NICABM (National Institute for the Clinical Applications of Behavioral Medicine) has pulled together an innovative online Next Level Practitioners training program, offering creative tools for working with clients on shame, anger and hostility, uncertainty, resistance, and resilience.
I’m again privileged to be among 20 dedicated and innovative practitioners in the field, including:
Bessel van der Kolk
Besides cutting-edge tools for working with clients, this program itself is innovative, bringing experts out of their silos, exploring the next levels of innovation in the field. I don’t know if the excerpt below is in the final training; it includes some of my thoughts about working with shame.
* * * * *
A client once asked me if I knew anything about shame and I rather flippantly replied, “I have a PhD in shame.” I don’t have a PhD in shame, or in anything else, but I do have decades of experience now in working with shame, which I see as the most powerful derailer of our resilience, our capacities to cope. More than fear or anger or sadness. Shame stops us from taking action because it erodes the faith in ourselves, the belief in ourselves and the acceptance of ourselves that would allow us to take wise and compassionate action.
So I work with clients, a lot, using the felt sense of the shame experience, the collapsing or hunkering down, the withdrawal, the hiding, the isolating, to identify the voice inside or the part inside that feels ashamed, unlovable, unworthy, that is usually an inner child part that is not sure if he or she is welcome in the therapy, so I try to encourage and invite and welcome that part to become more visible in the therapy, whatever she or he needs to feel wanted, accepted, appreciated, loved. Eventually I can share with the client I think it was that little, shamed, hiding part that brought the client into therapy, to be seen, understood, accepted, healed.
It’s important that the client be able to differentiate their adult self, or their wiser self, from that shamed inner child part, because it is the client’s adult, that thinks it is in therapy for itself, to be willing to see and acknowledge and care about and reconcile with that inner shamed part, rather than not wanting to go there, or push that part away, back into unconsciousness or oblivion again, or rather than being hostile themselves to that part for being weak or vulnerable.
So the work is to help the adult re-connect again with the exiled, hiding, inner child, to re-connect, often through visual imaging, the inner child is sitting on the couch with them in my office, or they are sitting together on a bench in a park, or they are playing a game together. Simply to re-establish a relationship, then to warm up that relationship with empathy, understanding, compassion of the adult for that wounded inner part that feels so badly and is not at all sure this adult is going to really see and really understand and really stay connected and caring.
So a lot of work with these two parts, getting the adult on board to offer the loving acceptance of this inner child who maybe never got to experience that love and acceptance in a safe, unmanipulated way. And then to work with the inner child part to let him/her to accept the overtures of the client’s adult self, to begin to trust that the adult is really there for them and will be there reliably.
So having the adult self re-parent the child-self and recover what coulda/woulda/shoulda been the inner secure base of the child in the first place.
Then, as that is progressing, I work with the adult self to push back on the inner critic self that would just destroy the whole thing. The adult self has to be able to differentiate from the inner critic, too, not identify with the inner critic as “me” or as having the truth. So the adult self has to have a new, more empowered relationship with the inner critic, and a new more empathic relationship with the inner child, and then be strong enough and present enough negotiate between the two, between the inner child and the inner critic. To protect the inner child but to also, eventually, understand the needs of the inner critic that believes it is protecting the child from harm, and help the inner critic retire and the inner child to grow up and flourish.