One of the techniques that I often employ during my own systemic psychotherapy practice is that of the sculpt. Sculpting is a tool for making an external picture, or ‘sculpt’, of an internal process such as feelings, experiences, or perceptions. It can use body postures and spacing as a demonstration of relationship patterns of communication, power, closeness, and distance.
Sculpts can take many forms. They can involve the placement of individuals in proximity to each in order to capture something of their relationship with each other, e.g. “You’ve chosen to stand behind your son, does that mean that you feel protective of him?”; or they can utilise objects like buttons or rocks to map out the things that are important to us in our lives. Work with sculpts was pioneered by the brilliant Virginia Satir (see her book Peoplemaking). Satir was one of the three therapists of excellence on whose work Richard Bandler and John Grinder based their development of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
For this exercise I’d like you to find a collection of small objects that you feel can represent the people or interests that are currently important in your life. You might chose something fairly abstract (buttons or rocks), or you might use objects directly connected to a person such as a feather or a chess piece. Make sure you also choose something to represent yourself.
Once you have collected your objects and placed the object representing yourself in the centre of your working space, begin to place these objects in proximity to yourself and each other. Perhaps a sister is currently somewhat distant (she’s a smooth black button, very prim and proper), whereas the uncle you’ve reconnected to (the small toy golf club) is quite close. Don’t limit yourself to family or even people. Pets, hobbies, spiritual beliefs, the deceased and your games console can all be represented within your personal universe. Part of the aim of this exercise is to enable us to gain a new appreciation of the elements within our personal universe and to consider whether there are aspects we wish to change.
Often when people use this technique in therapy, the next step is to consider what you might want to move, introduce or remove from the sculpt. As people move objects closer or further away from each other, the therapist might explore what could need to change for that desire to take hold more objectively. Maybe I need to ring my sister to have that tricky conversation or, if I want those cigarettes out of the picture then I need to get to a chemist. This can be a highly helpful exercise as we think about what might prevent change and also the things we thought were important but forgot to put in there.
Perhaps it needs stating that this can be a highly poignant undertaking that one should not feel rushed in doing. We are always very conscious within a clinic session of allowing people to disassemble their own sculpts and allowing them to keep a specific object if they feel the need to.
Given that recently I have been thinking about the main players within Gnostic mythology and their inter-relationship, for those of us following an esoteric path it can also be interesting to use a sculpt technique to depict our relationships with our gods, spirits and other spiritual allies. Many magical folk already do this unconsciously via the construction of altars. When we look at these spaces, we can see the way in which we perceive our alliances and also how we want to communicate them to ourselves and potentially others. As Julian and I have reflected upon in these two podcasts, altars often act as anchor points for our spiritual lives, by which we return to these spaces to reconnect ourselves with the values and worldviews that are important to us during a given time.
Another exercise of potential value is to create a sculpt involving the spiritual forces that one currently sees as being present in your life. You may wish to use small objects again or you may choose to utilise statues and magical tools that are currently integrated within altars or working spaces. When I have done this for myself, I have noted with interest the distance between those things I assumed were important and what I actually found myself putting in my altar/sculpt (in my case there wasn’t a chaos star in sight!).
After we have created this altar-sculpt; take time to reflect on what its significance might mean for you. Following your reflection you may want to shift, introduce or remove elements of what you have depicted in physical space. The very act of doing this can be an invocatory act as we acknowledge those spiritual realities that we wish to see more present in our lives. As we consider the new map we have created, it can be helpful to make notes of these changes, as these shifts may provide us with directions for further more in-depth ritual work.
My own experience, both therapeutically and in a more ritual context, is that sculpts can be a highly effective tool for helping us access the less linear aspects of ourselves. They can help promote more visual forms of processing and allow a greater sense of playfulness in that you can’t really do it wrong! Anyway I hope you have fun with it and find it helpful. 🙂