This edition of Espritpublications is unique. We have offered six of our Esprit Training of Psychotherapy Associates (ETPC) students an opportunity to share their self-reflective essays with our readership.
In the Espritpublications essays, we write about our present narratives and reflect on their meanings. We then invite conversational dialogue and further sharing of stories between writers and readers through direct response to our essays or anonymously through our Reflective Dialogue at www.espritpublications.ca. The six members of the Esprit Collective have solid roots in a psychotherapeutic journey and hold the learnings from this journey as a significant part of their self-discovery pathways. Furthermore, this journey has engendered experiences in the six of us that have informed the present framework of our communications within the Esprit Collective and for the narrative paradigm in the Espritpublications essay format.
Communication, reflection and understanding the transformation of our narratives while in relationship with others is front and centre for both the students of Espritedu, who are training to become psychotherapists, and for members of the Esprit Collective, who offer a dialogic exchange with our readership about our ongoing personal narratives. We offer the notion that narratives are a metaphor for process. Any given story is not a fact or map to our personal problems, but instead is in an ever-evolving process of transformation, designed to open new possibilities along our journeys.
Veronica’s work captures so succinctly the challenges of embodied learning. Part of the theoretical curriculum at ETPC is the study of child development. The reason for this is two-fold. First, to let us explore and be moved by the original caretaker/infant dyad that we have internalized and uncover the effects and affects this has had on our ability to relate to others in our present life. Second, when we as therapists struggle to hold an awareness of our entire feeling history, it keeps us aware and conscious of our own personal struggles when we are in a room with a client negotiating an honest, intimate relationship. The holding and containing of these original feelings keeps us awake and alive and in the present with our client’s own subjective history.
Veronica’s narrative and unique ability to access early body memories offers us an inside look at the benefits of this exploration. Her narrative weaves together her body memories, which are still alive and dancing at a cellular level of her young vulnerable memory, with body sensations that took place in the original dyad between her and her mother, and shows how they can be held and embodied with all of their original pain and shame. When this is witnessed and received by a mentor who also has done her early emotional work, it creates a space between Veronica and her mentor in the therapeutic room that is filled with love, respect and also, for me, awe. This enables Veronica to hold struggle and pain and to grow at the same time into a more continuously evolving therapist and friend.
I was inspired by Tracey’s exploration of the link between her personal spiritual journey and the timing for a psychological exploration of her psyche in a psychotherapeutic forum, and how she defines the exploration of this linkage as a significant part of her spiritual pathway. Tracey wanted to explore deeper layers of her psyche to reflect on some of her significant real-life external experiences, such as childhood pains, marital challenges, the birth of her daughter and the darkness that can be attached to addictions. These ongoing reflective directions moved her towards a psychological exploration that involved the particular choices of mentorship and ETPC as her present healing forum.
For me, the process of Tracey’s spiritual journey was one of ongoing inform and reform of her sources of knowledge and views of reality. Two notions struck me. The first thought focused on how knowledge is not a fixed, a priori, empirical fact that is independent of the observer. The second thought opened the question of how we can only learn from reflections on our experiences (consciousness), yet we are not our experiences. Tracey has broadened my concept of reality and has reminded me that conceptions of reality are evolving and ever-changing. It was a wonder challenge.
Margot’s narrative is a truly honest exploration of a learning block. She reminds us how brilliant we are as children. We all find our very own intelligent ways of coping with our early wounds when our caretakers are incapable (for their own personal historical reasons) of seeing our young, subjective pain. We find a way to keep that pain hidden, and this mechanism allows us to survive until we find an environment that is both nurturing and respectful of our beings and our narratives. Then, as Margot teaches us, we can relax our bodies enough to learn and to continue learning.
Margot chose to exercise the muscle of her brain in order to survive in the world. Not only was this a wise choice for her, but it also had the advantage of being completely accepted by the world around her. As she allowed herself to feel the unseen, vulnerable feelings that she had had to keep hidden in order to feel safe, she was able to acknowledge that the super brain had not been allowed the privilege of slowing to a pace where she could take a full breath and take the time to savour and digest learning.
Margot’s process teaches me that, whether we are Sallys or Margots in this world, we all have some kind of struggle with learning and we all live in a painful isolation that we work hard to hide. I applaud Margot for her ability to learn from children. When we are respectfully witnessed, we start to trust the information and feelings that the child within us carries. In turn, we can see what the children in our lives have to offer and we become, like Margot to her nephews, respectful mentors to others. She teaches me that once we struggle with embodied learning and become embodied learners, we start teaching others from a deeper understanding.
When I read Amy’s essay, I felt an affirmation for the philosophy taught by the ETPC faculty. Her narrative focuses on her struggle to integrate academic theory with personal experience. The challenge to integrate the theories of others with our personal experiences in order to create significant meanings and find new creative potential is the heartland of the ETPC homestead.
Amy explains that the language of a narrative does not represent facts from an expert, but instead becomes alive in the author’s ever-changing journey. Linguistic choices in her essay shift her journey from the theme of fear that led to silence due to threats from dominating perpetrators to the voice of action that created a new truth from old, harmful messages.
As she explores her understanding of the intersubjective movement in psychoanalysis, Amy challenges observer-independent knowledge, subject-object dualism and language as representational. She shares her process of understanding the intersubjective as a two-person psychology, where both therapist and client are privileged, and both create the transformative process that results in a new truth for the learner. In surrendering hierarchy and dualism, the therapist does not control the system; instead, both therapist and client are active participants in a mutually evolving process.
I am left with a further understanding of how reality evolves in a non-hierarchical, weblike nature. I also contemplate the framework of meaning making that is now moving beyond the social contextualization of behaviour and simple relativity. Amy’s struggles embody the notion that contexts such as historical assaults are multi-relational and that the language of our narratives is always shifting in our communal construction with others.
Sylvie’s narrative is filled to the brim with the complexities of life. It is clear to me that the patriarchy was alive and well and internalized throughout her family. One had to be at the top of the family hierarchy to survive all the disturbed energy of the environment, an energy that had been playing itself out for generations in her family, and that can be found in so many of ours. For young Sylvie, the patriarchy knew no gender but the heart certainly did. She received a love of learning and a love of creativity through the hearts of the men in her family. Her young self seems to have made sense of her chaotic family life through a learning heart and a vision of spirit in her father, brother and herself. It is such a welcome reminder that learning is always taking place, no matter how difficult life is, and that sometimes learning comes more through an understanding of the spirit within others than in making sense of their psychological makeup.
We discover through Sylvie that learning can take place through circuitous routes. For her, the heart, the body and the spirit were there first. In her struggles to share with and receive from her female colleagues, her intellect was brought into sharper focus and discipline. Because all ETPC students gain strength through their struggles to share, the vulnerability that is uncovered becomes a baseline that equalizes us.
Josie’s narrative speaks of the threads of a tradition where family members collude across generational boundaries, forcing members into repetitive roles with a limited capacity to rebel against these constraints. Her grandfather arranged her aunts’ marriages whether they liked it or not. Through a social and philosophical narrative, Josie gives us an in-depth view of a layered social system based on gender roles. In this case, where marriages were arranged by the patriarch, I can say that the process of marriage within the family is determined by the structure of the family. In this way, Josie’s narrative transcends her individuality to her historical and cultural world.
What I find compelling about Josie’s narrative is the question as to why she is writing the story of her aunts’ marriages. For me, this question nonpathologizes her generational family, in the sense that there is something for Josie and the reader to learn. Josie is part of another generation in a different timeframe, and perhaps, if you take one timeframe away from generational histories, the others will change as well. Systems are always undergoing change; this knowledge challenges the notion that process cannot be determined by structure across time.
In conclusion, we can say that these six self-narratives, our comments and our Espritpublications essays are a communal construction, a social exchange that renegotiates meanings that continue across time. It not only offers the potential for new meanings, but also new agency, new actions and new self-identities. The therapists and Espritpublications writers become conversational partners who engage in collaborative relationships. They offer their communal partnerships a space for collaborative learnings about evolving narratives that continually transform into the uncertainty of new possibilities.