Holocaust Memorial Day 27th January
How can life go on? is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2017. The aftermath of the Holocaust and of subsequent genocides continues to raise challenging questions for individuals.
We would like to share our work with Holocaust Survivors to commemorate this day.
Roundabout’s work with Holocaust Survivors Summary Report
Through a grant from the Six Point Foundation http://www.sixpointfoundation.org.uk/home , Roundabout was able to run dramatherapy sessions in a number of centres and homes with people who were Holocaust Survivors and Refugees. The work was a mixture of group and one to one sessions, and was very rich, interesting and rewarding; the dramatherapists involved often expressed that they felt privileged to be a part of this project. Our work with Holocaust survivors and refugees from the Nazi Regime, some of whom had dementia, was always client led. It was often indirect and creative, incorporating interests and themes that emerged from week to week. Some people expressed a desire and a need to revisit the more difficult times in their past and this was worked with as sensitively and gently as possible.
The grant, and the projects it funded, has now come to an end but has led to more work, again funded by the Six Point Foundation through the Association of Jewish Refugees http://www.ajr.org.uk
We are extremely grateful for their generosity supporting our work.
ROUNDABOUT DRAMATHERAPY WITH HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS FULL REPORT
This project was funded by the Six Point Foundation.
- Four Roundabout dramatherapy projects took place in four centres between February 2015 and September 2016:
- 17 Holocaust survivors were supported through a creative therapeutic intervention.
- A further 9 older adults were also supported.
- 26 individuals benefited from:
o reduced anxiety
o increased social connections
o improved use of creativity and imagination
o increased well-being
Outcomes of the project included reduced anxiety, increased social connections, improved use of imagination and creativity and increased well-being.
The main themes, stories and activities of the dramatherapy sessions were suggested in response to the expressed interests of the group. The dramatherapists planned sessions around the themes and issues that were brought to the group.
Participants seemed to recognise the dramatherapy environment as somewhere safe to relax and express feelings. As a result they became more comfortable with expressing both positive and difficult feelings in relation to their health and mood. A feeling of support and encouragement of one another also became present in the groups. This was important for all group members. Participants used the sessions to share difficult feelings about their past experiences. At other times the atmosphere was playful, with plenty of singing and laughter.
One individual was particularly prone to anxiety; he would leave whatever room he might be in to look for his wife (which he did in his first dramatherapy session). From the second session, he was able to sit and engage with the group for the length of their time together. His anxiety lessened each week and by the mid-point it was not evident. His sense of humour emerged and was often present in subsequent sessions.
“I like it here – I feel comfortable when I walk through the door. What I’ve liked about it is we’ve sat down – it felt comfortable, and you made me feel comfortable. I shall remember this light (the candle), and it’s lasted all this time.”
Increased social connections
Diverse groups of people were brought together to form these groups; some did not know one another, others only knew each other slightly, and some were not getting on at all before the sessions. At first individuals could be somewhat reserved, but as the sessions progressed a sense of ‘group’ emerged. The structure of the sessions was repeated each week, which helped develop this sense of group. Recognition of the room used in each centre and the familiar structure of the session became more evident each week, and facilitated a freedom of expression for participants.
In general, participants were able to listen to each other and take their turn in being heard.Over time, people felt able to share more personal comments and respond directly to each other.
Through sharing basic autobiographical information, related to place of birth, participants could make connections with each other, many realising for the first time that they had similar backgrounds. The dramatherapists never asked people directly about their childhoods but many memories were shared voluntarily during the project.
The manager of one centre reflected that as a result of the group, ‘we have a very close friendship bond between those involved’.
“The beauty is you don’t have to make a conversation. It just materializes, doesn’t it?”
“It’s had a positive impact. She’s more assertive with other people. Less panicky and more at ease socially. Less concerned about what others think. Making friends.”
Improved use of imagination and creativity
The dramatherapists used a range of different creative and sensory media, e.g. puppets, objects of animals and bubbles, and participants progressed in their ability to engage with imaginative exercises.
Due to the nature of their conditions, work with the participants was very gentle and supportive, and proceeded at a slow pace. Sometimes individuals were keen to engage creatively. On other days the mood was more reflective and the therapists would work with music and sound to create a relaxing space for the participants.
In 2 of the centres, a ‘group book’ was used to make a record of the sessions; as the weeks progressed poems, stories, memories, images etc. were added. It acted as a memory aid and provided the group with a focus, helping people to make links from one week to another. It also served as a concrete and tangible reminder of things that were done and said in the group. When the dramatherapists recapped using the book, members were pleased to hear and see how their contributions were remembered and valued.
The dramatherapists encouraged creativity by supporting participants in creating their own poems using a variety of techniques. One example was sharing an interesting object (an ornate wooden box) with the group and writing down their responses to it. These comments were formed into a group poem which everyone enjoyed. People were being creative, sometimes without realising it, and even those who considered themselves uncreative appreciated that they had contributed to the group poem.
“I’ve enjoyed it very well, especially your little story – beautifully done. I admired the demonstration of the story very much.”
In some centres the dramatherapists used gentle stretches and movement to music, as well as simple games, e.g. a ball game to make playful connections and to engage with the body. Participants enjoyed the playfulness of the warm-ups, which shifted the energy from a talk related check-in to a more creative space.
The ending process for the sessions was carefully managed in each centre, ensuring optimistic ways of looking back and forward. In the final sessions, many participants displayed greater levels of cognition, coherence and alertness than were present at the start of the sessions. In one of the centres, in the final week, the dramatherapists brought a story which involved participants taking a role, dressing up and participating in the retelling. This could not have been done earlier in the process and the enthusiastic participation indicated how much the group had developed in confidence. Increased well-being was further demonstrated in participants being able to stimulate, share and retain memories.
An example of increased well-being relates to one individual who had a tendency to have a negative outlook. He had been referred to dramatherapy to encourage social contact. At first he was reluctant to join in the group activities and expressed that ‘this imagination stuff, it’s not for me’. As the weeks progressed his levels of participation increased. By the third session, he said it had been ‘very enjoyable’ and expressed later that week, to a member of staff, that he was looking forward to the next one. He engaged in role-play during a story and gradually became more comfortable with sharing his feelings with the group. Towards the end of the intervention he movingly said, while holding the shell, ‘enjoy every moment’ (of life).
“I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been pleasant. They’re all friendly. What more can I want?”
“It reminds me of things that haven’t been in my mind, but I’m happy to be reminded of.”
“We are playing like children!”
“He is much more adjusted to life in a care home. Generally more comfortable.”
Two case studies (Names changed)
Bob shared a great deal of personal information within the group, particularly about his young adulthood and his arrival in the UK. He offered this information voluntarily and was passionate about it at times. He appreciated finding out about other group members’ backgrounds and seeing how they compared to his own.
He enjoyed sharing his other hobbies with the group and surprised the dramatherapists by bringing his substantial collection of hats to the group and encouraging others to try them on. This was unprompted and relevant to the current theme. He seemed to gain satisfaction from the response of others to his generosity.
Bob formed a particular bond with another group member who lived on the same unit. They sat together at mealtimes and as a result of being together in dramatherapy, developed a firm friendship which was beneficial to both of them.
Feed-back from Bob:
“Enjoyable. Makes a change from sitting at home doing nothing.”
“I’m sorry it’s coming to an end.”
Feed-back from staff:
“He is less angry and socially better with others. Calmer. It’s helped him socially, especially with Vincent. He’s become more contented in his own space.”
Bernie particularly engaged and connected with the seashell used to help people focus during the ‘check ins’. He often talked to it, asked it questions and listened to its ‘wisdom’. A drum was also used, offering another way in which group members could express their feelings, non-verbally. Bernie enjoyed playing the drum, often smiling as he created new rhythms.
The familiar structure of the sessions provided Bernie with a safe space in which to talk about his past – and express thoughts and feelings pertaining to the present. He vividly shared memories of his days in the Army, and movingly described arriving in Great Britain. Themes of safety and gratitude were often present for him; the creative medium offered possibilities in which to explore them.
Bernie appeared alert and engaged as the dramatherapist facilitated a story or a journey the group experienced together. He shared memories that became integral to these sessions. The group also became a place in which friendships were forged. Bernie was supportive and kind towards other group members. Towards the end of the work, he expressed his gratitude for the friends he had made.
There was a break in the dramatherapy sessions and when the group resumed, Bernie had had a prolonged hospital admission. He was not well enough to attend the centre, so it was proposed that the dramatherapist work with him 1:1 at his home.
The seashell was used again in these individual sessions; it acted as a bridge with the group work and was a familiar object to Bernie.
During the sessions, small figures of people, puppets, photographs of animals and landscapes, and a song were used. They stimulated memories and facilitated the expression of thoughts and feelings. After the main body of work had finished, there was time in which Bernie could reflect. The dramatherapist then reflected back significant thoughts and feelings that had arisen, including a recap of what had taken place in the session.
Perhaps because the dramatherapist had worked with Bernie for nine months at the centre, during this short intervention of individual sessions there was a sense of familiarity and trust from the beginning. This enabled Bernie to take full advantage of the therapeutic time. From the first session, he entrusted the dramatherapist with vivid and visceral material of great depth and significance.
Bernie often became more lucid during the sessions. The small figures that were used facilitated memories and difficult feelings that felt very present for him. A tension was apparent between Bernie telling himself he must not speak about such events (as ‘they are long ago’) and a great need to be able to talk about them.
An awareness of his changing mind was also present in the sessions. In one, he movingly said ‘last year, my memories were closer’. Bernie had regularly talked to the seashell in the dramatherapy group; a strong connection with it was also evident in the individual sessions. He would ask it at the beginning ‘what stories have you got for me’ and at the end of the final session he called it a ‘bountiful object’.
Through the dramatherapy process, Bernie expressed a sense of the breadth, scope and enormity of his life. As well as using the sessions to express many difficult feelings and memories, they were a place in which he often acknowledged the love of his wife, family and his deep gratitude for his life.
“It has been a great pleasure – thank you.”
Roundabout would like to thank the Six Point Foundation for enabling these projects to take place. We would also like to thank the individuals who attended the sessions for their commitment, enthusiasm and for sharing their extraordinary life experiences. And, finally, our thanks go to the staff at the centres hosting the projects, for their support and involvement.