Once Upon A Time

I made a particular journey this summer, a pilgrimage in many ways, to attend an intensive training with Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of “Women Who Run With the Wolves” (1992). I have been a fan of her writing for many years, using some of her methods for working with dreams, images and stories to understand the wounded places of the psyche, and the ways of healing and recovering that are often hidden in plain sight within the story or dream. I leapt at the chance to attend a workshop with her, despite the complications that come with travelling half way around the world, and up into the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.


I got more than I bargained for as the storytelling unfolded, sharing in a powerfully transformative experience with 99 others, and learning from this wise and deeply present woman, who at age 73 is acutely alive and glowing with her passion for the creative, emotional, spiritual and psychological work that is therapy. I have returned home with new ideas and concepts to play with, deeper theoretical understanding to work with, a recognition of the resources that we each carry within us that can be accessed through dreams and stories, and a profoundly lived experience of the challenges of integrating the different aspects of our being.

Fairy stories have many purposes, but one of the most important is their ability to show us ourselves, in all our guises – the hero/heroine, the villain, the bystander, the allies, the secret nurturers, the magic that each person carries which can ultimately enable them to learn from the ordeals and challenges that are set, and finally find more of the freedom and peace that they are yearning for. Each fairytale world can be seen as representing the contents of one person’s inner world or psyche. Archetypal psychology provides an additional layer of ancient and unspoken yet universal knowing – that water can symbolise emotional energy, that dark woods can represent the unconscious and the things we do not know about ourselves yet, that the witch may in fact be the wise old “crone” who has lessons to teach us, and so on.

My journey to Colorado highlighted some aspects of my own “fairytales” that have now come alive and are working on my behalf to enrich and broaden my living. I am looking forward to bringing this process more and more fully into my practice as a therapist, and supervisor, already finding how naturally it slips into the creative relationships that are part of counselling, psychotherapy and supervision.

SO, are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

Once Upon a Time, long long ago…………….

Life, death and rebirth


The last few weeks have been enormously challenging for me, both personally and professionally, with change, upheaval and uncertainty the overriding themes. There have been days when I have felt confused, lost and bewildered by what was happening, finding it impossible to make sense of what has been taking place. And, as a person who likes to be able to understand things in order to feel in control and safe, this has been a time when fearful moments have been very plentiful.

However, what I have learned over many years is that there will be a logic somewhere within or beyond the chaos, although I may not be able to find it, yet. Somehow I have learned that there will always be something to be gained if I can find a way to “let go” of trying to control things, and allow the process to take care of itself. This is not easy, not at all, but it is possible, at least for parts of the day, sometimes through allowing myself to rest, or to meditate, or listen to music, or sit in the garden, or to be quiet with a friend or with my own therapist. “Surrender” is a term that is culturally alien to my Northern Irish roots, but it is the key.

I have been reminded of the many cultures that value life’s cycles of growth, death and rebirth. In our western “developed” societies, we tend to value the growth part highly, seeking “more”, craving happiness and positivity. Ancient traditions focused more on the “death and rebirth” aspects than we tend to do, believing that true wisdom and healing can only be found through the dying of the old worn out structures and defences, and the entering into the vulnerability of frailty and even collapse. There is hope however, that from the pain and loss there will come new strength, new energy, new growth – a Phoenix rising from the ashes perhaps, a seedling pushing its way through the rotting wood of its fallen ancestor.

So, I am entering the flames, reluctantly, but convinced that good will come, and that there will be rebirth. I’m not particularly enjoying the process, but I am trusting my inner resources, making use of my therapy and of the love and understanding of my friends, my family and supporters.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”  –  Julian of Norwich

Wind and Sea

Wind & Sea

On holiday recently, recovering from a particularly intense week or two, I was struck again by how important it is for our wellbeing and sense of self to connect with nature. Nothing new or mind blowing in itself, many people have spoken of the benefits of taking time outdoors, in green spaces, breathing “fresh air”. And still it is profoundly true. My experience of being physically, viscerally and somehow spiritually touched by wind and waves was uplifting at some wordless primal level – a reminder that some things are unchanging, beyond human, outside our control, wild and yet reassuring in their power. Taking time to be in the huge outdoor world of nature can help bring us back to earth, grounding us, putting our anxieties and stresses into perspective, even if only for a brief time. Do yourself a favour and make time to let the wind, waves, trees, mountains or sky settle your soul.

Half way out of the dark

I discovered recently that the start of February is known as the ancient pagan festival of Imbolc; a time to celebrate the half way point between the shortest day of the year and the beginning of Spring at the vernal equinox. Our ancient ancestors recognised the meaning and importance of the movement between darkness and light in a way that not only reflected the impact of dark days on activity and food supply, but spoke of the challenges in going through dark and difficult life experiences, where the return of light and hope can seem a faint possibility at times. Imbolc was a time to grasp that hope, to believe in life under the cold earth getting ready to “spring” forth, to clear out the debris of the old dead year and set intentions for the coming season of growth. One description I read talked of Imbolc as a time when light and darkness are flirting with each other, building up to their coming together to create new life at the start of Spring, a time of potential, of stirring, of possibility. I often have that sense when I am working with clients; a feeling of faint beginnings of hope and the sense that more light is on its way, even while the dark times seem endless, old habits still have a tight hold, and it is hard to believe that there can be some recovery to come. The light does always arrive, and the darkness takes a step back, though perhaps the truth is that we cannot have one without the other. The dark days have seeds buried within them that need their time in hiding to make sure that they strengthen enough to push through the ground and emerge into the spring sunshine.FB_IMG_1422817553837

Brave New World

So, this is my first ever blog post. Quite a challenge, the scary sense of putting my thoughts “out there”. A bit like the challenge of counselling and psychotherapy for the client, where the invitation of the therapy room is to take the space to share what is going on for you – not just the events, but your thoughts and feelings about them. It takes trust, and that can take a while to build – why on earth would anyone share their private thoughts with a perfect stranger – and yet this process of risking, and saying out loud how it is for you, to someone who will listen and understand and accept you whatever you are experiencing, this is what heals. We keep our feelings buried at our peril. We stay closed in and shut down in an attempt to stay safe, and yet in doing this we damage ourselves. Take a step into a strange new world – tell someone who knows how to stay alongside you how it feels to be living your life right now. Be brave. Heal.Barbara Clarkson