Monday, 21 July 2008

Handle With Care.

As if the last and rather extensive post wasn't enough for you, my esteemed readers, Lock and Load has been at it again! No, not the out of date communion wine but another workshop put on and hosted by The Soho Theatre. I hadn't booked for this originally, I wanted to attend another workshop about staging but couldn't make it at the last minute. Soho Theatre very kindly bumped me onto the Handle With Care workshop last Thursday.

It took place at Tequila, a groovy place just opposite the Soho. The tutor, Jennifer Farmer had worked for the last seven years with many vulnerable groups such as children at risk of exclusion, women in prisons and mental health care clients and was very generous in sharing with the group her experiences. We all signed a group contract (with suggested terms of reference from the group) that emphasized the importance of listening, respect and sharing and away we went.

Jennifer spoke about strategies she uses to bring a group together and divided the process into distinct phases:

FORMING. This is the 'honeymoon period'. Facilitator and group bond, get to know each other and initially can be quite supportive.

STORMING. This is where the hard work kicks in. Members of the group have to be 'selfish' in order to come up with the creative goods. Differences can emerge at this point.

NORMING. Things settle down and the real group work begins.

Jennifer talked us through a typical facilitator's role with a group.

A facilitator must give leadership, initially adopting quite a performing role and then stepping back a little as the process flows. Natural leaders will emerge from within the group and aid the facilitator. Individuals need to be acknowledged and their fear of self-sabotage embraced. There will be lashing-out, bullying, resistance, apathy, keenness and affection.

It was semphasised that vulnerable groups know that the system values what they are doing and that the work is true to the group and they 'own' it.

There was a lot of discussion around what the notion of disclosure. Jennifer was keen to stress that the workshops were, first and foremost, creative. That is to say, whilst obviously individual and very personal experience, some of it traumatic, was bound to emerge during the process, it was not necessarily a forum for verbatim testimony as such. The important thing to remember was that process is product as much as the end result and greater creativity can be achieved by taking a step back from real life, as it were.

The other side of this was of course a statutory obligation to disclose facts about a client where that client might be in danger. Jennifer was unequivocal in saying that it was a moral and legal duty on the part of the facilitator and that it was important to flag up that aspect of the facilitator's role right from the start. Honesty is key. Any issues surrounding this should be addressed with your line manager. Though facilitators are often freelance, they will have been hired for particular groups by a company set up for that purpose.

There are a range of reasons why a client might take up a course:

Something to do.
It's a useful experience (in prison, for example, as it might count towards a qualification).
It can create a mask through which to distance oneself from damaging personal experiences.

Sometimes people leave the process, which has to be accepted. There is sometimes a return to Storming mode but then it settles itself again. A facilitator must be adaptable and flexible and always be equipped with more resources and material than they need. As far as Jennifer was concerned, when people come into her group, they were all writers in a room.

jennifer then showed us some of the exercises she does with her groups by the creation of a group poem around the subject of guilt. In a previous exercise, we had all written a line about guilt which included the word itself. These 28 lines were then ordered in preference as decided by the group and then edited and amended by the group until we had a powerful piece that explored guilt. We picked it apart and found the characters and the world that they inhabited. Most effective and this process kept us all engaged. Everyone had their say.

I wasn't totally convinced that the role of facilitator was one for me (I spend time in family life doing much of that) but I thought the whole process fascinating and it wasn't difficult to see how cathartic the process is for client and facilitator alike.


potdoll said...

sounds juicy. i'd love to work with women in prison.

Elinor said...

Yes, Pots, talk about worthwhile!
Somewhere down the line, I'll pursue this, I think.

potdoll said...

i might join you!