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Positive functioning and negative functioning: Part 1
Blog post by Eric Moya
In this blog, I’d like to explore the topic of “positive” and “negative” functioning a bit, and to explore it from a bodymindspirit point of view.
Sometimes in working with a client from a coaching/counseling point of view, the goal might be to work with the problem itself. Other times, the goal might be to not focus on the problem at all, but instead to focus on the benefits of change. Both strategies are valuable and necessary in their own place.
In a coaching training I once did, the analogy given was one of a speedbump. Let’s say that you are driving along and you encounter a speedbump. There are two ways you can work with that speedbump. The first way would be to try to remove the speedbump. Pull out a sledgehammer and tear it down and/or pave over it, basically use whatever tools available to remove the speedbump so that we can continue on our journey speedbump free. The second way would be to ignore the speedbump altogether and instead focus on the destination. If the allure of the destination is great enough, then you just drive over the speedbump and it’s discomfort in the journey becomes unimportant. This is a great analogy if the problem is only a speedbump, of course, and not all problems are speedbumps. Some problems are just flat out walls that will stop any journey at all, so to speak. But the main point at hand is that good clinical practice should be able to incorporate both skills when needed.
So, how can we understand this from a bodymindspirit point of view?
In practice and in teaching, I’ve taken to referring to “positive” and “negative” functioning. To focus on “negative functioning” would be any effort of the therapist or client to focus on problems in order to help achieve better health and well being. The idea here is that by focusing on, and removing, impediments to health, the person will become healthier and the body will be able to self-regulate better.
By contrast, to focus on “positive functioning” would be any effort of the therapist or client to empower and strengthen the vitality of the individual so that the problems disappear or become unimportant.
Let’s be clear here for a moment, the use of the terms “positive” and “negative” in this context are value neutral. Rather than referring to anything “good” or “bad”, they are more about understanding the differences between focusing on problems versus focusing on strengths and resiliencies
Let’s give some examples. On a tissue level, let’s imagine that a client has an injury which caused some soft tissue restrictions which slightly impinges blood flow and nervous innervation for a lot of structures. A common example would be a whiplash injury. Even though the body heals from the original injury, the resulting neck musculature tension and tissue tension can contribute to pain and dysfunction in the neck and shoulders as well as down the arms. It’s not uncommon for a bodyworker to have a client coming in complaining of neck pain and shoulder pain and to also have carpal symptoms in the wrists which are partly stemming from the nerve and blood vessel impingements in the neck and shoulders.
Negative functioning interventions in this case would focus on the tissue tensions and restrictions and work to help them soften or change. The idea here is that the tissue restrictions are causing dysfunction and that once the dysfunction is gone, then the body will restore itself to normal health.
Positive functioning interventions in this scenario are a bit harder to identify, in large part because current manual therapy practice is focused (overly so in this author’s opinion) on negative functioning interventions. But any type of manual therapy that did not focus on the problems, but instead focused on the overall health and resilience of the body and sought to strengthen them in the belief that the greater health would overcome the struggle would be an example of a positive functioning intervention. Some biodynamic CST approaches would fall into this category as well as some lymphatic treatments which seek to strengthen the lymphatic “pull” downstream from the restrictions would fall into this category. Other examples would include the way many CST practitioners might use a still point or a cranial pump technique to help the body self-regulate and strengthen better as well as working with body patterns in the form of the cluster of “epicenter” techniques would generally fall into positive functioning as well.
Let’s find a mind/spirit example in the coaching/counseling realm. Sometimes a client might have a limiting belief which hinders her ability to acquire new life skills. Or other times a person might have had a spiritual or emotional trauma which impacts her ability to find meaning or purpose.
In these situations, negative functioning interventions would seek to address the problem directly and remove it. Cognitive behavioral strategies seeking to identify and change the limiting belief would be examples of negative functioning interventions in this case. Or trauma work that seeks to identify and process the original emotional/spiritual wound would also be an example of a negative functioning approach.
Positive function approaches in this case, instead of focusing on the problem or emotional wound, might instead identify internal strengths, external helpful resources, or future visioning to help the individual overcome the current problem. In the counseling world, the positive psychology[i] movement has been particularly impressive in identifying and researching the wonderous and long term effects of positive psychology in helping people deal with problems. Adopting a meditation practice may or finding novel ways to practice internal strengths may not be directly treating a problem at all, for example, but there are copious amounts of research demonstrating the tremendous value. Plus, positive psychology tends to be really fun for most people too. Many coaching models also adopt positive functioning stances in their work when they are helping clients create a strong vision for the future and identify concrete steps to achieve that vision.
By this point, hopefully, it is clear that a well-rounded bodymindspirit clinical practice needs to incorporate both positive and negative function interventions – in tissue work, spiritual work, emotional work. Simply put, people are complex and problems are multi-layered. To limit any clinical practice to only one set of tools is limiting for the growth of the practitioner and limiting to the help available to the client.
So, here’s the invitation for bodymindspirit practitioners: how can you achieve a better balance of having and using both positive and negative function interventions in your coaching, counseling, and tissue skills? And for bodyworkers, begin noticing not just what skills you are using, but also whether you are using them from both positive and negative functioning points of view. Please write any comments you have below or create them in the discussion area of the group.
[i] It should be noted here that this author’s use of “positive” in “positive functioning” intervention is not exactly the same as the use of the word “positive” in the positive psychology movement. In this paper, the author uses the word “positive” and “negative” in a value neutral manner, instead using the words to convey the difference between focusing on problems vs. focusing on strengths. In the positive psychology sense, the word “positive” is used more to refer to the occurrence of “positive” feelings such as happiness, satisfaction, gratitude and so forth. Although the use of the word “positive” is slightly different in these two uses, the goals are basically the same. In both a positive function intervention as well as in a positive psychology context, the goal is to create an environment where a client is able to achieve well-being and flourish.