Paradoxically, the ability to make real contact requires the ability to keep at the right distance. Contacting skills are therefore about:
- being in contact and yet staying neutral
- keeping the appropriate emotional distance from the client
- providing safety to the client and the group
- containing/holding intense emotions
To be in contact with your client you need to be in contact with yourself. That means that you have to be in your body, in contact with what your experience in your whole body, including your arms and legs. You stay in contact, particularly with what you experience in your throat, your belly and your heart, because is those places you can feel best what happens in you when you contact your client. Basically this is presence. To be fully here. Not spaced out. And then from this presence you make contact with the client. Then the client will feel safe.
Safety for the client is not created by empathy. It is created by presence. If a client in your workshop becomes psychotic, then what stabilizes the client as well as you is presence. Empathy — being emotionally connected with your client in a way that you feel his or her feelings — is in that situation risky and does not create safety and does not stabilize the client. being fully present does. So being in contact and yet staying neutral means that your are fully present, and you stay in your own field. You only move into the field of the client's family insofar you need to do that to get information. You do not do that out of sympathy or empathy, because you then might easily lose your neutrality.
Keeping the appropriate emotional distance from the client means that when the story of your client resonates in you and you become emotional, that you recognize the resonance and then you withdraw from the client's field. Then the emotional distance is enlarged, while through your presence you still create a safe and stable contact.
When you read the list above for the first time, "providing safety to the client and the group" might seem like a separate topic. It is not. Presence is the key to safety. Therefore, we will do exercises in the group to increase our presence in every situation.
We could say that containing or holding intense emotions is also a matter of presence, and it is. However, our ability to hold strong emotions may be limited through childhood experiences in which we became overwhelmed. Then we may be able to enlarge our capacity to hold intense emotions by doing personal work to process those childhood experiences. This is not an easy process, but with patience, and kindness to ourselves we can go through it.
Clearly, our ability to remain present is also often limited by childhood experiences. If our parental home was not a safe place, we often coped by not being present, by not being in contact with ourselves, by being out of our body. The good news is, that those of us who needed to do that as a child, usually are better able to recognize when we loose presence. So underneath this childhood pain there are treasures to be found, if we are willing to make the journey.