Our Therapeutic Approach
Healing The Shadow practitioners study the psychological theories common to most counselling or psychotherapy trainings – attachment theory, transactional analysis, developmental theory, relationship dynamics, systemic theory, trauma theory, projection, transference and countertransference – as well as a thorough grounding in the concept of the shadow, its presentation and its origins. The difference between the work we offer and talking therapies such as traditional counselling and psychotherapy lies not only in our emphasis on working with the shadow, but also in what happens in the therapy room. The experience of the work – what the work looks like, and how it feels for the client – are very different to traditional therapies. Some of the key differences are outlined below:
Our work is embodied and is based on ‘parts work’
In a Healing The Shadow session the majority of the time is spent working with the client in an embodied way. What this means is that clients are invited to step in and inhabit the aspects of themselves that are presenting in the work – to speak to us from these parts, rather than simply talking to us about these parts. The client is often out of their chair and moving around the room, standing, sitting or lying in different places in order to ‘inhabit’ different parts of themselves. We pay great attention during this work not just to what the client is thinking and feeling, but also to what is happening in their body. This offers a gateway into a deeper understanding of what is going on for this part of the client. Our practitioners are skilled at noticing what the body is doing and supporting the client in exploring this further in order to access the memories and emotions held there.
We welcome all parts of the client
One of the core principles of our work is the belief that all parts of the client have value, are essentially ‘good’ and have the best interests of the client at heart. So with our clients we aim to welcome all parts of them into the room – even parts that seem difficult or dangerous or unappealing in some way. This requires an attitude of acceptance of everything the client brings, and an expression of warmth and welcome towards all parts which show up in their work. This is a simple idea, but it requires a very special kind of holding and certain very specialised skills and ways of being from the practitioner. Most importantly, our practitioners need to have accepted such parts in themselves, and to have found value and goodness in these parts, in order to be able to accept and welcome these parts in others and to dialogue with them in a non shaming way. This is one of the main reasons that we work so deeply with our trainees’ personal development throughout their training, and with the exploration and healing of the trainees’ own shadows.
We work in longer sessions
We find this type of embodied work is best carried out in longer sessions, which can make a huge difference to the therapeutic experience for our clients. The work can be adapted for sessions of any length, but our preferred model is a five-hour session in which there is ample time for exploration of the client’s background, discovering what the client wants to have happen in the session, representing and embodying the different parts of the client relevant to the session, and bringing about the change the client wishes to see.
Our work is collaborative and transparent
Our practitioners bring a collaborative approach to the work. This collaborative way of working ensures that each session is tailor-made to the client, enabling them to explore at their own pace the issues that they bring to the session. This requires a very trusting and open relationship to be built between client and practitioner so that together they can sculpt the session in the way that is right for the client.
Although, of course, the practitioner has knowledge of both psychological theory and practical techniques which the client may not be aware of, what is more important in the work is that our practitioners consider the client to be the expert on themselves. At the start of each session the practitioner will ask the client what they want to have happen, and they will spend some time discussing this so that both client and practitioner are really clear what it is that the client is wanting. The practitioner will make a written record of this which will be used to guide the work for the rest of the session. This ensures that the session is following the client’s agenda and not the practitioner’s.
Our practitioners work in an open and transparent way. Practitioners discuss theory and practical techniques with the client, as appropriate, and invite them to make their own informed decision as to how to proceed at each stage of the process. Practitioners will also share their own thoughts and insights if asked, giving reasons why they are thinking this way. This means that nothing is left unspoken in the room, the practitioner is not holding knowledge or ideas that are not shared with the client, and the practitioner is less likely to influence the process either consciously or unconsciously.
We work with the unconscious
We start a session of active work by inviting our clients to step onto the carpet, which is a space in the room that represents the boundaries of their internal psychic world. We invite them to represent different aspects of themselves, or more accurately, different parts of themselves, with symbols and coloured cloths which they can wear when they step in to embody that part of themselves. At every stage of the work the client chooses which part they want to step into next. The client may step into parts of themselves that they are comfortable and familiar with, and they may also choose to step into parts they are ashamed of and uncomfortable sharing. As well as this the client may step into parts that are on the very periphery of their conscious awareness, which they are unfamiliar with or haven’t previously been aware of.
We find it extraordinary how quickly and fully people will embody certain parts of themselves, even parts that have traditionally been regarded as lying deep in the unconscious. Having the opportunity to step into these parts deliberately and intentionally, in an embodied way, allows the client to access all the repressed and hidden thoughts, feelings, attitudes, behaviours and language of those parts. They can then see a clear representation of how their lives are being directed by their various internal parts.
One of the prerequisites for a client to be able to do this work effectively is that they are safely ‘held’ by a fully competent practitioner. The practitioner needs to be able to hold the client in a psychologically safe way in this space, which means they must feel confident and comfortable in being with the parts the client is inhabiting. Clients intuitively pick up on whether or not there is ‘permission’ from their practitioner to express certain sides of themselves. If the practitioner is uncomfortable the client will pick up on this and will not allow themselves to inhabit these parts. As described earlier, this level of acceptance requires our practitioners to have undertaken extensive personal development work of their own, so that they know similar parts in themselves are are therefore not scared or thrown by what they encounter in their clients.
We honour and collaborate with ‘defences’ or ‘blocks’
Our practitioners are trained to be very sensitive to whatever risks, defences or blocks may arise inside the client when they step into certain parts of themselves. We take this aspect of the work very seriously indeed, and would never seek to encourage a client into a place that they were not ready to inhabit. We take care to ensure that risks are examined and that safety is paramount during this process. Respecting and working alongside parts that resist, block or defend is one of the cornerstones of our work. Our practitioners never see these parts as obstacles to be overcome, but as allies on the journey, who are working hard in the best interests of the client. We welcome these parts and invite the client to step in and inhabit them when they arise. This approach means the work never gets ‘stuck’. In fact, working with ‘stuckness’ is one of the most productive and transformational aspects of the work we offer.
We work directly with the Inner Child
Our training has a particular emphasis on working with the Inner Child. We find it is often the wounded Inner Child, starved of attention, who sabotages the goals a client may set themselves in therapy. We spend time working deeply with the Inner Child, inviting the client to step in and inhabit this vulnerable place in themselves in a way where the child feels welcomed and safe. From here this child part can receive the love, care and understanding they need, and they can be integrated into the clients life in a loving way, rather than being banished and shamed for their ‘childish’ or ‘immature’ ways.
The delicacy, tenderness and sheer delight of working with the Inner Child in all its forms – Free Child, Adapted Child, Wounded Child, Teenager – is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work. Our training develops practitioners who are skilled and confident at working with these parts of the client’s psyche.
We use archetypal theory with our clients
As well as using the theory of the shadow in our work we also employ a simple theoretical model based around four core archetypes. This framework is easily accessible and is explained to clients before they attend their first session. We find this framework is widely embraced by our clients. They instinctively feel the accuracy of this representation of their inner world, and have a clear personal sense of these four archetypes and how they live within them.
We can think of archetypes as something like a computer program or blueprint for a certain part of the personality within each human being. Classically there have been four archetypes, known as the Warrior, the Lover, the Magician and the Sovereign. We use these same four archetypes in Healing The Shadow, however we have chosen to rename them so the names are more in line with their primary functions as follows: the Action Taker, the Feeling Body, the Transformer and the Heart Centred Leader respectively. We find these names speak to clients from a wider range of backgrounds than the traditional terms.
Regardless of what names we or our clients choose to adopt for these archetypal parts of the personality, the act of bringing them into the client’s session can be enormously helpful. Understanding the archetypal theory can help a client make sense of patterns in their life and where these may have come from. This understanding then points the way towards the best healing route for the client.
In this way we walk alongside our clients, having open discussions and allowing them to form their own opinions about themselves, based on a shared theoretical framework, rather than us leading with our opinions and ideas. Clients can see for themselves where reparative work is necessary, and with the help of their practitioner they can undertake the personal work that is most likely to give them access to their own natural power and personality in the world.
Another benefit of archetypal theory is the way that it values all the different qualities and ways of being that humans have and the different gifts that each of these offer. Through an understanding of this theory clients can come to embrace parts of themselves that have previously been shamed or shunned, and to come to understand the value and true purpose of these sides of themselves.
The button below takes you to a film about shadow work which features live footage from a Healing the Shadow session along with comments from clients about their experiences. It is a great opportunity to see our therapeutic approach in action.