“Paying attention is the most basic and profound expression of love.” ~ Tara Brach
Being a psychotherapist or mental health professional often consists of listening to challenges, problems, pain, and struggles. We are meeting people during some of their most trying times, when their lives are breaking apart for various reasons and they need resources, support, and a safe and secure place to land. So often we are asked, “How do you do that all day? How do you listen to these sad or painful stories and take in all that energy?” And right there, in that question, lies the invitation, the portal inward, of any mental health professional, or anyone who works with people--pastors, attorneys, coaches, parents, and even hair stylists, grocery clerks, bus drivers, and millions of others.
You know that experience when you are talking to someone and you feel heard, seen, and “gotten?”
That is presence. The other person doesn’t even have to say anything. It is a felt experience and exchange. Presence is the ability to be aware, engaged, and caring in the moment, without judgement or agenda. Putting our own 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day, our own narratives and judgements aside, and listen. Moment to moment awareness. The ability to be lovingly connected through eye contact, body language, facial expressions, and sublte body energy. To see the person before us with true love and awe, and hold space for their truth.
We all have the ability to connect to and deepen our energetic presence.
How do you cultivate this presence?
Your own practice!
This is one of the biggest gifts of being a psychotherapist. The call to do our own work.
One of the first steps is to begin to notice when and where you feel most alive and connected to the energy of the universe. It may be out in nature, sitting on the cushion, singing, or some other way or place where you feel genuinely engaged in the world. A place where you feel the strength of your vulnerability, the light in your darkness, and the expansive edges of your being.
Find the places where you create mindful presence, and cultivate, enrich, and deepen those experiences. Meditation, yoga, hiking, breathwork, your own psychotherapy whatever it is…take a class, find teachers, and fearlessly commit to your path. By sitting with our own pain, darkness, and stories, with love and curiosity and without judgement, we can then sit with others in the same tender manner. Through the portal of your practice, you will excavate your own mindful presence with yourself; from there, your lovingkindness presence will begin to emerge in your work and in the room, in the in-between spaces. Your clients will feel seen, heard, and gotten.
This is the sophisticated move from using stories and self-disclosure as a way to make connections to using your pure presence in all its dimensions to allow your clients to feel seen, heard, and gotten. I teach my therapist clients and students all the time that the masterful move of powerful psychotherapy is to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Letting the client have all the space and the story, while giving them the experience of feeling seen, heard, and gotten.
When asked what she thought was the healing ingredient in psychotherapy, Sharon Salzburg replied: “It is the love in the room.” As therapists, we can express that love through our genuine presence, cultivated from our own inner work. And this is our call, our journey, and the work and the gift of our career.