Written by Deborah Kennard, Founder of Personal Transformation Institute.
The concept of resourcing causes much confusion in the therapy world. There are resources like “grounding” and the “container exercise” that many view as techniques to be performed on the client, rather than an open-ended offering. Often therapists think of resources as a thing they do to the client to make something happen or make something go away.
In the Somatic and Attachment Focused EMDR approach, S.A.F.E., we look at resources through the lens of adaptation and strengths. We add some important concepts and tools to the traditional EMDR therapy. These concepts and tools are guided by our principles and values: mindfulness, nonviolence, and present moment experience.
A common misunderstanding is that a resource needs to be a healthy behavior or skill. We use the term “resource” in a more global sense. A resource could be something a therapist offers, like a grounding exercise, or it could be something that was helpful for the client in the past and still proves helpful to manage affect or discomfort. A resource maximizes safety and maximizes connection.
In this way, a resource isn’t always something we commonly think of as healthy or positive. For example, isolation can be a resource, even though loneliness is painful for some. This is because when it comes down to a choice between maximizing safety and maximizing connection, the need for safety wins out over the need for connection. The risk of loss or betrayal often overrides the need for intimacy or connection and so isolation becomes a resource that maximizes safety.
We use the concept of the Answer (the idea that an attachment pattern develops as an adaptation to early experiences –combined with the natural tendencies of our genetic DNA– that helps us maximize safety and connection) to understand the client’s current resources, as well as their attachment patterns and strength. We offer the client tools to explore their patterns and bring more awareness to their current strengths and resources. The tools we offer to explore a client’s Answer must be guided by the principles of mindfulness, nonviolence, and present moment experience because we are essentially looking at the client’s “defense.”
Please note that we only use the term “defense” to help those who are new to our specific approach. We believe that the term “defense” may actually make it more likely for a “defensive” response, which may look like “resistance” in a client. These terms, defense and resistance, are terms most clinicians understand. But once you understand that our way of thinking of defenses is more multifaceted, we encourage you to let go of those terms, even as a way of thinking about the client, because we believe viewing the client in this way makes creating the atmosphere of transformation less likely.
Once you learn to use the S.A.F.E. approach, you will likely see similarities with many other approaches. You may see the client “Answers” as “parts” as in Internal Family Systems or you may see “reframing” as in CBT. We choose a sort of extreme normalization and understanding of the client’s symptoms in our approach because we see it through the lens of adaptation and we see adaptations as resources or strengths. In an attempt to simplify we look at what the client does well (the over-developed) and what is more difficult for the client (the under-developed). This approach has proven to be a gentle, non-violent way of working with people. We do this not with the belief that transformation is something that we make happen or something we do, but with the understanding that transformation is the natural (and entirely optional) result of creating the conditions for change to happen.
Because we are so good at patterns, it is difficult for some to make this shift, from helping the client “build” resources to exploring, expanding, and experiencing what is currently here or what is missing. Many therapists have an urgent need to help and to fix what is broken and it is difficult to bring curiosity to what is currently here and how what is here is trying to help.
Many clinicians do not feel they have the time to allow curiosity to grow. There are many pressures on clinicians to make clients better faster. It may be the setting, like working with college students who are only there for a short period, or the pressure of an insurance company and limited sessions that create this concern. This time pressure makes it tempting to jump in quickly with protocols and tools that give solutions instead of creating the conditions for transformation to be possible. There seems to be a common belief that creating conditions and being curious take a long time and there is too much to get done to waste time being curious.
Curiosity is the confluence of mindfulness and nonviolence.
As we use the principles of nonviolence and mindfulness, curiosity naturally springs forth and creates the conditions for transformation. This takes practice and trust that what we are doing as we work in this way is important and effective. The paradox of slowing down helps the process go faster is difficult to grasp and more difficult to embody, but in my experience, it is necessary and true.
As we slow down enough to pay attention to the way the client is talking and what the client is doing instead of merely the content of a client’s words, we begin to understand things that are left unsaid. The body will speak and express what our thoughts and words cannot. It takes mindfulness and curiosity to be with all that is here and not just listen to the words.
My first impulse now is always to find something to love, something to be inspired by, something heroic, something recognizable as the gift and burden of the human condition, the pain and grace that’s there to find in every soul you meet. ~ Ron Kurtz, originator of Hakomi Therapy
In an attempt to explain the S.A.F.E. approach to resources I have created the 4 E’s. You may recall my previous teaching of the 5 C’s, which is the way we work with the answer throughout the treatment process. The 4 E’s are a way of working with resourcing, they are:
- Expanding the over developed (old patterns)
- Expanding the new
The 1st E: We start by exploring. The first step in our process is to begin to use the concept of the “Answer” by being curious about what the client views as the presenting complaint, the client’s body, and the patterns you are seeing. We then the “Answer” questionnaire: the 18 questions we ask the client that help us begin to identify patterns. As we are asking those questions we are also paying attention to how the client is answering them and what the client is doing as they answer or possibly do not answer the questions.
We then begin looking at what we call the “Arrows Exercise” in which the clinician takes a guess about various areas of imbalance well as areas of strength. What is the client is “good at doing” and “what seems more difficult” for the client? We are doing this in a collaborative way in which the clinician takes a guess at where he senses the client is on a scale and gives the client an opportunity to correct him.
After investigating those areas the clinician then offers a resource, using the 4 E’s, Exploring, Expanding, Experiencing and Expanding again. The first E, exploring, begins with a hypothesis of an area of over- or under-development for the client. We look at something the client is “good at doing” and make a suggestion by saying something like, “It seems like you are really good at taking charge and getting things done, I wonder if you would be interested in trying something?” Once the client responds, the therapist then suggests an experiment to help them investigate this area. Curiosity is important here as we are demonstrating genuine curiosity throughout the process and not trying to make something happen or “develop” a resource. We are using our principle of nonviolence and mindfulness to investigate what happens when we do something physical. As we engage the body with mindfulness and curiosity we are able to get information that may not be verbally available.
The 2nd E: Expanding is to encourage and investigate what is here. By expanding awareness of what is here whether it be something that is over-developed or under-developed we are taking steps toward the client having more choices.
The 3rd E: Experimenting is a way to play with what is here in an open and curious way. We use invitation as well as reflective mindfulness statements to set the conditions for a deepening of mindfulness for the client. As we reflect back what we are seeing, noticing patterns and aspects of the experience, we are offering an opportunity for the client to be curious about what may be patterned responses that are happening outside of conscious awareness.
As we do an experiment it is important that we keep the present moment focus, “what do you notice right now as you….” is very different and more effective than, “what did you notice when” which activates a memory instead of the present moment experience. This skill seems very difficult for clinicians to master. The focus of the present moment experience is powerful and elusive for many.
The 4th E: Expanding again, this time we are noticing what is new and adding curiosity. If the client has a new insight or awareness this is a good time to explore that by encouraging the client to be curious and notice the expansion of the new, thought, insight or belief. We are encouraging and offering an opportunity for the client to expand what is here that is new and feels helpful.
As we offer the 4 E’s of resourcing we are open and curious and aware of the client’s state of being by checking in with them. Questions like, “And as you _____what do you notice?”, an open question which allows the client to notice anything in their experience. This is very different than “What do you notice in your body?”, which can be disturbing for some clients. As we are curious about the client’s entire experience and any way the client reports their experience we are gaining information about what the client does well and what is more difficult for the client.
For example, as we experiment with a client using a scarf, we may invite the client to hold one end of the scarf as the therapist holds on to the other end. As the therapist asks the client “What do you notice right now, as you are holding one end and I am holding the other end?” One client may report a feeling or emotion while another may report a thought or an urge. All of this is good information for the therapist to notice. When the client consistently notices only one aspect of the experience, like thoughts or body sensations or only external things like “I’m just noticing seeing you there”. The therapist is noticing the patterns.
The therapist may then form a curiosity question like, “So it seems like you are really good at predicting what I will do next” or “It seems like you are really good at noticing things outside of you”. By adding the “it seems like” allows the client to correct the therapist or maybe agree with the therapist. We are offering an opportunity for the client to look within and increase awareness.
As we are doing this type of resourcing there is an opportunity for the implicit to become explicit, for the unconscious to become conscious as we access the wisdom of the body.
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