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From Roots to Leaves- The Tree of Life Workshop at Samutthana

From Roots to Leaves – The Tree of Life Workshop at Samutthana By: Charuni Ranchigoda Emerge Lanka Foundation Office Manager

All of us at ELF and our partner shelters were given a great opportunity a few weeks back (on the 15th of February, to be exact) – Samutthana conducted a workshop for all of us on a technique of narrative therapy called ‘The Tree of Life’.

The Tree of Life was developed by Ncazelo-Ncube-Mlilo and David Denborough and widely used with children as well as with adults. The approached based on narrative therapy encourages a person to talk about their life in a way that makes him/her stronger. At Samutthana, the workshop was conducted by Dr. Laura Kemmis and Dr. Anita Marsden. The entire workshop was translated to Sinhala with the help of Nivendra Uduman and Duminda Wanigasekara.

As an approach, we discussed person centered counseling skills – How to ask non intrusive questions and empathic listening. Then an introduction to the tree of life was made, followed by an energizer – catch the ball. Following the initial explanation on the components of the tree, each person drew their own tree of life starting from the Roots – our background, to the Ground – our current life, going on through the Trunk – our skills, and Branches – our hopes and dreams for ourselves, others and the world, to the Leaves – significant people in our life and Fruits – gifts we had been given in life. Then we all discussed how this exercise felt to us.

Next came the telling of our story. Each of us were asked to pair up and take turns to relate a part of our tree of life to each other. It was interesting and very rewarding to view another person’s perception of the tree and their life. we all related very differently, starting at various aspects. We all had special parts of the tree that seemed our favorite. We then reflected on this activity – How we felt ‘telling’ someone about part of our tree and how it felt ‘hearing’ about part of someone else’s tree. We all had many observations and comments on how we felt.

After a very successful discussion it was time for lunch. Then came the time for us to create a ‘Forest’ out of all our trees. our trees were laid on a table and we all went round, adding positive observations, comments and words of encouragement to others’ trees. (This was done by writing the comments on a post-it note and sticking it on the person’s tree) It was very pleasant to experience the presence of a positive and encouraging community. I’m sure our girls will benefit immensely from this experience.

This was followed by another important segment – The Retelling. Facilitators from our previous segment of telling about the tree were asked to retell what their partner said. The importance of highlighting their exact words and expressions was brought forward. We all took turns retelling our partner’s tree and this led to adding more positive points such as strengths, to their trees.

Next were the ‘Storms of Life’ and ‘Animals in The Forest’. Using storms as a metaphor for difficult times in our life, we were taught how to use this segment to encourage children to speak of challenges they have faced and to identify their behavior in these times by naming how animals in the forest behave during storms. This enables the children to realize they are not passive recipients of storms but rather are able to come up with ways to face these challenging times. Placing storms in context was discussed next, including times after the storm has passed and what enables a person to hold on to their dreams and hopes during storms. This session, when done with children, would end in them writing a letter to their parents, caregivers or guardians sharing their experiences of ‘The Tree of Life’

As the children would be encouraged to do, we ended our workshop with a celebration – an awarding of certificates and a song joined in and shared by the group, bringing a beautiful ending to a wonderful day of education, sharing and encouragement. All our heartfelt thank you’s were voiced by Amanda, concluding yet another very successful and enjoyable workshop at Samutthana. Needless to say, we will be returning again (an again) for Samutthana’s enlightening and enjoyable workshops.

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