“BreathWork Counselling” – A model of Counselling that involves both body and mind

Written by Milena Screm
When, some thirty years ago, I started my work as a facilitator of personal growth I heard of a powerful tool, BreathWork, to add to my skills. At the same time I felt that something was missing, that I needed more knowledge to do my job in a satisfactory manner. From this feeling arose many reflections, experience by experience, in training after training. It shaped my own personal style in my profession. I developed an approach focused on insights, to get my clients to learn skills and develop talents and to deal with their resources, rather than their trauma.

If the breath is the “guide” or the first pillar of the process of inner growth that takes place in BreathWork, the relationship between facilitator and client is the second pillar. The content, meaning and potential that flow into the relationship between two people is of great importance. Each human being is “individual”, but lives and feeds of relationships and communication and psycho-physical-emotional exchanges and spiritual fluctuation in a continuous and indispensable process of giving and receiving. The harmonious definition of “I” and’ “other” and the balance in the relationship between parties, is among the most important area of research and development in the human growth process.
Our current historical period also expresses, albeit paradoxical and dysfunctional in its manifestations, how necessary commitment and relationships are in the pursuit of a better spiritual quality of our lives. Human beings have explored this in such a broad and multifaceted way, that the material world is saturated with this type of illusions. The expansion of new and spiritual needs, the search for new values and new references within the flow of ever more rapid and sweeping changes are signs of a new direction for the re-organization of our inner lives that we are looking for. In this context, anything that can foster a dialogue with the totality of one’s being and between individuals is useful.
Conscious breathing is a practical, physical and energetic technique, that potentially also influences the direction of our attention and awareness, in order to achieve better communication and relationships and, as a consequence, with life and with others.

The environment in which people can recover their potential (breathing and contact BreathWork) becomes, the “gym” where they can test models and change to new behaviour. These changes are mainly oriented towards:
- Developing the ability to establish effective communication, both as regards content and form;
- Listening, well and as carefully as possible without prejudices;

– Empathy;
- Research and commitment to genuine relationships;
- The willingness to be in relationship with another person, accepting its uniqueness and in its entirety.
This list of guidelines also suggests, in broad terms, the model of communication and relationship to which my method is oriented. The origin and the definition of this model is found in an approach called Counselling created by the American psychotherapist Carl R.Rogers.

To achieve a complete understanding of Counselling, it’s mandatory to recognize some other basic elements. Those are the same that characterize the new psychological approach called Humanistic Psychology that emerged in the 50s in the United States
As the name states, a person is the centre of his own world. It acknowledges growth, self-determination (self assertiveness) and transformation potentials as much stronger than any other influences.
Humanistic psychology is also known as the “Third Force” in psychology, after psychoanalysis and behaviourism. It adds new perspectives to the former ones. Among those are worth mentioning the focus on future planning and not only on past narrative approach, and on the quality of relationships as well as on behaviour analysis. Moreover, the attention is shifted to the healthy person’s positive aspects, his creative force or inner drive and ethical dimensions. Another psychological perspective developed at the same time, Psychosynthesis, adds new nuances in the psychological scope of investigation: the consideration of spiritual aspects of instincts and behaviours.
 Humanistic psychology’s vision (pioneered by A. Maslow, R. May, V. Frankl, C. Rogers, R. Assaggioli, F. Pearls) focuses on a person’s acknowledged capability of self regulation, responsibility and autonomy. This makes it possible for psychology to exit the realm of mere therapeutic support and enter the scope of training and education.
This change also gave birth to a new professional approach for relationships and advice. One of these is Counselling.
Starting from the assumption that a person has the resources and answers themselves, counselling aims to help the person to find their own self-help strategy. This definition should not lead to a simplistic or superficial system, since counselling is deeply rooted in humanistic psychology theory, values, and tendencies. Further elements of communication and professional orientation add to this. All these elements work together to devise a help program, in synergy with specific skills, attitudes, proper techniques.

Here is a list of essential guidelines for this kind of intervention:
– focus on the person in need of help, before focusing on the problem itself,
- bringing awareness to unused or denied talents that the person can take advantage of to accomplish desired goals, – developing the counselor/client relationship on a basis of human warmth, acceptance, and absence of judgement,
- giving freedom to the client to express his emotions and behaviours (in a safe setting, as explained below),
- making clear agreements for duration, responsibilities and ways of the intervention.
One basic intuition that guides interventions in counselling is that the best help for a person in trouble is to avoid telling him/her what to do. To avoid offering solutions helps the person, firstly, to fully understand the situation he/she is facing. Secondly, it encourages the person to discover their most suitable inner resources and responses, helping him/her to move towards a feasible solution. Thirdly, it offers supports to a person while they are dealing with their problem, encouraging them to take full responsibility (or “Ability to Respond to a situation”) and it increases confidence in his/her choices.

Counselling sessions often involve dealing with significant personal emotional content that the person may try to manage following new patterns and schemes. Moreover, he’ll be helped to detect new resources and energies in himself and ways to sustain those patterns without external interpretation or instructions.

BreathWork and Counselling

In BreathWork practice, the session is structured into two different phases. One phase concerns learning, training and practicing the conscious circular breathing technique. The other is verbal consulting aimed at identifying both motivation and personal goals; to process the experiences that emerge through the breathing practice; to focus on handling strategies for changes. This second part is based on counselling principles, attitudes, and techniques.
The strength achieved by merging these two methods is twofold. On the one hand, the growth and elaborating process does not only rely on a verbal exchange. The breathing process opens to bodily, emotional and inner dimensions that both accomplish and enhance the individual’s evolutionary path. At the same time the basic approach in counselling, to help a person to find the responses and resources he’s looking for, gives BreathWork a practical multidimensional tool to achieve this.

The integration of talk and body approach, offers BreathWork both a resource and a tool for focusing on inner resources. This gives BreathWork a unique and valuable approach, with a potential that is still to be fully investigated and defined.
For a complete and detailed picture of these potentials, BreathWork can also be compared with another innovative psychological approach that emerged in the second mid of the 50s: Transpersonal Psychology. This technique enriches and increases the possibilities for a person to find undetected knowledge and talents within (instead of outside) himself.

Keywords; Counseling, transpersonal psychology, humanistic psychology, self assertiveness, Psychosynthesis, Rogers, Maslow

© Milena Screm 2014

About the author: http://www.insightformazione.it/chi-siamo/docenti-counselor-interni/milena-screm Supervisor Counsellor & BreathWorker
Founder and president, INSIGHT School of BreathWork Counselling – Milan (Italy)Author of fourteen books in psychology, published in Italy, France and Spain, for example: “BreathWork” (1998), “Autogenic Training” (1989,2012), “Rebirthing & Water” (1994), “The history of Rebirthing” ( 1992 ), “Rebirthing, breathe for renewal”, the first book published in Italy on Rebirthing (1989, 1993, 2011)