It's not uncommon for my collaborators to hear me say "Let's take it to the ministage!" in the midst of a session together. First I get consent - "would that be ok, does that feel like a good way to look at this issue?" With consent obtained, I wheel my chair from the tiny table I have my laptop perched on, over to the spinning stool in front of a drop leaf desk surrounded by shelves of varied interesting objects. I transplant my laptop to that stool, spin it to face the "ministage", and we're off!
I wasn't the first one to use a ministage in online work with collaborators. I got the idea from a couple of my brilliant psychodrama trainers and, after working on their stages during COVID, I knew I needed to get my own.
I have developed my own unique way of working on my stage that combines some psychodramatic elements, parts work, "sandtray" type objects, and the signature embodied mindfulness techniques I've built my coaching practice on. Come along with me and see what it's like to do your work on the ministage!
The basic idea is to take all the confusing jumble of thoughts, inner parts, and internal voices out of your head and give them concrete representation on the stage - out in front of us where we can see them more clearly together. This is a therapeutic technique known as "concretization". In the psychodrama world we say we are making the invisible visible. On my ministage there is a full cast of toys and figures ready to play roles for you. T-Rex, Heart Girl, Sea Dragon, Tiki statue, Fairy, and of course the Fabulous Pegasus Unicorn with the Blue Shoes are popular choices to represent an array of characters from current collaborators' inner worlds.
If we're doing *TIST parts work, or mindfulness work with what I call the Curious Observer, we might start with a figure at the top of the ladder. From there, you can hold the role of your own Curious Observer and notice who shows up on the ministage below. For parts work, I might refer to that figure at the top of the ladder as "Your Adult Resourced Part".
"Notice yourself", I say as I point to the figure at the top of the ladder, "noticing what is on the stage" as I point to the figures on the stage. Noticing yourself noticing is the essence of mindfulness. This is the starting point for ministage work.
Next we begin to populate the stage with the roles or issues that brought us to the stage in the first place. If you're working on TIST parts work, we might choose an object to represent your 2 year old part, your part that's holding shame, and an angry critical part. If this is your first time on the stage with me, we might start with concretizing your strengths so you feel more resourced. You might choose the Buddha statue or a solid wooden tree to represent your spirituality. You might request that the big Smiley Stuffie play the role of your sense of humor. It can feel silly this first time, realizing how important it is to you that I place these objects in exactly the right spot - asking me to move them forward a bit or nudge them closer or farther apart from one another. Energetic proximity matters! In psychodramatic vocabulary, we are creating a social atom of your inner world. In **Family Constellations terms, we are "constellating" the representative objects into their energetic space.
Seeing the space - or lack thereof - between the players on the stage helps to better understand your relationship to each of those players.
This is where we embody the work a bit, by moving back and forth between the stage and your body to notice where these representations are showing up internally as we are concretizing them externally. As we place a figure on the stage to hold space for the part feeling all the shame, we may be simultaneously noticing that you are aware of a sinking dark feeling in the pit of your stomach. We will note that feeling and stay mindful to how it shifts, changes, expands, or contracts as we continue to work on the stage.
If my psychodrama hat is on, we try out some role reversals at this point. In the photo above, if Beaver is representing your busy Work Self I might have you imagine yourself as Beaver speaking to You. What might your Work Self have to say to you right now in this moment? As Beaver speaks her wisdom, I am writing it all down word for word (***"clean" language is important to me with this type of work!). Once Beaver has her say, I get your consent to hold the role of Beaver Work Self while you resume the role of your Present Self and get a chance to hear and take in Beaver's message to you. That "taking in" happens simultaneously as the representation of You on the stage and within your physical body - noticing what feelings, sensations, thoughts, memories or ideas pop up. You tear up a bit as you realize this is exactly what you've needed to hear. You feel validated and notice the shame feeling in your gut feels lighter and has moved into your chest. Busy Beaver is so wise!
TIST parts work might look and sound a bit different. With this work, all the representations on the stage are different parts that make up your inner world. We might use the stage mainly to create a map of your inner dissociative system of parts. This helps you facilitate better communication between your little attach parts and your critical protective parts. You can now see more clearly why that younger attach apart is so afraid of the critical part that sits right up there on the ladder with you. You notice a part you don't hear from very often is hiding in a corner. Another part slips in between you and that part, obstructing your view. You gain a bit of clarity and understanding. Your parts feel a bit more validated and appreciate having a way to communicate in ways that feel useful and effective. You can show me how some of the parts move in interacting clusters, and making it so that you can never fully see just one part. This is something you've been trying to explain to me but didn't quite know how.
In the next session we might set an intention to work on some body pain or medical trauma. We could pull out the anatomy cards and stand them on the 3D printed stands. You are surprised what you find out when you role reverse with your knees that desperately need to be replaced. You reverse back into your Present Self role and thank your knees for carrying you around all these years. You have a deeper appreciation for your creaky and cranky body. You check in with your knees and notice they feel a bit less bothersome. You feel more patient with them.
Maybe that knee problem "runs in your family". We can use the stage to explore the generational experience of feeling weak in the knees. You choose someone to represent Mom, Grandma and even remember your mom talking about her great-grandmother walking with a cane. We line up the figures that represent each of these women in your family from the front of the stage to the back and then we explore what other roles you and those women have had in common. At the end of this session, you feel more connected to your matriarchal lineage. You feel like one woman walking in front of generations of women who carried similar burdens, who have bent their knees to similar gods, and who have persevered.
Ministage work in the Emergent Hippie studio is rich - deeply textured and safely explored. I invite you to come back any time you need some perspective and clarity!
The descriptions of work done on the Emergent Hippie studio ministage are generalizations and do not reflect on the private work of my current and past collaborators. Any similarity to actual work done on this actual stage is coincidental and signifies the universality of the human experience!
*TIST - Trauma Informed Stabilization Treatment is a parts model designed by Janina Fisher specifically for people with dissociative trauma disorders. I am a certified practitioner of this method and augment that training with ministage work.
**I am not trained specifically in Family Constellations but have learned a bit from the fabulous Karen Carnabucci - check her out!
***Clean language comes from Neurolinguistic Programming which I am not trained in. However, I am trained in Clinical EFT which has its roots in NLP. Clean language simply means repeating back the collaborators' words word for word as you said them to me.