Articles on Psyche and Soma
This page contains two articles about the Psyche and Soma course. The first is an article that was written for Therapy Today before the course launched. The second is an article by Mary Smail, the Director of the Sesame Insitute, about the making of the course. This was published in the Sesame Journal (No. 12) in Autumn 2010.
Psyche and Soma
An article written for Therapy Today – December 2008
For anyone who’s ever felt that words are not enough in their clinical work, who’s perhaps wandered into the realm of movement or drama - or wanted to - the Sesame Institute is running a continuing professional development training this Autumn. Entitled “Psyche and Soma,” it aims to introduce the Sesame approach to drama and movement therapy to qualified counsellors and psychotherapists and support them to consider how they can integrate it into their practice. The course starts in September with a four-day intensive and will then run quarterly at weekends over a period of two years, backed up by a supervision group and electronic learning. So what is the Sesame Approach?
Taking its name from the story of Ali Baba, who, according to ancient legend, used the words, “Open Sesame,“ to unlock a dark cave and discover hidden treasure within, it starts from the belief that within each individual is more than can be revealed at the conscious level. Participants - clients in the context of clinical work - are invited via drama and movement to find a key to their unconscious in the belief that, as they do so, self-acceptance and change become possible.
“It’s an indirect way of working in therapy that doesn’t start with pathology or words. People stumble into the area of a problem,” says Mary Smail, the Sesame Institute’s director. “This approach uses metaphor for the wounding or trauma which has hurt a client or a group of people to work round what has hurt them and it starts by supporting the ego to feel safe and secure before going to the unconscious level. It draws on the health innate in a person in a playful way using many tools, primarily the language of the psyche rather than words.”
These tools encompass the movement theory of nineteenth-century Austro-Hungarian dancer, choreographer and theoretician Rudolf Laban, the thinking of Carl Jung, the “Movement with Touch” method evolved by Sesame Institute founder Marian Lindkvist and the concepts of play and playfulness evolved by child development pioneer Peter Slade.
For Mary Smail, the key concept assimilated from Laban is the idea which he evolved when observing nineteenth-century factory workers that we often rely on habitual movements with particular qualities that may mean that other kinds of body movements with different qualities are left out: “The thought is that if you can work with a person’s external movements, you are offering them a way to explore inner movements or emotions. So too if you’re working with the inner movements, the outer movement can adapt and change. It’s a principle of opposites.” So, when working clinically, a practitioner may invite a client who presents with, for example, habitually sharp jerky movements to experiment with a flowing movement. The client may then notice and sense that what they are doing is unfamiliar and find that they get in touch with something that they are missing or have lost over time.
Laban drew on Jung’s idea of the unconscious which is the powerhouse of the Sesame approach. However, as well as the individual unconscious, what’s important in this work is the collective unconscious and the characters or archetypes who inhabit it - the Good Mother and her opposite the Bad Mother, the Eternal Child, the Wise Old Man and his opposite the belittling Rule Maker. In the Sesame Approach, Mary Smail says these figures are accessed through story:
“Through the ancient myths and fairytales, there are maps to show how human beings deal with the Witch Mother or the Evil King Father. We can learn about integrating the relationship we have with mother or father by looking at its opposite within a story. Often what we have put away can be met through a story.”
Selecting which story - or even which tool - to work with in a session is an important part of the therapist’s role here. And, in the case of a client who doesn’t have words or imagination, Marian Lindkvist‘s Movement with Touch is reputed to be particularly powerful. It‘s used widely in therapy work with people with learning difficulties or autism and also with clients who may be very cognitively based and find it hard to move into right-brain experience. The idea is to enhance the client’s movement by joining it in a technique which depends on the attunement and intuition of the practitioner for a sense of the right moment to enter a client’s space and specifically when to offer touch. It can also involve using non-verbal sound where the practitioner again may pick up any habitual sounds and respond perhaps by offering a sound which she feels has the opposite quality.
The final tool - Peter Slade’s play and playfulness - derives from his observations of children in the twentieth century and is based on the capacity he noticed that they have of jumping from one thing to another, of entering a space he called “the land” (?? somewhere Mary likens to Alice’s deep hole in Alice in Wonderland or to Narnia in the Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It’s a place where repressed wishes and desires can be explored. Slade‘s idea was that we, as adults, each need to find “the key” to that land in order to begin our journey of transformation.
A Sesame session starts with the task of creating enough safety for the client to engage. At this point it is the therapist’s role, Mary Smail says, to receive them as they are and “to draw them on a bit.” This might involve, for example, exploring with a new client how comfortable they are in their body and perhaps inviting them initially just to try moving their hands to express a thought or a feeling. The therapist would meanwhile be exploring a focus for the session and creating a warm-up exercise around a theme that she felt was emerging. From here, she would move to what Sesame calls “the main event,” the active part of the session in which she might, for example, choose a story and tell it. Having observed the client’s reaction, she might then invite him to take part in enacting it, identifying which role he would like to play and giving a role to the therapist. Behind the enactment would lie the question of what the client needs to do with this story. This would take up the largest part of the session and most likely come from the client, themselves. Once it is over, the process is then focussed on returning from the imagined space, de-role-ing, perhaps brushing down the body and possibly talking about what came out of the session. Transference and Counter-transference emerge here in a slightly different way to talking therapy; it is less direct. Where a Sesame session has focussed on a story enactment, the relationship is likely to be explored first at the level of that between the role taken by the client and that taken by the therapist before the relationship between client and therapist is broached.
This, says Mary Smail, creates a safe “third space” from which sensitive issues can first be explore with a distance. Enactments can be a powerful way for participants to explore their typical - and other - ways of being in the world. Vicky, who was a client in a Sesame group for nine months alongside talking therapy, remembers a session in which she played the lame boy in the Pied Piper story. She vividly recalls the dramatic scene when all the children and the rats disappeared inside the piper’s cave just as the mountain collapsed whilst she looked on passively from outside:
“I realised afterwards that I had had the possibility to make a difference and I hadn’t,” she remembers “And through this I began to look at the part of me that tends to withdraw, the wounded part of me that is quite isolated and what that part does in terms of my relationships with others.”
Since then, she has become increasingly aware of the impact of the loneliness and isolation she felt in her childhood, of a historical sense of something lacking which she now understands as a deficit in the emotional relatedness of her family culture. Through Sesame movement work, she says she has learned to stretch herself beyond her habitual movement styles into new areas - of sustained movement and stillness - that have helped her expand her ways of relating to herself and others. Today, she says she finds it easier to negotiate her relationships with subtlety, creating space both for herself and others. And she has learned, she says, to be more open and expressive emotionally, her self, whilst being more attuned to others, sensing at a non-verbal level where their boundaries lie.
“What I’ve found very useful is working with Sesame in the symbolic and then bringing it back to verbal therapy. It’s easier for me just to tell a story, but I know that I can play with words, that they can become a defence for me whereas when I work in this way, the processes mean I can’t hide anything.”
Sesame practitioners work with a diverse range of client groups who are all seen to benefit from non-verbal work - including prisoners, psychiatric patients, the elderly, school children, people living with HIV and AIDS, people with learning disabilities and those seeking personal development. Dramatherapist Gillian Downie, who is based in South Wales, works three days a week in an NHS context with people with learning disabilities and health issues and spends the rest of her working week running groups for 10 to 11-year-olds who have been placed in school “nurture groups” because of disturbances at home. In the NHS, a session generally lasts an hour, though if working one-to-one she says it can be less. She tends to assess over a four to six week period and then contract for six months if the client is ready to engage with a view to working for an average of a year or two. One of her recent case examples is an NHS client with a terminal illness who was referred to her for his fears about dying. He was, she remembers, amplifying his helplessness at the outset, clinging to his carer when he came to sessions and using a stick. However, over the past year, she has worked with him using the Sesame approach to confront his fears and reports that he has been able to visualise them in the form of wild animals - a tiger, a snake and a wild wolf - beasts which he has chosen to embody in order to get inside the fears and see what is there. He has been able to enact the slicing open with a knife of a three-headed dog monster which he had Gillian play and, more recently, selected for himself the role of Iron John, a wild man, who in the story, is uncovered at the bottom of a lake, but turns out to be a bewitched baronial king who is finally able to return to his kingdom. “What a change for this victim who hardly moved and needed help all the time to this man who is moving all the time and miming wild animals, a wild man !” says Gillian. “He’s completely transformed. If he had been in talking therapy, he might have been able to come up with a sentence or two to say he was worried about dying. But I really doubt whether he could have got to the depths he now has.” And she finds the Sesame approach just as powerful in her work with school pupils. A co-facilitator of five different groups, Gillian says that these children - who may have suffered the fall-out of parental break-up, violence, murder, drug-taking and abuse - are not usually very articulate and usually come with issues of self-esteem. They enter the session chaotically and energetically, talking, dancing, rolling, diving into the fabrics she brings for dressing up and throwing themselves into the enactments. They don’t see the experience as therapy. Yet she and the academic staff at the school are aware that being part of one of these groups has a significant therapeutic impact on them:
“We see changes in them from the beginning to the end of the year in the realm of relationships and communication. They are learning about listening to each other, about boundaries, sharing games and taking turns. And they have the experience of being heard, but not via words. It’s not something dogmatic; it just happens in the Sesame method.”
For Gillian, Sesame is an inspirational way of working that changes everyone involved, including the practitioner. She speaks of “imbibing” the Sesame way of working through the body in the training. From her own perspective, she says no-one who does this training emerges the same as when they entered it. Now in her practice, her responses flow through her body and intuition, backed up by theory and reflection. Yet there is a recognition that its roots lie - alongside rather than separate from - talking therapy. And this is the belief at the core of the Psyche and Soma course - and of Mary Smail’s call for practitioners to integrate rather than split the two modalities:
“There is a need for therapy to embrace two languages under one roof, “ she says. “There is the transferential relational dynamic where the story of the client is re-enacted between the client and the therapist as they talk. But there comes a time when something is too deep for it to be worded in that client-therapist situation. My idea is that when we let the body talk, a marriage can happen between the two approaches which is in the service of the client because the therapist can move into a different mode and then return to the talking-thinking transferential relational dynamic.”
How practical is that for those of us used to working in chairs in small rooms? “Entirely”, she says. Sesame can work as big as a group enacting an epic story or as small as two people moving their hands.
THE MAKING OF THE PSYCHE AND SOMA TRAINING
Conditions of a Soul Pedagogy
By Mary Smail
Since I know nothing at all, I will simply do whatever occurs to me.
Carl Jung, Collected Works 1965, page 173
This is a first attempt to describe why and how the idea of the Psyche and Soma Body and Soul) training came into being. As the other presentations in this Journal how, six students - two counsellors, a story teller, a drama specialist teacher, a psychotherapist and a social worker all participated in the first training which ran in Wales from 2008 to 2010. They signed up because they wanted to learn how to apply the keys of movement and drama in their existing practice, when words were not enough. They were attracted to the prospect of becoming Sesame Practitioners who, instead of getting a Higher Education degree at the end of training, would become qualified in listening and attending to the wisdom teacher which lies frequently ignored and unacknowledged, within the depths of human beings. The name I use to relate to and teach about this inverted place is Soul, adopted from the groundbreaking work of James Hillman, Thomas Moore, and the founders of archetypal psychology. It is another name for psyche and its symbol is the butterfly.
For the purpose of this short introduction to the course, I am holding back from an offering an academic literature review to argue a context and define my terms. This will happen eventually when I am more ready to write about Soul, Sesame and intuitive education. For now, I am following a “grounded theory” model, which is a qualitative research method in which theory is developed from the data, rather than the other way around. I am “in there”, attending to an experience of Soul learning, but not ready yet to be able to word it. So, I ask you to bear with this Soul word which I know can be loaded, and heaped up with religious baggage; man-made and often legalistic, off putting because it pins down and diminishes the potency of a healing phenomenon which is beyond creed and doctrine. A salvation code is not what I am feeling towards when I talk about Soul, though as James Hillman says in his book INSEARCH, “Soul shares frontiers with religion”. In the realm of Soul, we are in a spiritual territory, however you call it. The Numinous is a popular term used around Sesame recently, but I prefer taking the controversial risk of naming an essence of God here, a sense of Divinity, or Other, when I muse on Soul.
At this point, I leave it to your imagination to contemplate the possibility of a mysterious and active inner intelligence which holds all aspects of the human condition and opens them to the presence and imperative of love, grace and mending. I am asking you to consider Soul hypothesis, to play with what the butterfly symbol of psyche-soul means to you and find your own image or name for the energy that enables us, to bring meaning to suffering and leads us closer to living out purpose. This is the learning that a Psyche and Soma student personally commits to, on behalf of her clients and her healing craft.
Sesame Soul Treasure
In his book Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, Deepak Chopra says that ninety percent of people believe they have a soul, but only ten percent experience it. Psyche and Soma takes this seriously. It teaches people to work as if a soulful inner resource exists which needs imagination and the moving body as forerunners to thinking and making life changes. It will not be rushed by a requirement to meet preset outcomes within a defined time slot. Rather, it asks students to remove the clothes of previous educational experience and shed the expectation of the learning standard being maintained externally through a course document and ultimate examining board. It advocates a slowing down so that each person has time to find precisely what it is that is distinctively important for them to learn and integrate back into professional practice. The Sesame Approach on Psyche and Soma is not just a key or password to open doors; it develops trust, relationship and responsibility to a dark cave treasure resource. As we know, Sesame uses the Ali Baba story to make much of the Open Sesame password key. However let’s embroider it a little from the treasure perspective, so we can imagine Ali Baba’s dilemma around what it is like to be answerable to gold.
Having watched carefully, Ali Baba came down from his tree, and going up to the rock face he spoke the “Open Sesame” words. It opened, and on entering, he found himself in a deep cave, filled with all kinds of things: vibrant silks, rich plush carpets, burnished goblets, shining silver ware, and gold, all in abundance. He took as much as he could carry and made his way home, after closing the place. This treasure was hard to live with. Ali Baba did not know whether it was safest to keep it unseen, so that no questions would be asked; or should he put it to use? He was frightened about what others would think if he spoke of what had been found. Time passed before Ali Baba knew what to do, but eventually he discovered how to use it, in just the right way.
Losing to Find
You must by now know that you, and not I, are responsible for the magical way that the Soul in its own very strong and surprising way has swept into Sesame. I could never have named this creature, which was ever present, but waiting to be recognised.
Letter from Billy Lindkvist to Mary Smail October 2008 Like Ali Baba, it took me time to know how to respond when the idea of a second Sesame training evolved during my final years of teaching on the Dramatherapy training at Central School. This training role at Central was a cherished piece of work because it provided a platform from which I could closely relate to the eventfulness I most needed to study – the workings of the unconscious, inner world. However, as an interviewer on this course, I noticed that places were frequently offered to a certain type of applicant, while the folk I perceived might make good hands-on Sesame practitioners could be overlooked. As a Viva examiner, I observed how disadvantaged the more intuitively-intelligent or the profoundly dyslexic were, because a top mark in Sesame could only be scored by those who had the ability to write in the required academic style.
As a Trainer, I understood that the part of my teaching which the students reported as being most valuable was when we slowed down to make a space for the pain and import of the wounded and vulnerable in their narrative, in their life. I saw how short the time was for this inferior or shadow education, and how it was only at the end of the third term that the student group and I were sufficiently secure to grapple with the clumsiness of soul thinking. I aimed to teach a counter-logical way of speaking spontaneously out of feeling to find the simplest words for an experience of image and metaphor, emerging from a story or movement. We tried to create conditions where each student could feel sufficiently safe to risk the faltering half-formed articulations and tolerate the attendant pink cheeked, sweaty-palmed word fragments which Soul prefers. When this happened, when we got there, the shared quality in the room changed. Students reported hearing themselves or others feel and say new and vital things, although to an outside observer or assessor, these insights or qualities may have been barely visible and certainly immeasurable. “Who is serving this soul treasure?” I asked myself? “Who is teaching therapy through a pedagogy that comes from the inside, written by image and movement?” “How do we make time for this in Sesame work, and more than that, can it be introduced alongside the relational dynamics within psychotherapy training?”
Guided by these questions and aware of being nudged into action from some strange far edge, I found myself unable to cut ice when communicating the idea of a new training to others. “Oh you mean a Foundation course?” they would say. “No, I do not!” I would say. I felt like the biblical inarticulate Moses, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue”. The task was to find the words which would enable me to publicly identify my commitment to the presence and activity of Soul in Sesame, and give a place to spirituality within the embodied creative as a potential prime mover of healing in all therapy involving psyche. Speaking this manifesto provided my first action point. I had to make space for something new. I decided to uproot myself from the MA Drama and Movement Therapy (Sesame) at Central School of Speech and Drama, ponder the conditions required to create a training, sufficiently rigorous to be respectable, but which would assess by the intelligence of depths values and make a clear return to the world by attending to the health behind brokenness, uncompromisingly in its own terms.
If something keeps pulling your or presents itself to you, if it bothers you it has animistic life which must be attended. The creative happens through intense devotion to what is as yet unknown.
Taken from notes during a James Hillman lecture IATE 2005
Immediately before the beginning of the Welsh training, I was subject to an identity theft. My name, my date of birth, my signature were all used to allow someone else to spend money on a terrifyingly large scale, as if they were me. I had hoped to begin the course, well organised and in place. Instead I arrived with a sense of shock, lostness, with a few ideas up my sleeve, along with the originality and support of a soul-creative co-facilitator in Gillian Downie. Without preparation time, I could not assume my old identity which liked order, planning by lists and tight organisation. Retrospectively, I realised that unless my identity had been stolen I would not have been jolted into teaching something new that came from being forced to work from an intuitive place of knowing in my self. I found this discovery hugely challenging and saucy! Soul, so often seen as some fragile, ephemeral butterfly; light winged, made-for-flitting creature, might also enjoy, even arrange, the topple of the ego identity and its never ending control preferences?
New questions arose. Could it be that if you take the inner treasure of soul imperative seriously, it will take you seriously and use adverse circumstances to throw you to the resources of the inner world? This lesson seemed to repeat for Psyche and Soma students throughout the course who, like myself, met differing losses and challenges over the two years, and were put in life-sore situations, where they could either pull back, or risk the shaking up, in order to do something unexpected and new. It seems that we each learned something profound in the times that we truly allowed ourselves to surrender to ego theft: a change of preference, a breaking down of the old to soften and prepare for an eventual rebuild.
This learning style, which is supported with suitable reading and writing assignments, is the process which is being evolved on the Psyche and Soma training and is called retrospective curriculum.
Setting Up a Retrospective Curriculum
The first Psyche and Soma programme began with an intensive four-day introduction to the key components of the Sesame approach, followed by eight weekend modules, entitled, “The Developmental Perspective”, “To move? Or two chairs?” “Sounding like my Self”, “Emerging Story and Play”, “Soul Research”, “Movement with Touch and Sound”, “Jung, the imagination and the stories”, “Return, Boon and Graduation”. The trainers were nearly all highly experienced therapists, trained both in Sesame and in psychotherapy, with teaching experience. More importantly, a trainer had to be able to cover the basics of their subject, but be equally available to facilitate the unexpected and emergent material of the student or Soul agenda. Several times we were shocked how a normally seasoned trainer lost track of time or “forgot” what she had intended to teach. The curriculum is therefore written backwards or is reversed. You define and describe retrospectively what needs to be taught, once you have learned it.
Between each module a written assignment and an ongoing journal consolidated the learning, as did a supervision sub group, aimed to develop practice. A group e-mail and Google group provided regular contact and a virtual learning space for students and trainers over the two years. During the summer of the first year, students were asked to submit a practice based question which they then researched, applying drama and movement therapy to their case load over a minimum period of ten hours. They created a written paper to evidence their findings and presented this, to each other at the first weekend of the second year, using creative media. I provided the overall containment, acting as gofer between students, trainers and the Sesame Approach – a task which sounds simple and menial but which, in the doing, was complex and delicate and demanding.
I think of us like Soul Whisperers and the work we are doing is very important.
Jessica Cooper Weiner. Sesame Drama and Movement Therapist.
5. 11. 1984 to 10 11. 2009.
Jessie who trained on the Dramatherapy training spoke the words above about Sesame Practitioners, shortly before she died from a life-long struggle with cystic fibrosis last year. Jessie knew about Soul and when she talked with me, she said her mission was to tell doctors about Sesame so they, in turn, could help other patients who needed healing alongside a scientific medical cure.
In a small way, it is my hope that Psyche and Soma will build and grow to fulfill a similar undertaking. I hope that this Lower Education opportunity which I believe originates from the same place as the dream of beloved Billy, Sesame’s Founder, is a small first fruit of a different way of learning and being in the world. In this day when A level grades are rising and available places in universities are diminishing, is it grandiose to see this as a change or theft on the present educational system. Might it be that we are in the very first phases of a new way of slow and emergent depth learning where Soul, The Numinous, God can dance and improvise her learning incomes to sit equally alongside the Higher Education excellence of Dame Aka Deemia and her two fine sons, Rigour and Critique? And if that were so …? It’s a work in process. There are never any answers with Soul. Always more and more questions and the imperative to fumble on until you like Jung, don’t believe, or think – you know. You know when it is time to surrender to an under-standing that has no words, but which still must struggle to find its way into living and being. You know when there is no thing to say, and all that must be done is sit with the silence of waiting until the cave door opens again, and the next gathering of Soul treasure become available for transition to the outside world.
Mary Smail is Director of the Sesame Institute, a psychotherapist and a Sesame Practitioner. She is the Course Leader of the Psyche and Soma course.