• +44 (0)1342 822238
  • bookings@emerson.org.uk

Mental Health Seminar 2021-2024 – reflections on my learning journey

Mental Health Seminar 2021-2024 – reflections on my learning journey

I enrolled into the MHS in 2021, for both professional and personal reasons. Living in a Camphill community, and having worked with children, young adults, and adults with special needs for the last 20 years, I was keen to deepen my understanding of the human being from an anthroposophical perspective. Living through the collective experience of the pandemic, and parenting two teenagers, I have become increasingly aware of the mental health challenges posed by our time, and I felt a growing need to understand these challenges better, in order to feel more equipped to respond to them. The field of mental health was a new landscape of thoughts, ideas, and knowledge for me, even though its questions have been present and increasingly relevant in my daily experience.

As I am writing these reflections, I have just returned from module 10 of the Seminar; there are two more modules to come before the course is completed. Trying to summarise the experience of the MHS is a real challenge, as taking part in it has been a truly transformative journey, with rich learning on many different levels. To offer at least a sense of this, I will share some reflections on the thoughtful and masterfully structured way the course is built up; how knowledge is delivered throughout the modules, and the unique learning experience this offers the participants.

The faculty of the MHS brings a wealth of knowledge, not only from anthroposophy, but also from their personal therapeutic experience and from contemporary research in different related fields. Throughout the course, concepts are introduced in a way that inspires learning in experiential ways: they are shared by the faculty and are then explored by the group via felt experience – through observation exercises including organ observations; in movement, through dramatisations and working with masks; via music and eurythmy; and via “digesting” them in small discussion groups. Conveying knowledge about different aspects of being human this way becomes a very personal learning experience, which inevitably connects to the participants’ own questions and experiences, and in this sense, inevitably becomes lived research, inseparable from one’s inner work.

This process is enhanced by sessions of working within intervision groups throughout the seminar. In my experience, connecting to a small group of course-mates in regular and skilfully led reflective dialogues beautifully linked what was learnt to our own personal and professional questions. For me, working through questions inspired by the modules definitely enhanced my practice at work, and made me feel stronger as a person – to be able to reflect on these changes and to witness and follow the parallel processes of others in the intervision group has been an important part of the seminar, which I greatly benefited from.

Now that we are approaching the end of the seminar, I recognise a sense of a thread connecting the modules, which stretches along the understanding of the human being’s connection to cosmic formative forces and to the elements; of the process of embodiment via pre-earthly and earthly developmental stages; of the influences that contribute to the forming of the personality and the “I”; and of the most essential, key component of all these mysteries: human attachment. These themes weave throughout the different modules of the seminar, and their importance gradually unfolds over time.

The task of writing reflective notes on the contents of each module – in my experience – further supports this unfolding. I personally very much benefitted from the “homework” of grappling with the reflective questions given by the faculty between modules – going over my notes, digesting the rich content I took home with me, and trying to synthesise it, in my own words, into a concise expression of my learning on the given topics.

Another remarkable characteristics of the unique learning experience that the seminar offers is incorporating a live and very contemporary inquiry into the vast body of knowledge from past sources in response to the challenges of our times. When the current seminar started, we were just emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, and it was during the subsequent modules that the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out, followed by the conflict in Gaza. Being flooded with images of these traumatic world events from the news, one cannot help wondering how we can relate to these hardly relatable events, and how we can help future generation to stay sane in the face of the challenges they pose to our collective mental wellbeing. These questions cannot be overlooked when trying to understand mental health challenges today. Meeting these questions (even if not necessarily answering them) has been a returning reference point throughout the seminar. Working with the challenges of our times in a way of a living inquiry led to thought-provoking dialogues, in which the whole group was engaged. Learning from and with a group of people from different walks of life, professional backgrounds, personalities, and life experience greatly enhanced the learning experience. Some of the course participants also contributed to the course programme by giving talks from their own fields.

In the last few modules, we focussed on personality disorders. In module 10, the last of this series we looked at a group of personality disorders that are associated with the disturbances of the human capacity of “thinking”. As a prelude to exploring this theme in depth, Michael Evans introduced Iain McGilchrist’s work on the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The two hemispheres are linked to two different ways of knowing and experiencing reality: whereas the left hemisphere is linked to thinking that is apt in identifying, sorting, and categorising details, the right hemisphere has an affinity to weave the understanding of processes and connections into a holistic synthesis. It is the talent of the right hemisphere to be able to reflect; to live with open questions, ambiguities, and philosophical problems; and to be able to hold different “truths” in balance, orienting between them according to their relevance and importance in a certain context.

Learning about the right hemisphere’s approach to knowing made me realise how strongly the make-up of the MHS builds on this way of approaching human phenomena. Referring again to one of the main themes of Module 10, learning about a group of personality disorders, started with a brief symptomatic description of these conditions lifted from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which was followed by exploring the “hypothesis” of how these personality pictures connect to the 12-foldness of the Zodiac, the 3-foldness of soul forces, and the planes of space available for human movement, through learning that engaged the right hemisphere: via imaginative pictures from mythology; case studies that evoke strong feeling responses and empathy; and experiencing the ”gestures” of these disorders in movement, followed by harvesting the inner responses to these gestures in the group. In this way, the personality disorders were not “taught” in an academic sense, but gradually built up in the participants’ experiences over five consecutive days. What has unfolded this way, in my mind, is a sense of understanding that is far from definite and closed, with inspiring questions that stay open – for some, these may become further research questions, for some they may lead to a newly awakened curiosity towards the human complexity.

For me, one of the main messages of Module 10 – brought via exploring Steiner’s “twelve world views” and McGilchrist’s work – is that there is no “truth” that is final and absolute; rather, different ways of knowing need to be engaged and linked together, so that they can complement each other in our continuous effort for understanding ourselves, each other, and our surroundings.

The depth and richness of the unique way of learning offered by the Mental Health Seminar is a beautiful example of a holistic, collective effort in the ongoing research for bringing meaningfulness into human existence. I warmly recommended it for everyone.

Viktoria Seres is originally from Hungary where she studied literature and art. She joined Camphill Schools Aberdeen in 2004 as a co-worker, and completed the BA in Curative Education. Since then she has lived and worked in different Camphill communities in Scotland and England before joining Newton Dee Village with her family as a house coordinator. 

We are now taking applications for the next cohort of this course, which commences in February 2025.  Click here for further information.