I’m Verena Grys and I live right in the middle of Germany in a beautiful old baroque city called Fulda.
I met Janet (Gurney) first on a training day in London which she did together with Phoebe Caldwell. My focused intention of going there was to meet Phoebe personally. It was my dear wish after reading most of her books and writing my bachelor thesis about Intensive Interaction. Her books and her true determination and enthusiasm to show the perspective of both communication partners as well as her call for respect, left a big impression (with me).
I was curious and excited, even a little impatient to learn more about and observe Intensive Interaction sessions so I asked Phoebe about it. She said the best place to experience Intensive Interaction would be at Us In a Bus and asked Janet if it were possible for me to be involved in practical training there. Even taken by surprise Janet was as heartful and welcoming as ever and luckily for me she said “Yes“, instantly. So I could use all that energy to focus during a very educational and mind opening two weeks at Us in a Bus in October 2016.
I was so soooo lucky to have Nancy Keeley as my mentor then!! With her gentle, heartful and patient manner during, and out of, sessions she gave me the chance to be calm and feel safe all the time. This allowed me to be present in my own way without any anxiousness and pressure, which opened up opportunities to observe more clearly and even join sessions. She showed me how professional competence paired with trust in your own intuition can be the key ingredients for creating an Intensive Interaction session together with your communication partner.
From some members of the Us in a Bus team I learned about introducing musical elements into an interaction and observed how to use instruments in an individual way that matters to that specific person, by incorporating an ‘in the moment’ action or sound into the rhythm of the music or by trying to build on something that had happened before (for example, observing and seeing the importance in a hand movement or tapping foot and giving the person the opportunity to tap the drum using this action).
I absolutely loved and valued the reflections after sessions with both Nancy (Keeley) and Joelle (Francon-Parr). Everything that had “just happened“ got a deeper context, which I couldn’t grasp just by observing. It was a lot of fun to talk about and share all our different experiences and perspectives and observations of a session. For example, understanding the intentions of the interaction practitioner in acknowledging and reaffirming the breathing rhythms of the communication partner with the rhythm of the guitar (Joelle), which I had totally missed but could see in retrospect after hearing it explained.
I was so impressed by the work Us in a Bus does, and by all of the team members who I’ve had the chance to observe – because of their always authentic, but obviously different approaches during sessions – that I took a week off this summer to go back and volunteer with them. (Another big reason was, that they are all just amazing and you can bet to have a great time there!)
My second time at Us in a Bus felt somehow a bit quieter for me. Perhaps more settled, because I knew most of the people a little better and everybody recognized and welcomed me.
Another reason for this calmness was maybe, that since dec 2016 I‘ve worked at an autism-center in Germany, so I’ve got much more day to day experience with people who vary in their ways of communication.
After starting my job in Fulda I told my colleagues about Intensive Interaction and watched the DVD “Autism and Intensive Interaction“ (by Phoebe Caldwell) with one of them, who showed a deeper interest in it. She was totally intrigued and was happy to have another way to try to connect with some of her more withdrawn communication partners. I spoke to her again this week and she told me that she is regularly using Intensive Interaction as a part of the shared time with three of the people she supports. There was one particular hour she remembers with a young woman, where the mirroring and changing of a rhythm developed into a shared tapping game. This felt like another step of their relationship-building. Personally I don’t have so many opportunities for using Intensive Interacion at the moment, because I mostly share my time with children and youngsters, who have a very elaborate and established way of speaking.
I would really wish for Intensive Interaction to spread in Germany; most people I meet (on professional occasions like symposiums or training days) don´t know much about it.
It doesn’t seem to be known here that it is a full approach worth knowing about and something that everybody can easily use. It’s a pity because especially the whole environment of children, who aren’t (easily) reached by verbal language, should get this chance to connect in a meaningful, emotional and often fun way.
I thought long and hard about what to pick from all the things I’ve seen and experienced with Janet and the team relevant to Intensive Interaction and decided for the following: For me Us in a Bus provides a constant climate of creativity and tolerance. It feels like a bubble of tolerance that surrounds all the members of Us in a Bus and their communication partners. So I think some of the most impressive moments I saw were the ones where interaction practitioners left this bubble willingly and went out of their way to explain Intensive Interaction, the reasons for it and the behaviours and reactions of communication partners in a friendly, inspiring way to raise understanding. Even in environments that can sometimes seem detached or protective – the most amazing thing is to see that the team don’t loose their bouncy, humourous and friendly attitude and present the themes professionally every single time.
A very BIG THANK YOU!!!