Moments of Mindfulness Within Therapy
Our bodies are often way ahead when it comes to attuning with clients. How can we use mindfulness practice within sessions to consult our somatic awareness and connect with clients’ unspoken feelings? Margaret Landale, a specialist in stress-related and psychosomatic disorders, shares a moment of mindful attention as it unfolds…
Paying close attention to the unfolding dialogue between client and therapist, with an attitude of acceptance and empathy, is at the heart of therapeutic relating. In this blog I would like to explore how a practice of mindful attention toward our own embodied processes can facilitate deeper attunement and connection between client and therapist.
Mindful attention – capturing those moments
A few years ago, I started a personal journal to reflect on the subtle processes of attunement manifesting within the therapeutic relationship, and to help me deepen my practice of integrating mindfulness within my work.
The composite below is drawn from these reflections. It explores how our bodies are often way ahead of our thinking and cognition: getting a feel for the person we are with, attending to the subtleties of the non-verbal, felt, shared experiencing – literally making sense of it all! As Dan Siegel puts it:
‘The subjective side of attunement is the authentic sense of connection, of seeing someone deeply, of taking in the essence of another person in that moment. When others sense our attunement with them, they experience “feeling felt” by us.’
Unspoken – yet deeply felt
So here I am, listening to Vanessa. She tells us about having been contacted by a man she met at a recent dinner party. Having been excited about meeting him at first, she is now struggling with misgivings and doubts. We have been through this cycle many times before. Excitement and hope gives way to disappointment, turns into angry resentment and then hopelessness.
As I listen, I become aware of a growing sense of irritation within me and check in with my body: my breath is shallow, I notice tension in my shoulders and my chest, an impulse to cross my arms, wanting to brace against her.
Bracing, bracing against Vanessa, let’s stay with this… bracing… recoiling?? Yes, more like a contracting away from her! I invite my focus to widen… become aware of restlessness in my legs… an urge to get up, get away…
I allow these sensations in my body to take centre stage, to grow within me. I notice tightness increasing, especially in my arms and shoulders, and the restlessness in my legs becoming quite difficult to contain. Breathing out slowly, in… out… as my breath slows, my attention orients again towards Vanessa’s voice. Listening not to the words as such but the tone in which they are spoken.
Quietly, a new feeling quality emerges… a sense of sorrow, a loneliness which seems to emanate from behind her words. I now hear in her voice undertones of hopelessness. The words: ‘can’t trust, rely on…’ come up in my own mind. A sense of despondency, bleak, leaden… I feel my eyes burning… The thought, ‘tears that can’t be shed’ floats through my mind. Now I notice that her flow of words has slowed, now comes to a halt. She looks at me and her eyes begin to fill with tears.
For a few moments we just stay silent looking at each other, moved… breathing… then the words come from somewhere in my chest: “When we have been hurt too many times, it is hard to open up and trust. It can feel safer to scan for what might go wrong.”
Vanessa’s breathing deepens, so does mine… She looks thoughtful, and after a few moments she says: “I’m so weary…”
I respond: “Yes, and perhaps you could just allow yourself simply to stay with this feeling. Perhaps you could just put your hand where you notice the weariness in your body right now? Just allowing this weariness to be there, perhaps just gently touching it with your hand… with your breath…”.
We sit in silence together for a few precious moments before Vanessa begins to speak again.
Having struggled for many months to feel a sense of connection with Vanessa, this session was a turning point for both of us. I realised how much I had resisted being simply present with her, to reach out for the feelings trapped beneath her narrative. Feeling her lonely hopelessness so vividly changed my attitude and felt sense of her.
It also reminds me that it is in these moments of mindful attunement that we find the real gifts and meaning for our therapeutic work. So let’s end with these words by Rachel Naomi Remen:
‘The places we are seen and heard are holy places. They remind us of our value as human beings. They give us the strength to go on. Eventually they may even help us transform pain into wisdom’.