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Unexpected Focusing Moments in a Psychiatric Hospital

By Ruth S. Rosenblum, CSW, Psychotherapist/Focusing Trainer, U.S.A.

Every Friday, as part of my responsibilities as a psychotherapist in a metropolitan New York psychiatric hospital, I lead a one-hour expressive therapy group for the adolescent patients attending our short-term day treatment program. The kids in the program carry various psychiatric diagnoses – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anorexia, etc.,--and have been experiencing significant problems at home and at school. For this group, I usually choose an art or writing exercise from my “tool box” of ideas and projects, something that seems to fit with the needs and energies of each week’s particular group.

Today, however, was different. One of the teenagers had brought his portable electronic keyboard to the program. When I entered the room, he was playing some Beatles songs, which immediately put me in a good mood and created a nice connection between this young piano player and me.
With papers and pastels in hand, I began giving instructions about the drawing exercise I had planned. Suddenly, I stopped talking – something in me didn’t feel right. Taking a breath, I went inside for a moment – something was cooking, something else wanted to happen. But I thought, “I can’t just stand here silently”; I was feeling the pressure to get on with the group as usual and as I had planned. Again, I started to talk about the art exercise and again I found I couldn’t continue. I stopped the group and said, “I came in here ready to suggest that we do this art exercise, but, as you see, I keep stopping before we even get started. So, give me a minute just to settle in and see what’s happening inside me.” The kids looked surprised and quieted down, unusual for this particular group. Immediately, I experienced a clear felt sense, an opening, and the words, “write a song.”

Ruth has been working as a Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist for 25 years. She is now moving forward into the unclear unkwown--her sense is something related to community building and peacemaking, with Focusing being at the core.

Taking a long deep breath, I then shared the following with the kids: “When I settled in and asked myself what’s happening here, I had this sense that maybe instead of doing an art project, since we have the keyboard and someone who can really play it, how about writing a song?”

“Yeah!” was the immediate response. And then a young woman said, “But tell us first what you were doing when you closed your eyes and got so quiet.” Another breath. So I briefly described the process of taking a breath, settling down inside, asking myself what was going on here and listening for the response. The kids listened without comment and quickly proceeded to ask, “What should we write about?” I suggested that since they were all in this day program together, perhaps they could write about something related to their experiences here: how they got here, what they wanted/hoped for, and so forth. Then it dawned on me to suggest that rather than listen to my suggestions, that they use the process they saw me use – that they take a breath, drop down inside, ask the question “What wants to be written about?” and listen for the response. It took about 30 seconds for the responses to be shouted out: “what I want out of my life”; “how I hate my illness”; “how I hate this hospital”; and so forth. After some discussion, they agreed to write about what they want in and for their lives.

During the next 45 minutes, this small group of wonderful kids wrote a blues-style song. Several times in the process, the kids turned to ask

Here is their song, “I Wanna be Happy”:

I wanna feel happy
Don’t wanna feel crappy

I wanna be the right way
So I can get out of this place someday.

Don’t wanna be bad
Just wanna make my mama glad.

CHORUS:
Don’t wanna feel bad, don’t wanna feel mad
I wanna be happy, don’t wanna feel crappy.

Wanna make the right choices
Don’t wanna hear bad voices

Wanna make a lot of money
Have a life sweet as honey

Don’t want have no cursing
Wanna find the right person

 

CHORUS:

Wanna see happy faces
No more bad places

Wanna end my woes and
Stop the problem before it grows

Wanna be the best I can be
And let the whole world see me.

CHORUS:
Wanna have fun
Be nice to everyone

Wanna get to the light
so I can shine so bright

Wanna stop crying
And start flying through life

CHORUS 3 times

 

At the end of the song writing, we were, as stated in the last line of the song, flying – joyous, excited, full of energy and pleasure. I invited a few staff people to hear the kids sing their song; the staff responded with hoots and loud applause, repeatedly complimenting the kids on their work, talent, creativity. The kids felt how differently the staff was seeing them in that moment – less as “troubled, sick kids” and more like talented, creative teens--a healing in itself. The process of Focusing had enabled us to create a wonderful time together. The kids left for the weekend feeling excited, wanting to share their song with friends and family, and I finished my work week feeling full and satisfied.

 

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