Interact Journal Integrative Ideas for the Process-Oriented Psychotherapist

Categories Supervision Dialogs

On not listening to content

You’re always saying, don’t listen to the content. How can one not?

When you first start driving a car, if you steadfastly focus your gaze close to the car, you will steer crookedly down the road and not see anything but what is directly in front of you. Until, that is, you crash into something because you weren’t able to anticipate what was coming.

A good driving instructor will suggest, instead, that you look as far ahead of you as you can and then aim in that direction. By saying this, he does not mean that you should focus Only on “as far ahead of you as you can.” An experienced driver learns to aim far ahead and, at the same time, widen his perspective to include everything in front of him and most everything on either side.

To do this, he has to widen (or soften) his gaze just a little, as opposed to focusing hard on just one area. As the light from everything in front of him enters his eyes, his focus flits from the behavior of the cars ahead, to the horizon, to the dashboard, and so on. While his eyes are doing all that flitting, his brain is filtering the incoming information. It’s job, (and this is what the brain is good at) is to alert him to changes, anomalies, and anything that might be important for his safety.

The paradox is that the smaller the area upon which he is focused, the less information he has about everything else. Or as John Dobson, a physicist I once took a class from, said about a quantum mechanics phenomenon: If Nancy is playing basketball on a basketball court, the more you know about where Nancy is, the less you know about what Nancy’s doing.

Likewise, in the psychotherapy session, I suggest you not focus so hard on what you see or on what you hear. The light waves will enter your eyes; the sound waves will enter your ears. Instead of sharpening your vision or your hearing, soften your eyes and soften your ears. Your brain will sort all the incoming information. Then that intelligent, Master’s or Ph.D. level psychotherapist lurking about in your subconscious will share what it deems is most likely to benefit you, usually in a way that you can make the best sense of it.

Next time you drive a car, notice that your brain usually communicates with you in biochemicals, electricity, pictures, memories, felt sensations in your body, etc. For example if there is danger, your brain usually doesn’t say the word, “Stop!” Instead, it injects your bloodstream with adrenaline and lets you decide what to do with it. In milliseconds you are clear that some sort of action on your part is appropriate.

Similarly, in session, as you allow your visual focus to soften a bit, and use your “Aikido ears,” and as you pay attention to the pictures in your head, the song traveling from one side of your brain to the other, the memory that pops up, or any of your somatic activities, an idea will suddenly morph forward into your awareness. Use it. Your subconscious mind is not perfect, but it is educable. To be the best therapist you can be, start today to trust yourself totally. Your intellect may interpret your internal experience through distorted perceptions, but your intuition (subconscious) will always tell you the truth. It might make mistakes, but it will never lie to you.

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