Body Language and How it Relates to Therapy
By Leanne Allen
Body language is the hidden language we communicate with, it is estimated that between 60% and 93% of our total communication is non-verbal. Have you ever wondered why when you meet someone and speak to them, you at times walk away and think I don’t know what it was but there was something not quite right?
Generally you are picking up on the person’s body language, which did not match their words. Much of what we put down to intuition about someone may have its roots in the body language we have picked up from them. Most of our body language communicates very much on an unconscious level.
I live in Australia, where I have been practising hypnotherapy and counselling, and have completed the study of Colour therapy, NLP and Acupressure to broaden my skills. I have found it interesting to see that body language plays a major role in Counselling, NLP and Hypnotherapy. Without the careful observation of body language these modalities would not have the same power.
Body language in Counselling
In counselling, body language is used to help build rapport, by observing the clients body movements and matching them in an appropriate way it can improve communication. On an unconscious level mirroring the clients movements can help them feel more comfortable with you; reason being people feel more connected to the people who are most like themselves.
The counsellor observes the clients body language at all times, noting any discomfort, as this could indicate difficulty verbalising something, and further exploration can be carried out to connect to the clients deeper feelings.
Body language in Hypnotherapy
In hypnotherapy, body language is used to help build rapport, in the same way as in counselling, the clients body language is observed during the awake state, and is also extremely important when the person is in trance state. The clients body language can indicate bodily responses to the hypnosis, flickering eye lids may indicate that the person is coming up in trance levels, and deepening techniques can be used, when a client is in deep trance their skin will change colour, often taking on a greyish or pale colour, their features will be very soft and relaxed, the mouth will be slightly open, breathing is observed as this also indicates the trance state of the client, shallow, even breathing can indicate they are in a very deep state, and rapid breathing may indicate discomfort. The body can reveal much about internal states.
Body language in NLP
In NLP, body language is also the foundation of developing good rapport. Matching and mirroring a person’s body movements can help to establish a trusting relationship, which is imperative to any counselling process. In NLP, body language can be observed to uncover a ‘state’ (an emotion, be it positive or negative) any positive states can be recalled for future reference, eg if the client is experiencing a low moment you can bring to awareness their positive state, and any negative states can be broken by taking the clients attention away from them.
Things to look out for when observing others body language
Their posture.. this can reflect if the person is feeling tired, relaxed, happy, sad, fearful.
Gestures.. this can take in the way that a person moves their body, and if they are making unconscious movements; the hands in particular are very expressive
Breathing.. breathing can indicate much of our internal state, excitement, nervousness, anger, calmness
Voice tone/pitch/rhythm/volume… the voice can indicate much about mood, excitability, calmness etc.
Skin tone/colour… emotional shifts can alter the skin tone and colour, if someone is excited or angry their skin may become flushed.. some people blush.. we become pale when unwell.
Facial expression… the face has micro expressions, which can come and go quickly, there are also movements of the tiny muscles around the eyes and mouth
Eye movements… it is said that the eyes are the window of the soul, their expression can show love, excitement, shock, anger, a whole array of emotions. The direction our eyes turn can indicate that something is happening for us internally, if the eyes turn up and to the right that indicates the person is visually constructing something, if the eye moves across to the right they are constructing auditory, if the eyes move down to the right it is kinaesthetic (touch, feelings, sensations), if the eye moves up to their left the person may be experiencing visual recall, if the eyes move across to the left it is auditory recall and if the eyes move down and to their left it is internal dialogue they are accessing.
You can simplify this to begin with – if people look up they are generally visualising and if they look down they are generally experiencing strong feeling.
Listening to a persons sensory preferences. The sensory systems are sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Some people express themselves in ways that relate to visual, (explaining things as if you could see them) others are more auditory (concerned with language, sounds and internal dialogue), others are kinaesthetic (which relies heavily on feelings), and some use their sense of taste or smell.
Visual people tend to speak more quickly as they have to keep up with the visual images they have in their head, and kinaesthetic people tend to speak more slowly as they are accessing feelings. When you tune into the sensory preference that the person is using and talk to them in that same language it can help communication with them, and also place you in a greater position of influence. A lot of NLP is about being able to influence your client into more positive ways of thinking.
Observing others body Language to help identify unexpressed feelings
As a counsellor it is very important to observe your clients body language for it reveals much about what they are really feeling. I think we are all guilty of saying one thing when deep down we are really feeling another.
By carefully observing your clients body language you can detect when they are uncomfortable, and in the counselling process this can be used to create discussion. Many times when the client displays incongruent body language, it is a cue to explore this area, often when a client avoids talking about something it is the very thing that may need exploring.
As a therapist your own body language is also very important, as you need to portray an image of confidence, that you are strong and able to handle life.
An exercise on tuning into others body language
You can do an exercise to help you become more attuned to body language of others.
Ask a person to sit in a chair and think about a person that they like, notice what happens to their posture and any movements that they make with their hands or feet, the head position, the eye movements, whether their mouth changes eg, widens or turns up, if their eyes are focusing in the distance or close-up and the direction in which they are looking.
Then ask them to think about a person that they do not like and notice the same elements but this time also looking at the differences between their appearance when thinking about the first person and when thinking about the second.
Finally ask them to think of either and see if you can guess which of the two they are thinking of. Do this with as many people as you can. Also practice becoming aware of exactly how a person looks and sounds in different states, noting what happens with their voice tone what postures they have when feeling energetic or how they express lethargy in their body, note what eye movements go with past memories and future expectation.
Observing these things can help you to become more sensitive and responsive to other people’s experiences, helping to improve communication and understanding.
Body language an ‘important tool’ for creating Rapport
Building rapport with a client is essential to effective counselling, without it your client will not open up to you, they first need a relationship of trust to be established.
When greeting your client, smile and be warm, make them feel welcome and comfortable, mirror their body movements in a reflective way, not being obvious, simply move your body in similar ways to what they do. Communicate in a language that they can relate to, which involves observing the language they use, and what sensory system they are using. If the client is talking in terms of being visual, you respond in a visual way, eg the client may say ‘ I see that there is no end to this problem’ the response could be ‘I can see you are having difficulty finding a solution’, if the person were talking in an auditory sense, eg ‘ Everything sounds wrong to me’ you could respond ‘ Sounds like you don’t trust what your hearing’. The aim is to try and act in a similar way to the person because we tend to like people who are like ourselves.
People who are good friends tend to synchronise with each other when they talk, their body language reflects each other as if they were doing a dance. If you talk to your client in the language that they most relate to and use, and reflect their body language, so as to establish a strong sense of rapport, they will feel as if they are on the same wave length as you, and will be more comfortable to open up to you.
Creating professional body language (for the therapist)
To do this, make sure your body appears relaxed, relax your shoulders, your arms and face. Have a gentle natural smile. Make sure that you don’t fidget or shift from one foot to another, stand tall as if a string is attached to the top of your head and is being pulled up, your posture should be straight with your shoulders back, in a relaxed way.
It is important that you maintain eye contact with the person who you are speaking to, making sure that you move slowly, as when you rush about it can make another person feel uncomfortable. When you are sitting keep your arms and legs in an open position which suggests confidence, lean slightly forward in your seat, which shows that you are interested, giving good eye contact to show you and listening. Make sure that you never point your fingers at another person. Make sure you keep your face under control, not showing shock at what a client may tell you, or smiling at the wrong time. Always have an appropriate expression on your face.
Remember the first impression you make is very important as your appearance, mannerisms and other subtle signals you give out, including your posture, combine to form your body language, which gives off a message. Therefore always make sure you greet your client in a way that expresses warmth and confidence, and maintain confident, open body language.
It is important when working with your client that you yourself remain very relaxed as this will help your client to relax, and believe me your client will very quickly pick up if you are uncomfortable, or are losing interest. Therefore you must always be very attentive to your own body language and what messages it is sending.
Practise your body language
A good way to train your body language to give off an image of confidence, is to imagine that you just received a compliment, one that makes you feel great about yourself, concentrate on the good feelings that arise and you will notice that your body becomes more erect, your chin tilts up and you will have a soft smile. The more you practice having your body display a sign of confidence the more natural it will become. Whenever you need to look confident, imagine the compliments and your body will mould itself into that shape.
Changing your posture can change how you feel
When working with a person who is depressed, you may observe that their body language is hunched and slouched, their eyes will be cast down, and they may find it difficult to meet eye contact, their whole body is saying what they feel internally.
As an exercise you can get this person to take on a posture as if they were feeling happy, get them to physically pull their back up tall, lift their head, and smile a little, this shifts their energy, and they will report feeling better, in fact it is very difficult to feel down when you take on a posture that is happy and positive. Working with the client to become aware of their negative self talk, and modifying that into more supportive self talk, combined with the practice of positive body language can go a long way to improving a persons outlook on life.
Be aware of your own posture throughout the day as it can influence how you feel and the mood you are in, it is consciously tuning into your energy and taking control to consciously change it if need be. Doing this not only improves how you feel, but also how others see you.
Body language can give you that special something! When you feel in tune with yourself and have harmony within, it reflects in your body language, others will find you attractive, and will be drawn to you. They will find you charming and charismatic.
Well-being radiates from you, and this is an attractive energy.
On the other hand if the person is suffering internal conflict, they are experiencing incongruence within, and will therefore send out a repelling message, others may not so much enjoy being in your space, as they are picking up on your vibration.
Your body language being connected with your thoughts sends out a vibration that others intuitively pick up on, and it is possible with practice to give out the right messages, which can make you more attractive and appealing to others.
By keeping your thoughts positive and making sure your ‘self talk’ is uplifting and supportive you can actually change how you feel, which will reflect in your body language.
Body language plays a huge role in influencing others, building better communication, and building rapport.
Carol Harris. NLP made easy
Steve Bavister. Teach yourself NLP