Watch your language

arms folded

As EFT practitioners, we learn to ‘calibrate’ the client by being aware of their non-verbal communication (NVC or body-language). We watch our clients like hawks for changes in colour, breathing, muscle tension, increased swallowing ... anything that gives us a clue to their inner landscape and that indicates that a shift might have happened or that a new aspect has come up. Gently pointing out a change in NVC can help bring something to a client’s attention that they weren’t aware of before – saying, for example: “I noticed that you went pale when you started talking about your teacher – why do you think that might that be?”

by Deborah Shakespeare

Since it is estimated that between 60-90% of communication is of the non-verbal variety, it makes sense therefore that, as practitioners, we need to be acutely tuned in to our clients’ NVC.

All well and good – many of us already include this as a routine part of our practice. We spend a lot of the time tapping along with our clients, which means that we are mirroring their NVC. Mirroring body language is usually considered to be a good way to build up rapport, so that’s the non-verbal bit sorted, surely. End of story?

Perhaps not. How many of us have thought what our own NVC could be saying about us?

Imagine this scenario: a new client knocks on your door. You answer with a greeting and a smile and automatically reach out to shake their hand with a firm grip. They return the handshake, and you direct them into the room and show them which chair to sit in. The session begins. All is well.

Or is it? What you don’t know is that the client may have been abused as a child and now avoids touch at all costs. In the above scenario, you have begun your first meeting by forcing a handshake upon them, a gesture which clients are often too polite to refuse.

In addition, handshakes can have other connotations (of power struggles, for example) and can be used to signal domination of one party over the other, depending on type of grip and the firmness of the hold. You may have just sent a message to the client that you are the one with the power and control, which you have compounded by telling them where to sit. This could well set the tone for the whole of your therapeutic relationship.

Once a session has begun, what are we practitioners doing, non-verbally, when we are not actually tapping? My own experience is that EFT sessions will always contain a mixture of tapping and talking, even if the talking is merely gathering information for the next set-up. During these times you will not be tapping, but you will be sending messages with your face and body without needing to utter a single word. And you can bet that, as closely as you are calibrating your client, your client is also calibrating you! Clients will often have grown up needing to be hyper-aware of NVC as a matter of self-preservation. They will have learnt to read the emotional weather around them and adapt their behaviour accordingly in order to stay safe. Therefore, if a look of disgust or irritation crosses your features when they speak, they will almost certainly clock this and may begin to respond to you differently. If you suddenly cross your arms, they may interpret this as anger. If you lean too close and invade their space they may feel threatened.

On the other hand, if you lean back, ultra-relaxed, with your hands behind your head, the client may believe you are not interested in their story, or that you don’t take it seriously. If you yawn, they may perceive this as boredom or disinterest and feel devalued and unimportant.

Most frequently, what I see from my trainee counselling skills students is the body language of anxiety. When they are in the practitioner role, this shows itself in tense behaviours such as fiddling with rings, jiggling legs, clasping hands tightly between the thighs, crossing arms and legs, or resting feet on their toes in the starting block position, as though poised to run! Take a moment to consider – would you feel comfortable revealing all your problems to someone who appears more anxious than you are?

So how can you start to ‘hear’ what you are saying with your own NVC? Much of this hearing is about becoming aware of what you’re already doing. When you are next listening to someone, think what’s happening with your own body position and your facial expression. As an exercise you could try asking someone to talk to you for two minutes while you use closed NVC, and then to repeat the exercise while you use open NVC – the difference in how the speaker feels is usually astounding.

Where you have a strongly established habit such as folding your arms, it might be worth thinking about the reasons why you do this (feeling the need to protect yourself, for example, or doing it when you’re feeling defensive). There may be tappable issues associated with closed NVC. It is a matter of using EFT to break the old habit, and then creating a new one where open NVC feels natural and comfortable to you.

So tune in, tap away your blocks to having open NVC, and above all, remember to watch your body language.

Deborah Shakespeare is a trained counsellor and lecturer in counselling skills. She is also an EFT and Matrix Reimprinting trainer. She is passionate about combining tapping and counselling skills.
Contact Deborah on 07821 274579 or email deborah

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