Life

Finding wisdom through The Wizard of Oz

The great-granddaughter of the man who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz encourages parents to help young people to follow their heads and their hearts, just like Dorothy and co in the much-loved book and movie. Jenny Lee speaks to the US psychologist ahead of a visit to Ireland

A scene from the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz, based on L Frank Baum's book, which starred Judy Garland as DOrothy

SOMEWHERE, over the rainbow, skies are blue. And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. These well-known lyrics from The Wizard of Oz, one of the most popular films of all time, originate from the American children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, novel written by L Frank Baum in 1900.

But in today's busy world of league tables and academic testing, is the mental wellbeing, respect, courage and happiness of our children being sacrificed?

Like the film and subsequent stage musical adaptations, Baum's fairytale chronicles the adventures of a young farm girl named Dorothy in the magical Land of Oz, after she and her pet dog Toto are swept away from their Kansas home by a cyclone. The book's themes of virtue, friendship, good and evil, are still relevant, more than a century on, and over the past 40 years the author's great-granddaughter Dr Gita Morena has travelled the world helping people tackle the complexities of life using her great-grandfather's enchanting tale.

"Finding inner peace and happiness in a world that is filled with so many challenges," should be our number one goal says the San Diego-based psychologist, author, and certified sandplay therapist, who will be visiting Dungannon and Belfast later this month to help inspire both young people and adults to "follow their own yellow brick road".

This will be the second visit to Ireland by Dr Morena who, having already visited Taiwan this year, will go on to tour Australia, Singapore and South Africa in the autumn. She is delighted that there are now a number of therapists using sandplay therapy in the north of Ireland, helping people access their unconscious to help address trauma and conflict.

While she often uses her international trips to speak with counsellors, therapists and teachers, during her visit later this month, Dr Morena is delighted to be addressing young people directly, when she holds a two-day workshop with year 8 pupils at St Patrick's Academy, Dungannon.

Through presentation, discussion groups and an experiential art collage, Dr Morena will help pupils realise the necessary skills to make and sustain friends, and use their imaginations to explore their inner world and discover the values of courage, compassion and wisdom.

Dr Morena believes that exam pressure and excessive homework are contributing to an increase in teenage mental health problems.

"Having time to integrate the teachings and let the mind relax is really important. St Patrick's is wonderful with offering counselling services and workshops directed toward mental health education. I'd like to see more schools offer prioritise mental health."

Her advice to young people growing up in today's media-saturated, peer-pressure-led society?

"Take the time to listen to your mind – the scarecrow – and your heart – the tin woodman. And find the courage – like the cowardly lion – to follow your own yellow brick road – one step at a time."

She also has a message to parents about supporting their children to be courageous and compassionate, like the fictional Dorothy.

"Children learn most by seeing what you do, so be an example to your children by finding harmony in your own inner world. Be supportive and loving to your children as they learn about life, and listen to them with respect and compassion. See what the world looks like through their eyes."

As well as her famous literary great-grandfather, Dr Morena can boast Matilda Jocelyn Gage, suffragette and founder of the American Women's National Liberal Union and author of the influential book Women, Church and State, which attacked the religious ideas and customs which historically oppressed women, among her ancestors.

Her own parents worked as a nurse and doctor – and she did consider following them into traditional medicine.

"Although my family didn't talk much about it, I do have memories of my mother reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to me when I was a very young child. As I grew older I read it myself and identified strongly with Dorothy," she says.

"During my studies I found myself much more interested in the psychological aspects of things and earned a masters degree in Clinical Psychology right after college. Like my great-grandfather, I have a lot of creative interests – writing, film-making and music – and love that I can blend these into my career."

The fact that The Wizard of Oz remains so popular generation after generation motivated Dr Morena to write her book The Wisdom of Oz, in which she uses The Wizard of Oz as a metaphor for personal growth and inner peace.

Dr Morena will be exploring this future when she leads a two day workshop at Edgehill Theological College, for participants to follow their own yellow brick road to overcome hidden obstacles, release untapped potential and face any wicked witches or veils of illusion on April 23 and 24.

She will also speak at an evening seminar, Travelling Through Oz, hosted by Queen's University School of Education in Belfast on April 25. For further information and booking visit art-therapy-works.com.

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