Self-Connection Psychotherapy provides a wealth of information to therapists and to patients. It provides this information by having patients focus on their own expression and having therapists frequently check their own expression. I think you will quickly discover the benefits of Self-Connection Psychotherapy if you watch your own expression.
What’s So Important About Watching Yourself and Your Own Expression?
We’re constantly scanning other people’s faces to learn about their expressions. The expression on peoples’ faces may be welcoming or rejecting. They can be smiling, menacing or sad. We’re most drawn to a smile, and we can pick up a smile at four times the distance of any other expression. Smiles must have special importance.
We’re amazingly ignorant about our own faces. We aren’t used to looking for the expression on our face. Instead, we look at our face to brush our teeth or comb our hair. It is mostly a function of grooming.
Why do we overlook the wealth of information on our face? Everyone else is looking at our face all the time. They are mining our face for information. How would you be changed by having this information about yourself?
In psychotherapy, some consider it important to make eye contact. But patients are not learning about themselves when they make eye contact with therapists, they’re learning about therapists. It’s good they have a welcoming therapist, interested, empathic therapist. How much more valuable would it be to see themselves and see what’s in their face. After all, they’re in therapy to learn about themselves and change. If we know what’s on our face, we’re way ahead of the game.
As therapists, we use the information we get from patient’s faces to understand them and their problems. As patients begin to view their facial expressions, they begin to understand themselves better.
Getting Past Reluctance
How do we get patients to look at themselves? Initially, most people don’t like to look at their image. Many are critical of their appearance and uncomfortable when looking at themselves. Simply explaining the importance of facial expressions convinces many to begin to look at their facial expression, but others struggle with it for weeks or longer. This should come as no surprise to any therapist, because we all know how patients struggle to avoid seeing what’s going on inside of them.
Looking at their own face can be a shortcut to finding out what is going on inside. The initial focus of therapy is that they simply look at their own expression. Having them look at their expression immediately brings their problems into view. It’s clearly reflected on their face and in how they handle what they see there. In other words, they quickly begin to examine their problems and defensive structure. As their therapist, you don’t have to do much beyond asking them to look at the expression on their face.
From a Serendipitous Glance to a Technique
I stumbled across this approach when I happened to look at my own face while working with a patient. My office was arranged with split screen monitors across from the patient and me. We both could see ourselves and each other on one monitor. Glancing over at myself, I thought, Oh my god, that poor guy, he looks so tired. At that moment, I noticed my expression change to a smile. My sympathetic comment to myself caused a smile. I was also aware of a pleasant feeling and that I wasn’t tired anymore.
I looked back at the patient and continued with the session. But I thought, That is very interesting. After a bit, I again looked over at my face on the screen, and once again there was a small smile at seeing myself. There was something comforting about me caring about myself.
Looking at myself in this way was refreshing. After doing so, I went back to my work in the sessions feeling much more productive. If I had been struggling to get the patient to see something, it was no longer a struggle. If I had been tired, I was energized. There was something beneficial about viewing myself, something that was making me a better therapist. When I looked over for a few seconds every hour, my therapy sessions seemed to go better all day.
After several months, patients began to say that I’d changed. When I asked them to tell me why they said this, they were uncertain at first. When I persisted and asked, “Well, if you look at me right now, and think about that difference, what would you say it is?” many said, “You know, it’s that you seem to be much more caring.” They interpreted the caring expression on my face as being directed at them. And they were right, what had started as sympathy for myself had become caring for both of us.
Expanding the Technique to Patients
As I continued, I noticed patients were responding to therapy more quickly and their therapies were quite a bit shorter. I thought, There’s something about this that’s helping people to do better, and me being caring appears to be a part of it.
I wondered what would happen if I asked patients to look at themselves as I was doing. As an experiment, I asked them to pay attention to their own expression, rather than looking at me. A number of them experienced the same sort of thing that had happened with me. Those people recovered quickly, in one quarter the time it took other patients.
Other people struggled more with looking at their own expression. They found it made them too uncomfortable. But the majority of these also did better than patients with whom I was not using Self-Connection Psychotherapy.
I began to think that there was something very important in this for at least half of the patients I was seeing. I started to work on improving this technique for those patients.
A Matter of Focus
One of the approaches I took was to direct patients to focus on their facial expression. I explained why their expression was important and what they could learn from it. I asked them to do this in their sessions, and when they later looked at the recording of the session. They were also to take notes on what they saw and how they reacted to watching the sessions. This homework reinforced what they learned in the sessions and further sped the process.
The sessions became increasingly focused on their reaction to themselves. The more we maintained that focus, the better they did.
Ways Self-Connection Made Me a Better Therapist
It had taken a while for me to realize that viewing oneself could work for others. At first, I was a better therapist simply because of the changes self-viewing engendered in me. Only later did I realize that patients could become their own therapist, and shorten therapy, using this technique.
When I had patients look at their faces, they began to move through therapy much more quickly. The focus moved away from what I as a therapist was saying and shifted to them and seeing what they came up with while watching their own face.
The critical step along the way was me personally using Self-Connection — I had to look at myself. I realized that if I could give up the position of being the one with the answers, I would actually be a better therapist. From the beginning my goal would be to get patients to see themselves, and to see how they felt about themselves.
They might think they looked horrible, exhausted, as I did that first day, but they very quickly shifted to caring about themselves. I began to document the different ways that shift occurred. I described techniques I could use to help patients look at themselves and take advantage of whatever they presented. If they were sad or happy, liked what they saw, or didn’t, we could use their observations to solve their problems. The more they had a feeling about their expression, could talk about it, physically feel whatever was going on, and be compassionate about themselves, the better they would do.
As they did those things, their symptoms began to abate. They were not as defensive and, naturally, were less symptomatic. They were more caring, which also made them feel better.
Learning Self-Connection as a Therapist
The initial step in learning to successfully implement Self-Connection Psychotherapy is to look at yourself, your own face. In our trainings, everyone is sitting with an image of themselves on their computer screens. I ask them to look at themselves and talk about what they see. As they get the hang of it, they begin to feel better.
One of the first mistakes therapists make is trying to learn the technique to help others before they focus adequately on themselves. Until they understand what can be gained from looking at themselves, they really are still in the position of treating their patient by directing, rather than by following their lead.
Of course therapists want to help their patients. They succeed when they begin to see that the way to help patients comes from how they treat themselves, and how they get the patient to treat him or herself.
Breakthroughs occur when you let the situation move to where the patient is directing it. You have to be fluid and flexible or you get stuck. The key is making use of everything the patient does, rather than trying to make the patient do what you want.
Find more articles on Self-Connection Psychotherapy techniques here.