Every Sunday, Bengaluru-based First Drop Theatre hosts an online listening circle for doctors and health workers. This serves as a safe space for health care professionals to share their experiences during COVID-19, either being in the frontline or indirectly being impacted by the pandemic. Titled Caretharsis (a play on the word catharsis), the listening circle is usually an hour long with Radhika Jain, co-founder and artistic director of First Drop Theatre, at the helm of affairs. She is an expressive arts therapy practitioner, who has a PhD in Molecular Microbiology from Germany. She was a consultant in the Healthcare vertical before plunging full time into the world of theatre and therapy, combining the two in her work with individuals and groups, adults and children. She is a leadership graduate from the Centre for Playback Theatre, USA. Her recent work on self-care practices for nurses using Playback Theatre and Expressive Arts has been published in the book Playback Theatre Around the World : Diversity of Application.
The Caretharsis Listening Circle was not started during COVID-19; it has been held for two years now. “It is an umbrella program for caregivers, nurses, and doctors, using expressive arts therapy and playback,” says Radhika. “I have been conducting it online since a month. Doctors from all over India, including Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, and Kochi, and those of Indian origin from countries such as the UK and Dubai have participated in it. We have even had repeat participation of doctors, who have attended three to four sessions. We plan to extend the online sessions for a month.”
The listening circle, says Radhika, has enabled the participants to speak from their hearts, without being judged. Typically, the facilitators include two expressive arts therapists, including Radhika, and two doctors. “We listen to the participants and don’t give any advice.” A maximum of 14 people (which also includes mental health practitioners and health care volunteers) can attend. Radhika adds: “We don’t go beyond 20 people.” The listening circle has become known not through social media, but through word of mouth.
Speaking about what the process entails, Radhika says: “There is one facilitator who starts with a mindfulness exercise, this is to check in on how everyone is feeling. I, then, initiate them on sharing their stories. I take them through a certain image work that could help them bring out their story. They go back to their body and then bring out stories. We do not force anyone to share their stories. When someone starts the discussion by sharing their story, I ask if the story has impacted other participants, and if the story affects the others, they then share. It does become cathartic. Before concluding, two facilitators conduct a one-minute checking out using mindfulness so that the participants can to return to their regular lives.”
Prior registration is required, following which the meeting details are shared. The participants also have to agree to terms and conditions to protect privacy. “There are six to seven terms and conditions. We tell them not to name any organisation. That way it is a safe space. No one knows where the doctor is working. No story should be referred outside and no stories are to be repeated in case of a repeat participant.”
Self care for therapists are important too, and Radhika agrees with this. “I have been part of some groups that help with care to therapists. I attend an international group meet, which also includes expressive arts therapy, every Thursday.”
Radhika is contemplating starting an initiative similar to Caretharsis for caregivers in families. “We hope to start one soon this month,” she concludes.
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