(Printed in July/August CAMFT online magazine)
Shamanic Counseling (as conceived by Michael Harner of the Foundation of Shamanic Studies) is a six-session methodology for clients interested in learning how to conduct shamanic journeys on their own behalf for support and wisdom. Journeying with the sound of the drum is considered by the Foundation of Shamanic Studies as “core shamanism”: underlying near-universal shamanic principles and practices. By not imitating any specific cultural tradition, but rather by emphasizing the underlying cross-cultural principles, this practice is suited for non-indigenous practitioners who desire a relatively culture-free system that we can adopt, integrate into our contemporary lives, and have a way of relating personally to our spirit helpers. Looking at them as archetypes, in the vein of transpersonal psychology, they would be considered aspects of our inner most wise person. Shamanic journeying is not faith-based, but experience based. No specific religion or spiritual belief system is necessary to experience the benefits of this practice, which makes it a perfect adjunct to psychotherapy, or a complete process on it’s own.
Before fully diving into the topic of Shamanic Counseling and how it can serve someone who is interested in tapping into deep wisdom in this way, I’m compelled to glimpse into the recent upsurge in alternative healing modalities. I’d also like to posit that some psychotherapists are beginning to inhabit the role of the western version of the shamanic healer. Since much of what we do is talk therapy, we know there is much power in words (and dreams and hopes and body sensations). It’s important to look at the origin of how our profession is named. “Psychotherapy” has it’s roots in ancient Greek: “psyche” meaning soul/spirit/breath and “therapia” meaning healing. We are healers of the soul.
The human species is speeding ahead with technological, scientific, and medical advances and making the world a “global village” with internet being ever present in even the smallest towns around the world. Yet, there are a growing number of people who are interested in and feel the benefit of ways of life adopted from our ancestors. This is evidenced by the advent of the Slow Food Movement and sharing economies, as well as more people turning to Earth-based spirituality, raising chickens and growing their own vegetables, practicing yoga and mindfulness, and the rise of DIY projects in lieu of buying something pre-packaged.
We’re also seeing this evolution of consciousness in the rise of alternative healing modalities. While many energy healing practices are considered “new age,” the origins of the movement are adaptations of ancient ways. Most energy healers have honed the skill of tuning into subtle energy fields in order to tap into the information and wisdom that resides there. By first becoming conscious of the subtle field, practitioners and clients can begin to shift the subtle energies to make choices that lead to a fuller and more satisfying life.
I believe that most psychotherapists are already attuned to the subtle energies. We observe and track, we intuit, we’re interested in what is not fully conscious, we’re open to discovering that which was there before but was previously unknown, we help clients attune to their inner (more subtle) states, and support clients to have more choice and power in their lives. Much like a tracker, who is attuned to nature’s rhythms and uses the art and science of observing animal tracks, we follow patterns that lead to a greater understanding of what’s driving the behavior. We also act as an Intuitive. We do this by attending to our own sensations, gut feelings, and sudden insights (the last two definitely residing in the category of subtle energy). We’re curious about all that is reported by our clients, as well as the unknown and unspoken realms of our client’s experience. We also support our clients to do their own investigative work by making inquiries that will support fuller states of consciousness of their own process. Supporting clients to step into their personal power in balanced ways is a core component to healing.
And the Shamanic Counselor supports the client to access their most wise, intuitive, loving self for knowledge and support with journeying, while the psychotherapist supports the client with the integration of mind, body, and psyche/spirit/soul through the journey of the therapeutic process.
Please stay tuned in the next CAMFT newsletter for more information about Shamanic Counseling, it’s applications for healing, and similarities to transpersonal therapeutic interventions.
Diana Halfmann, MFT (MFC 45031) provides Play, Filial, Family and Psychotherapy in her private practice in San Francisco. She also provides Shamanic Counseling to individuals interested in conducting their own shamanic journeys for wisdom and clarity. (415) 857-3901. www.DianaHalfmann.com
There exists many differing opinions about New Year’s resolutions ranging from: “Of course I make goals for the New Year…and keep them,” or “…and already forgot them,” to “Why bother? Gregorian calendar, whatever.”
Since we tend to strive towards some “better” way of being, most of us promise publicly, or quietly to ourselves (lest we fail) to do more of the “good stuff” and less of the “bad stuff.” We often look towards some end goal and wind up chastising ourselves for choosing Netflix over Zumba, eating that second pastry, not focusing enough on completing our personal projects, or focusing too much on Facebook….yet again.
I invite you to contemplate this: our process, our being-ness, or how we move through our lives is what deserves the most attention. We might get to our end goals by fitting more in our schedules and checking off more from our ‘to do’ lists (yes, I have several). But at what expense? Were we content, and compassionate, hell, even fulfilled in the process? Did we complete our list in lieu of spending quality play time with our children? Did we pause enough along the way to really enjoy eating that salted caramel ice cream or did we tune out and scarf it down because if we were to really savor it, we might actually feel the guilt? Are we taking moments to look within about what may best serve us? Are we compassionate to the people we encounter along the way? Did we slow down enough to acknowledge how amazing the people are around us or how grateful we are for the natural world and for the Earth sustaining us?
And these questions lead me to ponder even deeper: if we were to slow down first, do we then become more compassionate and grateful? Or does being more compassionate allow us to feel an innate sense of joy, whereby making us less concerned about doing so much?
If we, instead, we resolve to invite in expansion, a deeper connection with our intuition, appreciation of the little joys (and maybe even the challenges), more checking in, instead of checking out and contraction around what we want, need, or must do, we will soon feel the joy of being alive. And then, we just might feel more inspired to move more naturally towards accomplishing that ‘to do’ list.
Filial Therapy: Strengthening the Attachment Bond Between Caregivers & their Children (an article for the Jan '14 CAMFT e-newsletter)
Family therapy can look many different ways, with a wide variety of interventions, but I think all family therapists would agree that the central focus of treatment is to help strengthen the bond between caregivers and their children. Supporting the parent-child relationship is one of the primary reasons we bring the whole family into sessions instead of focusing solely on the individual child (IP) in play therapy.
Filial Therapy is a therapeutic process emphasizing and strengthening the relationship between parent and child as a means of alleviating struggles within the family. When I mention to colleagues that I provide Filial Therapy, I often get quizzical looks, so my objective is to give a brief, yet (hopefully) thorough snapshot of how Filial therapy can be an effective intervention for parents to build deeper relationships with their children.
I touched in with Karen Pernet, LCSW and Registered Play Therapist, to ask a few questions, as she has many years experience training therapists in Filial therapy.
Diana: “In a nutshell, how would you describe Filial Therapy?”
· Karen: “It is a psycho-educational family intervention in which the therapist trains and supervises parents to hold special child-centered play sessions with their own children.”
Say a little more about what makes Filial Therapy stand out from other family interventions.
· It’s a therapy that combines play therapy with parenting support where the parents are totally involved, and facilitating the process of healing with their child. Play is the natural language of children around ages 3-12 years old, and non-directive play is healing. The therapist has the unique role of creating the space for parents to learn directly applicable skills to be fully involved in the therapeutic process.
And since I know many Bay Area parents who are really invested in their child’s healing process, I can imagine that many parents would really get on board with Filial.
· It does take effort from the parents. One of the things that I like is that the parent training aspect includes play and laughter, which creates a unique and positive relationship between therapist and parent. Filial therapists use a lot of positive learning techniques, whereby modeling these skills for parents in relationship with their children. Also, because each of the parents is involved (when possible), there aren’t issues of confidentiality. Meaning: both therapist and parents are seen as the experts and talk about the play together. The therapist supports the parents to understand themes of the play and helps with at home interventions. It’s a highly collaborative process.
Building therapeutic alliance between therapist and parent is so important to engage the parents and instill a sense of hope. I know that parents learn skills in Filial like structuring, empathic listening (which helps them enter into and understand their child’s inner world) and limit setting. Seems like it might be hard for parents to translate these skills to real life tantrums and let’s say, challenges with transitioning.
· Once parents practice the skills in the safety of “special play time,” it becomes easier. Parents are practicing in a kind of laboratory. The process is slowed down so they get the positive experience of being effective with the skills in the sessions. Together, we also look at the challenges parents might have in applying the skills like setting limits outside of the therapy room.
So, parents learn the skills, get supportive feedback from the therapist, conduct special play sessions with their child in the office, and then prepare to transition these sessions at home. About how many sessions can they expect to come into the office?
· Around 20-25, depending on the number of children in the family. More is needed if there is a trauma history or a lot of difficult behaviors. Because Filial isn’t problem-focused, but relationship-focused, I don’t single out the IP (Identified Patient). Each parent learns skills to work in dyads with each child.
Please give the readers a brief overview of what the whole process looks like.
· After the initial intake, family therapy session, and a session where parents observe a modified child-centered play session, the next three sessions are spent teaching skills to the primary caregivers. Then they conduct the special play sessions with their child in the office while I observe. Afterwards, I talk with the parents about their internal process, thoughts and feelings about the dynamic with their child, and provide feedback about the skills. We will have ongoing discussions around themes that arise, at-home interventions, and how to transfer “special play time” to home.
Are there specific families for whom Filial Therapy is particularly useful?
· Adoption, separation and divorce, single parenting, families that are reunifying and where there’s been loss. Filial is supportive for children who are showing signs of depression, anxiety, oppositional behavior, and ADHD (particularly to help parents understand their kid). Most parents are candidates for Filial, except those are actively abusive, addicted or are unable to focus on their child for at least 15 minutes.
Karen, I know there’s so much more we could add, but is there anything that feels particularly relevant?
· Filial Therapy is culturally appropriate because the parents are conducting the play sessions with their child. Filial can be integrated with other family therapy and more directive individual play therapy.
Diana Halfmann, MFT provides Play, Filial, and Family Therapy in her private practice in San Francisco. She provides individual psychotherapy and Shamanic Counseling for adults who are at a crossroads and interested in learning how to conduct shamanic journeys with the sound of the drum. (415) 857-3901
Karen Pernet, LCSW and Registered Play Therapist. She trains therapists in Filial therapy and has a private practice in the East Bay.
The idea of play as an avenue to gain a fresh perspective, to try out new ways of being, and of course to have fun in the process, has come into my mind a lot lately. In part due to the nature of my work providing play therapy to children, as play is their first language. Play is the primary way that children communicate and express themselves—using symbol, imagination, and spontaneous action, they give us an indication of what their inner world is like. Adults also benefit greatly from adding play into their daily diet. It helps us practice being more spontaneous, creative, free flowing, and shift our sometime static sense of ourselves.
This brings me to another reason why play has been permeating my thoughts: Spring! This season whispers to (and sometimes screams at) us to consider it’s pervasive theme: creativity. Spring’s creative forces are all around us, which earth makes manifest by the shoots and flowers bursting forth out of our garden. It’s a good time to start a new endeavor, make art, reinvent ourselves, create and nurture life in all of its manifestations.
This concept of play has been imbuing my psyche so thoroughly that when someone suggested an improvisation class to feel more comfortable speaking in public, I had a visceral response which prompted me to sign up for a course two days later. Improv sounded like a dynamic and playful way to explore and unpack this stuckness.
In the class, we play games. When we think of games, there is usually some sort of inherent competition. But instead, these games are designed to encourage us to slow down our analytical minds, to bring ourselves completely to the present moment, to let ourselves fail (celebrate that we tried and move forward), to listen well, to be responsive, and to add on to what others are saying. (You might have heard: “Yes, and…” is more inclusive, collaborative, and moves things forward faster than “No”).
Ah ha! These maxims of improvisation can be used for not only for speaking to an audience, but for successful communication and a thriving life. A life where we tap into our creativity regularly, where moment-to-moment awareness is more important than our past stories, where we don’t let fear get in the way of us trying out new activities and behaviors, and where we get to experience the rewards of working together.
These ways of being are at the root of mindfulness practice: truly living in the present without our stories of our past or fears of our future, rejecting nothing, inviting in our feelings and sensations and being present with them yet not attaching ourselves to the outcome. When we are immersed in the moment, we experience a flow and live in a fuller way. Because really, life is improv.
A holistic view of our health takes into account the effects of our internal systems and surroundings -- our psychological, physical, spiritual, and social needs -- for understanding what ails us. An essential aspect of understanding holistic health is that each of us has the innate drive towards wholeness within our cells, systems and psyches.
When emotional or physical challenges arise that create discomfort, we have the tendency to reach for the nearest remedy to resolve it immediately. And yet from a holistic perspective, the symptoms are not the illness, but a sign that the healing process is beginning.
Even if we try to turn our attention away from social media, we still receive messages from every direction that we must suppress any undesirable symptoms, especially signs of sadness or confusion. However, when we suppress the physical symptoms or emotions that originate from deep within, we prevent a natural process that is essential to our wholeness. Our internal imbalance speaks out in the form of the symptom that is trying to get noticed, not suppressed by medication or a big smile that says, “Everything is just fine!” The symptom is a red flag that something internal wants to get truly noticed, supported and tended to in a way that welcomes it in with compassion. The symptoms are asking us to see the imbalances underneath the red flag, so that the body and psyche can truly heal.
From a holistic viewpoint, these imbalances are seen as a natural consequence of growth. Most children go through psychological “growing pains” at various transitions as they are learning a new developmental task or skill. If the measures to correct imbalances are overzealous (medications), the body’s natural tendency for self-healing is squelched.
Adults also go through psychological growing pains in order to learn more conscious ways of living. It’s an essential aspect of our growth, and hopefully we have the support and tools to move through these shifts. Unlike our younger counterparts, we’ve been around the block enough times to know that these changes (oftentimes endings) can make way for new beginnings. Moving through them with courage and self-responsibility teaches us to be more resilient. Inevitably, we’ll face many challenges in our lives: losing our job, separating from a partner, a sudden death in the family. And our goal is to move through these life transitions with grace and even a sense of fulfillment. Personal tools like stress management techniques, or spiritual, meditation or yoga practices, communication skills, and community support are major sources of support if they are already a part of our daily lives. If not, we may consider medications each time we hit a bump in the psychological road, or more likely, choose to self-medicate with our Netflix, by delving into work, or “just one more glass of wine.”
And in our physical body, our immune system naturally uses symptoms of inflammation for cleansing the body of illness. Oftentimes, by using medication (or addictive behavior) too quickly, we send the wastes and toxins that need to be worked through deeper into the body. The toxins will be often be stored there until our immune systems rally again in an attempt to eradicate them. Emotionally speaking, we shed tears as an expression of sadness and grief, which has proven to calm the nervous system. Yet when we suppress these symptoms with medication (or numbing out with other substances or activities that tamp down our full-expression), we’re sending the unresolved emotional pain and trauma into our bodies where they manifest as physical illness. With support and skill building, we feel more capable to move through these challenging emotions. We then feel more powerful and resilient.
Acute childhood inflammations are not solely the result of malicious infections, but also from the inherent wisdom of the body in recognizing when it’s time to clean house. And for adults, life challenges are not something to avoid or deny. They cue us to release old habits and relationships that no longer support our growth. All our emotional growing pains attempt to bring us closer to balance with our whole self. Excessive use of medications (or addictive behaviors) to suppress the pain, without support to help us address the core of the issue, can actually serve to decrease our ability to work through challenges the next time. And as we build our resilience by viewing situations clearly and effectively moving through challenges, we build our immunity to future crisis.
As the weather turns from San Francisco’s beautiful Indian Summer to the chill reminding us of the coming of winter, people may start to feel “under the weather.” This idiom could have derived from the commonly held belief that bad weather can make you sick or from an old sailor phrase. When sailors were sick, they would rest below deck and thus were literally "under" the weather on deck. As I started to feel “a little under the weather” myself, I’m reminded that the weather, just like any other cycle in life, can affect our mood and our physical and spiritual health. So, yes, we are indeed under the influence of the weather, as well as the influence of the transitions between the seasons. So if you’re starting to feel “under the weather,” whether it’s related to the seasonal changes or to a shift that’s happening in your own life, it’s a time to go inward, be reflective, welcome in those times of rest and darkness.
Transitions in life, whether it’s a change that invokes fear or it’s a move towards something you’ve been inviting into your life, can be challenging. Getting that new job you’ve been searching for, or making a healthier lifestyle choice, or deepening a relationship can be inherently tough. And it’s because we’re entering into the mystery. And the ego has a hard time living in the mystery. "What will happen? Can I do it? Will this go horribly wrong?" Honor those times as you’re making that shift or feeling the change of seasons, and take care of yourself in a way that is different from your day to day choices, as they are reminders to slow down and give good attention to your inner life. Maybe the part of ourselves that have our best interest at heart is telling us to go to bed earlier, take a bath, lay in shavasana longer, spend some time with our journal, give gratitude for what we have, and maybe even eat with less distractions and more attention to the food (that’s what I’m working on!).
The dark time of year is also the right time for reaching out to your family (chosen and blood relations), for warmth in the form of physical contact and support. It doesn’t have to be the frenzied kind of holidaze activity that is now somehow seems customary for this time of year, but the kind of 1:1 support that can really warm the soul. Humans need extended community. So, if you’re “under the weather,” or “feeling blue” (another old seafaring idiom), take time for yourself to go inward if that’s the skillful choice or reach out to loved ones for some extra attention.
--Diana Halfmann, MFT