this is a guest post by sarah luczaj, a british therapist and writer, living in poland. she runs an online therapy practice at mytherapist.com and has a poetry chapbook, “an urgent request” coming soon from fortunate daughter press. sarah and i met through the counselling resource blog at counsellingresource.com.
i never quite manage to concentrate on one thing at a time, but often the things i do turn out to have something essential in common. relating with young children and translation. writing poems and doing therapy. i could go on, but let’s go back. writing poems and therapy. what do they have to do with one another?let’s take one definition of therapy – to attend. it’s like being a midwife, you are not doing the work yourself but your presence is facilitating, even if you do not need to use the practical skills you have at every birth. you are there and you have accompanied many people on this journey before, you create a feeling of safety which allows the natural process to occur. nine times out of ten you just have to be skilful to stay out of the way and not impede it. and sometimes you need to get right on in there and intervene.
as you can see, i have problems even sticking with one analogy! so what does being a midwife have to do with writing a poem? it’s a similar thing. you are being with something which is about to be born. you need to stay out of the way of its process of coming into being, and that is very difficult, because you want to steer it, make it say this or that, make a good impression. you have practical skills, too, and sometimes you need them, sometimes not.
but therapy is much more like writing poems. first of all the material, your life, has a habit of spilling out all over the place. next comes the job of reading through, sifting, finding the essential bits, the core, the bit which is meaningful or feels raw and real.
it is as if your whole life is a rough draft for the poem. all of a sudden you just have to write that poem, which once you didn’t even know was there. some sense of discomfort has driven you to make something out of the scribbled mess with your own will, and at the same time some sense of hope gave you the intimation that in the midst of that chaos there is something fresh, alive and trying to speak to you.
sometimes the page is crawling with intellectual understandings, sometimes there is a rigid form imposed on the prose and all the spellings and punctuation have been ruthlessly checked. sometimes indeed the entire text has been twisted to suit the will of the teacher or the reader. yet hidden inside there is a little poem which brings joy, release, revelation, comfort, any or all of these things. or something else.
and the therapist is there to feel which of the words are the freshest and the closest to the bone, to feel where the rhythm is, to help the poet find the poem. the poem is an interaction between the sense of it and the thoughts and feelings and words and the language it is written in. therapy is an interaction between all these things, in two people, the client and the therapist, who is allowed into the creative process, and usually finds that her or his own creative process starts to resonate with the clients, like – why not throw another analogy into the mix? – musical instruments.
sometimes of course therapy is not like that because the client does not believe that he or she is a poet. and the best efforts of the therapist cannot lead them to feel the spark, which has usually been forced out of them in cruel ways. a poem is a triumph of control, and a complete lack of control.
some people’s life experiences are such that the nearest they can get to exerting control, and losing control, is to rewrite their story according to a different teacher’s rules. but while not everyone can write words on paper so that they dance, so they reveal a thing that feels totally new, and at the same time as if we had always known it, i believe that in therapy, in skilfully attending to our own lives in creative dialogue with a compassionate, curious other, we can all expect a new kind of life to emerge, in its own exact and original way.