Bringing brain integration into view with clients
‘I really can’t remember much about my childhood...it was fine,you know? Happy childhood...ummm...the usual things...ummmm...what do you want to know...I really can’t remember anything major that was a problem...’
As I listen to this vagueness as they struggle to express what they are experiencing, I’m beginning to feel heavy,a bit sleepy and, yes, just a little anxious as I think with a sigh, that this is going to be one of those long....well you get the picture! Rallying myself I remind myself that this person needs presence, empathy and patience...
Ever had a client sounding like this or some version of this? Ever noticed some similar reactions in your own body and mind?
As a therapists we know how important it is to dip into the biography of a person and explore some of the forces that shaped who they are and what lenses they view the world through... particularly because those times and lenses are likey to be popping up in our work together!
Up until fairly recently, I always assumed that those memories were there but not readily available for whatever reason and that with patience and empathy those memories would emerge in their own timing as we worked together. However, there were some people, particularly those who were noticably vague and confused that were not able to retreive clear, cognitive, conscious memories. Yet they did not appear to have discernable abuse in their backgrounds – another possible cause of ‘childhood amnesia’. My curiosity was aroused as I ‘took off’ my own lense of assumptions and wondered if there was another reason..hmmm!
Take a journey with me into the exciting world of Interpersonal neurobiology and what I am learning about the way we as therapists can use our mindful seeing to envision what might be going on in this person....
Lets rewind the dvd to the beginning of this persons life and see how they experienced attachment – how their little resonance circuits (Dan Siegal 2011) in their brains began to sense and be shaped by their experiences around them. What we are now finding out is that if this little person‘s brain is not met with their care-giver’s resonance circuits responses, which looks like enough eye contact, smiling, mirroring and prescence, then a shaping begins to happen in their little brain, particuarly their right cortex where they mostly live in those early years. This lays in neural shaping that leads to the adult sitting before us saying, ‘I really can’t remember...’
One way of describing this effect is that given that ‘neurons that fire together wire together’, these people have had too little resonance so memories don’t get laid down strongly and vividly with clear body sensations. What does get laid down however,is those neurons that do get fired together and that is networks around how to live in an emotional desert...with just maybe(if you are lucky) the odd pool of connection/resonance at confusing times. The therapist can recognise this lack of neural integration when clients come into the office often as outwardly succesful in work but often with partners,children and friends complaining of disconnection. Often they are not particuarly connected to their bodies and emotion,which after all are felt as bodily sensations. So looking through this lense,what could we do in the room to give the person the conditions to begin to integrate those disconnected networks?
Well, first by tuning into your own body,sensations and mind as you experience the client – feeling their energy in the room alerts you to a relational style that will be brain-based in its lack of integration. Understanding that this person might well have needed to cut off from the right brain ability to feed them body sensation and introception in order to adapt to the lack of resonance – which of course means that they may not have clear memories to work with.
To begin to introduce them to some basic information about how our experiences shape our brain and the good news that through neural plasticity we have an amazing healing force within us if we know how to access it. To explain how useful this will be in bringing online another important source of information that will help them think more clearly and make better, more complex decisions and to feel better within themselves.
To introduce them to body scans and mindful breathing as ways to begin the strengthening of the flow of information consciously reaching the right brain(vertical neural integration) so that it can then carry on into the left brain for further integration (horizontal integration).
To pause frequently as we work together to ask,’What are you feeling in a word right now...what does it feel like in your body and where...?
To keep in my own awareness that my part in facilitating this new integration will be to bring my full, non-judgemental, empathic prescence to them to create the conditions they missed out in in early attachment.....
Mmmmmm.....haven’t we been here before?! Of course Carl Rogers and many others have been saying this for decades – but now we are able to bring it to our experiences with more wholeness and complexity as we bring brain integration into view.
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