Slow and Steady Wins the Race: Why Taking Your Time in Therapy is Key
As I sat in the middle of a field on a recent warm, but not warm enough, Saturday morning. I wondered why we always want to run through life so quickly. I’d taken my children to a course with the title Taming Wild. Incredibly, the name of the day did, in fact, mean taming the wild in us!
We spent the day observing horse owners slowly walking around their horse, waiting for moments of curiosity. Walking around and around… and around some more! You see, when the horse expressed curiosity, which I learned they do by lifting their head – possibly pricking its ears – the owner must stop and move in sync with their horse. Mirroring its movements to signal a joining of the herd.
Elsa Sinclair (my hero of the moment) tells us that, like us and all other animals, a horse has the fight, flight or freeze instinct. The stress levels of a horse rise and fall between concern, curiosity, and comfort. Elsa believes horses work best in the curiosity state. She wants us to teach the horse how to move between curiosity and comfort.
During curiosity, a horse will notice everything around them. It’s the alert state. If the horse moves up into the state of concern, it’s the fight, flight or freeze state. They’ll log whatever they see as a threat. If they move into comfort (eating grass), they’ll store the memory as safe.
When a horse expressed curiosity, the instruction was to mirror the horse, keeping the same distance. Moving when the horse moved to show we’ve joined its herd. This, Elsa believes, rewards the horse for curiosity (all horses want a herd) and familiarises the horse with moving to and from curiosity and comfort, rarely into concern. Although she acknowledges that all horses should move between concern and comfort, and the intention is not to remove concern. Like us, horses looked after by humans are far less likely to need the concerned state than wild horses. The process helps reduce unnecessary concern – unnecessary stress, unnecessary anxiety, unnecessary trauma. Something most humans in our society need.
For some people, it might become boring to watch someone spend a day walking around their horse. If you’re not totally into the theory, you might wonder if a horse surrounded by lush, thick grass, filled with dandelions and other tasty weeds, is ever going to look up. However, they do – occasionally! Then when they do, there is a moment of exhilaration, as the owner mirrors the horse’s movements, a step to the left, then a couple to the right. Before Elsa tells us, the horse has taken a lovely deep breath. It was enough time to cement the memory as safe, and the process begins again. We have ten million new spots in the round pen, Sinclair declares.
I relaxed, taking in everything I could, and it occurred to me how similar this work is to what I do. I’ve spoken at a few conferences over the past couple of years, and I’m always conscious of how almost every talk advocates fast therapy. Rapid induction techniques, learn to hypnotise fast, fast, effective and permanent etc. So many hypnotherapists feel drawn to the fast, speedy, rapid techniques that will seemingly cure their clients in one quick hour session. I’ve often stood alone as the hypnotherapist who wants to work slowly. Taking it step by step, suggesting we give our clients time. Watching this process with the horses cemented my own ideas in my mind.
Small Steps for Long Term Goals
I’ve spoken out loud and written in words about my belief that hypnosis is not the therapy. Hypnosis is an amazing thing, it’s something to practice at home and use everyday as a wellbeing tool. It enhances therapy, enabling you to focus intensely and create wonderful plans for yourself. Hypnosis helps you release trauma with a state of mind that reduces your focus on the external, so you give yourself 100% of your attention. However, hypnosis is not a click your fingers, one minute stage trick. Your life and state of mind are valuable, and you should treat it so. Just like Elsa Sinclair with her horses, you can rewire your brain, train your brain, or change the way your brain reacts to certain situations, but take it slowly. Step smalls around each situation and experience. Slowly processing during your therapy sessions.
I have an MSc in transpersonal psychology, and I believe the therapeutic relationship is a collaborative partnership between therapist and client. With a shared goal of promoting personal growth and self-realisation. My ideal therapist client relationship has empathy, authenticity, and mutual respect as its characteristics. With the intention of creating a solid base of deep understanding for my client’s unique needs, goals, and values. I also recognise the importance of the therapeutic relationship itself as a vehicle for personal growth and healing. Using various techniques, such as mindfulness practices and guided imagery with or without hypnosis, I help clients explore and integrate their experiences and cultivate a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world. Characterised by a deep sense of trust, openness, and exploration, a transpersonal therapeutic relationship supports clients in their journey towards self-discovery, personal growth, and spiritual transformation (if desired).
Taking Therapy Slowly
As Elsa’s scholars slowly stepped around their horses for more than four hours, I couldn’t help but think how beautiful the process is. The time spent acknowledging the horses’ experiences. The precious moments building rapport. All designed to help pony and rider develop, through trust and mutual respect for one another’s feelings. When the pony relives a previous trauma and shows concern, the owner takes the opportunity to reframe the experience. Slowly and carefully, so the horse builds confidence. There is a lot to learn from this process for both therapist and client. Instead of trying to whip ourselves into shape as quickly as possible, let’s take time to grow and develop. Taking therapy at a steady pace that will cement the changes for life.
I found Elsa Sinclair through her film Taming Wild, an incredible story of Elsa taking a year to see whether she can build a relationship with a wild Mustang. Would Myrnah allow Elsa to ride her if given the choice, in a collaborative partnership? You can find this beautiful film here.