[Re-run] How do we do listening touch with someone who can’t hear?

Last night, I had the pleasure and challenge of working with a client, Sue*, who is completely deaf.  I will admit, first off, that I don’t have a lot of experience with deaf people; while I’ve long been fascinated by sign language, I haven’t happened to have many interactions with people who are deaf.  Some of this may be due to the intricacies of Deaf culture and my non-membership in said culture; some of it is chance.  But some of it may be that I haven’t taken the time or effort to get to know any deaf people well.

Interacting with Sue made me extremely aware of how much I, as a hearing person, depend on verbal interaction when getting to know someone.  I was admittedly thrown off my center a little when this client first contacted me, by phone: I was speaking to her interpreter, who was a man, and was presenting himself as if he were the client – a woman, with a feminine name.  He was speaking directly for her – saying “I” and “me” – and without benefit of visual cues, I had to adjust to the idea that I was not actually speaking with this man, but with this woman sitting next to him and conversing in sign.  After this came a series of emails in which we discussed how we might set up a session; we finally agreed that bringing an interpreter along would be the best choice.

Once in person (with a different interpreter this time), I had much more available to me in terms of facial expressions, body language, and gestures as I got to know Sue.  I still, however, had to conduct much of my conversation with her while she looked at, and interacted with, her interpreter.  This worked just fine, but created an interesting distance that had to be overcome.

In Synergy sessions, the client lies on a massage table, and often, she will close her eyes.  There is a lot of verbal interaction in addition to the touch, and the client is asked to pay attention to very subtle movement and changes in her body.  Naturally, the verbal back-and-forth that I would normally do in a session was hampered, and we had to find a solution: in this case, the interpreter also stood by the table and translated what we said back and forth.  The session was moderately successful, I thought, and we discovered some lovely insights, but it was interesting how many challenges arose out of this situation, and it made me wonder how Rubenfeld Synergists might devise better ways of working with deaf clients.

For one thing, having to interrupt a client’s relaxing trance state by asking that she open her eyes so she can see what’s being said feels like a constant undermining of the flow of the session.  Sue wanted to have her eyes closed a lot of the time, and when I wanted to say something, her interpreter would touch her shoulder gently.  Sometimes, Sue would spontaneously begin commenting on what she was experiencing, but at other times, she needed prompting, and I found myself reluctant to do so when her eyes were closed.

Another challenge was my realization of how much RSM uses the vocabulary of listening.  Ilana was a musician, after all; her book is called The Listening Hand, and a tremendous amount of the metaphor and language surrounding this work has to do with music.  We also speak a lot about tone, and how tone of voice and tone of the body – e.g. muscle tone – are related.  We talk about parts of the body having a voice, and getting them in dialogue with one another.  The session proceeded relatively smoothly, but I was interested in how many times I found myself running up against language or ideas I would ordinarily use that would have a different meaning – or very little meaning – to someone who cannot hear or speak vocally.

At the same time, I learned some beautiful things.  Watching Sue describe the energies she was feeling moving through her – pulses and goosebumps and spirals – was beautiful, and I was struck by the idea that for people who chiefly speak ASL, the physical experience of language and verbal ideas must be so much more profound and immediate.  I also noticed that her shoulders, while not particularly tense, seemed lifted, as if always in readiness to speak.

My mentor, Joan, also reminded me today that one of the RSM principles is that touch is a viable means of communication.  As I say in that post, “touch…goes straight to the truth of the body, and that makes it perhaps the most powerful communication tool available.”  I am curious to contact this client again, and perhaps have a session with her in which we don’t speak during the table work – unless she feels compelled to say something, which she can then signal or write to me – and we talk about the experience afterwards.  I remember sessions in my training with some of my fellow students fondly: sessions where nothing was said, where we moved through the sequence instinctively and reading each other with only our contact.  The silence of these sessions became sacred; the shifts that happened during them, sublime.  Sue reminds me in some ways to return to simplicity, to the power that touch really has to transform and heal.

I hope, therefore, to work with this client more, this client who left the session feeling vital and filled with movement, feeling the draw to playfulness and bringing more fun into her life.  How much more might I be able to pair her up with those ideas if I allow her to sink into them, silently, continuously, without interruption or the presence of another person in the room?

*The client’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Published by Kamela Dolinova

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

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