Therapy Skills: Language and Body Tracking Skills
- Tracking language
- Creativity skills (I wish lists/Mind mapping)
- Enquiry Intervention/Therapeutic Intervention
- Inner tracking
- Little experiments
- Taking over
- Body awareness (body focussing, sensations, muscle tensions, amplification, and repetitions)
- "5 min exercise"
(Above terms, see Kurtz, 1990)
The magic of semantic space and "the body"
Language and body tracking can be combined quite powerfully. So much information is available and all we seem to need to do is tune in or watch with 'fresh eyes' and there is a potent source of dynamic information and energy. Often, we can commence a whole phase of creative therapy just with a certain word or gesture. How do we do it and how do we give ourselves permission to include this into our counselling style.
Firstly, consider the human being; yourself for example, do you feel like a mass of feeling-thought connections like some bunch of electrical wires? I hope not, people inhabit a very private dynamic, rich environment and we term the word 'psyche' to include the totality of our mind, identity, conscious self, ego, unconscious, defense system, memory, intuitional and whatever other mysterious parts of us there are that often psychology itself doesn't want to know too much about. None the less, "we are here and kicking"!
Apparently according to science the bumblebee is aerodynamically unsound and shouldn't be able to fly but don't tell the little aviator, you could cause a heap of nosedives and a honey shortage. Science helps us find the truth but it was already there waiting! Meanwhile we just keep on flying.
Think of the word. Our counselling models instruct us to listen to words as indicating feeling or content. What if they were just a tip of some iceberg or better still 'hotberg', a portal or window into a whole new world? So we know about semantic space, it is like another dimension that is represented under the words that we use. "Semantic", means- meaning. Words like love, sex, guilt, mother (hope no one is analysing my free associations here!), convey a world of meaning in them. Your best friend, your favourite pet, someone who died, your first lost love or first real one, Albononi's adagio, Hitler, abortion. These are not just words and if they have a personal meaning they connect with feelings, emotions, fears, memories and unconscious connections we may have long forgotten. "What's too painful to remember we simply choose to forget". A word of a song can create an entire flood of connections that only you know about.
Jung termed the phrase 'somatic unconscious', to imply a body unconscious system.
Soma from Greek means body. It is very meaningful, since, our feelings and emotions obviously inhabit a body. Think of the GSR a direct connection between the physiological, nerve linked, blood and tissue connected bit! Hence our body tells us things about our unconscious and conscious. It is more powerful than this though, gestures, body postures and especially sudden movements that occur can provide us with direct access points for very sophisticated global connections of experience well beyond the consciousness of the person and yet freely accessible to those with the skill. No need for hypnosis, catharsis, abreaction or sodium pentathol.
So a word is connected to a semantic space or experiential world unique to the individual using it and in particular to other feelings and emotions and experiences. A word can be used to reach a bodily experienced state and the body can be used to access key experiences directly. If we work these two notions back and forth I hope you can see we are well beyond simply counselling and to the neophyte will appear the gifted therapist.
How to do it. There are 3 categories to focus on. Words, metaphors and body gestures.
A. WORD WATCHING
Search for deeper structure
- Check phrases like 'it' "was really important" How was it important and what was 'it'?
Similarly, 'that' feeling; "what is that feeling". How does that feel?
- For obviously key feeling words clarify: "How does 'numb' feel? "What is 'bad' like, what other words can describe 'stuck'?"
- Listen to 'slips of the tongue', but don't act on them until you collect other supportive information. E.g. "I was always in love with my father when I first got married" (she meant husband).
Follow up phrases like 'I don't feel anything at all' with the following:
- "So you really don't feel anything inside you at all?" viz. you reflect but spell it right out and wait to see if you triggered a semantic space regardless of the statement.
- If nothing happens follow up with: "What is that like- feeling nothing at all?" and "How does that feel?"
- For "I don't feel anxious when he shouts at me". Confirm again the opposite to evoke a paradoxical response. E.g. "So when your husband looms over you and waves his fist at you, you never feel anxious at all." (Said in neutral tone and then wait again…)
Where the person is clearly trying to access an experience try:
- "So what is it a bit like"? "How would you describe it with an example or metaphor?" " What would someone you know well feel like if they felt like this? (Using projection).
- Or "If I act out (x) for you, tell me how I'm feeling"
- If they are trying to remember something they said, repeat the exact words and experiences they mentioned leading up to the missed piece of information and maybe reflect "so its just gone out of your mind" and wait.
- "What would it be like if it were an animal feeling, what colour does it seem, what shape does the knot have, if it had a voice that went with it, what would it say to you?"
'Gold coin' words
- Some words are clearly more meaningful than others. Usually a word is used that relates to key experiences, difficulties and hopes. Listening to these you can simple 'hit the word' and ask, "what is church about for you" or "tell me more about what excitement means to you?"
- Repeated words or phrases should be acknowledged with "So caution in relationships is very important to you" or "sounds like intimacy is something you've never had yet is a very high value in your life".
- Mind mapping is very useful if a word or phrase has become fundamentally important to know more about.
'Holding the experience'
- It is important to try at times to 'hold' the experience for the client or repeat the experience in exact sensory/affect language that is represented. You use the same words i.e. of feeling, senses or any key language that mirrors the experience back. Eg "so try to remember what happened as you feel 5 y.o, with little hands and feet, the red ribbon in your hair and carrying the raggedy Anne doll, with the twisted knot feeling in your tummy and your mother is looking at you with that cold stare just like she did in the laundry."
- Holding the experience allows the conscious attention to not be distracted with memory or 'head' requirements because you are repeating them for them and also allowing them to 'free experience' and gather the evoked feeling memories or connections.
Seeking the Yellow Brick Road
You can gain vital information from key phrases that indicate a goal or a desired state, "the path ahead. It may give you ideas of far clearer goals or what they think the ideal state is about or whether they are pessimistic about their chances.
- So do ask questions like "What would having a future be like, try to describe anything that gives you a rough clue". Or "If a miracle occurred and you woke up tomorrow with all your problems solved, what would be different?"
- If they say "I would need to change my life completely?" Ask them what that would mean, how would it look, how would they change. Sometimes after the expressed suicidality has been responsibly explored you could ask, "maybe you don't like your life and you wish it could die not you. If it did what would the life be that you would want, even in fantasy? What would real LIFE be like?"
- For clients, who are stuck, confused or just lacking any vision, you could use an 'I wish list' to encourage some creative imagining about what goals could form. Once again use your language skills for Gold Coin phrases and so on.
B. METAPHOR SYMBOLS AND THEMES
- We could use 'chunks' of language instead of words to listen to the type of state or mood the person is indicating. We can also listen to patterns and symbols. In the latter if you notice that they were a loner at school you could ask innocently (sic), "so that, shy feeling you had at St Ralph's, is that at all like the way you feel in mixed company?"
- There may be a symbolic theme e.g. a 'mother' pattern or a fear of open spaces yet a fear of the open space of adult life in parallel. One person originally was trapped in a classroom situation and by listening to similarities of states I was able to see a pattern with flying, being afraid of leaving the country and an episode that happened with her husband in a foreign country as a young woman. One experience unconsciously symbolized and triggered the original and I was able to hear the 'metaphor transforms' and search for a body state to resolve all the problems at once.
- Listen to what is implied. Listening to the overall content even over a whole session can make it clear that some things are linked together even though they are apparently disparate. For example, a man that regularly complains about his wife, sister and mother obviously may have a problem with women and it may stem back to his mother's inability to listen to him as a child.
C. BODY SKILLS
- Watch for matching body language and verbal language. If you think of the clever phrase 'body language' it says it all. It is as if the body is talking to you in a parallel language to the actual conscious language that is being spoken. So if they are emphasizing how it was for them when Dad left to catch the bus each morning and they are wringing their hands these two experiences are almost certainly connected.
- So, if this situation is 'goal linked' and of high importance you could ask them to be aware of what they feel when they are wringing their hands. To emphasize that we are discussing behaviors outside of awareness: It is impressive that most people at this point will dismiss it as a bad habit and "my mother always used to caution me too"! Hence not only do they see it as a disconnected behavior from the father leaving home but also that you are criticizing them, which is rather sad.
- Many people do not make an anxiety connection with nail biting and see it as just a bad habit, how superficial was the upbringing that helped them to ignore such feelings? A dentist I knew well thought I was being a "bit too deep", when I suggested that his clients who ground their teeth were probably experiencing intense anxiety like insecurity or even anger. He said laughingly, "I think I'll just stick to the mouth guards Brian and leave all the murky stuff to you." We live in dark times!
It is important to be aware of being respectful to body states. Sometimes you will almost feel a 'very small person' has suddenly entered the room and you need to be especially gentle in what you say. One very traumatized young woman used to ask me to move my chair back when she regressed into a child state, I was simply, too frightening at that proximity. Sometimes you would be wise to match the language and tone of the voice. In fact if you are addressing a child state use child like language like belly or scared rather than abdomen or anxiety.
Repeating the behavior can help the client to re-access the experience. Asking them to be 'mindful' and watch their body like an observer is effective. Occasionally, you will need to educate people that their experience is in their body. "So tune into the feeling, in your belly, just notice how your feelings in your body respond when you remake the fist".