The Humanities and Me:
Anne-Marie O’Brien

Through the humanities we have places to go where the fires of our soul can be lit. They offer us a therapeutic ‘holding space’ where one can go to feel safely anchored. Through my engagement with the humanities I have discovered more about what it means to be fully human spiritually, emotionally, physically, aesthetically as well as intellectually.

Religion and History have been deeply ingrained in me since childhood. Hence, it was no surprise that I went on to study for my undergraduate degree in theology and history at St. Patrick’s College Maynooth. My love of the humanities has allowed me to come into direct alignment with the people, places and things that have shaped my personal identity. I have a keen interest in music especially liturgical music, and I would describe myself as a person who has become more deeply spiritual in recent years. I like to study philosophy in my spare time. I have great admiration and affection for the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue. Two of his books Benedictus and Anam Cara hold pride of place on my bookshelf.

The Kilkenny Arts festival is to me what the All Ireland Final in Croke Park is to a hurler – ‘a sacred time of the year’. My life experiences such as assisting David Mach a Scottish sculptor and installation artist with one of his exhibitions, working in the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny Castle along with my appreciation of the history of Art - particularly the artistic and intellectual developments of the Renaissance - have contributed greatly to my desire to be close to aesthetically and intellectually pleasing experiences.

Brian Friel’s play ‘Philadelphia Here I come’ is a play that resonates very much with me as it examines the tension between the ‘public’’ and ‘private’ aspects of the self. I believe that the humanities play a crucial role in giving authentic voice and expression to emotions that need to arise, be felt and then in turn processed so that one can get closer to the truth of one’s authentic mission and purpose in life.

I currently work as a Guidance Counsellor in a secondary school in North Dublin. The approach I take to working with my students is holistic and integrative. I regularly access the humanities through its various expressions to assist me in the counselling process. The expressive art forms I have used to date include journaling, creative writing, music, dance and movement, poetry, film, bibliotherapy and art therapy. I have found using integrative therapies such as these as places where students can go to express emotions, heal, relax, restore, and move into recovery from life stressors such as trauma and loss.

Last October I participated in an Erasmus study visit to the city of Odense Denmark, the home of the Danish author Hans Christian Anderson. Anderson’s fairy-tale of the ’Ugly Duckling’ along with the other great fairy-tales have given rise to many questions for philosophical discussion in our classroom. Andersons stories have gone a long way to serve the common good not only through igniting moral and philosophical debates but also by inspiring plays, ballets, animation and live action films that not only entertain but teach us as well.

My next study visit, which takes me to the University of Poitiers in France is sure to bring me back to my love of European history at Maynooth University. It will be a place where I will have the privilege of standing on the learned ground of giants of the humanities such as François Rabelais, Francis Bacon and René Descartes.

Au revoir mes amis,
“May all that is unlived in you blossom into a future graced with love.”
― John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

Published: 15 Jul 2020

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Anne-Marie O’Brien is a graduate of Maynooth University and currently practices as a Guidance Counsellor.
She has an undergraduate degree in Theology and History along with higher diplomas in Education, Pastoral studies and Guidance and Counselling.
Anne Marie is also a qualified Guidance and Counselling supervisor.