Welcome back, friend.
Today we are going to talk about Attunement.
A couple of weeks ago I had talked about the 4 core skills of becoming a therapist, and attunement was one of those skills. Without attunement, we are vulnerable to making therapy more about ourselves (our reactions, agendas, and needs) rather that our clients.
It’s crucial, then, that we learn what attunement is and how to cultivate it in ourselves.
So, what is Attunement?
Dr. Dan Siegal, a prominent voice in interpersonal neurobiology, describes attunement as
“…how we focus our attention on others and take their essence into our own inner world…and allow them to shape who we are in that moment.”
The Mindful Therapist
More than just listening, attunement is a dynamic practice of allowing our client’s experience to touch us, move us, and even shape us.
If we simply listen to our clients without taking their experience in and allowing it to touch us, we only have a cursory, intellectual knowledge of what they are experiencing.
It is in hearing what they are saying and feeling what they are both saying and not saying that we begin to truly understand them.
The result of this is our client’s feeling felt – the visceral experience of no longer being alone is their experience but understood and seen for who they truly are.
How do we practice and cultivate this?
Dr. Siegal suggests this begins with attuning to ourselves. If we are unaware of our own experience (our needs, longings, emotions etc.), they will muddy our perception of our clients.
So, we begin by slowing down and getting curious. You could use a breathing practice or do a body scan. Anything that grounds you again with yourself in the present.
It’s helpful to do this before and after a session as it will give you insight into what you are bringing with you and how you are affected.
You may notice anxiousness beforehand – hope that you will be helpful mixed with doubt. Or maybe you notice fear after – uncertainty about how to formulate a treatment plan.
Some questions you may ask yourself are:
- What was I feeling? How did that distract me?
- Was I able to cope with the feeling? If not, why might that be?
- Did I feel connected with my client? Did they seem distant, guarded, or defensive?
- Did I feel what they were feeling? Or was I intellectualizing their experience? Looking for advice, tips, fixes to offer?
- What experiences could I have drawn from where I felt the same way they did? Why was it difficult to do that at the moment?
The more you understand your own experience as therapist, the more you can identify what is getting in the way of you attuning to your client and mindfully let that go.
This doesn’t come quickly or easily. Like most important skills, this takes time to practice and grow within you.
But you can start now.
You might be surprised how this clarifies your experience as therapist.
Well, that’s all for today.
Until next time,