Just being.....when words are not enough....
With Cheltenham Festival of Literature at the tip of many people's tongues I am thinking about words and language in talking therapy. Words can be rich and plenty and yet at times we have to make leaps of another kind to bridge the gap between the internal and the external world in order to be understood so that we may not be left feeling alienated, disconnected, barren and empty.
I acknowledge the limitations of language as a method of cultural categorising (if that is a word!) The English language is expansive and yet there is not an exact word for 'Dasein' the German word used by the philosopher Heidegger to describe 'being' or more precisely the subjective or phenomenological experience of being in the world. So if you are still with me and wondering what my point is .....it is this ...well actually it is more complex than one point
1. Being with a client often involves just being, or rather being present as a witness or holding presence with another human being.
2. My approach to working with clients involves understanding their experience of 'dasein' or being in the world, this involves operating in a very different paradigm to the diagnostic treatment of the client as the 'other' to be observed. It involves, however briefly, to risk allowing oneself to be in the world of the client, to be open to the experience the 'as if', to feel, to be.
3. Being with my clients involves accessing my own pre- verbal tools, my 'unthought known', that source of deep knowing that comes before words are even formed, the form of knowing which unfortunately most of us are encouraged to forget and disconnect from. In this way a deeper knowing becomes disavowed, unacknowledged, invalidated . lowered in a hierarchy of knowledge. It is one way that many of us begin to feel wrong. I often suggest to my clients how learning to disconnect from our bodies because of overwhelming or unhelpful feelings demonstrates a resourcefulness and a kind of resilience to survive, and how a mind body split is one of the main symptoms of post trauma. In order to survive threat or danger humans still have not evolved enough to stop the fight, flight, freeze reptilian brain response, however civilised we think we have become we all have this going on and I believe that if we are able to become more finely attuned to these processes and understand them we can be better equipped to survive long term mental health issues.
4. So being with my clients involves being attuned to my body and helping my clients to learn how to befriend their own body and the unruly things the body appears to do; from the terror of panic attacks or claustrophobia, fears during pregnancy of giving birth, overwhelming rage and intolerance of partners, parents or children to erectile dysfunction and infertility. This is 'being' human in the modern western world.
5 Whilst I would never profess that psychotherapy offers a cure, I do believe that being alongside my clients and offering the space 'to be' with or without words can offer an opportunity to experiment with a new way of 'being'. Within the safe holding of being in relationship with a therapist it may become possible nudge to dare practice taking some risks. This might not be what you think in terms of 'doing', this actually might just mean SLOWING right down.....filling a space with words can often be a way of avoiding staying with uncomfortable feelings and being present. The work I do involves encouraging my clients to be present with themselves and give space to the flow of their internal world and stay with it rather than stem the flow with a clutter of words. Being with my clients creates a welcome for feelings that may have be silenced or minimised for many years.
6. Sometimes mindful focusing allows being present in the body and improve attunement but I also use creativity and imagery as a form of communication when words are not enough.....