(681 words – 3 minute read)
I was going to skip this section but Amy said I have to write it, not only because it contains valuable insights but more importantly for my own sake. I needed to get the charge off those incidents.
There is a mechanism here that’s worth describing. Upsetting events disrupt the nervous system. We feel shaky, nauseated, break out in a cold sweat. The nervous system is in turmoil.
Being reminded of a traumatic incident triggers the disruption all over again. The incident, instead of being neutral, has a negative charge on it. It circles around in your head. Writing it down is one way of getting it out of your head and onto the paper.
This exteriorization of our internal processes is the essence of the therapeutic process.
The first thing I learned about running a session was to listen. Sounds simple but to deeply listen, understand and acknowledge without indulging in judgment, “Helpful Feedback”, evaluation, interpretation, comments, or even a slightly raised eyebrow is not as easy as it may seem.
As soon as you do something that interrupts the outward flow of the person’s internal processes you turn their attention back on themselves. “Was that the right thing to do? Did that really happen the way I think it did?” and that easy outward flow is interrupted.
Early on in our in our path to being therapists Amy and I were trained to simply listen, understand and acknowledge.
This is the essence of what is called ‘client centered therapy” put forward by Carl Rogers in the 1940s and more recently by Eugene Gendlin. Makes sense to me; after all, are we here for the client or the therapist?
But that is rarely the case. I remember a client of the Behavioral Health Center who came to our Tai Chi in the park. She had been told she was schizophrenic, that it was a chemical malfunction in her brain, she could do nothing about and she had to take drugs for the rest of her life.
She had told her so-called therapist she saw lights and colors around people. Obviously, per the infamous psychiatric diagnostic manual – the DSM – now in its fifth evil incarnation, she was hallucinating and mentally ill. That’s not client-centered therapy.
Client centered therapy asks: “How can I help you?” Therapist centered therapy says: “This is what’s wrong with you.”
Just shut up and listen. We never get that with friends and family. Before you’re halfway through the first sentence they’re in there with what you should do about it and what you did wrong. “Just let me talk! Stop interrupting! Don’t tell me what to think! Just shut up and listen to me!” is what we want to say.
That’s why we need therapists – to listen to us.
“I’ve lived in a past life; there are evil spirits in my house; the tarot says I should do it; Saturn is in Scorpio; I’ve been abducted by aliens; I see auras; my guides help me make decisions; I’m from another planet; and I’ve never told anyone this before.” No you haven’t told anyone, because we all fear the disapproval that comes from being different.
We are strangers in a strange land, pretending to fit in. “Don’t be silly” they say and we bury it even deeper.
And as the therapist, the helper, if even the shadow of a “you’ve got to be kidding me” thought should flit through your mind it will show on your face. At some subliminal level it will be noticed and then it’s game over, trust is gone and what got a disapproving response will ever be mentioned again.
So before any therapeutic technique is used we have to understand what the problem is. And it may even be that this deep hearing of the client has such a magic to it that it is all that is needed to release and heal the confusion and turmoil hidden so deep and for so long.
Listening is everything and acceptance is all.
This is some very Zen stuff I’m telling you.