Designing for Healing


This section aims to illustrate the main personal outcome of my Output 2, which was a design I undertook for my own healing.

It was April 13, and it had been six months since ‘coming off license’. This meant for the first time in 5.5 years I was free of state restrictions on my life - no bail, prison, or probation conditions. I felt hit by an unexpected wave of grief and confusion and an internal desire to process the effects of repression and role of resistance in my life. For more information about my story, you can view my Life & Career Review from 2011 here.

The patterns of policing had affected my ability to love, trust and experience life fully and I knew that I had to find healing in order to not only remain an effective organiser but ultimately, feel human again with the ability to love and relate to others without the harmful patterns of dehumanisation I had been subjected to and witnessed.

As an ecosocial designer it was clear that for me to make sense of this huge and overwhelming task, it required me to apply some design tools and principles.

I completed an intensive Zone 00 re-design in January 2012, while this enabled me to focus and I did explore personal patterns, it was ultimately about finding balance for productivity and resilience. Healing work feels like another ball game.

What does 'healing' mean?

Author Caroline Myss writes that “Healing is an active and internal process that includes investigating ones attitudes, memories and beliefs with the desire to release all negative patterns that prevent one’s full emotional and spiritual recovery.”

I know that patterns of repression are affecting my ability to love and trust. She also says that “Healing is, by definition, taking a process of disintegration of life and transforming it into a process of return to life.”

For me, healing from the prison system and repression is a process of returning to life. Of finding myself again after years of my life being controlled and determined by the state.

From my reading and thinking around healing I have recognised that it is an active process, e.g. It requires you to invest time & energy in personal work. It is not linear or predictable, it doesn’t necessarily have an end and we are as such always healing from something, especially while we live in the violent civilisation that we do.

In one of my journal entries I wrote, “Healing from the prison system isn’t possible. It will always be part of my psyche, my wounds. The way to counter that isn’t disengagement or minimisation or even resistance. Its, for me at least, re-humanisation.” (You can read more about that in the full journal entry here)

How & why have I applied design?

For me designing for my own healing was about creating a container and structure to support myself to heal. Its like creating the right conditions for growth in a garden.

Goals Articulation

At the beginning of the design I articulated my goals. I wanted to find a way of facilitating healing in a way that:

  • Is efficient - I’m not attracted to swimming in woundedness or perpetuating victim/wounded thinking patterns that can be the mainstay of many healing methodologies
  • Is structured and well designed - so that I can create a container for this deep, inner work that is pro-active, defineable and measurable while also enabling emerging themes and the inevitable unexpectedness of healing work. I wanted a way to manage overwhelm and support with my own personal processing.
  • Can be disseminated to others - a process that can be recorded and documented for others to use e.g. Those leaving prison
  • Is accessible to people who are re-stimulated or harmed by authorative healthcare or systems of ‘healing’ that are oppressive or perpetuate oppressive worldviews

What did I do?


  • I identified main areas of my life calling for healing. In my case it was looking at my experiences of the prison system and state repression or ‘activist trauma’, with a lens on their effect on relationships.
  •  I surveyed different healing tools and methodologies. I live near Glastonbury, the epicentre of personal development in the UK, just looking through a local magazine shows the spectrum of healing tools that can be used (purchased or consumed generally!).


I needed to identify which of these healing systems, if any, were congruent with my politics and that I felt instinctively may be useful for my journey. This process generated four main areas of engagement:

  1. Counselling & Self Expression
  2. Energy Work
  3. Alleyship
  4. Dissemination & resistance

I then analysed these areas further to support in my design:

Area  Function Opportunities Threats
Counselling & Self Expression To support me to verbalise and express internal or unexpressed feelings, emotions, ideas and memories to enable me to better understand my own experiences & find healing Writing articles, journalling, counselling & talking therapies including Counselling for Social Change, art & creative work Being subjected to an authoritarian healthcare professional that belittled my politics & autonomy e.g. I only organise because I’m angry at my father rather than being moved by injustice, power & control of psychiatry & so forth.
 Energy Work  To support me to shift/work with the non-verbal and energetic impacts of the harm of prison & trauma that I might not be able to articulate or rationally explain  Visualisations, flower essences, energy practices with Rosemary Taylor (local shamanic practitioner, recommended to me by a close friend), practices with Sally Morningstar  Cultural appropriation of other people’s sacred practices (my fear around shamanism & many new age methodologies), fear of what may surface/dealing with unexpected energies being ‘out of my depth’
 Alleyship  To accept the support of energy, nutrition, medicine and healing from local plants, animals and landscapes  Plant alley work, herbal medicine, optimum nutrition, animal alley work, medicine cards, healing time outdoors/retreats and time on land  Demands of life & ability to implement patterns e.g. working patterns, commitments & other demands. Long term challenges of prioritising self care & spiritual development.
 Dissemination & resistance To know that my efforts to engage in healing can be of benefit to all beings, with the functions of sharing my experiences to support others and contributing my learning to the knowledge commons of how to resist the prison system and build a prison-free world  Opportunities to write about my experiences, WHP website, blogging, zine writing. Opportunities to organise through Bristol ABC, Animal Action network and other repression related projects.  Subculture fears of talking about my experiences/self-minimisation, fear of attention from the state, fear of what people think of me. Ability to start new projects/workload overwhelm. 


Design & Implementation

I knew I would also need a container to support my own analysis of surfacing feelings, memories and patterns identified in healing work, and so this system was integrated into my design process. Below is a table of my identified design needs and what steps I took in their implementation:

Design need Implementation
Container for reflections/processing Journalling, added category in my journal
Supportive & caring allies to check in with Set up Action Learning Guild with close friend Sarah, who is skilled in healing work & spiritual development
Space to process, reflect & allow for self-love/nurturing Set aside Monday evenings for counselling & healing work e.g. Book notes, journalling. Booked days off for retreat in caravan to write & process my path
Milestones & Anchor points Designed for 6 week counselling reviews. Set key milestones:
- To be able to attend & participate in a workshop around prison/repression without being heavily re-stimulated/upset
- To be able to lead a workshop around prison/repression
- To be able to attend a demonstration/event with a police presence
- To be able to visit friends in prison without being emotionally ‘knocked sideways’
- To be able to write about my experiences with honesty
- To be able to support others experiencing repression


How is my healing journey progressing? Has this design been effective? What have I learnt?

My key learning edges:

How is my healing journey progressing? Has this design been effective? What have I learnt?

It was important for me to track my progress, and I did this mainly by having reviews with my Councillor. Also with active journalling I could see the changes in myself, for example how each workshop I gave became easier and less restimulating.

Below is a table summarising my key learning edges and personal outcomes in the four areas of healing work:

Area April 13 August 13    
Counselling & Self Expression Only talked about prison experiences to close friends, family & partners in a very self-censored/minimising way. One article written about the prison system. Never accessed counselling. 5 months of counselling, incredibly powerful. More able to talk about experiences openly & honestly to diverse groups of people. No longer over re-stimulated when talking about prison system. Several articles written. Shared and led several workshops & talks about prison & repression.

Energy Work Little awareness of energy concepts or tools other than maybe plant allies/flower essences. No tools in place to support myself to energetically deal with traumatic or challenging energy, past or present. Awareness of energy systems such as chakras, knowledge of ‘Hoocha exercises’ to help me dispel energy & re-charge. Protective tools in place to support me during prison visits. Greater knowledge of naturapothy due to herbalism apprenticeship, changes in diet.    
Alleyship  Only undertaking work with long term allies, such as fox & cow and many medicinal plants Connected heavily with horse energy following a supported journey. Regular system set up for plant connection work, most notably Lady’s mantle during summer months.     
 Dissemination & resistance  Other than writing for prisoner support magazines when in prison & What will it take to heal? Article, no other pieces of work expressing my experiences. Very little experience organising around prisoner support, repression or for prison abolition. Hugely uncomfortable with thought of police presences. Unaware of where prison abolition fits in my worldview or relates to other areas of organising such as political agroecology. Major increase in my literacy of the prison industrial complex through intensive & extensive reading & reflection. Articles written. Led workshops on repression & prison abolition. New organising projects now in place for 2014.    

Healing is making yourself available to honour the sacred & be nourished by the wild

Healing is swimming in the ocean & remembering what its like to be a human being

Healing is being silly

Healing is spending time with family & friends

Healing is being supported by & learning from your elders

Healing is asking for & accepting support from others, human and nonhuman