The following is a post from Jason’s Facebook page:-
Gratitude to him for allowing us to repost it here.
‘Who knows what should happen at any given moment?
If a conflict resolution process involving ’empathic listening’ such as non-violent communication is followed by rote it misses out all the wild and unpredictable nature of our real experience. In some cases trying to be an ’empathic listener’ can just be another subtle way for a person to dissociate and distance themselves from reality. Maybe the person we are engaging with doesn’t need ’empathic listening’ or to state their needs in that instance, at that exact moment of time. Maybe they need to be shouted at, or shout at you, or dance, or feel their inner body sensations, or make some sound, or think intellectually, or go away and engage with some social issue or roll on the floor like an animal. The only hope for any human being at any time, and probably the only hope for humanity is to listen to and follow what is actually happening at that moment.
In a sense, this is one of the areas where psychotherapy and related disciplines fails to serve humanity; they are usually caught in one modality; just talking, just listening, just the body or whatever, and as a result sometimes ignores the wild and unpredictable nature of our real experience.
An even bigger problem is that the prescription that everyone should remain calm and speak in an orderly fashion ignores social power inequalities. Remaining calm and stating needs in a orderly fashion may be impossible for oppressed people whose safety is under threat on a daily basis or people who are not in the privileged position of having time and space to relax. The prescription that everyone should state their needs in an orderly fashion may be a form of oppression because in effect it is saying:’you must calm your anger and passion and follow my mode of behaviour’
In certain situations it can be oppressive or even violent to try to get everybody to state their needs in calm way. Maybe calmness is just not an option at that moment! Maybe everyone needs to talk at the same time! Sometimes if we are able to facilitate dialogue, to help people go into the other side’s point of view even when things are not calm, even in the midst of a heated argument, the process can go much deeper and further in creating genuine community. Sometimes we might need to switch between linear and non-linear styles of communication dependent on what is happening at that moment. Sometimes we may need the passion, the energy behind conflict in order to create community.’
Yes. The writer often feels profoundly disheartened by the ‘standard issue’ therapist website; by the ever more restrictive, prescriptive requirements of the various ‘voluntary’ (yet powerful and coercive) would-be regulators, such as BACP; the apparent content of many counselling trainings with the emphasis on rules rather than relationship; on ‘learning how to do it’, rather than enhancing intuition, creativity and inspiration, or attending to our own journeys and the nourishment of our own souls – the only true basis for supporting this in another human being.
Any therapist – and the writer has encountered many – who imagines an attitude/presentation of ’empathic listening’ will substitute for a soul connection, for realness, for presence, risks missing the point and the potential for one human being to engage with and meet another in the ‘wild and unpredictable nature of our real experience’ with the immense possibilities for healing and growth this offers. Jason says it beautifully:-
‘Maybe the person we are engaging with doesn’t need ’empathic listening’ or to state their needs in that instance, at that exact moment of time. Maybe they need to be shouted at, or shout at you, or dance, or feel their inner body sensations, or make some sound, or think intellectually, or go away and engage with some social issue or roll on the floor like an animal. The only hope for any human being at any time, and probably the only hope for humanity is to listen to and follow what is actually happening at that moment.’
Part of what informs our way of working at this service – and person-centred as an ethos – is that everything is moment-, person-, relationship-, circumstance-specific. The only way we can respond with meaning is by staying connected to and congruent with our own authentic experience-in-the-moment, and finding the points of meeting with the authentic experience-in-the-moment of the other person, or the energies of the immediate situation. We look for the deep resonances, the energetic call and response – what fits here? The place of internal locus. Lived through in presence, words or actions, this may or may not look like empathic listening in the conventional sense (ultimately, it is of course, empathic ‘listening’ – to own being and other – at the deepest possible level).
This can appear a risky process. In person-centred therapy – lived through and deeply held, as opposed to lip service – respect for internal locus can involve many twists and turns. Following this path is incompatible with the increasingly rigid, homogenized notions of therapeutic ‘best practice’ in many modalities, with their considerable coercive pressures to conform. The writer notices the word ‘boundaries’ is a great indicator of these pressures in motion – ask what the speaker actually means by this word, and often the answer turns out to be a rule, therapy ‘by rote’, one size for all, ‘you ‘must’ see it like this too, or you are ‘unethical’ or not a ‘proper’ therapist. Political oppression and social control dressed up in clinician’s clothing.
The writer’s own experience as a therapist includes all sorts of unexpected happenings and meetings, followings of seemingly bizarre intuitive ‘pulls’ that lead her to say or do something that has her cognitive mind anxiously asking ‘WTF, did I actually say that?’. Sometimes these fall flat, and we discard them and move on. More often, when either person in the session risks trusting, expressing and following their own intuitive inward promptings, however odd those may seem, this seems to lead us, often in the most unexpected ways, to an unfolding or release or emergence that it is hard to see we could have accessed on a more linear path – or without a willingness to breathe into the ‘wild and unpredictable’.
It seems to the writer that the key here is not what we do, but how we do it. That is what makes the difference between what is healing, enhancing and growthful, and the reverse. In person-centred terms, the ‘how’ is about the core conditions. If we, as therapists, can offer our loving authentic presence and empathic attention – without preconceptions about what that will/won’t look like, moment to moment – that creates safety, that creates trust, that will see us together through the darkest and the most inexplicable turns in the road, through pain and conflict and confusion, that creates healing and growth. And nothing else can substitute for this.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter