Yesterday I was interviewed about Gather by my fabulous colleague and friend Paola St George of Mental Health Matters on Radio Reverb. The conversation flowed in wonderful ways I didn’t expect (and some slightly embarrassing ways I wish it hadn’t… fingers crossed for generous editing!) and I came away feeling the process had allowed a story to emerge. I thought I would attempt to put some of it in writing for those wanting to know more. Paola asked:
“Where did Gather begin?”
For me, my part in it began with the first rumblings of Brexit and the Trump campaign and that sense of shock and dread that I think many of us felt, looking out powerlessly at a world that felt all wrong, but having no clue what to do about it. As a psychotherapist, over time I came to look at this split society and the dissociative role of our social media feeds and I saw trauma.
Trauma isn’t just about large one-off traumatic events and experiences, there is also the trauma of everyday life, the trauma of childhood, which is when parts of ourselves are unacceptable to those who have the power to keep us alive - our parents, our wider family, our community and society. Powerless infants and children begin to cut off, split off, hide and deny those parts that seemed to threaten their belonging to the tribe they so desperately needed for survival. Little by little the self is split into good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable. I look at the splits and polarisations in our society and the social media feeds with algorithms that hide the aspects of our whole that we deem unacceptable, the other voice, the bad one. And I know that somewhere else in the country is a different Facebook feed where I am the split off one, the invisible one, the bad one… I see this, I feel this and I see a traumatised society.
So I began to think: what do I have to offer to this conundrum? Can concepts from psychotherapy help beyond the therapy room if we treated our society as traumatised? And I asked myself this hypothetical question: If my life, and all the blessings and sufferings I have experienced, had been intentionally preparing me to offer something to the world, what would it be? I thought of my first memories in childhood, my experiences in my family, at school, as an adolescent, an emergent adult, a mother, and a psychotherapist and the word “Gather” emerged. What this means now in my work as a therapist is that I help my clients gather in more compassionate arms all the broken off pieces of themselves, I help them integrate again the bad, the ugly, the unacceptable and see them as worthy parts of the whole, I help them belong to themselves again. And there it was: the second major guiding word - belonging. If gathering is my gift, unbelonging is my wound, my unmet need. So with my shadow and my light, I began to read and research everything I could get my hands on around belonging, community and added that to my knowledge of trauma. I woke up one day to the realisation…. What am I doing here? Talking about how our traumatised world needs belonging and the kind of community that allows for difference and disagreement, but I was doing it completely on my own! Duh, Jo. And I began to realise that private practice is the antithesis of what is needed for me to do this work. I need community, my work needs community. I researched burn out and discovered a direct correlation to practitioner burn out and isolation. Of course! It is clearly common sense - why hadn’t it been obvious to me from the early days of setting up?
Here the idea was born for a community of change-makers. Others who work in an isolated way, effecting change in individuals, relationships, families and communities, who feel the pull to belong and also want to help heal the polarities in our world via a form of belonging that allows for difference. And like any good idea - we will need to start with ourselves. So Gather will be a community where we directly seek out to explore our differences and disagreements in a way that does not threaten our belonging to each other. I began to speak to others about these ideas and found great encouragement from people who wanted to join when the time comes and two in particular who wanted to join me holding and birthing this initial vision - Ollie Bettany and Robin Dally. Together we’ve been doing the groundwork - taking what were some pretty vague and muddled ideas at the time, adding new ones, and throwing them back and forth between us with great care for -and an unwavering welcoming of - each other. It has been lovely and real. What I have loved most is that we have been able to gather in both profound explorations of this vision alongside having conversations about the best routes to weight loss (whilst eating pizza). Both our mundane human parts and our higher selves have been welcome and nourished. Already some learning to offer the community that is to form.
During all of these explorations, it has felt clear to me that a community needs a home. That we need a gathering space, a belonging space. So I became a “home-maker” of sorts, a role that for too long has been undervalued and unseen in our society. I took on the majority of an old granary on a farm on the outskirts of Lewes and renovated it, asked and received the most tremendous help from an interior designer - Suzi Lee from Outside In Studios - to create three therapy rooms for various practitioners to use and one of them large enough to hold community gatherings. We finished it 3 weeks ago and I can categorically say the space is special. A true home. It has been a labor of love and one I feel proud of.
With a home and people I trust at my side, stepping into their own to lead this with me, we are ready to go:
The first community Gathering (sign up here) is on the 15th of February 5pm - 8pm, it will be a facilitated event with food and guided conversations - an opportunity to draw out of our collective, the early shaping of this community. Change-makers of any kind are welcome, if they can show up with the intention of being real and open to the process.
That is the story so far. What comes next, we will write together.
Jo Byron-Russell is the founder of Gather, a psychotherapist in private practice, a counselling tutor, a mother, a wife, a human, a blessed collection of cells that are currently cooperating.