Discovery, curiosity, and the dangers of labeling

Today I’m celebrating my 100th post!  I’m also bringing my GROUND of RSM series to a close, with the final letter: D for Discovery.

Discovery is probably my favorite of the foundational RSM concepts.  In our training, it was set against the D that is far more common in the medical and psychology world: Diagnosis.  The way our current healthcare system is structured, much of medicine is about treating a disease or condition, rather than treating a person.  I recall when I was doing my hours as a Rubenfeld Synergy client as part of my training; I was seeing a woman who was also a clinical social worker.  We found a way for her to bill insurance for my visits, but in order to do so, she had to diagnose me with a mental illness.  “Adjustment disorder” is what we landed with, which basically seems to mean that you’re having some problems dealing with this thing called Life.  Which who isn’t.  Still, it was bizarre to me – if understandable from a financial standpoint – that in order to receive mental health care, I needed to be somehow nameably sick.

With the attitude of Discovery rather than Diagnosis, we seek to know the client as a whole person, and not close off possibilities for healing by prematurely pinning down what’s wrong with them.  The focus is more on what’s going on with them, without judgment.

I may discover, for instance, that a client has a habit of holding himself – shoulders pulled in, arms folded across the chest.  I may find when I try to release his shoulder and move down his arm that his shoulder will not release, and he will not give me the weight of his arm.  It would be easy to see this as something “wrong” with the client, something that needs fixing.  Of course I want his shoulders to be free and fluid, and for the emotional implications of that posture – insecurity, anxiety, fearfulness, perhaps shame – to be healed as well.

But if I approach him instead with an attitude of discovery, I may find something more interesting – and ultimately more healing – than “I’d better loosen up these shoulders,” or “I need to help this client feel less anxious.”  In fact, I will probably discover that until I look at what is present in the here and now more deeply, that I will not be able to affect any kind of lasting change in the client.  I could massage his shoulders and get them to loosen up some.  But it’s very likely that next week or month, he’ll be back where he started.

If instead, I notice the tightness in his shoulders, bring his awareness to it, and engage it in dialogue, I may find out more.  We may find that this posture is integral to his well-being at the moment, and trying to change it without deeper work is going to send him into too much instability and lack of safety, too fast.  The approach, then, would be slow, over several sessions, establishing stability and ground, locating the client’s resources, and letting the shoulders know that they don’t need to hold on that way anymore.

The principle of Discovery is based in curiosity, in the deep listening and exploration that goes on between Synergist and client that allows for the messages of the body to emerge and be heard.  I’ll never forget an exercise we did in the training to cultivate curiosity and discovery.  We were put into pairs, and one of the pair was blindfolded.  The other of the pair had an object.  At first, the blindfolded person could only hold the object in her open palm, and would begin to describe what she could about it.  Next, she could close her palm and explore the object with one hand.  Finally, she could use two hands.

The idea was to describe the object as thoroughly as possible, without seeking to define what it was.  But the incredible temptation of everyone doing this exercise was to figure out the identity of the object, to label and name it as fast as they could.  Later, the workshop leaders described a previous iteration of this exercise, where a woman was holding what turned out to be a clip-on book light.  With her blindfold on, however, she was convinced it was a stapler.  But she couldn’t explain the bendy part sticking out of it.  Rather than staying open and continuing to try and describe the object rather than name it, she became attached to her stapler-notion to such an extent that when she took the blindfold off and saw it, she said, “Oh!  It’s a stapler with a light!”

We can lose a lot when we decide what something is without knowing it thoroughly. It’s easy to use what we know – about people, about mental health, about anatomy, or whatever – to pin down something about the client.  And we can feel good about ourselves: now we know what’s wrong, and can therefore fix it!  It is such an ingrained human tendency that it can be difficult to pull back and allow true discovery to happen.  This practice, however, is essential to our work, and allows for the surprises and ‘aha’ moments to emerge that can lead our clients to lasting change.

Published by Kamela Dolinova

Expressive arts adventuress: writing, performing, healing, loving.

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