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The Existential Moment: Bringing there-and-then into here-and-now

“I was driving my motorcycle, probably 35 or so,” the client started, “winding through Yosemite toward the East end of the park. It was dusk, and streaks of light and shadow enveloped the forest on both sides of the empty road. It was peaceful and beautiful.”

“Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement and a glint of light. It turned out to be the eye of a deer bounding through the trees. The next thing I knew, the deer jumped in front of me, and there was no real time to swerve. I hit it hard on the back hip. My bike started to shake uncontrollably until I lost control. I remember rolling on the ground, maybe four, five, ten times—I’m not even sure.”

“I stood up. I was dizzy, and something was wrong with my right arm. It hurt like hell, but I could walk. After a minute or two, a car I passed earlier pulled up and rolled down the window. I said, ‘I hit a deer.’ They put me in the backseat to lie down and drove me to my friend further in the park. She took me to the hospital. I had a dislocated elbow and shoulder and a lot of scrapes on my hands. My leather jacket and my full masked helmet were a mess, but I was OK and released later that night.”

“Still,” he paused, “it left me with something. Whenever a motorcycle goes flying by, or sometimes even when I see one, I get these flashbacks or intrusive thoughts, and my body seizes up for a second. Similar stuff happens around other traumatic things I’ve experienced. It messes with me.” He paused again, “I’m just now realizing…I think I have PTSD.”

“How does that feel to say?” the therapist asked.

E-H Therapy is experiential and relational. The approach leverages several “micro-skills “to develop experience in the room, including tagging, slowing down and tuning in, reflecting back, etc. Each works to deepen presence “here-and-now.”

One skill is “bringing there-and-then into here-and-now.” It looks like, for example, the therapist’s statement above, “How does that feel to say?” The client narrated a story “there-and-then.” However, the realization of PTSD occurred in the present moment, suggesting a critical path to explore. Working in the present offers tremendous therapeutic potential. While nothing is wrong with narrating, experiencing offers immense possibilities for growth.

In the same vein, to deepen this experience, the therapist might consider asking the client to tell the story differently—”live” as if it’s happening now. “I am driving my motorcycle…”

Links to Related Blog Posts:

Read more posts about working in the “here-and-now” on EHI’s blog.

Read more posts about relational and the experiential in E-H therapy on EHI’s blog.

Read more posts about presence on EHI’s blog.

Read all the Existential Moment series posts on EHI’s blog.

Existential Moment Author: Scott Gibbs, LMFT, EHI Board Member-at-Large | Website: | Twitter: @Novum_Organum

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The Existential Moment: Micro-skills: Reflecting

Reflection is a bit like the work of the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. We mirror or reflect our client’s experience—the content presented, the process or experience in the moment (e.g., nonverbals, tone, pattern of speech, etc.), self and world constructs (e.g., “I am…”), protective patterns and inner tensions, and core vulnerabilities or wounds.

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