In my last two posts: Good Therapy Using Right and Left Brain and How to Counsel Right Brain to Right Brain I introduced the idea that left and right matter when it comes to counselling. You need to know when it is the right time to take the client into their left brain, and when to use right brain approaches. Some people might use the words “gut” for right brain and “head” for right brain.
Right brain-left brain responsiveness is a good way to increase your flexibility and awareness of how your client is responding to your interventions. You can learn to watch clients’ body language, eye movement or felt sense to see what impact you are having. This helps keep clients safe, and usually keeps the momentum moving forward at an appropriate pace.
It is also important to know where their focus needs to be at that particular point in time. Sometimes the client may feel overwhelmed by emotion: time to move to the left brain to have a rest, to ground the client or process what has just happened. Then, if appropriate, you might move back to a body/feeling/ right brain intervention before returning again to debrief and make sense of what has just been experienced. There is a rhythm. And flow.
What does a left brain intervention look like?
Ask for facts, or ideas, or details. Respond to the clients feelings with an idea, and you will take them away from their feelings, their felt experience and their right brain. You may be surprised to find you constantly block a client’s feelings by the responses you give when they are feeling deeply.
What are the benefits of including right brain interventions?
Research now shows that CBT may not be best practice on its own. Many writers (particularly those interested in the neurobiology side of therapy) are emphasising that affect, or emotion, is a key in motivation, and in change. Working with thoughts is not enough. Clients are whole people and they decide/act/change based on a whole-person process.
Emotionally Focussed Therapy has recognised this for a long time, and the interventions used in that approach take “hot” or alive moments in the session and use them to facilitate change. The focus is on finding Primary Emotions, and giving the client an experience of themselves which deepens awareness and (often) greater commitment to change. This is right brain stuff!
Then there is movement back to debriefing, drawing threads together and making sense of what has been deeply experienced. The client can “feel” that it is congruent, true and useful. Much more motivating than me sharing my bright ideas or trying to get them to change the way they think.
Having a rhythm between right brain and left brain in your work with clients is respectful of them as whole people. It helps create safety and deepens the work so that change emerges from the client’s own experiencing.