The Therapist’s State of Mind
By Ron Kurtz
In this model, what is seen as primary in shaping experience is not external reality—not what is cognized, not the object of awareness—but rather the properties of that moment of mind itself.
—Daniel Goleman (1)
The phrase state of mind has much more precise meaning nowadays than it had just a few decades ago. Neurological research has revealed much about exactly what states the brain can be in when people interact. (2) Many books have been written on the interaction of caregivers and the infants in their care. (3) Adults in relationship also affect each others’ states of mind. For the very intimate relationship between a therapist and client, the therapist’s conscious awareness and deliberate control of his or her state of mind is essential. The effect of the therapist’s state of mind on the process of this method is without doubt the single most important factor in its success.
To best serve others in their self-study, the therapist must be able to sustain both presence and compassion. The therapist has to maintain a constant focus on present activity and present experience, both her own and that of the client. That kind of presence is needed. A feeling of compassion is also essential. When presence and compassion are combined and constant, the therapist’s state of mind can be called loving presence. In training people in this method, the development and practice of this state of mind are primary goals.(4)
In a very short time, loving presence can establish in the client, a sense of being safe, cared for, heard and understood. Self-exploration, especially when using mindfulness, places clients in extremely vulnerable positions. A therapist in loving presence helps clients to allow this vulnerability and provides the best context for assisted self-study to happen. Here’s a quote:
“Loving presence is easy to recognize. Imagine a happy and contented mother looking at the sweet face of her peaceful newborn. She is calm, loving and attentive. Unhurried and undistracted, the two of them seem to be outside of time… simply being. Gently held within a field of love and life’s wisdom, they are as present with each other as any two could be.”(5)
For the therapist to develop this state of mind, he or she must first of all look at others as living beings and sources of inspiration. As one therapist put it:
If you cannot see anything lovable in this person that you can respond to in a genuine way, then you are not the right person to help this person.(6)
It is this intention and habit of seeing something lovable in the other that creates the feeling state necessary for loving presence. The first thing I instruct students to do: create this habit as the primary thing in any interaction! Create it and sustain it throughout your sessions!
I want to start with the most importing thing I have to say: The essence of working with another person is to be present as a living being. And this is lucky, because if we had to be smart, or good, or mature, or wise, then we would probably be in trouble. But, what matters is not that. What matters is to be a human being with another human being, to recognize the other person as another being in there. Even if it is a cat or a bird, if you are trying to help a wounded bird, the first thing you have to know is that there is somebody in there, and that you have to wait for that “person”, that being in there, to be in contact with you. That seems to me to be the most important thing.(7)
There are any number of things that will support this intention. The first goal is to establish a relationship that will support self-study; the habit of gathering information by asking questions and considering answers is not the way to do it. First, one must avoid being drawn into a conversation about abstractions—ideas, explanations, the meaning of the past and such. The therapist’s words and actions must demonstrate that he or she is paying attention to what the client is experiencing right now, cares about what the client is feeling, and understands what that means for the client. This connection through present experience is the key to limbic resonance. So, the therapist searches for what there is about the client that is emotionally nourishing or inspiring of appreciation and connection. Another thing that helps build the right relationship is realizing the process as a collaborative enterprise where feelings of partnership, teamwork and mutual respect are basic. The idea that we are not separate, that we are inescapably parts of a whole greater than each of us alone, is the root of loving presence.
- Writing on the Tibetan model of what shapes experience; Goleman, Daniel. Tibetan and Western Models of Mental Health, In: H.H. Dali Lama. (1991) MindScience—An East-West Dialogue, Boston: Wisdom Publications. (pg. 92)
- A good example would be the research on limbic resonance. For more about that, see: Lewis, Thomas (Author), Amini, Fari (Author), Lannon, Richard(Author),(2001). A General Theory of Love. New York: Vintage Books. For more about social engagement, see the paper: Neuroception: A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety
- Schore, Allan N., (1994) Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self (The Neurobiology of Emotional Development), Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, Gerhardt, Sue (2004). Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain, New York: Brunner-Routledge, and Cassidy, Jude (Ed.) and Shaver, Phillip R. (1999). Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications. New York: The Guilford Press)
- It should be noted that, in this aspect, the method is solidly aligned with the most universal spiritual teachings: agape in Christianity, compassion and mindfulness in Buddhism, nonviolence and non-separation in both.
- Martin, Donna. Loving Presence ebook series, 2013. Hakomi.com
- Margaret Brenman-Gibson, (1992) in Worlds in Harmony: Dialogs on Compassionate Action, H. H. H. Dalai Lama, Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press
- Gendlin, E. T. The Primacy of Human Presence: Small Steps of the Therapy Process: How They Come and How to Help Them Come, In G. Lietaer, J. Rombants and R. Van Balen eds. (1990) Client-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy in the Nineties, Leuven/Louvain, Belgium: Leuven University Press
With permission, excerpts from writings of Ron Kurtz
© 2007 Ron Kurtz Trainings, Inc.