“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. More than anything else, this new century demands new thinking: We must change our materially based analyses of the world around us to include broader, more multidimensional perspectives.”
~ Albert Einstein
I have been through years and years of education to cultivate my rational mind. In medical school, I learned to logically approach patients’ problems and to categorize by disease. But during my training, I have witnessed many times when the truly skilled clinician brings to the room something far beyond the logical book-learning that our education provides us.
To sit with an experienced, intuitive clinician can feel a bit like watching magic. Maybe they ask a seemingly simple question, make a comment or observation — something that, to a junior observer, may appear irrelevant or only loosely related to what has come before — and yet it resonates profoundly with the client, opening up new avenues of thought. It leaves the observer wondering, How did they know? Or, perhaps more truthfully, How would I have ever known?
It begs the question: Can clinical intuition be “taught?”
In her book, Awakening Clinical Intuition: An Experiential Workbook for Psychotherapists, Terry Marks-Tarlow does not try to teach us to be intuitive, but rather to cultivate the nascent skills we already possess. She encourages us to tap into our right-brain resources, which may be overlooked or suppressed in our attempt to follow more formulaic and systematized therapeutic approaches. Whether you are a junior clinician just starting your career or a therapist with years of experience but an interest in furthering your intuitive sense, this workbook is worth exploring.
“Clinical intuition,” Marks-Tarlow notes, “lies at the root of our most attuned response as psychotherapists, regardless of our theoretical orientation and no matter how much or how little training we’ve received. … Although the path may be winding and bumpy, clinical intuition eventually leads to where the greatest potential for healing and growth lie.”
How, though, to learn to navigate this bumpy path?
Rather than a formulaic “how-to,” the book is structured in a series of 10 chapters, each with exercises to move the reader to a place of greater openness. Once there, they can develop awareness of the subtle cues of mind and body, which may represent the whisperings of intuition.
Each chapter starts with a theoretical framework that, in addition to incorporating the author’s personal experience and the psychological literature, often draws on our neurobiological understanding of brain and body. While this may give us an intellectual understanding of intuition, the heart of each chapter is the body-based visualization exercises, which are followed by a series of questions to encourage reflection. The text is accompanied by an audio CD so that the reader can listen to the guided visualization narrative while doing exercises.
Chapters progress logically, from clearing out mental distractions and becoming more centered to navigating other perspectives and encouraging playfulness. While the text is mainly for clinicians themselves to use in order to tap into our own personal insights, Marks-Tarlow also provides a framework for using each activity with clients, including recommendations and contraindications.
And although Awakening Clinical Intuition is actually the companion workbook to Marks-Tarlow’s earlier text, Clinical Intuition in Psychotherapy: The Neurobiology of Embodied Response, this latest book can stand on its own. It provides sufficient background for each section while still keeping the emphasis on the experiential, “right-brain” focus.
So will reading this book unleash your intuitive brilliance?
Well, no. Marks-Tarlow asks the reader to “please resist the temptation to merely read the exercises. Choosing to engage this material with the left brain only will defeat the purpose of a workbook” (italics the author’s).
Thus this is no quick-and-easy manual. Intuition does not grow from reading text but rather from experience, both the experiential exercises provided by a book like this and the experience of actual clinical practice; the author herself mentions the 10 year/10,000 hour theory of expertise.
Indeed, as Marks-Tarlow points out, “Although clinical intuition originates at a non-conscious level that cannot directly be taught, conditions for tapping into clinical intuition can be fostered.” Her book opens the reader up to exploring our own intuitive whisperings, helping us to become more receptive to the subtleties of the clinician-client interaction.
Awakening Clinical Intuition: An Experiential Workbook for Psychotherapists
W. W. Norton & Company, February, 2014
Paperback, 256 pages