What is the science behind being creative and why are people with dyslexia so good at it?

Dyslexia CreativityMargaret Malpas, author of Self-fulfilment with Dyslexia, provides an overview of the creative process in a person’s brain and explores the reasons why creativity is a particular strength of people with dyslexia.

Click here to read the extract

Her book, printed on cream paper so that it is easy on the eye, is a very simple to follow guide designed to help people with dyslexia make the most of their true potential. Royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to the British Dyslexia Association. Find out more about the book here.

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What happens when your female partner of 20 years transitions to become male?

‘Transitioning Together’ is the story of Wenn and Beatrice Lawson, an eye-opening account of a couple’s experience of gender transition. After 20 years together, Wenn decided to transition from female to male. This book explores the emotional, psychological and physical challenges that come with transition, told from both Wenn and Beatrice’s perspectives. We asked Wenn a few questions about the couples’ journey.

 Why did you decide to tell your story from both perspectives?

We decided to tell our story from both perspectives because we are a couple and whatever happens for one of us has repercussions for both of us. Also, as we began our journey it would have been great to chat with other couples to get some insights into what to expect. But, we couldn’t find any other couples who were available to share with in person. The only ones we found were over the internet and not accessible to chat to in person. Although we each had a counsellor to share with, a person who most definitely was committed to our best, they were not experienced either. We and they are learning on the job!

You and Beatrice were together for many years before you decided to transition. How do you think this influenced both of your experiences of transitioning?

In many ways it’s much harder on Beatrice because she loved a woman and was never primed for me to be male. Her love and commitment to me has won out over the gender barrier but she grieves for her loss each day. It’s only been 4 years since the decision on that day, but, to her it feels like an eternity. I get what and who I’m designed to be, she loses what she always had. I know she had a man (inside that’s who I’ve always been) but neither of us knew that then. She was used to the rounder, softer contours of my body. These have been replaced with a squarer form and one that is hairier, bonier and has a much lower voice. So, although the male me is growing on Beatrice, she still looks for the smile she knew, or the tilt of my head, symbolic of the old me she knew, and for other things that let her know I’m still me. Whereas I look for the evidence that the old form is gone and I rejoice in the release of the person I really am.

What has been the biggest challenge for you during your transition?

For me the biggest challenge has been defending the man I’m becoming to my wife who has lost the woman she once had. At times it seemed that the ‘male’ me was being blamed for everything. I didn’t want to be defending myself all the time but learning to separate out ‘relational’ issues from ‘the gender’ ones has been quite a challenge.

And for Beatrice?

The biggest challenge for Beatrice has been seeing the Wenn she loves while not being side tracked by the male image Wenn is projected through. Beatrice’s experiences of the males in her life were not positive and this coloured her perceptions. The more Wenn grew in confidence and seemed to need Beatrice less, the more Beatrice felt unimportant and this was an echo of her past. Learning to trust in Wenn’s love is the biggest challenge.

In the book you describe the turmoil you felt as a Christian who had fallen in love with another woman, and the reaction of the Church and Church members to your relationship with Beatrice. Did your relationship with your faith change when you refused to deny your feelings for Beatrice?

I can honestly say that my faith hasn’t changed. My Heavenly Father is the same and I know He loves and accepts me, just the way I am. What has changed is I can no longer share and rejoice with the community of others that I was once part of. The church family were everything to me. That has gone now and I miss them.

Both you and Beatrice are on the autism spectrum. Do you think your autism has affected how you’ve responded to the challenges that come with transitioning?

Oh most definitely. I have a number of sensory issues that I live with. Some of these have increased. For example, if you sit to pee the urine smell probably isn’t overwhelming. But, when you stand to pee the urine smell gets right up your nose. I very much enjoy standing to pee but I dislike the way it smells. It’s a similar story with body odour. Mine became stronger as a male, but, it seems to have calmed down now. I coped well with the changes to my physical body and can look in the mirror now… I avoided this before. My whole body is now available to Beatrice whereas there were parts that were out of bounds before. We also think that being autistic has helped us in other ways because we tend to be literal, black & white in our thinking. That was then, this is now, kind of stuff. Our loyalty to one another probably has its roots in autism too.

Was there an ‘aha!’ moment when you realised that you were transgender? Or is it something you have always been aware of?

For me there definitely was an ‘aha’ moment when the light went on. I really was surprised and shocked when this happened. I did not know I was transgender before…. I knew I always liked ‘boys’ stuff growing up and was much more at home in the male world, so to speak. My mates were male more than female and I didn’t think or act like females do. However, I’m very maternal and loved being Mum to my kids. Joining the dots has probably been delayed due to our autism, but, once that light went on, there was no turning back.

You have three grown-up children, and grandchildren too. How did they react when you told them about transitioning?

My children were not at all surprised and, even though I’m sure it’s tough on them, they are with me 100%. My kids are very accepting of difference, despite their own autism, and we just get on with the job of being a family. It’s the same with the grand-kids. They love us for who we are… not Nanna anymore but Grandpa Wenn.

Transitioning Together is out now – click here for more information.

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With dyslexia comes the determination to succeed – Margaret Malpas

dyslexiaMargaret Malpas, author of Self-fulfilment with Dyslexia, explains how it is not just talent that makes people successful but rather the strength of character to succeed. Admitting that dyslexic people may well struggle academically at an early age, she nonetheless asserts that with dyslexia comes the determination to prove your critics wrong.

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Stephen Cherry’s Three Very Positive Reasons for Exploring Theology

Three Very Positive Reasons for Exploring Theology

It’s Fascinating

Theology is fascinating even at the simply human level. It’s extraordinary that people can hold such different convictions and yet get on really well. And at the same time it’s very odd that people can hold very similar views and yet get into serious and bloody conflict over what seem to be rather minor differences to anyone outside their tradition.

One of the things that I have found interesting as I have recently re-read some of the great theologians of the Reformation era, is just how extremely rude they are to each other, and how confident they are that they themselves are right. What Martin Luther had to say to Desiderus Erasmus would make anyone blush! It is also extraordinary that people with religious convictions have put such huge amounts of energy into their controversies.  It is said of Augustine (the one who wrote Confessions) that he worked hard all day as a bishop and then worked all night as a theologian, writing books and commentaries and letters. Sometimes he was in a reflective mode, wondering about who he was and what his life meant, sometimes he was in dispute with those who understood human nature quite differently, sometimes he was sketching out (I mean writing thousands of words about) his understanding of how society should be organised.

One of the things that people easily forget when they think about theology is that people have often been prepared to die for it, that theological opinions have often been a matter of life and death.  There are different versions of this. Some people will die for their faith because they believe that martyrdom is a fast track to paradise.  But this isn’t the driver of most martyrdom down the ages and is not, in a Christian understanding, true martyrdom.  A martyr is a witness and true martyrs are those who have been so committed to their faith, their understanding of the truth, that witnessing to this truth became more important to them than their own life. True martyrs don’t want to die; but they are not prepared to lie their way out of a situation when matters of ultimate truth are at stake. True martyrdom is not about seeking any personal reward but about standing up for truth, however costly that proves to be.

Along with the idea of martyrs goes the idea of heretics. Although people don’t often make this point, it almost goes without saying that all heretics are theologians. They are people who have thought things through for themselves and come to conclusions that religious authorities have not found acceptable. A heretic is not someone who suddenly has a dodgy idea in their head. A heretic is someone who has taken a lot of trouble to come to their unpopular view and is prepared to take the flak for maintaining their position. The study of theology involves the study of heresy and heretics. And thank goodness for that, because it is potential ‘heretics’ who push the boundaries and possibilities of theology wider and wider.  The pursuit of deep wisdom involves the possibility of making major mistakes. It may seem strange, but to a theologian that is all part of the pursuit of the truth. It is fair to say that just as some mistakes in life are worse than others, so some errors in theology are worse than others and it is therefore possible to think of heresy as sometimes very negative; it does not follow that all heresy is bad or that all those branded as heretics have been in error or done a disservice to the truth.  Often, inevitably enough, heretics are castigated not because they are actually and ultimately wrong, but because what they have to say is inconvenient and awkward for the powers that be.

Fun

Theology is fun partly because it is one of the most interdisciplinary of subjects. To study it properly you have to engage with philosophy, history, anthropology, psychology and sociology.  But that’s not all. Recognising that people express religious, spiritual and theological ideas indirectly, theology very often involves the study of literature. Novels, poetry and drama often include or allude to theological themes and discussions.  Theologians also try to progress their understanding by looking at historic works of art. The pictures, buildings and music of religious communities can teach us a great deal about their beliefs and values, and in today’s world you are as likely to find theological questions addressed in films as you are anywhere else. So yes, theologians go to the movies and try to ‘read’ or interpret them in a theological way.

One of the observations that I have made in life, not least in my ministry as a pastor, is that many people will be happy letting life go by, enjoying the good times and not asking many questions until something goes seriously wrong for them or someone they love. It’s for this reason that theology is often borne out of suffering or catastrophe. Good, interesting, lively compelling theology doesn’t often grow on happy trees in jolly gardens. It tends to spring up from the ruins of some kind of lost hope or shattered vision, or if not that then some genuine puzzlement and dissatisfaction with existing answers. Theology never grows out of smugness, but comes out of perplexity and the need to find answers to questions that keep us awake at night or which occur to us when life (or death) stops us in our tracks.

Maybe that idea doesn’t quite belong under the heading of theology as fun, but there is in fact a kind of fun to be had in looking difficulty and despair in the face and letting that reality challenge complacent and easy believing. And there is a huge amount of fun to be had (though ‘fun’ is too light a word now – joy would be better) in seeing hope rise again in the once despairing, in seeing the liberation of the oppressed, the forgiveness of those who have made great mistakes and the reconciliation of sworn enemies.  No theologian would claim that the study of theology will make these things happen, but for theology to be complete it must be interested in the upside of life, even if it often begins in the downside.

Important

Thirdly, theology is important. There was a time not very long ago when it was common for people to think that religion would die out.  ‘Imagine there’s no heaven’ wrote John Lennon, ‘and no religion too’. This line of thinking didn’t start in the 1960s with the Beatles however, but in the nineteenth century.

In 1882 the philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche declared that ‘God is dead’ (adding that ‘we have killed him’). Previously, in 1867, one of the big name English literati of the Victorian era, Matthew Arnold, wrote a poem called ‘Dover Beach’ in which he referred to ‘the long withdrawing roar of the sea of faith’.  Arnold was connected with the strong-minded and eminent Victorian Leslie Stephen, whose father and grandfather were leading evangelical clergy, very much involved in social campaigns such as anti-slavery. They were members of the so-called Clapham Sect alongside social reformers like William Wilberforce and John Newton (the former slave-ship captain who wrote the hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’) and missionaries such as Henry and John Venn.

As the twentieth century dawned the advance of atheism continued. Thomas Hardy wrote a poem called ‘God’s Funeral’ between 1908 and 1910 and the First World War put an end to any easy idea that ‘God is in his heaven and all is right with the world’.  This was the era in which Leslie Stephen’s daughters, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, found themselves at the heart of an elite London group that was as different as it is possible to be to the Clapham Sect of their grandparents.  This was the ‘Bloomsbury Group’, which was famous for its artistic and progressive values. After the First World War religious authority figures were no longer trusted as they had been and it became increasingly common for people to think that what was taught or thought about God was essentially what people made up about God.  This approach was given a huge boost by the work of Sigmund Freud who developed the idea that the human mind was dominated by thought processes of which we were not aware, and that ‘God’ was essentially an idea conjured up in the recesses of our ‘unconscious’ to help us feel better and cope with life’s more difficult challenges.

But the end of faith wasn’t only prophesied by philosophers, poets and psychologists. Sociologists came up with the idea of ‘secularization’ almost as soon as their subject was invented. Studying the number of people who attended church from year to year they soon saw that the numbers were declining and, plotting graphs of the decline, proved to their own satisfaction that church-going should be over and done with by the early years of this century.  The sociologists were both right and wrong. Church going has declined in many places, especially in the north of England, but there are also places where it has increased, and the actual ultimate decline of religion, the death not only of God of which Nietzsche spoke, but of believing in God, has not yet happened. In fact, the reverse is the case. The spin-doctors of the ‘New Labour’ government of Tony Blair famously announced in 2003 that they didn’t ‘do God’. But that didn’t matter, plenty of other people were busy doing God, although the equally ‘new Atheists’ were becoming increasingly vociferous, annoyed perhaps that their predecessors had not managed to put an end to faith and that, if anything, the tide of the sea of faith seemed to have turned and was coming back in again.

There are many reasons for this, and not all of them are based on the better aspects of religious thought and practice, but that’s not the point.  The point is that religious beliefs and religious organisations are today having an enormous impact on the lives of people all over the world. Religion has not died out and it isn’t going to die out anytime soon.  It had a very serious wobble in Europe and Britain, but the edifice of organised religion has not toppled, and the whole new phenomenon of people calling themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’ has exploded. It is evidence of ‘faith’, the sort of thing that a theologian out to try to understand. And if you have the cast of mind that is theological you may be thinking ‘hmmm, there is interesting and important stuff here. I wonder whether anyone understands all this. Let me try to find out’.

____

From Chapter 3 of God Curious.

If this extract has made you feel a little God curious, why not follow this link to find out more about Stephen Cherry’s book.

Stephen is the Dean at King’s College Cambridge, and tweets here.

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Why We Need to Break the Silence Around Suicide, Especially for our Children

Louise Moir explains why she wrote Rafi’s Red Racing Car, details her own experiences, and expresses the need for a breakdown in the stigma that surrounds mental illness and suicide.

I lost my husband to suicide in 2011 following his brief decline into mental ill health that was triggered by a job redundancy. My sons were aged 4 ½ and nineteen months. Rafi’s Red Racing Car is the book that I wished I’d had at that time to help me with the terribly painful and bewildering task of trying to explain to my boys what had happened to their Daddy.

Before their father’s suicide, my children had not yet experienced death of any kind, so they had absolutely no understanding. I quickly learnt that their grief was too raw and overwhelming for them to be able to tolerate me talking directly about the tragedy that had enveloped us all. Very young children are very visual and respond well to explanations in pictorial or metaphoric realms. I found a wealth of good, age appropriate books that helped to explain death and the emotions that surround loss and these helped tremendously. Identifying with the character in the book who was experiencing similar events and emotions to themselves enabled my sons to externalise their own feelings, begin to understand their experience and led to them asking me questions about their own loss.

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Stephen Cherry’s Five Not Very Good Reasons for Not Engaging with Theology

What is theology? And why should we be interested in it?

Stephen Cherry tackles five ‘not very good’ reasons for not engaging with theology, in his new book, God Curious. Here in this exclusive extract, he shares them with us.

Five Not Very Good Reasons for Not Engaging with Theology

The first reason that might be suggested is this: I don’t believe in God therefore I can’t possibly study God.

If theology were limited to questions about the nature of God then you might have a point. That which doesn’t exist can’t have a nature … However, theology and religion have been important in history and philosophy. They continue to impact hugely on current affairs and inform the ways in which people respond to realities as different as beauty and tragedy. In other words, what goes on when people are motivated by religious faith and theological conviction is a matter of significance well beyond the community of believers. Indeed, an atheist may feel that theology is too important a subject to be left to those who believe in God. And certainly, theology and religion aren’t going to go away just because atheists are dismissive of believers.

The second reason is the opposite of the first. I not only believe in God but I know God very well, and for this reason I don’t want to study God any more than I would want to study my parents or my partner. 

I agree that if you are completely confident that you know all there is to know about God then theology is not for you.  Theology is only worth exploring if you think that other people’s views about God are at least as interesting as your own.

The third reason why you may not want to study theology is because you think it is not a real subject of study but just a professional training programme for ministers of religion.

It is true that this used to be the case, and that there are places where people study theology only for this reason. It is also true that if you study theology at university you may well come across people who are studying for this reason, and you will almost certainly read books by people who are trained and ordained ministers and you may well be taught by some.  But theology stopped being the province of the clergy alone a long time ago, and it has become a much more lively subject since – so don’t let that one worry you.

The fourth reason you may not wish to study theology is because it’s just about learning what the Bible says or what people of different religions do.

If you think this you may be muddling up theology, the most exciting subject imaginable, with what has all too often passed for ‘religious education’ at school; which is all too often dominated not by the pursuit of life’s deepest questions but by learning superficial details about religious traditions.

The fifth reason is a bit like the fourth in that you may think that theology is entirely concerned with ancient and irrelevant philosophical problems of the ‘how many angels can dance on a pin-head’ variety

I can guarantee that you won’t be discussing that question, or anything like it, if you engage with theology today! The agenda has moved on. Theologians today seek to learn from the past and to understand why theologians of previous eras posed and answered certain questions in the way they did, but they also seek to learn from theologians of other faiths and to respond to the problems and predicaments that occur in today’s world as well as to the classic questions such as the existence of God and the consequences of believing specific doctrines.

____

From Chapter 3 of God Curious by Stephen Cherry.

Stephen Cherry is the Dean of King’s College Cambridge, and the author of many books. He tweets here.

For more information on God Curious, or to buy a copy of the book, please follow this link.

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Can I Tell You About…LGBT History Month?

LGBT

CJ Atkinson, author of ‘Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?’, shares their thoughts on a series of important topics in the trans world. February is this year’s LGBT History Month, so we asked CJ why they thought we should take note of this annual observance. 

February is LGBT history month, and for everybody who’s ever asked “What’s the point of history months?”, I’d like to indulge you in a story that might explain a little bit about what we call erasure, and a little bit more about why talking about these things is so important.

There’s this photo from the 1930s of a Nazi burning books, and it’s a photograph that I remember from my school history days. It’s so famous, in fact, that on the Wikipedia Page it’s there on the top right hand side, a Nazi watching a pile of books go up in flames. Every once in a while it appears, and it’s a familiar and horrible image that is indelibly scorched into my memory. Given the current political climate, and the conversations about Nazism that have been taking place in the world, this powerful image has occurred to me more than once. A symbol of fear, and of what fear can do to conversation. That’s the thing about a legacy – whether you lived it or not there are things that you carry with you in a sort of cultural memory.

Imagine my surprise to then learn, about a week ago, that these weren’t university books, or a general library of books being burned. Rather, they were very specific, carefully and triumphantly selected books whose loss can still be felt in the transgender community today. The books burned were from Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, the first gender clinic, opened in 1919 by Magnus Hirschfeld, a Jewish-German doctor who was an outspoken advocate for gay and transgender rights. When the Nazis seized power, this was one of the first places they ransacked – burning the books but making sure to take the list of patients, something I learned from my friend, the critic and publisher Cheryl Morgan, who then said something that I still can’t shake: Our history is always being hidden. Realising this, the careful details that have been scrubbed out of history is a startling reminder that the history we think we know isn’t necessarily the same as what happened.

Whether intentional or not, the subtext to asking why we need history months is as oppressive as the reason that we need them in the first place: it suggests that there are some people who are somehow outside of history, who only live in the present; humans who are so strange, so unusual that we cannot be found in any books, or stories. It suggests that silence – the silence that has been legislated throughout our past, which has turned our bodies into politics and made our freedoms a question of ‘debate’ – is somehow better for everybody else, and that in itself becomes some kind of truth. The act of saying something – or saying nothing – enough times makes it so.

The need for history has always been important – we use it to map out where we’re going, as much as to document where it is that we’ve been. This is what history should be: a patchwork quilt of bodies and experiences, all of which have been given the chance to be commemorated in a way that honours all of their parts. Millions of beautiful people on this earth who have lived their lives in some way considered to be ‘other than’. People who lived incredibly accomplished, difficult, brave lives; who were artists, and scientists, and heroes, and advocates, and geniuses, and were also lesbian or gay or bisexual, or transgender.

And it’s that which is the beating heart of LGBT History Month – the chance to acknowledge and pay respects to the people who lived, and breathed, and fought, and to challenge the history that would see them made invisible. And to allies who are wondering how to mark this, have these conversations. Talk about the fact that people have been people for as long as they’ve roamed this earth. Instead of looking to debate the existence of, or to ‘play devil’s advocate’ or ‘refuse to be politically correct’, ask yourself this: why is it easier to challenge the idea that types of people ever existed on earth, rather than that you may have been taught an abridged history? Then go forth, and find the answers for yourselves. They’re out there, just peeking round the corners, hidden but still very real.

CJ tweets at @Cjandmiles.

To read other blog posts from CJ, please follow this link.

For more information on Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity? or to buy a copy of the book, please follow this link.

The others in music therapy practice

A well-trodden territory in need of a map by John Strange

music therapy practiceYou can learn about music therapy from books, journals, magazine or newspaper articles, TV or radio programmes, websites or blogs. These sources offer plenty of information, both practical and theoretical, about music therapy clients – their problems, what happens in music therapy and how it helps – and about the music therapist herself – what she does and why. There seems to be much less written and said about various others who may also be in the therapy room, despite the fact that their contribution is often crucial to the effectiveness of the therapy. It was this imbalance in the available information about what actually goes on in music therapy which I and my co-editors Professor Helen Odell-Miller and Eleanor Richards set out to correct in our newly published compilation, Collaboration and Assistance in Music Therapy Practice: Roles, Relationships, Challenges.

Although many music therapy approaches draw on theories and practices from the field of psychodynamic therapy, it is relatively uncommon to find in music therapy the classic psychoanalytic model of therapist and patient sharing an exclusive private space. The therapy space must be safely contained by therapeutic ‘boundaries’, but the exclusion of others is seldom either practical or desirable. Nurses, care workers, escorts, teaching assistants, family members may for varying reasons need to be present, and their presence creates not only challenges but opportunities which the therapist would be foolish to ignore. Continue reading

Bo Hejlskov Elven on applying the low arousal approach to parenting for his new book Sulky, Rowdy Rude?

Bo Hejlskov Elven is a parent and one of Europe’s leading clinical psychologists specialising in challenging behaviour. In this new blog for JKP he offers insights into how the low arousal approach informs his new book (written in collaboration with Tina Wiman) on parental strategies for managing the most challenging behaviour of any child, Sulky, Rowdy, Rude?: Why kids really act out and what to do about it.

 

The psychologist Douglas MacGregor proposed a theory of motivation in the sixties. He argued that we can view humans in two different ways: Either we think that people are lazy and need to be controlled and motivated by rewards and punishment, or we think that people do their best if we create the right environment for them to develop autonomy. His theory was on management, and he and later psychologists have shown that the second view increases productivity. In our book Sulky, Rowdy, Rude? we adapt that way of thinking to parenting. This is in no way controversial in Scandinavia, where we live, but may be a less common view in other parts of the world. Continue reading