Using Conscious Presence To Give Support In Therapysam
by Svagito R. Liebermeister
Extracted from The Zen Way Of Counselling
Most schools of therapy will agree on the importance of building trust between a client and his counselor because unless there is a trusting and loving atmosphere there is little possibility for trans? formation. In NLP this is called ‘rapport,’ in Star Sapphire Energy work it is called ‘supporting resonance,’ pointing to the need for supporting a person’s presence and his ability to observe his own process. In trauma work, it is called ‘resourcing a person,’ which relates to finding events in a person’s life that he experiences as supportive and relaxing.
Even though each concept is slightly different, they all point to the central importance of giving the client a feeling of trust, relaxation and “at ease” before any problem or difficulty is examined. It also depends on how much trust a person brings to a session, how disturbed he may be, how identified with a particular issue. In other words, at the very beginning of a session the therapist will have to sense a client’s degree of presence and his ability to be relaxed and watchful.
Here, it is important to remember that all problems are related to some kind of identification. For example, the more one is identified with one’s body, the more irritation or anxiety one will feel when the body is sick. Conversely, the more one has the capacity to be watchful, the less identified one will be with an issue, so, as you can imagine, some clients will be strongly identified with their issues and less watchful, while others will be less identified and more watchful.
The capacity to be watchful and unidentified grows as a person’s meditative consciousness grows.
Support: What it Means
As far as support is concerned, some clients will need a lot of it — for some the whole session will be nothing but a process of finding and giving support — while others who already have this ability will be less in need. One can think of it this way: a person, who already has a certain integrity and strength can be challenged, can be confronted, and will not collapse or feel bad about himself as a result. However, when one does this with a person who is less in contact with his own being, or who is less confident about himself, then this may be damaging and the person will feel bad about himself rather than benefiting from being challenged.
Let us look into what ‘support’ actually means. From what we have understood so far it is clear that support is more about helping a person to become dis?identified with any problem than trying to help by “problem?solving” in the ordinary way. In other words, it is about helping someone find presence.
Commonly, support can be misunderstood as being nice, pleasing, sympathetic or comforting. Sometimes we behave like this in daily life when a friend or colleague is in difficulty and we offer comfort to that person. For example, somebody says, “I feel I am unworthy, nobody likes me…” and in response we give assurances: “No, it’s not true, you’re a good friend and I like you very much.”
However, what we ordinarily mean by ‘support’ is not what is meant in a therapeutic sense. In therapy, we support by reminding a client about some experience that he made in the past, or some resource, or personal quality which he naturally possesses but has forgotten, or with which he has lost contact.
Gautam Buddha once said that his work is to help people remember who they really are. He called it ‘right remembrance,’ or ‘Samasati.’ It is the art of remembering what is true in us, what is our nature. Similarly, in therapy we support a client to come out from a negative tendency of the mind by giving attention to the positive in him. How this can be done practically, in a session? How can the therapist know and find what is positive in a client’s psyche?
What is Real?
One of Osho’s fundamental insights into the nature of human beings is that the ego is a false entity, something the individual creates, starting in early childhood, in response to upbringing, education and social inter?action with parents, peers and others. Because we are identified with this false personality we believe that it is real, and because it has many qualities that we do not like we start fighting with it. But the struggle proves ultimately futile because essentially we are fighting with something that does not exist. It is like fighting with a shadow.
In order to understand that the ego is just a shadow, we need to have some experience of our true nature, our essential being.
Spiritual therapy is an effort to support the being and expose the ego. But before we can benefit from a therapist’s attempt to expose the falseness of the ego, we need to have some experience of being; we need to know the difference between mind and being, at least to some degree.
For example, one may have a certain ego?related belief about oneself, such as “I cannot ask for help.” Now, the more one believes this to be true, the more one behaves accordingly. It is like blowing up a balloon: the more air you pump into it, the bigger it gets. But this belief may be just an idea, with little reality to it. In fact, it can happen that a client makes this statement to a therapist in a session, thereby already proving it is untrue, at least partially, because even to book a session demonstrates the client’s ability to ask for help. So a good intervention may be to remind the client about this fact rather than reinforcing the existence of the ‘problem’ by trying to analyze his apparent helplessness.
Is It True?
When one sincerely questions one’s own beliefs, one may be able to enter into what is real. Byron Katie, an American therapist and spiritual teacher, has developed an effective strategy to question beliefs in a series of steps, and the first and most important step is to ask oneself: “Am I absolutely sure that this particular belief is true?” Often, when confronted with such a question, we cannot really say ‘yes.’ This can be a first step to shift our perception and awaken an awareness of what is real in us.
When we work on an issue we give energy to it and we make it real. So there are issues that do not need to be worked on, because in the first place they are not true. In cases like this, the issue’s existential reality needs to be questioned and the approach is more of seeing and understanding than analyzing.
When a therapist is not clear about which issues deserve attention and which do not, he may find himself entering a long therapy process with a client in which a great deal of analyzing and interpreting occurs, but there is little result in terms of actual change. Of course, the client may not know his real issue — in fact most clients do not know — but the therapist needs to have an awareness of what is real and what is a fantasy, a creation of the mind.
Feeling Touched by Presence
We described how to find a state of presence as a therapist. When he is in this state, a therapist can feel when a client enters a similar space, because the therapist’s own sense of presence will be enhanced. The therapist will feel expanded inside, something we may call “being touched.” When this happens, a therapist knows that the client acted from presence, or his expression showed a certain truth, and this usually deserves recognition and support.
When a therapist does not feel this inner expansion then the client’s statement is most probably coming from the mind and giving it too much attention can be draining and fruitless.
However, we need distinguish ‘being touched’ from other moments when we use the same expression, because saying “I feel touched” may simply show how much we are identified with another person and his issue.
For example, someone talks about his pain and it reminds us of something we experienced ourselves and as a result we may even start to feel a similar pain. This kind of ‘being touched’ is often experienced, but in therapy it is something to be avoided if one truly wants to help another person. To prevent confusion it would be better to say that we feel the truth of what the other expresses, or we notice his presence. Of course, it can still have the quality of touching the heart, but the therapist will not feel in any way personally involved with what is being expressed.
In moments when a therapist feels this, he knows that his client has spoken or acted from presence. There may also be outer signs for presence, for example when a client takes a deep breath of relaxation, or when he settles more comfortably into the chair, or when he smiles or visibly relaxes in some other way. But these outer signs can also be deceptive and it is ultimately the therapist who has to decide if he can recognize the truth when it is uttered.
Paying Attention to Presence
Moments of relaxation or presence can happen rarely, occasionally, or frequently during a session, depending on the client, and it is something to which a therapist should pay attention. It may be more important than the content of what the client is talking about, as it gives an indication of what is needed in a session. So it is important not to get absorbed only in the act of listening to the topic, or issue, but also to be aware of how the client is relating to what he is talking about. For example, is he tense or relaxed? Does he accept or reject the issue? Is he aware of the real issue, or not? Is he identified with it, or attached to it?
Supporting a person usually means reminding him about those moments when he was able to relax and was present, in a state of ‘yes’ and acceptance. When such moments happen in daily life we do not usually pay much attention to them, as we tend to be more occupied with negative problems and situations. In a way, this tendency is natural, since we want to get rid of the negative — that’s why we focus on it.
It may help to remind ourselves that a negative state is only an absence, without substance of its own, so rather than remaining focused on the negative one should look for the positive, or at least become conscious of the positive as well. If one feels fear, one needs to look for trust, or for what is relaxing. If one is in pain, one needs to search for some moment of joy. The negative cannot be dealt with directly, or exclusively. Both exist, the negative and the positive, but it is a question how and where we direct our attention.
About the author
Svagito R. Liebermeister was born in Germany in 1957, holds a degree in psychology from Munich University, and has over 25 years practical experience in working with people as a therapist. He has studied a wide range of therapeutic approaches, including Deep Tissue Bodywork, Neo-Reichian Breath and Energy Work, Psychic Massage and Counseling. Parallel to his interest in therapy, Svagito has been a disciple of the Indian mystic Osho since 1981 and has explored a wide range of meditation techniques. In 1995, he began to include Family Constellation in his work, studying with its founder, Bert Hellinger, and since 2000 he leads his own training programs in this fascinating new approach to therapy.
He is interested in combining therapy with meditation and has trained hundreds of practitioners worldwide in the art of working with people. For many years he was the coordinator of the Therapist Training Program at the Osho Meditation Resort in Pune, India, one of the largest personal growth centers in the world. Every year, he travels extensively through Europe, Asia, Central America and other parts of the world, offering courses and training programs in over 15 different countries.