Of the Self, by the Self and for the Self: Internal Attachment, Attunement, and Psychological Change




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Patient expresses loathing towards a self state whose unmet dependency needs create vulnerability to parental intrusiveness]

Th: Yea, exactly. It’s really hard to see this coming up again – especially as you were starting to feel more empowered and hopeful. I understand that you’re frustrated with that, but I was wondering if we could just take a moment and focus on the part of you that felt hungry for your parent’s approval. Just pay attention to what’s going on in your body or what may be coming up as thoughts or pictures in your mind. (pause). [Therapist acknowledges the patient’s intense emotional state, re-directs to attune to somatic aspects of the affective experience]

Pt.: I have a sense of myself being very little -- terrified that my parents were leaving me again. It’s very intense . . . scary. [Pt. shows some signs of agitation/anxiety]. It’s like there is a wound in the middle of my chest -- a deep pain-- an emptiness. (pause). I feel myself wanting to go away [She verbalizes an impulse to dissociate].

Th: Okay. Check in with me for a moment. (makes eye contact for a few moments) [Therapist works to ground the patient by fostering present sensory awareness].

Look around the room. Notice the color of the lampshade . . . (pause). [After the client gets more grounded]. So you, the adult you and I are here and you are feeling something that you say feels “young”. Can you check inside and see if you can get a sense of this young part of you? (pause) [Therapist encourages contact with core affect linked to contact with “young” self state]

Pt.: (With tears) The pain in my chest is getting stronger again.

Th: Um hum. Let’s see if we can attend to the sensation together. Just breathe into it. [Emphasizing “we” aspect of the exploration; dyadically regulating patient’s anxiety]

Pt. (long pause) (Eyes moving as if thinking or visualizing)

Th: What are you noticing inside?

Pt: When I focused on the pain and went inside I got an image of a crying baby, but it was weird. The baby had no skin. (pause) It’s kinda like when you acknowledge me or look at me with kindness. It hurts. It hurts to feel your caring about me. It’s like staring into the sun. [Pain in chest is elaborated through symbolic images/metaphors; meaning becomes clarified]

Th: (softly) I see. So even though you want to find a way to end the loneliness, being with the baby --- or having me be with you in a compassionate way, it is so painful that you move away from it. I’m wondering if the more compassion you take in, the more you realize how little you got and how much you needed it. [Reflecting on possible intentions linked to approach/avoidance]

Pt. Yeah. I think that may be it. (pause)


Th: So, as you look at the baby there wanting care but somehow being unable to receive it, what do you notice inside? [Facilitating attunement, engagement; possibly empathy]


Pt. (pause) (With tears coming to her eyes) I feel sad. She wants to cuddle her but without her skin, it hurts too much to be held. (pause)

Th. [Looking to sidestep resistance by titrating contact] Well, one important way that mothers communicate is through gaze. I wonder if you and I could express our compassion for her through our eyes. [Facilitating deeper attunement and coordination of affective states between the patient and part]

Can you just look in her eyes and let her know that we’re feeling sad about the pain and loneliness she carries? Can she look through your eyes and see my face? [pause] See if she can see us seeing her with our sad eyes.

Pt. (Patient looks at my face, tears up and looks away). She can see us but it’s hard.


Th: What’s hard for her? [Exploring the source of receptive impairment]


Pt. Well it feels good at first, like a calming . . . but it’s hard to trust it. (pause)

Now I’m hearing thoughts that “This is stupid!” and “Nothing is going to change the way things are” [Reflective self state attempts to auto-regulate uncomfortable feelings linked to self-compassion by devaluing/sabotaging contact]

Th: I wonder if this is really scary to be with --- scary to take it in? [empathic response to underlying emotion of reflective self state]


Pt. Absolutely!


Th: [Using differentiation technique borrowed from IFS (Schwartz, 1995)] See if you can ask the part of you that thinks this is stupid to just step back and not interfere with what we’re doing right now. I get that this is unfamiliar territory but let’s see if it could just back off for now. (pause) Is it willing to do that?

Pt: Yeah, I think it is.


Th: Okay. I really appreciate it being willing to do that. (pause) [Affirms part for cooperating]


Let’s come back to being with the baby and her pain. What do you notice now?


Pt: The baby’s still crying but it’s different. [Getting reflective part to “step back” allows other feelings to emerge] Before she was crying because she was left. (tearing up) Now she’s crying because I found her.

Th: [Encouraging patient to stay with feelings expressed via the part] See if you can just stay with that as you notice her crying in this way.

[Minutes later]

Th: What do you notice?

Pt: (pause) The pain is subsiding and I feel calmer.

Th: Okay. [Invites the patient to track shift in soma] Just notice the calmer. (long pause)

Pt: I just had the thought that “I want more of this”.

Th: You want to be more compassionate and welcoming to these parts of you?


Pt: Right. (Cries) It feels like wanting that comes from some deep place inside, and almost like I had to let the baby part of me know that I would continue to try to do that --- and that I know they need that. [This highlights the patient’s shift from avoidance and self-reproach to approach and recognition of need]

Th: That you need that. [Emphasizing that part is a part of her]


Pt: Yes, well and sort of like acknowledging that I’m on their page.


Th: That is the opposite of compartmentalization right there.


Pt: It feels really good.


Th: [Reflecting back] Being on the same page with yourself


Pt: Um Hmm.


Th: See if you can tune into what it feels like to be on the same page with yourself.


[Long pause]


Th: What’s coming up for you?


Pt: I think it’s interesting -- that things come up and I begin to judge them. (with tears) I see how closed off I’ve been from myself. [Pt. sees defenses with clarity; experiences grief]

Th: (Softly) You have some feelings about that.


Pt: Its just sad. (cries)


Th: (Gently) It’s okay. Just be with the feelings.


[Minutes later]


Th: What do you notice?


Pt: I don’t know. I’m getting the same picture over and over.


Th: What is the picture?


Pt: It’s me holding the baby. She’s grown skin and we’re together. She is relaxing into my arms. [Intra-relational engagement deepens]

Th: Um hmm. [Metaprocess] And what is it like for you to have that baby part do that?


Pt.: It’s warm. The word that comes to my mind is “truth” – that this is the way it’s supposed to be.

Th: [Metaprocess] And what is it like being with the truth in this connection with the baby?


Pt: What is it like? Empowering.


Th: [Guides patient to process positive experience] Just notice what “empowered” feels like in your body.


[A few minutes later]


Th: I am really touched by how you and this baby part of you are beginning to find each other. You’re letting yourself see the pain that part of you carries and you are willing to bear witness to it. She doesn’t have to be alone with it anymore. [Self disclosure of feeling; Reflects observed shift back to the patient]

Pt: (Tears up) Before, the pain was unacceptable. (pause) Actually, it was sublimated to the point that I didn’t even know it existed. [Recognition of prior defense]

Th: Right.

Pt: Like everything else, I avoided stuff and went numb: I just made it go away.


Th: Not today. [Brings focus back to powerful shift experienced in session]


Pt: No, not anymore.


Th: (In a whisper) Wowwww. [Aware of the monumental change in patient’s stance towards self]. I just don’t know what else to say to that. (pause) Just be with comes up.

(The patient associates to a recent memory of a friend lovingly responding to her self-deprecation with support and care)

Th: [Encourages reflection and meaning-making] What does that memory say to you?


Pt: “Stop judging yourself”. You are okay. (Tears up).


Th: Can you be with that?


Pt: I’m trying. [Long pause] I don’t exactly know how to describe it. It’s like me and the baby facing the pain together. It’s different. I don’t have to hate myself for having the pain.

Th: [Metaprocessing] What is it like to say that -- to feel that?

Pt: I feel warm (pause) and more connected to myself. It feels good. I don’t feel the pain right now. It’s strange. [The felt sense of coherence still feels new and foreign]

Th: Let yourself stay with the feeling of connection. [Long pause] What’s it like being with that? [Metaprocess] It’s not a feeling you’ve described to me before.

Pt: I feel strong – like I know somehow that I’ll be all right no matter what. It’s different. I used to go away in my mind when the pain came. I just didn’t allow myself to see the baby.

Th: You are now. [Re-directing patient to “now” moment of change-for-the-better]


Pt.: Right (tearing up). Allowed and acknowledged and praised. (pause)


That’s appropriate to praise her?


Th: [Affirming the patient for her hard work] Absolutely --- to praise both of you, because as you see, it takes two to tango . . . She exists in your mind and heart . . .


Pt: (Tears up)


Th: And you in hers.

This segment illustrates ways in which IR seeks to foster emotional attunement, empathy and resonance between the patient, therapist and dis-integrated aspects of the patient’s mind. A key assumption of the approach is that by fostering attunement and recognition and processing the experience of positive affect that such experiences engender, the patient becomes better able to address feared-to-be overwhelming emotions pertaining to the self. This, in turn, fosters increased coherence within the mind and ultimately greater emotional wellbeing.


Conclusion


In this paper I have elaborated on a conceptual framework for understanding the mind that integrates contemporary views on attachment theory, affect and relatedness (Beebe & Lachmann, Bowlby, Main, et. al., 1985; Izard, et. al., Panksepp, Porges, Schore, Stern, Trevarthen, Tronick, Siegel, 2007), with a multiplicity model of self (Lamagna & Gleiser, 2007). Central to this parts oriented heuristic view is the proposed existence of an internal attachment system comprised of representations of past and present subjective experiences (subjective self states) and the reflective appraisal of those experiences (reflective self states) (James, 1890; Pascual-Leone 1990; Lamagna & Gleiser, 2007; Spitz, 1957; Grotstein, 2004). Animating one’s internal working models of self and other, the various parts of the mind occupying these two existential frames of reference interact intra-psychically to organize and regulate the individual’s affects, thoughts, perceptions and behavior. The implicit memories associated with these various states also govern our perceptions of the world and our ways of being in it.

Varying levels of emotional wellbeing are achieved when the qualitative character of relatedness between subjective and reflective self-states includes some measure of connection, openness, harmony, engagement, receptivity, emergence, understanding, compassion and empathy (Siegel, 2007). These qualities engender greater coherence and complexity within the self system allowing for the construction of reasonably precise maps of the external world (Epstein, 1991; Adolphs, 2004), a general felt sense of safety, adaptive meaning making (Janoff-Bulman, 1985), receptivity to others (Cassidy, 2001; Siegel, 1999), the assimilation of emotional memory (Van der Kolk and Van der Hart, 1991), and appropriately flexible responses to life challenges (Siegel, 1999; Ornstein, 1991). Conversely, attachment environments characterized by persistent negativity, defensiveness, intrusiveness, inconsistency, neglect and/or abuse, create pathogenic patterns of self relatedness that are, to varying degrees conflictual, insensitive, punitive, inhibitory, inflexible and dismissive of personal feelings thoughts, impulses and needs (Allen, 2005. Lamagna & Gleiser, 2007).

Intra-relational AEDP, a variant of Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (Fosha, 2000a, 2000b, 2002. 2004, 2008, 2009) is a clinical approach that blends AEDP’s focus on interpersonal connection, dyadic affect regulation, experiential tracking of somatic experience, and processing positive affects associated with transformation (Fosha) together with inner dialogue, imagery and other techniques gleaned from parts – oriented psychotherapies (Moreno, 1946; Perls, 1951, Assagioli, 1971, Berne, 1975; Schwartz, 1995; Stone & Winkleman, 1989; Elliot & Greenberg, 1997; Watkins & Watkins, 1997). Interventions seek to help the patient and their internal subjective-reflective dyads develop the capacity for reciprocal attunement, resonance, responsiveness and cooperation. Facilitating receptivity and engagement in this manner, provides an opening through which long dissociated memories and associated emotions, thoughts, impulses can be processed and integrated into one’s autobiographical narrative (Siegel, 1999), maladaptive forms of internal relatedness can give way to self acceptance and compassion (Lamagna & Gleiser, 2007), and increasingly coherent and complex forms of self-organization can be achieved (Sander, 2002; Siegel, 1999).


Bibliography


Adolphs, R. (2004). Emotion, social cognition, and the human brain. In J.T. Cacioppo & G.G. Berntson (Eds.), Essays in social neuroscience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press


Allen, J. (2005). Coping with trauma: Hope through understanding. Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.


Assagioli, R. (1971). Psychosynthesis: A Collection of Basic Writings. NY: Penguin Group.


Beebe, B. & Lachmann, F.M. (2002). Infant research and adult treatment: Co-constructing interactions. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.


Berne, E. (1975). Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. New York: Random House.


Bowlby, J. (1973). Separation. New York: Basic books.


Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss, vol. 3: Loss. New York: Basic Books.


Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss, vol. 1: Attachment. New York: Basic Books.


Bowlby, J. (1989). A secure base. Clinical applications of attachment theory. London: Routledge.


Bromberg, P.M. (1998). Standing in the Spaces: Essays on Clinical process, trauma and dissociation. Hillsdale NJ: The Analytic Press.


Bromberg, P.M. (2003). Something wicked this way comes, Trauma, dissociation, and conflict: The space where psychoanalysis, cognitive science, and neuroscience overlap.
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