By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT
Tracking is a skill involving following the flow of the client’s present time experiences and “taking in information about the client on as many levels as possible” (Martin, 2015, p. 152). It relates to the ways the therapist notices “the outward signs of the client’s internal, present-moment experience and the way her experience seems to be organized by core beliefs and habits” (p. 151).
To practice tracking effectively, what is most important is the therapist’s state of mind (Martin, 2015). Tracking involves constantly observing and reading the signs like in “tracking an animal through the woods” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 75). It’s a way to be with someone with curiosity and interest. “It is not about the content of” a client’s story (p. 75). Tracking is about noticing indicators of what is happening for a client in the present including signs “like moist eyes, all kinds of facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures (small or large, but especially small), changes in posture, movements, even the style of a movement or a voice” (p. 83).
Tracking is the way the therapist sets up experiments to see “much more than the verbal story being told” (Martin, 2015, p. 152). The therapist takes in information from things like “tone of voice, pacing, gestures, posture, facial expressions” and more of the client’s inner world (p. 152). The therapist learns to read these sometimes very subtle signs constantly during therapy sessions. The therapist has the dual task of being mindful of a client’s inner experiences while also being able to see that from a larger, more holistic perspective (Kurtz, 1990).
One is able to observe and track another more adeptly after first mindfully noticing and watching over their own automatic tendencies, state of mind “and habits of perception,” including reactions (Martin, 2015, p. 152-153). Ron Kurtz created a practice called “loving presence,” which helps shift the therapist’s attitude in ways that cultivate “a state of mind most conducive to working with others in a healing way” (p.152-153).
The second step of loving presence is to create a spaciousness that clears away habitual attitudes and projections, which can block clear perception. In this spaciousness, we are able to be more receptive, intuitive and appreciative (Johanson, 2008).
Next, we as therapists can set the “intention to see something in the other that inspires us. We invite and search for those qualities in the other that nourish us – qualities like courage, vulnerability, sensitivity, gentleness, determination and intelligence” (Martin, 2015, p. 153).
Out of this, a client can start to realize, unconsciously initially, that it is safe to reveal herself. “She feels invited, accepted and appreciated, and begins to express even more of herself” (p. 153). As this happens, the therapist notices and feels inspired and nurtured. A reinforcement cycle occurs, which deepens the relationship and supports a context that allows for additional insights and spontaneity to happen.
Johanson, G. J. (2008). Artistic Inspirations: False Colors. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 11(3), 28.
Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-centered Psychotherapy: the Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.
Martin, D. (2015). The skills of tracking and contact. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 151-160). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.