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Climbing the tree of life for greater wellbeing

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Solstice Tree of Life workshop facilitators Kelly Madeiros, left, Reilly Smith, Jordan Loving and Jade Templer (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Solstice Bermuda psychologist Jade Templer believes that in today’s world we sometimes concentrate too much on what is broken about ourselves.

“There is a lot of focus on what is wrong and how we fix it,” Dr Templer said. “That can leave us trapped in these unhelpful stories of who we are. If we can boost up the other stories of us being brilliant, amazing and wonderful, maybe that helps with the stuff that is difficult.”

To this end, wholistic wellness centre Solstice Bermuda will be holding several narrative workshops that aim to boost morale.

Most people feel a mood lift after taking part in Tree of Life narrative therapy (Photograph supplied)

The Tree of Life approach brings people together to tell their stories in a way that makes them stronger. In this two-hour activity, people draw a tree that acts as a metaphor for the different things that shape us. The roots, for example, are the person’s background and culture. The leaves are the special people in their lives.

“I really love helping people uncover their strengths during the tree trunk stage,” Dr Templer said.

Constructing the tree helps people to discover their own strengths and talents.

Dr Templer has run the activity many times for different populations, including male juvenile offenders in a programme in East London.

“At first, they really did not want to do it,” she said. “Therapy can have a stigma with this population. They were thinking, why do I need to do this silly mental-health thing?”

These boys had been told their whole lives that they were worthless and would not go far in life. The Tree of Life project attempted to turn that narrative on its head.

“By the end of the project there were smiles all around,” Dr Templer said.

The boys’ trees went on display, and the clinicians who worked with them took into account what was on the trees when developing individual therapy plans.

“There was this ripple effect from it,” Dr Templer said.

Solstice held the workshops in Bermuda for the first time last year at the Masterworks Museum in Paget. Sixty people took part.

“We are really keen to target anyone and everyone,” Dr Templer said. “Some people think they are not broken enough to take part.”

Solstice art therapist Reilly Smith said the workshops are for anyone who wants more self-awareness, to share their story or connect with the community.

Dr Templer said a therapeutic experience can be a little daunting for those who have never done one before. At last year’s Tree of Life workshops, only half of participants had sought therapy before.

“You do not have to have a mental-health issue to take part,” Ms Smith said. “It is all about telling stories of strength in the community.”

Their ultimate goal is to increase community access to positive mental-health experiences.

“We are really lucky to be supported by the Centennial Bermuda Foundation so that we can again offer it to the public for free,” Dr Templer said.

During the event, she and Ms Smith will guide participants through each stage of the experience with a series of questions and prompts.

“We know it can be overwhelming to have a blank page in front of you,” Ms Smith said. “We also give everybody an opportunity to notice each other’s work. Last year, it was really nice to see people say things like ‘oh my Gosh, that is a strength of mine also’, or ‘family is really important to me too’.”

She called the workshop “lovely”.

“You get to literally draw out the metaphor of a tree,” she said. “It talks about our connection with nature. It really acknowledges the different stories of who we are. It starts with this idea of our roots, which represent our history, our heritage and where we come from. It looks at how we define who we are.”

The response to last year’s workshops was overwhelmingly positive.

“A lot of people after last year’s event said it made them feel really great,” Dr Templer said. “It changed how many people viewed themselves. It also might have changed their idea of seeking therapy, or having meaningful interactions with people.”

Afterwards, many people felt more connected to the community, with some participants saying they felt more empowered.

To facilitate the Tree of Life, Dr Templer trained directly with its founder, psychologist Ncazelo Ncube, in London.

The South African devised the exercise in 2006 while working with children and families dealing with loss and trauma. It uses traditional African ways of thinking.

Dr Templer and Ms Smith hoped to see many new faces at the event.

Ms Smith has drawn the Tree of Life for herself, several times, but the experience was always different.

The last time she did it, the roots aspect really impacted her.

“I just opened up, you know, with more conversation around things I was curious about, like where did my interest in music come from,” she said. “It was fun. I asked my mom about it, and found out my great-grandfather was a musician and an actor.”

Dr Templer first tried the Tree of Life workshop while training to be a psychologist at the University of East London.

“As a student, it was so lovely to just sit and think about our strengths,” she said.

She was enthused, but a bit nervous to see how it would play out.

“I always thought, what do you do about all the problems?” she said. “This year we are introducing a piece called The Storms of Life to address that. You have to think about how you can use your strengths to weather those storms.”

There will be a public Tree of Life workshop on April 28 from 1pm to 4pm at The Centre at 3 Angle Street in Hamilton. There will be another workshop on May 4 from 9.30am to 12.30pm in the Peace Lutheran Church Hall in Paget.

For those who cannot make these dates, but want to attend, Solstice suggests contacting them. They may be able to slot a few people into several private workshops they are also running. To register, e-mail info@solstice.bm or call 292-3456. Participation is free.

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Published April 10, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 09, 2024 at 2:23 pm)

Climbing the tree of life for greater wellbeing

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