Free Style Sessioning

From a certain point on in my career as a process facilitator I have found myself more and more using a somewhat different style of processing than I used earlier. Less rigid and pre-planned, and more fluid and spontaneous. That is of course nothing very new and it is not really anything I invented. It is rather what the most effective help or processing always has been: operating out of universal principles, without canned steps, but being flexible enough to handle whatever comes up.

I have noticed that more and more facilitators have been talking about, searching for, or experimenting with ways of better handling their clients. There now seems to be more people willing to be responsible for being the source of their own principles and for thinking with their subject. These are some of my thoughts on how best to do change work with people.

First of all, it must be clear why we as facilitators would work with a client. It is suspect if it is for any other purpose than to help the client change for the better in the most effective, profound, and/or fastest way possible. Doing sessions for the sake of following steps on a piece of paper, for the sake of satisfying your fixed ideas, for the sake of making the most money, or whatever - all of these would lead a facilitator way off the track. For that matter, her position in relation to the client would be rather treasonous in that she would be pretending to be doing something she isn't.

But, we don't have to be that serious about it. It is simply that if you focus on the actual client at hand and what she needs, rather than on your fixed model of what she SHOULD be and SHOULD need, then you might possibly get better results.

The way I see the simplicity of a session is:

- There is a client there.
- The client is in a certain state right this moment and has certain aspirations for future change. She is different from any other client and even different from herself at any other time than now.
- There is a facilitator there.
- The facilitator observes and communicates with the client and makes choices on what to do.
- There are a lot of tools that the facilitator has at her disposal.
- The facilitator picks a tool she finds appropriate and works with the client in that manner. When another tool would fit better she changes to that tool.
- A specific subject is worked on as long as it is available and until it has changed satisfactorily for the client.

The facilitator's tools can be regarded as a smorgasbord of things she can do. All of them are available at any time IF they fit the job. Instead of fitting the client to the technique, the facilitator would fit the technique for the client.

Instead of using a fixed sequence of techniques as one's guideline, one could base everything on addressing the client where she is at and using whatever process that will best get her to a better state.

If we allow the facilitator to make more choices, she can much better be able to take responsibility for getting the client to a result faster. The facilitator is not just waiting for the client to be done, but will actively work on it by always picking the best method.

Being more aware of the starting and ending points of processes can make the session much more effective. If the facilitator starts out by observing where the client is at, establishes where the client would want to be, and then chooses the best tool for getting her there - then the whole process is much more controllable and success is more assured.

A session can be regarded as a series of loops:

Situation -> Process -> Result
Situation -> Process -> Result ...

When we start the session there might be an obvious thing to work on, usually something the client would mention. The facilitator analyzes the situation by herself and chooses a method of dealing with it. She applies it in the direction of a resolution. Some sort of change or result takes place. It might or might not be the full result we would want, but something happens or doesn't happen. The facilitator notices what happened, and uses that information to determine what to do next. She can pick another technique to apply to the same issue, or she can determine that another issue would be more appropriate to handle first.

When the facilitator has to notice the exact starting and ending phenomena, it forces her to be much more aware of what is actually taking place, as compared to following a rote procedure. Canned robotic procedures tend to dull the facilitator's perception of what is actually going on, and it doesn't give her many choices on how she could actually help the client best.

A key component of Free Style processing is flexibility. The facilitator needs to be more flexible than the client, always one step ahead and always having a technique ready.

In cybernetics there is a rule called "the law of requisite variety". It says that in any system, the part that has the widest range of movement is the part that is in control. Applied to a session or any other type of dialogue, the person who is the most flexible as to what one can do and say will be most in control. A person who has to do things a certain fixed way and who has a limited number of choices, can easily be controlled. You just need to find out where her fixed behavior is and you can start and stop it at will.

For example in a processing session, if the client notices that the facilitator always asks her for a specific question when she complains about somebody, or that she always ends a process when a realization is voiced and the client smiles - well then the client can use that knowledge to control the course of the session. It might not be totally conscious, but she will start controlling the session like that. And, she will not be involved in the session to exactly the same ratio. The mysterious magic of the facilitator will disappear when she is under the control of the client.

A facilitator who is trained in more rote methodologies might at first glance regard a free style processing session as indecisive and sloppy. The facilitator changes when the client changes and does not necessarily stay with a certain question until it is fully exhausted.

However, taking the above data about flexibility into consideration, the picture looks quite different. The rote style facilitator might actually be the most likely one to be pulled around by the nose.

We can say that indecisiveness is the failure to finish what one starts. Starting something and then changing one's mind about doing it in the first place, starting doing something else, but not really committing to any of it, and ending up with a bunch of half-done actions. But the catch is that one also needs to be responsive to the subtle changes the client makes. If you don't adjust for the client's deviations from the course, then you often won't get your product. If you don't track with the client, then she might end up going one way while you are going another way. You need to finish things while remaining in rapport with the client.

The important loop is not the technique, it is the client's desired change. It is not the technique that we process, the technique is not an entity that becomes more happy by being carried on to completion all by itself. It is the person in front of us we are working with.

Continuing with an inappropriate technique becomes indecisiveness in itself, in that you aren't finishing the loop of resolving the client's situation. However, a "well-indoctrinated" client will usually notice that the facilitator keeps asking the same thing, and will eventually give in, will change herself back to fit the technique and will get some sort of result on it. In that way the rote way works fairly well, but it does it to some extent by being an endurance race, and by indoctrinating the clients into going along with the game as written.

If the client is not free to change and if she can only give statements that fit in with the technique, then she is not quite involved in the session. Granted, the facilitator would listen to any statement and might write it down, but many statements would not be accepted as valid or important, because they don't belong with the current technique.

Notice, for example, how clients who get rote style sessions often have a great need for talking before or after the session. There are a lot of things that didn't fit in the format of the session and that they therefore didn't feel free to say. That is actually a sign of lack of involvement from both the facilitator and the client. They are doing something else than working with what the client really needs to deal with.

A free style session would usually begin with a two-way dialogue. And with dialogue I don't mean a rote asking of questions on a canned list. I mean actually talking with and working with the client to find out what is going on. There are many useful tricks that can be applied, but in its simplicity it is just talking WITH the client. Don't just talk TO her, don't just get HER to talk, it has to be a two-way interchange. YOU need to be interested and involved. Most people know how to do that, but many forget about it while they are being process facilitators.

A simple issue might be resolved with dialoguing alone, or with closely related techniques. Maybe the client just hadn't quite looked at the issue, and its resolution becomes apparent just by talking about it. The facilitator's questions will usually bring some material to light that was otherwise hidden.

So, through dialoguing the issue will either resolve, or it will become apparent what the situation is. That allows the facilitator to determine which of the available tools would be best suited for the situation. The available tools depend on training or inventiveness.

The rule here is: the more choices you have available, the better, the more likely it is that you will have one to fit the task.

There would probably be some main categories of techniques that would be common.
The ones I currently mostly use are:

- Illogic Tracking: Following a path of illogic in the client's speech or behavior. Looking for fixed ideas, hidden assumptions, false data, contradictory decisions, deleted or generalized material, unevaluated consequences, etc., and then establishing more freedom of choice in the area.

- Gestalt Processing: Addressing "parts" of the person, such as identities, sub-conscious machinery, compartmented energy, etc. They might be in polarities that need to be integrated, they might need more choices, might need to be brought into the present, be terminated, or whatever.

- Re-experiencing Events: Following an unwanted kinesthetic response back to events that appear to contain it, discovering hidden material, experiencing it from different viewpoints, finding the point of overwhelm, finding the person's own cause, learning the lesson in it, etc.

- Perception Processing: Changing external or internal perceptions by working directly with the way they are represented for the person. Discovering the way the person uses perceptual distinctions and developing more optimum ways of using them, using imagination.

Don't worry if some of this seems unfamiliar or strange. The point is not to use the exact same tools I happen to use, but rather to start a collection for your own tool box.

If at any time it becomes obvious that a given tool is no longer the best, I would switch to a better one, and keep working with the issue in the new way. For example, if I planned to resolve something with light dialoguing, or a repetitive questioning of some sort, but then an unwanted feeling appears that is closely related to the issue. I would probably work on the feeling with the more powerful tool of re-experiencing and then re-evaluate the situation afterwards. Why use a paper clip if a crowbar would work better?

We can find good metaphors for different styles of processing in the computer world. Completely rote processing by an inexperienced facilitator would be like operating an old-fashioned mainframe computer. You prepare the instructions on a batch of punched cards before the session. You let the machine go through its paces, and an hour later you pick up the printout at the other end, and you can evaluate how well your program worked. Depending on the result, you make a new batch of cards and prepare for a better result in the session tomorrow.

Free style processing is more like an interactive graphical screen such as on a Macintosh. All of your tools are visible as little buttons on the screen. You pick one that looks interesting and you see what it does. If it doesn't get the best result, you pick another button and use another tool. You can make dozens of choices and adjustments during a session and can much faster get a result, that also looks much nicer, because you were observing the effects of your actions at all times.

The way I would start new clients is as I described earlier. Have a dialogue with them about what they are there for, pick a suitable technique, and work with them. Always handle what is most available and important, and with the strongest and fastest tool available.

After a number of sessions the issues will start thinning out and we have already handled the major trouble spots in the person's life. That is when I would start on more general pre-fabricated modules covering different areas of life more systematically. However, I would always consider whatever the client volunteers about her life as a better indicator of what we should work on. Whatever minor annoyance she walks into each session with, I would utilize it to dig for deeper issues with. And whenever there is nothing obvious to work on, is when I would pick the next procedure on one of the general modules.

To keep track of the more long term cycles I am working on with the client, I am keeping a form in the left side of the cover of the client file where I record incomplete actions. I call them 'Open Loops'. An open loop would be some bigger subject that came up or that you started, but that wasn't completed in one session. A loop was opened and then we need to close it at a later date.

An open loop could be that the client mentions that she would like to handle "Insecurity", and it appears to be a somewhat more long term thing than just one session. We note it on the form, and every time we do a process that addresses insecurity I would note it alongside the subject.

Starting a general module would also be a loop. So, I would write 'Communication' or 'Relationships', or whatever my general modules are called, and the day it was started. I might start other loops in the middle of another major loop if something else seems more appropriate and available. E.g. we could open a 'Self-Image' loop to handle a lack of self-esteem that came up. Then we would get back to the previous unfinished loop when appropriate again.

I should note also that I use no specialized equipment or environment and no formal pattern for a session, and I no do not take notes during the session. Mostly because I found that they would impede my flexibility and my ability to observe the client. I will rather spend my free attention on finding out what the client is doing than on looking down and writing what she says and so forth. And, incidentally, I found that I then became a lot more aware of both what I was doing, and what the client was doing, when I stopped taking as copious notes as I used to. I now write just one page of session notes after session, noting the major loops that took place in the session.

Some people would say that it is a lot more difficult to do free style sessions than to do a more rote style where you know in advance exactly what you will do. Possibly it does require more knowledge. Rote procedures were invented to make it easy to train people with limited knowledge to do processing. However, I think that if the facilitator takes on a different attitude from the start she will find that free style will feel the most natural and not nearly as difficult as one might think. As I said, most people already know how to talk with other people. We just need to polish the skills somewhat and add some more ways of doing things with people.

What would be different also would be an increased emphasis on understanding fundamental principles rather than just memorizing procedures. If you understand the fundamentals well enough, you can always make up some procedures on the spot.

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