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Articles    H3'ed 10/1/10

Beyond Biofeedback: How Words Can Help Children Heal

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In the Verbal First Aid protocol a compassionate presence or rapport is a critical aspect of all therapeutic communication. The protocol was originally created for use by first responders to facilitate healing in victims of trauma, but is now being utilized by people all over the world to help their children heal from all the kitchen variety boo-boos and challenges kids face as they grow up.

There are two parts to Verbal First Aid™: Rapport and Suggestion. In order to give a person a suggestion they will follow (e.g., "stop the bleeding" or "you can rest comfortably now"), there has to be a trusting connection or "rapport" between the two of you. This is true whether the person you're talking to is a child or adult.

Gaining rapport is built on 3 fundamentals"Authority, Believability and Compassion.

Authority is the first step. When people are scared, they look for a benevolent authority to tell them what to do. They naturally look to leaders to lead them to safety. Even with adults, you see this response when a firefighter or police officer is present during a crisis. It is instinctive to all social animals.

Parents or caretakers are natural authorities and children are much more likely to follow direction from them. This is even more so when the child is hurt or frightened.

Believability is the second step. We always want to be truthful. If we're not believable"for instance, if we tell someone, "Everything's going to be okay," when it's clearly not okay"we lose rapport quickly. And without rapport our words"and therefore our suggestions"ring hollow, for if they can't believe us they can't follow us where we want them to go.

Compassion, the third step, is based on empathy"the ability to feel what someone else feels. It is not the same as sympathy, with has more of a kinship with pity. When we can share someone's feelings and still maintain a clear, calm guiding voice, we can lead that person towards healing. When we speak to someone with real compassion, that person will be able to say to himself, "She understands me."

Rapport is the track on which all communication runs. Suggestion is the locomotive, the leader that will carry the child to safety, to healing, to empowerment. When we have rapport"when a child sees us as a kind and competent authority"our words can help lead them to healing"both emotionally and physically.

Here's an example of both rapport and suggestion:

You've taken your niece to an amusement park. It's her first time. She gets onto the roller coaster with you, but you can see her grip on the bars is tight and she seems anxious. You build on the rapport you've developed over the years by simply saying, "Looks like you're holding on pretty tight there." Your niece says, "It's scary." "It's scary the first time," you pace her feelings. Then, as you take your bracelet off and put it on your niece's wrist, you say, "But now you've got my magic bracelet. You hold on to it while we ride, okay? It's easier to enjoy the ride when you know you've got magic with you." Your niece smiles, relaxing.

The Nature of Therapeutic Communication

How do we communicate to children, to each other?

  1. With our words.
  2. With our bodies.
  3. With our spirits.

Verbal communication as a form of organic feedback can be quite simple. In Verbal First Aid and other hypnotherapeutic modalities, it is called "pacing," a way of moving with the child wherever he or she is. So if the child is tired, we can say, "I see how tired you are." Or if the child is scared, "Oh, that was scary. And surprising!"

However, our verbal acknowledgment of another's presence, need, or emotional/physical state, is only one of the ways in which we become present to another person.

We can also do so with our bodies"the way we stop what we're doing and look at them when they speak to us, the way we kneel down to be at eye-level, the way we touch them when they are in pain or frightened.

And whether we use our words or our body language, our spirits"our intentions"are always finding a way to express what we are feeling, thinking and believing, whether we are conscious of it or not.

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Judith Acosta, LISW, CHT is a licensed psychotherapist and clinical homeopath in private practice in Placitas and Albuquerque. Her areas of specialization include the treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. She has appeared on both television (more...)
 
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