S79: The Tree of Life Project – Exploring your history of contributing to others.

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By September 18, 2019 No Comments

Authors: Tim Donovan, Dale Johns

Year: 2019

Event: 2019 TheMHS Conference

Subject: The Tree of Life Project - Exploring your history of contributing to others.

Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers



Dale Johns is a 57 year old, married father of three grown up children, and just recently became a grandfather. He has worked in pastoral care for the past 19 years, and has also worked in social work and community advocacy for 5 years.

Tim Donovan is a father of 3 children, a husband and a mental health social worker, who enjoys the outdoors and spending time with family. Currently he works at a secondary college as a counsellor in the Northern Territory. Tim met Dale while working in the area of sexual assault. Purpose: In understanding what motivates us to work in the area of mental health. Using a tree as a metaphor you will be labelling the different parts of the tree to reflect your past, present and future experiences in contributing to others. You will not only begin to discover (or perhaps rediscover) aspects of yourself shaped by the past, but you can then begin to actively cultivate your tree to reflect the kind of person you want to be moving forward. This will be an interactive workshop promoting ongoing dialogue between participants and the presenters throughout the workshop.

Session Length: 60 minutes inclusive of discussion time.

Suggested maximum number of presenters: 2 (Tim Donovan and Dale Johns)

Abstract: Using the following parts of the tree you will draw your own tree of life in small discussion groups. You will learn how to discover and highlight alternate paths through your past–which in turn create new horizons in your future.

The Roots (textual heritage i.e. past history of experiences)
- The roots of the tree are a prompt for you to think about and write on your tree where you come from (village, town, country),your family history (origins, family name, ancestry, extended family), names of people who have taught you the most in life, your favourite place at home, a treasured song or dance.

The Ground (your present landscape of action i.e. what are you doing now)
- The ground is the place for you to write where you live now and activities you are engaged with in your daily life. The ground represents where you live at present; some of the activities that you choose to do each day. Include some of the things that you are doing re learning.

The Trunk (what is valued / skills)
- The trunk of the tree is an opportunity for you to write your skills and abilities (i.e. skills of caring, loving, kindness) and what you are good at.

The Branches (horizons)
- The branches of the tree are where you write your hopes, dreams and wishes for the directions of your life.

The Leaves of the Tree (Re-membering lives)
- The leaves of the tree represent significant people in your life, who may be alive or may have passed on i.e. how have/had they contributed to your life, your sense of self….how have/had you contributed to their life, sense of self.

The Fruits
- The fruits of the tree represent gifts you have been given, not necessarily material gifts; gifts of being cared for, of being loved, acts of kindness.

The Flowers / Seeds (legacies we wish to leave)
- The flowers of the tree represent thoughts, actions, contributions you wish to leave for people. Changes you want to make to/for others who have experienced oppression, been marginalised i.e. tips to reveal you’re no longer being silenced. For example, How would you like to contribute to others, in a meaningful way, knowing what you now know about your own experiences of the shame?

The Compost heap
- Write down anything in your compost heap that would normally go in the other sections described above but which are now things you no longer want to be defined by. You can write down places, people, problems, experiences. Whatever you need to.

There will then be an open discussion and reflection on the process. Participants will then be encouraged to place their trees together in a shared space, promoting a forest of life. We will then go around highlighting learnings we have gained from seeing other people's trees.

Learning Objectives
Learning Objective 1: A hopeful and inspiring approach to working with children, young people and adults who have experienced hard times. A practical therapeutic tool that can be facilitated with individuals, groups and/or families.
Learning Objective 2: This therapeutic tool enables people to speak about their lives in ways that are not re-traumatising. It hopes to strengthen their relationships with their own history, their culture, and significant people in their lives.

Denborough, D (2008) Collective Narrative Practice. Responding to individuals, groups, and communities who have experienced trauma. Dulwich Centre Publications. Adelaide, South Australia.

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