The Self-Connection Podcast: S1 E 15: A “Zap” of insight with Laura Dodson

Laura Dodson, a former student and eventual colleague of Virginia Satir joins the podcast today. Laura shares her wisdom through the telling of her own healing journey of shame and describes her experience working with Virginia and her own family of origin issues as essential to healing and finding peace. I found my conversation with Laura to be deeply enriching and hope that her passion, heart and wisdom shine through in this podcast.

0:00 Tim provides a brief introduction to Laura Dodson. Laura did her first training with Virginia in 1963 Laura Dodson was a close friend of Virginia Satir and was by her side as she died of Pancreatic cancer in 1988.

In addition to her extensive training with Virginia, Laura is also a Jungian analyst and did her postdoctoral thesis integrating Virginia’s work with Carl Jung with her insights.

Laura is one of the key leaders in sharing Virginia’s work with the world. She has travelled to many parts of hte world including, Russia, Lithuania, and Thailand to offer training and workshops and has been doing so since the 80s.

2:50 Laura does a meditation:

6:00 Tim offers a brief commentary to transition into the conversation between himself and Laura.

7:23 Tim asks Laura to share her own experiences of “Zap” . Laura shares about her early experiences of being a teacher and quickly transitioning to becoming a social worker as she was more interested in connecting to the inner lives of her students and family life and supporting growth at a deeper level. In this way, her life parallels Virginia as they both connected to their students' families to help support them with their learning. Laura wrote letters to the top family therapist of the time and Virginia was the only one to respond inviting her to train with her and offering something for her mind, body and soul.

12:20 Laura talks about her first impressions of Virginia. She was present and expressive of what she felt and thought and Laura found this to be very exciting. She listened carefully to others. Laura worked in an adult inpatient mental health facility and she invited Virginia to come to teach, do demonstrations, and train the staff there two or three times a year over nine years.

16:50 In this work, the emphasis was with families and creating community and the demonstrated successful outcomes over 5 year follow up.

18:10 Laura shares that Virginia had a deep respect for others and did not allow for any blaming or shaming to occur in her work. Laura learned from Virginia to see the problem as one of coping not as one of pathology residing within a specific person which would foretell blame and shame. The intervention at the level of family and community created a sense of community around the problems that were occurring and the presenting problems could then resolve or lessen as a result of working in this way, that is, systemically.

19:22 Understanding logically the futility of blame and understanding family of origin issues, and approaching emotional and family life from a stance of learned patterns and behaviors. Laura talks about Virginia's preparation in meeting a family, putting aside her concerns and agenda so she can be present and meet the individuals of the family with a sense of awe at the miracles they each are. She differentiated between peoples behavior from their essence. “We are all miracles. And I feel I am about to meet a miracle. So I feel respect and awe of that person. “ From that attitude, she would make contact and often physical touch contact to meet people. She wanted to join the family to explore what was happening and to explore choices of what other things could happen.

Virginia approached people with a detective hat (sometimes literally!) , which symbolized an attitude of curiosity rather than blame. Virginia talked about blame being our first attempts at trying to understand what's happening and we don’t have in our minds a broader way of looking at it. Seeing people and situations beyond blame is central to understanding how Virginia worked.

Laura shares her view that people’s intention and goals is not to hurt, unless its revenge for the hurt that they feel they’ve experienced. Revenge is not inherent in our nature but rather a reaction to pain.

24:40 Tim asks how Virginia was able to have such confidence in the essence of people beyond their behavior and patterns. Virginia talked about each person have the seed of creativity within us. A problem is a block in energy. We are geared towards growth.

26:00 Laura provides an example of someone suffering with Schizophrenia saying "people in this family never liked me|". Virginia would thank them for sharing and ask when they first felt that. They would go into the past and that’s when the creative energy started to be blocked, the energy to solve problems was blocked because the solution or formulation is somehow they are ‘wrong, bad, dirty, evil, stupid or crazy’. Virginia would explore how differences were handled and talked about. Were they labelled as "bad". Then she would offer a new perspective, “What if we called your difference your uniqueness?” She worked to take blame and shame out of the conversation. Shame is particularly difficult because with shame we feel we should just disappear and not exist. She worked to help people see themselves as she saw them, as a miracle of life.

27:42 Tim asks what Laura’s experience of Zap. Laura describes growing up feeling shame about her body being tall and very thin. Laura was different in being attracted to people’s emotional life which was very unlike those in her family. Laura recalls noticing tension in the family and taking on the blame and responsibility for that. “It’s because of me. I did something wrong. I’m not loveable anymore. It must be my fault.”

31:55 Laura recalls Virginia doing a sculpt with Fritz Perls (the founder of Gestalt therapy) role-playing her father and sitting his lap. Virginia said to her “You know something more happened to you when you were 5, something more than having long legs. You need to go find out.”

Laura questioned her mother and finally found out that her father had an affair. Laura realized that what was happening in the family was not her fault. She explains that she felt relief. This was one example of a Zap moment for her.

36:00 Laura shares that she had learned that shame was a reaction to anything wrong. She expanded her possibilities of how to react when something was wrong; beyond what a child would do, thinking “It’s all my fault” Realizing that she was not the center of the universe as a child would think.

Laura shares that her defence of pulling back and not talking, not being seen, was rooted in the shame of “I’m not ok” Before her work with Virginia, she couldn’t become a woman and integrate her sensual side.

39:50 Shame disconnects us from our Self, or Life force. We can apply the ideas of unravelling shame to healing from cultural trauma. Laura talks about her work in Lithuania as an experience of a nation experiencing shame. “Healing of shame applies to all systems.”

45:25 We talk about Virginia's incorporation of the body, breath, movement. Tim asks Laura to share what she learned from Virginia about the importance of the body in the work of growth and healing. Laura relates her experience of Virginia dying and having an insight of what to do that came from meditation that was preverbal and body-based.

49:20 Laura also shares another experience training with Virginia working with a woman who was in a car accident and walks us through the bodywork that occurred in her process of healing. “Leading by following a half a step behind.” is how Laura likes to work and how she witnessed Virginia working. She helped to help make conscious that is unconscious and almost conscious. She recalls Virginia stroking her hands and asking “if your hands could speak what would they say” so that she could come to her senses more and more.

There is a relief when you can place in time and space the feeling tone that you carry within a particular context. Laura describes this as comforting and making sense of her pain. “To become familiar with that part of life that she had repressed”

Virginia was very mindful not to interrupt the individual's process and encouraged her to experience her experience for herself. She was present to help Jackie find what her body was remembering. There is an art to staying out of the way and being a guide. Laura describes the importance of creating that bond between therapist and client before being able to go deep into bodywork or any healing process.

58:50 Laura talks about how thrilling it can be to have a partner doing the work together and not getting in the way of it. Laura describes Freud's use of the couch with the patient lying down and facing away from the therapist as a way of doing this but analysts were not trained to show they care and to bond and to journey together was not present in Laura’s experience of analysis of the time.

1:00:00 We talk about the connection at the level of Self being the essential ingredient to transformation. That an overemphasis on method and technique can lose sight of this.

1:01:30 We talk about the use of touch in therapy. Tim appreciates Virginia's use of the whole body and Self in therapy and Virginia’s fearlessness in doing so. Laura talks about the important risk a therapist must take to speak the unspeakable, to bring to light what is felt but not yet said. The risks that a therapist takes an important ingredient according to Laura of what makes the work therapeutic and not just a casual conversation. To make the hypothesizing together and not needing to be right is an important part of being able to grow and learn in relationships.