|By Nic Higham
I’ve been a fan of a meditative self-inquiry process known as ‘The Work’ for a few years now. The Work is a simple yet powerful process that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts that cause suffering. It’s a way to understand what’s hurting you, and to address the cause of your problems with clarity.
The process was devised by an American lady called Byron Katie. In her early thirties Katie became severely depressed. For almost a decade she spiralled down into rage, self-loathing, and constant thoughts of suicide; for the last two years she was often unable to leave her bedroom. Then one morning in February 1986, she experienced a life-changing realisation. She noticed that what had been causing her depression was not the world around her, but the beliefs she’d had about the world. Instead of hopelessly trying to change the world to match her thoughts about how it should be, she could question these thoughts and, by meeting reality as it is, experience unimaginable freedom and joy.
Since 1986, Katie has brought The Work to millions of people across the world, at public events, in prisons, hospitals, churches, corporations, universities, schools and at weekend workshops. I’ve attended a couple of her workshops in London which I found thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining and enlightening. These events tend to sell out quite rapidly and it’s not uncommon to share this experience with several hundred other people.
Recently I discovered that an incredibly amiable guy called Antony has not only attended ‘The School for The Work’ but is generously now delivering workshops at Nottingham Healthcare NHS Trust. What’s on offer there is a one day workshop for staff, an introductory workshop and a six week course for service users. Following retirement Antony wanted to do something with his spare time to help others. He jokes, ‘Some people take up golf and do that all day but I chose to become a facilitator of this wonderful self-inquiry process! Now I see people’s lives turned around on a regular basis and it’s extraordinarily fulfilling to be part of this’. As well as offering workshops to mental health staff and service users Antony runs sessions for people facing drug and alcohol addiction. ‘I don’t feel any need to be paid for this work’, says Antony, ‘Just using Katie’s inquiry to help transform people’s consciousness is more than enough for me.’
According to Nottingham’s staff learning and development prospectus, the workshop is for anybody who is regularly stressed, and who come into contact with patients under stress or stressed carers of patients. It also helps gear staff up whose work is helping patients to develop a conscious awareness of sub-conscious beliefs.
The workshops help participants identify stressful and limiting thoughts; to question them by asking four simple questions; to then identify three ‘Turnarounds’ to those stressful thoughts; and finally, to give their own examples of how those Turnarounds may be true now or in the past. The workshops help participants firstly do The Work with somebody ‘facilitating’ them and then, eventually on their own. This means they can start to bring the process into everyday life. Antony enthuses how he now uses the method almost every day: ‘It’s become second nature. Whenever I catch myself feeling stressed I look at the thought that’s attached to that experience and question it. Is it true? That’s the first question in the inquiry. My wife makes me angry because she… Can I absolutely know it’s true?’
The workshops aimed at service users, which are part of the Trust’s Recovery College follow the same framework. The Recovery College offers a range of recovery-focused educational courses and resources, aimed at supporting people in recognising and making the most of their talents and resources, through self-management, to deal with the mental health challenges they experience and to achieve the things they want to in life.
Nottingham Healthcare NHS Trust says these workshops aim to develop a new way of delivering health or social care services at local and national level by offering training to individuals into ways they can identify; question and turn around stressful thoughts. The Trust believes the inquiry process has the potential to make a large impact on improving public health generally by delivering better health outcomes and improving long term care by reducing stress. I strongly share this belief in The Work and recommend booking yourself on a future workshop. Alternatives usually host yearly workshops in London.