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PEDAGOGY FOR AN EXPERIENTIAL MODEL: CASE EXAMPLE OF THE EXPERIENTIAL UNITY MODEL

Experiential learning requires the learner to be actively involved in the experience. Therefore, to facilitate students' whole self-presence, it is important for students to explore cultural trends that are affecting their ability to be fully present in the classroom. The connection/disconnection tool is a helpful group educational tool and can be used in class to highlight cultural trends of disconnection and assist students in understanding that self-connection is vital to any counseling work.

In demonstrating the tool, I first ask students to brainstorm current stressors and past events that have caused distress. This list is captured in a stress/pain container and includes current stressors in their life as well as their own unresolved childhood experiences. Students are then asked to weight the heaviness of their container. Students then reflect on feelings they experience by the items in the stress/pain container, and we draw connections between these feelings and embodied tension.

As a class, we then list all those activities that encourage the students to disconnect from the feelings generated by the container. A typical list from students includes busyness, academic demands, drugs and alcohol, excessive partying and socializing, television, social media, and excessive cell phone use. We then make connections between disconnection and an increase in heaviness of their stress/ pain container and consequent numbing.

The class then focuses on connecting to the container and exploring ways of discharging the stressors and the heavy feeling. This list typically includes exercise, yoga, spending time in nature, taking breaks, sharing feelings with friends and family, journal writing, meditation, writing letters to those who hurt them in the past, attending counseling, and other activities that uplift them. We then make connections between these activities and their ability to be present with clients. An option to the stress/pain container is for professors to require students to highlight their feelings and self-connection in their j ournal writing; this home assignment assists in tracking students' ability to engage holistically.

When using an experiential pedagogy, I consider the setup of the classroom. When the students' desks are all facing the front of the room and the professor is sitting or standing at the front, the paradigm of the professor being the “allknowing expert” is reinforced. When the desks and chairs are placed in a circle or a horseshoe, the traditional pedagogic style is challenged. The professor's role is then more aligned to guiding, facilitating, and instigating experiential learning. The professor is also learning alongside the students, and there is an underlying assumption that all contributions are valuable in an experiential process.

Another premise of teaching experientially is that the end product is not fully known; this brings an energy and excitement to the class. Through the process of learning in the “here and now,” undiscovered processes will emerge; creativity is likely unleashed; and through the mindful engagement of both the professor and the students, learning is more likely to be integrated. For instance, I pair students up for a role-play counseling session. The student counselor is asked to design a visual for her or his student-client to assist in her or his self-awareness process. The material for the visual derives from the student-client's concerns. Students take turns in the role of counselor. All students then share their drawings and the emotional processes contained in the visual to the class. In one class, a student role modeled how to include the body in the process by locating anxiety in the stomach of the student's image and then exploring the impact of anxiety. Overall, students tend to be impressed with their peers' creativity.

In 2013, I taught an advanced interviewing class of both undergraduate and graduate students. We covered a number of modalities, including a sensorimotor approach, somatic experiencing, and the experiential unity model, as case examples of both integrative and experiential work. In my opinion, the challenge of teaching experientially is that it is critical to have consistent student engagement and participation. Therefore, it is important to be receptive to the emotional states of the class and resolve any tension directed toward the professor. On meeting the class for the first time, there was a misunderstanding regarding the volume of required reading. I encouraged students to vent their frustration while clearing up the misunderstanding. This conflict resolution work assisted in keeping the students engaged and active in the class processes. My personal experience of teaching experientially is that it requires a greater degree of vulnerability on my part in taking risks to resolve class tension and more work to improve class participation and cohesion. The teaching requires significant and intimate student engagement throughout the semester and a willingness to be open emotionally to students.

In teaching the experiential unity model, the first task for students to learn is to calm and center the client through a breathing and/or visualization exercise. This helps the client bypass cerebral processes, access his or her feeling state, and become more aware of his or her mind-body connection and unconscious material. A by-product of this process is that it also assists in centering and calming the clinician, and it facilitates his or her presence for the session. The teaching method for this task is based on the idea that the best way for students to learn is by experience. As part of their assignments for the class, each student has to guide the class, including the professor, through a breathing/visualization exercise. Students are encouraged to use their intuition, conduct research if necessary, and find a tool or technique that is a good fit for them. If there are not enough weeks in the semester, students double up and share the time slot for this assignment. This mode of learning helps students gain confidence in calming and centering themselves and their clients; they are able to experience a wide range of relaxation techniques and are educated about what works best from their standpoint. The emphasis at the beginning of class sends a strong message about the importance ofmind-body work for clients at the outset of a session. A by-product is that students appear much more relaxed and grounded after this intervention, and anecdotally it seems to make a difference to their engagement in class. After each relaxation/visualization, students comment on the strengths of their peers' work. This helps boost their confidence, and it incorporates another step of the experiential unity model, namely feedback on strengths.

The second task for an experiential unity model is accessing and acknowledging feelings. In teaching this part of the model, I again assume the most powerful way of teaching “the feeling rounds” is for students in the counseling class to learn by example. After the breathing and/or visualization, students name one feeling word that they are feeling in the moment. This helps students learn the importance of acknowledging their own feelings. In addition, many learn how difficult it is to bypass their intellect and be present, thus bringing that experience into their future work. It also contributes to their self-awareness regarding their own degree of self-connection or disconnection and ability to concentrate. A consequence is that this process also educates the professor regarding the students' emotional health. For instance, if a student is unable to name a feeling or identifies as feeling numb, it is an indicator of some degree of disconnection.

Another way I have assisted students in learning about this particular skill was in the situation in which the majority arrived to class upset, angry, and unable to concentrate. They were unhappy with marks they had received, and they perceived a grave injustice. Their tendency was to discuss all the details, common in a client's experience, and stay with a cerebral communication process. I stopped them and asked them to take calming breaths, ground themselves, and then access one feeling word each. We went around for as many times as they needed to get all of their feelings out. The longer the process proceeded, the calmer they became. A number of students commented on how powerful the experience was in teaching them the importance of stating feelings and moving away from the dominance of cerebral communication. They also realized how naming feelings was critical to cultivating a calmer state and engaging in deeper work, and it also reinforced dramatically how much the torrent of cognitively derived detail can get away from healing and accessing one's inner world.

The next step in teaching the experiential unity model for both group and individual counseling is the construction of a tool. This is essentially a visual depiction, often a metaphor for the soul, that is an overall theme with which the client is presently struggling. For the classroom experience, I give students examples I have used in my own sessions; for instance, a client was feeling lost and directionless, so I described and drew a log floating down the river going this way and that with no direction. The client and I then explored the metaphor at a deeper level to ascertain more fully what her soul was experiencing in the moment.

Before students try to intuit a tool for each other in their role plays, a helpful next step is for them to elicit a drawing for themselves. Initially, I ask the students to close their eyes. I guide them through a visualization in which they are relaxing in a safe place in a home, and they hear a knock on the door. They are asked to open the door, and when they open it, they are looking at “stress.” What does “stress” look like, feel like, smell like, and so on? Once they have taken a good look at “stress,” they close the door, go back to their safe place, and draw what they saw. The students are impressed with how much the visual deepens their experience and illuminates unconscious processes.

To expand the students' experience of devising visual tools in the moment, during a counseling process, I read a quote from the Tao of Leadership, recorded in a manual by John Heider titled “Knowing What Is Happening” (1986). It states,

When you cannot see what is happening in a group, do not stare harder. Relax and look gently with your inner eye. When you do not understand what a person is saying, do not grasp every word. Give up your efforts. Become silent inside and listen with your deepest self. When you are puzzled by what you see or hear, do not strive to figure things out. Stand back for a moment and become calm. When a person is calm, complex events appear simple. To know what is happening, push less, open out and be aware. See without staring. Listen quietly rather than listening hard. Use intuition and reflection rather than trying to figure things out. The more you can let go of trying, and the more open and receptive you become, the more easily you will know what is happening. Also stay in the present. The present is more available than either memories of the past or fantasies of the future. So attend to what is happening

now. (14,1)

This quote is helpful for students because it reinforces present-centered skills—the need to ground, calm, and be mindful in order to discover deeper material from their fellow students' experience. It also reminds them of how critical it is to hone their intuition in both individual and group counseling work. The students spend a number ofweeks in role-play counseling sessions, devising tools, noting mind-body reactions in their work with each other, and also practicing calming techniques and accessing feelings in their sessions. Their confidence in working holistically increases dramatically, and they are able to weave these ideas into other methodologies they are learning about.

To aid in learning experientially, and to increase integration for students, a course assignment is to hand in weekly journal writing; these are reflections on the content of the class and how it is impacting them. This is both beneficial to the student and for me as an educator. For me, it is helpful in tracking emotional themes; these themes can be utilized in a tool for a future class for awareness building and addressing any personal barriers to learning along the way. In the process of learning to use the experiential unity model, I highlight certain personal character traits and skills that can assist students in building their competencies in experientially oriented counseling. These include the ability to let go of content, self-awareness, intuition, self-trust, humility, vulnerability and not knowing, listening deeply, curiosity, courage in communication, creativity and imagination, and self-compassion. Students occasionally wrestle with these themes in their journals. Another critical piece of student learning is for many of these characteristics to be evident in the professor.

The last step to teach in the experiential unity model is the yoga and movement section along with some emotional freedom techniques (Ortner, 2014). Emotional freedom techniques are utilized in the field of energy psychology.

The methodology uses the tapping of acupuncture points to address psychological issues. I use a tapping CD called Tapping for Stress Relief (Ortner, 2014). The instructions on the CD guide the class through a tapping exercise; the students tap on key energy points, such as the chin, in order to release embodied emotions. Energy psychology has been researched “as a potent intervention that facilitates shifts in emotions, cognitions, behaviors, and physiology” (Mason, 2012, p. 224). Again, students have the opportunity to experience this themselves.

For the yoga and movement section, students choose some music and play it while I lead them through some shaking movements, followed by some kundal- ini yoga poses. In their book Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, Emerson and Hopper (2011) state, “One of the profound lessons from contemporary neuroscience research is that our sense of ourselves is anchored in a vital connection with our bodies” (p. xxiii). Regarding trauma, they state, “People who are traumatized need to have physical and sensory experiences to unlock their bodies, activate effective fight/flight responses, tolerate their sensation, befriend their inner experiences, and cultivate new action patterns” (p. xxiv). Thus, physical exercises such as yoga can prove vital to the process of reconnecting to the self. In my class, I draw the yoga exercises from Yogi Bhajan's kriyas, which are known as holistic healing recipes. Yogi Bhajan brought kundalini yoga to the Western Hemisphere in 1968 in the form ofholistic recipes for physical, emotional, and spiritual health. According to Shamanoff-Khalsa (2007), Yogi Bhajan taught between 1968 and 2004 “approximately 5,000 different meditation techniques as well as hundreds of different sets of yoga exercises, each set with a specific sequence, and all claiming to have a unique therapeutic value” (p 2). The poses chosen are intended to detoxify the body, drain fear, and bolster the nervous system. Students have commented how they feel more alive and their heads feel more clear. We talk about movement and yoga being another way to reconnect with self and the body and to protect oneself from unhealthy cultural trends of disconnection, such as busyness, speed-filled living, excess behavior, and cerebral communication. Some students elect to continue with the yoga and movement during their break in the middle of the class.

Students have completed evaluations of the class, and it has been successful on many fronts, particularly in its ability to engage the whole selves of the students. One student commented,

Alyson continually asked us to move beyond our intellectual selves towards a new way of thinking and learning that engaged our whole selves. She integrated movement, self-reflection, and meditation into her classes, which allowed us to explore new communication and counseling skills from a very grounded and authentic place. With her focus on holistic engagement, she adapted her teaching style to honor our experiences and address our needs as individual students and as a class. Working with Alyson was, by far, one of the most valuable experiences during my social work degree.

It is clear that students find the class helpful, enlightening, and enjoyable. It also makes a significant contribution to their confidence in working holistically and increases their general competency in counseling. Overall, their progress has shown me how critical it is to teach in an experiential way as they are able to experiment, get comfortable with a new set of skills, learn to ground and remain self-connected, and build confidence by becoming their own experts on what works and what does not in their counseling processes. One of the challenges in teaching holistically is that when a student is skeptic of holistic processes, he or she may believe there is an excessive focus on integrative counseling. In this particular class, other modalities, such as narrative therapy, were taught experientially, and so this was not an issue in this class.

 
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