Mike’s presence from the beginning of the evening was comfortable, quiet in volume but with a subtle air of confidence.  It soon became apparent from the evening that this was no coincidence, as Mike was modelling the whole time he was presenting.

Counselling is Mike’s second career, and coming from an engineering background, the question of why counselling works led to Mike’s exploration of the physiology of the counselling world.  What was it that allowed a client to break generations of patterns to find a better life for themselves.

To truly connect with a client, we must first connect with ourselves, how we are feeling, in the room, the chair with sit in, within our bodies.  Mike invited us to ‘arrive’ in the first of many exercises to connect with the moment of being in the room.  Without this connection, Mike talked of the risk of overcomplicating the process and potentially missing key moments where a client can shift forward.

In a second exercise, Mike invited us to work in pairs, and mirror each other’s actions: 1 person representing feelings of someone they struggle to connect with and the other mirroring whatever movement or facial expressions displayed.  The person doing the mirroring could also talk about what they observed.  [Roles were then reversed]  Mike uses these strategies with his clients often mirroring some of their movements, even expressions.  Some find them plain odd, but others learn about what they are presenting to the world.

Finally, to conclude that process, Mike asked each of the pairs, to feedback 2 feelings/words that were apparent to them in the process.  Personally, I found this quite deep and received words that I don’t hear used to describe me or my ways very often.  Translating this in the counselling setting, this indeed could be very powerful for a client.

Mike introduced us to his 4-Function Definition of the Mind (keen to separate that from brain function), where he illustrated how the mind can operate in different ways and often simultaneously.  For eg, his used a bird to illustrate how it may be pecking at the ground very specifically (Attention Function) whilst scanning all the while for danger around (Scanning Function).  Also, as humans we may be using our Cognitive function quite well, but our Instinctual function will kick in immediately if we step out onto the road and step back swiftly to the pavement if we see a car nearing us, without a prior thought process.

Much of Mike’s work and exploration of the subject has led him to examine the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).  In a healthy environment the PNS counteracts and balances the actions of the SNS [regulation].  However, with clients who are traumatised the SNS and PNS appear to act in unison [dysregulation], resulting in the client either ‘always on’ and struggling to find their off switch and truly relax or conversely some clients find themselves ‘always off’ and have to fight to get themselves to a motivated place.  Social engagement is much more likely to be achieved then the system is regulated.  Dissociation is more likely when dis-regulation of the system occurs.

We were also introduced to Jean Ayres – 9 Human Senses and how the ability to integrate them leads to a fuller existence.  The additional ones which we may be less familiar with are:

  • Vestibular – Awareness of body balance and movement.
  • Introception – Closely linked with Mindfulness
  • Neuroception – Linked with Polyvagal theory
  • Proprioception – Awareness of your movement of limbs (eg close your eyes and try to bring your fingers together)

Mike packed a whole lot more into this fascinating 2 hour presentation and left us all wanting to know more.

It was truly enjoyable and hugely informative.

Thank you Mike.

[Review by Sinead Mitchell]