My first of many body language books was "Body Language" by Julius Fast which I read when I was an undergraduate in the 1960's.
While I have always been fascinated by nonverbal communication, my purpose in reading that book was based on the cover picture of a young women whose body language was being analyzed to determine whether she liked me or not.
In other words, sex was selling then, and still sells now.
But I also have been a student of angry faces and attitudes since I was a little boy living in a house with two adult alcoholics.
I can remember coming home from school and sticking my head in the door, and being able to sense who was angry and how dangerous it was, and if it was too dangerous, I would head out to play and stay out for as long as I dared, so I got very good at reading very subtle cues about that emotion, and I learned to pay very close attention to the faces of the people around me, in order to make good an escape if need be.
However I did not get very good at reading signals of attraction, which cost me some relationships as an adult.
So we leap ahead a few decades and I find myself in field in which trust is a key part of what I do as is paying close attention to very subtle nonverbal communication skills.
If you watch closely, you can see emotions play across the face of an individual and those emotions can be very helpful in guiding the therapeutic conversation.
I think that the attachment work of Allen Schore,Ph.D., and the work of Paul Ekman,Ph.D. on facial expressons are particularly powerful in this regard.
Ekman has studied facial expressions across cultures for at least 25 years, and has worked to establish a catalog of human facial expressions.
I have used Ekman's work in my domestic violence and anger management classes to indicate that an emotional response of hurt to an expression of contempt, for example, which Ekman says is a universal for human communication, not influenced by cultural considerations, can occur in 1/25th of a second, perhaps 2 and 1/2 times as fast as I can blink my eyes.
If I am not aware of that feeling of hurt, which is a vulnerable feeling, I can get powerful by creating an angry thought, and changing my physiology to an adrenaline and cortisol based physiology which demands an action, an expression, in order to return the organism to a relaxed state.
If that action is a violent action, lives can change in a very short period of time, and we call those kinds of crimes names like road rage.
Ekman's body language books are used by the CIA and FBI to direct conversations, or determine if someone is lying.
I am not sure if Professor Ekman agrees that definitive statements like truth and untruth can be derived from his work, but it is being used by agencies in the criminal justice system for that purpose.
I like to ask questions about the emotions I am seeing, because clients are not always aware of the subtle expressions of feelings
Those subtle responses can guide us to the most troubling memory or thought or fear, and once that thought or feeling or memory is uncovered, we can begin to use any number of therapeutic tools to change it.
In fact, recent research and research discoveries about PTSD and veterans coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq are helping to confirm that even the most traumatic memory can be modified, and a balance restored to the human experience.
Body language books that shed some light on the process of communication and particularly how fast it happens are very useful parts of the counseling experience.
I know my Basic Counseling Skills class spoke to reflective listening and paraphrasing and mirroring which involve body language skills and attention.
Allen Schore's work on attachment takes us all the way back to a newborn's efforts to communicate and the call and answer kind of communication that happens between care taking parents and the child.
Just like adult interactions though, those patterns are not perfectly attuned and require frequent adjustments of communication by both parties.
Most body language books do not speak to the speed of body language and body language interpretation, which is a key aspect of effective communication.
Not sure if you are fast enough to notice those 1/25th second expressions?
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Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
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