Therapy can do a lot: my scruffy diagram at the bottom of this page offers some summary account of how this might be.
This first diagram shows how therapy can cast light on so many aspects of what we, do, see, hear, feel and sense.
Proponents of different models will look aghast at this table. In some ways, they are right to do so, as it presents an over-simplification of some complex and valuable insights offered by psychological models, old and new.
Rightly, they will question the ‘divisions’ I present in my diagram – of the inner and outer experiences, and of them and us. Descartes, the French philosopher, is long gone! In practice, most therapists are well aware of the ways in which ‘good’ therapy bridges my inner and outer self, as well as my competence in functioning in the outside world.
Even so, I am including the illustration as it may help you with experimental designs. Note how some of the suggestions I make ask you to focus on your inner experience (the body scan) (see, also, towards the bottom of this page. Therapy can help me to communicate with others (assertive communications), or even operate within my larger community (The Road Map). The diagram fits well with the Johari Window, as both are matrices. Each show I can move from the known, toward the unknown. I can listen to myself – my thoughts, feelings and sensations – as well as to the ideas and experiences of other people.
On this web site I emphasise that any effective experiment has to operate in your ‘real world’. Making that so is not so easy. Modern ‘mass’ therapies, particularly those offered by the NHS and Employee Assistance programmes (EAPs), have opened the world of therapy to many more people. This ‘democratisation’ of therapy – once the playground of the rich – is invaluable. As some-one with strong ties to EAP’s, I have seen many people benefit from therapy that they might have been otherwise dismissed.
That said, some therapy plays down the social setting in which I operate. Even those mass programmes have implicit messages about ‘fitting in’ – with your work place or with our medicalised environment running on tight budgets.
There is a second problem with small, safe experiments. Doing your work in a laboratory will not help here. True, you can do experiments in the therapy room but any results have to be re-tested in your everyday world. See my LIMITATIONS OF THERAPY comments.
Slow and steady changes need to be tested and re-tested in the ‘untidiness’ that comes when I live with others. The process may be helped by researching the range of models of therapy. Each one can offer some insight into ourselves, our bodies, our sensations, our behaviour, our relationships, our ways of communicating and belonging – all shape our place in the world. Some focus on just a few elements but if I had to chose, I’d concentrate on two elements:
….. do follow these leads for further information. If they raise your curiosity, then you will take your researches beyond this website. I cannot do justice to these complex topics so be prepared to explore and find out what engages your interest.
For the present, I will finish on a few the ‘do-able’ things; some first safe experiments you may find helpful.
EXPERIMENT Return the to Road Map experiment, and any notes you have made around it. Expand it by concentrating on your first five years;
- where you were born,
- where did you live,
- what was your place in the family?
- who were your care-takers, parents, brother, sisters and relatives.
- who lived close by, and who lived at a distance.
- who did you see a lot, and who were the distant, if not mysterious relatives?
Safe experiments are not easy but you can set your own rules, as long as you stand by the results you generate in your own unique fashion.
WITH THE INFORMATION you have generated, start a process of relaxation. There are many ways to relax and the Internet is weighed down with possibilities. Here is a simple, and short, beginning I’d offer to you.
Find a place and a few minutes in which relax.
Just notice your:
POSTURE: when you have just noticed what you ‘normally’ do, change your posture to be upright, looking straight ahead with your hands on your knees or upper leg. Keep your feet firmly on the floor.
BREATHING: again, just notice what you ‘normally’ do. It is likely to be shallow, breathing on to a count of two, and even following a varying rhythm. This is me on auto-pilot. Change your behaviour so your mouth is closed. Breathing in only through the nose (this regulates the volume of air you will take in). Change your count to a slow ‘three’. Observe the impact of that small change. Start with the same slow count for both in-breaths and out-breaths. When you investigate small, safe experiment further, you will find a number of different breathing patterns to follow. Look up ‘diaphragmatic breathing’, for example.
BODY SCAN: attend to the thoughts, feelings and sensations in your body starting with your feet. Allow your attention to move up one lower leg and then the other. Continue this ‘scan’ with your upper legs and posterior region Move slowly and methodically to your stomach and lower back, continuing up into the rib cage and lower neck. Finish by scanning your neck and head until you reach the tallest hair on your head. As you do all this, be attentive to any experience in your body. When you notice something that makes you curious, attend to it and develop an experiment to explore it. Allow any tension from that spot to ease as you let it go on each out-breath. You can complete the body scan when you have given attention to each and every tension in your body and reached the very top of your head.
FOCUS: if you still have your eyes open, you can focus your attention on a fixed object in your upper vision and just to one side. If you have closed your eyes, focus on each and every disturbance of thought feeling and sensation. Repeat the body scan, if it helps. From time to time, ‘just notice’ your experience and let it pass. Sometimes it may help to simply say ‘hello’ to an experience and ask it to pass.
ATTENTION: continue to use your breathing to attention to any unwanted tension in your muscles or body. Use internal dialogue to acknowledge some disturbances or use other self-talk or diversionary strategies, as you wish. In time these strategies may become surplus to requirement.
EYES: if your eyes remain open, they are likely to feel tired. This may become more so as you play with any images around the fixed object. Allow your eyes to close in your own time. Meditate on any image created within your ‘inner eye’.
This process can continue for a few minutes or for longer, as you wish, or as time allows.
When you have finished, you may want to make a brief note about your experience, and just notice what impact the event had on those initial thoughts about your ‘road map’. Notes do not need to be detailed and extensive. Post-Its do it for me, if it helps. You have disengaged your automatic pilot and you will have responded differently for a time. It’s worth knowing what those difference are. For instance, it is possible to observe our body responses – say, tight lungs or an unsettled stomach, and find that they are not the `monster’ they may have seemed; after all, you may have found some level of control over those symptoms.
Reflect on how you can stay curious about these experiences, and just notice any tendency to judge them as ‘bad’, ‘unhelpful’ or to be avoided. Can you suspend judgement for a moment and consider:
what is this response telling me, now?
To conclude, think on this point: if you go into therapy you are not likely to spend more than 30-40 hours a year working with a therapist. Most sessions will last one hour, say, once a week. That means there are over 160 hours spent in your every-day world, for every hour you spend in therapy. More problematically, you will not spend your life-time in therapy, so please do the maths on that!
Conclusion? Therapy needs to be a preparation for experimenting in our everyday world. If therapy becomes a substitute for living, this is not always helpful. Outside therapy, there are so many more minutes in which to practise conscious changes, and to note the outcomes. Consider this rough-and-ready graphic I have drawn up:
In short, if therapy is to be helpful, then it will provide you with tools that work after you’ve finished in the consulting room. With the extra tools you can design and improve your own safe experiments. Change will coming – maybe slowly, but steadily. Good therapy will have helped you observe that change and direct it in the way that you prefer.
That process can continue throughout our lives – whether it is short or long.
How to design small, safe experiments