Watch the full 28 minute interview below, or alternatively watch a series of short clips from the interview in the playlist below that.
Unorthodox Beginnings is an uplifting poem by rapper-poet Solomon OB about his foster family. In 2016, his performance of the poem at the Royal Albert Hall won him the title of National Poetry Slam Champion. The poem also features in Welcome to Fostering: A Guide to Becoming and Being a Foster Carer.
She graces stages
West End bound, best friend found in a sibling who
chauffeured her halfway to crazy when we were younger
She called me baby
As soon as I arrived through those airport doors, she
came charging, screaming, she hugged me with a force
you would expect from a lady who had not seen me
since 10 years before
My mother Continue reading
Poetry can prove a great way into difficult conversations in therapeutic, classroom or family settings. In this chapter from Using Poetry to Promote Talking and Healing, author Pooky Knightsmith offers a series of poems to help get people talking about issues surrounding bullying and abuse this Anti Bullying Week.
Using Poetry to Promote Talking and Healing includes a collection of over 100 poems written by the author with accompanying activities, as well as a 50 prompts to encourage clients to write their own poems. A complete resource for anyone considering using poetry to explore difficult issues, and a creative way of exploring important mental health issues in PSHE lessons, this book will be of interest to youth, school and adult counsellors, therapists, psychologists, pastoral care teams, PSHE co-ordinators and life coaches, as well as parents.
Marian Partington’s sister Lucy was kidnapped by Fred and Rose West in 1973. In 1994, 21 years later, her remains were found in their basement. If You Sit Very Still is Marian’s response to this most traumatic of losses and her journey away from resentment, towards forgivness.
We spoke to Marian about the process of writing such a unique and intensely emotional book.
Marian, you wrote an essay on Lucy’s disappearance called Salvaging the Sacred in 1996. What motivated you to build on this, and to write If You Sit Very Still?
The essay was published in the Guardian Weekend and there was a huge, generous unexpected response which somehow changed me and honoured my continuing purpose. There was a hunger for meaning and wholeness that resonated within me, surprised me. It felt urgent and vital. There was no turning back. I felt heard and understood and realised the necessity of continuing to grapple with questions that wouldn’t go away; to stay true to this unravelling, wherever it may lead, however long it would take and to continue to write. The question of how to live with less harm, how to deepen our compassion in the wake of human atrocity, continues to challenge me to the core. It is upon this that I build.
Your language throughout the book is both lyrical and unflinching in its description of the events of Lucy’s disappearance. It’s a very powerful narrative. How did you feel while writing it?
Finding words, finding a voice was almost impossible at times, yet remaining silent was not an option. If I had tried to carry on with no words, trapped in the frozen silence, I would have allowed death. The words that arose within me came from an instinctive need for a terrible truth to survive, a bearing of witness, a speaking by proxy in the face of unspeakable demolition. So writing became a way of allowing myself time and solitude to experience my grief and to face the unbearable pain of what had happened to Lucy. Each word felt like a rung on a ladder leading from a deep pit. It felt empowering and honouring of our shared love and study of English literature to write. It felt as if we were raising the register through the grace of the words that arrived. It felt as if we shared a sacred realm. I felt blessed and guided.
Lucy converted to Catholicism before her disappearance. Years later, you joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and spent time in Buddhist retreats. What part has faith played in your journey to forgiveness?
It felt significant and hugely challenging in a way that was ‘beyond’ any formal religious faith. Lucy ‘disappeared’ five weeks after she was received into the Catholic church and we found out five weeks after I had joined the Quakers, twenty years later. I remember thinking that if there was anything of value in a religious faith it needed to show up now. Shared silence was important. To allow what lies within to surface and to be transformed.
I made the vow to forgive the Wests after a seven day silent Buddhist retreat. I realised that this would be the most creative, imaginative way forward, but I had no idea what it would involve and how it might come about. My faith was to trust that I would be shown a way. I call the religious words around this inner work ‘barnacled’. ‘God’, ‘sin’, ‘repentance’, ‘redemption’,’ forgiveness’- these words feel encrusted and clogged up with ‘aeons of piety’. But to travel within religious communities informed by teachings that aspire towards deepening our capacity to love and feel compassion and to know and live with wisdom has been essential to becoming less self-centred and more open to a greater whole. I have grown towards knowing our interdependence and our connectedness and the need to remain open to whatever arises and to learn from that. I feel deeply grateful for all that travel with me, for those who unpick their deluded selves and work towards our ‘true nature’ which is at the heart of ‘this great matter of life and death’.
You comment in the book that our society ‘suffers badly from a fear of the reality of death’. Do you feel as though you’ve come to terms with the reality of death?
When I cradled and wrapped Lucy’s bones I faced mortality in a profound way. It was unavoidable and awakening. I felt deeply grateful to be alive. As I grow older and was recently seriously ill it has become more important to reflect upon this reality every day. I feel that there is a gentle, tender, vast, subtle energy that is truly where ‘time intersects with eternity’. Recently I was convinced of this and knew that it didn’t matter if I lived or died. I am exploring the reality of radical helplessness (my next book!) and the need to surrender in the face of death and to embrace every moment.
Dreams play a very important part in your journey. The structure of the book is based on the medieval dream poem, Pearl, and you highlight five major dreams as signposts towards the act of forgiveness. How did you interpret these dreams as particularly significant?
All I can say is that the dreams felt ‘real’, almost more real than everyday life. They needed to be faced, heeded and integrated. They led me to reflect and act with confidence. I knew there was a truth in them that could not be ‘thought’. Maybe they came from ‘the collective unconscious’. They were compelling and profound, as if they were drawn from a deep well of creative imagination. To finally realise that the book that Lucy had in her bag the night that she was abducted from the bus stop was the ‘shape’ that I needed for this book (after sixteen years of writing!) – this fills me with pleasure and gratitude.
In many cases, it is the perpetrators who are remembered, more so than the victims. How does that make you feel, and why do you think that is?
Yes, I think that this was and continues to be something that drives me to speak for Lucy (Primo Levi called it ‘speaking by proxy’) and to reclaim her as my sister from the labels ‘missing person’ and ‘West victim’. The need to find the words, carefully, so that Lucy can live in people’s minds in all her complex, fiercely intelligent beauty and aspirations was involuntary. I couldn’t just leave her ‘out there’, sticky and stained by the media representations. I felt sad that my energy could not extend to doing that for all of the ‘West victims’, but I try to at least name them when I can. Eventually I realised, through painful self-confrontation on long Buddhist retreats, that the perpetrators and their family were also victims, and that I am also a perpetrator and a bystander. I think it is easier for the public to demonise perpetrators than to try and connect with the suffering of those who are labelled ‘victims’. This is deeply unhealthy for our society. It makes me feel frustrated and sad that this is the case. It seems that we need to dig deeper, look within and learn something more about what it means to be human in response to human brutality and violence.
You have shared your story (and Lucy’s poetry) with inmates in male adult prisons to encourage them to experience victim empathy. How was that process for you?
I feel very privileged to have worked in 15 or so different prisons over the years (since 2001) in Restorative Justice settings. It has given me an opportunity to know that there is ‘that of God’ in everyone I have met and that sharing this story has brought healing in its wake. Meeting people who have committed serious crimes (rape, murder, sexual abuse) and listening to them respond to us with their own heart breaking stories has helped me to deepen my trust and to know that Lucy’s suffering is bringing something good into the world, despite the terrible loss and horror of it all. My work in prisons with the Forgiveness Project (www.theforgivenessproject.com) since 2005, with a 3 day programme called RESTORE, as a speaker and a facilitator has been even more amazing because it involves two speakers, one ‘victim’ and one ‘perpetrator’. The labels drop away and the prisoners begin to thaw and tell their own stories. Our work in a women’s prison with creative writing, as a follow up to RESTORE has led to a sharing of Lucy’s poems and a great harvest of poetry from the women. This has all helped with my healing enormously. It lives up to the meaning of Lucy’s name: light. I feel her gentle spirit is at work in the world.
You mention that your work as a homeopath has informed your work in male prisons. How so?
In my work as a homeopath for the last thirty years I have listened to many stories of traumatic loss and witnessed the serious dis-ease that can come from unresolved mental/emotional pain. As a homeopath I have learnt much about the path towards healing (moving from dis-ease towards becoming whole) with its unexpected twists and turns. I have had to apply this knowledge and experience to my own life and then to those I have encountered in prisons. I have tried to use words and the little woven bag that Lucy made for me when she was 8 years old as ‘remedies’ in the prisons and to listen as an ‘unprejudiced observer’. First I have had to face what needs to be healed within me. It seems to come back to developing a for-giving, compassionate heart: to face, accept and let go. I have known my own murderous rage and that it is easier to delude oneself and remain in denial than to begin to thaw. I work with ‘similar suffering’, growing into the truth that an old Chan master gave to me: just know that your suffering is helping to relieve the suffering of others. I feel grateful to all those I have worked with and met in prisons. This work generates cycles of compassion.
What would you like readers to take away from the book?
I hope that readers may learn more about the journey from the frozen silence towards the shining silence, from cruelty towards compassion, from harm to healing, and that carefully chosen words can initiate change. I hope that this book will help to confront and dissolve the roots of fear and prejudice that lie within and without, and that it will help to nourish and allow a more generous and loving world. I hope that people will come to know Lucy, my sister and feel something of the love that I feel for her, that seems to deepen.
For more information or to buy the book, please follow the link.
You don’t need to be a poet to write poetry, and you don’t need to write ‘good’ poetry to get a lot out of it. I’ve found that the very act of writing and reviewing poetry can be incredibly therapeutic regardless of what we might produce. Letting go of the idea that we need to be in some way talented with words to write poetry can open the door to a truly engaging, interesting and meaningful way to explore and express how we’re feeling.
In this blog post I’m exploring three key reasons why I’m an advocate of writing even the most terrible poetry – I hope it inspires you to give it a go (if so, you may find the fifty poetry writing prompts in my new book, Using Poetry to Promote Talking and Healing a good starting point). Continue reading
There are five poems in this extract from Pooky Knightsmith’s new book Using Poetry to Promote Talking and Healing. Each poem, written by Pooky, is the subject of a common mental health issue borne of her own experiences in the field of mental health. They address panic attacks, anxiety, depression and anorexia and are accompanied by supporting questions and activities to help open up difficult discussions. They are an ideal resource for therapeutic, classroom and family settings.
“Unlike so many stereotypes about poetry, this book is practical, unpretentious and heartfelt, with applications for helping people- young and old- way beyond mental health settings.” -Nick Luxmoore, school counsellor and author of Horny and Hormonal
This includes information on our new and bestselling titles such as ‘Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies’ by Laury Rappaport and ‘Using Art Therapy with Diverse Populations’ by Paula Howie. This range includes practical books for professionals, manuals on how to incorporate creative approaches into practice as well as guides for individuals who are themselves affected.
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We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to get more information about our outstanding new titles such as ‘Presence and Process in Expressive Arts Work’ by Herbert Eberhart. The catalogue also features information on bestselling titles such as ‘A Guide to Research Ethics for Art Therapists & Health Practitioners’ by Camilla Farrant and ‘The Expressive Arts Activity Book: A Resource for Professionals’ by Suzanne Darley.
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Kate Thompson is a BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor and Supervisor in private practice, and a professional member of Lapidus UK. In 2010, she wrote Therapeutic Journal Writing as part of the JKP Writing for Personal Development Series.
In this short article, Kate shares her thoughts on process writing and includes some handy notes on writing for yourself and with a group.
My own journey from childhood diary writing in the 1960s to journal therapist in the 21st century has indeed been an almost lifelong process. This journey continues today, propelling me into the modern world of blogs and internet therapy which in some ways is a very natural development from journal writing.
I start from the premise that writing is always both a creative and a therapeutic act. I know that many people, including some of our greatest writers past and present, would agree with me, but others would not. I need to emphasise that therapeutic journal writing (almost a tautology, certainly the opposite of an oxymoron) is about process writing rather than product writing.
I have since childhood been one of those who felt ‘compelled’ to write. But I also want to stress that I am an intermittent journaller. I am full of admiration for those who do write every day but I do not – some of my clients write far more than I do.
[NOTE: Journal writing is sometimes referred to as a discipline or practice. One of the Myths of journal writing is:
“you have to do it every day”
You don’t. Often as possible is good, even five minutes counts, but there is no point in setting up unachievable goals – that way ‘failure’ lies and neither our clients nor ourselves need encourage that.]
So I have journalled on and off through childhood, adolescence and adulthood. It is the way I process experience; it is the way I make sense of the world.
Writing the book was a personal and a professional journey. It is the culmination of more than15 years of professional practice. It brings together my twin passions for therapy and literature (I was a reader before I was a writer; I was a student and teacher of literature before I was a therapist). I wrote this book because this was a book I would have liked when I was training as a counsellor. At that time I had no idea that you could (‘were allowed to’) use journal writing as a therapeutic medium with clients. But I did know that it worked for me so it seemed natural to want to try. This book would have legitimized my instincts and given me the confidence to do it openly. Finding Kathleen Adams and The Center for journal Therapy in Colorado told me I was right.
In fact I’ve had three mentors who have encouraged me and supported me in this work:
Kathleen Adams, Gillie Bolton and Emmy van Deurzen.
I thank you all.
The journal container is big. People who come to my workshops or groups often show surprise about how broad the idea of journal writing is – the range of techniques at our disposal goes far beyond the descriptions of ‘what I did yesterday’. Journals can also include art, quotation and project plans as well as personal written stories or reflection leading to healing and growth.
Feedback forms often contain comments such as:
“I had a very narrow definition of journal writing – I know better now.”
I think my favourite comment on a feedback form is:
“I came with very low expectations – they were exceeded.”
I’m sure he meant it kindly.
There is one therapeutic journal technique which completes the reflective loop and does much to promote the integration of experience. It is a way of giving yourself a little written feedback after any journal entry:
The Feedback Loop
Read through your journal entry and then write a couple of sentences:
E.g. When I read this I notice…
When I read this I feel…
This to me is the key to therapeutic journal writing – I encourage anyone who keeps a journal to employ this technique which really completes the loop and can consolidate the insights and learning – you can try this at home immediately.
I always love to hear how people use journaling for themselves and with others, for personal and professional reasons – please tell me your experiences: email@example.com
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.
Dr Gillie Bolton is a renowned therapeutic writing practitioner and author of many JKP books, including Write Yourself: Creative Writing and Personal Development.
In this video, Dr Bolton discusses the new book – the latest in the Writing for Therapy or Personal Development series, of which she is also the series Editor – and shares some of the experiences that brought her to the growing field of therapeutic writing. She also shares some of the types of writing exercises that she returns to again and again for her own personal development, and talks about the importance of hearing your own internal mentor.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.
Geri Chavis is a professor of English at St. Catherine University, Minnesota, USA, a Licensed Psycholgist in private practice, and a Certified Poetry Therapist and poetry therapy mentor/supervisor. She is a former Vice President of the National Association for Poetry Therapy (NAPT) and is an Editorial Board member of the Journal for Poetry Therapy. A few years ago, she was named honorary President of the newly-formed Irish Poetry Therapy Network.
In this video, Geri talks about her new book, Poetry and Story Therapy: The Healing Power of Creative Expression, and explains how poetry and stories can act as powerful catalysts for personal growth and greater self-esteem and self-awareness. She also provides examples of poems she has used in her own therapeutic work, and discusses how they helped her clients to find the meaning in past traumas and begin to heal.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.