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Learning from Patty to Be at Ease with People

Dear Patty,*

I was counseling a child on deep fear, with a suspicious father close by-counseling, stopping to explain, and then continuing. I realized I needed to prove things to him. Otherwise he'd not get out of his doubts. So I did. Then he and his daughter had "special time" together, and he saw a big difference in her. These things are organized in heaven sometimes.

This father works in an organization that takes in abandoned and abused children. He asked me to come and lead an enrichment day for the staff of this organization in Tel Aviv. We negotiated the fee, schedule, and date. There was concern as to whether I was good enough, or "spicy" and "juicy" enough, for this well-"sandpapered" group.

I read your pamphlets on the way to the meeting and used them to counsel myself. I had also listened to your tapes. The tone you and your partner use when counseling an angry or scared child speaks to me always.

When I arrived and had my first look around the room, I saw women, Israeli women (who tend to carry a critical pattern and the need to excel), older than me, more experienced than me, with more diplomas than me. I noticed my internalized oppression. These women were well-dressed and used make-up, whereas I was, shall we say, more informally dressed.

I did a quick take of the situation and realized I had better not start with the theoretical background and assumptions we use, because that would only give them ground to attack, to be critical and then disappointed.

I took a deep breath, not knowing what I was about to say, and began by creating an atmosphere of appreciation of them. I asked each of them to think of and share one "pearl" from their work-one incident, however small, in which they had been able to see how good they were. By chance I first pointed to some new volunteers. They explained this to me and were ready to decline as they "had no experience." I, of course, didn't buy that and asked for their stories anyhow. With some persuading I got the stories, and this (I realized later) created safety for all.

The stories were great. Then we went around the circle in the other direction, this time starting with the "big wigs," and I had them tell a special memory from their own childhoods. There were some good ones, and I connected them over and over during the day to what I was talking about. Actually, I did very little talking. They loved when I listened to them. They also loved when I counseled them-en bloc, all together-by using my tone of voice, the one I had heard on the tapes.

I spoke a little more and then suggested some games, because I felt they couldn't listen. Sure enough, they were overjoyed to play. There was lots of closeness and lots of laughter.

Then they had a boy they wanted me to work with. I did, as far as the group could take. Never, they told me later, had any psychologist been prepared to model working with a child "live" before an audience.

After lunch, when it was time for the boy to go, they started hassling him with fake rewards for going easily and other horrid things. I spoke up and said to him that we had had a special time together, that it was time for him to go, that I had enjoyed my time with him, and that I would not forget him. (I couldn't promise that I'd see him again.) The way I spoke to the child, and the fact that I spoke to him, amazed the director of the program. She said she'd never seen that before.

During the rest of the afternoon, I assured them that all of us have times when we are ready to injure a little one, when we are frustrated, hurt. We did a round on this. Then I worked with a staff member who got to discharge a lot on this subject.

I used mini-sessions throughout the day and reminded them that they could use them whenever they wanted. At a closing circle, their appreciations actually "hurt"- they were so "godly," so total. People said they had learned so much, that the whole approach was so different and refreshing. I swelled to maximum inner capacity. It was one time that I had the feeling that no one could have done it better than me.

Thank you for being my teacher, supporter, friend, and leader. Thank you for your pamphlets.

Rani Kallai
Jerusalem, Israel

* Patty Whipfler is the International Liberation Reference Person for Parents

(Present Time No. 110, January 1998)

Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00