There is a dramatherapy technique called The Book of Life and Death (Pete Holloway). This was developed for suicide survivors to explore their thoughts, feelings and hopes. We are going to look at that approach today.
In a suicide attempt, there is the part of you which was the murderer, part of you which was the target and now there is also the part of you which is the survivor. Those different parts may still be arguing in your head. Perhaps there is still a death wish, maybe anger or disdain that it did not work. Perhaps there is a shock that you could have tried that, a fear of yourself and what you might do next. Perhaps there is relief or joy at having another day to live.
Those conflicting parts are all welcomed to express how they feel and to record this in the form of a book (2 sheets of A2-A3 paper, folded to create an 8 page book). Some pages are writing, some pages are illustrated.
In creating the book you explore the act of of saying goodbye and your thoughts on what would happen to you after death.
This is followed by a breath meditation and then a time of stillness as you are invited to contemplates your end.
Coming back to the group, the focus shifts to the present, listing all of the joys of life from the profound “sun rise” to relationships “seeing their smile again” to the bodily pleasures “a good meal” or “sex” to the fun or silly things too “finding out what happens on a TV show”, “doing a cartwheel”. Some things are shared by many people in the group, some things are unique to you.
By the time the book is complete, the group has explored all their thoughts and feelings about death, enacted their death fantasy and moment of coming back to life and shared their joys and hopes.
In this American video, suicide survivors share their stories, talking about their different feelings and what has helped them. Many of the themes of the book are included in their stories.
I really like the Book of Life and Death approach. When we explored it in my dramatherapy training I found it to be very moving and powerful experience. It is none judgemental and honest.
It can be really difficult to talk about death as many people want to deny the right of the murderous part to exist “don’t say that”, “you can’t think that way”. But if there is no space for that part to express how they feel then how can that part be helped? Can you imagine if those parts of you were real people – if there was a family where one member wanted to kill the other members but the people who wanted to help would only speak to the potential victim(s) and would tell the potential murderer to just not say that? In that situation the one who needs the most help is the potential murderer, as it is that one which poses the greatest risk of harm. (Obviously in a real life example you would probably separate the potential murderer from the family but when they are both aspects of you that is not an option).
The conflicting parts of our self are here to stay, but that does not mean they have to stay as they are now. Therapy can change the way we experience the world. Contemplating suicide means that there is a part of us which can not imagine a better way to cope with what is going on. Therapy can help us to learn different coping strategies and can support us to make changes to make our life less stressful. Therapy can also help us to care for ourselves – for the hurt parts, for the angry parts, for the vulnerable parts, for the destructive parts.
Find out more about The Book of Life and Death, by Pete Holloway, there is a whole chapter (chapter 12) about it in the book Dramatherapy and Destructiveness. The chapter goes into a lot more detail about how to create the book and how it can be used in a therapy group.
If you are thinking about suicide please get help. Speak to your GP, see a counsellor, psychotherapist or arts therapist or call Samaritans UK by phoning 116 123.