The maps and strategies described below support my counselling practice in particular but have much wider application. Who knows, maybe some of them could turn out to be valuable companions on your journey.
and is not intent on arriving.'
Window of tolerance
Whether navigating manageable ups and downs or being thrown around by powerful forces in your life, it's important you can feel safe and supported when we work together. The window of tolerance is a wonderful map that helps many people ride the waves of their inner lives and find their way to calmer waters. This zone is not a place of complete calm and tranquility even though these precious moments can happen here. But during any ups and downs, there is generally a sense of being aware, of being OK with yourself and of being able to harness your thoughts and feelings to support your wellbeing.
This emotional sat-nav can support safe exploration during counselling and when applying stress management or other balancing techniques. Therapy may call you to face your fears and maybe clean out and dress psychological wounds that are festering away. The good news is that there is no need for this process to become intolerable.
If you start to feel overwhelmed, the waves are too rough and you need to find safe harbour or at least find a way to weather the storm. If you start to collapse psychologically, you are becalmed and may need to just bob up and down for a while before firing up your engine and motoring to a place of greater energy. Skilful use of this map can reduce unnecessary distress and help you face difficulties with more of your psychological resources switched on and ready to go.
Resource: Mindfulness and the window of tolerance (PDF)
A great handout from the comprehensive Mindful Awareness Stabilization Training package produced by St Michael's hospital that may help you sail on the seas of life.
Resource: Why feeling safe in your body matters (Video)
Three therapists, including one of my heroes Bessel van der Kolk, talk briefly about the importance of the window of tolerance for promoting effective helping.
Our words can create colourful and meaningful pictures of our lives. We can also create colourful pictures that may bring more meaning to our words. Counselling can help to press the pause button, to slow things down and support different ways to express, explore and be with our experiences. Active, embodied, creative play may form an important part of this process for you. Or it may not.
There is a respectful, step by step process to developing any optional creative experiments which keeps things engaging but within your window of tolerance.
Maybe one week you are drawn to larger scale enactments that could involve moving chairs, cushions and other things around the counselling room. On other occasions, drawing a key issue or representing it through a sand tray containing stones and Moshi Monsters may give you the perspective you need. And often, talking and being heard will probably be more than enough.
Resource: Soul Pancake (Video)
This may give you a taste of how the creative process could help you to pause, express yourself, reflect and potentially reveal new possibilities.
We use metaphors all the time in everyday language. For example, 'hot headed' = 'short fuse' = 'quick to anger.' You've probably gathered by now that I'm rather fond of journey-related words as metaphors for important learning and change! Your verbal metaphors are key to communicating and exploring your experiences. And creative experiments are rich opportunities for you to add physical, sensory and symbolic information en route to hopefully even more meaningful personal metaphors.
Some psychotherapies explicitly use metaphor to describe metaphysical or invisible forces that shape our lives. For example, Shadow Work facilitators help people to explore metaphorical archetypes called sovereign, lover, warrior and magician.
Since meeting them at my first Touch for Health metaphors workshop in 2004, I have regularly invited the ancient five element model of fire, earth, air/metal, water and wood into the helping process. Could connecting with these profound metaphors bring more meaning and balance into your life? I've no idea. But I do know that I’ve witnessed many special moments in people that have grown out of respectfully exploring these ancient energies. They may speak to you too as a possible part of the counselling process.
Resource: Don't let sleeping metaphors lie
Dr Noam Shpancer discusses the vital role that verbal metaphors play in shaping our lives.
Remembering the body
Mind = (Brain + Body) x Relationship interactions
This 'extreme summary' pays homage to the work of researchers like Dr Daniel Siegel. I think we sometimes forget that our body is a vital part of our mind. So, I might have words in my head but I need my body to express them. And the emotion of fear may be generated in our brain but we know we are afraid if our legs go weak and we feel sick to our stomach.
Therapy may help you feel more comfortable in your skin. Active, sensory creative experiments (see above) may support the process of living more fully within your body. The stress management course I teach would also give you many opportunities to quietly reconnect with your physical, sensory experience.
Like some therapists, I could suggest using body-based, energy psychology methods as part of the counselling process. These techniques involve you touching acupressure or related balancing points on your body. For example, a key part of Emotional Stress Release (ESR) invites you to gently hold balancing points on your forehead while actively tuning into any emotional distress that you feel in your body. Sensory awareness techniques like this may help to promote emotional balance and clearer thinking.
Resource: Take a breather (Video)
Many contemporary mindfulness courses start with people learning a sensory body scan. Here's Professor Mark Williams' three minute breathing space that involves developing awareness of your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, breathing and whole body. It may help you re-enter your window of tolerance if life is getting too much.
Accredited counsellor offering counselling, stress management and careers guidance to people living in Hampshire and the South. Located in Southampton and Winchester.