The Language of Power and Empowerment
by John Beaulieu, ND, PhD, RPP, RPE
(Reprinted from APTA Newsletter, Winter 1999)
It is important to understand the subtle impact of language during Polarity sessions and classroom instruction. When Dr. Stone spoke out against hypnosis he was speaking about the use of language for power. Although we tend to think of hypnosis in terms of the stereotypes of “you are getting sleepy and a pendulum swinging back and forth,” the actual hypnotic reality is far more common, subtle and sophisticated. The purpose of this article is to point out the difference between empowering language and language used for power.
Part I: The Language of Power
The language of power uses direct or implied phobias to impart fear and thereby gain power. Phobias are irrational fears which compel us to avoid something. Traditional phobias are of spiders, heights, airplanes, and so on. However more subtle phobias can be induced through conscious and/or unknowing suggestion. Here are some New Age examples of phobic language: if you do not get a mantra from this guru you will not become enlightened, or if you are not saved by Jesus at our church you are not really saved (this implies you will go to hell).
Therapists and therapy groups are notorious for using phobic language. For example: “you have to do this approach to really make progress.” I have watched many energy practitioners say such things as “Your second chakra is blocked. Your kidneys are functioning at 20%” (the implication being that the practitioner knows how to fix them). This kind of language has no place in a professional setting.
It is important to understand the subtle implications and impact of phobic language. The whole intent of using phobic language is to induce fear thereby making the only way to resolve that fear the suggested or implied approach you use (power). People who are depressed, insecure, naïve or vulnerable because of life crisis are extremely susceptible to phobic language. They do not have the ability to sense what is happening to them.
For example a practitioner may say: Your life will improve if you follow these rules, doctringes, principles, etc. We have spent years working out these rules and we know what they can do for you.” The implication is that if you don’t do what the practitioner is asking then you will stay in your same state. During the communication the client begins to build a slight tension in their body (fear) which over a period of time seeks resolution in terms of signing up for the course or following the practitioner’s directions.
In the vulnerable listener’s mind the only way they can resolve their conflict is to turn it over to the speaker. This a clear cycle of Fear–Power–Release. The cycle can continue throughout seminar after seminar or session after session. After some time the listener begins to rely on the practitioner more than their actual life experience. They seek resolutions of fears that were included in the first place and then taken away by the inducer in a self perpetuating system.
The use of phobic, power-based language is unbecoming in our profession of Polarity Therapy. I would hope that we all develop a trust in our own abilities to identify and resolve life challenges. Clients grow naturally with love and support. It is important that you be aware of your words.
Part II: The Language of Empowerment
The language of empowerment begins with the assumption that we have within us all the resources necessary for healing and living our life fully. The language of empowerment inspires, motivates, and supports us in organizing those resources and prepares us for any challenges life may offer.
A practitioner of the healing arts speaks the language of empowerment to inspire their clients to put together and use their life resources in creative ways. The language of empowerment says: “You know what is right for you. I know ways of empowering you to listen to yourself and reorganize your life resources to meet the challenges of your life.” In contrast the language of power says: “I know what is right for you. I know what you need to do. If you do not follow what I say something negative will happen.”
When a client comes to an empowering practitioner of Polarity and says “I have a block” the practitioner may say, “Your energy is moving and you have the ability to change its quality of movement. That “block” as you call it needs to be honored and respected because it is connected to and empowered by you. I know that you can communicate with its source and come to some new understandings. I will assist you in that process through my touch and words.”
In the above communication the client is “holistically” honored. The “block” is seen as a form of empowering communication. The practitioner trusts that it is there for a good reason and wants to make sure if it goes away its purpose is accomplished. The word “block” as it used by the client is empowering the client to unify themselves and grow thus changing their relationship with the word “blocked”.
In the language of empowerment the practitioner is a catalyst that stays present through respect and honoring. Using the language of empowerment requires trust, patience, and a deep understanding of our clients. When Dr. Milton Erickson says: “My voice will go with you” he is suggesting that his words will continue to inspire his patients to tune into and utilize their own resources.
There is a wonderful story about Dr. Erickson and a schizophrenic patient who spoke only gibberish. For one year Dr. Erickson would listen to the patient talk and then go back to his office and close the door. Then one day, to everyone’s surprise, Dr. Erickson walked up to the patient and began to talk to him in gibberish. He had been practicing for over a year behind his closed door to understand and speak the patient’s gibberish. The schizophrenic patient stepped backwards, looked disoriented, and then blurted out in perfect English, “What did you say?” From that point on they spoke English.
There is a fine line between empowering and power. Many times I will give clients assignments or recommend exercises. I am suggesting to them that they learn about themselves by doing their homework. If I were to say to a client that they have to do the assignment or something bad might happen, I have entered the arena of power.
[An] empowering practitioner teaches the client different skills through language, modeling, and exercises. When a person wants to climb Mount Everest they must learn, practice, and prepare for many years. The same is true when a person meets different
Mental, emotions, and physical challenges in their daily life. The empowering practitioner helps the client to get a realistic view of their challenge and teaches different exercises to help the client organize their resources to meet that challenge.
When a person sets out to climb Mount Everest they realize from the beginning that they need help and support. They seek out people who understand their challenge through experience. These people work hard to prepare the climber. Everyone knows from the beginning that the climber must ultimately meet the challenge. However when the climber reaches the top everyone celebrates.