What is Experiential Psychotherapy? And how can therapy help me? Rafael Richman, PhD Psychologist, Jerusalem Israel
Rafael Richman, PhD, Psychologist
During a typical experiential therapy session I gently direct you to notice and attend to your present experiencing – what you are feeling, doing, and thinking, and your body-sensations in the here and now. Your present experience is used as a primary gateway to discover your underlying needs, fears, and core beliefs. I guide you to be mindful of the part of you that is on the edge of, or that is just outside of your conscious awareness.
Another way of describing this work is that I trace your leading-edge feelings from moment to moment, right there in the session [paraphrased from psychologist Dan Wile]. At any moment you have a leading-edge, uppermost, major, and immediate feeling – this can take the form of thoughts, beliefs, wishes, emotions, sensations, urges, and feelings. I track and follow these continuously changing feelings.
How can it help me?
By being present in the now, and through following your present process, we gain access to a wealth of information about the way you organize your experience of others and the world. This mode of therapy can be very powerful and transformative. It also can be an efficient way to achieve change through fostering increased awareness.
Through becoming aware of previously unconscious material, you are able to consciously choose new ways of being. You gain choice, which allows you to continue doing and feeling what you are already doing and feeling, or it gives you the opportunity to modify your ways of being.
What about issues from my past?
Material and memories from the past are addressed as they arise, and when they impact and influence your present feelings, actions, and thoughts.
This therapy is collaborative. Together we study how you experience your world. Metaphorically speaking, we jointly travel on a path, and explore your central and core perceptions about yourself and the world. It may be useful to think of this work as my acting as a “midwife” to your process – being totally with you and following your present experience.
Process-experiential psychotherapy allows you to access and discover:
- What do I really need?
- What is obstructing me from getting what I need?
- How do I prevent myself from getting what I need?
- How and where am I stuck?
- What does it feel like to get un-stuck?
- What is missing in my life?
- What is my pain?
- What are my core fears, worries, and anxieties?
- What nourishes me?
- What do I long for, what do I yearn for, and what do I really want?
In therapy sessions your level of comfort and your limits are respected and honored at all times. My role is to create a safe, compassionate, and gentle therapeutic space [this is known as “loving presence” in the Hakomi therapy model]. This enables you to be mindful and to focus inward. I assist you to discover more about yourself and your world.
Having been trained and having experience with a number of other types of therapy, I strongly believe that the experiential therapy method is a powerful and effective way to achieve and sustain immediate and long-term changes. This can be felt both internally, within yourself, and externally, through the way you relate to others.
For more information about Body-Centered Psychotherapy (Hakomi) go to www.hakomi.com
What do we do in a therapy session?
[Excerpts taken from the book “Grace Unfolding: Psychotherapy in the Spirit of the Tao-te ching” by Greg Johanson and Ron Kurtz]
“When we are in therapy we need to tell the therapist a little bit about our story so that we feel that there is a bridge of understanding built from which exploration can proceed. It is also a way of communicating what we already know and hope for.”
“However, it is not helpful to pour out theories, explanations, illustrations, justifications, and stories on top of stories. This tends to engage our minds alone, which are often already overloaded, defended, and ruled by habitual responses. Analyzing and talking about our lives, as if giving a report about past events, does not encourage contact with our core.”
Although, in the moment, it may feel good to vent and to have someone listen to you and witness what you are talking about, I find that this is not a particularly effective way to move forward and get un-stuck. Talking about feelings and experiences sometimes does not really help at all, if the aim is to heal and to facilitate lasting change.
The goal in therapy is to touch and access what is at our core. Our core is:
- usually unconscious
- developed over time from past experience, and manifests through previously constructed beliefs about life
- a place within us that filters what comes to us and how we experience the world
Our core beliefs guide how we act, react, and be-in-the-world.
For instance, if you believe, through accumulated past experience, that the world is a dangerous place and it is not safe to trust others, you may filter and perceive someone’s actions toward you as being threatening. This, in turn, may impact how you relate to and interact with others.
“Experience is closer to our core than analysis – concrete, passionate, immediate, felt experience. Our core is more readily reached by emptying our minds of theories and turning our awareness inward toward felt experience. “Therapy can move from dialogue about our life to exploration of our present inner lives through a process known as being mindful.”
In our sessions I draw attention to what is at the edge of your consciousness. That is, what is happening in the session, in the present moment, that you are not fully aware of. For example, a slight shudder that occurs when you think about your brother/father/mother. Or a smile/laugh/movement when you talk about…
This is the gateway to access your core.
Staying with these at-the-edge-of-awareness experiences, and then noticing what spontaneously emerges [memories, feelings, thoughts, images, urges, physical sensations] often leads to new insights and useful information about yourself. And this creates the opportunity for you to be more flexible and expand your choices/options in the way you relate to the world.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples and families
When working with couples and families, in addition to observing the partner’s present experience, thoughts, and feelings, I also focus on the ongoing dance [pattern of interacting] between those present. Incorporated from systems and gestalt therapy models, noticing and becoming aware of these negative and positive interaction cycles is an important component of allowing the couple and/or family to modify these patterns into more nourishing ways of relating.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples is also based on John Bowlby’s attachment theory, and humanistic/Rogerian psychotherapy. In Bowlby’s model, the bond between the partners is of central focus and importance. When one partners don’t feel that the other partner is accessible and responsive to their needs and feelings, distress is the result. Partners often resort to desparate attempts to re-connect with their spouse/partner. Unfortunately, these attempts often cause more distress, more distance, and more negative cycles in the relationship. EFT directly addresses the attachment bond and associated feelings between partners. This is a powerful and intense way to create more healthy and more genuine dialogues. Through attachment theory, EFT works to foster stronger, healthier, and more secure bonds between partners/spouses.
In the Humanistic/Rogerian model, emphasis is given on unconditionally accepting and validating each partners feelings, thoughts, and experience throughout the sessions. Each partners inner experience is then weaved into the couples dance.
For more information about Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples go to www.iceeft.com