This Self Acceptance Training (SAT) work of Richard Olney is an approach to counseling but it is more important as an approach to life. Erv Polster said that "Gestalt is too good to reserve just for the use of sick people," This training that has roots in gestalt therapy is even more useful for anybody who wants to improve the quality of their life. It is an educational and growth model more than a cure for pathology.
SAT is a thread which weaves through all effective therapeutic change, Dick called it the Perennial Therapy. Because it is a base approach, it can and is used with techniques from Gestalt, Rational-Emotive Therapy, Ericksonian Hypnotism, Rogerian Therapy, Shamanistic approaches, Eidetic Imagery and many others. It does changes how they are used and the goals that are sought.
His thesis that there is nothing wrong with us, that we just need to look at our selves in different ways and think in new categories, relates to the old Sufi cure of waking up from the bad dream. The dream consists of identifying with the product of my conditioning. The world around us has shaped our values and we created our self image out of this.
There are many similarities or agreements with other philosophical positions. Jung also talks about a split between who we are and what we are, which relates to Dick Olney's concept of identifying with your essence rather than with your thoughts and emotions. He also shared Jung's view of the unconscious as a repository of potential creativity. SAT reflects Gurdjieff's principle of self remembering, a constant educational process. And Dick agreed with Krishnamurti that there is no time, no self, no past, no present, no future: only awareness, and Now.
The other two disciplines with similarities are Gestalt and Bioenergetics. The Here and Now focus of Gestalt and the experiential element is a major part of SAT. Bioenergetics has the Neo-Reichian body focus and Dick talked about the charge, discharge, relaxation theory as being a directing theme. The somatic element is a crucial part of the interaction with the client. When our mind gets us in trouble, the simple truth of our bodies gets us grounded and leads us home again.
The premise of SAT is that I can be neither more nor less in this present moment than I am. We ask what we are in this moment. This must be our starting place of any change. An axiom that follows is that if I feel bad, and I allow myself to feel worse, I can feel better. I lose the tension of self denial. It takes energy to hold up the illusion of who I am. A negative statement about the self often produces a feeling of relaxation and feeling good that surprises the person admitting something negative like, "I am a narcissist". When this is followed by, "and that is where it is at" (a fact like the sun is shining outside) and/or "It is no big deal," these help to move it away from judgment or resignation.
I see several major themes of SAT. One includes a focus on seeing the client as able to become conscious of their own true self image, rather than a victim orientation. There is a constant split between semantic reality which we create, causing ourselves constant problems, and direct experience which puts us in touch with ourselves. Another theme is the approach as educator rather than doctor. It is much more of a meeting of equals or siblings than of a medical approach. The spiritual reality is openly acknowledged but so broad that I have never seen a conflict with a client's beliefs in hundreds of hours of therapy. Another awareness is that therapy can be an art form, with a creative ability to be ambivalent about using prose and scientific explanations or magical shamanistic techniques depending on what comes up. Indeed, it is the Ericksonian principle of utilization that pervades all of the work. Thinking in other categories is another consistent element of SAT.
What does this all mean to a counselor? It means the counselor doesn't do anything. He/she follows what happens. There is a commitment to the process, a faith in the client's unconscious, not to results. The goal is to do your best and trust in the process. The counselor needs to use his/her eyes and ears instead of the mind, to be a witness. Dick talked about using himself as an instrument, pacing the client most of the time, and only leading when it was appropriate.
One of the most important awarenesses of a SAT counselor is not to be ego invested. This means that he/she is free to try hunches when appropriate, to adjust and be glad when wrong, to not get in a power struggle with the client, staying in touch with his/her own body feelings, just allowing something larger to use you. The therapist doesn't know what the client needs. To try to get them to go in any particular direction would be presumptuous. He/she may check with them about a particular direction (e.g. "How far down does the emptiness go?") but does not push, and keeps aware that they may need to go in the opposite direction. The therapist is committed to doing his/her best and not to results.
The focus is on the context of the relationship more than the content. The SAT therapist watches, listens, looks at the body and eyes of the client, looking for ways that the client relates to him/her. He then frustrates any neurotic way of relating to him/her as a way of bringing the pattern to conscious awareness. The client may try to seduce the therapist into helping him/her, or challenging the therapist, or generally relating to the therapist the way they relate to the world.
The SAT therapist looks at resistance as a thrust for autonomy. He/she respect it as a survival mechanism and focus on the client's learning to trust themselves and learning less self-limiting ways to preserve autonomy.
Now I will be quiet and let Dick speak for himself. Thomas J. Biesanz.
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