Blog reflections by Elizabeth Shoop, LPC
Q: What matters most in my life this week?
A: Sacred work.
My work is not simply CBT or "talk therapy". I have been called to sacred work and somatic work. This week's affirmation: "I am equipped, experienced and qualified uniquely for this work, and I am being gifted and guided with all needed resources."
Most often, my counseling clients arrive outwardly focused, consumed with unbounded thoughts about accomplishment, productivity, evaluation, and judgement. They are following unconscious drives and interpretations that they blindly accept as truth. That's not to say that this is a wrong or disordered way to be; we all live this way to some extent (particularly in this country) because we've been conditioned by meritocracy and a narrow definition of success driven by consumerism, greed and acquisition. (Don't get me started.)
My greatest hope, desire and invitation to my clients is to settle in, and let this hour be different from the rest of the day. (And then perhaps, the rest of their day may be different as well. Or maybe not, and that's OK too.)
My invitation is to lay aside worries and burdens and take a deep dive inward, where the real machinery resides that determines the direction of our lives.
The self talk
The conditioning of past experiences
The subconscious beliefs that are either limiting or expanding
The Soul; the space where we connect to something larger, our source, or whatever that means to the client.
When we dwell in an outward-focused, cognitive, behavioral approach to life, we neglect these all-powerful, unseen drives that motivate us, and often hold the insight and instructions needed to solve our problems.
Trust the process.
Once I've issued the invitation and offered some quiet time to fully land, all I do is trust the process. I believe that each client comes fully equipped with the answers they seek. My job is to set the scene and circumstances that will allow their innate wisdom to surface.
Some clients will indulge in my mindful moment as a kickoff to the session, and then pop back up to the surface level of thinking and talking about problems. That works too; I can hold space for that. And if they did accept the invitation to get still and quiet, to turn inward, even for a moment, I will have held space for something special and unique from the rest of their day. Perhaps I've planted a seed.
Then, my work in that sacred space is to provide safety, privacy, warmth and unconditional acceptance. Doesn't that sound luxurious, like something we all long for? It is very rewarding to provide that needed nourishment to others. Research shows that the active ingredient in effective counseling is not technique, theory or skill, but the quality of relational connection between client and counselor.
As I observe and witness the client's moment by moment expression, sometimes I have insight based on what I know about psychology, human development, and neuroscience, and I share that insight. I might offer a book recommendation, website or podcast for further insight between sessions.
Other times, I receive a download of intuition, and I've come to trust that enough to share it too. It may be a thought, image, diagram, story, metaphor or vision. I have learned to honor these downloads and offer them as a gift to the client, to do with as they wish.
What is the body saying?
Besides observing, witnessing, and offering insight and intuition, I also pay keen attention to the wisdom of the body; both the client's and my own. (An umbrella term for this is Somatic Therapy.) Overt or subtle, the body is always speaking.
A stiff neck
A dry throat, asking for water
Jumpy legs that seem to have somewhere to go
A spine that wants to curl in for protection, or stand up tall and strong
Even yawns and stretches are acknowledged as the body sending a message.
[A side note about yawns... they don't mean that you're bored or sleepy. Yawns happen when the lower lobes of the lungs are filled with stagnant air and the rib cage needs an extended expansion, and the airway needs extra openness to expel it. The body does this reflexively, often adding outstretched arms and a lovely arch in the back to engage muscles that have been dormant.]
Anyway, back to somatic awareness.
So, what's my work in somatic awareness? I simply note my observation and state it to the client, for their interpretation.
"Did you notice your hands made fists when you said that?"
Or I ask an open-ended question.
"What are you noticing in your body as you tell me that?"
Sometimes these moments of awareness are doorways to new insights I call "light bulb moments". Or not, and that's OK too. The client has become aware of their embodied state for that moment, and that matters a lot. Another seed planted.
So, what matters for me this Monday? Here are my takeaways:
I encourage you to ask yourself,
"What matters most for me today?"
And observe whatever happens next in your mind, body or soul. Write it down or tell a friend.
Settle in, and trust your process.