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MAE Ischia — Bodywork Interest Group In–Depth Report by Jack Blackburn

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What We Explored, Learned and Discovered

Vocabulary: I am using the terms client–Focuser and practitioner–Guide when referring to sessions that combine bodywork and Focusing. Statement of purpose is a written description of the practitioner’s modalities, objectives, and what the client might expect from a session. Informed consent means that the client is familiar with and agrees to the practitioner’s statement of purpose.

Receiver (client–Focuser) is in charge of the session: When combining bodywork and Focusing in a session it is important to remember that, just as in Focusing, the receiver is in charge of the session. It is hard to communicate this to inexperienced receivers because they expect the practitioner to be in charge of what happens. Also many bodyworkers believe that their role is to fix the client; this implies that the practitioner has to be the expert deciding which course to take in treatment. This is also a predicament for the Focusing practitioner when the client is inexperienced. It can feel awkward if the practitioner–Guide tells the client that he/she is in charge when he/she doesn’t know the process… the client–Focuser can feel as if the practitioner–Guide is ducking his/her responsibility. The other difficulty with this approach is that the practitioner–Guide can misapply this principle as a way of withdrawing empathically from the client–Focuser who isn’t in charge. (see client education)

Challenges with staying with the Focusing process: The balance between the role as bodyworker and as Focusing Partner can seem somewhat delicate. If we are using our hands to support, guide, and elicit the Focuser’s internal process, can we still follow our usual bodywork procedures? In other words, if a bodyworker’s role is to help the client relax, this could conflict with the client–Focuser’s attempt to listen into what is emerging from within. What if the bodyworker is erasing symptoms that need the Focuser’s attention? How do we support the Focusing process with our hands? Are the goals of Focusing and the goals of bodywork compatible? Where is the link between the two? This calls for further exploration. (see below)

How can Focusing and bodywork work together with inexperienced clients? We explored the following issues together:

  • How aware one is in his/her body affects the work: Body awareness would seem to be a key element in the link between bodywork and Focusing. The more somatic awareness the client–Focuser has the more likely he/she will join in the process of attending to what is emerging from the Focusing and from the bodywork. So the practitioner–Guide can play an important role in furthering the somatic awareness of the client–Focuser. How does the practitioner–giver play this role? Should this be standardized?
  • Can persons without Focusing experience or body awareness still lead themselves into process? The response to this question may vary from person to person. It would seem important for the practitioner–Guide to teach the client the elements of Focusing before expecting the client–Focuser to benefit from the Focusing process. To proceed without giving the client–Focuser the elements of the process may also be an ethical issue. Once again the success of the process would seem to depend upon the growth of somatic awareness on the part of the receiver–Focuser.
  • Less focusing experience makes it more difficult to work: All agreed that the more experience the client–Focuser has the more he/she could benefit from the combination of bodywork and Focusing. The question is what are the real benefits of that combination? All can agree that touch can help the client–Focuser be more self–aware, but we have still to learn the additional benefits that can accrue.
  • Agenda of client: when client tells you what to do, it can create difficulties: Sometimes we want to Focus upon a certain issue; this issue may change as the Focusing process continues. The same is true in bodywork. Sometimes the client has a preconceived notion of what should happen in a session. As the bodyworker proceeds the client’s agenda may conflict directly with the therapeutic process. In both bodywork and Focusing it is important that the original goals and agendas be held very loosely. Without the client’s willingness to adapt to what is actually occurring there is no room for body–centered processes to work. The client–Focuser may never actually get to experience the real benefits of Focusing or bodywork.
  • On–going questioning about bolstering, warmth, comfort, etc., may help keep the client become somatically aware, even before learning to Focus: Asking the client–Focuser to check into his/her body in order to make adjustments for comfort, can be an introduction to the Focusing process since it requires that the client check into his/her body internally. This process can also be helpful to the practitioner–Guide for understanding some of the client’s symptoms. This questioning and checking–in can also help the inexperienced client–Focuser follow the lead–in portion of the session.

“Verify the contract” in the beginning; what is the goal? How do we make sure that the client and practitioner goals are the same? Starting with a statement of purpose, the bodywork–Focusing practitioner should make it known to the client what Focusing is, what forms of bodywork the client may experience, and what is significant about the combination. The client can then willingly participate in the sessions. Without this informed consent, we cannot say that the client is a full participant.

It is challenging to the practitioner when the client comes only for pain relief and comfort– not wanting words: Often bodywork clients expect practitioners to work on their bodies and to remove client symptoms without any active participation on the client’s part. The client thus becomes a passive receiver. It would be rare in this situation for the client to become more somatically aware. The client often goes to sleep, zones out, or dissociates. Many bodyworkers have come to accept or even prefer this kind of client non–participation. This obviously could not work if Focusing is one of the goals of the session. How can bodyworkers encourage clients to become willing participants in their sessions? The question for bodywork–Focusers is how to enroll the client in the Focusing process?

Combining Focusing and bodywork is new and a partnership setting, instead of a client setting makes this easier to see both functioning: The combination of bodywork and Focusing seems to require a different kind of relationship between practitioner and client. Obviously there needs to be participation on the part of the client. Also the client needs to be informed about the process so that his/her participation is understood. The phrase Focusing Partnership cannot exactly apply to a relationship where one party is paying for sessions and there is no exchange of roles. Perhaps the word team is more appropriate. In any event, it is clear that both client and practitioner have mutually interdependent roles to play. This also brings up questions of ethics and responsibility.

A new paradigm – a team approach between practitioner and client: Because of the necessity for active participation by the client in Bodywork–Focusing sessions, we will have to redefine the roles of client–Focuser and practitioner–Guide. This redefinition may borrow from the principles of bodywork, Focusing, somatics, and client–centered psychology. What will this team approach look like; what are the goals of the therapy; what are the steps involved; how can this approach be described to clients?

Only the client knows (can have access to) the client’s full (subjective) story – this is what makes them equal to the practitioner. The practitioner only sees the symptoms: In all forms of therapy only the client can have direct access to subjective memories and felt sense of his/her internal environment. This possibility of first–person awareness on the part of the client is as important in the therapy process as the intuition, manual skills, and treatment experience of the practitioner. The client can learn to see him/herself as a key player by providing first–person data to the practitioner. Thus they can be considered equal players who are working on the same physical–emotional issue together, from inside and outside.

We can bring the person into their whole process: This may be one of the objects of a Bodywork–Focusing approach. Rather than clients who separate their physical and/or their emotional symptoms from the context of their lives, this Bodywork–Focusing approach can potentially empower the client by offering a deeper self–understanding and somatic awareness.

The work begins before the client comes for a session; by choosing the right words to guide the process the practitioner can create an openness to change: As we find words to describe the Bodywork–Focusing approach, we are creating a context for whole–person healing. So it can be very important to spend time as a group to find those words together.

Practitioner and client must be on the same page in terms of motivation: We have all experienced situations where the client does not appear to be motivated to heal. Sometimes this seems to occur when there is a third party payer (insurance) or when the client will have to give up the care he/she is receiving after getting well. Sometimes the practitioner gets hooked into the client’s process (countertransference) and can become disproportionately involved in moving the process forward.

Focusing s a tool may sometimes not appropriate – eg. Client uses the time for safe touch: The client must be the final determiner of whether or not Focusing can happen. We have to respect the client’s choice. However it is very important for us as bodyworkers define the territory of Bodywork–Focusing clearly, so that the client is making a fully informed decision.

Touch can be like non–verbal Focusing: Clearly the parallels between normal bodywork sessions and normal Focusing sessions are important. The physical relief of bodywork can feel very similar to the felt–shift of Focusing; both can be body–centered experiences; both can create more awareness in the client.

Principles for Bodywork Focusing

Using touch in a Focusing way: How can we maintain the same openness to the client’s experience with our touch that we have when we’re guiding or accompanying a Focuser?

Using touch to reflect: How can we use our hands to mirror and or nuance what we are feeling in the tissue? How can we blend our words with touch in ways that mutually reflect and support the client’s process?

Using touch to listen: Can we train ourselves to use our hands and our whole body awareness to accurately palpate the intersection between what is happening in the tissue and what is emerging in the client’s awareness?

Using touch to meet: Meeting as a mutual interaction between practitioner and client – the concept of meeting has deep implications of freshness, openness, curiosity, and presencing. The physical contact, just like shaking hands or hugging, brings information to both persons.

Metaphor – different techniques; also to use through reflected words and also in the physical body: Bodily signals are one of the sources of metaphor in our languaging: “pain in the neck, a gutful, seeing dimly, hungry for life” all are expressions that arise from listening and feeling the body. These metaphors also apply to the practitioner’s felt sense of what is occurring in the client’s body.

Power of touch creates touch: The client–Focuser and practitioner–Guide are mutually touching; touching into the issue, sharing physical touch (which is never one–way), touching the physical pain, touching the limitation, touching the potential for change, touching the emerging implicit.

Tools for combining bodywork with Focusing: What are these tools, how can they be developed and taught, what are the limitations and contraindications, can they be used concurrently, what are the results?

Different metaphors create different body effects: In a sense, everything the client–Focuser reports during intake, during the session, afterwards, in terms of felt–sense is metaphorical. This is probably also true for the practitioner–Guide. If an insight arises it is confirmed by a change in bodily sensation. Every time we recall the felt–shift the bodily confirmation returns.

We are always tuning in and refining the process: This is the key to the combination of bodywork and Focusing. In a sense both persons are following an ever–changing map into the psyche. The process is body–centered and client–centered; we have to stay open and sensitive to the process as it is occurring in the moment.

We are always refining, not leading, with our reflecting words. We may be in a pre–verbal space here: When a client–Focuser enters a pre–verbal or non–verbal space it is important that the practitioner–Guide not push for verbalization. One of the skills of bodyworkers is to be able to sense the pre–verbal state through the hands as well as other bodily signals such as breath, temperature, posturing, facial features, and heartbeat.

The body reveals the process: This is probably the greatest gift of the bodyworker, the ability to be very sensitive to the signals and language of the body. This ability to notice different patterns of muscle–group holding, for example: low back issues, jaw tightness, stiff necks, tight intercostals… can add a layer of understanding to the practitioner–Guide’s accompaniment. Even with very experienced Focusers these bodily signals can go unnoticed.

Jack Blackburn

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This page was last modified on 16 January 2008