Friday, March 16, 2007

A Day-long Two Chair Work Workshop in Three Acts

Entry for 16 March 2007:

One of the things I had to come back from UK-SPR Ravenscar was to do a day-long workshop on Two Chair Work for the Fulltime Diploma course. This was not really my idea, but after seeing a bit of me doing Two Chair Work with my client with bridge phobia/panic difficulties, the students requested more input from me. (It certainly is nice to be asked…) The original slating was for a “master class”, but I found this designation too imposing, so it became a workshop on Two Chair Work. However, because it was a full day (i.e., 4.5 hours plus breaks) slot, it ended up twice as long as what I normally do on Two Chair Work. The workshop unfolded in Three Acts:

Act 1. I was somewhat nervous about the this extended format, and was a bit disorganized to begin with, but it turned out to work pretty well. Rather than do my usual lecture on Gestalt theory, I began and doing a short lecture on the 6 therapy principles: Empathic Attunement, Therapeutic Bond, Task Collaboration, Experiential Processing, Task Completion/Focus, Client Self-development. This provided a useful review, highlighting both similarities and differences from the classic person-centred therapy.

Then we plunged right into a live demonstration of Two Chair Work, with Lorna volunteering a live conflict split of hers. She was a great client, and the work went in directions both unexpected and “classic,” including Collapsed Experiencer and Softening Critic. (Actually there was a double softening, with the Angry Experiencer also moving into compassion in response to the Critic softening into fear.) There was even a bit of inserted Empty Chair at the end, here to support and help consolidate the emergent self-assertive Experiencer. A really nice example of the process! This got us off to a great start. I always talk about the value of sometimes just plunging in without a lot of explanation, but I rarely do it, and this time is worked well.

Act 2. After a break, we did another short lecture, introducing the task marker and task model and Task Resolution Scale. This benefited significantly from having been preceded by the live demonstration, so that the students could easily imagine (by remembering) the main concepts. I instructed them just to practice setting up the task and working with the process for a bit. Then I took half of the students over to my research space, while Lorna stayed with other half in the Wood Building. We divided them up into three groups of 3-4 students each, and they practiced with each other for about 45 minutes, with most groups getting through 2 pairs. After that, we regrouped in the main classroom to process the morning’s work.

Act 3. Post lunch, we answered some questions and did another short lecture about practical aspects of the introducing and carrying out Two Chair Work. More practice, for another hour, with Lorna and I switching groups. Toward the end of this, the groups I was working with began running out material/energy/safety, in that everyone had tried the task in both client and therapist roles. I supported a couple of people in their decision to stop working when they began to get in over their head emotionally. (Les likes to use slightly larger groups of 4-5 people for the practice, which I think is a good idea, not less than 4 anyway.)

In processing the day’s training, the predominant theme was the students’ experience of Two Chair Work as “fast”. This surprised me: I’m aware of it being intense and deep, but I guess I’ve gotten used to the pace from using the task so long that I don’t notice the pacing issue much. In fact, I’ve used it with enough stuck, depressed clients with intractable splits, that my overall impression is often how slow it often seems to go. But the students were comparing the work to the usual pace of person-centred empathic exploration. Also, they have generally developed good empathic skills and were mostly pretty open and trusting of each other. This provided an excellent foundation for the training, making it possible for it to move much faster than normal.

The workshop appears to have generated a wave of interest in PE-EFT among the students, both for more training (I did a plug for the summer Level 1 training) and in several cases for therapy referrals for more of this kind of therapy.

Sandy asked an interesting question: How much practice with this task is needed before you can start using it with real clients. Of course there's no clear answer to questions like this, but I did note at a minimum that one should have tried it in both therapist and client roles and should feel safe and relatively comfortable trying it. This raises the whole issue of training standards for individiual tasks, not something that I've really thought much about.

Afterwards, I ran in Dot and Pat in the staff base. “We’ve just done a day on Two Chair Work,” I blurted. Dot said, with arched eyebrows, “Oh, are we teaching that in the diploma course now?” To which I replied by reminding her that Beth had done a full-day on nondirectivity only a few days earlier. Dot laughed and smiled: “Fair enough!” she remarked.

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