, like I said, it’s about the unconscious language. The unconscious mind doesn’t speak to us in Hindi, English or any other language. It speaks to us in emotions. Now when we’re trying to use articulation, there will inevitably be a time when our conscious thought around that experience will run out and we won’t know how to go forward from that moment. A lot of times, clients who come to Drama Therapy come after having had a lot of looping experiences in talk therapy. So then when they come to drama therapy, it’s a way of their unconscious elements speaking. They don’t have to own anything, the beautiful bit of Drama Therapy is that there’s so much distance you can create between you and your emotions that it feels very safe, because all you’re doing is playing. If I don’t have to own my anger but that angry King really wants to behead people, in that way it doesn’t feel threatening to go through these very complex and nuanced emotions.

Valerie-  I know that when you were talking to us earlier, you said that you do a lot of kooky things and you start playing these weird games and stuff like that so how do you know what works best on what person? When somebody comes to you, how do you know what they will resonate with best?

Anshuma-  Well, it’s a very complex issue in terms of there’s no ‘one size fits all’. The idea is that the therapist is trained in how to look at the unconscious elements of what’s going on, and we’re not directive at all. It’s a very indirect form of psychotherapy. We always ask and there’s a lot of power sharing in the room. I’m not your expert, you are the expert on your mental health. You come in, there are a lot of things to choose from. What would you like to explore today? So it’s not led by me and in that sense, what we do is we create something called a ‘play space’, and that play space is an area where the client chooses what they would like to explore. We give a lot of options and it’s a very gentle build-up. It’s not like you come in and we’re like “Let’s do this”. You can talk about things for a long time, we discover what some core areas of work are, and then we explore those certain things using different modalities. From the same concept of anger, I can make a character out of it, I can do some sock puppet out of it, I can do sand play, I can do role enactment, there’s so many things. 

Valerie-  Supposing you’ve got somebody who is very uptight and like you said, they tried psychotherapy and they felt like they were going through a loop that they couldn’t break, even through their words and they come to you for Drama Therapy but they don’t really know what they want to do because they are uptight as a person and they don’t really know how to express themselves. How do therapists understand the issue someone’s trying to express through Drama and how do you make them express it through Drama?

Anshuma- That’s the beauty of it. For me, the more difficult clients to work with are the ones who come wanting a lot of drama because then you have to unlearn. Artists make the most difficult clients because they have a certain idea of how drama should look – interesting, masala to the story, wanting to enact something full-scale. And in creating the product, they forget about the process. Actually, Drama Therapy is very process oriented. It’s not anything to do with “drama” as it looks on the stage. It’s just an inner expression. If you’re just breathing, I’ll just work with you with that. Simple movements like breath. Let’s expand on that. Let’s expand on a small movement. Is there a dialogue that you want to say today? So it becomes very subtle and there’s no pressure on the client to enact or show me big movements. 

When you ask how we help them express, we just use lots of tools and we put across those tools and help them make choices. For example, one of my favourite things to do right in the beginning is that I take a lot of small toys and I put it in front of them and ask them what represents them today, and they just pick up an object and tell me an imaginary story, it doesn’t need to be their life story because I’m not an investigative journalist. I’m just here to make you feel better.

Valerie-  Can you give us a further insight into what happens in a Drama Therapy session?

Anshuma-  A typical Drama Therapy session would begin with you doing some focus exercises, you come in, we do some breathing work. Then we start to warm up the body, we move about a little bit where I ask you to think about the themes you want to explore today, then we start with “bridging in”, which is when you start to build on those themes. 

A session I just had today before this was about somebody who’s been locked in the Pandemic but feeling homeless because they don’t feel at home in their own house. She wanted to explore the concept of home and so we played a little game about what does home mean? And how does home represent itself in her body, and through that we were able to come to the idea of home being a place of nurturance, home being a place of conflict. So our main activity then included her making a safe space in her own home, so she went and got objects that made her feel safe, picked a corner of her room and she created a little sanctuary for herself, and then we bridged out of it, we came back to talking about some of the conflicts that exist in her home, and then she drew about it a little bit saying “I just want to put it out of my body, I’ve been carrying this for too long”. And then we did some songs and just got her back to the present moment. 

Valerie-  It’s actually really interesting that you start with really really small things and you can use that and build it up into something beautiful and help somebody express themselves and understand what they’ve been feeling. 

A – Right? Because it’s not about them performing, it’s about them expressing. That’s a very clear difference we make right in the beginning.

Valerie-  What was it about Drama Therapy that drove you to take it up as a profession? 

Anshuma-  I was a journalist initially and I was doing feature stories and I realised that I think that the impact of the fourth estate wasn’t really cutting it for me. I wanted a very clear one to one ability to be able to make an impact because it felt like I would go there to scoop a story and then come out and not be able to take any responsibility for what happens next. I did a couple of jobs in journalism and I took off nine months and I didn’t have a bachelors in psychology so I studied all of psychology that I could from bachelors and straight away did my first masters in psycho-social clinical studies, beyond which I started to realise that just this idea of talking was not cutting it. 

It felt like there was more to be expressed, especially when we’re talking about impact, if we could express in a group, it becomes even more interesting. So I started studying how group therapy is emerging and it seemed at the time it was only rehab or one to one in India. So I stepped out and studied how the arts are helpful because it helped me in my personal life as well, just to express myself better and tell my story, and so I went and researched that and ended up falling in love with it.  

Valerie-  You said that when you were doing journalism, you felt like you were scooping up stories but not taking responsibility, how do you feel that’s changed for you when you became a psychotherapist?

Anshuma-  I think the idea that I have a feedback loop, that I work with my client over and over again every week and I go back and it feels less exploitative. That’s my personal experience. When I was doing journalism, it felt like it was about the story rather than the individual. And the story does perhaps have a larger impact but at the same time, now when I’m going to this person week after week and seeing how they’re changing and how their lives are enhanced or better, it’s a very different experience of feeling validated with my own work.

Valerie-  Right. Could you talk to us about how the infrastructure and education around Drama Therapy in India has progressed with time?

Anshuma-  Valerie, you’ve asked me a question where I don’t know where to begin but it feels like we’re at a very different place but I’m going to start from when I first came back. My second masters was in Drama and Movement Therapy Sesame from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and I had gotten jobs there but I wanted to come back because even though there was more demand there, the need was felt here. It felt like I could perhaps make a difference in the field here and it was new. As soon as I came back, I was fortunate enough to be here at the right time because mental health as a conversation was picking up but till date, I get a lot of skepticism. I get a lot of “Do you make your clients dance?”, “Which hospital is your next performance in?” So because of that, I felt the need to stretch myself into advocacy work because it felt like there’s a larger conversation that we were not having. 

That’s where the Indian Association for Dance Movement Therapy and all the teaching began. Currently I design programs and I approach universities and we set up diploma programs. We set up a diploma program in Pune, there is a diploma program in expressive arts therapy run by my very able colleagues in Mumbai. There are several certification programs which are very ethical in nature. Alongside that, we do have to develop the field in terms of ethics because one of the causes that’s close to my heart is the social justice angle of mental health in India and it feels like there is so much malpractice because there is no licensure. We are looking to develop a code of ethics, we are looking to get licenses into the country at various levels and really try to grow the field from the ground up. 

While I’m involved in infrastructure, I can tell you that from then to now, it is a transformation. We have so many people who are interested, so many practitioners who are doing a lot of ethical work and a lot of clients who are benefitting, but we’re still looking for our government to get involved. The budget this time, for example, for mental health was dismal. It feels like the government will take its own time coming around but at least through platforms like yours, through Instagram, through various social media, people are really invested in this topic now so in that way, it has helped up. Private infrastructure is willing to invest but publicly, we don’t have much support yet.

Valerie-  Yes. It’s great to seeing that despite learning abroad, you can back here because there was a need for awareness, in terms of the fact that people were so uninformed that they had all kinds of preconceived notions about what Drama Therapy or alternative therapy would be, and you’ve actually started curating courses that would help change that and help make people more educated and aware. 

Anshuma- Yeah and yet there are courses that people are just starting in their basements, without trained faculty because they simply think drama and therapy means you feel good after doing drama, but that is precisely where vulnerable clients can really get duked and so do vulnerable students. I always urge the student population to really study the course they’re going for because these are complex and nuanced therapies, even though they come under the purview of alternative therapy, you’re still working with an individual’s mental health and so the responsibility on you is pretty great and these short-term courses in basements may be cheap and they may be able to provide cheap certification but what will your end product be and how far can you go in the field if you go to those kind of courses?

Valerie-  Very true. Being a psychotherapist, you help people deal with problems related to their mental health and it can be a pretty arduous job. As you said, you take on responsibility and while it can be a beautiful thing to see somebody transform, it can also be very very taxing. How do you care for your mental health amidst all of this? 

Anshuma-  Well, I’ve been asked that question during the Pandemic and I’ve wondered about it currently because typically my ways of taking care of myself, and avoiding burnout, which is very frequent in mental health work is to travel and to step away from my familiar surroundings altogether. Since that was not an option during the Pandemic, I’ve had to develop other fundamental things but there are clear guidelines, if you go to your therapist, I urge all clients to ask their therapists if they’re in supervision. Are you in personal work yourself? Because that’s the thing that really keeps us intact. 

I make sure that I take my supervision seriously. Every fortnight, I make sure that I call my supervisor and she adds a third perspective to my work. I have been in personal therapy for the last eleven years and make no qualms in talking about it because it feels like it’s important that my clients also know that I’m also engaged in working with myself. Alongside that, the arts are a wonderful way of self care. I do drama and movement on a daily basis for other people but for myself as well, there’s nothing better for me than to get my hands dirty with some clay or do some atwork, some painting, or even some drama and movement whenever I can.

Valerie-  So what’s your favorite form of art that plays a therapeutic role in your life?

Anshuma-  For me, it’s been clay. There’s that physical element of putting your energy into clay, and what I end up doing is I use the clay to make those little toys that I was talking about earlier. I fashion those toys out of the clay so it becomes my therapeutic activity but it also comes back into the work when I offer those toys as a starting point to my clients. It really is paying for itself in some way!

Valerie-  Anshuma, it’s been absolutely beautiful talking to you. There’s so much we got to learn from you. We got to learn that Drama Therapy is more about the journey and it’s about expressing yourself through what you do as opposed to thinking of it as a performance, we’ve learnt just how important it is for therapists as well to take their mental health seriously, to be in supervision and to let other people know that it’s important for them to take care of their mental health as well. Also, one thing that I can take away from you is that you said that it’s beautiful for you to feel that validation when you see your clients come to you every single time and you can see them healing and becoming better because of your work. Thank you so much for talking to us today and making us aware of what Drama Therapy is and what it means to you as well.

Anshuma- Thank you so much, Valerie, for the opportunity and for all the work you’re doing. Thank you so much for doing this wonderful summary at the end, that way I also learnt from what I was rambling on about. 

Valerie-  Thank you.

Mindfulness Techniques to Fight Self Harm

Trigger Warning: Mentions of self-harm, depression, suicide

Self-harm is a taboo topic, even in today’s world of acceptance of Pride and no prejudices. When we hear that someone self-harms, 70% of the time, the first reaction we’d have is one of horror. Not even disbelief, pity or anything else, just plain horror, followed by a poor attempt to empathize. Very few of us try to help the person out, mainly because we don’t understand what they’re going through. But that’s just our conditioning. We’ve been taught to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable and go with the crowd. It’s time to have a breakthrough. 

What is self-harm?

Self-harm or self-injury means hurting oneself intentionally. Self-harm is not a mental health illness in itself. Rather, it displays an inability of the person affected to cope with a certain illness, most often something like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder

To the people who self-harm: know this. You are not going through this alone. Self-harm is not something you have to live with all your life, and there are loads of people to narrate their experiences and support you. You need only reach out to seek help.

Why do people self-harm?

There is no scientific answer to this. Some people say they do it to relieve stress. Some others say they do it because the physical pain is better than the mental pain. It is a sign of great emotional distress, and the person is often engulfed by feelings of shame, frustration, guilt, and pain. Some common reasons that people reported include:

  • Relapse from alcohol or drug use
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Peer pressure
  • Bullying
  • Family issues

But there is no weakness in asking for help. In fact, it takes great courage to open up and talk about your feelings. If you do feel overwhelmed by these negative feelings, please, reach out to someone. 

Who are the people most prone to self-harm?

Though self harm is something that can affect anyone, this practice is most commonly found in young adults and adolescents, starting especially from one’s teenage years. People from unstable homes or those who have experienced trauma, neglect, and/or abuse in their early lives are also prone to self-harm. 

If you are a loved one of a person who self-harms, it is important to note that self-harm is not a cry of help or a demand for attention. But this does not mean that people who self-harm don’t need care and compassion. When someone opens up about their pain, chances are that it’s not your opinion they seek; it’s your acceptance. A simple smile goes a long way!

How can we fight the urge to self-harm?

While there are no tablets or tonics for it, psychologists and therapists all over the world do commonly recommend some grounding techniques and on-the-spot hacks that can help a person relieve their urge to self-harm.

Some of the most popular grounding techniques prescribed by therapists are:

  1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation:  This is a very simple deep-relaxation technique prescribed to reduce anxiety, stress, insomnia, and many other illnesses. Here is how it works:

While inhaling, clench/contract one type of muscle in your body. For example, your biceps, for 5-10 seconds, and then when you exhale, unclench it. After relaxing for 10 seconds, move on to another group of muscles, and repeat the same. 

TIP: Try to visualize the contraction and releasing of tension of the muscles in your body, so that it adds more focus to the activity. Also try visualizing all the stress and pain leaving your body with each release of tension. That helps a lot!

  1. 5-4-3-2-1 Technique: This is an interesting alternative focus technique. Look around your surroundings and answer the following questions:
  • What are 5 things you see (in a particular colour)?
  • What are 4 things you feel?
  • What are 3 things you hear?
  • What are 2 things you smell?
  • What is 1 thing you taste?

Other informal mindfulness/grounding techniques you can try include:

  1. Mental Grounding exercises: 

i) Describe an everyday activity, like brushing your teeth, in detail, to yourself
ii) Try to think of as many things in one category, like dogs or plants or musicians, as you can! Tests your knowledge, too.
iii) Count 1 to 100, but spell out the alphabets. O…N…E, T…W…O, etc.

  1. Physical Grounding exercises:

i) Run warm or cool water down the place where you usually self-harm
ii) Alternatively, try to hold an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can
iii) Jump up and down

You can also carry a grounding object with you, a small pen, a rock, a ring, a marble…anything you can touch and take comfort from when you feel frustrated or anxious or stressed. As with the Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique, you can also visualize your object drawing the negative energy away from you, in order for it to be more effective!


Do you feel like you have no one who listens to you? Do you want someone to vent to? Talk to a LonePack Buddy today!

What makes you, you?

Identify your values to lead a meaningful life

As we grow up, Life can seem to become more complicated. We’re faced with difficult decisions where the “right” choice might not always be easy or apparent. Choosing to pursue your relationship when your family is against it. Ending an abusive and toxic relationship. Being open about your gender or sexual identity. We might end up feeling stuck, with no way out of the situation. In those cases, a strong sense of who you are and your core values, can empower you and give back control of your life.

Lessons from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies mixed in different ways with commitment and behavior change strategies to increase psychological flexibility. In ACT, identifying your values is central to enforcing commitment and, the more personal the values, the better you are able to enforce them. This awareness allows you to be mindful of your actions and damaging behavioral patterns and correct them. Following are a few examples by which this therapeutic approach may be applied for common disorders.

One of the symptoms of anxiety is overthinking. We don’t have control over other people’s decisions, past or future circumstances or even our own emotional reactions to situations but we do have control over our own decisions. In order to break the fatalistic overthinking pattern, it would be helpful to identify your values and if your actions in these make-believe scenarios conform to them.

People who suffer from Depression might feel unenthusiastic about their life because they’re stuck. While it is true that there are a lot of factors that lock us into these situations which feel inescapable, having the mental fortitude can lend an inner strength. Starting small, with just one value and how to improve your life around this value can be the breakthrough strategy to realizing the infinite possibilities to change your life.

Note: The above examples are simplified for easier understanding, however, they are in no way a representation of the entire scope of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as practiced in a professional setting.

Identifying Your Values

The following is a list of common values. This is in no way an exhaustive list and it is encouraged to add or edit these values to suit your personal experience. You may mark a ‘V’ for very important, ‘Q’ for Quite important and ‘N’ for Not that important across each of the goals.

  • Acceptance/self-acceptance: to be accepting of myself, others, life, etc.
  • Adventure: to be adventurous; to actively explore novel or stimulating experiences
  • Assertiveness: to respectfully stand up for my rights and request what I want
  • Authenticity: to be authentic, genuine, and real; to be true to myself
  • Caring/self-care: to be caring toward myself, others, the environment, etc.
  • Compassion/self-compassion: to act kindly toward myself and others in pain
  • Connection: to engage fully in whatever I’m doing and be fully present with others
  • Contribution and generosity: to contribute, give, help, assist, or share
  • Cooperation: to be cooperative and collaborative with others
  • Courage: to be courageous or brave; to persist in the face of fear, threat, or difficult
  • Creativity: to be creative or innovative
  • Curiosity: to be curious, open-minded, and interested; to explore and discover
  • Encouragement: to encourage and reward behavior that I value in myself or others
  • Engagement: to engage fully in what I am doing
  • Fairness and justice: to be fair and just to myself and others
  • Fitness: to maintain or improve or look after my physical and mental health
  • Flexibility: to adjust and adapt readily to changing circumstances
  • Freedom and independence: to choose how I live and help others do likewise
  • Friendliness: to be friendly, companionable, or agreeable toward others
  • Forgiveness/self-forgiveness: to be forgiving toward myself or others
  • Fun and humor: to be fun loving; to seek, create, and engage in fun-filled activities
  • Gratitude: to be grateful for and appreciative of myself, others, and life
  • Honesty: to be honest, truthful, and sincere with myself and others
  • Industry: to be industrious, hardworking, and dedicated
  • Intimacy: to open up, reveal, and share myself, emotionally or physically
  • Kindness: to be kind, considerate, nurturing, or caring toward myself or others
  • Love: to act lovingly or affectionately toward myself or others
  • Mindfulness: to be open to, engaged in and curious about the present moment
  • Order: to be orderly and organized
  • Persistence and commitment: to continue resolutely, despite problems or difficulties.
  • Respect/self-respect: to treat myself and others with care and consideration
  • Responsibility: to be responsible and accountable for my actions
  • Safety and protection: to secure, protect, or ensure my own safety or that of others
  • Sensuality and pleasure: to create or enjoy pleasurable and sensual experiences
  • Sexuality: to explore or express my sexuality
  • Skillfulness: to continually practice and improve my skills and apply myself fully
  • Supportiveness: to be supportive, helpful and available to myself or others
  • Trust: to be trustworthy; to be loyal, faithful, sincere, and reliable
  • Other:
  • Other:
    Russ Harris, 2013 Adapted from The Confidence Gap: From Fear to Freedom, by Russ Harris, Penguin Group (Australia), 2010.

The activity of identifying values can seem daunting at first glance. It might be made easier through the following activity.

Imagine you are 85 years old and all your friends are gathered to celebrate your birthday. One of your friends gets up to give a speech about your life.

If you had lived your life as you currently do, what are the most memorable qualities in the speech?

Now, take a moment to reflect upon the list of values. 

Imagine that you have made changes to how you live your life that revolves around your values. Now, if your friend made a speech, what are the most memorable qualities in it?

myStrength

How to Live your Values

While becoming aware of your values is a big first step, choosing your everyday actions to reflect them takes dedication and explicit intention. To make it easier, it might be useful to come up with 5 goals that aim at improving your lifestyle around your core values. Then, think back on how these values have been disregarded in the past, the more specific the experience the better. Now, with these memories in mind, come up with enforceable daily, weekly and monthly goals. It is key to start small and be specific when creating this list.

With commitment to your values, you can start to live your life with intention. However, it is unavoidable that we may sometimes slip back into unhealthy behavioral patterns. In those situations, you can reset your internal compass by becoming aware of your values and the reasons why they’re important to you. If the values are truly what make you, this exercise can jolt you back into control of your life.

Finally, Your values might be different in different aspects of your life such as family, relationships, work, community, religion, spirituality, etc. It is essential to make the distinction between beliefs and values. Beliefs might be imposed or imparted and are subject to change relatively frequently. However, values are central to your life’s purpose and generally become stronger when you overcome your mental health struggles. In conclusion, an awareness of your values helps in decision making and allows you to take control of your life and enforcing these values in your day to day life can impart a sense of meaning and direction to your life.

LonePack Conversations- The Alternative Therapy Series: Sound Therapy ft. Suzy Nairn

At some point in our lives, a lot of us may have turned to music to make ourselves feel better, but did you know that mere sounds can have an impact on our mental health as well?


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Valerie- Welcome to LonePack Conversations! I’m Valerie.

Today we’re talking to Suzy Nairn, a singer, sound therapist and educator. She’s the founder of Soundsphere and the co-founder of ANSU School of Sound. She is also a member of the board of the International Therapeutic Sound Association. 

Hey, Suzy!

Suzy-  Hi, hello!

Valerie- It’s good to have you here today.

Suzy-  It’s good to be here. Lovely to be invited, I’m very keen to talk about Sound Therapy and how it can help people.

Valerie- Sure. Suzy, by profession, you are a Sound Therapist. You’re also a singer and a songwriter. What is the difference between sound and music, and between the alternative therapies of the same?

Suzy-  Yes, absolutely. When we’re working with music, we tend to be working a lot with rhythm, melody, lyrics, words, etc. When we’re working in Sound Therapy, we might bring in a little bit of rhythm and melody but actually, it’s a very much more open soundscape so we would use toys or undulating pulses and that can help bring a person into a relaxed state whereas singing and song-writing involves singing and writing songs, people are moving, people are engaged, they’re listening and maybe singing along in their head or tapping their foot. Within a sound journey, they tend to be resting in Sound Therapy. 

So the difference as well between Music Therapy and Sound Therapy is that Music Therapy is much more of a two-way process, so a music therapist would be talking and speaking with a client, where they would be using instruments to help express emotions that someone may not be able to express in words so it’s more of a communication tool whereas Sound Therapy is very much a treatment. The person is lying down, eyes closed, under a cozy blanket, etc. and they are receiving the sound. Although they are listening, they may actually drift off into a dream-like state. They are not required to be actively engaged, so it’s much more like a giving from the Sound Therapy, and the person is receiving it.  

Valerie- Yeah, it is quite interesting to know that on one hand when you have music, it’s something that’s more active, where you have participation from the person and Sound Therapy on the other hand is more on the basis of receiving sound and in terms of that, could you tell us what the therapeutic effects of sound are and how it relates to mental health?

Suzy-  Yes, so continuing on from that, when we were actually consciously working with the brainwave states, in music, our brainwaves are in the natural state of beta, where we’re active and engaged and there’s four main brainwave states that we’re all in at different times throughout the day, the beta state is what we’re in right now, where we’re talking, listening, and engaged whereas when we’re working with Sound Therapy, we’re using sounds and tones and different effects to slow the brainwaves down so that the person reaches a natural state of relaxation and it’s sometimes a state that people can’t reach themselves, especially if they’re worrying or anxious, if they’ve got very over-active minds or constant chronic pain. All of these things make it very difficult for a person to access a state of relaxation. 

What happens is when they are gently lulled into this natural brainwave state which we call the alpha-theta border, which is a bit like the moment when you’re just dropping off to sleep at night or you’ve just woken up and you haven’t really fully got onto your mind and what’s happening in the day, you’re in a sort of unknown physical state, almost. When a person reaches that natural brainwave state, we aim to keep them in that a little bit longer. Normally, it’s a brief moment while we’re there and they’ve shown that when people are in that state, the body actually undergoes their own physical self-repair so it’ll balance hormones, it’ll release tension that’s been held in the physical body, and all of these benefits can help people lessen their worries, help them gain a sense of peace and also which then helps them be more able to cope with life’s challenges, and we’ve seen that it can bring about pain relief in people, they might not need as much pain medication if they’ve got a chronic illness. 

I’ve got clients who have had very high blood pressure and after a number of sessions, that has completely stabilized. So there are all these different effects that are going on. It’s also the sounds and the way we weave these sounds. They also soothe the nervous system, it very much works with the vagus nerve, which is the biggest nerve in the body, and the vagus nerve is connected to our ears and travels all the way down through the body and connects with all the internal organs of the body, so when we’re giving that somebody and they’re receiving it, it’s soothing. It can soothe their frazzled nerves and wash away some of that tension. When people are tense and worried and are holding themselves tight, it helps the body to naturally start to relax and that process in itself can just be so beneficial for people. 

A lot of people say to me, after they’ve had a session, especially after the group ones, that they have a brilliant sleep. It’s amazing, the power of how it can really help people, and it does require skillful playing and that’s why I’m a real advocate for training in Sound Therapy because it’s really easy to just buy the instrument. Just like music, you can teach yourself to a point by watching and listening to other people but there’s actually a whole process of being a therapist, which is not something that you cannot just teach yourself. That is something that needs to be taught because sometimes, people can have really big emotional releases and you need to be able to handle that as a therapist.  Yeah, so there are a lot of ways that it helps people.

Valerie-  Right. Suzy, when you were telling us about this, you did talk about how sound helps release tension and help people reach a point where they relax to a point where they probably couldn’t by themselves and you talked about how it’s important to have a therapist with you so that if there are emotional releases, you have somebody who can help facilitate that. Is talk therapy at all a part of Sound Therapy? What exactly did it mean when you talked about “emotional releases”?

Suzy-  As a therapist, I will have a consultation with a client and whatever comes up in that is relevant to the person. We’re not necessarily trying to dig around but counselling and talk therapy does have a place, however in a one to one situation, we would have a consultation and discuss what the main issues for the person are, and then sometimes that process itself is very healing in itself and then they receive the sound. When we’re working on a one to one level, we’re working with the chakra system where we scan the body, the energetic system of the body, and there’s a bit of intuition as well, as to where the sounds need to be. We might even place instruments on the body, we might put the singing bowls on the body and ease tension in the body. 

So there’s a balance within talk therapy and within the sound in a treatment situation. When it’s a group situation, it’s a more general “sound journey” or a “sound bath”, so it’s not tailored specifically to one person, it’s more general but it might have a theme. So it might be for relaxation or it might be for energizing, or it may be connected to a specific season of the year, like we’re just coming into spring here in Scotland so I was just doing one last night connected to Spring and that was lovely! So we’ve taken some of those nice themes and then focused on a general soundscape that is designed around that.

Valerie-  Right. So, what was the inspiration behind founding Soundsphere and ANSU School of Sound?

Suzy-  Well, I first heard about Sound Therapy around about thirty years ago, a friend gave me a book on healing through sound and I was at the time interested in music but it was just a hobby of mine, and I liked singing, and this book sort of opened my eyes to the potential that there was in something such as Sound Therapy, and it wasn’t until around 2006, that became the time that I chose to train and that was because a close family member actually got very ill and I wanted to help her and lots of things like mainstream medicine weren’t able to support her in a more holistic way. They would give her the medicines but there was no other support, so I started to do more research. 

I’d done a little workshop a few years previous to that and I started to use my voice with her, I was doing relaxation sessions and she really responded so well that I decided to then go and train, and I did a two year practitioner level training course, and through that time I worked with my niece very closely and gave her a lot of sessions and it really helped her. Sadly, she did die because she was seriously ill, and it was a very very tragic situation but what I did see from it was how much benefit she got out of the Sound Therapy treatment and that after that time and when I completed my training, I felt so inspired to help others and since then, I have worked with terminal clients as well as people with stress or people who want relaxation, or even prevention – you can sort of prevent illnesses coming around. 

So that was why I started Soundsphere and I started running workshops and sound journeys. And then a number of years later, I’d been working with a colleague who trained together with me, Anthar Kharana, and we wanted to train more people because people kept coming to us asking if it could help children with autism, adults with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s and many situations, and I felt strongly that yes, it can but there’s only two of us here and at that time, Sound Therapy was still breaking through over here and it wasn’t that well known, it’s become a lot more well known and a lot of people training in it now, a lot of people offering sessions. So we started an annual course to be able to train more people to spread the word, and to be out there spreading the sound, so we’ve got students who are graduates now, who are working within mental health or with addiction groups or adding it into yoga classes, or many different things so that’s what we wanted to do. 

We wanted to see it in schools and hospitals and we’ve got a new school program that’s running this year and some of the schools in Scotland where we’re actually going to be teaching the children how to play some of the singing bowls and give some support to the teachers as well because obviously, we’re in this very stressful situation at the moment, so we want to offer some therapeutic sound but it’s also under some sort of music connection, so that the children will also learn to play these instruments because technically, they are quite simple to play but there is a bit of skill within that and extra techniques and it’s to do with how you blend the instruments and when you use different instruments. That’s where the skill and training comes in.

Valerie-  Yes. Well, thank you for sharing an experience so personal to you and actually letting us know that despite it being a tragic experience, you took that to help other people when you saw how it benefited your niece, and that it became just as important for you to make other people aware of the benefits of Sound Therapy and founded a school that trains people on how they can help do the same for other people.

Suzy-  Yeah, thank you. Absolutely, I get feedback from people all the time about how it really helps them with their anxiety and their headaches, it can also be really supportive when people are going through major transformations in their life, whether that’s a house-move or the end of a relationship, or they’re grieving, it can really help them in all sorts of different situations. There’s really so many benefits and it works. So when people ask if it can help with health issues, yes, it can sort of help everything because you’re working beneath the symptoms, you’re working underneath and behind and you’re not getting involved in the outer world situation such as a marriage breakup or the illness, you’re working behind that to support them and give them that sense of peace, to be able to cope with these things.

Valerie- Yes.  Personally, what is it about sound that brings you peace?

Suzy-  Well, I just love the different sounds and it gives me a lot of peace to actually know that it’s helping a lot of people and for my own personal experience, when I’m delivering sound or working with instruments, it’s a really creative process. It’s that feeling of getting in the zone. I actually get a lot of benefit out of it as well. I feel calmer afterwards and when you’ve been creative and when you’ve produced something, it’s quite a rewarding feeling in that way. 

I’m very conscious when I’m creating sound, I’m very engaged and I’m not going into the relaxed state, and I’m very intuitive as well, sort of creating and guiding and weaving the sounds together so I think all of that that gives me a sense of peace, and just helping and seeing the benefits that people feel. A lot of people have an experience of weightlessness, or they see colours or they get images, clarity and insight and a lot of different benefits that come from it. I’m sure that I get some of those benefits as well!

Valerie-  Well, Suzy it’s been really great talking to you and more than understanding what Sound Therapy is, it’s been inspiring to know your story and the fact that it’s so important of you to look at how other people have benefitted from sound therapy and what you provide them with, and that’s what helps you be peaceful and that’s what keeps you happy. Thank you so much for talking to us and giving us an insight into what Sound Therapy is, how it’s used. Thank you, Suzy.

Suzy- You’re welcome, Valerie. Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m delighted to be part of your podcast series.

To know more about Suzy Nairn’s work, head over to:

ANSU School of Sound

Soundsphere

Ain’t Silly If It Works

trigger warnings:// self-harm, suicide

When I read O.Henry’s “The Last Leaf” in school, I never imagined a parallel version would play out in my own life. In the book, one of the central characters, in a moment of helplessness, links the falling of the leaves in a nearby tree with her own life and believes she would die once the last leaf falls. Without spoiling much, let’s say, a small miracle occurs  and helps her find the motivation to live.

        Around 4 years later, during a particularly tough time in my life, I found myself utterly uninterested in any of my previous hobbies, unsure about the future and in general very disillusioned. Coincidentally this was also the time I brought home a plant which stubbornly refused to show any signs of life for days together. A completely random thought hit me – If this plant survives and grows leaves, I would be okay too. I religiously made sure it got sunlight and fresh water everyday, sat beside it whenever I needed some quiet time and surely enough, the plant survived. And in some sense, So did I. It may not seem very drastic to some but this small plant eased something in me during those tough times.

           Here’s the picture of this resilient li’l plant.

    While I had stumbled onto this way of coping, I later learnt it wasn’t all that rare. I read several posts on Reddit about people delaying self-harm by waiting for the release of their favourite movies/books/video games. Let’s think about it for a minute. This kind of concrete expectation gives us something to look forward to while also seemingly providing a specific date, lending some amount of certainty in an overwhelmingly confusing world. These survivors didn’t stop with one date though. They settled on another one and delayed their suicidal plans for a few more months or years and so on. A kind of useful procrastination, if you think about it. 

               Does this really make a difference though? Our social media feeds are filled with alarming news one after another. About the planet, the economy, the country – all of it. Notifications pile up about all the cool stuff everyone else is doing and the comparison game seamlessly begins. At times caring, well-meaning friends or family are not quite sure what to say, assuming they are available to listen and understand. In such times, a specific date on which you get to reconnect with a beloved character or story seems awfully reliable. 

                  If you are in fact considering self-harm, you can try some of the following distraction techniques as a form of emotional first-aid :

  • Exercise
  • Spending time in nature or with pets
  • Journaling
  • Temporarily stepping back from people or situations that act as triggers
  • Finding a creative outlet 

Find more here

But a very important thing to note is that these kinds of distraction strategies can be maladaptive as well — this interesting study talks about how distraction methods can be adaptive or maladaptive for emotional regulation based on the intent of the distraction. It can be adaptive if it is done with acceptance but can turn maladaptive if done with avoidance. So it is very important to take into account what your emotional state is and to act accordingly. 

      This is in no way to suggest that we do away with professional help or that this method can effectively replace therapy. Seeking professional help and working on sorting out the underlying issue is of utmost importance and is what will help in the long run.. These distraction methods only provide us with some more time and drive to seek help. The idea isn’t to latch on to short-term fixes like these forever but to to utilize this time to seek help from a qualified professional who can understand the specifics of your situation and aid in recovery and help build resilience even in the face of future adversity. I realize that to several people, this might sound ridiculous or trivial. I mean given all the problems in one’s life, how would a new movie or show even matter? You might be tempted to say that life’s purpose isn’t such “silly entertainment” and needs to be aligned with a higher calling. A noble thought indeed. But for a person who is struggling to find the will to wake up each day and even get dressed, if a new comic book makes it easier, why not? 

           Recovery is a process and it can’t be solved or fast-forwarded through such hacks. Each individual needs to take their own time and have a  sound support system in place. While methods like this can help make things slightly easier,it is not a long-term solution. We absolutely do need to invest time and effort to work though the underlying issues.  But for the short term, even if it’s silly, even if no one understands it, if it makes the daily grind of life better at least for a while, it may be worth a shot.

(You can check out the story here http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/LasLea.shtml)

Habits Pt2 – How to maintain habits

In the last article, we talked about how to form habits and a little bit about the science behind them. Well, in this follow-up, let’s dive a bit deeper and talk about how to maintain habits. 

Most of the time, the hardest part in forming a habit is staying consistent. There is often a slow build-up of resistance after the initial high of the habit formation process wears off, which in the end, is what forces us to break routine. Doing the task will start to look like a chore and when that happens, most of us stop doing what we set out to do. This is a very normal and common obstacle that we face while forming habits. So let’s take a look at a few things that might help with tackling this resistance and overall, will help in effectively building habits. 

1.Accessibility – James Clear in his widely talked about book Atomic Habits, talks about how humans are wired to take the path of least resistance. If we think about it, it makes a lot more sense that this would be true and applicable not only to habit formation but to other things in life as well. 

So how do we use this tendency to our advantage while building habits? By making sure that the tools we need to build the habit are extremely accessible. If you are set out to work out every day, keeping your workout gear where you can see them instead of in a place where you’ll need to actively go out of your way to reach for them can do wonders for your motivation. Choose the path to the least resistance.  

2. Discipline over Motivation – Although everyone might encourage us to keep being motivated to incentivize habit formation, motivation, in reality, only will last us for so long. So instead of relying on intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to push you to build the habit, choose to be disciplined. Set a routine for yourself and stick to it. Even on days where you feel the most unmotivated, challenge yourself to do at least a little bit. Being disciplined in the end will also serve as a form of intrinsic motivation that will feed into a positive loop. Here is an article that talks about discipline over motivation in a bit more detail. 

3. Realistic goals – Set a routine for yourself and stick to it is easier said than done. However, we all have to start somewhere in our habit formation journey. The best thing to then do would be to start small. It can get overwhelming to start with a big task and try following it through every day. Setting realistic, small yet attainable goals is key to maintaining a positive feedback loop and keeping ourselves invested in the habit we’re trying to develop. If you’re going to start working out, instead of overwhelming yourself with an hour of working out everyday, start small — a 10minute workout for 5 days a week. By this time, the sense of achievement of having done the workouts will serve as the motivation needed to keep going and challenge yourself. Then you can build upon those 10 minutes and effectively turn working out into a daily habit. Here’s how you can set realistic goals.

4. Build a healthy system – This is very important. Sticking to routines is important but it is more important to listen to your body and mind’s needs. If you just don’t feel your best on certain days, don’t force yourself to push through the discomfort and complete the task you set out for yourself. Try to listen to your body and mind and understand the differences between resistance to doing something and genuinely not being able to. Also, keep in mind that doing one thing a day well is better than feeling overwhelmed with wanting to do 5 things in a single day. A healthy and intuitive system that focuses on holistic well-being will do wonders for your overall growth. An interesting article on time vs energy management to build healthy systems.

5. Patience – Last but not least, be patient and kind to yourself. No growth is ever linear so it is fine if you miss a few days in between or indulge yourself in something else over the habit you’re trying to develop. Do not feel pushed to do anything, instead, look at it as an opportunity to better yourself. Habits take time and are not easy to form or break so take all the time you need with them. 

Whether it be forming new habits or breaking bad ones, it is important to be mindful of both the environmental effects and to your own inner workings. With time, effort and patience there can be no habit impossible to form or break. All the luck to you!

Further reading

[1] Three step habit change – James Clear 

[2] Habit formation 

[3] The science of habits