I had the pleasure of listening to Chris Huffine present last November at the BISC-MI "Miles To Go" Conference in Michigan. Chris has a remarkable skill of describing with clarity what he is trying to accomplish within his Allies in Change Program in Portland, Oregon. One topic that Chris discussed was the overall goal of helping move participants from an external focus to an internal focus. I wondered how many professionals listening to his presentation realized the importance of what Chris was saying. Moving people from external to internal focus is exactly what we ty to accomplish at the Family Peace Initiative as change is unlikely to occur without this. It is an extremely important facilitator skill and may be one of the most challenging to master.
Dominating and controlling another, blaming and the anger that our participants often express, are all forms of external focus. Conversely, internal focus consists of managing, being fully aware of, and being accountable for oneself. Chris Huffine talks about the need to help participants become aware of the emotions behind the anger. He teaches that anger is seen as some other emotion plus blame. Helping participants examine the "some other emotion" without the blame helps them to move toward a calmer, less reactive internal focus.
Bessel Van der Kolk talks about external vs. Internal focus in his book, The Body Keeps the Score. He states that an external focused perspective is commonly seen in those who have experienced trauma. Healing, in part, comes from learning to “sit with yourself, noticing what's going on inside”: noticing the temperature, where the feeling manifests in our body, our breathing and heart rate. With the majority of those who batter having significant trauma histories, facilitators must become expert in working with those who are psychologically defended through an external focus.
Moving people from external to internal focus is exactly what we ty to accomplish at the Family Peace Initiative as change is unlikely to occur without this.
While less skilled facilitators attempt to create change through reasoning, explaining, and confronting participants, these methods can potentially collude with the participant who is desiring to stay externally focused. It is magical to watch seasoned facilitators help participants transition from external to internal focus through strategic conversation and the use of specific questions. The facilitator's tone of voice, body language, authentic delivery, and nonjudgmental approach can open doors that lead the participant to deeper personal insight. Some questions that help shift the focus would include, "What are you feeling right now?", "What do you think that feeling is about?", "In that situation, what did you perceive the message was about you?", and "Do you remember another time in your life when you received that message?" These questions, often guide participants to new realizations about themselves. These new realizations result from the shift in focus.
While less skilled facilitators attempt to create change through reasoning, explaining, and confronting participants, these methods can potentially collude with the participant who is desiring to stay externally focused.
There are many ways to promote an internally focused dialogue with participants. Mindfulness activities, group processes, group structured components, and psychodrama activities are just a few important approaches.
Facilitators at the Family Peace Initiative commonly say that it takes well over a year to feel competent and confident leading the group, as there is so much to learn. While there is a long list of skills that facilitators must acquire, being able to smoothly and respectfully move a participant from an external focus to an internal focus is perhaps the most difficult, and one of the most important skills to master.