Focusing with a person with tinnitus

By Wilja Westerhof

For three times now I've been working with a woman of 69 years old, who has been suffering from tinnitus for four years. I'll call her Nathalie.
Tinnitus is a deficit in the sound system of the ear. It often starts after a flu, or a time in which a person was very exhausted. The person hears a tone, or sounds/tones, in her head allt he time. There is never silence in the head, so people often have sleep difficulties, concentration problems, tiredness, and often become dpressed. Sometimes it's cursble, but often not.
Nathalie has already learned to live with it. She has created a life that is liveable with this tinnitus; she is often alone, yet also mingles with other people, mainly one by one, cince more people make too much noise in her head. She sleeps well, is doing a lot of volunteer work keeping herself active, yet also getting enough rest. She created a walking group and cycles a lot too.
She came to me, introduced to me by her osteopath, to learn some Focusing.
Before she came she talked to me on the phone and told me all of the details of experiencing her burden. When she came the first time, she was full of words; she told me the same details adn even more. I sensed it would be wise to just listen for now.
That first session, I spent a lot of time ( about half an hour) on just leading her to sense her whole body, with all of the parts. I was just fully present, within myself/my body- and with her- while leading her with words to sense her body.
At the end she told me that she was happily surprised; she had tried to do this at home with some kind of CD (on body scanning), and had found that she could not do it, and she got nausseous when she closed her eyes. This time she had no problems with it at all and loved the exercise.
The second time she came, she talked less and we spent even more time on just body sensing.
At the end of the scan, I invited her to ask her body what it would want to do, or how it would like to be right now; staning, lying, walking,etc.
She chose standing, and from there walking. I always resonate a lot with my clients, and surely with her, doing the same thing she did and supported her to keep sensing downwards, I invited her to sense into the legs, the feet, the floor, feeling the support of the ground, sensing the belly, and strating to look for a mostly comfortable place in her body.
She named her belly and heart area. As I supported her to stay with those good feelings and being with all that, she started walking.
Me idea was, that if she could be more away from her head, more into being in a relatively silent belly, she could maybe experience less of the burden in her head.
Again she loved the exercise. We took about fifty minutes for all this, and after having been silent for two minutes in the end, she placed her hands on her chest and said, "I can feel that tere is an anxiety."I encouraged her to be with that and see what came.
"I thought I had accepted my tinnitus, that I had passed beyond anxiety, yet here it is. I'm afraid that because of this I will lose friends and possibilities, lose being able to do things. It is here."Then she asked, "What do I do with this?"
As with most people who want to get rid of hurtful feelings, I explained to her that we can't just send the fearful parts away. "Just be with it....and see what happens next."
"It just stays the same,"she reported. "I'm somehow glad thgough that I know now, that it is here."
After that session, practicing at home also making contact with the rest of her body, she noticed that she heard less of the sounds in her head.
Also after that session she had a very strong and meaningful dream, which she emailed me, about being left alone by everyone, not being heard about her explanations of her burden, being rejected.
The third time, we started with talking about Nathalie's thoughts about tha dream. Then we went into whole body sensing and from there we took the dream inward.
She could sense, in her belly and chest, places of trusting that she was all right, that she was OK with her tinnitus just the way she was. That felt good.
Yet in her head she felt a place that had doubts, nog being sure whether she was accepted the way she was. That place needed warmth and understaning. She recognised that this was in her and not only from external causes, such as whether friends really accepted her.
She remembered that recently seh had been on loliday with a friend who had been quite nasty about her tinnitus and the way she dealt with it. Rather than defending herself, she had withdrawn into herself, had said nothing, and had felt quite bad. Later at home she had found all kinds of excuses about why this so-called freind had been nasty.
She remembered all of that while holding her chest and belly, and then realized;"But I'm angry"I had just introduced the use of the phrase "something in me" so she the said, "Something in me is angry with her, just angry".
I reflected that with even a little more energy in the words. Sensing that there was a part of her having a hard time admitting that this anger was there, I added, "And that's OK, that's there."
From my role as a therapist, I asked, "Have you ever experienced something like this before?"
After a pause, Nathalie replied, "Yes, my mother was like that. Cold. And I never could defend myself either until fifteen years ago. Then I did and it took a year for my mother to understand me. We didn't have any contact during that year but now we are fine.
I reflected that and added; "So you have exerienced this before. You have been through this. And you survived."
Silence, still with her hands on chest and belly. "Yes, and now I realize I'm simply angry and I'm going to tell her."
Then I took a chance and said, "And I have a feeling that you will tell it differently when you talk from ther ( chest and belly) and not only from your doubting head. You may be taling less, too."
I waited to see what would happen. Nathalie immediately said; "Oh, yes, I know hwat you mean, that is so right. Oh, yes, I can sense that."
We ended the session there. Again she was quite surprised and happy with the session, looking forward to more dreaming, and more Focusing. I too am curious about what will happen next. From these three sessions, already Nathalie has quite a different relationship with her body. She is able to bring awareness through her whole body, and to do that herself, not just in her sessions with me. This has actually resulted at some times in a lessening of the sounds in her head, which was wonderful. At other times the sounds stayed the same, but she noticed more clearly the way that affects her whole being, like noticing when she is tired and needing a rest.
She also discoverd a greater acceptance of the tinnitues as she gains ability to shift awareness away from her head, to other, more peaceful areas of her body. Finally, she is becoming able to use Focusing to be with feelings of anxiety and anger, allowing them to be there and allowing steps of change to emerge from them.