“Sometimes the child emerges at a distance. It comes as an image of a child. A client may report seeing herself as a child or remembering herself as a child,” which may indicate that she’s not “ready to actually experience the child” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 133-134). If so, then you can ask the client’s adult aspect to talk with the child to share what’s happening.
“When the image of the child appears at a distance, it may also be that the person doesn’t want to own that child, or hates the child, hates that part of herself. It’s important, then, to try a dialogue and eventual reunion with the child” (p. 134). One of Ron Kurtz’s clients made it clear that she preferred to keep her child buried, so he did an experiential exercise called “taking over” by having her try reaching out for it while he held her back.
While someone may intensely dislike her inner child, others may overvalue or be overidentified with it. “Even though child states can be problematic and limiting, it is possible to celebrate their positive origins and protective intent” (Morgan, 2015, p. 207). Assisting “the child aspects of the client to grow and become embodied and integrated with the functioning adult self, the therapist needs to” be sure that the client’s observer adult witness part is also there along with the child, so they are not overly identified with the child (p. 208). Grief around one’s losses needs to occur in addition to experiences of acceptance and self-love that are given and received in the present (Stark, 1994).
Mindfulness, as developed in Hakomi training, and with clients in psychotherapy, assists with the awareness of the adult witness and disidentification from wounded, desperate child aspects. “With the witness present, a therapist and client can be with intense longings, evaluate potential nourishment, and notice when the nourishment is accepted at a deep level” (Morgan, 2015, p. 208).
“The core beliefs of the child are held in state-specific consciousness and are usually not available in ordinary awareness. They are available in the state in which they were first learned. For transformation to occur, the client needs to be present with his or her child consciousness, so that these early beliefs can be fully accessed and processed” (p. 210). While “it is possible to do useful work with the child and core beliefs from the place of ordinary consciousness”, it won’t “have the same impact as working directly with the child state” (p. 210).
“The child is often accessible when a memory arises in the client. The therapist can expand the memory a little by asking for the age and setting while tracking emotional and bodily expression and accessing felt sense” (p. 210). He may use a probe or a contact statement like, “Your child is here now, huh(?).”
Ron Kurtz had the gift of being able to be “a magical stranger to the inner child” in an age-appropriate and nourishing way (p. 211). Going into the magical stranger mode and offering a “missing experience” can be quite powerful for a client. A therapist can become an unfamiliar, kind person who travels back in time and who can interact with the “frozen” child, providing novel and more corrective emotional experiences that were missing from earlier in life (Morgan, 2015).
Here are some guidelines for working with the inner child:
- Recognize the child as she appears in session by changes in voice, expression, posture, and so forth.
- Be interested in that child; hold the experience in present time.
- Acknowledge and validate the child’s experience directly.
- Talk directly to the child in simple, age-appropriate language. Attune carefully, maintaining tracking and contact.
- Ask the adult self for comments on how the child is responding in the moment and to nourishment.
- Check out feelings of the adult toward the child. If they are negative, there is a critical, defensive part present who is not able to show understanding and compassion toward the child. This part can be brought to the client’s consciousness.
- Encourage the child to name and express feelings and perceptions.
- In the case of overwhelming emotions, allow for some distance to the child part (e.g., imagining placing it far away or behind a window).
- Find out the meaning the child placed in the early situation.
- Let the child articulate her needs.
- Ask the compassionate adult self what the child needs to hear or know.
- Support emotional expression, as indicated.
- Be real, realistic, and genuine toward the child.
- Remember child-type thinking processes—magical, egocentric.
- Remember that the child is the map maker, forming the core models of self and the world used throughout life.
- Be attentive, validating, playful, compassionate, and creative, just as one would with a real child in the room. Draw on experiences with actual children. Adapt language and tone of voice according to what is age-appropriate (p. 213-214).
Note: This post is Part 2 of Hakomi: Working with the Inner Child.
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Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.
Morgan, M. (2015). Child States and Therapeutic Regression. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (p. 203-216). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Stark, M. (1994). Working with resistance. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.