One of the most important factors in the success of Expressive Arts Therapy is the building of the relationship between the therapist and the client. I use these same concepts in my personal relationships and have noticed a deeper, more understanding connection with others.
These concepts are not in any way exclusive to Expressive Arts Therapy, but the are all central ideas in Expressive Arts Therapy.
Mindfulness is simply noticing and naming what is happening as it is happening. Mindfulness helps us be present with the other person and not in some other mental space. Mindfulness is not just being aware of what is going on for the other person, but also noticing what is happening within ourselves as we listen to the other.
When I am listening to someone else in my personal relationships, I often see within myself a need to relate to the other as they speak and feel inclined to respond with a “me too.” As I become more aware of this tendency and just name it, I can continue listening to the person and focus on what they are trying to express, rather than jumping in with my thing before they have finished talking.
In therapy, we try to hold a space of loving kindness for another to allow them to feel safe and open. We may not automatically like all of the people who come to us, but we must remain present and open in order to be of service. The practice of loving kindness is simple; we find something we like about the other person, and in this way, can put aside the qualities we see in them that may trigger us to close down and be less present for them.
It is best to find a universal quality in the other that we can appreciate; perhaps their courage or sincerity. But, sometimes it is not always easy to find something we like about a particular person. In this case, even something superficial will do, maybe we like their hair or their voice Appreciating the smallest thing about another creates and opening, and as we open, the other person opens. The process continues as we open more into a feedback loop of loving kindness.
Practicing this in my daily interactions has been very helpful. When I get triggered by someone but can go into loving kindness, I find myself more able to stay with them in an open way. I find that even though there may be qualities in the other that I do not personally like, once I see something I can appreciate, that is where my focus stays. Usually, I then discover more and more qualities about that person that I enjoy. This has been essential in preventing me from distancing myself or shutting out particular people that I usually would. I have even created nourishing relationships with people I never thought I could.
Phenomenology is the study of how the world appears to us based on our experiences before we conceptualize anything. From a phenomenological standpoint we see through our conscious awareness, rather than through our “knowledge” or presupposed ideas. Phenomenology describes without labeling, judging, or interpreting. It acknowledges that our world is subjective, as it is viewed through our emotions and conditioning (past experiences, language, communication, social customs, cultural factors).
Remembering phenomenology prevents me from jumping to conclusions about a situation. Knowing that my own understanding of a situation is incomplete, I can understand better the experience of others and clarify with the intent of trying to discover what actually is. Phenomenology helps me increase my awareness about myself, have empathy, and learn about others.
Object relations theory states that how we relate to others and situations in our life is due to how our experience with others (usually the primary caregivers) was formed in early childhood. We react unconsciously to events in our lives due to this early conditioning. When another reminds us of someone else, even when it is unconscious the interaction is not in the phenomenological sense; we cannot fully meet the other person since we think they are like someone else in our lives.
In therapy, this relationship when it exists between client and therapist this is called transference and countertransference. We have to be aware of this and notice it even though it is not the focus of the session.
Having the awareness of this particular dynamic, helps me take certain interactions with people less personally.