VIDEO: Dafna Lender on Harnessing Your Social Engagement System

Strategies for Building the Therapeutic Alliance More Easily

Dafna Lender • 4/11/2018 • Be the First to Comment

We all know therapists who seem magically able to establish a powerful sense of trust and connection with even the most distrusting clients. But are there specific behaviors common to exceptionally gifted therapists that we can study, practice, and cultivate?

Luckily, the answer is yes. It turns out many of the skills that make these therapists so successful can be adopted easily, just by making small changes to your mannerisms during sessions.

In the following interview with Networker Senior Writer Lauren Dockett, Dafna Lender, program director for The Theraplay Institute in Chicago, explains her work and shares how certain vocalizations, facial expressions, and gestures elicit more open and collaborative communication.


Dafna Lender, LCSW, is the program director for The Theraplay Institute. She trains and supervises clinicians around the world in attachment-based therapy, Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, and Theraplay.

As Lender explains, much like a singer or poet, therapists can convey a message with more intention by adjusting the way they deliver that message. Don’t be afraid of pauses and therapeutic touch, either, she adds. Our brains, which register vocal changes and body language in milliseconds, are most receptive to new ideas when these elements are broken up by pauses. And therapeutic touch, when appropriate, can convey safety and earnestness, as if to say let's carry this experience together.

"We’ve now moved past the point where we rely only on intuition to elicit trust and openness," Lender writes in her recent Networker article. The good news is that when we lose the connection with our client, we can tap into the deep power of the social engagement system to find it again."

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Did you enjoy this video? You might also want to check out Lender's recent piece in our January 2018 issue, "Tuning into Attunement," in which she gives step-by-step instructions and shares real case examples explaining how to convey subtle messages with voice and body language. You might also enjoy our interview with Stephen Porges, "Wearing Your Heart on Your Face." The originator of the polyvagal theory, Porges explains here how we're wired to pick up on threatening behavior, and the practical implications of creating safety in therapy.

Video filmed and edited by Dylan Hintz

Topic: Creativity | Professional Development

Tags: anger | anger issues | Challenging Cases & Treatment Populations | challenging clients | clinical creativity | communication skills | conversational skills | creative | creative counseling techniques | creative therapy | creativity | good communication skills | improving communication skills | Personal & Professional Development | polyvagal theory | Professional Development | skills | transformation

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