Speedwell ProjectBack to Case studies
“When facing these questions there is no model for doing the work, it is about learning as you walk alongside the client, and trusting that in the end we will both get to where we need to get to.”Sister Rachel, Founder
Sister Rachel first came across Oasis in 1990.
Trained in medicine, she had joined the Order of the Holy Paraclete, based in Whitby, in 1986. Her interest in interpersonal relations came from her work with long-term patients at the local GP practice.
She decided she could give more by working with the local community mental health team, and came to Oasis looking for training and skills, taking an RSA counselling skills certificate with Oasis in 1991.
“The training was second-to-none. I rapidly realised it was the most important thing I had done because it made me aware of what I was capable of and the importance of myself within the work that I did; dropping all the roles that I might carry – doctor, counsellor, religious – actually the work was about me and discovering how I could use my Self within my work,” she said.
How to live with constant pain?
In the early 1990s Rachel developed a rare condition called chronic cluster headaches, a major neurological problem for which there is very little treatment.
She said: “Your face swells up, there is intense pain in the eye and you can be prostrate within minutes. There is very little you can do to alleviate it. At its worst it was seven or eight times a day for a couple of hours at a time, and it would be so bad I couldn’t sleep through it.”
Diagnosis of the condition took a long time, and once she was eventually diagnosed, she was left with the question of how to live with the condition.
Starting one-to-one work
The Oasis Foundation had supported Rachel to start one-to-one work with Bryce Taylor in 1991. This work suddenly became about living with her illness – in such a way that her life could be as abundant as possible, despite, or even because of it.
Rachel was still learning how to ‘meet the pain’, rather than run away from it, when in the late-1990s she did a diploma in the Practice of Counselling and the Management of Change with Oasis. This forced her to question how she managed herself, her illness and the programme.
Eventually, with intervention from a specialist clinic in Chicago, Rachel’s condition went into remission.
Helping others learn to be in pain – the Speedwell Project
This led her to another crossroads. She had started out with her pain and had begun to learn to live with pain. Now with the support of Bryce she was able to start developing the idea of working with others to help them learn to be in pain.
The Speedwell project, as it came to be known, was conceived as a project to work with people who were either suffering chronic pain or had a diagnosis for which there was no definitive treatment, or had some other form of disability.
It was not about reducing pain levels, but about learning how to ‘be’ in the pain. Life is often restricted by the presence of pain, can become very narrow.
With the support of Bryce and the Oasis Foundation, Rachel used counselling skills and psychological interventions to help people face the huge existential questions of ‘Why me?’ ‘How come?’ and ‘What is the meaning of this illness?’
Through Speedwell, she was engaged with working out what we do when there is nothing to be done.
She helped those suffering chronic pain to make sense of their illness in the context of their life as a whole, maintain their self worth, learn how to deal with isolation, and work towards acceptance – bringing both spirituality and pragmatism to these issues.
“When facing these questions there is no model for doing the work, it is about learning as you walk alongside the client, and trusting that in the end we will both get to where we need to get to.”
Offering others who suffered from chronic pain the chance to work out for themselves how to ‘be with’ their pain, Speedwell grew until about 2002, when Rachel took the difficult decision to close it because she did not have enough time available to offer clients the commitment she felt they deserved.
In 2005, after exploring how she could become more engaged with her own journey, she took another difficult decision – to leave her religious community and begin living as a solitary religious.
Another new phase
Now Rachel is preparing for another new phase in her life – work of retreat leading, spiritual direction and accompaniment and restarting the Speedwell project.
She said: “I don’t think I realised at the time how important it was, not just for the patients, but for the carers as well.
“Carers can end up struggling because they can’t make the situation better, ending up feeling guilty and frustrated.
“I have been looking again and wondering if Speedwell is possible… the journey is about to take off again.”