The more I talk to people, and the more I write on this topic, the more I find that people tend to have trouble wrapping their minds around what Rubenfeld Synergy is, and what kind of experience they will have if they come and see me. Offering six 25-minute sample sessions in a row last week really helped clarify for me what a “typical session” looks like, because of having to condense due to time and wanting to give the clients a good sense of the technique. So I thought I’d take a stab at describing a typical session, to the extent that such a thing exists.
You should understand from the get-go that every Rubenfeld Synergy session is going to be different by its very nature: the technique is very client-centered, and the Synergist is guided by what the client’s body and words tell them is needed. But there are some things that a Synergist can fall back on that are semi-standardized, and there are many of what we call verbal interventions that Synergists will often employ. So without further ado, here’s my best crack at describing a first session. As I am attempting to do this in as much detail as possible, this will be a two-part post. In this part, I will describe the beginning of the session, from arrival to the client lying down on the table. In the second part, I will describe the tablework portion of a session.
The Welcome. A Synergy session begins when the client walks in the door. We are trained to be extremely receptive and observant, such that we can gather information even from the first moment of contact. Noticing how the client looks when you open the door, or even how he or she parks the car. I remember Joe Weldon, one of my greatest teachers, describing a client who always made sure to back her car into the driveway, even though doing so was trickier than simply pulling in. He took it in as information, and later found a pattern in this client of always making sure she had a quick escape route. He knew she was beginning to heal and learn to trust when she was able to pull forward into the driveway. This is an extreme example, but it goes to show how much you can gather about a person in those first moments, before they even reach the door.
When Synergist and client first meet, then, the Synergist will already be in a place of noticing: how does this client hold her body? How is she shaped, generally? What stands out about the way she stands, walks, and sits? What emotions seem present in her face? This probably sounds like a lot of scrutiny, but in reality the Synergist should be welcoming the client, making her feel comfortable, and quietly taking in whatever he notices – not to judge, but simply as information. At the same time, of course, introductions take place and the Synergist may offer water or use of the bathroom before beginning, invite the client to remove her shoes, and show her into the office.
Chair work. The Synergist and client will generally sit across from each other in chairs to start with. In this moment, the Synergist’s job is to welcome and orient the client. She might ask whether the client had any trouble finding the office or arriving here: the current, present moment state of the client upon entering the session can have a tremendous effect on where the session goes, and a deeper story about the patterns in a client’s life may be reflected and contained in the immediate present of the client’s experience. This is an important thing to remember generally about this work: what the client initially presents with may in fact be the main issue he has come in to address, whether he knows it or not. Is the client frazzled and rushed, perhaps a little late, having gotten lost or had difficulty getting there? It’s possible that this is reflective of a disorganized life that causes the client constant frustration and difficulty. Is the client nervous and apprehensive about the session? It’s possible that anxiety pervades his experience of day-to-day life. Maybe the client seems really friendly and easy-going: “Oh, I just wanted to check this out!” – but the Synergist can detect an underlying tension or falseness. This client might be hiding his problems from himself, or might feel the need to keep up a sunny front in the face of painful experiences he has little support dealing with.
It’s important to note here that all of this is speculation at this point. All the Synergist is doing is noticing: keeping, to the extent possible, a mental, emotional, and kinesthetic sense of this client and maybe beginning to make a few connections. In all cases, the Synergist’s role is to help the client discover for himself what his issues are, what needs to shift, or what needs to be expanded and honored.
At this time, too, the Synergist may ask what brought the client to her – what issue is at the forefront, or what he hopes to work on. Often, the Synergist will also ask what the client notices right now – what he’s experiencing in his body, what his breathing feels like, what’s in the forefront of his mind, what his heart is telling him. As change occurs in the present moment, this is a means of helping the client to move into a present-tense state where healing can occur.
Moving to the table. After a few minutes, the Synergist will generally invite the client to move to the table. This may not happen right away if the client has particular issues around touch, or is not yet comfortable for any reason. In this case, the Synergist and client may continue working in chairs for the entire session. In some cases, the Synergist will touch the client while she sits in the chair; in others, the Synergist may guide the client to touch her own body and notice her experiences while they talk.
However, in most cases, the bulk of the session takes place on the table. Rubenfeld Synergists use a standard massage table, set at about the height of the Synergist’s hips. The client lies face-up on the table, fully clothed, and may have her eyes open or closed as she wishes. The most convenient position is something like shivasana in yoga: legs straight out and relaxed, arms down at the sides. For some people, though, adjustments are necessary: I, for example, often need to put my knees up for part of the session to take pressure off my lower back, or a bolster might be used under the knees for the same purpose. Many people like to rest their hands on their belly, chest or hips rather than on the table, as their shoulders will not allow them to rest their hands comfortably at their sides. The point is, the client should be allowed to find a position that is comfortable, and the Synergist can assist in this.
Once the client is lying comfortably enough (I say “enough” because often the client will have to put up with some discomfort, or will still be nervous, or in other ways be adjusting to the new experience of being on the table), the Synergist can begin the touch portion of the session.