“It’s not working!” (Part 1)

(1352 words – 6 1/2 minute read)

Why doesn’t some therapy or technique always work? Maybe we’re not doing it right, maybe there is something wrong with us, and of course maybe it’s a lousy technique. But given that there are so many workable techniques out there I have come to the conclusion that doing almost anything will work if the person is receptive to change.

I have made up, (or “spontaneous intuitive insight” as one of my kinder clients has said) a new method in the middle of a session just because I felt like doing something different, and it’s worked just fine, sometimes brilliantly.

So if it’s us, what is it and can it be fixed? And, just as important, what is the state we are seeking to attain that makes us susceptible to beneficial change?

What does a “perfect” session look like?

Well I happened to be checking out EFT practitioners in New Mexico on  Nick Ortner’s site and in Andi Sutherland’s writeup she mentioned Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems Model. I looked it up and there was a perfect description of what I was looking for:

“Once you’ve attuned with your client, the session begins to flow, and there’s an almost effortless quality to the work, as if something magical were unfolding almost by itself. I don’t even think about what I’m going to say – the right words just come out, as if something were speaking through me. Afterward, I’m full of energy, as if I’d been meditating for an hour rather than doing hard, demanding, clinical work. In a sense, of course, I’ve been in a state of meditation – a state of deep mindfulness, full-bodied attention, centered awareness, and inner calm. And even after all these years, I still have the sense of being witness to something awe inspiring, as if the client and I both were connected to something beyond us, much bigger than we are.”

So what can get in the way of that?The first that comes to mind is obstinacy – the sheer bloody-minded “Fuck You” that arises when we feel our self-determination, our fundamental right to decide what we do, is being threatened.

It is a last ditch stand to preserve our sense of self. Give in, give over, acquiesce and we have lost the very essence of who we are to another. When that happens we become robots in the service of another person or group.

Albert Einstein when he was a child, saw a parade of marching soldiers and was terrified at the sight. He thought they had all been taken over and turned into zombie, robot killing machines. He was right of course.

In life we concede and give over. “Yes, you’re right. I see what you’re saying.” And if that is accepted with some graciousness we don’t feel degraded. If the other gloats and bullies we knot up inside and keep a secret stone of resistance deep within. “I am not yours, you do not own me. I will get you one day. I will pretend and you will believe you have me. But I have deceived you and that is my victory.”

Human relationships do not work in the presence of oppression.

Politically we see it in Britain’s vote to exit the European Union and the popularity of Donald Trump. Nationalism, isolationism, taking back control, keeping those who don’t belong out of our lives -even at the expense of our own well being. Protecting our sense of self is that important.

In the mainstream world of therapy the client is criticized for being “non-compliant”. Compliance is all important and the structure of indoctrination encourages this; it starts with a 90 minute questionnaire (interrogation) into the most intimate details of a client’s life. If you go for that you’re half gone already. Sucked into a passive state, you tell them anything they want to know. That’s how they interrogate prisoners of war.

Then you’re given a diagnosis. “This is what you have (PTSD, Bi-Polar etc.) you’ll have it for the rest of your life, there is no cure, it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain, there is nothing you can do about it – but if you take our drugs and do what we say you may be able to learn to live with it.”

Gee! Thanks. If you buy into that you are lost. You have been successfully reinfantilized (turned into a passive infant) and your doctor, therapist, psychologist is your new Mommy/Daddy. Do what they say and you will get your supper.

That’s why the call it “Managed Care” and the “Behavioral Health Unit”. It used to be called the Counseling Center but was changed to Behavioral Health because it more accurately reflected their motto: “Almost Normal”.

I’ve got nothing against diagnoses. They can work for you. I’ve had this thing, (it might happen a couple of times a year) where I can’t breathe. It’s bloody terrifying. I think “Oh shit! This is it. Now is when I die.” But in about fifteen seconds, after a lot of noisy coughing and gasping I can breathe again.

So I Googled “I can’t breathe” and got a lot of stuff on police brutality.

Eventually I figured out I had laryngospasm (sounds like a Jamaican dance craze). Knowing what it was really helped. I have a name for it. I have some control. That’s why kids want to know the names of things. If I can say what it is I have power over it. Magic.

But on the other side of that coin I remember talking with a client who felt she was “a piece of broken machinery” after being told she was bi-polar. She wasn’t. She had an abusive father and a submissive mother and flipped from one personality to the other. Not bi-polar. no problem. You are not broken.

Same with questionnaires. Questionnaires are O.K. – to a point.

I work at our Assisted Living Home. One of the residents asked to see me. He knew I was a therapist. So I asked “What can help you with today?”

“No, no,no!” he replied “I don’t want your help. I don’t want you to fix anything. I just want you to listen to what I have to say.”

I had made a false assumption – that he wanted me to fix something. I could better have asked: “Is there something I can help you with today?” Now he has the freedom, the option to say: “No, I just want you to listen.” or “Can we just sit? I find silence to be calming.” Tiny change – big difference.

Some years back they did a questionnaire of patients in Queensland Australia about questionnaires. Something strange right there. Anyway the long and short if it is that the patients thought questionnaires were intrusive and were only for the benefit of the medical staff, not the patient. Someone staring at a form, asking questions, not looking up, only interested in getting through the form. What do you care?

A doctor needs to know how your body is doing. That’s fine. It’s not who I am. I say: “I have a broken leg” rather than “I am a broken leg.”

But the mind is closer to home.  We say: “I am depressed” whereas it would be better to say   “I have this depressed feeling.” A world of difference. I am not the problem. I am not the pain.

My questionnaire is open-ended. I wait, without any expectation. Silence can be golden. it allows us to relax and sink down to something real.

“I’ve always wanted to be a balloon.” Ah! Yes – thank you. You’ve shown me what it feels like to want to be a balloon. A gift. Now we meet in an open field  where good things can happen. Are we escaping? Are we free? Are we ungrounded? So many possibilities.

I’ve wandered about a bit. Hope that’s OK with you.

“Truth” J. Krishnamurti said “is a pathless land.” And I think it all pertains to what makes a session work and what hinders it – which is where we started.

More in part 2.