Breaking Out of the Gift-Wrapped Box – Part 1

Sep 11, 2019

By by Merry Stanford

I once had a client who came to me because I integrate BodyTalk into the other psychotherapy modalities I use. He had had a very hard life and had developed many of the chronic mental health issues that can arise from a rough and lonely life. But he also had a strong drive to get better, in spite of a lot of bad treatment.

When he sat down on my couch, he already had some bad therapy habits. He recounted his life's war stories to me, many of them, just as he had to countless other professionals during his sixty years. Instead of staying curious about what he was trying to communicate in code, something that hadn't yet been picked up by previous professionals, I became impatient with his habitual talking, and from time to time attempted to redirect him to the table so I could "begin" BodyTalk. He consistently declined. We'd had three sessions and hadn't gotten past the war stories. I wondered what I was doing for him.

He was late for his fourth session with me, and when he arrived said, as he sat down on the couch, "I almost didn't come back." "Why is that?" I said. "Because," he said, his voice shaking as he pointed across the room, "you keep trying to get me on that table!" I was stunned. I thought he had come for the BodyTalk! "And why did you come back?" "Because sometimes you listen."

Another client has a form of neurodiversity that is usually labeled as "schizophrenia" in the field of psychiatry. She is a creative, caring, and very bright young woman who enjoys BodyTalk sessions and occasionally has psychotic episodes that land her in the hospital. She cannot (yet) ask direct questions. If I'm not consciously and exquisitely attuned to her every moment she is in my office, I miss really important data about the state of her mind and body. One day she came into my office complaining about having been fired again from a job. After giving her a little time to express her disappointment and suspicions about why she was fired, I offered BodyTalk on the table, which she refused. Then I tried to lead the conversation in the direction of looking for another job, which was fruitless. I was trying to "help" her. I wasn't listening to her body/mind. If I had been, I believe I would have heard something like: "I'm worried that I'm too different to be accepted in the world. I feel very frightened by this. I need to know when I come here that I'm okay with you, that you don't want to change me. That you'll let me decide how to change me." But I didn't hear that unspoken message. She didn't return for the next two appointments.

These moments with these clients have changed my practice. They taught me that the session starts the moment a client enters the room. That the most important person in the room is the client and his or her intelligent body/mind, not me and my modalities or skills or help. That I need to start using yes/no the moment a client calls to make an appointment. Now – when I am alert and aware – I ask internally and silently about everything: what I say and how to say it, the modalities I use, the questions I ask, the most optimal place for the session (on the couch, on the table, in a chair, standing up and moving about). I try not to get settled into any kind of routine with any client.

I learn and learn again that we practitioners are in the business of unwrapping a powerful, awe-inspiring, self-healing Present with our clients. If we are going to be faithful to our calling to assist in that sacred enterprise, we cannot get distracted by the gift wrapping.
Note: In the presentation from the 2017 IBA Members Conference, "I See You! The Magic and Science of Observation," Dr. Tracey Clark shares her research that supports the notion that healing begins from the moment of meeting the client. Take her course, now available on PaRama Campus.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Merry's story.

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