Are You on the Dance Floor or the Balcony? Discovering New Perspective

Overlooking view of several couples dancing in ballroom with hardwood floorsWhen you decide to seek help from a therapist or counselor, chances are you’re struggling. Maybe you’re feeling lost in your life, or maybe you’re experiencing painful disconnection from others. Sometimes what brings people to therapy is a need for help brainstorming new solutions to old (or new!) problems.

One of the most important functions of good therapy is to help reveal new perspectives. A new perspective provides a new angle from which to view what is happening (or what has happened) and provides a new stance from which to make healthy choices for the future.

Sometimes, your therapist will help you find perspective by helping you step outside of the immediate details to see the bigger picture or context of the problem. You know the phrase about not losing sight of the forest for the trees? Therapists can help you look beyond the specifics of your situation to discover patterns or connections to a larger context.

Other times, you therapist will help you find perspective by helping you dig deep inside yourself to uncover the emotions or fears underlying the problem. When you keep too much distance between your situation and how you think or feel about it, you lose important data from what renowned therapist Dr. Peter Levine calls your felt sense. Therapists can help you shift your awareness from the greater, external world to your intimate, internal landscape.

A metaphor I often use with people in therapy when describing the power of a new perspective is one about being in a dance hall:

Imagine you’ve just stepped into the dance hall. You can hear the music playing and see people moving around you. To your left is a flight of stairs up to a balcony that overlooks the dance floor, and to your right is a door that leads straight to the dance floor itself.

A new perspective provides a new angle from which to view what is happening (or what has happened), and provides a new stance from which to make healthy choices for the future.

The Perspective from the Balcony

From the height of the balcony, you can see the dance floor below. Your gaze takes in the whole scene and you can begin to notice patterns and differences among what you see is happening: a group of people are dancing in a circle, a line is forming at the bar, and there is a couple engaged in animated conversation in a corner of the room. You also notice what isn’t happening: although people are dancing close to one another, no bodies are touching and there isn’t a line for the bathrooms.

From the “balcony” perspective, you are able to notice patterns and learn from others. Over time, you’ll be able to notice and integrate all the different parts of your experience, how they interact and influence one another, and make decisions based on a broad look at your situation.

The Perspective from the Dance Floor

From your spot on the dance floor, your vision is limited to the space immediately around you—you can see only as far as the people dancing next to you. Your eyes close, you can feel the beat of the music pulse in your body, and you begin to notice the heat generated by your dancing. Your eyes open and you notice a new, attractive fellow dancer beside you.

From the “dance floor” perspective, you are able to access sensations, energy, and emotions. You have access to changing information moment to moment from all of your senses—from temperature, from color, from movement. Over time, this data will help you integrate your intuition with your surroundings and make decisions based on an intimate examination of your lived experience.

An important third part of this metaphor is the staircase that links the balcony to the dance floor, or being able to move freely and with intention back and forth between the bigger context of your problem and the underlying emotions. Sometimes, a short break from the action is helpful to gain knowledge and set goals. Other times, a short immersion into the depths of feeling is helpful to reconnect to your inner world. Finding balance in these perspectives can be one of the most powerful, positive outcomes of good therapy.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Dr. Emily Cook, LCMFT, therapist in Bethesda, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Shirley

    May 12th, 2017 at 12:36 PM

    I have always been a bit of a wallflower, spending too much time watching others and wishing that I could have the same kind of fun that they were having. I think that watching for too long has actually held me back, made me a little bit afraid that the reality could never be as enticing as the view from the outside, I want to jump in, but I don’t really know how to go from being an on looker to a participant.

  • Brad

    May 13th, 2017 at 8:47 AM

    It is often a nice change to be able to take a look at things from a different perspective.
    It might not seem like that much of a difference, but let’s say that you are always the one surrounded by others and the life of the party, take a look from the outside and see how things appear to someone like Shirley who has never been that person.
    It can be a good change to go from always having to be the life of the party to one who just observes,

  • tanner

    May 15th, 2017 at 7:11 AM

    I would rather be klutzy on the proverbial dance floor than alone on the balcony

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