Kitchen Therapy: An Introduction
As Christmas approaches, Kitchen Therapy founder Charlotte Hastings embarks on a regular blog about her innovative work combining a training in developmental depth psychology with practical cookery – and explains why these sessions are proving such a rich recipe for client wellbeing.
In the same year I began my training as a psychodynamic therapeutic counsellor, I also started a job teaching adults domestic cookery. The potential of talking therapy and cookery to feed into each other quickly became apparent. It felt as though life had put these ingredients on the table for me to make an emergent recipe from. As I watched a student in a community class give her share of food away, seemingly nervous of offending the wooden spoon or saucepan, I saw that how she cooked was how she lived – on the edges. Our quiet exchange around this observation, in 2009, led to Kitchen Therapy: a way of using food, cooking and eating to explore clients’ inner worlds, support mental health and enhance their relationships – whilst making great food for the table.
For the last five years, I have been holding one-to-one, couple and small group sessions in my garden studio near Brighton. The proportion of talking to cooking depends on the specific clients’ needs:
- We may just use food as a metaphor, exploring her/histories around food, feeding and being fed as a dream-like portal to hidden truths
- They may bring a dish and its story to the studio for us to share
- Or we may cook together – combining teaching and learning about themselves, food and cooking
There is always a purposeful exchange, which is as primal as it is profound.
This approach is useful for anyone looking to explore personal issues in a creative, practical and sensory way. In a case of severe anxiety or OCD we look at how mess and mistakes are necessary to life. In depression, we experience moments of sharing, across the inner world divides, that can return us to life. With autistic spectrum clients, there is a balancing of left and right brain functions. For therapists and their clients alike, this is simple self-care, asking how we feed ourselves rather than what.
Kitchen Therapy is potent work on both a personal and professional level. It speaks to the very essence of who I am and what I share with you: ‘we are what we eat’. It works from the gut, the digestive system we have in common with every other living thing. Food can be a place of mutuality, a platform from which to explore who and where we are on the human stage. In the various contexts I find myself in as a kitchen therapist, my role as witness, support or interpreter is adaptive, available and accessible to a wide range of needs.
Kitchen Therapy is also about reconnecting us with nature. Workshops during the second lockdown took participants out of the city to a community farm, to support families during Covid-19. We needed to work outside, providing ways for isolated families to safely connect. We picked greens and pumpkins, chopped and cooked and ate outdoors, together – being messy, muddy and chilly, as Nature intended. The day felt alive as if woken from centuries of slumber. The sense of true connection with food, fire and folk on the farm, was exhilarating.
In Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Richard Wrangham convincingly writes that, ‘Cooking… changed our bodies, our brains, our use of time and our social lives. It made us into consumers of external energy and thereby created an organism with a new relationship to nature, dependent on fuel’. Psychologically, it is our first taste of alchemy, of transformation and, of course, power. It is the spring from which our unique human consciousness flows.
Over the course of these regular blogs about my work with Kitchen Therapy, I will be exploring various aspects of the connection between food and talking therapy – including attachment and addiction, cookery as both an assessment tool and an inner resource, and edible narrative therapy.
But we begin at Christmas 2020, following a year of enforced separation, with a reminder that time spent around a fire, candlelight or hob, playfully enjoying the movement from hunger to satisfaction, creates moments of mutuality and connection that are as magic as they are mundane.