A person with low self-esteem will have a picture of herself that is small and unattractive. A person who is afraid of cats will have representations of cats in her mind with certain qualities magnified and blown out of proportion. A very ambitious person will have certain positive qualities magnified in order to motivate herself.
If we can discover how the client has a certain subject represented for herself, then we can also change it, rearrange it, or improve it. If we find out how she does things, then we can also expand her repertoire and make her do other things well.
People don't just do what they do because of abstract ideas. They structure their internal reality in very specific ways in order to create the behavior they have. If they want it to change, we need to change the specific realities they use. Just talking generally and abstractly about it is not necessarily going to make a difference. We need to change their perceptions in order to create real change.
Most people are not much in touch with their internal perceptions. When you ask what is going on, you are most likely to get generalized frozen ideas, without specification of what they really relate to. You need to put the person's attention on specific perceptions in order to get what is really there.
The importance of getting people in touch with their perceptions can not be stressed enough. It is the foundation of most effective techniques. We aren't just processing vague ideas. We are dealing with realities. In particular, the realities we work through are the realities people have created in their own inner universe. Those realities consist just as much of tangible, demonstrable perceptions as the outer world does. Getting in touch with those perceptions and taking charge of them is the key to what we are doing for people.
If you do nothing else, find out how your clients perceive the realities in their lives. The time spent on identifying the specifics of those perceptions is very well spent.
"Depression" is an abstract idea, it doesn't in itself tell us anything, unless we know what it refers to. If we find out that it refers to a feeling that the client has in her chest, that is heavy, vibrating, and cold, then we are getting somewhere.
Feelings are often what is most unreal to many westerners. Most people will talk about pseudo-feelings or secondary feelings, but need to be cornered to come up with their actual perceptions. "Sadness", "nervousness", "hope", "accomplishment", "failure" are all pseudo feelings. We don't know what they refer to before we elicit the specifics.
Often the language a person uses will reveal the perceptions behind it. When somebody says that she is "torn" or "stuck", that is probably true. If her life is a "fog" or she "sees something clearly", then that is probably so. If she has the future "ahead of her" and she puts experiences "behind her" that is probably exactly what she is doing. If something "rings a bell" or she "tells herself" something, that might very be literally what she is doing. Listen to what your clients say, they will often tell you what you need to know.
The first step in perception processing is to gather the information about how the person has her reality structured. Be fluent in the different distinctions within the perceptual systems. Visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory, and all their many sub-divisions. Know the difference between abstractions and actual perceptions, and be sure to get the actual perceptions.
When you get the information about what is actually going on, it can lead in different directions. You can use the information as input to other types of techniques, such as re-experiencing of incidents. Or, you can work with the perceptions themselves. You can help the person change them around to something that works better. We would like the person to be in a position of having more choice and more resources in the way that she prefers. There are various techniques that change perceptions around in clever ways.
When you get the information about what is going on, you need to evaluate to what depth it needs to be processed. Sometimes the person just needs to change a mental circuit or habit into one that she would rather have and there is nothing more to it. But just as often there are valuable lessons and deeper gains to get from exploring the matter further, finding out why things are the way they are.
If the client is biting her nails, she might just need to change her mental habit into doing something else instead. There might not be a great learning associated with it. She might not have great traumas in her life that prompt her to bite her nails. There is probably some kind of intention connected with it, but we might quickly identify that, and set up another way of accomplishing the same.
If the client has a long-term body feeling, we would usually want to find out what it is about. We might not just want to change it into a different feeling right away and waste the chance of getting valuable insights into what is going on. Many body conditions contain messages that the person needs to receive and understand. Incident re-experiencing or some kind of gestalt processing works well in getting deep into an issue.
There is nothing inherently wrong about changing something quickly and directly. If the client feels bad and you get her to change her mind and feel good, and that actually works, great, that is perfectly valid. But often we can get more mileage out of it, and we can get more permanent change, if we discover more backup material and we learn something of more substance from it.