Our fourth year offering Mothers, Daughters and the Heroic Journey workshop at Kripalu

We return for our fourth year leading mother-daughter workshops at Kripalu!   Meg Agnew, Cindy Parrish and I are delighted to again be offering our fun, lively, and meaningful workshop for mothers and their 9 – 12 year-old daughters to take time together to bond and grow at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

In co-leading the program the last three summers, I was moved and inspired by the joy that mothers and daughters experienced together and the support and insight that mothers offered one another in our mothers-only discussion times.  You can see the joy in these photos from previous workshops, and it warms my heart to anticipate sharing this experience again this coming summer.  Kripalu is a beautiful setting, with delicious food, excellent yoga classes, a panoramic view of the valley, and a private beach.

Here’s the link to the Kripalu website Kripalu mothers daughters heroic journey 2016 for registration.

I hope to see you there!

Here are my reflections from last year’s workshop:

This holding space for connection and transformation is the work in the world I love best, helping mothers, daughters and mother-daughter relationships all thrive.  We three facilitators, Cindy Parrish, Meg Agnew, and me, met Friday afternoon on the Kripalu front terrace, overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl, to review our intentions for the workshop.Kripalu lake viewWe hoped that the mothers and daughters could take a journey over the weekend in a multi-sensory, embodied and playful way.  Our organizing theme was gathering resources for the heroic journey of being or parenting an adolescent: understanding ones strengths and values, mother-daughter connection, important relationships, inspiring ancestors, challenges already well-met, and vision of well-being.  We would use story-telling, movement, physical sculptures, writing, drawing, dance, and ritual to evoke and strengthen each girl’s and woman’s awareness of what made her heroism possible.   Each source of succor would be represented by a stone or bright folded piece of origami that would go into a small gold mesh bag, a medicine bag, that each girl or woman could take home with her.

Our program room had two walls of windows, with a view of the hills and lake on one side and of the green woods on the other.  Mothers and daughters began arriving in the golden light of 7:15, tentatively or eagerly stepping into the room, finding her gold mesh bag.

After our opening song, which ended in wolf howls, we invited each mother to introduce her daughter and each daughter to introduce her mother, saying her name and one thing she really appreciated or admired about her.  This is my mother Courtney and what I really appreciate about her is that she takes really good care of me.  I love that my my mom always listens to me.  That she always supports me.  That I know that I can count on her.  This is my daughter Samantha, and what I really admire about her is that she takes good care of her little brothers.  This is my daughter Sarah and I love that she knows her own mind.  That she speaks up.  That she is bold and fearless.  That she is caring to her friends.  All the way around the circle, with the evening sun slanting ever more gracefully, the pink and white peonies in the center of the circle glowing.

Next, talk with your mother, and find a time when you felt really connected with each other.  What quality did your connection have at that time?  Find a movement that exemplifies that quality.  Try it out all together.  Find a sound, not a word, just a sound that fits that quality and movement.  Play with it.  And around the circle, each mom-daughter pair or trio shared her movement and sound with the group.  Howls, yells, laughter, deep sighs, leaps, climbing, giant steps, lying in sun, each pair happy to share, then choose a flower for our vase, and a river stone for her bag to represent mother-daughter connection.


Saturday morning, sharing the stories of their inspirational heroic women in small groups of two moms and two or three girls, sprawled around the room,  talking, listening, a steady hum, on occasion one girl needing to leave the room, her mother following, we lightly present, helping out, supporting each mother-daughter pair in their connection.  Then each person saying the name of her heroic woman and  putting her picture on our altar, amid the flowers.

Saturday afternoon I gathered with just the mothers, leading them first in a simple sacred circle dance, the Elm dance, then on a writing exercise.  Part 1, what is your vision for your daughter and for your relationship with your daughter?  In what ways, however small, are you succeeding in manifesting that vision?  Part 2, What obstacles have you encountered or anticipate you might encounter on your journey?  What values, relationships and sources of support might you draw on?  What next steps do you wish to take?  Mothers shared in small groups of four, speaking clearly, listening intently, crying, laughing.  Then in the larger circle, each mother shared one thing about the afternoon.  The openness of the other moms.  The lack of judgment.  The understanding.  I never stop to think about these things, it is so helpful to do so.

We return to the girls for mother-daughter yoga, led by a seasoned Kripalu teacher, which ends in a shavasana in which each mother-daughter pair lies curled around one another, breathing, breathing.  Life just doesn’t get better than this.

We closed the workshop with a Sunday morning ritual, each mother-daughter pair walking between parallel lines of fifty mothers and daughters to claim her medicine bag of strengths, a small enactment of the heroic journey of adolescence in connection with ones mother, both held within a community of support.


Our Mother-Daughter Workshop at Kripalu

IMG_1173-1024x768Mothers of nine- to twelve-year old daughters, I will be co-leading a program for you and your daughter that I think you will love.  Meg Agnew, Cindy Parrish and I are delighted to again be offering our fun, lively, and meaningful workshop for mothers and daughters to take time together to bond and grow at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

IMG_1152-e1398520830605In co-leading the program the last two summers, I was moved and inspired by the joy that mothers and daughters experienced together and the support and insight that mothers offered one another in our mothers-only discussion times.  You can see the joy in these photos from previous workshops, and it warms my heart to anticipate sharing this experience again this coming summer.  Kripalu is a beautiful setting, with delicious food, excellent yoga classes, a panoramic view of the valley, and a private beach.

I hope to see you there!


Kripalu lake view

Here’s the information from the Kripalu catalog:
June 5–7, 2015 Friday–Sunday 2 nights

Mothers, Daughters, and the Heroic Journey

Meg Agnew, Cindy L. Parrish, and SuEllen Hamkins

For mothers and their daughters ages 9–12.

Mothers, you can be a vital part of your daughter’s coming-of-age journey. The creators of this weekend invite you and your daughter to come deepen your connection with each other and gain resources to foster closeness in the years ahead.

Using theater games, visual arts, writing, and sharing, we will

  • Explore what it means to thrive as an adolescent girl, by looking back at who you were at that time
  • Get to know ourselves better through the questions, Who am I right now? and what is nurturing this vision of myself?
  • Experience the power of invoking ancestral support
  • Join in a mothers-only discussion group while your daughters explore who they might become in playful and meaningful ways.

Note Bring a small object that represents something you love and value, and a picture or item that represents a female ancestor—whether you are related to her or not—who you admire and would like to invoke.

Our policy prohibits children from swimming in the lake while programs are in session. Kids may swim when accompanied by a parent or guardian outside of program time. Thank you for your understanding.

Children in this program must be accompanied by a parent or adult who is registered for this program.

Online registration is not available for this program. Please call Registration at 866.200.5203 to register.



Upcoming Workshop: Sustaining hope, creativity and emotional attunement

I will be offering a workshop, The Art of Narrative Psychiatry:  Sustaining hope, creativity and emotional attunement when working with people facing severe and persistent problems at Treleven Farm (Vergennes, Vermont) June 18 – 19, 2015.  (Click here for more details).


Drawing from my knowledge and experience as a narrative psychiatrist, the workshop will focus on sustaining hope, creativity and emotional attunement when working with people facing severe and persistent problems.  While psychiatrists are heartily welcome, many other practitioners are also the intended audience for the book and the workshop.

This is a workshop where you can bring your hardest questions about the work that you find most challenging and get help with providing long-term treatment of long-term problems.  Over these two days, I will guide a small group of participants in reflecting on and getting support to freshly engage in their work with people facing tenacious problems, such as long-term psychiatric symptoms. I’ll provide some examples of my own work, interview several participants about their work using a reflecting team, and guide participants in interviewing one another to foster hope and open up new possibilities for challenging therapeutic situations.

I am also planning to offer an introductory workshop in Narrative Psychiatry in Northampton, Massachusetts, and will post here when the details are finalized.

Together, We Are Changing the World for Mothers and Daughters.

When Renée Schultz and I first starting writing about the Mother-Daughter Project, our working title was Changing the World for Mothers and Daughters. Cheeky and aspirational, it aptly captured the dream we had begun with our first mother-daughter group in 1996: to help create the world in which we wanted to raise our daughters.  In a culture that objectified girls, disparaged mothers and poisoned mother-daughter connection, we hoped that by empowering small groups of mothers and daughters, we could play a part to help shift prevailing norms so that girls, mothers, and mother-daughter relationships could all thrive. In the seven years since The Mother-Daughter Project was published in 2007, not only have we receivedenthusiastic feedback from hundreds of mothers worldwide who started groups based on our model, we have also heard from many women who have created their own mother-daughter initiatives, such as Lori Day.

Lori Day Lori Day

Lori’s bookHer Next Chapter (Chicago Review Press, 2014), written with her daughter Charlotte Kugler, describes how creating their mother-daughter book club was a transformative experience and offers insights for others to create their own clubs.

Several weeks ago, I had a chance to catch-up with Lori over the phone.  She had started their book club with four other mother-daughter pairs in 2000, when her daughter was in third grade, with the specific intention of providing girl-empowering perspectives and enriching mother-daughter bonds. One key impetus was offering alternatives to hyper-sexualized portrayals of girls common in the mainstream. “I loved our book club,” said Lori. “It did a lot for Charlotte as an only child to have other girls who became like sisters and to have ‘other mothers’ as well. The magical thing about the book club is that the girls would be talking about the book, and then would seamlessly shift into talking about their own lives. It’s almost as if the mothers disappeared.” The book club offered an opportunity for girls who might feel “too much under the microscope” in one-on-one conversations with mom to feel more comfortable opening up. Over the years, Lori saw how the club contributed to a “deepening of the relationship” between mothers and daughters. “We got to see the girls as human beings.”

One source of inspiration for Lori and Charlotte’s book group was Shireen Dodson’s book, The Mother-Daughter Book Club (1997). On the phone with me, Lori admitted, “I didn’t get your book”—The Mother-Daughter Project—“until I started writing our book.”   But she found that we shared the same vision, quoting us in the first chapter of Her Next Chapter: “We came up with the plan to create a small, supportive community—an extended family of mothers and daughters—in which mother-daughter connection was the norm.”

When I asked Lori what her hopes were for the role her book might have in the world, she said, “I hope there will be lots more mother-daughter book clubs, to push back on media that is not empowering for girls. A club is a practical tool to teach media literacy.” In today’s world, where there are so many ‘experts’ and so much judgment about mothering, Lori is clear: “Mothers need allies.”

For me, Lori Day’s and Charlotte Kugler’s work is evidence of the many ways in which all of us who share this vision of mother-daughter wellbeing are succeeding. Our strength is in the variety of our ideas and efforts, which offer options that can fit our unique lives. Together we are creating the wave of mother-daughter connection and empowerment that is sweeping over our culture—in fact, I would say that together we are changing the world for mothers and daughters.

From Lori Day's website for her book, Her Next Chapter

From Lori Day’s website for her book, Her Next Chapter

Healing the world and relishing the world

Healing the world vs. relishing the world, Maggie Carey wrote on a large newsprint pad on an easel between us.   That’s I how I named the problem I wanted to address when Maggie asked me last week. I was sitting in a chair across from her, the Vermont countryside on view through windows on four sides, and 34 other workshop participants looking on, taking notes.   Maggie was leading a master class on “Finding your way in a narrative conversation”,  part of the series Refreshing the Spirit of the Work, sponsored by Peggy Sax and Re-Authoring Teaching and I had the lucky privilege of being interviewed.


I think of Maggie as one of the preeminent narrative therapists in the world, someone who had met Michael White as his gardener then studied with him for over twenty years as she mastered the medium and made it her own, ultimately joining him in creating Narrative Practices Adelaide.  No nonsense, playful, rigorous, curious, unapologetic, warm, caring, compassionate, Maggie had built her own house with her husband in the outback around Adelaide and had been doing social justice work with Aboriginal people and with women for decades.

Maggie Carey

Maggie Carey

At the workshop, Maggie interviewed me in a stop-start interview, in which she paused and asked the participants to think of what they would want to ask if they were the therapist, and invited a few of them to share their questions. So as the interviewee, I had the benefit of hearing all kinds of questions.

Here is what I learned about doing narrative therapy: The problem is not always the problem.   I said that I had been feeling that things were out of whack (she wrote out of whack on the paper) in terms of healing the world versus relishing the world, and when Maggie asked about moments in which I felt in balance, I named a personal retreat I had taken during the previous month as an example of giving relishing a full measure of attention. She put a star on the landscape of action timeline, and asked me a bit about the retreat, then paused and asked the audience for questions.

I realized in considering their questions that I actually had lots of examples of relishing, and anyway healing was also deeply satisfying most of the time, and in fact I had a rich history of both relishing and healing with accompanying rich narratives, such as this workshop itself, and of all the questions, I wanted to look more at the problem, at what was “out of whack.” Maggie taught us a deft way to name a problem in an externalized way in the words of and near to the experience of the person with the problem without belaboring the naming process, and that was by simply adding the word “thing” to the end of the word or phrase they were using to talk about the issue. So we lingered a little more to understand the “out of whack thing.” In pondering her questions, I realized that the out of whack thing brought on a drained and exhausted feeling, but not so much because I was either healing too much or relishing too little but because there was an accompanying voice that said, “You’re not doing it right.” It was that voice that was the real problem; it was what was draining and not the balance of healing or relishing at all. So Maggie paused again to ask for more questions, while I sat and listened. And my thoughts got to follow each question, and it was easy to tell which were most interesting to me.

The questions “What is the it?” and “What does SuEllen mean by right?” were easy to answer, too easy. The question I really wanted to explore was, “What is the intention of that voice for SuEllen’s life?”  And so with Maggie’s help I did.   I realized that the intention of the voice was to help me live according to my most cherished values, and that I was happy, more than happy to try to do so—and I also realized that even if one were wildly successful at doing it right, of course our lives have 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows (Maggie wrote this out, including the “of course”) and that the problem, the thing that was draining and made me feel out of whack was not having some of that inevitable sorrow nor even in asking Am I living my life according to my most cherished intentions?, but rather in the fact that the voice that was asking was doing so with unneeded harshness.

And another round of questions, in which I did not choose to explore why the harshness nor to find counter-examples to harshness but rather to consider what color the harsh voice was (red) and what shape it was (foggy and blobby) and what stood in contrast to the voice (kindness, golden sun on blue water) and that I could in fact invite the harsh voice to take a long lovingkindness meditation retreat, a three month silent retreat, and that I could with great kindness continue to consider the question, gently, what is most precious to me? How might I best heal and relish the world?

Maggie Carey and me with her notes from her interview of me.

Maggie Carey and me with her notes from her interview of me.

This post was corrected on July 1, 2014 to remove reference to a conversation  that Michael White spoke of that had increased his awareness of discourses of heteronormatively that I had mistakenly attributed to Maggie.   Like me, Maggie recalls Michael’s telling of the story of how a participant had raised her hand and said she couldn’t hear him once during a presentation on couple’s therapy, and he asked if he needed to adjust his mike, and she said, no, what I mean is, I can’t hear you, because you say couples but you are referring only to heterosexual couples.   I could hear you better if when you meant heterosexual couples you said heterosexual couples and when you said couples you meant all kinds of couples.  For over ten years I had thought that story referred to Maggie, and getting to know her better made it seem all the more like her, to speak up against dominant discourses and to make diversity more visible!  In correcting my misattribution, Maggie wrote, “I do remember well his talking about this event (and it has always stuck with me in a really strong and helpful way), but I believe it was a gay woman who made the comment to Michael in a workshop. So it may have got confused in the telling and re-telling along the way, but it was not me.”