Welcome to the website of Toby Chown. Here you will find information about my work as dramatherapist, writer and artist. It also contains essays linked to a core project called “imaginal ecology.”
What these projects share is the centrality of the creative process to understanding ourselves and the world around us, a “poetic basis of mind”
I am a dramatherapist, songwriter, poet, storyteller, writer, researcher, supervisor and imaginal ecologist. Sometimes all in the same day.
You can find my dramatherapy research and writing here
I send out a e-newsletter to keep in touch when I post here which you can sign up to below. But let me take you on a tour of my work, starting with poesis
My trade is as a dramatherapist and an artist. These practices both draw on what ancient Greeks called poesis. Poesis means to create something new out of the old. It could be a pot from clay, a piece of art, or words that become a poem. Or it could be a new story about oneself, a new sense of purpose and identity, a new sense of – these too can form part of a creative process.
Poetry and dramatherapy engage the creative. In both we take the raw material of an experience or a story and re-shape it into something new.
This is a natural process, that we can find mirrored in nature. Our lives have a certain shape that they want to grow into. However, there are many ways that the direction and purpose of our life can get stunted, repressed, or our ability to flourish diminished.
Trauma and addiction damage our ability to relate, to ourselves to those we love and to the world that we live in. A distorted sense of self can become internalised in childhood, or any other key moment in our lives when we need to adapt.
Dramatherapy with children and families affected by alcohol or drug problems.
My main therapeutic work has been for many years with families affected by alcohol or drug problems. The main organisation I work for Oasis Project, provides a safe, confidential space to access therapy. In this setting, young people can address the impact of the dysruption that alcohol or drug problems cause to families. I have 10 years clinical experience working with children and families affected by family alcohol or drug problems. There are lots of ways that children can be affected by family alcohol or drug problems.
These can be described in psycho-medical terminology such as developmental trauma, depression, anxiety. They can also be thought of in terms of isolation, a heightened sense of worry, a feeling of deep inner conflict. I have written about how creative arts therapies can help with these problems for Dramatherapy Journal here. In 2015 I published a chapter called “Don’t Look Back: Orpheus and the Complicated Grief of Children Affected by Alcohol and Drug Problems” in a book called “Using the arts therapies to deal with grief and loss.”
These essays although they look specifically at dramatherapy with young people affected by family alcohol problems also suggest way that dramatherapy can be effective as a healing poetics of symbolic action as a general practice and as a core part of a creative process.
The first essay looks at the way children use the creative process within therapy as a kind of psychological immune system. It looks at different ways that children at different ages typically engage with creative therapy. I identify that young children often use their imaginations to engage with subjects that are too painful or complicated to talk about, such as the little girl who had been removed from her mother and was being fostered who wanted to role play chosing dogs from the pet shop or the little boy whose father had broken into his home who drew a boy with six ears…highly alert.
In “Don’t Look Back” I go deeper into a mythopoetic approach to a creative process, finding in the Orpheus myth an imaginal matrix that dialogues with personal loss, descent into the underworld of images and the challenges of soul retrieval. It’s here that the connection between depth, soul and the skill of mourning develops.
These articles were written for other creative arts therapists but there is sufficient details in there to retain some interest for the general reader.
About Dramatherapy – The Healing Poetics of Symbolic Action
The word “therapy” comes from the ancient greek “therapia”, which means “to heal, to care for, to tend to”. So dramatherapy is a healing poetics of symbolic action – where the troubles of life can be worked through in the theatre of the psyche.
Dramatherapists work from the understanding that stories that can become therapeutic. Storymaking loosens the bonds of a fixed life script, allows a rehearsal of the possible. The word “Drama” comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “to act or do, or take action.” But the action in theatre is always on a stage – it is symbolic and poetic, the enaction of a story. Drama is always symbolic action.
Taking symbolic action can help us to make decisive change in the “real” world – this is the ancient truth of ritual theatre, where myth and personal narrative blend to allow an archtypal background to everyday problems.
“Don’t look back” uses mythopoetics to shine an archetypal light on the always personal process of loss, mourning and regeneration. It shows how a creative process can become a journey of soul retrieval. I’ve included on the website links to my own creative projects. This has mostly been through writing music, poetry, spoken word and telling stories.
My creative life began as a singer in various rock bands, culminating in a band called Bethlehem Slouch.
I recorded a solo album of distorted acoustica called “A Paradise of Shadows” as Lupine Collides.
Music has always been good to me and for me. It can become a pathway into with the imaginal within ecology, as I write about here “the search for a song of a dreaming heart”.
However, much of the writing on here relates to the ecological crisis. Just as children and young people use imagination to express what can’t be expressed, so do adults need to tend to our images. We need to give them attention and find the ways they connect back to the fluid web of interconnections that we call ecological. I call this work “imaginal ecology”
You can find here essays on what is imaginal ecology?
There is a series of essays called “pathways into the imaginal” that looks at how things such diverse things as heartbreak, animals, the blues and masks can be pathways into an imaginal ecology.
I wrote two part essay called “Imaginal Ecology in the Time of the Virus” that looks at the coronavirus as a psychological image, and draws a little on jungian psychology and gaian theory to think through what the implications of coronavirus are.
I’ve written a series of articles for the excellent Unpsychology magazine, on walking, active imagination and a memorial for James Hillman.
My own creative process led to an explorations of the place where the mythic psyche meets the everyday, a book of poems called “Haunted Evaporations”
Haunted Evaporations is a book of poems.
“Haunted Evaporations” is an invitation to retrieve the spark that animates words, myths, luminous moments and shadowed experiences.
That spark may be present in the stillness of the trees at night or the psychogeography of an urban landscape.
“Haunted Evaporations” is an invitation to be haunted by the small blue flame we always carry with us – the story of our own life.
Praise for Haunted Evaporations
“I’ve loved Toby Chown’s sparse poetry for some time. This small collection is a gem, full of woven myths and deep imaginings. He goes to dark places to find small flowers growing and shines moonlight on our evaporating civilisation. And the deathly line at the heart of it could stand as the admonition for our age: ‘Learn to become haunted.’” – Steve Thorp, author of Soul Meditations and editor, Unpsychology Magazine
‘The path up is the path down… The way back is the way onward… Black is white and white is black… The great secret is no secret… Come closer and I will tell you…”
Hermes speaks, in “I will be your Amulet” from Haunted Evaporations
‘The soul will fall sick again and again, until it gets what it needs,’ writes Hillman. In the same way, we find ourselves returning to the same haunts, and the same problems return in new ways, until we see through the details to the root of the issue, and discover what they really want to tell us.
So these poems act as markers of hauntings, things unseen that yet have power – the return of the gods through writing. They are metaphors for something half-known and half-felt, yet they are vital and filled with power to transform. Through this kind of writing we can learn to haunt ourselves,
“the flesh of a ghost
stiched into a heart” (from Retrieval)
These disowned forces can reclaim their birthright, both within the realm of our own haunted selves and the wider reality of our beautiful, haunted world.
As the title poem says
“in the ripe red heart,
in the green dance of ecstasy,
in the yellow moon of sorrow
learn to become haunted“