The essence of working experientially is a focus on the present moment, mindfulness, and the whole of our experience (mind, body, and spirit). From this perspective, our past experiences are alive in the present moment. This is seen as an effective way of working through our past as it affects us now. Rather than just talking about it which tends to only bring in our cognitive self which is limited in what it knows we can access our emotions, sensations, movement, and new awareness. From this perspective, we are developing a fuller relationship with ourselves.
Many of the approaches we use and are trained in have this focus. Here are a few that focus on your experience and how.
Main elements of mindfulness.
In The Mindful Brain (2007), Daniel Siegal proposed that mindfulness is a form of a healthy relationship or attunement to oneself. In many ways, mindfulness is less about being a complete therapy method but more a practice that affects the ability of the therapist to be present and attuned to the client.
Mindfulness can also be taught and practiced within therapy to help process psychological material and increase self-awareness. In some ways, mindfulness is the present-day term for awareness.
Nonconceptual. Mindfulness is awareness without absorption in our thought processes.
Present-centered. Mindfulness is always in the present moment. Thoughts about our experience are one step removed from the present moment.
Nonjudgemental. Awareness cannot occur freely if we would like our experience to be other than it is.
Intentional. Mindfulness always includes an intention to direct attention somewhere. Returning attention to the present moment gives mindfulness continuity over time.
Participant observation. Mindfulness is our detached witnessing. It is experiencing the mind and body more intimately
Effect of mindfulness on the counselling process.
- Active attention. Counsellors can increase their ability to concentrate attention as well as be receptive to the client in a non-judgmental and accepting manner.
- Slowing the process down. “ in most psychodynamic treatments there is a rush toward meaning, leaving the present moment behind.” Stern (2004, p. 140) Slowing the process down to experience and take in that experience is the heart of the transformative moments in counselling.
- Self-regulation. Increases the counsellor’s and client's curiosity about their own affective responses in the session in order to tolerate that experience. This increases one's ability to be present.
- Attunement. Mindfulness increases empathic attunement to the client’s emotional, cognitive and somatic communications. Attunement creates a secure base as a mindful practice facilitates affect regulation and increases counsellors ability to be attuned to themselves and their clients.
Internal Family Systems
Internal Family Systems is a comprehensive approach that views the human psyche from a multiplicity perspective. What this means is that we develop our personality as parts of us rather than a unified whole. Even though in each moment we experience ourselves as a unified self (this is me right now) we have many different aspects and reactions that are expressed over and over as a way of managing the world. For example, I keep reacting with anger whenever I think someone is lying to me. This reaction contains emotions, sensations, memories, thoughts and meaning. IFS conceptualizes this cluster of experience as a part of you. So experiencing ourselves as many parts is a natural way of relating to ourselves and our identity is made up of the various parts of us.
The IFS Model views these parts as developing within us from birth in response to having to manage conflicts externally and in our internal world as our environment is unable to support our needs. This lack of response and support to who we are and what we need causes an emotional wound (pain) that we have to do something with. So we develop these parts to manage the pain by minimizing, forgeting, distracting etc. Throughout our lives these parts become more and more extreme through repetitive use.
Internal Family Systems works experientially by accessing these parts in the moment where we notice how they sit and live in our mind and body. To bring an internal experiential focusing to resolve the original wound they carry. As we work in this way we can develop a relationship to ourself that releases us from the outdated ways of managing the world based on the past and bring compassion and acceptance to all aprts of us.
EMDR sessions can be used within ongoing therapy to provide a safe focus on the targeted experience. This can be useful to work through and heal traumatic experiences. Research studies have shown that EMDR is effective in reducing the symptoms of PTSD and resolving memories so that one can experience the memory as a point in the past, rather than active in the present.
The EMDR technique uses bilateral stimulation that appears to activate areas of the brain that would not usually be active when processing an experience or memory. This has been shown through images of the brain during an EMDR session. This suggests that new information and experiences can be accessed throughout the processing of memories or fears and often comes in naturally.
Bilateral stimulation is often achieved by a TheraTapper which you hold in each hand and it vibrates from one hand to the other. This provides a tactile bilateral stimulation that assists the neurophysiological system, the basis of the mind/body connection, to free itself of blockages and reconnect itself.
Symptoms that can be helped by EMDR
- High anxiety and lack of motivation
- Memories of a traumatic experience
- Unrealistic feelings of guilt and shame
- Fear of being alone
- Difficulty in trusting others
- Relationship problems
The studies have shown effectiveness with the following experiences:
loss of a loved one
injury of a loved one
witness to violence
childhood abuse and trauma
performance and test anxiety
depression/anxiety or panic/fears
post traumatic stress
brooding or worrying
There are a number of training that come under Somatic Psychotherapy such as somatic experiencing, sensorimotor, and somatic transformation that overlap in what they are focused on. Essentially they use interventions that focus on the release of trauma in the body. This focus is rooted in the present moment awareness of somatic experiences It highlights the importance of a regulated nervous system to enable a working through of the somatic experience. We draw on research from neurobiology and psychology in our understanding of how trauma and developmental trauma are responded to and held within the body and mind.
From this perspective, the therapist will be paying attention to the specific language of your body and what you may be expressing through posture, movement, sensations, tension, and gestures. Regulation is when our body and nervous system can tolerate our experience. When we are regulated our emotions, sensation, and autonomic systems are energetic and flow smoothly without being stressed. Our inbuilt relational systems (bonding, attachment, social engagement) provide the mechanisms to create a secure attachment. Experiences of safety and security are developed through the therapeutic relationship.
Some clinicians work solely from a somatic perspective. We tend to integrate somatic interventions within a therapeutic process that includes cognitive reflections and other approaches identified here.