Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Acceptance: An SPR Life

As the preceding entry indicates, on 18 June 2008, at the opening of the SPR conference last week in Barcelona, Spain, I was awarded SPR’s Distinguished Research Career Award. Les Greenberg gave the laudatio (a short speech explaining the rationale for the award). I met Les Greenberg in 1976, and since then he has been a close friend and the strongest influence on me as a researcher and therapist. While he gave this speech, I stood at the foot of the steps leading up to the podium, feeling a complicated mix of pride and humility, joy and embarrassment. It was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. Then, I went up to the podium, looked out at the sea of faces in the room, and read the following poem, which is dedicated to him to all my SPR friends and colleagues, and especially David Orlinsky and Bill Stiles.

For me, SPR has been a large, rambling, magical house.
In 1976, in San Diego, I slipped in nervously
Through the front door of the Hotel del Coronado,
And found myself in this place:

Suddenly, like Don Quixote, I was in the world
Of the books and articles I had been reading,
Full of familiar characters,
Their names rolling off my tongue:
Orlinsky & Howard;
Strupp, Bergin & Garfield;
Waskow (now Elkin) & Parloff;
Lambert & Gurman;
Luborsky & Auerbach;
Rice, Klein & Bordin.
And new characters, like Greenberg & Horowitz,
Unrolling new stories.

At first I scuttled about, like a small child,
Hiding behind the house plants,
Holed up with my researcher cousins,
Dreams of therapy change processes
Dancing in our heads.
But each time I went back to this magical house—
Madison, Toronto, Oxford, Asilomar,
And so on, down the line –
I grew a bit, as it filled me with wonders.

For the past 32 years,
From bushy youth to grey age,
SPR has taken me on many journeys,
Through many wonderful rooms:
Process – outcome;
Quantitative – qualitative;
Psychodynamic – CBT – experiential;
Descriptive – interpretive;
Group – single-case;
RCT – practice-based.
In SPR, we are always making new rooms,
Remodeling old ones,
Or rediscovering forgotten spaces.

Now, it seems, I am a character in these stories, too.
And so I address you:
My fellow characters, present and past,
Too numerous to mention,
Many thanks for the stories we have shared.
I would gladly roam these rooms with you
For as long as there are doors to open
And pages to turn in our stories.

-18 June 2008

Press Release: Robert Elliott Receives Distinguished Research Career Award, Society for Psychotherapy Research, 2008

Entry for 18 June 2008:

Robert Elliott, Professor of Counselling in the University of Strathclyde’s Faculty of Education, has been awarded the Distinguished Research Career Award for 2008 by the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR). SPR is the main international scientific organization for researchers investigating psychotherapy and counselling; founded in 1969, it has more than 1000 members, who come from more than 30 countries. It offers two awards, an early career award for researchers within 10 years of their highest degree, and a senior career award for a career of outstanding contributions to the field of psychotherapy research. “This is the highest award that a psychotherapy researcher can aspire to, and the culmination of a lifetime dream. I am absolutely delighted,” says Elliott, who came to the University of Strathclyde in 2006 to take up a chair in counselling.

Robert Elliott received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1978. He taught at the University of Toledo (Ohio, USA) from 1978 to 2006, where he was Professor of Psychology, 1988 – 2006, and where he continues as Professor Emeritus of Psychology. He has also held visiting faculty positions as Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium, 1990, 2004 - 2006), York University (Canada, 1992-93), University of Sheffield (UK, 1984-85), and La Trobe University (Australia, 1999).

A member of the Society for Psychotherapy Research since 1976, Elliott has served SPR in several capacities, including North American Chapter President (1991), co-editor of its journal Psychotherapy Research (1994-1998), Program Chair (1999-2000), President (2000-2001), and currently Chair, Scottish Local Area Group. He is co-author of Facilitating emotional change (1993, with Leslie Greenberg and Laura Rice), Learning process-experiential psychotherapy (2004, with Jeanne Watson, Rhonda Goldman, and Leslie Greenberg), and Research methods in clinical psychology (2nd ed., with Chris Barker & Nancy Pistrang), as well as more than 100 journal articles or book chapters. He is a Fellow in the Divisions of Psychotherapy and Humanistic Psychology of the American Psychological Association and winner of the 2008 Carl Rogers Award for Contributions to Humanistic Psychology. He also served on the Board of the World Association for Person-Centered and Experiential Psychology and Counseling, 2000-2003, and was Managing Editor of its journal, Person-Centered Counseling and Psychotherapy (2001 – 2006).

Elliott is best known in the psychotherapy research field as an innovator and developer of new research methods. Early in his career he promoted the use of tape-assisted recall methods for studying client and therapist moment-to-moment experiences within therapy sessions. This led to ground-breaking research on significant therapy events, during which clients experience psychological change. Elliott used tape-assisted recall of significant events to create a taxonomy of ten types of helpful therapeutic change, which was later used by Stiles and others as the basis of the Assimilation Model. The line of research on significant events led Elliott to develop qualitative, interpretive methods to analyze them. In the late 1980’s, he, Leslie Greenberg, and Laura Rice developed Process-Experiential therapy (now commonly called Emotion-Focused Therapy), an integrative humanistic therapy recently officially recognized as an Empirically Supported Therapy by the American Psychological Association’s Division of Clinical Psychology.

In the 1990’s, Elliott introduced several additional research methods, including the Revised Session Reactions Scale, Comprehensive Process Analysis, and the Change Interview. During this time he helped popularize the use systematic qualitative research methods for psychotherapy research and published an important set of guidelines for reviewing qualitative studies. He also published the first meta-analysis of outcome research on humanistic (e.g., person-centred) psychotherapies. In the past 8 years, he has introduced Hermeneutic Single Case Efficacy Design, promoted the use of Item Response Theory methods in therapy research, and has developed instruments for studying psychotherapy and counselling training.

Since moving to the University of Strathclyde two years ago, Elliott has set up a new research clinic on the Jordanhill campus, and initiated research programs on social anxiety, practice-based counselling research, and the effects of counselling training. He is involved in curriculum development for counselling research training at the PGDip, MSc and PhD levels, with support from ESRC Researcher Development Initiative; the development of a competency framework for humanistic-person-centred-experiential psychotherapies (a Department of Health Skills for Health project); promoting research in counselling and psychotherapy training centres in Europe and North America; developing practitioner-based systematic single case research (with support from an ESRC Seminar grant); and an expanded meta-analysis on the outcomes of humanistic therapies (with support from a grant from the British Association for the Person-Centred Approach). He is married and has two adult children, loves Scottish traditional music, is a science fiction fan, and enjoys running along Glasgow’s canal paths.

Training Opportunities for Process-Experiential/Emotion-Focused Therapies in the UK

Entry for 13 June 2008:

A couple weeks ago Andy Hill, one of the abstractors for the Humanistic-Person-Centred-Experiential (HPCE) therapies Expert Reference Group, sent me the following email. He has given me permission to reprint his message:

Dear Robert

Checked out your blog which gives a pretty good account of our ramblings. I was reminded of an issue which struck me when scoping some of the manuals. The problem with taking an evidence-based approach to anything is that it usually points up a research-practice gap. One of the difficulties in implementing the NICE guidelines for depression was that CBT is not widely-practised in UK and there are relatively few training programmes. On the ground person-centred-humanistic-integrative practice is much more widespread. The same kind of gap is opening up with our HPCE framework with the PE end of the spectrum holding the evidence but the classical side having ascendancy in practice and training. In terms of implementing an HPCE framework where would people go in UK to train in PE? I've been here a few years and I wouldn't know where to start.

Best Wishes

Here is my reply:


Good question!

Right now the options would be:
1. Do my summer EFT-1 training in Galsgow (4 days intensive)
2. Do Les Greenberg's Summer Emotions Institutite in Toronto (EFT levels 1 - 3)
3. Learn it in bits and pieces by doing Focusing training (e.g., at U of East Anglia) and Gestalt training (various places)
4. Do a course in humanistic-integrative therapy and specialize in integrating the person-centred, gestalt and focusing bits that make of PE-EFT


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Expert Reference Group on HPCEs, Meeting, 9 June 2008

Entry for 9 June 2008:

When last we met, the Expert Reference Group (ERG) on Humanistic-Person-Centred- Experiential (HPCE) therapy competencies, it was to pass judgement on the scoping document that Beth Freire and I had put together from our in-progress-but-we-hope-soon-to- be-completed meta-analysis of PCE outcome research. As I wrote in my blog entry about that meeting (see entry 30 March 2008, posted in early April), I found this to be a somewhat painful experience, but ended up feeling relieved that anything had survived the cutting process. In any event, it was enough to provide Andy Hill and Alison Brettle a basis for beginning the process of reading therapy manuals and extracting competencies (or what others would call “therapy change principles”). (For an example where this is heading, see the CBT framework at: )

Move the clock forward 2 months to today, and you would have found our intrepid ERG sitting around the rectangle of tables in room 544 of the Sub-department of Clinical Psychology, right next to my old friends Chris and Nancy’s office. You would have heard us nit-picking (or if you prefer, “fine-tooth combing”) Andy and Alison’s (A&A’s) draft framework for the competencies they are identifying. Now it was their turn to feel they were under the knife for some unwanted surgery, as the rest of us worked through their framework (really an outline), one node at a time.

After the whacky landing at London City Airport in March, I had vowed never to use that airport again, so this time I took the train, preferring to get up in Glasgow at 4am (even before Scotland’s uncanny summer sunrise at 4:30), and to be an hour late for the ERG. (As it happened, I was more than 90 minutes late, owing to a signal failure at Nuneaton.) I slipped in next to Mick, and was immediately confronted with another document from the HIPS (Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapies Section) of the UKCP (UK Council of Psychotherapies), this time asking that we Cease and Desist in order to give them time to marshal evidence that might persuade us to include wider range of therapies in our remit. Noting that Vanja Orlans -- whose unenviable task it was to represent this point of view – would not be arriving until even later than I had, we carried on reviewing A&A’s draft framework.

I had used some of my copious time on the train going through their work quite carefully, so I was ready for this, but really it was quite impressive what they had managed to put together. From my point of view, the main problem was that Process-Experiential (PE) therapy occupied way too large a place in it. This was understandable because of our evidence base and the clarity of our presentation. (The Learning book is basically a competency framework itself.) However, PE-EFT currently has only a tiny following in the UK, and I am not eager to attract a reaction against our work as some sort of favoured child, so I was very glad to support the group in down-sizing PE-EFT to a more modest position, and finding a way to generalize some of it in such a way as to make it relevant to a range of HPCEs.

The next order of business was the overall headline summary competence, what we call the core category in qualitative research. For example, the CBT framework has, “Ability to implement CBT using a collaborative approach”, and the Psychodynamic one offers, "Ability to maintain an analytic attitude". Alison and Andy had proposed, “Ability to facilitate experiential processing”. This was essentially a quote from Greenberg, Rice & Elliott (1993), so I knew it would never fly.

A vivid memory came back to me, of sitting around Les’ office early in the process of writing Facilitating Emotional Change (1993), when we – I think it was me – came up with “experiential processing”:
-It’s like cognitive processing, only we think it involves way more than cognitions.
-Gendlin already came with a word for it: “experiencing”.
-But that sounds like California-speak.
-Yeah, we need something that sounds more scientific!
-I know, how about “experiential processing”!
-Hm, that’s a bit ugly-sounding, but I can’t think of anything better.
-And the opposite then could be… “purely conceptual processing.”
-OK, then!
And “experiential processing” it was.

That conversation (or one very similar to it) took place in 1986 or so. Today, as Daniel Kahneman says, the cognitive revolution is over, and the phrase just sounds ugly to me, which I noted. We worked on this for awhile, broke for lunch. Chris popped out to say hi, and I followed him back into his office where we chatted for a few minutes. Nancy came in. It’s always nice to see them. (We go back every further than “experiential processing”, to UCLA and the attempt to prove that reflections are the best therapist response modes in the world.) After lunch, my friend Germain Lietaer (from KU Leuven) earned his Eurostar fare by coming up with: “Ability to offer a relationship that facilitates experiential exploration” (later, Nancy Rowland, from BACP, added “therapeutic” in front of “relationship”).

Like the CBT (see: and psychodynamic frameworks, the HPCE one has five columns:
I. Generic Therapeutic Competencies: These are shared with the other frameworks, but are languaged somewhat differently. Thus, “ability to deal with emotional content of sessions” (CBT) became “ability to work therapeutically with the emotional content of sessions” (HPCE).

II. Basic HPCE Competencies: After further discussion, these ended up being divided into two main sections: (1) Knowledge of the principles underlying HPCE therapy; (2) Initiate, develop and conclude the therapeutic relationship. These two sections have further subheadings. The therapeutic relationship section has two kinds of subheadings: (a) ability to draw on who one is as a person in order to facilitate therapy; and (b) ability to facilitate the relationship in various ways.

III. Specific HPCE Methods: We had a very interesting discussion about what to call the specific ways in which therapists carry out the basic HPCE competencies. Tony seemed to feel that we were being hypocritical in refusing to call these “techniques”, but we insisted that “techniques” was too mechanistic and would get us all kinds of grief. I pointed out the technically correct term (from a linguistic point of view) is "speech acts", but this didn't help. Finally, Tony asked us to think of a synonym (I think he meant euphemism) for “technique”. Oh, that’s easy, we said, and rattled off several, with “method” being the odds-on favourite. This section is still a bit of a mess and will need A&A’s wordsmithing, but we did manage to get in some generic versions of PE-EFT tasks, like “Ability to appropriately use therapeutic enactments”. This latter is code for chair work and related Gestalt/psychodrama kinds of things; Tony, who is understandably somewhat allergic to our jargon (as we are to his), put scare quotes around “therapeutic enactments.”

IV. Specific HPCE Adaptations: This is where PE-EFT ended up, after it was shoved out of column III, in a little black hole of its own. Right now, PE-EFT is the only thing in this column. (Don’t blame me; the chainsaw did it…) We will just have to do our best to hold the space open until more folks come along with the requisite combination of evidence and theory around specific approaches or client problems. At the moment, there is a pretty good view down the valley…

V. Meta-competencies: Competencies about the use and application of competencies, some generic, others specific to HPCE. This is where the framework brings in the “integrative” that the “humanistic and integrative” folks are worried about losing. Look: You have your own column!

This took us most of the afternoon, but Tony did save some time at the end for discussing the latest UKCP petition, hoping that all present would have seen for themselves by that point that the whole process, however many scientific and political warts, was capable of producing a pretty decent frog, with the specific competency of hopping over the various objections, both large and small, principled and paranoid. It was a pretty good argument, actually, because the emerging framework does look like an excellent next step.

However, some of us (including me) were not totally convinced by this means-justifies- the-ends argument, and the discussion will go on. Vanja spoke calmly and in a matter-of-fact manner of the unhappiness, anger and fear of some of her colleagues in UKCP, and their concerns about lack of transparency in the HPCE ERG process. Several things will in fact come from their intervention, all of them potentially useful:

1. UKCP are being encouraged to take their philosophy of science concerns to the scientific steering committee for the competencies project, which is the correct venue for many of the issues raised.

2. In addition, they have now assembled a list of RCT studies, working off the references for Beth and my meta-analysis, and adding their own. I will take these back to Beth, and we will see how many of the additional studies we are missing; we will then explore whether and how it might be feasible to incorporate these into our meta-analysis.

3. In the meantime, Tony and Steve and I will meet to look again at the research evidence. Gestalt therapy and psychodrama are still missing in action, along with EFT for trauma/emotional injury, in spite of substantial bodies of research, theory and clinical practice. It would be a crying shame to miss them out, and I think the whole project would suffer both scientifically and politically. The biggest problem with much of the research literatures on these approaches is that they are such as mish-mash of different client populations and different kinds of evidence that it is difficult to conclude anything from them without doing a meta-analysis, which is beyond the scope of the present project. However, with a little help form our friends in UKCP-HIPS and FEPTO (the psychodrama trainers organization with whom I’ve become involved), we may be able pull something out of the swamp, perhaps even a couple of bull frogs.

Afterword: I have written this entry during the homeward journey that has spanned all of a long summer’s day. It was already fully day when Diane dropped me off at Glasgow Central at 5:45am, and now, at 10:10, as the virtually empty train rumbles through the empty places of Dumfries and Galloway (southern Scotland), the sky still has a lot of blue and pink in spite of the moderately heavy cloud cover. Scotland the Braw, it's nice to be almost home!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Exorcism and Psychotherapy, with Special Reference to Social Anxiety

Entry for 8 June 2008:

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favourite science fiction writers, I think because he combines hard science speculation with political science and psychology, in narratives that portray working scientists realistically and recognizably while pausing from time to time to look lovingly at the natural world. For me, he does everything I read science fiction for. I’ve just finished his latest book, Sixty Days and Counting (2007), the final volume of a near-future trilogy, with the collective title of “Science in the Capitol”. In this trilogy, Robinson sets about trying to figure out, in fairly practical terms, just exact how we might be able to effectively deal with climate change, at a political level, scientifically and personally. Combining elements of domestic comedy (Charlie and Anna and their two boys), state-of-the-art science (Frank and Diane), and political thriller (Phil and Caroline), this series unfolds at its own pace, which I enjoyed savouring a bit at a time over the past 18 months, through to its idealistic but satisfying conclusion.

In the process, as was the case with his previous books, I picked some quite useful bits. One of the most charming threads of the books is the interactions between the various characters and a collection of Tibetan refugees, which allows wonderful intersections between Buddhism and science.

Thus, near the end of the book (p. 531), Qang, a Tibetan woman who is a kind of priestess, says to one of the main characters, “…We call them demons, but of course one could also say that they are simply bad ideas.”

To which this character replies, “So sometimes you do those ceremonies to drive out demons, you could say that in a sense you’re holding a ceremony to drive out bad ideas?”

Qang: “Yes, of course. That is just what an exorcism is, to us.”

Perhaps we might want to think about therapy as a ritual of exorcism, to help our clients drive out their “bad ideas”. Instead of chanting, passes, drums, and incense, we offer talk, relationship, different kinds of specialized therapist response and client activity to help the client access and change their problematic emotion schemes (i.e., bad ideas). This is not a particularly new idea; it is in Jerome Frank’s classic book Persuasion and Healing, first published in 1961. However, what Robinson is saying here that resonates with me is that psychotherapy is a ritual with quite specific parallels to exorcism in particular, at quite a deep level, focusing on specific mental contents that are oppressing the person. From different points of view, these have been variously labelled as “irrational thoughts (CBT), “complexes” (Jung), “fixations” (Freudian developmental theory), “oppressing evil spirits” (Christian healing), negative “viral memes” (Dawkins), “maladaptive emotion schemes”, etc.

Reincarnation and Working with Anxiety Problems. Robinson did something similar in his previous book, Years of Rice and Salt, when he had one of his characters redefine reincarnation in terms of the recurrent transformations we face as our lives develop. One of the most striking of those cycles is that faced by teachers, when faced by new groups of students every year or two. Although these students are each unique people, after one has taught for a few years, one begins to recognize types of students, such as the young, bright, academic type or the battered but wise older student, along with many others. So in this sense, our students are reborn into different bodies with each new cohort, variations on each other, recognizable to us, even as we appreciate and celebrate their individuality.

In the same way, in the research clinic, as we see more clients with social anxiety, we begin to see commonalities: certainly the strong inner critic, often attributed to observing and critical others; perhaps a history of having been generally characterized by their family as inept or an embarrassment; a guilt about having to make up stories to account for their social avoidance; sometimes a real pressure to connect with others combined with a terror of rejection or negative judgment, which generates large amounts of emotional pain; and an intense scrutiny of the interaction with the therapist (and others) for signs of rejection or negative evaluation. Sometimes, these common elements recur so strongly that it feels almost uncanny, but of course, they are all lived out uniquely in each person’s own way.

For me, these common aspects make these clients in some way reincarnations of one another. The voice of social anxiety speaks out of them, in recognizable ways, to connect with me their secular exorcist, as we attempt to construct a ritual that will enable them to throw off the oppression of these harmful aspects, which sometimes feel quite demonic in the havoc they raise in the person’s life. The ritual has certain common elements, as I noted, but has to be reconstructed, or relived for person in an immediate, unique and embodied manner. And it has to touch the person in some deep emotional and relational place. The demon needs to be evoked strongly.

However, we can’t just drive it out; we have to talk with it, like the Doctor talking to the Vashta Narada, the monsters that live in shadows, in last night’s episode of Dr. Who, “Forest of the Dead”. For some of my anxious clients this presence is a “Fear Thing.” (see my paper, Elliott, Slatick & Urman, 2000) that must be encountered before being replaced or transformed into a more supportive, protective aspect of self.

Reference: Elliott, R., Slatick, E. & Urman, M. (2000). “So the fear is like a thing...”: A Significant Empathic Exploration Event in Process-Experiential Therapy for PTSD. In J. Marques-Teixeira & S. Antunes (Eds.), Client-centered and experiential psychotherapy (pp. 179-204). Linda a Velha, Portugal: Vale & Vale.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Entry for 31 May 2008:

For my 6th or 7th birthday, my parents took me and several of my friends to a Peter Pan theme park, which was located along the San Joaquin River in Stockton, California. I’m sure it was pretty kitschy, but to my child’s mind this was something really special, like being transported to another world.

We were in Australia when I turned 49, doing a circle tour of the state of Victoria, and ended up at Echuca, where we did a boat tour along the Murray River, then had a lovely dinner with George and Joy Wills. Our whole time in Australia was a magical experience of exploring a wonderful, exotic world, and the birthday trip was a high point of that experience.

This year, for my 58th birthday, we finally made the trip to Iona. Leaving Hyndland about noon on Friday, we took the West Highland Line, as we had done with Mick and his kids the year before. As we headed west and north, the weather cleared and by time we reached Oban it was a beautiful, warm sunny day.

We dropped our things at the hotel and wandered around Oban for a couple of hours, stopping St. Columba’s Cathedral (with its two bells named Kenneth and Brendan) before climbing the hill to McCaig’s tower, which commands a sweeping view of the port of Oban, the near island of Kerrera and in the distance our destination for the next day: the island of Mull. After a splendid pre-birthday seafood dinner at Ee-Usk, we went back and watched another of Kenneth’s collection of Dr. Who videos.

We caught the first Mull ferry the next morning, another in a series of uncharactersistically beautiful days, watching Kerrera fall away behind us as we headed for Craignure. There we caught the bus for Fionphort, at the other end of Mull. The bus wound its way along the single-track road, rising up out of the mixed forest on the north slope of the island before emerging into the green but stark volcanic uplands that make up most of Mull. I had rehearsed this trip in my mind on several occasions, imagining Mull as a mostly flat island, with marshes and lochs; however, this was nothing like the reality, for it is dominated by 40 - 50 million year old volcanic plugs such as Ben Mor, whose sides have been smoothed and scoured into great U-shaped valleys by repeated glaciations over the past 100,000 years. It is a stark beauty, through which we wound for more than an hour.

At last we reached Fionphort and the ferry that took us across the sound to our destination: Iona. Iona, probably named after the sacred yew (eo in Gaelic), has been a holy island for at least 2000 years, occupied by orders of druids long before St. Columba arrived in 563 C.E., after having been kicked out of Ireland for copyright infringement .

The story is that without permission he copied St. Finnian’s (his teacher and mentor) illuminated manuscript of the psalms, was found guilty by High King of Ireland, and ordered to turn over the copy to its owner on the gounds that “To every cow its calf; to every book its copy.” When he refused, his followers waged a fierce battle in which 3000 fighters were killed (these being armies of soldiers rather than lawyers). St. Columba was exiled from Ireland and ordered to convert at least as many people to Christianity as had been killed in the fighting. There followed: the establishment of the monastery at Iona, the Christianization of Scotland, peace between the Picts and Britons, the beginning of the Book of Kells, and in general, the flowering of Celtic Christianity. There is some kind of moral for our contemporary information age in this …

At any rate, we arrived on Iona, Island of the Pilgrims, about 10am, and followed the little road up the hill to the ruins of the old nunnery, lit by the bright morning sun. As Kenneth noted, there is something very peaceful about these old ruins, flowers growing between the stones of the old walls, outlines defining cloister, chapel, refectory, sleeping quarters.

We continued along the road toward the Iona Abbey, passing the surviving standing celtic crosses, including McLean’s Cross and St. Martin’s Cross, the latter of which has been standing in front of the cathedral for about 1200 years. Nearby is a replica of St. John’s Cross, which is reportedly first cross to have the classic Celtic circle incorporated into it, supposedly for structural rather esthetic/symbolic reasons. The church itself is constructed of a variety of different kinds of local stone, including white Iona marble and a curious local stone that is mottled pink and white and that can be found also in the stone walls along the road. Going inside, I was struck silent by the colour of the stone; the tone of the light coming in through the mostly clear glass windows; the somewhat uneven stone flooring with crosses and little circles of inlaid pebbles marking where the remains of unnamed monks buried there were found in the reconstruction; the low-ceiling cell of the watch-monk above and to the right of the entrance; the gradual descent of the floor toward the water; the high stained glass windows of Saints Columba and Patrick flanking St Brigid; the pews stocked with Wild Goose Publications service books; the presence of the Iona Community itself, occupying the block of rooms to the left of the church and cloister and felt more than seen; and the display of the Iona Community’s materials on its peace and social justice ministry in the North Transept. All these, separately and as a gestalt, touched me in some deep soul place, and made me wish I were there as a true pilgrim rather than as a tourist.

Afterwards, after lunch at the St Columba Hotel, Kenneth and I made a mini-pilgrimage, setting off at a fast walk to see how far we could get across the island in the hour we had left before meeting up with Diane and Marjorie to catch the ferry back to Fionphort. (Iona is small: 3 miles north to south; 1.5 mi across.) We walked south along the east coast road until we came to the one road that crosses the island east to west. There we turned inland and in 10 mins had climbed high enough to be able to see the Atlantic Ocean, an endless horizon in the distance. Another 15 min and we had reached the water. We stopped to dip our hands in the clear water of the waves breaking on the beach, amazed by the azure colour.

We turned around, and began the journey back home, undoing the distances we had come to get here: ferry, bus, ferry, dinner again (Chinese this time), more Dr. Who, sleep, up, early morning run north from Oban, train back to Glasgow (back into the clouds). We even managed to catch a concert of traditional Scottish music on our last night in Oban, at the Skipinnish Ceilidh House. For my birthday this year, we had time-travelled back to one of the centres of Celtic Christianity, an island at the edge of the world, a place of spiritual peace and renewal, a “still point in the turning world.”