As I embark on the great honor of being the first Guest Editor of the International Body Psychotherapy Journal, I am loudly reminded of the importance of being acknowledged. After receiving a multitude of submissions from authors asking, “Is my work good enough for your journal?” blasts as a parallel process to my own trepidation regarding my own ability to be a judge of their work.
Thankfully, I have been a university professor for five years now and have learned how to read first draft submissions. Many times I have watched a very proud and perhaps, at times, entitled student strut to my desk and thrust a paper toward me with expanded chest with matching smirk, expecting me to thank them for doing the assignment. I graciously accept the paper (so long as it is not late), and sit down on the train or at home to grade it. Sometimes a fabulous assignment is written, but most times, they are full of personal statements and opinions that leave me wondering if they have even read the instructions for the assignment.
After five years, I know that there are no bad papers. Poorly done, sure, but aside from the rubric, each student is giving me the best of what he or she could do at the time. This includes the last minute, hung-over student who couldn’t find a staple to hold the paper together. Each gesture tells me something about the student, and even though I have to give a grade (I take off a point for missing staples), the papers tell me so much about who they are and where they are at in their learning. I give them feedback according to where they are in their academic process.
I once had a student who sent me a 35 page “section” of a 10 page paper. As I began to read, I became more and more confused; the words were misspelled, grammar was atrocious, and the ideas jumped from place to place as if being chased by bees. In addition, the student would suddenly change the format of her paper, start a paragraph from the middle of the page, or insert a poem after half of a sentence. The most shocking was when she would change the color of her text!
After two hours, I arrived at page 3, exhausted. I had to find another way. I sat back, and asked myself, “What is this student trying to tell me?” Instead of continuing to decipher the grammar, (which would have taken me weeks), I realized that this student needed to express herself nonverbally. I asked her about her background, and not surprisingly she was a dancer. I asked her to include a dance in her final project to identify the themes of her research inquiry. Months later, at the end of the semester, she brought a video to my office and we watched it together. I was moved and astounded by the beauty and exquisiteness of her movement. By the end of the dance, I was filled with tears of pride! Writing was not how this student was going to move through the world. Her medium was dance, and in her choreography was the most articulate, profound, and insightful expression that I had ever seen in a student at her academic level.
Seeing each student, each author for who they are, and not needing to judge is part of how I conduct therapy with my clients. It never helps to judge; neither me nor for my client to judge her/himself. Acknowledging each facet of each client is, in itself, a process of healing, despite how my client is self-judging.
Acknowledgement in therapy is practically half the work. Being present with an experience, an emotion or lack thereof, or even something that feels so shameful that it cannot be spoken, is a part of healing. As I acknowledge my clients’ experiences, I help them to acknowledge themselves. This is where the healing begins.