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An Interview with
 Margaret Vasington and Audrey Dickson

Margaret Vasington and Audrey Dickson have been friends for a number of years. Margaret is a psychotherapist working in the USA. She has been coming to Ireland for different reasons over the years but in recent times her main purpose has been to introduce the Personal Totem Pole process to this country. She has worked with the process in Germany and in the USA.

Audrey experienced the process in America with Margaret and it is through her organisational skills and initial enthusiasm that the process found its way to Ireland. The totem pole process involves working out therapeutic issues with the help of animal imagery. A fuller description can be found in Inside Out Vol 2 Issue 1, Summer 1991, and the seminal work done by Steve Gallegos is available in his book – ‘The Personal Totem Pole”, published by Moon Bear Press.

Margaret came in contact with the process through a therapist friend living in Boston. Her friend encouraged Margaret to experience the animals for herself. She kept putting it off. In her estimation her life with both work and family did not have any more space. Her friend did come to her house and did a session with Margaret. She tells me she was profoundly moved by the work and she cried all through the session. Afterwards she simply got back to doing what was familiar for her. Her attitude was: “While the experience was really powerful, wonderful stuff, I don’t have time to learn anything new. I can’t take on anything more in my life.

She went on to tell me that one day in supervision her supervisor was talking about a man in Wyoming who did work with animals and the chakras. Margaret un characteristically (her word) said, “Oh! I know somebody who does that”. Her supervisor wondered if he would be willing to do a workshop.

So that was the beginning. Steve Gallegos was invited and he agreed to do the workshop. With their appetites whetted the participants wanted more and he re turned every 4 to 6 weeks for four years to run workshops at the Hartford Family Institute.

So, who were the people doing the workshops? They were fourteen psychotherapists and one engineer who was the husband of one of the therapists. The first workshop was a gathering of friends in the therapeutic community. It was during this time that Audrey Dickson was in the States to visit Margaret. It was both natural and inevitable that Margaret introduced her to the animals.

In 1987 Audrey was one of the organisers of an international interdisciplinary conference for women and she invited Margaret to submit a paper. Audrey en couraged Margaret to come to Ireland and run an introductory workshop. Margaret thought it would be, “A wonderful opportunity to work here with the animals and to see Audrey and all my other friends.”

How were the animals received in Ireland? Audrey says the first introductory was in September 1988 and Margaret has been coming here every three to four months since. A training group was set up and now 12 people have completed an initial training as therapists working with the animals. Audrey goes on to say that in the beginning you can invite your friends but you know you are getting some place when they invite their friends. So the number of workshops has increased and the number of people introduced to the animals is growing all the time.

I asked if Margaret was surprised by the reaction to the animals here and she told me she was surprised. From outside people tend to think of Ireland as not being open to new things. The perception of Ireland as dominated by suspicion and religion gets in the way. One tends to forget that the Heritage is older than dogma. Margaret wasn’t sure what was going to happen but the people she met were very open to new ideas. “I was delightfully surprised”, she says and “amazed at the open ness”. Of course these were the people who actually attended the workshops.

Some people would like to interpret the Totem Pole in categories that can be easily measured and researched. Is there resistance from more established people? “Yes” says Margaret, “there have been people using the animals who have been ad vised by their supervisors not to. There have been other instances where therapists have been reprimanded. At the same time I have been surprised. Some people whom I would have expected to be resistant have been very willing to explore with the an imals, for example, traditional therapists, medical people and religious.”

If you could say something to people who hold to traditional models of therapy or indeed a medical model of therapy, what would you like them to hear? “Well, it’s almost like what I would like them to DO. Which is to be open enough, even sci entific enough to test it, to try it out – like a theorem or a hypothesis – how you scientifically prove it is to test it out and test it out again. I would like them to ex perience the animals themselves, even to come as an observer to a workshop.”

Margaret goes on to say that it is not necessary to do a workshop before one can begin exploring their therapeutic process. With a trained therapist the client can gradually be introduced to the animals and work with them. Indeed, for some people a workshop might be just too much. “The ideal would be to combine both”.

Audrey reminds me that there are plans for further training workshops here. The next will be starting in January 1993. Margaret will be returning to Ireland in April 1992 to run the first residential introductory workshop. It will be held in Chrysalis in Wicklow. Also the “Festival of the Animals” will be held here in 1993 and will include workshops on various therapeutic issues. It is hoped to have work shops on things like bodhran making and playing etc.

For further information about the process or books contact:

Audrey Dickson, 3 Asgard Road, Howth, Co.Dublin. Telephone 01-322923.

Alan Mooney

The Irish Association of Humanistic
& Integrative Psychotherapy (IAHIP) CLG.

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