THE ROLE OF CONTRACTS IN BODYNAMICS

Edited and extended by Joel Isaacs. Editing assistance by Karen Brown.
(First section adapted from original by Steen Jorgensen)

(Note: As we have continued to organize and clarify the teaching of Bodynamics we have more and more understood the importance of forming a clear contract. As the first step in forming a container for the therapy process, a contract strongly focusses the session. And, it also encourages a fuller use of the specificity available in the Bodynamic model. This generally leads to a greater resolution of the therapeutic issues chosen to be worked on.

As a framework for reading what follows, it is useful to refer to the first step in the Container model, about forming a contract/plan/agreement for working on an issue:

  • How is this issue affecting you in your life today? Get a recent example.
  • Make the plan, clear, precise, simple, and doable.
  • As we are talking now, what do you feel in your body?
  • Keep the plan in focus throughout the session.)

A contract or plan is an agreement between a client and a therapist about the content and structure of the therapy and of a given session. It is a statement that answers the following types of questions: What do you want to change in your life: what results do you want to create? What will be different in your life; how will it look when you have changed? Is that what you want? In Bodynamic therapy we have two kinds of contracts:

  1. A contract for the entire therapy period that includes goals, themes, subject, and framework of the therapy (time, place, duration of session, fee, etc.)
  2. A contract about the content of the work to be done in a given session. This is true even when the work to be done is on a character structure.

Agreeing on a contract is a way to empower the client. It helps to level the inherent power imbalance in the therapeutic container. Agreeing on a plan helps both people know they are working along the same lines. Over time it is also a way for the client to know if the therapy is bringing him closer to what he wants. And it is a format for the therapist to map out and discuss the work thought to be involved in the proposed changes. The contract is also an agreement to which the client can be held: e.g. “You say you want to have XXXX in your life, and you are not doing the things we have agreed will bring you closer to having XXXX. What can we do about this?”

A contract or plan has to be:

  1. So simple and precise that an 8-year old child can understand it. E.G., “to come out with myself more” is too imprecise. Better is: “to come out with my emotions, opinions, etc., in this and this situations”. A clear formulation of the agreement becomes an important part of the therapy.
  2. It should be measurable, so we can determine whether it has been fulfilled, and to what extent. This will allow the client to recognize whether change has occurred through the therapy. Words or phrases that are helpful with this are: Where? When? How often? In relationship to whom?
  3. It should have a precise, recent example that you can start with. For example, “Last time my partner came home late I didn’t express …”. This is also an example of a measurable instance, where something did or did not happen.
  4. It is best expressed in positive language. For example, I WANT TO BE WITH A PARTNER, and not, “I want to stop being alone”. The negative form allows for more sabotage of the goal.

Contracts can be narrow or broad. E.G., “to work on my autonomy structure” is a broad goal. “Being able to express more of my anger” is a broad goal, and can include such contexts as home or office, kids or partner, etc. Anything of the form “I want to be better at … ” , is a broad and general contract. A narrow contract describes working towards a precise and well defined goal. “I want to sense my love and anger when I am on a date with Bob”, is a narrow and precise contract. Notice that this is not a contract about EXPRESSING feelings, only sensing them.

It is important to formulate contracts in precise language. A contract includes a verbal statement of the agreement, and at times a detailed investigation of the meaning of the words and expressions. For example, if the client says “I WANT TO WORK ON WHY I ALWAYS GET ABANDONED BY PEOPLE”, a relevant question would be: What does “work on” mean to you. Does it mean to describe it fully’? Understand it? Change it? If the meaning is to change the situation, do you want to change yourself or change the other people? What is the meaning of “why” in your statement? What does “always” mean? 100% of the time? 50%? 20%? What does “abandon” mean for you? Is it all people? It is family? Friends? Lovers?

Another example demonstrating the need for clarification is the goal of a client who wanted to have FREER FLOWING SEXUAL ACTIVITY with his partner. {Before reading further, please STOP and say what you imagine the meaning of this contract to be.} As we clarified, it turned out that FREER meant on different days and at different times, not just on weekend nights. FLOWING meant that he would like to have sexual activity more often. And by SEXUAL ACTIVITY he was referring to the fact that his partner felt that all sexual activity should include intercourse and orgasm for both of them. He wanted to have some times where he might not have an orgasm. {This would not be my fantasy of the meaning; was it yours?}

Work on clear communication is contained in Virginia Satir’s book Family Therapy, where she writes about dysfunctional communication. Problems in communication can arise when the same word has different meanings; e.g. the word “class” can refer to a school class, a social class, or some other ranking. The word “mother” denotes female parent; it can connote warm, caring, accepting female parent to one person, and to another it could connote a cold, greedy and manipulative one. Thus the goal “I want to work on my difficulty with women who are motherly”, is by itself not a clear statement.
Another problem area in communications is with generalizations and over-generalizations:

  • unclear use of over-generalizations such as always or never.
  • Sometimes a person has an idea (fantasy) that they understood
  • you perfectly, even before you have finished speaking.
  • Sometimes a person assumes that an experience or an evaluation will never change: “She will always be like that.”
  • Sometimes people believe that only two possible alternatives exist: “You are either for me or against me.”
  • Another possibility is when a person equates their position with normality: “It’s normal to charge as high a price as you can get.”

All of these communication patterns are of concern when you are trying to negotiate a clear contract.

A STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS OF CONTRACTS

While reading The Path of Least Resistance, by Robert Fritz, I (JI) realized that some of what he was writing was related to our idea about contracts. When the process of therapy is examined in the context of making contracts or plans, therapy can be seen simply as the path from the goals that are chosen (the contract or agreement) to the realization of those goals or subsequently chosen goals. We can then ask how people form goals in their life: What does it look like when they do it well, and when it is done less well?

Our original goals and perspectives, those formed while young, are often formed in limiting situations and/or under stress. Often they are not even clear or conscious to us. They usually have some sort of conflict or compromise contained in them. These conflicts or compromises often take the unfortunate form of a contradiction, that is, of conditions that are mutually exclusive. A common example in therapy is the client who wants to love someone and also does not want to risk being hurt. Fritz called this type of condition a “structural contradiction”.

Along with examples like that above, a common structural contradiction is between having a desire, and simultaneously believing that you cannot fulfill your desire. This leads to behavior that causes an oscillation between the two poles. The closer you come to one pole (e.g., wanting more friends), the stronger is the pull of the other (believing you are not likeable). This leads to repetitive, self-defeating behavior. A contradiction can come from any developmental stage. If it comes from the Existence stage of development, for example, it can be very broad. For the early Existence position it could be wanting love but fearing being close. For the late position it could be wanting contact but fearing it will disappear. For the Need developmental stage the contradiction could be about sensing needs but believing they can’t or won’t be filled. Contradictions that come from decisions made in the later developmental stages can also be very strong, because there are more resources and especially more mental power available at these ages.

Most, if not all, of peoples’ defensive systems contain a structural contradiction. As long as both elements of the contradiction are held onto, there is no possible resolution. To have a fuller life we obviously want to get away from this, to resolve the contradiction, to have goals without contradicting elements. To do this we need both a clear statement of our goal, and a correct view of our current reality. By forming these, Fritz says we move from a structural contradiction to a “structural tension”. And further, that a structural tension helps us to mobilize inner resources.

The first part of forming a structural tension is to have a correct view of your current situation. A clear observation of present reality allows an accurate assessment of what needs to be changed to achieve your goals, and what your resources are. When you don’t have an accurate view of present reality you are in some way deceiving yourself; you are cutting off from some resources. Fritz believes that much successful psychotherapy is based on helping individuals have a greater acceptance of their current reality. People often do not know or tell themselves or others the full truth, supposedly to avoid discomfort.

The second step is forming a vision of what you desire. A concrete and compelling vision will invite you towards it. Then, if you can simultaneously keep in mind your present reality AND your vision, you set up a structural tension. Having this dual focus tends to bring into your awareness those things in your environment that are related to your goals. You are more and more aware of what you want to create and what matters most to you. Thus, the energy generated by the discrepancy between the present reality and your desired goal helps you to realize the vision.

A third step in the process is to formally choose the vision. Many people do things to improve their health, for example eating wisely and avoiding pollutants. But some of these people may never actually make the choice to be healthy. Once you make a formal choice you are more likely to broaden your areas of awareness, e.g., by asking questions like “How will this situation affect my health?” You thus give more attention and energy to your vision. You tend to mobilize inner resources and gravitate towards those areas that are most helpful to you, in this case most healthful. In this process of choice it is important to say the words: “1 choose to have/be … (vision). Indications that clients are not making a clear choice are phrases like: “I guess I should …; and “So you think I should …; I can see that it would be better if I ….. .

Many things can be activated when you lead a client through this process, but a developmental stage that is often activated by the process itself is the Autonomy Stage. The early Autonomy will have a great deal of trouble being specific about what they want, since they are not able to contact their impulses or emotions easily. The late Autonomy will have a difficult time in formally choosing the vision, i.e. making a commitment. They fear a loss of freedom when giving up alternatives, even unspecified or less desirable ones. The early Opinion structure can come in also, if a client fears that by knowing what they want they might alienate someone.

It has been our experience that the time devoted to forming a contract is quite usefully spent. The work on contracts helps both people to focus. It helps the client to be clearer, and to mobilize inner resources. And it helps the therapist to be more effective. Both people have an experience of working together and producing an outcome. Periodic reviews of progress and updating of reality and goals can keep the process fresh.

While Fritz approaches structural tension as a more cognitive process, it can also be embodied. By focusing on the body sensation that accompanies the structural tension a deeper experience of it is encouraged. This often leads to a sensing of how you might in this moment move towards your vision. The focus on mind and body can also deepen your resolve to attain the vision.