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  • Toby Sinclair

What masks do you wear? My experience at a mask therapy workshop

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

What masks do you wear?

We wear masks throughout our life allowing us to both reveal and conceal our identities. The mask we wear will often depend on our social context and our emotional state. Many people have a closet of masks, developed since childhood, which we swap and change many times a day; a mask for work, a mask for family and a mask for friends. These masks slowly evolve and change so much that many people often loose a sense of identity. Is this the mask or is it really me?

What characters are hiding in the shadows?

Coaching has often helped me explore my identity. Coaching has allowed me to reflect on situations where I have acted differently than i might have wanted and when I have felt hijacked in my thinking. As a coach I have also learnt that congruence of identity is important to forming transformational coaching relationships. Carl Rogers highlights congruence as a core condition to building a therapeutic relationship.

I have often felt followed by shadow characters, parts of my personality just below consciousness, always there, but not fully experienced. Often these shadows only come to life if provoked, such as when I feel under pressure. Jung described this as the “Id”; an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself [ref]

I’m often intrigued to explore these shadow characters, to be more aware of how they can help and hinder my personal development. Throughout coaching relationships I will often help my clients explore the different characters in their shadows, often the characters which are holding them back from achieving their goals. If i’m to encourage my clients to explore the parts of themselves I too must be open to exploring myself and gaining a deeper awareness of who i really am. How can I explore the characters in the shadows?

Exploring the masks

Last week I attended a mask therapy workshop facilitated by the wonderful Steve Chapman who provides a great summary of using masks:

Masks are the ultimate permission giving tools. They allow us to tap into and unlock different parts of ourselves. They can help us to find different ways of moving, different ways of thinking and different ways of speaking. They can kick start our imagination, our creativity and get us back in touch with our natural spontaneity. They allow us to develop characters that are exaggerations or polar opposites of how we experience ourselves on a daily basis. They allow us to explore different parts of our personalities in order to get to know ourselves better and understand some of our foibles, projections and fixed self-images that keep us stuck. Best of all masks are a powerful, exciting and highly entertaining method of personal development.

The technique is grounded in Gestalt therapy which focuses on thoughts, feelings and action in the present moment. The mask is used as a physical embodiment to enable you to experience the mask in the present moment.

During the workshop Steve led us through several activities including an improvised TED Talk and a Soap Opera to help us fully experience the personality behind the masks.

My shadow characters

Throughout the day we wore different masks which resulted in very different experiences across the group. During one exercise, the mask of Bernie, a weird, bald, toothless man led me to a very emotional experience.


Whilst wearing this mask I became an old man, full of regret, broken dreams and sadness. The few short minutes wearing the mask were very intense. After removing the mask it took a few minutes for the emotion to subside.

Reflecting in the break I felt more aware of the shadow characters I mentioned earlier. Through Bernie, one of my shadow characters became real. The experience enabled me to gain a deeper awareness of my relationship with regret and with the future. It helped me to gain a greater appreciation of the present moment and what life can give today.

The power of masks

The mask workshop demonstrated the power of using masks to experience the different parts of my personality. I was very surprised at the intensity of the experiences across the day. Towards the end of the day, Steve remarked that it can often take many months to make sense of what happened. Personally, I’m still processing my experience from this fascinating, creative and emotional day.

What masks do you wear?

Do you have a Bernie lingering in the shadows? Maybe your shadow character is an imposter, the inner critic who always casts doubt in your mind? Or maybe your shadow character is a creative genius waiting to be given permission?

If you want to explore your shadows and gain greater self-awareness I would highly recommend taking part in a mask workshop!

Find out more here:


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