Uncover, discover, create
Reflections on using the Emotional Learning Cards in Workshops
About the article
Exploring identity, difference and diversity is always relevant, compelling, and emotionally resonant. Each of us must work out who we really are, which usually includes challenging some of our skewed self-perceptions as well as re-thinking our place in the world.
Exploring identity, difference and diversity is always relevant, compelling, and emotionally resonant regardless of the times we live in. These subjects touch us all. Each of us must work out who we really are which usually includes challenging some of our skewed self-perceptions as well as re-thinking our place in the world and how we imagine others see us. In tandem, defining and refining who we want to become is a lifelong task. This is supported by increasing our understanding of the rich and complex interplay between messages we pick up from the world around us and our internal thoughts, each influencing the other in ways which may be outside of our conscious awareness. Uncovering our limiting self-beliefs, discovering our agency and creating possibilities for ourselves is a dynamic process. It is never carried out in isolation but within a context shaped by our gender, race, class and culture, all of which are social constructs which also shift and change.
Our Emotional Learning Cards have their roots in the history of the Iniva /A Space partnership dating back to the early 2000s. We came together as two organisations with seemingly divergent core aims. However, we recognised the overlap between the range of themes being explored by Iniva artists, curators, thinkers and educators and those which often bring clients to therapy, namely, the wish to explore individual and collective psycho-social histories and to reflect on the complexities of identity more generally.
Uncovering our limiting self-beliefs, discovering our agency and creating possibilities for ourselves is a dynamic process. It is never carried out in isolation but within a context shaped by our gender, race, class and culture, all of which are social constructs which also shift and change.
When the first set of Emotional Learning Cards What do you feel? was co-published by Iniva and A Space, we introduced workshops to provide anyone interested in using them with the opportunity to try out them out under the guidance of a facilitator. As I wrote the texts for these cards, and subsequent sets, it was agreed that I’d create a model for the workshops and facilitate them, drawing on my background as an artist and a psychotherapist. A key feature of therapy which I built into the workshop structure centres on Freud’s concept of free association. In her book Sigmund Freud, Pamela Thurschwell, Reader in English at University of Sussex, described it for the lay person as follows: “The importance of free association is that the patients spoke for themselves instead of repeating the ideas of the analyst; they work through their own material, rather than parroting another’s suggestions”. (Routledge Critical Thinkers Series, 2009)
When using the Emotional Learning Cards in Iniva/ A Space workshops, participants are invited to interpret or respond to art images based on whatever comes to mind, that is, to freely associate without censoring their thoughts or putting themselves under pressure to say something that sounds informed or insightful. Rather than staying with what any given artist may have wanted to convey in their work, the participants’ personal reactions and associations to selected images from our sets are prioritised. To ease participants into this process, I created a series of ‘Ideas Banks’ which are statements and questions capturing some of my thoughts relating to different facets of identity which can be matched with Emotional Learning Cards. These led to the publication of Reflecting on Feelings which can also be matched to the emotional learning cards. Again, there is no ‘correct’ pairing to aim for.
If you are running a workshop using the Emotional Learning Cards, you can create your own Ideas Bank highlighting particular themes and pitched at the right level to ensure accessibility depending on the participants’ age and the context you are working in. As well, Ideas Banks can easily be created by googling apposite quotes on identity and printing these for use in the workshop. Blank slips can also be provided so that, if they choose to, participants can record thoughts or questions and match them to specific cards.
This method of free association has no agenda other than to support participants in learning more about what they, and others, think and feel. It works by encouraging creative thinking which, in turn, facilitates intuitive leaps, often leading to new personal insights. Described as a form of unconscious thinking, meanings and connections begin to appear out of seemingly random thoughts or questions. An overarching aim of the A Space/ Iniva workshops is to initiate this kind of co-discovery which enables more intimate sharing. This, in turn, allows for naming and processing sometimes difficult material and developing greater capacity for unmasking unconscious biases about ourselves and others. Just as in therapy sessions, there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ contributions to make, so, too are workshop participants invited to freely offer their impressions as well as bringing to the discussion any questions to ponder and feelings to reflect on.
It seems important to add that not everyone attending a workshop of this kind will want to share their thoughts. Staying silent is, in its own way, a contribution as it helps foster a culture of deep thinking. Creating a meaningful, authentic experience for all which is not dependent on expectations of how individual participants engage is another of our core aims. Based on the feedback we receive post-workshops, this approach hits the right note and seems to be very much valued. We always welcome your views too. If you’ve attended one of our workshops, or just read this blog and have something to say, do feel free to come back to us with further thoughts.
Perhaps a good place to end is with a quote from Stephen Grosz, psychoanalyst and author of The Examined Life: “Psychoanalysts are fond of pointing out that the past is alive in the present. But the future is alive in the present too. The future is not some place we’re going to, but an idea in our mind now. It is something we’re creating, that in turn creates us. The future is a fantasy that shapes our present.”
Lyn French, Director of A Space
Lyn French is the Director of A Space. She first trained in art (MA Goldsmiths) with a focus on conceptual art practice before completing an art therapy training and a psychoanalytic psychotherapy training. She was a staff member on the Birkbeck MSc in Counselling & Psychotherapy with Children + Adolescents for over 10 years and has co-edited two books in the field as well as contributing to the production of Iniva’s emotional learning cards.