Issues Treated in Therapy:
Right use of power and
influence is surely one of the most important issues facing us in our
emerging globally interdependent world. Interest in right use of power
takes us in the dynamic realms of roles, relationships, and trust. We
engage with finding out how we impact others and then with developing
the skills and compassion to be more and more effective. This is
inspiring and valuable process. Some of you are clients or
potential clients. Some of you are therapists or helping professionals.
All of us have personal experience on both sides of relationships of
trust: as clients, patients, students, children, committee members… and
as therapists, social workers, parents, teachers, guides, coaches,
committee heads, body workers, office managers. We have a sense for
what each role feels like, but it is often hard to remember what the
other role experience is. One of the hallmarks of the right use of
power is to make the dynamics and expectations of each role open,
clear, and understood by all.
Now, when you think of the word
“power” what comes to mind? For most people the word holds a range of
associations from manipulation and abuse to helpfulness but the
associations tend to be negative, wounding, or painful. The actual
definition of power is the ability to have an effect. Simple. The
ability to have an effect. Like money and technology, it is how we use
power that matters. Being alive inevitably involves having an effect.
We need to be able to have an effect. As clients we can misuse our
power, by becoming too dependent on our caregivers and losing our
ability to access our own wisdom and self-awareness. As therapists we
can misuse our power by being afraid of causing harm, and thus
inadvertently not take charge when it is needed. Both of these are
misuses of power by not owning the power that is ours and thus causing
harm to ourselves or others by under-using it.
Right use of power and influence is any use of power that does any or all of the following: prevents harm, reduces harm, repairs harm, promotes well-being. I invite you to consider trying on and embracing a new and broad based understanding of power. A new understanding that will support you in being more and more wise, skillful, and effective.
Whether in the role of therapist or in the role of client, power is the ability to have an effect. It could also be considered the ability to access and mobilize resources. Combining strength with deep compassion in the journey to mastery is numinous and potent. It brings together personal development and soul work (being) with creation and accomplishment (doing). Love and creativity yearn to be expressed in form. Being resourced by both personal and role power in the full use of Self is a right and a responsibility.
Positively Embracing Power
Much is accomplished when we can embrace and use our personal and professional power with heart and are actively engaged in the right use of this power for the good of all. Becoming familiar with the psychotherapy profession’s code of ethics and with contemporary ethical issues combined with doing personal work with our power history and beliefs, we become more skillful in staying related through conflict and keeping our relationships repaired. We are willing to be held responsible for our behavior. We can self-correct. We have proactively self-assessed for our ethical edges, and understand key dynamics around power,
We reach out our hands, not to strike or defend, but to compassionately relate. Our power and influence will be felt as peace and mutual well-being. This ethic synergizes power with the resonating concern of compassion. The formula is simple and yet mastery is a lifetime practice. Right Use of Power is power with heart, activated from the inside out. Be informed, Be compassionate, Be related, Be skillful. ~ Provided by Cedar Barstow, Rightuseofpower.com
Robert’s client Henry complained of tightness and pain in his lower back and thighs. He spoke of constantly and actively being on guard for danger so that he could be ready to take protective action. Robert asked Henry to show him how he guarded. Henry described having power in his fingertips that could send out flashes of lightning if anyone threatened. His eyes surveyed and he held his chest up. His whole body was taut with readiness to assert his power. Robert asked about what the alertness was protecting. Henry replied, “My heart.” Robert asked Henry to take his awareness from his fingers to his heart and belly and notice what he experienced. After a long silence, Henry spoke. “I see that when I bring my power and awareness back to my belly, I feel quite strong and safe. When I have my power out in my fingertips, I scare people and isolate myself. And, to my surprise, I feel desperate and much less powerful. You know, like ‘more bark than bite’. After another silence, Henry noticed that his lower back was relaxing. The pain was connected to putting his power outside rather than inside. Through the explorations in this therapy session Henry had found his true and benevolent power. Beginning to use his power from his center will be good for his own well-being as well as that of the people he comes in contact with.
Nancy’s client Elena had seemed quite comfortable with touch. She always asked for a hug at the end of the session and was readily able to access body information. During one session she got in touch with a deep longing for connection, and began weeping. Nancy gently reached her hand out and put it on Elena’s knee to offer comfort. Elena quickly said in a sharp tone, “Don’t touch me!” Nancy was surprised and quickly apologized and removed her hand, thanking Elena for telling her she didn’t want to be touched. Elena responded that she knew that it was okay to say what she needed. Nancy then offered a self-study experiment of offering her hand and inviting Elena to move her hand toward Nancy’s stopping when she began to get anxious. Nancy noticed that was rubbing the fingers of her other hand with her thumb as she moved her right hand closer to Nancy’s outstretched hand. Elena said that her left hand was acting as both a guard against harm and a guide reminding her what good touch feels like. Elena slowly moved her right hand, stopping several times to check for safety, until she lightly touched the tips of Nancy’s fingers for a minute or so. As Nancy watched, Elena began weeping, moved her fingers gently away, looked at Nancy and said, “I stayed….and it was okay.” In this process, Elena had an unexpected experience of receiving touch and being okay. This experience is the first step in the healing of a former misuse of power involving unsafe touch.
He was a well-loved music teacher. He loved his students. After several months of therapy, he told his therapist that he was ready to talk about something he hadn’t had the trust to bring up before and even then wasn’t sure how it would be received. He had felt for a while that something about the way he loved his students, especially the boys, wasn’t right. Like he had noticed that when he gave one of the boys a hug, he was grasping on, wanting to father him, wanting to give him more than a teacher should. He had then had a dream that he was holding one of his students and then in the dream the student was holding him. The therapist appreciated his courage and helped him explore what was going on. His father had died when he was six and he had experienced an aching longing for father love and attention that he felt as an adult as a deep, vacant place in his chest. In paying attention to this place in his chest, it became clear that this was the emptiness he was trying to fill when he was hugging his students. Understanding this strong need from his childhood helped him find other ways to connect and be nourished—filling himself with his music, reaching out more to friends, being more playful. His love for his students then shifted dramatically to more appropriate expression. This client’s courage in bringing this issue to therapy resulted in pro-active behavior that prevented unethical behavior that would have brought serious harm to his students. ~ Case Examples Provided by Cedar Barstow, Rightuseofpower.com
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Last updated: 05-14-2013