Share your strengths in Bermuda’s ‘tree of life’
In Southern Africa, Ncazelo Ncube created the “tree of life” as a way of inspiring young people and adults who had been through hard times.
Her initial aim was to assist her colleagues in their work with children affected by HIV/Aids. The method became so successful it gained the attention of therapists across Africa.
Canada, Brazil, Russia, Nepal and the United States quickly got on board, using Tree of Life to help people build “strength, resilience and relationships” by sharing life stories of their “culture, heritage, spirituality, strength and hopes”. The narrative therapy is now standard practice in 13 countries.
In collaboration with the wellness centre Solstice, Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art has planned something similar.
It will launch at the Paget gallery tonight as Re-Telling Our Stories, “a participatory exhibition that links art and creativity to health and mental wellbeing”.
Until April 14, the public is invited to use provided prompts and “paint, draw and write” on a giant blank canvas in Masterworks’ main gallery. Four free therapist-led, two-hour workshops are also on offer.
Risa Hunter, Masterworks’ executive director, said the idea sprang from “a very interesting article” published in advance of World Mental Health Day last October that discussed the positive impact art has on mental health.
The museum contacted Solstice and together they arranged a panel discussion on “the interplay between arts, creative activities, mental health and wellbeing”.
It was a success but they all felt it was important to do something that would have “more of an impact within the Bermuda community”.
“The idea started there and then the exhibition, Re-Telling our Stories, was created,” Ms Hunter said. “Any community member of any background, can come out and partake in creating something within this space. There are prompts that will be available, the whole idea being that it's based off of the tree of life narrative therapy tool that Solstice use within many of their therapy sessions.”
The idea was an easy sell to Solstice because it fit in with its aim of offering the narrative therapy “to as many people as possible and to give this good experience of talking about wellbeing”.
“Wellbeing isn't just about when things have gone wrong,” said Jade Templer, a senior clinical and liberation psychologist at Solstice. “Sometimes it's also just about being able to top ourselves up with strengths and abilities and helping us to feel we can stand tall in whatever we face in our lives.
“Often we end up trapped in stories that don't help us. We sometimes feel that we are maybe just the story of depression, or we're just the story of isolation, or we are just this person who maybe isn't funny or isn't social. And sometimes we lose sight of all the other stories of who we are, and the fact that we're actually multi-storied; we have many histories and many aspects of goodness about us. So this is a way to centre those alternative stories of strength and hope.”
Trees are used to share stories in narrative therapy. Roots illustrate history and heritage; trunks highlight strengths and abilities, branches show hopes and ambitions.
“The idea being that by standing strong in your story of who you are and looking through the lens of strength, that helps us sometimes to get back to life and notice all those times where we are able to cope,” Dr Templer said.
“Sometimes there's challenges with life, but if we can find a position of strength within ourselves first, then hopefully that helps us to weather those storms later on in life.”
Part of the beauty is that “anyone can do it”, you do not have to be an artist.
“You just have to have the willingness and curiosity to participate and be creative,” said Reilly Smith, an art therapist at Solstice. “By the end of the show, we hope to have a forest of trees and a full canvas on the wall where we can see similarities, differences, connections and an overall expression of support and strength. We hope to learn more about Bermuda as a community, where we are all coming from, where we wish to go, and how we can move forward together.”
Underscoring all this is that narrative therapy “can really improve people's mental health”, Dr Templer said.
“The idea is that you can remap your story through the lens of strength. Through thinking about solutions in your life and all the good aspects of who you are and where you come from. It can help increase self-esteem; it can help you to feel happy if you're feeling down; it can increase your abilities to cope when you think you might be quite anxious in life.”
As a community project, the discussion is far less intrusive than it would be in a private session, she added.
“You're opening up stories of strength. We might touch a little bit on the challenges but …. we'd be talking about what are the storms that Bermuda faces – it's not specific about individual's difficulties. So it's open and safe.”
As such, the prompts provided with the public canvas are pretty broad, said Jasmine Lee, Masterworks’ museum and exhibitions director.
“Who are you? What brings you joy? What inspires you? Who is someone you look up to? We don't pigeon hole people into giving one specific answer but encourage the public to reflect on their lives and people around them, the community around them, and how we can celebrate those positive reinforcements, positive people, positive inspirations … and then leaving the deeper diving questions and more self-contained study to the workshops.”
The idea is to create something similar to “a community quilt”, Ms Hunter said.
“This is kind of the mosaic of what it creates with everybody's stories on one canvas. Our aim would be that the canvas is full after every single week and we have to re-canvass the entire space; so that we have so much participation that we just keep having to put new canvas up.”
Dr Templer added: “We hope this is the beginning of this idea of the power of stories. Let's find ways to let all stories be told, particularly those that are marginalised, oppressed, hidden; the ones that we often feel lead to things like racism, homophobia, sexism. We want to try and undo that. Let's find ways to connect – hopeful and strong ways – and help each other as a community. That's why we really want to invite people who wouldn't maybe normally come to do this sort of thing. We want to hear the unheard or the hidden voices.”
Re-Telling Our Stories opens tonight at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. All ages are welcome to participate until the exhibit closes on April 14. Admission is free. The free, two-hour tree of life workshops will take place on March 22 from 6pm; March 25 from 10am, April 8 from 2pm and April 13 from 5.30pm. To register: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
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