Recently, I have had clients make progress in the area of verbally relating to others. The two cases were completely different sets of circumstances, but both clients were headed towards similar areas of health. How is this possible?
Most everything in life happens step-by-step. Most every change that we make ourselves in life that lasts happens over a continuum, whether it is a behavior, a relationship, or a skill. We can simply “dog train” a skill by repeating a process over and over again with external consequences and rewards until it becomes a knee-jerk reactive unthinking action. A reaction, however, does not work well in developing a relationship, a way to relate, a way to choose. Choosing freely lets the world know who we are individually and what we want from the world.
Few of us, if any, truly relate who we are to people who correct us often, to people who do not relate to us well or to those who consistently ask more from us than we can easily give. So how does successful relating happen? We have to relate with our cognitive mind, our emotional heart, and our spiritual self. You may be asking yourself, “She started out speaking about verbally relating. How does this work with a nonverbal client and/or a nonrelating person?”
One must jump in, jump in with the other. To begin this, language is not a necessity. Relating is. To re-quote Dr. Temple Grandin from one of my earlier blogs, “All behavior is communication.” One does not necessarily need to understand all behavior at first, but we need to be willing and open to the fact that our clients ARE relating in ways they know how.
Being reflective of another’s way of relating rhythmically, through timbre, melody, prosody, etc., and being cognitively aware and in control of my own relating behaviors is essential. Instead of “correcting” or “teaching” a new behavior, reflecting one’s more subtle timbres, tones, rhythms, dynamics, etc., but having enough self-awareness is a beginning. Out of this, a simple, repetitive, predictable tune becomes a staple of the relationship. The client’s behaviors, reflected and combined with the musical structure, becomes a way to relate. My client’s jumping, his way of relating to the world, is something I can reflect back and structure.
However, there is flexibility in this tune. Flexibility through a playful spirit in the tune allows each individual to tweak and adapt slightly as time unravels, and interior and exterior changes occur. Yet that basic, predictable, time-structured beginning gives the relationship stability, predictability, cognitive functioning, something it can understand, and balance. The playful spirit in which it is done allows for change and playful relating to occur. The playful spirit provides safety to try things never tried, yet enough predictability to provide security.
As the client becomes comfortable, playful, and cognitively aware that this makes sense, the client plays, the therapist responds, the client responds back. Eventually, short moments of back-and-forth response turn into phrase length, sentence length, and then gain life. This playful back and forth is welcoming, secure, and fun, allowing the brain to understand and sustain this back and forth relationship.
This week, parents received from their children what they wanted most: to know what goes on inside. The little boy who climbed into the car somewhat feverish, pale, and cranky answered Mom when she asked him if he wanted to go to music (something he loves). His reply, “No, can we just go home this time?” The 23 year old, who had a meltdown, but afterwards was able to tell his parents why, what he felt, and why he got frustrated for the first time ever.
The occurrences previous to the relating may not have been the most positive moments in these people’s lives, but they each were able to reflect and verbalize how they felt and what they wanted: a good sign of health, especially in the ore negative moments of life. How many of us do that effectively?
Antoinette Morrison, MT-BC