Nonetheless, when coaching someone with heightened emotions, I sometimes wonder if I've been helpful by simply listening and mirroring their feelings.
Aware that my own needs for evidence and results don't necessarily serve the client, I try not to be pushy about moving to solutions. But I have often used Focusing as a way to help them move through emotional pain via kinesthetic sensing and imagery. So I was pleased to connect with Dr. Kathy McGuire, who studied with the creator of Focusing, Dr. Eugene Gendlin. Among the many free articles at McGuire's Creative Edge Focusing site, those on grieving have been especially helpful to me when coaching clients with strong feelings.
In "Active Grieving" Dr. McGuire writes, "Your body knows how to grieve and will direct the process to a healing conclusion, if you can stop suppressing it." In her Five Minute Grieving process, she suggests we:
- invite the client to cry ("... let's make room for your tears...")
- empathize without trying to "fix" or take away the grief ("It seems bleak right now...")
- help the client find words or images for the tears ("It helps to get a handle on the feeling...")
- empathize again, often by paraphrasing the client's words ("So it's your fear you'll never be a parent and that's hard...")
- continue steps (1) through (4) as long as makes sense, then establish closure and orient the client, if necessary, by doing a "present time" exercise ("You're welcome to sit here for a minute... let's make sure you're back in the world...")
- or you may want to continue with other aspects of the session ("Let's see if we can look for solutions to your situation...")
- Pure Reflection of the client's words, gestures, and metaphorical responses ("So there's an image... two triangles intersecting, red and white intertwining...").
- Asking for More ("Can you say more about 'the pressure'... exactly what is that like?")
- The Focusing Invitation ("Would it be okay to 'sit' at the Edge of that anger for a moment and see what comes?")
- The Personal Sharing (for which Dr. McGuire provides the caveat, "It's hard to even mention the possibility of personal sharings, because they can include all the typical responses outlawed when the listener sets aside personal assumptions," but sometimes you may have a strong intuition, to be offered only if the client gives the go-ahead and only to return immediately to pure reflection).
Imagine you have found an abandoned infant on the steps of your hospital. Imagine how you would, through your bodily attention, convey complete acceptance and love and safety to the infant: "You are totally wanted in this world and safe with me." Now, turn this same kind of loving attention toward your inner experiencing.I'm convinced that the creative edge of change involves working with metaphors and -- lovingly and with trust in our clients' innate healing capacity -- following the trail through kinesthetic, auditory, and visual imagery to the healing power of those metaphors.