What is the “Here-and-Now?”

There’s a story about a fish who went as a prophet among the fish folk, speaking of an almost mystical, all-pervasive substance called water. Of course she was scorned for her teachings, her piscine friends and family too busy with their swimming to entertain fantastical ideas.

Talking about the Here-and-Now, I feel like a little as that prophet fish must have felt.

What is the Here-and-Now?

It is simply what’s going on between people who are in contact. In other words, it’s interpersonal mindfulness. 

Mindfulness has become a very sexy word, a catch-all for a quality of awareness, paying attention to one’s physical sensations, noticing the thoughts and images passing through one’s mind, attending to emotions, etc. The Here-and-Now refers to all of that, especially as it corresponds to being in the presence of other people.

In individual therapy, it refers to the underlying, often unspoken dynamic between the therapist and the client. In Group, the Here-and-Now may refer to what the group is doing as a whole, or any dynamic between any members and/or the leader.

For example, someone comes 15 minutes late to an individual appointment with me. During those 15 minutes I have all sorts of thoughts and feelings as I wonder what may be going on with the client and with the treatment. Did I say something they didn’t like last week? Perhaps they were offended? Are we getting to something deep that they don’t want to examine? Maybe they’re thinking of ending our work together…and so on.

When they do come, it would be easy to ignore the previous musings and focus on what the client wants to talk about. In non-therapeutic settings, this is what usually happens. The late person would apologize, blame traffic or some last minute distraction, and the conversation would move on. But there is something lingering between us. Working in the Here-and-Now refers to bringing into awareness and discussion this subterranean element.

Ideally, the Here-and-Now inquiry is linked to something the client says, so when the client mentions not feeling like they’re accomplishing much at their job, we can ask something like, “do you sometimes feel like you’re not accomplishing much in our work together?” or even, “how is that not-accomplishing-much feeling happening right now in the session today?”

But Here-and-Now can also be used more bluntly and without so much finesse: “I’m thinking about your coming late and wondering if there’s something between us that we should talk about–something that you’re not liking about our work together?”

Working in the Here-and-Now is powerful. It redresses the experience of many people who grew up in families where there were elephants-in-the-room, walking-on-eggshells moments, secrets and unsayable thoughts. It is powerful for another reason as well.

Fractals.

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The idea of fractals is that the smallest part echoes the same overall pattern. 

Our personality is structured similarly. Whatever issues and difficulties we may have in our lives outside of the consulting room, the patterns that create discontent in our lives are manifesting in the room as well. It could be in a tone of voice that causes someone to lose interest, a way of avoiding eye contact that prompts feelings of abandonment, a particular gesture that evokes a fear of being hurt. When we can bring into awareness what’s happening in the present moment with the other person, we can make a change in that interaction that will reverberate through the whole personality. 

Working in the Here-and-Now is accessible, visceral, immediate. It offers a way to disrupt patterns of disconnection that haunt people’s lives. It is invigorating for the clinician and the client. In Group, everyone is invited to work in the Here-and-Now, and the result is what I consider one of the key values of Group: Vitality.

 

If you’d like to learn more, I invite you to attend this workshop.

 

What is Group Therapy?

What is Group Therapy?

People ask this over the phone, thinking Group might be for them. They ask at parties and networking events. Sometimes group members themselves ask.

What do you think it is? I ask them.

Well, like a support group?

Not quite.

The main difference in the groups that I run is that they are process groups.

What is a Process Group?

A Process Group is a space where members are invited to express their immediate, here-and-now thoughts and feelings towards and about other members. If your first reaction to this is “why would anyone subject themselves to such an environment?” you are not alone.

In a process group, members are encouraged to abandon many of the social norms of polite discourse.

Group members are asked to put into words any and all reactions they have including anger, sexual attraction, fear, hurt, and affection. As group progresses, members learn to express their sentiments in a way that focuses on their own experience:

  • “I feel frustrated and angry when you yawn while I’m speaking.”
  • “I feel hurt and scared when you yell at me and call me that.”
  • “I feel very attracted to you.”
  • “I feel a lot of affection for you and I’m angry because I think you’re making a bad decision.”
  • “I want to say something but I’m anxious that you will judge me.”

This feedback about members’ effect on other people is hard to come by.

Friends, family and acquaintances are rarely so direct, preferring either to avoid unpleasant conversations, or relying on unhelpful habits of criticism and blame.

Even individual therapists may struggle with sharing a perspective that is difficult and uncomfortable for their clients to hear.

Process Group members learn to access and express their own emotions and to comprehend and respond to the emotions of other people.

They discover how they might sabotage relationships and explore how to create and sustain intimacy, to ask for what they need and to receive it.