“Oh, the comfort -- the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person -- having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, poet and novelist (26 Apr 1826-1887)
A client shared this quote with me recently. Someone who bravely shows up week after week to reveal a little more of what gets in the way, and what they might do differently to realise their aspirations. Each time I am reminded of the unfathomable role we therapists and therapeutic-coaches play. How do we provide the level of safety for someone to bring their deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings, inviting them to be shared in the glaring light of day?
My ability to listen and create safety has certainly deepened over time. Natural empathy and curiosity sustained me early on; adopting a somatic approach significantly shifted how I showed up in the room soon thereafter. And now I’m expanding my capacity with Focusing skills. Most days I’m like a fish unable to see the water it’s swimming in, there’s a transparency to the “how” of being deeply present, but I’ve promised various people enquiring that I’d do my best to tease out the key skills.
(1) Presence - easier said than done, being fully present for another is a learned skill. It’s about setting everything else aside, the past, the future, desire to help, all for the sake of making room for what follows:
(2) Unconditional positive regard - foundational to Carl Rogers’ work, a sense of non-judgmental acceptance for who’s in the room with me (especially the shameful parts they don’t like and prefer to keep hidden, in other words, their tender underbelly);
(3) Genuine empathy - different than sympathy, empathy was beautifully described by one of my teachers as having the ability to put my elbow in the bath water surrounding the client and feeling their experience;
(4) Deep listening - refusing my own internal chatter, giving my undivided attention to the other’s presence, their words, their energetic shifts, their movements, the nuances and patterns in their stories;
(5) Curiosity - authentic curiosity, which is somehow different than the kind of passing “I wonder what time it is?”, more akin to the keen attention we would give to something wonderful unfolding before us;
(6) Wonder - a sense of wonder about the complexity of all I’m seeing, hearing, experiencing, intuiting;
(7) Appreciation - allowing a sense of appreciation for my ability to do all this, appreciation for the client’s courage, and appreciation for everything unfolding in the room;
(8) Something more - I hardly know what to call this unfathomable component. Some may call it spirituality, some may call it something greater than both of us, some may describe it as making room for divine intervention. For myself, I’m aware of being informed by a power greater than my own (which I tend to call Higher Power) which causes me to say and do things which I couldn’t have come up with on my own. Not magic, yet somehow magical.
If you’re curious to learn more about “how” to create this for your clients or other important people in your life, be in touch and let’s have a conversation. Email Clare here.