Exploring the multitudes inside ourselves
Though I write here as a psychotherapist, I have another life as a poet. I don't usually advertise this to my clients for reasons that come under the category of providing the 'blank slate', but they find out soon enough if they do Google search under my name. It often surprises me that more don’t discover this. Or, if they do, they don’t mention it.
I’ve found over the years there is a strong link between poetry and psychotherapists. I know several poets who are, or have been, therapists. I’ve found many therapists have an interest in poetry (including that minority sport, contemporary poetry) which is perhaps illustrated by this experience. I was attending a poetry workshop in London a few months ago taken by the Indian poet, Arundhathi Subramanian. Arriving late, I had to introduce myself to the group. On mentioning that I was a psychotherapist, she laughed. Just about everyone else in the room was also a therapist!
I’ve heard a few other similar stories in the poetry world. A few poets have told me about workshops of theirs that have contained a high proportion of therapists. So, what is it about poetry that might attract therapists? Some of this may be in what poetry a poem can do, something I will explore in more detail in a follow-up article. At present, I will content myself with a thought put by Coleridge, that poetry can provide 'the best of possible words in the best possible order'.
Of course, this leaves an additional question of 'what for?'. Psychoanalyst Neville Symington points out that poetry (like other arts) can express things in a way that just talking through, and even some beloved theories we are taught, cannot. He has published an interesting book of poems to illustrate this. The poems themselves deal with various subjects, including his relationship to his mother and other people, and pen portraits of problems his clients have faced. In short, matters that therapists often encounter in their work. I’d recommend both to both therapists and poets, though Symington modestly says the poems are perhaps more important to himself.
This last point is, of course, an important thing for a therapist to bear in mind when clients present a poem, whether they have written the poem themselves or are presenting a poem by a published author. This is also the case if the therapist were to present a poem to a client. I don’t know if, in the above case of Symington, he presented any of his poems to clients, but the possibility is there. For some interesting ideas on how this might happen, I would recommend Diana Hedges’ enlightening book 'Poetry, Therapy & Emotional Life', which also looks at ways that different therapeutic approaches might use poetry.
The thing that interests Symington about poetry as much as anything else is its creativity. The capacity to explore things and maybe even at times rewire the psyche. In my research, I came up with three basic ways a poem can do all this. Firstly, as a witness to feelings and thoughts that we perhaps haven’t allowed ourselves to express. Secondly, there is this capacity to create life scripts, and then maybe see beyond them and explore. Then, there is the exploration itself.
Perhaps one of the supreme examples of a psychologist using this exploration mode is Carl Jung in his 'Red Book'. This large volume, recently published, is a daunting read - not least just because of its physical size! Yet it is an example of someone exploring what was going on in their psyche. Since Jung, many psychologists have explored the psyche seeing it as something that contains multiple personalities in a single person. Sometimes these are called sub-personalities, and they are the basis of many therapeutic techniques.
Below is a poem of mine that explores this, putting some of my own bewildering and often contradictory sub-personalities on show. When reading it to people, I sometimes say it came out of a personal development course which left me more confused at the end than when I started. Well yes, the confusion sometimes is bewildering, but it’s also exciting. I believe therapy should be as much fun as it is serious, not least because we often learn most when we do something in a spirit of curiosity and play.
This poem expresses that...
Meeting My Inners
On the beach, I laughed, clapped my hands at the in-coming tide.
My inner psychologist spoke: 'See, your inner child'.
I lay back on the sand, communed with the waves: 'Man, what a beautiful world!'
My inner hippy tuned in and dropped out.
I slipped off my costume, felt the caress of sun and breeze on skin:
my inner naturist's first unveiling.
My inner film-director was passing, asked if I'd repeat this feat in his next movie.
My inner actor was outraged: 'I only take my kit off when it's strictly necessary for the role'.
But my inner porn-star was aroused: 'There are positions we've never tried'.
I left the beach thinking all this over, went for dinner at a taverna.
Moussaka, roasted goat, wine, ouzo... more ouzo, before
Zorba, my inner Greek danced into the early hours.
Maybe, my inner guardian carried me home. The next thing I remember is
my inner evangelist thundering: 'Sins of the flesh'.
While my inner shaman drummed incessantly on my temples,
summoning bigger crowds out. We were talking geography!
My inner explorer peered out from behind an exotic plant,
offering to navigate me across continents to meet everyone.
I was wondering how we'd all stay in touch.
(from 'Meeting My Inners' by Graham Mummery © 2015Pindrop Press)
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