When it comes to the most important things that impact us as a society, we have to go beyond just learning about the facts. For example, looking at the news today you may know a lot of the facts behind the heartbreaking conflict going on in Palestine and Israel today, but without fully engaging in the psychological and emotional impact (not to mention the intergenerational trauma) of that conflict, we are only brushing the surface. I strongly believe that many of the intractable problems we encounter in society today – from ethnic conflict to climate change – are partially the result of our inability as a society to integrate important spheres of human experience like our psychological and emotional experiences of the world.
The vision of creating improved ways of integrating psychological perspectives and into education is very close to my heart and one of the main drivers behind Stillpoint Spaces the international psychology hub that I direct. We don’t have grand visions that we can save the world with psychology (many have tried and failed), but we do believe we can have an impact. We also believe we can have the biggest impact when we partner up with other stakeholders who share our vision – even if these organisations are not particularly psychologically oriented.
Addressing crucial social issues:
As an organisation that takes anti-racism and social justice as core principle we have been looking into ways to share our particular expertise to these ends. In 2019, we wanted to commit to a year’s events on race and racism in contemporary Britain but we realised a few things:
- Most of us on staff were white.
- We didn’t have the expertise we needed to deliver quality content on race ourselves.
- We did have expertise in creating the conditions for psychological and emotionally activated learning experiences.
Therefore our solution was to run a free one day event and invite the community to come to us to explore feelings about race and racism and to come forward with suggestions about events, groups, workshops, and content – alongside the requisite expertise – and we would commit to facilitate the delivery of that content over the coming year. This worked very well and one of the results was a series of events with the National Archives UK where they delivered historical content and we delivered the psychological/emotional elements for a broader kind of learning.
Spearheaded by Iqbal Singh of The National Archives UK, we explored three periods of Black History in Britain from the Windrush era to The Mangrove Nine. We learned the history from Archives experts and processed that material through writing with poetry therapist Charmaine Pollard. This was a model that was developed over several discussions whereby we came to agreement about the best way to deliver this difficult material by appealing to different intelligences (understanding the historical record on the one hand, and integrating the psychological and emotional experience of that on the other). We would not be providing therapy – but we would be bringing our therapy skills on the issues we set to explore.
Developing useful model for bringing psychology into education:
The feedback from these events was very positive despite the fact that strong and difficult feelings were provoked within them – integrating our personal emotional experiences to themes like racism is hard work. Despite the hard work (or perhaps because of it) there is great hunger for this kind of integrated offer. It not only helps us grow as individuals, but also helps us better connect with each other.
The National Archives also joined forces for another similar set of events with The Black, African, and Asian Therapy Network and all three organisations will be discussing our learnings via a free event organised by The British Museum on Tuesday (May 18). Stillpoint Spaces is proud to have been a part of this experimental venture into how we can better share learning around the “difficult issues.” As a community of psychotherapists, counsellors, coaches, and other related disciplines – alongside our non-professional community of “the psychologically curious” we are used to having difficult conversations. While these are generally had in a therapeutic context (one to one in consulting rooms or in group therapy) we believe that psychological methods can be deployed more broadly so as to be more accessible in a variety of ways.
We are truly grateful to have worked with The National Archives Iqbal and Charmaine who were were willing to try this somewhat daring approach to not only exploring this country’s history of racial injustice – but how this history and contemporary institutional racism continues to affect us all today. We look forward to finding new ways to address important social issues like this with stakeholder organisations who share our vision.