Creativity was at the heart of the Private Practice conference, where participants were offered an array of techniques to add to their own therapeutic tool boxes.

The first keynote speaker, Helen Odell-Miller, OBE, director of Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research, shared thoughts on musical communication and its links to verbal therapies. Moving video case studies featured a dementia patient transition from flat affect to animated participation as she joined in a therapist playing a favourite tune from her youth.

Another case study demonstrated a percussive bridge between a young patient and their therapist when it seemed as if words were not available. Comments quickly filled the chat stream as members shared their own ways of bringing music into the consulting room from clients sharing playlists to listening together to an evocative song in a session, demonstrating how music could be a therapeutic resource even for non-musicians.

Subsequent sessions included:

  • Pauline Andrew on the use of nesting dolls to explores aspects of self
  • Justin Haven’s dream technique to help clients end recurring nightmares
  • Christine Dunkley's ingenious use of visual metaphors in therapy, including practical exercises (even a humble house brick played a starring role)

One session I found particularly riveting was Natasha Page’s ‘My Little Therapy Box: When Words Are Not Enough.’ Natasha, a counsellor and psychotherapist, is also a trained social worker specialising in young people. For clients who struggle with verbalising emotion, Natasha’s brilliant visual aids (cards featuring facial expressions, which name feeling states and themes) offer a gentle entry into a conversation and creates a visual focus for those for whom eye contact is challenging, such as neurodiverse clients.

Even the titles of the presentations were creative (and appetising), with the gold star going to ‘When Raspberry Jelly Is a Truth Teller!’ a fun exploration of supervision techniques used by Jo Birch and Shirley Smith.

Another highlight was Ariane Agostini’s ‘Awakening to the Wisdom of Your Body’ in which she led participants through experiential somatic work and grounded learnings in the latest research.

By far the biggest surprise for me was Jane Davis’ keynote about The Reader, an organisation dedicated to sharing her Shared Reading model. Jane emerged from a difficult childhood in part thanks to the presence of books. She went on to become a University lecturer in literature but wanted to set up a charity so that everyone could benefit more from books and poetry, which can help give language to difficult to express experiences. Jane has brought poetry into 38 criminal justice settings and started groups as far afield as New Zealand and New York. As a career publisher-turned-therapist, I was absolutely thrilled to learn about Jane’s mission and plan to participate.