The opportunity to undertake a professional doctorate in process-oriented research coincided with my need for a period of deep reflection into my life and my experiences of death and loss. The resulting heuristic, arts-based research enquiry, based on a journal that I kept during this time, will provide the basis for my ongoing creative arts therapy practice. I offer this thesis as a resource to people practising in the areas of therapy, trauma, life review and qualitative research.
I discovered that my enquiry, which took the form of a labyrinthine inner pilgrimage, had five intertwined aspects: therapeutic, archetypal, spiritual, professional, as well as its essential research function. It falls within the traditional archetypal framework of a heroine’s journey or a process of initiation: premonition, accepting the call, setting out, the descent into darkness, the return, and integration of a deeper knowing.
My methodology has been emergent, arts-based and autoethnographic – an approach that is consistent with intuitive, organic enquiry methods. I have addressed the challenge of communicating a personal story and transpersonal ideas by using various forms: journal entries, visual art, poetry, dream work, evocation of memories, and review of lived experiences. In this way the thesis offers readers the opportunity to achieve both a felt-sense and an intellectual understanding of my exploration.
In this enquiry I initially drew on a wide selection of sources from poetry and spiritual texts to popular psychology. In the later chapters, which deal with my return to the world, I engage with academic literature to consider methodologies, and the conceptual and practical implications of this research.
My quest took me to many places: myth, mysticism, spirituality, uncertainty, vulnerability, courage, homage to the past, and the finding of meaning after complex loss and grief. Each played a role in the process of discovering a truer sense of self, gratitude, joy and blessing.
As a longitudinal case study in itself, it sheds light on the process of transformation after trauma. Findings from my research include the potential for arts-based work to assist in the process of making meaning and new integration. I conclude with a discussion of factors involved in post traumatic growth and the demands, dangers and potential of research and therapeutic journeys such as this.