Simon Marks is an MA qualified, HCPC registered Dramatherapist, Drug and Alcohol Counsellor and LGBTQ+ group facilitator. He specialises in LGBTQ+ mental and sexual health, addiction and recovery. His work centres towards healing and re-parenting the inner-child, and recovering the authentic self. On Saturday 11th November Simon will be bringing his CPD on Understanding Addiction: Dramatherapy & Recovery - “The Hero’s Journey” to Wimbledon Guild Counselling training.
Recently we came across your group www.facebook.com/achangeofscene/ what inspired you to set up such a unique and creative group for gay & bisexual men?
A Change Of Scene was co-founded by myself and Matthew Todd (author and ex-editor of Attitude magazine). We wanted to create a safe space for gay and bisexual men to come together - away from the backdrop of the bars and clubs of the gay scene. We noticed that more and more, guys now interact with each other on social media apps like Grindr, and there were fewer and fewer places to meet that weren't associated only with alcohol, drugs and sex. Our group offers men a chance to discuss, pause, reflect and share our life stories and experiences - without fear of being judged or criticised from other people. Sometimes it can be really hard to find your voice amongst all the possible distractions associated with gay culture, so we wanted to give space to that. Despite all the amazing advances in legal and social equality, for many gay and bisexual men, our lives and internal worlds are often experience as isolated or internalised. Statistically, research now points to LGBTQ people experiencing disproportionately higher levels or anxiety, depression, addiction and sadly early death than straight people. So we wanted to address that and create a positive sense of community.
How do you feel drama therapy supports recovery from addictive behaviours?
For clients who find it difficult or painful to access trapped or repressed shadow material with talk therapy alone, Dramatherapy can be a powerful and safe way to explore their unconscious. What we now know about addictive behaviours is that many form in reaction to early developmental trauma, abuse or dysfunctional attachment styles in our family of origin. When this kind of trauma splits the psyche, overwhelmingly painful memories are pushed down to unconscious. Left unresolved, they may later manifest as sooth-seeking behaviours to change feelings, such as drinking, taking drugs, over or under eating, or out of control sex, for example. For some already with a sensitive limbic system, the brain may not be able to stop or control them without some form of intervention or recovery. The therapeutic work for a recovering addict then, is to begin healing their underlying trauma which may have triggered all their using behaviours. As so much of it remains unconscious - and sometimes even pre-verbal or remaining in the physical body, Dramatherapy's specific approach allows the individual to connect to it, feel it, release it - and then heal. Instead of relying on just a cognitive process to do this, we use experiential and creative approaches, such as stories, myths, enactment, movement and play to heal those wounded parts. For those in recovery, working with Jung's archetypes, namely the Hero and Saboteur, the work allows an individual to connect to both qualities within themselves to prepare for integration and healing of the whole self.
When reading your article with Intervene www.intervene.org.uk/dramatherapy-assisting-recovery/ it struck me how experienced you are in working with clients engaged in Chemsex behaviours, could you share some of you thoughts in working with this client group?
Chemsex refers to the phenomenon amongst men - mainly gay, bisexual or MSM (men who have sex with men) who are using drugs such as Crystal Meth, GHB/G and Mephedrone to facilitate sex with each other. These particular drugs, often taken together, release very high levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, stimulating and prolonging extreme sexual arousal. It is not unseal for users to stay awake for up to 72 hours without sleep, often engaging in group sex. Many may be putting themselves at risk in terms of their sexual health, as well as the dangers of overdosing on GHB or (an industrial solvent), which can be fatal. In 2017, Public Health England were reporting a G related death in London, every 12 days. While not a usual practice for all gay and bisexual men, the use of chemsex has risen in smaller populated cities such as London, Manchester and Brighton amongst the gay community. Reasons behind these behaviours are linked to LGBT mental health issues. Research points to disproportionately higher numbers of LGBT people suffering from anxiety, depression, low self esteem, isolation, addiction and early death than hetrosexuals.* This stems from our experiences growing up in a heteronormative society. Working directly with those in recovery from chemsex, is about allowing a safe space for them to develop a sense of belonging and connection with each other, and explore their own sense of self. Common themes arise such as shame, internalised homophobia, fear of intimacy and self worth, which have been generated by the negative experiences and trauma they may have encountered growing up gay. The work is essentially about helping the client step toward re-parenting their wounded child, and recovering a sense of authenticity.
* Todd, Matthew (2016) Straight Jacket: How to be Gay and Happy. UK. Bantam Press
Nodin, N., Peel, E., Tyler, A.,& Rivers, I. (2015). The RaRE research report: LGB&T mental health – risk and resilience explored. London: PACE
National Institute of Mental Health in England (2007)
What was your journey into training as a therapist?
I came in to recovery myself in 2007. As I started my own exploration and journey into recovery, I became aware that there was a real lack of understanding, not only about LGBT issues around mental health, but also addiction generally. As the client, I met with many specialists who misunderstood or misdiagnosed me, or who judged my personal recovery approach. Within my recovery community, I met with many people who felt the same. I read and studied a book called 'The Artists Way' by Julia Cameron. It offers a creative way of healing your wounded child. I used it in conjunction with my recovery, and an incredible therapist I was working with at the time. Slowly, as I began to heal my own inner demons, my authentic self began to be revealed as someone passionate about helping others to heal. I had considered leaving my job to retrain as a therapist, but wasn't quite sure on the approach I was interested in. I kept hearing about Dramatherapy through friends in recovery who had experienced it in rehab. Suddenly it all made sense, and in a moment of pure synchronicity, the universe lay the right people and places before me, and I found myself quitting my job and applying for the MA in Dramatherapy at Roehampton. It was the best decision I have made in my life.
What resources would you point someone to who is looking to find out more about your work and addiction recovery?
I offer both individual and group work in Central London, both as a Drama therapist and counsellor, specialising in LGBT mental health, addiction and recovery. You can search my profile at Pink Therapy under their 'find a therapist' feature. You can also visit my group A Change Of Scene Dramatherapy, or the discussion group A Change Of Scene.
For immediate help, I would always advise seeking medical assistance if an addiction problem has become a very high dependency issue around alcohol, heroin and GHB and Crystal Meth in particular. Just stopping on your own can be dangerous - sometimes even fatal, without the right professional detox support. A GP or someone at your local A&E will be able to assess you for risk of withdrawal. For those that are high risk, this should always be the first call. Rehab and aftercare might then be advisable for those who need it. Rehabs can vary in price and location. In October 2017, the world's first LGBT rehab, Resort 12, has opened in Thailand.
For wider access to addiction recovery, the good news is there is a lot of help out there. Certainly in London and other big cities across the UK, the recovery community is growing. As a suggestion, I would say a really good place to start are 12 step programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and also Crystal Meth Anonymous. They offer free daily meetings, some specifically for LGBT people, who want to stop using. The reason I think they work so well is they offer personal identification and a sense of community. And that's one of the most important aspects of recovery from addiction - coming out of isolation to make new friends and connections with others who understand what you are through. They also offer sponsors, who are a bit like having a 'buddy' to offer individual support. Of course that's just one approach and there are many others. I like to think of recovery as an eclectic mix of support groups, good therapy and engaging in a healthy balance of social activities to meet new people. There are brilliant addiction charities such as AddAction and CLG who can help, and Antidote, who are UK's only LGBT run drug and alcohol service. They run all kinds of services, from keywork, drop-ins, counselling and group work - and also specialise in chemsex. Also, 56 Dean Street in Soho offers some incredible work around sexual health, recovery and wellbeing around chemsex too. Once someone has a certain amount of recovery under their belt, I think doing some deeper work around trauma is very important to address underlying issues. Trauma Reduction Programmes are available through rehabs such as the Priory.
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