Something shifted within me: An interview with Renu Thomas, recent graduate of the TLA Foundations Certificate

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with students who have completed the TLA Foundations Certificate.* Answers may be slightly edited for space and clarity.

I feel challenged to use my voice for social change knowing that however small a stone I may be, I can still cause a ripple.

2021 TLAF Certificate Graduate, Renu Thomas

Renu Sarah Thomas in a BAAT registered Art Psychotherapist, educator and workshop facilitator. She was born in India, raised in England, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Renu has lived in India but for most of her adult life she has lived in Dubai (UAE).

Renu has a Masters in Textiles and Clothing from Coimbatore, India and a Masters in Art Psychotherapy from Edinburgh, Scotland. She has extensive experience working with adults and children of varied ethnicities and having witnessed their stories, has a growing interest in the field of displacement and trauma.

As a self-taught artist, Renu finds ceramics and acrylic painting centering and enjoyable. However, it is through writing that she has found liberation and empowerment. She passionately encourages others to pursue some form of creative expression, embrace their authentic selves and live on purpose. 

TLAN: Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certificate?

Renu Thomas: I would say that it was the sense of achievement and satisfaction I felt on the first course that made me curious about possible certificate with TLA. I felt the certificate would give me credibility in using language as an expressive art form along with art-making in my coaching/facilitation work.

What courses did you find most useful? Why?

In terms of personal transformation, “How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Writing” [with Kelly DuMar] was the most useful course. I found that I was able to engage better than I thought possible. The facilitator’s weekly feedback very detailed, constructive, and encouraging.

I also felt a very strong connection with the others in the group. I read their work and was intrigued by the fact that although we were so different in terms of life experience and cultural background, we had such similar stories.

The Foundations [“Changing the World with Words” with Joanna Tebbs Young] courses were extremely useful in improving my skills and confidence as a coach/facilitator, in workshop design, and in giving me direction as to next steps to improve my reach.

TLAN: What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

Validation.

More often than not I was the only one in the group who wasn’t a writer or had a degree in English. However, the sense of acceptance and belonging was unprecedented and that played a huge role in my wanting to sign up for more courses and complete the certificate.

TLAN: Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

The showcase at the end of the “Your Memoir as Monologue” [with Kelly DuMar] was a very pleasant surprise. I have shied away from sharing my written work because it never felt good enough. The experience of seeing my photo on the flier along side other playwrights and writers and having my monologue performed by an actor and witnessed by people other than those in the group — it shifted something within me.

The Power of Words conference was a unique experience and I am so grateful that it was possible online. I appreciated the vulnerability of first-time presenters of workshops as well as the variety of offerings. It showed me how we can combine our skills, knowledge, and passions in our workshop design.

What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certificate helpful?

I have used ideas and suggestions from the TLA courses in my workshop design and in my facilitation.

My father has Parkinson’s Disease, so I am hoping to create more awareness of the disease and the abilities of the individuals who are living with it. I also want to have conversations around geriatric bullying which I find to be prevalent in India. In all I do, I also hope to include advocacy for creative/expressive art psychotherapy for mental wellness and health.

I feel challenged to use my voice or social change knowing that however small a stone I may be, I can still cause a ripple. The two certificate foundation courses [now rolled into one] were instrumental in this. I feel grateful.

Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

Of course! In fact, I already have.

Renu can found at www.artspeaks.org

*TLA Foundations (TLAF) is an introduction to TLA in theory and practice with opportunities for reflecting and acting on ethical work, community networking, and TLA in action, completed on one’s own time over two years. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. More details can be found here.

Your Life is Your Life, by Renu Sarah Thomas

Each week in the TLAN course, Changing the World with Words, I  looked forward to the prompts and resources that took me on unexpected paths of self- discovery. My writing was almost always an outpouring from the depths of my heart, often as a poem and I did not focus on the craft. The more mature writing of others was invigorating but also intimidating and I hesitated to share my work which paled in comparison, and the way I used rhyme. 

A deep dive into the reading resources led me to viewing an interview with Pádraig Ó Tuama who says that poetry and rhyme offer a boundary that can help to contain our thoughts. This simple insight shifted something within me, in understanding my current style of writing and unashamedly accepting my creative process without comparison. So,  albeit with mild trepidation, here’s a poem of mine:

Inspired by the poem ‘The Laughing Heart’  by Charles Bukowski, one of the creative prompts on the course.

Your life is Your Life

Your life is your life.
It may not seem so now
Your life is your life,
It’s ok to ask how.

Your life is your life
Even when you feel caged in
Your life is your life
Scratch a way, use even a pin

Your life is your life
It ebbs and it flows. 
Your life is your life
In the midst of the blows

Your life is your life
Take the wheel in your hands
Your life is your life
Fly and decide where to land

Your life is your life
Be the change you want to see
Your life is your life
It always was, blessed be

Renu Thomas is a BAAT registered Art Psychotherapist, educator and workshop facilitator. Born in India, she has spent her growing years with her parents in England, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia and has lived in Dubai (UAE) for most of her adult life. She has a Masters in Textiles and Clothing from India and a Masters in Art Psychotherapy from Edinburgh, Scotland . She has extensive experience working with adults and children of varied ethnicities and having witnessed their stories, has a growing interest in the field of displacement and trauma. She is a self-taught artist and although she finds ceramics and acrylic painting centering and enjoyable, it is through writing that she has found liberation and empowerment. She passionately encourages others to pursue some form of creative expression, embrace their authentic selves and live on purpose. 

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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