A Weekend With John Bradshaw
Leopardstown Racecourse – Sat. 23rd & Sun. 24th May 1998
Originally scheduled to be held in the Stakis Hotel in Dublin, this two-day nonresidential workshop was transferred in early May to the Leopardstown Racecourse. It was felt by the organisers, that the self-contained premises in Leopardstown would afford more privacy to participants in an experiential workshop.
Following on from Bradshaw’s one-day introductory seminar in the RDS some months previously the event was attended by 390 participants from a broad range of backgrounds and interests and was structured on his 1990 bestseller ”Homecoming”. The author appeared fit and healthy, despite a quadruple by-pass only nine weeks previously, launching himself passionately into a presentation that has been attended by over a quarter of a million people in North America.
Bradshaw is an impressive orator and once one becomes acclimatised to his southern drawl the breadth of his learning and honesty makes him a captivating host. Through a disarmingly frank recollection of his own troubled childhood and its disastrous implications for his subsequent role as parent and lover, he set the scene for the work that was to follow. His talks, interspersed throughout the weekend, were short introductions to the dynamics of childhood trauma, to the physiology of repressed memory, to philosophy and to healing of emotional wounds. He was particularly concerned with the damage done by shaming, alcoholism, unresolved grief post-traumatic stress disorder, covert and overt sexual abuse, co-dependency and the patriarchal legacy. Like Jung, he sees all neurotic behaviour as a substitute for legitimate suffering or grief work. As a result, much of the experiential content of the workshop was designed to evoke this grief and to have one’s feelings witnessed and validated in a non-shaming environment by the group.
To build trust within the small groups and as a means of introduction, each member was asked to draw with pen and paper a representation of their family scene and to share as much as each person felt was appropriate.
The next exercise which entailed affirming the inner child of each group member in turn seemed to cause some difficulty around authenticity for most people but did seem to help create a positive and affirming atmosphere for subsequent work. Members were asked to avoid intellectual analysis and to respect others defences. Guided visualisations were used throughout the two days, to the accompaniment of appropriate background music (lullabies, songs contributed by previous participants, etc.)
In the exercises, each participant was asked to return to their home of origin, make contact with the wounded inner child, to reach out to support him or her, to re-set boundaries.
Each segment of the workshop dealt with the various developmental stages from infancy upwards (Bradshaw does not seem to specifically include peri-natal trauma) and with the various needs appropriate to those stages. Other exercises included at various stages included letters written with the non-dominant hand, the visualisation of one’s parents as children and the removal of the child from home to a place of safety.
Many of these exercises, particularly towards the end of the second day evoked considerable anguish from many of the participants, not least this reviewer.
The organisers had wisely seen fit to invite fifteen professional therapists who had volunteered their services for the two days to attend to anyone experiencing severe grief reactions.
Afterwards, an opportunity was given to those were deeply affected by the process to join support groups that are currently being set up in various localities. A network of support facilities under the auspices of the Oak Foundation offers individual therapy with facilitators specially trained in this aspect of inner child work. They are contactable at Dublin 6273308.