How to Counsel Right Brain to Right Brain
2 Jun 2016

right brain to right brain

My earlier post  Good Therapy Using Right and Left Brain pointed out that counsellors would benefit from having a rhythm between working with a client right brain to right brain and then left brain to left brain. I also explained the difference between right and left brains. In this post I am focussing on what I mean by working right brain to right brain.

Begin With Reverie

Right brain therapy starts with reverie. Or what is sometimes called free-floating attention. (Lots of bods have written about this, including Freud) The goal is to be what I call “in the zone” so that you are available to the whole person of the client, and to all aspects of yourself. If you can be fully present your empathic reflections will be more accurate, and you will both feel more connected.

Because your goal is to provide the client with a corrective emotional/relational experience, you want to deeply tune into what your client is sensing/feeling/experiencing. You want them to feel heard, and seen. If you try to do this with rational thought you are likely to put your own experience onto the client, rather than truly hearing them. Right brain listening should feel a bit like you are tilting your head to one side to hear a distant whisper from the other side of the room, or to get “under the client’s skin”. And then trying on with them the sense of what you are experiencing from them, using gesture or words or…whatever comes.

After the reverie, and the dedicated, sensitive listening comes a sense of opening yourself to your own experience in your body, the images, memories and sensations that come. (Freud’s influence again) This will give you clues that might be useful. Tune in. See what hunches come. Don’t presume you are right, but check it out. Tentatively. Does this image/feeling/metaphor fit with what the client is trying to articulate?

You can encourage right brain working by telling the client you are going to ask a strange question, and can they please notice the first thing that comes into their mind, even if it is ridiculous. Then ask a right brain question based on something they have said. Like, “What’s it like …in this lonely place/ circle of light/ hole in the ground? What colour is it? Does it have a smell or taste?” Once they have articulated this “strange” response, try to keep them in this state of tuning into the unexpected. Play with it together.  At least for a minute or two, if they can tolerate it. See if you can begin to notice when they move back to their head, rather than being in their “gut”. Notice if you help them to flee to their head. (That’s another story)

You can also encourage right brain work by using body based approaches or focusing.


The felt sense Gendlin talks about is such an important part of right brain work.

You want to get out of your heads and into your bodies, into your experiencing. Using metaphors that the client uses can open it up and deepen their knowing of what it is like for them. You (usually) unpack all this in left brain. You put language to what may before only be felt vaguely. You put names to feelings. You process and draw together the implicit which has now become more fully available in the room. There is a summary, or a pressing need to make a statement. You usually take the lead in this, but not always.

It becomes an intersubjective experience. By this, I mean that both of you are co-creating a living breathing happening (I sound like a hippie!!) together. You affect the client, and the client impacts you. When it works, it really works. The focus is on the client, and her needs, but it takes two of you to get the thing humming along. It’s like a duet, or a well-cooked meal that you create together.

Sometimes it feels like the room gets soft in tone, or the light becomes mellow, or there is an energy shift in your body. You might breathe differently, more freely…I really AM a hippie!!! But notice I am talking about metaphor, the senses, body. It is not left brain stuff. It is felt. Experienced. A bit hippy!!!

You can use all sorts of modalities to heighten a right brain to right brain shared experience. Think sandplay, art therapy, music therapy, deep relaxation, hakomi, somatic psychotherapy…But if they do not come from the place of truly not-knowing humility, gentle curiosity and a desire to be WITH the other, then it is just cleverness. You want human to human connection. Attachment. Healing.

I recently watched several minutes of Moshe Lang doing therapy. An experienced family therapist, he was simply present. See What an inspiration. He was not necessarily focussing on a particular part of the brain, but he was THERE in simplicity and a fully human way.

So how do you “do” right brain to right brain therapy?

Maybe it comes back to being fully available to yourself and the client. As complex and as simple as that.