What happens in a therapy session and how can I get happy?

When I am in session, I listen to my clients differently than in normal life. I am using active listening, I am focusing not only on what the client is telling me but also on reading their body language and energy for clues.

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The beginning of therapy with a client can be a bit like them dumping a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle onto the table. Therapy gives clients a deeper understanding of where they are at. This creates clarity and awareness which can facilitate change.

Body language helps afford understanding and intuition. For example, I have had clients who will suddenly put their hand to their throat. If I then stop them and say ‘I notice when you say that you hold your throat, can you tell me what’s going on for you now?’ Bringing the client clearly into the present using the body can be helpful to get clients in touch with their feelings.

Part of a therapist’s work is to pick up when a client might have said something significant and then use that to dig deeper into their story. This can have the positive effect of helping create links and develop a deeper understanding. Patterns and behaviours once useful in childhood might not be so helpful in adult life.

There is now greater awareness of the body-mind connection and how the body can store trauma. The idea is well explored in the excellent book The Body Keeps the Score (Van der Kolk: 2014) that there can be emotional relief from finding that connection, re-experiencing the trauma with assistance, exploring it and letting it go. 

How do I get happy?

From my experience, happiness isn’t a destination. It seems to come as a by-product when we are engaged actively in life and getting our needs met.

What are those needs?

In simple terms, there is water, food, shelter and warmth. Then the needs get more complicated. To look after oneself; physically, emotionally and spiritually. There is the need to connect with others. To work, to feel of purpose, to love and be loved. To contribute. Known in therapeutic parlance as the hierarchy of needs, therapy can help clients see what needs may not be being met.

Often clients find that the therapeutic road is not a linear one. Things can get worse. Therapy is not for the faint-hearted, it is a courageous journey. When deep emotions have been stirred up, the client may go through turbulent emotional distress.

People tell stories about their lives, which show every sign of being self-fulfilling. Language is very powerful and a helpful tip for clients can be to become aware of the language they are using; to lay off the shoulds and musts. Not make statements like ‘I never have enough money’ or ‘nothing ever works out for me’. These can be a clue to unhelpful core beliefs.

That is not to deride reality but there is a place for working on how someone might like their life to be rather than staying in the story of how it is.

How does a vision board work?

One method I suggest is to use a large piece of paper and then print off or collect images from magazines that you like. It could be a fantastic holiday location, it could be a great relationship, a fulfilling work situation. The body in good repair. All of the things that are important to people. It can also be states of mind; peace, joy, connection.

The idea is then that the board is put in a prominent position somewhere in the client’s home, doesn’t matter where, what is important is seeing it every day. Another suggestion is that the client really spends time with the images and imagines what life would be like with them; seeing it, hearing, smelling it and tasting it if imagination allows, living as if it has already come to pass. This is part of the alchemy of visioning.

Vision boards can be a useful tool for this, a daily reminder to the subconscious of what you would like or how you would like life to unfold. There is less focus on the doing then. Without getting too ‘woo-woo’, are we human beings having a spiritual experience or spiritual beings having a human one?

There is much less stress in the latter position. You can set your intention, take the necessary action when prompted (more on that later) but let go of the immediate result. It’s almost like planting a potato and not digging it up every five seconds to see if it is growing but waiting and trusting that in its own time it will flower.

This is not to minimise the issues people face and past trauma that may need revisiting. Deep trauma work is likely to involve going back and re-experiencing frozen or traumatised parts of the psyche. This is heavy-duty work and takes time.

The humanistic school which my training leans toward puts the client as their own expert. There is no grandstanding where the therapist has all the power and knowledge. To paraphrase Michael A. Singer from his book The Untethered Soul, we are all just sitting on a rock spinning through space. Theoretical knowledge is excellent but evidence points to the efficacy of the work as being dependent on the relationship between client and therapist. That the relationship is the therapy.

If a client comes to me to get happy it sparks in my mind the idea of action. Telling a different story and uncovering what that might look like in the first place is a stage in the process.

Therapy is about discovery, sometimes painful parts but sometimes reconnecting with the childlike sense of wonder that may have been lost sight of. 

Picking up on Eckhart Tolle and his ideas around the simplicity and peace of living in the moment. If I have one foot always in the past and another in the future what is happening in the now? Eckhart encourages people to practice experiencing their own consciousness. To fully inhabit the moment. To become more aware and by definition more awake. He suggests there is great peace and understanding that comes with this way of living.

Similar to meditation where a person is encouraged to allow the mind to carry on as it wishes and not get too engaged with it, to become the watcher.

Eckhart uses two main ways to access the now. Through the breath which is always there and through the energy field of the body. Slightly subtler but to give an example; If you were to stop for a moment and pay attention to the sensations in any part of your body you are likely to become aware of a slight tingling. This is your inner energy field and again like the breath it is always here in the present. Your depth of experiencing this can be deepened endlessly.

Tolle maintains that the more attention put in the current moment, the more one’s whole life will unfold naturally.

All this takes an extreme amount of trust. Culturally, we are encouraged to go and get and do but what if there was a more profound and deeply satisfying way to live where disturbance is allowed. Action is taken where and when it feels necessary. A central premise being the idea of trusting in one’s own internal guidance system.

Taking the necessary action when prompted

I am not advocating just sitting back and allowing whatever happens, a completely passive state. I am suggesting more attention to the moment and listening carefully to instinctive instructions as they arise in awareness.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London, SW12
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Written by Dominic Ingham, Individual member of BACP. Dip.
London, SW12

My name is Dominic Ingham I am a fully qualified therapist. I often work with clients who are struggling internally and uncertain of their purpose or goals. Working to connect the client more fully with themselves can release great internal energies and direction. It is an inside job!

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