About Marisa Ritson

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So far Marisa Ritson has created 22 blog entries.


ANNA KERSHAW describes living through the effects of Storm Arwen for ten days and nights and how she looks at life differently now.

Remember when you were little and you’d fall on the trampoline and everyone would keep jumping so you couldn’t get back up? That’s exactly how this whole year has felt. 

A friend posted this on social media late last week and my whole body responded with a resounding “Yes – this!” When our home first lost power during Storm Arwen on Friday 26th November there was a familiar lurch in my stomach, as if trying to find my feet when the ground is constantly moving. I went into crisis mode, as you do, sitting up through the night with my daughter watching the storm, using my reserves to keep her steady. Getting up pre-dawn and hastily applying some make up by candlelight, heart racing as I detoured to avoid the fallen trees blocking my usual route into Jesmond to run a PD group on that Saturday morning, as the snow came down. I thought I knew at that point that this was just a temporary blip; that I just needed to find the reserves to get through the morning and soon order would be restored. Ten days on and my reserves have taken quite a bashing.

Our power was finally restored last night after ten full days and nights off-grid. While politicians and power companies make grand announcements about lessons learned, today I am mulling over the more personal lessons I will take away from this strange period of time.

For the first few days, I did not sleep well – it’s difficult to rest at ease when there are unattended candles upstairs in your children’s bedrooms and the fabric of the building feels so very different to usual: the air colder, the usual sounds of pipes and artificial background light replaced by a greater awareness of the flickering flames of the wood burner reflecting off the corridor walls and the dripping gutter resounding and making my heart race. For the first few days I was determined to keep things in perspective: let’s face it, we are the lucky ones! We have a wood burning stove and an old Aga, which really came into its own, providing us with some hot water, cooking facilities and much appreciated warmth. In terms of practical things, we managed. We had the basics for survival: food, shelter, warmth. We knew we’d be alright.

But as time went on, I’ve reflected more and more on what we take for granted and how much a shift in circumstances can trigger original trauma. A sense of being forgotten; my needs are not important. No matter how much I shout, help is not coming. How difficult it is to ask for help, or to receive, when original trauma is alive and kicking. How reactive I become, flinching as my son’s coat brushed my arm, intolerant of the slightest sudden move. My Adult is struggling to stay in the executive as my Child is rubber-banded back to a scarier place.

For the first forty-eight hours we could not even log the fault with the power company; their phone lines and website were swamped and we had no way of knowing if they even knew about us. On the Monday night they came out and did a temporary fix which restored our neighbours’ power. We were on the wrong side of the fault. It was an entire week before we saw anyone from the power company again.

My husband is ever resourceful and as the workmen left on that Monday night he determined to find a way to harness the power from my electric car, and successfully got three lamps and his PC up and running – oh, the excitement! Once he could work and we could charge the children’s devices, surely the worst was past and I could relax a little? So many people had it so much worse…

I find it interesting to note the impact of the removal of my usual little routines – all the machines, devices and basic fabric of my life that I take for granted. How low my mood fell over the course of the ten days and how my brain started to struggle to function beyond basic fire-fighting. We pack our lives so full and forget that we can only go on doing what we do and maintaining a full diary of demands if all our usual systems are fully functioning. My husband and I have been very aware this week of how many other people are dependent on us to keep them steady, and just how hard this is when we are wobbling up and down on a trampoline that just won’t be still. At the beginning of the week I told people we needed to stay at home to keep my daughter who has autism in her usual routines. I realise now I was kidding myself – I need those routines as much as anyone. My routines keep me steady and grounded, when the world outside is feeling post-apocalyptical and terrifying.

As I write, the power has been back on for less than 24 hours. I am noticing and appreciating so many minor details today – not just the obvious ones like light and central heating, but my radio alarm clock waking me up, reminding me that a new day has dawned and the world is still turning as it should. The radiator and shower pump giving my morning ablutions an entirely more welcome backdrop. My fridge – knowing there is food at hand and I don’t have to keep thinking about where the next meal is coming from. The telly! Christmas ads, light, hope, familiar voices, distraction from the dark – just the thought of being able to curl up in front of the TV tonight brings a smile to my face!

I am reminded of the concept of headwinds and tailwinds. How we can’t even perceive all the little things that serve as a tailwind, keeping us moving along in life more easily – whether it’s reliable power sources, an education which enables us to access steady employment, or being born into a privileged majority group. It is all too easy for us to overlook the difficulties others face and to forget the many small things that add up to keep us steady and on track. It can be hard for us to spot the headwinds that hold our clients back and keep them in a reactive cycle that prevents them from seeing their choices clearly and achieving autonomy. So many people only hope to survive, not thrive.

I will no doubt forget the lessons I’ve learned from Storm Arwen as time passes. But one thing I do want to hold onto is the awareness that our resources are finite. My reserves need attention and nurture to keep them topped up. Another social media post I spotted this week hit home. If we are going to keep shining our lights to guide others as we move into uncertain times ahead, we have to find ways to keep our own lights shining. For me, that is music, books and friends and being part of a mutually supportive community. And of course, the telly!

12/12/21 Christine Lister-Ford



Phil Smith describes leading a creative training workshop using blended learning. Students share their experiences and name the owl.

The Playful Child is a workshop Northern Guild has been running for the past three academic years. The workshop offers a deep dive into theoretical perspectives on the central role that play has for becoming human in relationship with others and the world.  The workshop considers a range of skills and interventions to harness innate creativity and to apply them to therapeutic work with children and young people. Here play is used in the broadest of terms and understood to be a means of working through emotional and psychological difficulties towards growth, healing, autonomy, spontaneity and intimacy. It is one of the pieces of teaching that I most love to facilitate.

My relationship to the workshop has changed considerably over the past three years. Originally designed for in-person, colleagues and I scrambled to think about how we could move this experiential workshop into an online format which included creative ways to work therapeutically online as well as in-person, all over zoom. As a result, the format has evolved and had several iterations, while the spirit and learning outcomes of the workshop have remained the same.

Over the penultimate weekend of November this year, I and fourteen year 1 trainees had the exciting opportunity to try out yet another new iteration of this workshop; the blended approach. Although I remain a techno sceptic, I do in my life seek to embrace and welcome the new, the perplexing and uncertain. I can also be scared of change, reluctant often to move to the next challenge, especially over the past 18 months which have presented so many of us with challenge after challenge after challenge.  I remember watching the film ‘The Martian’ starring Mat Daemon at the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Matt is marooned on Mars after his crew accidently leave him behind. The film follows Matt as he encounters problem after problem, seeking simply to stay alive and even get back home to earth.  At the end of the film (and evoking the spirit of the original Apollo 13 crew) teaching a fresh class of budding astronauts, Matt says the following;

‘You solve one problem and you solve the next one and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.’

And so, I volunteered to give it a go, to be one of the first workshops to try out the technology and weather the inevitable teething problems, to solve problems. Happily, I was not alone. What follows are a series of reflections and posed photographs that seek to describe and reflect upon the experience from the trainees who joined me in this venture, four online and ten in-person.

Philippa Gib-Kirk; (In-person)

My Northern Guild experience had been online from the very beginning, the assessment day, interview, weekend course and a workshop.  I wanted to attend The Playful Child Workshop in person, to experience the building, meet people and occupy a space outside of my own home.

I knew for some of my fellow students that was not possible, they made choices to access the workshop at home.  They had autonomy, I had the experience I wanted and we had the Owl. I’m okay, you’re okay. One day I may need to make the same choice to be at home.

There sits the Owl, in the middle of the room, an unobtrusive, sleek and good looking gadget, It has a little face. This clever creature somehow extended the room to include people outside of it, and allowed those in the room to leave and enter their space.  The Owl connected us, and we used it as only a budding group of Psychotherapists could. We had to contract, what do we do if the Owl misses something, or you cannot hear?  How can we stay mindful of the Owl? Who will remind us of the Owl if we forget?  Who will move the Owl so the best view can be given of play? We negotiated, checked in, the Owl was a central part of the learning, discussion and observation. The Owl enabled connection, facilitated relationships.  The Owl provided opportunities for deep discussion, sacred silences and fertile voids.  The Owl offered confidentiality and safe spaces. Over time, trust in the Owl developed. The Owl, like us, was not perfect, but with the help of the Owl, we made it work.  In my mind, I will call the Owl, Eric.


Lara Berndes (via Zoom)

Originally I had planned to be at the workshop in person however due to a last minute commitment I had to be London. The fact there was an option to join the workshop via Zoom meant I am able to attend both which really helpful and much appreciated. I have never experienced working with the Owl before however it made my whole experience of the weekend very enjoyable. At first when the people in the room showed us we were positioned and how the Owl worked, I thought I might feel left out and separated from those in the room however this was not the case and I felt very much included in all discussions and breakout rooms. I also thought it was very interesting to observe Phil demonstrating working online with someone – something which I am sure as trainee psychotherapists we will have to encounter at some point in the future. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and would have no hesitation in the future to join via Zoom.

 Alison Woodward (in-person)

As Phil adjusted the mic and various trainees took turns to manipulate the angle of the laptop or Owl (camera), five more trainees were enabled to take part in our Playful Child training via Zoom. 

Problems included:

traffic noise from the slightly open window, which distracted the Owl. 

Difficulties for the Owl in picking up softly spoken voices.

Zoom’s filter of loud noises, which frustrated collaborative experiments with sound.

Most technical difficulties were overcome, thanks to the ingenuity and sensitivity of Phil and the trainees.  Whether the training was experienced in the necessary depth on Zoom as it was by those of us in the room is a question to consider, but Zoom is a very important means of accessing training for those who are self-isolating or who are, for some other reason, unable to attend in person and personally I am grateful to have the option to attend online.

My thanks to each member of the workshop group who approached the opportunities and the problems with light hearts and a ‘can do’ spirit. One of the topics we discussed at length over the weekend was the role of play, or of ‘tinkering’ in order to adjust our approach to therapeutic work; ‘ok, so this didn’t work…how about this’? It was the same with the  blended approach to the workshop, we tried out different things, experimented, reflected, recalibrated, readjusted, and then tried again.

After Thought

It can be tough this life I think, especially when things change so quickly and when those changes require a whole new approach to something. Or at least it can be for me.  I have often found myself these past months wishing for what was before and dreaming myself into the future when ‘everything is back to normal’. I sometimes forget to be here, with how things actually are, one step at a time.  At times like that, I am reminded of a poem that was once shared with me by a trusted companion along the way, a poem which continues to accompany me as I take each step in this ever-changing world. As I do so, I give thanks for colleagues, my teachers and those who I teach as we move forwards together, one step at a time. 

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

12/3/21 Christine Lister-Ford

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