Reading and Wellness Q and A with Emma Palmer

Emma is a relational psychotherpist, ecopsychotherapist, BACP accredited counsellor, supervisor, author and facilitator.  She has worked in private practice for 16 years and is also a qualified supervisor.  Thank you Emma for your contribution and sharing your books!

Q.  We all have mental health or ill-health, and we all have a being, well or not. What are, or have been, your biggest challenges in mental health well-being?

A.  There was quite a bit of trauma in my early life, so the biggest ongoing challenges have been learning to be with hypervigilance, for example, the challenges in ‘switching off’, dealing with insomnia, that sort of thing. To be honest I’m not a big fan of the term ‘mental health’, it always sounds clinical and feels like it overlooks the importance of learning to be at home in our own skins, which has been so significant in my healing.


Q.  When you’re feeling down, what are the things that help you through?  What are your top three tips that might help others?

A.  Weeding our lovely allotment, talking to my beloved partner and close family and friends, and walking – feeling the sun/rain/wind on my face (preferably in a forest or by the ocean – and city parks are great, too). Engaging with things that feel useful beyond me and my life also feel extra helpful when I’m feeling down. I don’t have top tips for others, given that we’re so similar, and yet so unique…


Q.  What do you do for day-to-day self-care?

A. I make sure I move enough, sit still enough – meditation and/or quiet reflection – and eat my greens!


Q. I work with a lot of young adults experiencing difficulty.  If you had one piece of advice for teenagers and young adults what would it be?

A. I’m wary of giving advice, especially to teenagers and young people, cos they’re starting out in a world which is so different to the world of the mid 1980s, when I was in my mid-teens. In fact, perhaps I need their advice more than they need mine, given that their eyes will see things mine won’t, from what can be the sometimes clouded-ness of middle-age. ‘May you live every day of your life’ – I loved these words of Jonathan Swift when I was in my mid-teens, so I’m happy to share those, in case they resonate. Finding out what living is for each and every one of us seems to be one of life’s central koans (which are sort of unanswerable paradoxes, in Zen speak).


Q. Do you think reading is important, and why?

A. Yes! Reading has been a refuge and a safe place for me since the moment I could read and write. I can travel in other lands, re-live historical events, and better understand myself and what makes others tick. Fiction allows me to visit someone else’s reality for a few days. And I just loved being bathed in words, part way through a book – words intrigue me.


Q. What are you currently reading?overstory

A.  I’ve got a couple of books on the go, as I’m inclined to do. I’m part way through ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers and ‘Red Thread Zen: humanely entangled in emptiness’ by Susan Murphy, both excellent books.


Q. Are there any books you go back to time after time?

A. Yes, in this current phase of life it’s the ‘Shobogenzo – the treasury of the Dharma eye’ the teachings of Zen master Dogen. He has so many wise things to say and his teachings still feel contemporary, even shobogenzothough he was writing in the 13th century. I’ve been a practising Buddhist for the past 25 years and there are quite a few Buddhist books I revisit. Therapy-wise I often revisit books by my body psychotherapist friend, colleague, and former teacher, Nick Totton.


Q. What book has had the biggest impact on you?

A. It’s just too hard to choose one book, when so many have been impactful. I’m quite a fan of ‘The Little Prince’ by Saint Expury, it helped me not to worry about feeling different at a tender phase in my life.little prince


Q. Where and how do you do most of your reading?

A. I read before I drop off to sleep most nights – generally a cookery book, because it’s so undemanding and useful for the next food shop! I rarely read a whole novel unless I’m away on holiday – I’ve been reading ‘The Overstory’ for months now. That’s good in that it’s given me the chance to really relish it. I dip in and out of therapy and Buddhist books frequently, for work and pleasure. I’m most disciplined in reading non-fiction from start to finish when I’m reviewing a book for a journal or magazine, or when I’m reading proofs of my own books, when they are close to being published. Writing and preparing a book from start to finish gives me so much appreciation and gratitude for other authors, and authors yet to be. Keep reading and writing, everyone!

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