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Switching Levels

There is a therapeutic technique that was taught to me called Switching Levels. I have been tracing the roots of this technique and it might actually be fairly new in this form because I cannot find any online references to it, or similar techniques. Interestingly, in attempting to describe it in order to do an effective internet search I have found that it is certainly more implicit than explicit to my therapy experience. It is easy for me to identify and perform it in the moment, but much harder to anticipate it and talk about it here.

The need for Switching Levels comes from the fact that we tend to experience things in the moment, from our perspective, and at face value. Our initial processing of an event seems almost always to be in the most simplistic and surface form. Indeed, we professionals train our clients to label emotions, pay attention to where we feel them in our body, and refine an initial response to them (i.e., coping skills). The reality is that our proximal and immediate thoughts and feelings are mired in an enormous context of current social events and past experiences. Much of what goes into our thinking of our experience is based on past events we know nothing of, but have only perceived at a level below conscious awareness, at best. Our biggest detriment in making sense of reality is that we generally believe we already know everything.

Switching Levels is asking a question or making a statement which encourages the client to think about some of the non-obvious factors that influence their current experience, including those they might have perceived in the past or below conscious awareness. I know when I have helped the client switch levels when there is a pause in responding that I take to be the accessing of a flood of new, relevant information into consciousness that is useful for reasoning. Clients often switch to a more foundational, fundamental level of reasoning, or a higher, bird's-eye-view of their situation. Regardless the cognitive process it is not hard to describe it as a moving up or down in thinking in a way that helps people make sense of their experience in a way that can lead to change.

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