Barefoot Therapists Resolving Grief

My husband told me that when one of his boys was just 6y.o, they were walking hand in hand along a beach and the boy looked up at the father and said: “Dad, what would I ever do if you died?” Rob looked down and warmly and simply said: “Well, you’d be sad for a while, and then you would just get on with things.”

When I heard this story my own children were young, and I was touched by the simplicity, trust and beautiful lack of emotional tangle, and so I determined that if my children ever asked this question, I would say just that.

Some years later when my own son was maybe 12, we pulled up in the car in front of our house, and he said; “Mum, what would you ever do if I died?” The sirens that blew in my head from his nut allergy and previous brushes with death, as well as the realisation that he had asked this question backwards, were quelled by the mood of Rob’s story, and I found myself saying: “Well, I’d be sad for a while, and then I would get on with things.”

I turned to the back of the car and was met with his great grin, and then he said; “Bitch” and we both laughed out loud.

I told this story to a young, single mother who was having cancer treatment, and her biggest concern was for her small child if she were to die. Some years later I saw this woman, who was now cured, for something unrelated. She reminded me of the story and said that some time after, she knew things would be fine, because she was at a relatives house and her child was in the next room playing with their new puppy. The child piped up and said; “Hey, Mum! If you die I think I’ll live here because I love this puppy.”

Loss can be painful, but I have never met someone who has not lost something smaller in their past and got through it. A child grieving after the death of a parent, can be easily engaged by asking:

“I know it’s not the same, but have you ever lost someone or something you loved in the past? A grandparent? A beloved pet? Or had a friend move away, or change school? How did you get through it? What was the first thing you did? How did it go from so painful you couldn’t stand it, to just really sad? When you think about it now and just feel peacefully sad, how did you do that?”

“Most children use distraction at first, or they may even pretend that it hasn’t happened, that she just went down the street to the shops. This serves to protect them while the hurt is too painful. It works like an anaesthetic on an open wound. They do this until the wound is bearable. Until some healing has occurred.

Just like a broken leg, if you put a plaster on, it will heal. You don’t always need to pay attention. And like all wounds, it is best not to pick at it. Then, as families talk, and rituals happen, and stories are shared, the healing process can settle in. Paying attention to what helps, for this individual, and staying away from things that make the pain worse, as with all wounds, healing is promoted.

A Barefoot Therapist who knows this, and trusts this, will be a welcome comfort to a grieving soul.

Emotions and the Barefoot Therapist

If you look at a small baby in their natural habitat, they breathe, they eat, they sleep, they pee and poop, they cry and smile and laugh and get spooked. They get frustrated, they show delight and contentment. Pretty much like any mammal, as I am reminded daily by our foster kittens.

How have we managed to pathologise all these things that bodies know how to do? As a culture there are so many obsessions about food and diets, about gut health and enemas and high colonics. People read self help books and start thinking they are not breathing correctly, and don’t get me started on sleep!

But emotions! Surely emotions are just part of the rich tapestry of human experience. Milton Erickson said, when you learn the letters of the alphabet, you need to learn all of the letters, not just the ones you like, and not just the ones you are good at, because it’s all of the letters that make up an adults literacy. And when you learn the emotions, you have to learn all of them, not just the ones you like, not just the ones you are good at, because it’s all of the emotions that make up an adults emotional world.

So many people get worried about the intensity of their anger, their sadness or their fear. Yet no one ever comes to a therapist worrried about the intensity of their happiness, delight or contentment… though it may bug others!

Erickson also said that when you feel something, you should feel it thoroughly, all the way to the tips of your fingers and all the way to the tips of your toes and let it go. Yet so often we get caught trying to stop an emotion. Trying not to have it. We get caught in a kind of emotional stutter.

When I was a kid I remember a day trip we took to a beach where the waves seemed enormous and yet there were people having a ball body surfing. Now this was Bellerive beach in Hobart, Tasmania, so the waves can’t have been very big, but to my young eyes they were enormous. Eventually I couldn’t contain my wanting to experience the body surfing I was watching, so I ventured out with a bit of an idea about what to do from my time sitting and observing.

The ¬†first wave dumped me and I thought I was going to drown. It was like someone had thrown me in a washing machine and there was no way out. So I fought and struggled and was washed up, breathless on the shore. Sitting in the shallows, I still couldn’t get over the enjoyment on the faces of the body surfers, so I ventured out again. Small hints of successes and further dumplings, and slowly I realized that I always got washed up in the shallows. The next time a wave dumped me I decided to relax into it, and sure enough I was washed up in the shallows, but this time I was less out of breath.

I think emotions are like the waves at Bellerieve beach. If you’re not used to them, they will look like the waves in Hawaii, or Chile, but if you look, there will actually be a lot of people enjoying them. Just look at the queues at the movies for films like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, or The endless B grade horror movies. Look at the films that won Acadmy awards or People’s Choice at Cannes. People don’t like bland. They like to be touched and moved and stirred and scared.

Barefoot Therapists know this about people.


Barefoot Therapists healing trauma

“All wounds heal…. if we allow them” Theresa Robles

If we look for culturally accepted examples of healing from frightening or painful experiences, a pretty universal one is childbirth. Ask a woman how she got over her experience if it was other than sublime and there are some common themes. The first time she tells the story it is still pretty intense, and she relives the emotions….. but then life is busy, possibly filled with other children, commitments, time frames…. in other words, distractions.

The next time she tells the story, from her distractedness, she is less in it, and the emotions are less intense. This continues with each new visitor, until she is a bit over it, so that by six weeks post-partum she thinks having another baby is a really good idea!

Everyone has some small trauma in their past that they successfully got over. A frightening crash off their tricycle. Getting picked up late after school. A family argument that was upsetting. Asking what helped these upsets to heal gives a blueprint, however small, that can serve as a guide to traverse a current, more overwhelming emotional trauma.

“Running a country, is just like cooking a small fish” Lao Tsu

Keeping it simple, and using many past experiences, reminds a person that all wounds can and do heal.

With thanks to Theresa Robles for opening my eyes to this universal wisdom.

Barefoot Therapist Beginning

When you ask someone about something that they like to do, you are not simply making small talk. This area of a person’s life is a vast storehouse of skills and resources, and abilities, even in the face of problems.

To begin with you are taking a person who has come to you in a defeated space, with a problem they cannot surmount, and transporting them into an area of their life that works. In doing this you shift their mood from resignation to possibility, and their sense of incompetence to a lived experience of competence and confidence. Like the alchemist, you turn lead into gold.

The second thing you discover as you explore more, is something about the person in front of you. What makes them tick. What they care about. What is important to them, and perhaps even something that they are passionate about. You get a glimpse of their soul.

Once you have thoroughly explored with them you will see an engaged and interested person in front of you. You have generated a relationship by your sincere interest in this thing that they like,  and you can then move on to ask them the next pearl:

“Tell me about something that went pear shaped in what you like to do. Some problem that happened that you got through, and is now, no longer a problem” and then ask “how did you do that?” Then, hey presto and abracadabra, a blue print appears in front of you both. The blue print for how this person gets through difficulties.

But wait, there’s more! You can then ask how they learned to do this thing they like to do. How they went from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I can do this’ and this magically reveals another blueprint. A ‘how this person learns’ blueprint.

Give it a go and see what you discover. Ask:

What do you like to do?

What is it about that, that you like?

Notice the parts that seem really important to this person and mention them.

Now ask about something that went pear shaped but that they got through and is no longer a problem.

Try to articulate what you hear is their process or blueprint.

Now ask them, when they very first learned this thing, how did they do it? How did they go from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I can do this’?

Notice how these blueprints can be applied to getting over any problem, or to learning anything new.