When we establish and honor an explicit structure for the coaching, the client feels the relationship as safe, welcoming, and solid.
Leo Zeff Created Explicit Agreements, Why Don’t You?
I was recently having tea with a friend of mine who works as a guide. He was sharing with me about an uncomfortable situation that arose with one of his clients, boundaries got a little fuzzy on the part of the client, and some feelings got hurt. And the thing is, it doesn’t seem like he did anything wrong. He wasn’t unethical or self-serving. He’s a good man, and he’s skilled at his work. And yet, there was still some mess to clean up.
He ran the situation by me and asked for some feedback. My first question was, ‘Did you have a conversation to create explicit agreements around boundaries at the beginning of your relationship?’. But I knew the answer. He didn’t, and so often people just don’t.
Surprisingly, guides and clients and sitters and therapists and patients don’t have these conversations. Everyone has a vague intuitive understanding of how they are supposed to act. And this is generally good enough until it isn’t. At some point someone maybe catches a feeling, or projects a feeling, or reads a vibe, or hears a tone, and it gets into their head, and then they get weird and then it gets weird, and we’ve got a problem. Compounded with psychedelic substances and the oddity that is underground work, and it can be a lot to unpack.
Establishing an explicit structure for the relationship.
So much of this can be avoided with a simple conversation to establish an explicit structure for the relationship. I didn’t invent that term. It’s taken from my teacher, Doug Silsbee’s book, ‘The Mindful Coach’. He discusses how it’s incumbent upon the coach (or whatever we’re calling ourselves on a given day) to offer a framework of agreements that support the coaching container, and allow the client to enter the workspace fully. He calls it the Partner Voice.
The Partner Voice helps the client be successful at being a client. Expectations about the relationship get set up right from the start, and both individuals get to show their commitment to the process by holding up their end of the bargain. The guesswork is taken out of the equation. Everyone’s ideas and expectations are put out on the table and looked at in the light. If an agreement gets broken or a boundary gets crossed, nobody can plead ignorance. it’s clear and out in the open. Work can be done to resolve it and make amends. Probably both parties will grow as a result.
Reading ‘The Secret Chief Revealed’, by Myron Stolaroff, I was thrilled to see that great master of psychedelic therapy, Leo Zeff ,used the Partner Voice. A huge grin stretched across my face as he describes the five-part contract that he asks his clients to agree to. This guy gets it.
Leo’s explicit structure isn’t complicated. I’m guessing this is by design. People on heavy doses don’t need too many things to remember or too many expectations to live up to. I’m sure these could be adjusted a little bit here or there, and everyone is going to have their own style. Asking the client what is important to them is also a good move. Just the practice of being verbal and explicit is going to go a long way, regardless of what you come up with.
Here are Leo’s agreements:
- They will not leave the house where we’re having the trip at any time during the trip without prior clearance from me.
- They agree there will be no physical harm or violence to themselves or to me or to anything else in the house.
- Reiteration of the security requirement. They agree they will not reveal to anybody else where or with whom they had this trip without prior clearance from me, ever.
- I ask them to agree-now if this is a woman or somebody gay-I’ll ask them to agree that there will be no sex taking place between us.
- The last one I ask them to agree is that at any time during the trip if anything is going on and I tell them to stop it, stop doing it and I make clear, “This is under structure, it’s not just a recommendation or suggestion,” they agree that they will stop it. Or if I tell them to do something and I make it clear it’s under structure they agree that they will do it. I tell them to look at this one very carefully, because when they agree to that they are virtually putting their lives into my hands and the only thing they have to go on is whatever faith they have in me.
We are immediately struck by how powerful it is to use your words. Looming concerns evaporate as soon as a few agreements are made. And, we grow as healers. Conversations are sometimes uncomfortable. Verbally agreeing to never, ever have sex, for example, is uncomfortable. Even if we know implicitly that we’re never going to cross that line, speaking It somehow goes against a deep biological imperative. For the human animal, It doesn’t make sense to opt-out of the gene pool, however small. Initially, it can be very confusing. But it serves our client and ourselves. And as soon as it’s done, there is clarity and peace and presence, and that is the space we need to get to work.
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