When a client enters your office, they’ll tell a story. The story they’re relating is not real; it’s what they believe is real. If the therapist spends the session addressing the false narrative, the therapist enables the myth and wastes time. However, just beneath the story, a volcano of emotions is churning, ready to be released. The therapist must tap these emotions and allow them to surface. When these emotions are released, the hidden issue lurking behind the false story will also emerge; healing can now begin. The first thing a therapist must do is identify what the client is doing to hide the emotions. Secondly, the therapist must aid in their release.
Spotting Suppressed Emotions
1. Look for the 4 D’s: denial, discounting, distraction, and defense. The 4 D’s always indicate the presence of fear. When the client is in any one of them, they’re hiding from fear. When you spot either denial, discounting, distraction, or defense, stop, challenge it, and allow the client time to pause and go inward; there, they must feel the fear, not run from it. Practice spotting and identifying the 4 D’s, your success as a healer requires it.
2. If you notice a client glancing upward in an attempt to think through a response or elevating the pitch of their voice, they’re attempting to escape the emotion; they’re going up into their head. When in fear or distress, animals ‘go to ground.’ When humans are in fear or distress, they go upward to their thinking. Spot this behavior immediately and get them to focus downward.
3. A client who comes to a session happy, bright, and sunny often possesses a darker emotion just beneath the bubbly surface. Life may genuinely be beautiful and flowing for the client, but there will always be an opposite reaction to this positive change. The client tends to race forward in an attempt to out-distance the fear; this is a distraction. They’ll need time to pause and allow their resistance and fear to catch up.
4. If a client keeps shifting to a different subject, again, this is a distraction; they’re in fear. Slow them down to allow the fear to catch up before moving on to another issue, pause and address the fear.
Tapping the Volcano
1. When you spot a client showing any of the above signs of fear, you must pause and not proceed further. Gently ask the client to close their eyes and become still and silent. In that stillness and silence, ask them to allow whatever emotion(s) comes up to come up. It will not be long before a darker emotion surfaces. Encourage the client to feel this emotion at whatever depth they’re comfortable.
2. When your client races upward to their head and thoughts, ask them to pause a moment and bring their attention downward to their navel. Ask them to lower their head. By keeping their focus downward, the negative emotion will have a better chance to be felt. The navel, the third chakra, is the seat of emotions.
3. Now and then, ask the client to pause and check-in with their younger selves to see how they’re feeling. Pausing to check-in allows these younger selves participation in the process; it will enable them to be heard and felt.
Don’t race forward during your sessions. Now and then, pause and check in with how the client is feeling. As all life ebbs and flows, each session, likewise, ebbs and flows. By allowing this rhythm to be a part of your work, you’ll lay the groundwork for more opportunities for healing to occur.
Remember, the story the client brings to the session is not what’s important; what’s up for healing is. By pausing to allow the emotions to surface, you can undertake the work that’s required.
Listen to the story; don’t be seduced by it. Listen to the story, but listen more to what needs feeling. Tap the volcano to release its pressure.
Dr. Hart is the founder and president of the American Society of Alternative Therapists (ASAT™) and creator of the ASAT C.O.R.E. Counseling program. He has been in private counseling and alternative health education for more than forty years. Martin’s courses and seminars have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The London Sunday Telegraph, and other publications.