Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tree of Life

On Friday I went to workshop held by the Narrative Therapy Centre called The Tree of Life. The workshop was amazing and so inspiring! The Tree of Life is an arts-based narrative approach that was created as a tool to work with children who've experienced trauma or difficult times. Apparently, it was the result of, what they call, reflection groups that were working with children in Africa who had lost their parents to AIDS. She commented on how there would be up to 100 children, at times, and the wailing was so intense and deep. They developed this approach in response.

The facilitator, Angel Yuen, was excellent. She is a private therapist in Durham and a school social worker in Toronto. She's also one of the founding members and faculty of the Narrative Therapy Centre, as well as a member of the Dulwich Centre team in Adelaide, Australia. She was so knowledgeable and an amazing presenter as she shared her experiences through personal counselling in her private practice and in the school system (in the most marginalized area of Toronto).

We had opportunities to make our own trees and talk amongst our little groups. She also showed pictures of some of the children she worked with and examples of the trees they created, as well as share a booklet that the children had created to share with other children. The stories in the booklet broke my heart several times over but the messages were very powerful and inspiring.

The purpose of the exercise was to uncover a "Second Story" within the child's trauma, that is, to look at how the child responded to the experiences of the trauma rather than focus on the effects the trauma has caused on the child's life (which would comprise the "First Story").

By focusing on the "Second Story", the problem then becomes externalized and the emphasis is more on the child's "meaning making" skills which can be linked to their values, skills and knowledge they possess. These can then, in turn, provide a way of helping the child find an identity which isn't tied into the problem (which they may have externalized) but rather, help them not lose their sense of self by helping to empower themselves through their own stories.

Of course, the way I'm describing it is very simplistic (or perhaps, confusing) which may not show the richness of this particular exercise. The metaphor of the tree is broken down into it's individual components (roots, trunk, branches, leaves, etc.) which are then compared to various areas of a person's life. The exercise then looks at the Forests of Life and the diversity that exists within such as the different hopes and dreams present in the forest, how the leaves helped the children learn about the important people in their lives and of themselves, etc. The exercise then introduces the metaphor of storms in relation to the trees and in turn, how the children respond or have responded to the storms of their own lives.

I talked to the facilitator afterwards because I was so moved and inspired to learn more about narrative therapy. They're offering workshops and intensives through the Narrative Therapy Centre and the Dulwich Centre. There were a few books available for purchase and I bought one called Maps of Narrative Therapy by Michael White, one of the other founders of the Narrative Therpay Centre. During the workshop, I had a chance to network with some of the other attendees who were doing some amazing work in the community and planned to meet up with one of them in the future to chat further.

I felt so high afterwards. (Does this ever happen to you?) I just felt like I was moving in the right direction and so grateful that I had the chance to attend. I even thought of approaching the coordinator of the program I'm in to see if I could offer a little workshop to my peeps (fellow classmates) because I felt so passionate about it. It's the kind of metaphor than can be used with various populations and for different situations or reasons. I thought it would be a really useful tool to incorporate with career counselling and hope to someday.

Hope you're finding inspiration in your life - wherever it presents itself. Talk soon, friends. xo

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