Physical Counseling

All of us living in oppressive societies have passiveness as a big part of most of our distresses. It took us a while to understand this fully. For many years we sat passively as we discharged, and though we cried our way through lots of distresses, we didn't challenge the passivity.

We first noticed this in family work, through working with young people. When the young ones had sessions, few of them wanted to lie down and cry. (Some of them did, and boy, did we like them a lot! We could sit for hours with those warm, dear little bodies in our arms.) Most of the young ones wanted to be physically active in any one of a hundred ways. They were not going to sit still and feel hurt; they were not going to accept being hurt and simply grieve about it. They were going to battle against it. The adults slowly learned that we, too, needed to battle against being hurt, that it wasn't enough to sit and weep about hard things, that we were accepting a large part of our distress recordings if we only did that.

The counselor's job is to create opportunities for the client, to create possibilities that the client can't think of himself or herself. The client's job is to take advantage of those opportunities and also do everything he or she can imagine. Because they've been hurt and made passive, one way to create opportunities for clients is to dare them to be forceful in your direction, dare them to lean against or push against you. Then something changes in their minds and they get a sense of not having to settle for being hurt.

As in every other session, people use these opportunities in different ways. With twelve people you get twelve different responses. Some people will rush at you, using all of their strength, and cry and cry. As counselor your first job is to absorb the force, to make it safe for them to expend force and not hold back. Your second job is to match their force, so they have someone to battle with. They don't want a counselor who gives up, or one who dominates. They want someone who will push back and match them, so it's safe to push as hard as they can. At a certain point they often feel like "they have to give up." They will suddenly feel helpless and weak and small. If they continue to fight hard, the weak, helpless feelings turn to discharge. In the exertion of not giving up, many people have wonderful sessions.

Some people can't make the first move. Then your job as counselor is to help them feel justified in pushing against you by making it irresistible. There are lots of ways to do that. One is to beg for mercy: "Please don't hit me. Don't hit me again. Please, you're hitting too hard." They'll laugh for a while and then try to shut you up, which is just fine. You're trying to provide a pretext so that momentarily they feel justified in wiping you off the face of the earth. You're trying to find that little place where they can remember the hurt, remember how they wanted to smear someone across the carpet. (They had good reason to feel that way!) If you can remind them with just a whiff of it, that's usually enough to get them started. Once started, they don't care what the original incident was.

It's the counselor's job to make it safe enough for clients to struggle. Even though they want to be forceful, they often can't be. All of the conditioning to be nice is in their way unless they are given some pretext.

Sometimes, when clients can't quite make a step toward me, I'll just kneel down next to them and they will cry and shake without any physical struggle. The possibility of it happening is what lets them discharge. For some people, attempting to be physically forceful quickly turns into being forcefully close. They will wrap their arms around the counselor and hold him or her as dearly, and closely, and solidly as they always wanted to hold someone and never got a chance to, because nobody ever understood. Nobody ever let them get that close. They wanted to hang on and imbed themselves in another person's flesh and have that person understand and let them do it for as long as they wanted to. These clients may pretend to want to wrestle, but then they'll just sit there and smell, and absorb, and feel, and try to push their cheek into the skin of the counselor -- get that solidly in touch at last. I suspect we all need those chances.

To try physical counseling as a counselor you need to have worked on a lot of your own distresses. You need to have worked on your feelings about dignity. (What masquerades as dignity is generally embarrassment and has nothing to do with dignity at all.) Because you can't want to win, you may have to discharge on winning in a few of your sessions. You need to have worked on your fears of violence. Many of us saw a lot of violence, or had violence aimed at us, and that comes up in these sessions. You need to be able to think, because as counselor it's your job to keep from getting hurt. It's not the client's job to protect you (though he or she should have some judgment about that). You're trying to remove one impediment, one restriction, by saying, "Yes, go ahead and push hard." If you are also communicating, "But don't do this, and don't do that, and watch this shoulder," the client doesn't get a free hand to really fight for himself or herself.

To be able to absorb some force with your mass, you need to have a certain level of physical strength and stamina. However, you don't need to be stronger than the client. You simply need to be able to think, to be able to be there physically. Then the client will make use of you in the best way he or she can.

It's also helpful if you have been a client in this kind of session yourself.

Much depends on a client's particular distresses. Full-fledged physical struggle doesn't automatically work for everyone. It fascinates almost everyone, but it doesn't work for everyone. It works more reliably with women than with men. Odds are a man has more of a history of being in fights and may not be able to think well enough to be safe from hurting someone.

Still, it can work for men. I've seen it be very useful, especially for large men, to have at least six people holding them down -- one on each leg, one on each arm, one on their chest, and one holding their head. Then it's finally safe for them to fight for themselves.

Because men are told we are destructive creatures who always hurt everybody, many of us have learned to be mild. It's hard for us to fight for ourselves because we believe we'll kill somebody. Creating a situation that's safe enough for a guy to actually physically fight for himself can be very important, but it takes a lot of work. This is especially true if the guy is large, and even more true if he got large early.

What matters in physical counseling is that we create opportunities and make things safe enough for people to struggle for themselves.

Tim Jackins


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07