The Vault

Re-Evaluation Counselling: Parallel Tools For Self Realization.

By Elizabeth Huebner

The two tools I have found most useful for change and growth are Re-evaluation Counselling (RC) and the Alexander Technique. Each has given me insight into the humanness I want to achieve. Each teaches that past experience influences our present in rigid behavior that diminishes our capacity to function optimally and each teaches that we are not stuck in this situation because it is possible to release ourselves. Re-evaluation Counselling, as defined by its founder Harvey Jackins, is

…a process whereby people of all ages and of all backgrounds can learn how to exchange effective help with each other in order to free themselves from the effects of past distress experiences. Re-evaluation Counselling theory provides a model of what a human being can be like in the area of his/her interaction with other human beings and his/her environment. The theory assumes that everyone is born with tremendous intellectual potential, natural zest, and lovingness, but that these qualities have become blocked and obscured in adults as the result of accumulated distress experiences (fear, loss, pain, anger, embarrassment etc.) which begin early in our lives.1

RC teaches people to take turns counselling and being counselled, helping each other to discharge the emotions of old hurts that may have created rigid patterns of behavior and feeling. The Alexander Technique likewise values our ability to respond with choice rather than habit. While both methods provide release from rigid behaviors, the Alexander Technique stresses the body’s role in initiating change, while Re-evaluation Counselling stresses the role of the emotions. Each technique emphasizes the importance of not introducing other disciplines into its work.

For many years, I have participated in these two kinds of work, keeping them separate to the best of my ability. Now, however, I see each discipline becoming interested in the other’s arena. Re-evaluation Counselling is currently encouraging work on the physical level. I lead a “Women and Physical Power” support group which uses physical activities to get us in touch with the ways we have “given up” in our lives. With the support of the group, we take on physical challenges and benefit from the emotional boost of transcending our limited ideas of our own abilities. Similarly. the Alexander community is questioning the role of emotions in our work as the July ’92 issue of DIRECTION on “Emotions” indicates. So I am now sharing my perceptions about the interrelations of these two methods of personal transformation.

RC has improved my interaction with people, particularly with my students. It has provided a model of constructive human interaction and taught me active listening skills. I am becoming more aware of and thereby clearing away my own emotional hurts which create filters through which I interpret the world. I am better able to distinguish the true nature of a person from her behavior dictated by old hurts. I have recovered my ability to feel and live in my body so I experience both more pain and joy than I ever imagined possible. This has reconnected me to compassion for myself and others, replacing an old habit of criticism.

An incident in my Alexander training brought home to me our legacy regarding emotion. I came from the U.S. to the School of Alexander Studies in England in 1978. Alone in a foreign country. with very little money, I was taking the biggest risk of my life. Even so, it was a wonderful time for me. I had a lesson every day and I loved the way I felt, opened up and changing.

In this open state, I decided to resume my dancing. Finding a dance class that seemed right, I packed my dance bag and headed for my local tube station. As I headed down to the platform, I was jostled by a couple of guys. That annoyed me, but I didn’t think much about it until I reached for my wallet and realized that it had been lifted, along with my passport, and every other form of identification, plus two weeks rent! I ran out of the station but wasn’t quick enough. They were gone. Fear. Anger. Loss. Vulnerability. All these feelings washed over me. I had no idea how I was going to prove who I was, how to get another passport. I immediately reported the theft to the police but they predicted that there was little chance of my getting anything back.

Not wanting to miss Alexander class, I went right from the police station to school. Very upset, I felt too vulnerable to tell anyone. I didn’t want to cry in front of strangers. I told myself that I could hold it together and cry later, alone in my room, if I needed to. One of the third year students saw me in this state and said something like, “You don’t need to be walking around pulling your head back.” She offered to put hands on, and when she did, I released my neck and burst into tears. She was shocked and I’m sure wondered what she had done to provoke my outburst. For me it was a relief to both open up physically and to release my emotions in tears, but she was uncomfortable. Her training thus far had offered her no clue as to how to deal with emotional discharge accompanying a physical release. I explained what had just happened, and her response was to make me a cup of tea. Re-evaluation Counselling theory has since taught me that discomfort and diversion are two common responses to spontaneous expression of emotion.

F.M. Alexander’s work grew out of a particular cultural milieu, that of middle class society in late l9th, early 20th century Australia and England. Although little is recorded concerning attitudes toward emotional expression during that time, it seems likely it was discouraged and feared. My grandmother grew up during the same late Victorian period. She exhibited great restraint in emotional expression. Intelligent, proper and proud, she occasionally acted upset, but I never heard her admit to it. She gave the impression it was something one just didn’t do, that it was beneath her dignity. We in European-based cultures are still afraid of emotions and perpetuate a bias against the direct processing of emotion. They make life messy and slow things down. We feel and fear judgement by others if we admit fear, sadness, isolation or insecurity. We worry that we will lose our jobs or the confidence of our friends and be vulnerable to attack if we show emotion.

In my Alexander training emotions were directly addressed only in relation to the concept of inhibition. The traditional position was that it is permissible to have feelings, but that we should inhibit before expressing them. The way to deal with emotions is to step back, watch them, and probably hope that they go away. It seemed to me that, in Alexander work, emotional responses never really were appropriate. The ability to watch our emotions and to choose action from a place of detachment can be highly desirable and effective. and is another thing that I have learned from RC. However, emotions do not go away by themselves. Unless we have developed a means for processing them, they inevitably influence our actions, whether expressed at the time or not. RC provides both an outlet and a means for re-evaluating emotions so that they do not dictate action. We feel them and retain the choice of expressing them now or later.

In the Alexander Technique, when we talk about the “whole person,” we are referring to the body/mind unity, but the four-point scheme of Native American tradition more accurately describes the person. In it, a person is seen as incorporating four elements, divided into two oppositional pairs: the mind and the body, the emotions and the intuition or spirit. In helping people change only through the mind/body pathway, we have lost people who have responded emotionally to the work whenever we have been unable to help them be with their experience. We must begin to acknowledge that when we encourage people to pay attention to their bodies on a subtle level, the physical and emotional link is often strong. For people who have repressed their feelings often feel sensations of tightness or discomfort in some area of their body as a first sign of recovered feeling. When we guide people into greater physical awareness we are often tacitly guiding them to places where their feelings have been hiding. We are in fact effecting change on an emotional level and need to know how to deal with the sometimes dramatic results. As conscientious guides of people’s change, Alexander teachers need information about emotion.

What would it mean to expand our understanding of the emotional component of the use of ourselves? Opinions range from the pejorative one that emotions are dangerous and to be avoided at all costs to those who suggest that unexpressed, unprocessed emotions cause stress and anxiety that tax our immune systems making us more vulnerable to heart disease. cancer and other major illness. I know there is a cost to avoiding our emotions. When my wallet was snatched, I pulled down in an attempt to take power over my emotions and this hurt me physically and emotionally. I had to dissociate from my body in order not to feel, and though I needed help and comfort, I chose to stay isolated with my fear and loss. I was emotionally numb, with a much diminished ability to respond. I had to clear the emotional block to be able to work. You could argue that clearing the emotional block was part of the work, allowing me to release my head and neck and move up.

We need all of ourselves. If we shut off the expression of any part of our emotions, we limit ourselves. The ability to truly desire, the engaging of the whole person including the emotional self, is key to integrating constructive Alexander directions. A student can change only as he or she desires to change and allows change. I ask one of my students each week if he is ready to change. Part of him wants to, but he isn’t quite ready to take on the fullest expression of himself. His body has the capacity to change, but fear is interfering with his desire to change. I don’t feel responsible to do anything about it. I remain unworried and present, allowing him to come right up against this resistance. I am there building trust, so that when he decides he is ready to release the fear, he knows I am ready too.

Confusion comes when we fail to separate feeling from action, when we come to believe that certain of our emotional responses are us. However, just as we are not bound to repeat our physical response to a stimulus, we are not bound to repeat our emotional response. Students may have a sense that a muscle holding pattern is them, not simply a habit that has become ingrained. It is with the attention and support of the Alexander teacher that a student finds the safety to inhibit the old pattern and experience themselves anew. This same kind of loving attention allows us to move our emotions in a constructive way, rather than holding them back or expressing them in ways hurtful to others. Babies are naturally good at expressing spontaneous emotion. When a baby is hurt, her spontaneous response is to cry. If allowed to cry with a caretaker’s loving attention, she will cry until the hurt is cleared and then, sometimes surprisingly quickly, move on to some other activity. This is a spontaneous example of the RC discharge process. When we have the attention and safety provided by our counselling partner, our emotions rise to the surface and may be discharged in a variety of physical forms. The spontaneous yawns, shakes and laughter students exhibit as you work with them, are the discharge of old physical hurts, fear and embarrassment.

In Alexander work we make a distinction between the person as she is before us and her potential to open up into a freer version of herself. Bad use is not what a person is, but what she is doing to herself. Feelings are similar. We are not our feelings, they are simply our emotional responses to the world around us. I have seen that when I release old hurts, I have increased the flexibility and accuracy of my thinking, just as when I release the downward pulling in my body, I can move with greater range and ease. Our use is the culmination of all that has happened to us in our lives. Because much of our closing down is due to emotionally as well as physically inflicted hurts, emotional suppression can limit a student’s ability to release physical holding.

RC makes a distinction between the loving, co-operative person and the rigid hurt responses. Keeping sight of the real human being hidden behind the old patterns assists me in dealing with my students. The aggressive sometimes weird behavior which occasionally comes my way from students has very little to do with me and more to do with how this particular person was hurt. If I can stay unattached and unblaming of myself for their behavior I am able to be present and persist with helping them. I had a student in a group class recently who was very scared of letting go and opening up. This manifested itself in complaints. Once she got these off her chest she would get to work This happened consistently over fourteen weeks. During the last class she came up to me and said, “Thanks for putting up with me.” I wholeheartedly responded. “It was a pleasure” She had changed more than anyone else in the class. It was vital for her to release some of her feelings before she could work and vital for me to remain listening, calm and loving. There was nothing I was doing in the present to deserve the complaints. I was able to keep that in perspective and thus give her a chance to move forward where otherwise a situation of conflict (which she is more used to) would have resulted.

It is important to remember that any emotional discharge on the part of our students is probably some old hurt releasing itself out of the mind and body as part of the healing process. All we need do is to be present with the person. There is no need to solve any problem or do anything but show them that we know that both they and we are fine and that this is a natural course of events. Some teachers worry that in allowing people to express their feelings, we are “giving into them,” encouraging the student to wallow in the past. Yet in the case of my own story for example, there is a difference between crying because of all the times I have been robbed and how horrible the world is (a victim stance), and crying because I can feel someone with me, caring about me in the present moment (a stance empowered by the choice to break through isolation). Here, discharging emotion with support contradicts past hurts and helps me remember that in the long run, other people and the world are very good.

I do not particularly encourage my students to cry or express feelings, but I do hope to create an environment where this can occur so that students’ emotions do not interfere with their ability to release. I am not a psychotherapist, so when appropriate I refer, because I believe there is a useful relationship between psychotherapy and body work. Issues which surface in body work can be dealt with in depth with a therapist, while old hurts discussed in therapy may be actually released from the body/mind system during an Alexander lesson. Often people will have felt an issue vaguely in therapy which an Alexander lesson may bring to the surface and clarify.

The Alexander Technique offers specialized and powerful tools to continually improve our own personal ‘use’ and the ‘use’ of our students. I want us to strive for the highest level of excellence. I believe that for us to achieve excellence we need to mobilize every aspect of ourselves. Our work has changed and developed since its inception. The basic principles will remain the foundation on which to further develop and clarify our work. Re-defining the whole person to include the four elements, body and mind and spirit and emotion does not interfere with the basic principles but fills in an important gap in our comprehension of the whole self. 

FOOTNOTES

1. Present Time, Rational Island Publishers, Seattle, WA

For further information on Re-evaluation Counselling contact: Harvey Jackins, Re-evaluation Counselling Communities, 719 2nd Ave N, Seattle, WA 9810, Tel.: (206)-284-0311

BIOGRAPHY

Elizabeth Huebner earned a B.E.S. degree in Dance and Psychology form the University of Minnesota, 1974. She had her first Alexander lessons with Mary Braaten in 1971 and qualified as an Alexander teacher in 1981. From 1973 to 1987 she gave many performances, drawing upon elements of dance, the A.T. and R.C. While now a mother of three, she continues to practise as a dancer and teacher of the Alexander Technique.)

 

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