Category Archives: Body Psychotherapy

Body Psychotherapy – a short guide to the art and science of Bodylistening. Tim Brown

Mind and body are interlinked. If that seems obvious, it’s surprising that so many of us routinely separate the two, particularly when life’s problems arise or when there is the urge to grow and develop. I take my body to the gym, the doctor, the masseur, and my mind to the psychoanalyst, the counsellor.

Body psychotherapy describes a range of therapeutic approaches which aim to treat the mind and body (and arguably the spirit) together. There isn’t a strict definition, and there are overlapping terms including body-centred or body-oriented psychotherapy, deep bodywork, embodied relational therapy, and somatic psychology. I like to call it Bodylistening. This is an introduction to the subject, with some history, concepts, sources, and contacts.

Body psychotherapy suggests that who we are is a result of all our experiences, especially the early years when we were growing and developing as human beings. As we grow, these experiences affect the way the physical and mental pathways in our nerves and tissues are laid down. As we gain a sense of who we are, our interactions with others give us beliefs and reactions that are literally held in the body. As we become adult this ‘holding’ may cause physical and emotional problems – and may also give clues to our potential for growth and creativity.


A bit of history

The major influence on body psychotherapy is Wilhelm Reich, a colleague of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. In the 1920s Reich expanded Freud’s ideas about the effects of childhood development on the mind. He was interested in the way early shocks to the growing system might affect the free flow of body energy, producing energetic blocks, which he called ‘character armouring’. Whilst Freud believed that difficulties caused by early childhood experiences could be cured through talking, Reich showed that they could be addressed by working directly with the body. Different stages of development were likely to affect the growing body-mind in different ways, for instance difficulties around birth, early feeding problems, overwhelming parental control or shameful early feelings of sexuality, would create different ‘character structures’. Reich would work with these using breath techniques, massage, exercises and body postures.

In the wake of Reich, a second wave of therapists expanded his thinking into a number of body-centred approaches, including Bioenergetics (Alexander Lowen), Core Energetics (John Pierrakos), Somatic Emotional Therapy (Stanley Keleman), Biodynamic Psychology (Gerda Boyesen), Rolfing (Ida Rolf) Postural Intergration (Jack Painter) and Biosynthesis (David Boadella). Other body-centred approaches appeared, influenced by Gestalt (Ron Kurtz’s Hakomi); Jungian psychology (Arnold Mindell’s Process Oriented Psychology); body awareness (Eugene Gendlin’s Focussing); and Buddhist mindfulness practice (Jon Kabat-Zinn).

The 1970s saw an explosion of interest in body-centred work, alongside other alternative and complementary therapies. Therapists were working with individual clients and groups using a range of bioenergetic and neo-Reichian techniques. It enjoyed a mixed reputation; many traditional psychotherapists were concerned about the possibility of blurred boundaries and client abuse, particularly where there was a focus on cathartic releasing of pent-up emotions, exploration of body energy and sexuality, and potentially invasive hands-on work.

Many bodyworkers saw this distrust as evidence of conventional society’s urge to repress the body (alongside the unconscious and the feminine – sources of emotion, unpredictability and embarrassment). They point also to the objectification of the body; as a society we see the body as an object which needs to be fixed and kept beautiful, rather than something we inhabit and which tells its own story. Most body therapists question the medical model of therapy (where the therapist aims to ‘cure’ the client), in favour of a humanistic vision of joint exploration and investigation of the body-mind.

More recently, body-centred work has become more ‘respectable’, for a number of reasons. Training programmes (eg in the UK those run at the Open Centre, Chiron Centre, Cambridge Body Psychotherapy Centre) began to focus more on client-therapist probity. Some of the emphasis on cathartic release and physical restructuring has been balanced by a more integrated approach which values fine energy work, subtle movement and body awareness. A resurgence of interest in psychoanalytic theory (eg the British Object Relations school, and research by Margaret Mahler and Daniel Stern) found new evidence for the pivotal impact of early experience in creating a healthy bodymind. This was reinforced by work in neuroscience (eg Antonio Damasio and Allan Schore) which showed how the body plays a crucial role in our emotional wellbeing. In particular, the idea that some traumatic experiences cause an emotional freezing which can best be unlocked through body-centred work has gained widespread acceptance and is now used routinely for work with post-traumatic stress.


Different approaches, same attitude

What links the very wide range of body-centred therapies? I’d say it involves an attitude of listening to the body, and taking its messages seriously – what I call Bodylistening. The writer and therapist Nick Totton suggests there are three main approaches to body psychotherapy. He calls these the adjustment model, the trauma/shock model and the process model. Adjustment deals directly, physically, with the body and can include hands-on work to release what is often described as ‘stuck energy’ held in the body. This can involve potentially painful deep tissue work (eg Rolfing, Postural Integration), more gentle massage work (eg Biodynamic massage), and body re-education (eg Feldenkrais). The trauma/discharge model assumes that the body holds echoes of early shocks (which can include low-level, chronic neglect or over-control, as well as traumatic incidents or sustained abuse), and that these can be released by paying attention to unexpressed reflexes and allowing the completion of held-back impulses. A number of techniques and protocols for dealing with body-held trauma have been developed (Peter Levine, Babette Rothschild, Ogden & Minton). The process model takes an interest in what the body and its symptoms represent as a story or metaphor, and working with the ideas, gestures, images, movements which arise. This can help to contact aspects of our selves which have been held back, out of awareness, and which need to be allowed expression. This approach is influenced by Jung, and includes work with movement, and gestalt and existential psychology.


How does it work in practice?

I have a bodywork practice in Brighton. I tend to use a mix of all three approaches, depending on the client, and what emerges in a session. To start with, I might ask a client simply to notice what appears in their awareness, in the moment. Say for example s/he notices a tension in the chest. The adjustment approach might work directly with massage to release the tension, or experiment with consciously increasing the tension, whilst looking out for any feelings, memories or images that appear. The trauma/discharge approach could ask the client to begin paying attention to the sensation in the chest and track any changes, having first agreed a safety protocol to help deal with any overwhelming feelings which might arise. The process model might invite the tension to speak, or move, or tell its story. We might investigate together how this tension serves the client, and how the rest of the body-mind relates to it.

In choosing the particular approach we will often ask the body directly what it favours, and trust its response. This can take a bit of getting used to, but in my experience the body responds to being listened to, and will reveal more as it discovers a new channel of communication. There is no ‘correct’ line of investigation – the session is an experimental space where discoveries are made. It’s fascinating work! Body-centred approaches also work well with groups – which is why I also run workshops and courses using movement and dance.


Problem or potential?

As I hinted above, our body carries a record of our developmental history and is an important mirror of our individual characters. Early shocks might give us a tendency to withdraw, or experience inexplicable fears; we might have learned to squash our natural exuberance, or been encouraged to grow up too quickly.

As developing babies and children, we learn to adapt quickly in order to grow and survive. In adult life these adaptations may become stuck patterns of response which no longer serve us. They can manifest in the usual range of psychological ‘problems’ – anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, self esteem, etc – which a traditional psychotherapist or counsellor might address. But by listening to the body we aim to trace the story back to its roots and invite change on a fundamental, physical level. Where, and why, did I first develop these patterns which once helped me to survive, but now limit me?

Body psychotherapy is particularly effective in addressing these early developmental imprints – often from a time before the client can remember, and even before a sense of self has fully developed. Although clients may bring particular life issues to the session, there is often a feeling of stuck energy, unfulfilled potential, or general unease, which seems to underlie the presenting problem. Bodywork can really help to identify and work with these deeper problems which may initially feel vague, or difficult to specify.


What are the results?

The concerns which people bring to therapy usually turn out to hold the key to unlocking new energy. Our unique embodied characters all have strengths and weaknesses. They hold important clues – about where I am holding back in my life, and where there is potential for new movement and growth. The body-centred therapeutic process involves creative exploration and experimentation. It is even possible to enjoy therapy! A focus on the body can often bypass the familiar mental structures, tapping into a deep source of information and wisdom that is ready to help the client heal, to become part of a bigger whole.

There’s good scientific evidence (eg LeDoux) that in the therapy space a combination of focussed body attention and emotional support can create a state of ‘neural plasticity’, allowing the brain to make new connections and establish more helpful patterns of reaction and response. A skilled body psychotherapist will help to create the conditions for this to happen. The results can be surprising – new insights and understanding, new energy, and a deeper sense of ease with myself.


Choosing a body psychotherapist

Body psychotherapy treats mind and body as one interlinked system. I’d argue that it is a discipline distinct from conventional psychotherapy, with its own history, models and practices. Some practitioners are traditionally trained psychotherapists who have brought body wisdom into their work. Others may be bodyworkers who have developed skills to deal with the psychological and emotional releases which hands-on work can evoke. Some will be formally trained and accredited through counselling and psychotherapy organisations (BACP, UKCP), others will have studied with teachers and trainers who do not offer mainstream accreditation. Not all practitioners in the field call themselves psychotherapists – perhaps the best guide is to look at their training, their affiliations (if any), length of experience, and what they say about themselves. And trust your body’s reaction.

The government is currently considering formal state regulation of psychotherapy and counselling. There is widespread concern that this could introduce inappropriate standards and regulatory practice based on the medical model (‘curing patients’). Therapists who value a more humanistic approach – and particularly body psychotherapists – are likely to look for alternative ways to demonstrate their competence and probity, through what is becoming known as Alternative Practitioner Accountability (APA). For instance, I am a member of the Independent Practitioners Network (IPN), a peer network of linked groups which support practitioner accountability and best practice.


Sources

I find Body Psychotherapy – an Introduction by Nick Totton the easiest and most comprehensive guide to the field. Linda Hartley’s Somatic Psychology – Body Mind and Meaning is also a good introduction and includes more detail on underlying physiological and psychological theory. My favourite ‘how to’ book on therapeutic practice is Body-Centred Psychotherapy – the Hakomi Method by Ron Kurtz. Some more technical sources include:

Damasio, A: The Feeling of What Happens. 1999
Gendlin, E: Focusing. 1978
Kepner, J: Body Process. 1987
LeDoux, J: Synaptic Self: How our brains become who we are. 2002
Levine, P: Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.1997
Lowen, A: Bioenergetics. 1975
Ogden, P, Minton, K & Pain, C: Trauma and the Body – a sensorimotor approach to psychotherapy: 2006
Painter, J: Deep Bodywork and Personal Development. 1984
Rothschild, B: The Body Remembers. 2000
Seigel, D. The Developing Mind. 1999
Stern, D: The Interpersonal World of the Infant. 1985
Schore, A: Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. 1994

Useful websites include:

Linda Hartley: www.lindahartley.co.uk
Silke Ziehl: www.entelia.de
Nick Totton: www.erthworks.co.uk
Roz Carroll: www.thinkbody.co.uk
European Association for Body Psychotherapy: www.eabp.org
Deep Bodyworkers in the UK: www.bodyworkers.org.uk
Chiron Association for Body Psychotherapists: www.body-psychotherapy.org.uk
Independent Practitioners Network: http://i-p-n.org
Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy (against state regulation): www.allianceforcandp.org

© Tim Brown 2011

Suggested Article by Stanley Keleman

Somatic Psychotherapy Today | Fall 2014 | Volume 4, Special Supplement | page 3
Stanley Keleman
has been practicing and developing somatic therapy for over forty years and is a
pioneer in his study of the body and its connection to the sexual, emotional, psychological, and imaginative
aspects of human experience. Through his writings and practice, he has developed a methodology and
conceptual framework for the life of the body. He has been the director of the Center for Energetic Studies in
Berkeley, California since 1971, where he maintains a private and group practice, and an active schedule of
national and international professional programs. He is the honorary president and director for research at the
Zurich School for Form and Movement, the Centro de Psicologia Formativa do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro, and
the Institute for Formative Psychology in Solingen, Germany, where he also teaches

What is Body Psychotherapy?

 

Complete Article Link: http://www.bodypsychotherapist.co.uk/body-psychotherapy.htm

History
Body Psychotherapy has a tradition reaching back to the 1920’s when Wilhelm Reich, a student and colleague of Sigmund Freud, expanded psychoanalysis by noticing how the repression of feelings corresponded to inhibition of the body. He developed the concept of ‘character armour’ to describe how human beings develop fixed and rigid postures and patterns of relating in order to protect themselves against emotional pain. Both psychological and psychosomatic symptoms, he proposed, need to be approached in the context of the underlying character pattern. These patterns, he understood, pervade the whole body/mind, reaching all the way down into biological mechanisms (e.g. our metabolism, our autonomic nervous system, our breathing etc.).

Wilhelm Reich originated a whole range of approaches, with his pupils and followers developing particular aspects of his work further and diversifying into a variety of modern schools of Body Psychotherapy, such as bioenergetics (Alexander Lowen), Radix (Charles Kelly), Core Energetics (John Pierrakos), Integrative Body Psychotherapy (Jack Rosenberg), Emotional Anatomy (Stanley Keleman), Biodynamic Psychology (Gerda Boyesen), Hakomi (Ron Kurtz), Biosynthesis (David Boadella).

Modern Body Psychotherapy
For 28 years, these principal branches of the Body Psychotherapy tradition were integrated and taught in the UK at the Chiron Centre for Body Psychotherapy and the practitioners who can be found in this directory would have been influenced by the work of Chiron. It has tried to address some of the shadow aspects and weaknesses of traditional Body Psychotherapy, and has developed a 21st century approach which integrates important psychotherapeutic principles from other therapeutic approaches, e.g. Gestalt, modern psychoanalysis (object relations,intersubjectivity, relational psychoanalysis), transpersonal approaches and Family Constellations as well as incorporating inisghts from neuroscience, complexity theory and integral philosophy (Ken Wilber).

One of the main developments is the increasing attention to the therapeutic relationship. Of course, all psychotherapy has depended on a good relationship between client and therapist all along, and the often rather amorphous notion of the ‘quality of relationship’ has been recognised as an essential ingredient in a good therapeutic outcome. But one can have a ‘good’ relationship with one’s doctor which is the position which traditionally many therapists tried to emulate. However, in psychotherapy it can become easily counterproductive for the therapist to assume too much of an expert position, from which treatment is administered. This can play into the client’s habitual patterns of disempowerment, compliance or passivity, thus exacerbating the very patterns which may be causing problems in the client’s life. What has, therefore, been increasingly recognised is that therapy is not only something the therapist does to the client – it is something that happens between them.

What happens in a session?
In many instances Body Psychotherapy may initially work like any other psychotherapeutic approach: you talk about your concerns and problems and the work develops from there. Depending on your established capacity to be aware of your internal world (the inner processes which constitute your self on a physical, emotional and mental level), there are many ways and techniques to pay attention to these interlinked processes and their correlations.
Body Psychotherapists have always made use of an eclectic range of humanistic techniques, many of them derived from other therapeutic approaches (e.g. Biodynamic Massage, Gestalt, Psychodrama, Transactional Analysis, Psychosynthesis).

Typically, many of us – especially when we are struggling or are in pain – can only manage to be aware of our experience in a fragmented way, and get caught in repetititve patterns of attending to and processing the various bits and pieces of our distress rather selectively. Another aspects of this is that we impose past experiences and conclusions on our current challenges or even onto people we meet.

The simple use of body awareness can open up a whole neglected world of information, both for client and therapist. Body Psychotherapists rely on their senses as instruments in the therapeutic contact, and this can lead into important aspects of the client’s struggle. Body awareness can evolve quite naturally into bodywork which can involve posture, movement, breathing or a combination. This can sometimes access powerful feelings and conflicts which people learn to repress and suppress over a lifetime, but it can also encourage grounding and containment.

Other techniques which extend and amplify the meaning of body impulses and experiences include Biodynamic Massage, Gestalt dialogue, role play, visualisation and guided imagery, dreamwork and creative expression through drawing, moving etc.

A NEW VISION FOR SOMATIC PSYCHOLOGY:

Pulse Somatic-EnergeticGregory Nye reviewed this article and posted it on his blog .

You can view the original article here
Formative psychology is based in the evolutionary process in which life continually forms the next series of shapes, from birth through maturity to old age. At conception each person is given a biological and emotional inheritance, but it is through voluntary effort that a human fulfills the potential for forming a personal life. Form gives rise to feeling. When individual identity is grounded in somatic reality, we can say: I know who I am by how I experience myself.
Formative psychology gives a philosophy and method of how to work with our life. We learn to regenerate our emotional and instinctual vitality, to inhabit our body, and to incorporate our excitement and emotional aliveness. The goal of formative practice is to use daily life to practice being present and to create an adult self and reality. I proceed from the premise that we are each conceived as an adult and that we grow the adults we are meant to be.
You can follow Gregory Nye on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/gregory.nye.526?fref=ts
All of us are in a continual process of forming, stabilizing, and reforming our adult reality. This process of forming and reforming is a continuous extension and contraction of tissue motility, a reflex that is an unbroken chain through our life. Pulsation is an essential expression of our hormonal and emotional life. The pulse process, like the heartbeat, is crucial in the maintaining our body shape and development. A continuous pulse organizes cycles of arousal. When pulsation is inhibited or overstimulated, our somatic, emotional and mental life also changes.
In the practice of forming, we work with the pulsation patterns of the soma and restore the bodys natural rhythm and vitality. The areas of voluntary management in the brain are used and undergo growth.
There is a methodology to formative psychology that I call the Bodying Practice. The Bodying Practice engages the voluntary part of the brain to work with the reflex, nonvolitional somatic functions. The brain can suggest patterns of behavior as well as form an image of its own body to have a relationship with itself. Of first importance is to be bodied, to form ones body in living the stages of our somatic existence.
You can follow Greg Nye on LinkedIn:
ca.linkedin.com/in/gregorynyetoronto
The Bodying Practice is inaugurated by intensifying whatever we recognize as our present somatic-emotional stance. This intensifying is meant to magnify the pattern of our way of being present along with its images, memories, and thoughts. We can then disorganize what we have voluntarily done and in so doing learn how we can have some say over what we do. This helps bring into relief the reflex or unknown structures that have been inaccessible to us. It is similar to throwing a pebbled into the water and initiating rings of response. In this sequence, we become familiar with how we organize our actions and how we can use our brains to affect our responses and feelings. The work of the exercises is to form an adult soma and brain, and an adult emotionality in social relationships.
The work is not only meant to be intimate with past structures and how to disorganize them, but it is also about having a tool for present and future situations. The exercises are done slowly in frame-by-frame fashion to discover ones own speed and to compensate for somatic anesthesia—to become intimate with the unforming and forming sensation of the pulse pattern.
To work somatically in this way is to bring about a shift in recognition and to experience the way we organize to be present, to solve problems and to try on the new shapes of expression. It also organizes a dialogue between body and brain which shifts the patterns of meaning and order. We begin to live our destiny, our somatic inheritance. We begin to empower ourselves in forming our adult and its relationships

You can follow Gregory Nye on Tumblr:

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One Method for Processing Traumatic Memory

indexExcerpt from article:

Traumatology
Volume VI, Issue 3, Article 3 (October, 2000)

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy:

One Method for Processing Traumatic Memory

Pat Ogden, Ph.D. and Kekuni Minton, PhD.
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute and Naropa University
Boulder, Colorado

Abstract

Traditional psychotherapy addresses the cognitive and emotional elements of trauma, but lacks techniques that work directly with the physiological elements, despite the fact that trauma profoundly affects the body and many symptoms of traumatized individuals are somatically based. Altered relationships among cognitive, emotional, and sensorimotor (body) levels of information processing are also found to be implicated in trauma symptoms. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a method that integrates sensorimotor processing with cognitive and emotional processing in the treatment of trauma. Unassimilated somatic responses evoked in trauma involving both arousal and defensive responses are shown to contribute to many PTSD symptoms and to be critical elements in the use of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. By using the body (rather than cognition or emotion) as a primary entry point in processing trauma, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy directly treats the effects of trauma on the body, which in turn facilitates emotional and cognitive processing. This method is especially beneficial for clinicians working with dissociation, emotional reactivity or flat affect, frozen states or hyperarousal and other PTSD symptoms. In this article, we discuss Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, emphasizing sensorimotor processing techniques which can be integrated with traditional approaches that treat these symptoms. Because the therapist’s ability to interactively regulate clients’ dysregulated states and also to cultivate clients’ self-awareness of inner body sensations is crucial to this approach, three sessions are described illustrating the clinical application of this method.

Read Complete article hereindex

Body Psychotherapy – a short guide to the art and science of Bodylistening.

http://www.bodyworks.org.uk/body_psychotherapy.htm

Gregory reviewed this article and found it interesting. Here is the full text:

Mind and body are interlinked. If that seems obvious, it’s surprising that so many of us routinely separate the two, particularly when life’s problems arise or when there is the urge to grow and develop. I take my body to the gym, the doctor, the masseur, and my mind to the psychoanalyst, the counsellor.

Body psychotherapy describes a range of therapeutic approaches which aim to treat the mind and body (and arguably the spirit) together. There isn’t a strict definition, and there are overlapping terms including body-centred or body-oriented psychotherapy, deep bodywork, embodied relational therapy, and somatic psychology. I like to call it Bodylistening. This is an introduction to the subject, with some history, concepts, sources, and contacts.

Body psychotherapy suggests that who we are is a result of all our experiences, especially the early years when we were growing and developing as human beings. As we grow, these experiences affect the way the physical and mental pathways in our nerves and tissues are laid down. As we gain a sense of who we are, our interactions with others give us beliefs and reactions that are literally held in the body. As we become adult this ‘holding’ may cause physical and emotional problems – and may also give clues to our potential for growth and creativity.


A bit of history

The major influence on body psychotherapy is Wilhelm Reich, a colleague of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. In the 1920s Reich expanded Freud’s ideas about the effects of childhood development on the mind. He was interested in the way early shocks to the growing system might affect the free flow of body energy, producing energetic blocks, which he called ‘character armouring’. Whilst Freud believed that difficulties caused by early childhood experiences could be cured through talking, Reich showed that they could be addressed by working directly with the body. Different stages of development were likely to affect the growing body-mind in different ways, for instance difficulties around birth, early feeding problems, overwhelming parental control or shameful early feelings of sexuality, would create different ‘character structures’. Reich would work with these using breath techniques, massage, exercises and body postures.

In the wake of Reich, a second wave of therapists expanded his thinking into a number of body-centred approaches, including Bioenergetics (Alexander Lowen), Core Energetics (John Pierrakos), Somatic Emotional Therapy (Stanley Keleman), Biodynamic Psychology (Gerda Boyesen), Rolfing (Ida Rolf) Postural Intergration (Jack Painter) and Biosynthesis (David Boadella). Other body-centred approaches appeared, influenced by Gestalt (Ron Kurtz’s Hakomi); Jungian psychology (Arnold Mindell’s Process Oriented Psychology); body awareness (Eugene Gendlin’s Focussing); and Buddhist mindfulness practice (Jon Kabat-Zinn).

The 1970s saw an explosion of interest in body-centred work, alongside other alternative and complementary therapies. Therapists were working with individual clients and groups using a range of bioenergetic and neo-Reichian techniques. It enjoyed a mixed reputation; many traditional psychotherapists were concerned about the possibility of blurred boundaries and client abuse, particularly where there was a focus on cathartic releasing of pent-up emotions, exploration of body energy and sexuality, and potentially invasive hands-on work.

Many bodyworkers saw this distrust as evidence of conventional society’s urge to repress the body (alongside the unconscious and the feminine – sources of emotion, unpredictability and embarrassment). They point also to the objectification of the body; as a society we see the body as an object which needs to be fixed and kept beautiful, rather than something we inhabit and which tells its own story. Most body therapists question the medical model of therapy (where the therapist aims to ‘cure’ the client), in favour of a humanistic vision of joint exploration and investigation of the body-mind.

More recently, body-centred work has become more ‘respectable’, for a number of reasons. Training programmes (eg in the UK those run at the Open Centre, Chiron Centre, Cambridge Body Psychotherapy Centre) began to focus more on client-therapist probity. Some of the emphasis on cathartic release and physical restructuring has been balanced by a more integrated approach which values fine energy work, subtle movement and body awareness. A resurgence of interest in psychoanalytic theory (eg the British Object Relations school, and research by Margaret Mahler and Daniel Stern) found new evidence for the pivotal impact of early experience in creating a healthy bodymind. This was reinforced by work in neuroscience (eg Antonio Damasio and Allan Schore) which showed how the body plays a crucial role in our emotional wellbeing. In particular, the idea that some traumatic experiences cause an emotional freezing which can best be unlocked through body-centred work has gained widespread acceptance and is now used routinely for work with post-traumatic stress.


Different approaches, same attitude

What links the very wide range of body-centred therapies? I’d say it involves an attitude of listening to the body, and taking its messages seriously – what I call Bodylistening. The writer and therapist Nick Totton suggests there are three main approaches to body psychotherapy. He calls these the adjustment model, the trauma/shock model and the process model. Adjustment deals directly, physically, with the body and can include hands-on work to release what is often described as ‘stuck energy’ held in the body. This can involve potentially painful deep tissue work (eg Rolfing, Postural Integration), more gentle massage work (eg Biodynamic massage), and body re-education (eg Feldenkrais). The trauma/discharge model assumes that the body holds echoes of early shocks (which can include low-level, chronic neglect or over-control, as well as traumatic incidents or sustained abuse), and that these can be released by paying attention to unexpressed reflexes and allowing the completion of held-back impulses. A number of techniques and protocols for dealing with body-held trauma have been developed (Peter Levine, Babette Rothschild, Ogden & Minton). The process model takes an interest in what the body and its symptoms represent as a story or metaphor, and working with the ideas, gestures, images, movements which arise. This can help to contact aspects of our selves which have been held back, out of awareness, and which need to be allowed expression. This approach is influenced by Jung, and includes work with movement, and gestalt and existential psychology.


How does it work in practice?

I have a bodywork practice in Brighton. I tend to use a mix of all three approaches, depending on the client, and what emerges in a session. To start with, I might ask a client simply to notice what appears in their awareness, in the moment. Say for example s/he notices a tension in the chest. The adjustment approach might work directly with massage to release the tension, or experiment with consciously increasing the tension, whilst looking out for any feelings, memories or images that appear. The trauma/discharge approach could ask the client to begin paying attention to the sensation in the chest and track any changes, having first agreed a safety protocol to help deal with any overwhelming feelings which might arise. The process model might invite the tension to speak, or move, or tell its story. We might investigate together how this tension serves the client, and how the rest of the body-mind relates to it.

In choosing the particular approach we will often ask the body directly what it favours, and trust its response. This can take a bit of getting used to, but in my experience the body responds to being listened to, and will reveal more as it discovers a new channel of communication. There is no ‘correct’ line of investigation – the session is an experimental space where discoveries are made. It’s fascinating work! Body-centred approaches also work well with groups – which is why I also run workshops and courses using movement and dance.


Problem or potential?

As I hinted above, our body carries a record of our developmental history and is an important mirror of our individual characters. Early shocks might give us a tendency to withdraw, or experience inexplicable fears; we might have learned to squash our natural exuberance, or been encouraged to grow up too quickly.

As developing babies and children, we learn to adapt quickly in order to grow and survive. In adult life these adaptations may become stuck patterns of response which no longer serve us. They can manifest in the usual range of psychological ‘problems’ – anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, self esteem, etc – which a traditional psychotherapist or counsellor might address. But by listening to the body we aim to trace the story back to its roots and invite change on a fundamental, physical level. Where, and why, did I first develop these patterns which once helped me to survive, but now limit me?

Body psychotherapy is particularly effective in addressing these early developmental imprints – often from a time before the client can remember, and even before a sense of self has fully developed. Although clients may bring particular life issues to the session, there is often a feeling of stuck energy, unfulfilled potential, or general unease, which seems to underlie the presenting problem. Bodywork can really help to identify and work with these deeper problems which may initially feel vague, or difficult to specify.


What are the results?

The concerns which people bring to therapy usually turn out to hold the key to unlocking new energy. Our unique embodied characters all have strengths and weaknesses. They hold important clues – about where I am holding back in my life, and where there is potential for new movement and growth. The body-centred therapeutic process involves creative exploration and experimentation. It is even possible to enjoy therapy! A focus on the body can often bypass the familiar mental structures, tapping into a deep source of information and wisdom that is ready to help the client heal, to become part of a bigger whole.

There’s good scientific evidence (eg LeDoux) that in the therapy space a combination of focussed body attention and emotional support can create a state of ‘neural plasticity’, allowing the brain to make new connections and establish more helpful patterns of reaction and response. A skilled body psychotherapist will help to create the conditions for this to happen. The results can be surprising – new insights and understanding, new energy, and a deeper sense of ease with myself.


Choosing a body psychotherapist

Body psychotherapy treats mind and body as one interlinked system. I’d argue that it is a discipline distinct from conventional psychotherapy, with its own history, models and practices. Some practitioners are traditionally trained psychotherapists who have brought body wisdom into their work. Others may be bodyworkers who have developed skills to deal with the psychological and emotional releases which hands-on work can evoke. Some will be formally trained and accredited through counselling and psychotherapy organisations (BACP, UKCP), others will have studied with teachers and trainers who do not offer mainstream accreditation. Not all practitioners in the field call themselves psychotherapists – perhaps the best guide is to look at their training, their affiliations (if any), length of experience, and what they say about themselves. And trust your body’s reaction.

The government is currently considering formal state regulation of psychotherapy and counselling. There is widespread concern that this could introduce inappropriate standards and regulatory practice based on the medical model (‘curing patients’). Therapists who value a more humanistic approach – and particularly body psychotherapists – are likely to look for alternative ways to demonstrate their competence and probity, through what is becoming known as Alternative Practitioner Accountability (APA). For instance, I am a member of the Independent Practitioners Network (IPN), a peer network of linked groups which support practitioner accountability and best practice.


Sources

I find Body Psychotherapy – an Introduction by Nick Totton the easiest and most comprehensive guide to the field. Linda Hartley’s Somatic Psychology – Body Mind and Meaning is also a good introduction and includes more detail on underlying physiological and psychological theory. My favourite ‘how to’ book on therapeutic practice is Body-Centred Psychotherapy – the Hakomi Method by Ron Kurtz. Some more technical sources include:

Damasio, A: The Feeling of What Happens. 1999
Gendlin, E: Focusing. 1978
Kepner, J: Body Process. 1987
LeDoux, J: Synaptic Self: How our brains become who we are. 2002
Levine, P: Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.1997
Lowen, A: Bioenergetics. 1975
Ogden, P, Minton, K & Pain, C: Trauma and the Body – a sensorimotor approach to psychotherapy: 2006
Painter, J: Deep Bodywork and Personal Development. 1984
Rothschild, B: The Body Remembers. 2000
Seigel, D. The Developing Mind. 1999
Stern, D: The Interpersonal World of the Infant. 1985
Schore, A: Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. 1994

Useful websites include:

www.gregorynye.com

 

Linda Hartley: www.lindahartley.co.uk
Silke Ziehl: www.entelia.de
Nick Totton: www.erthworks.co.uk
Roz Carroll: www.thinkbody.co.uk
European Association for Body Psychotherapy: www.eabp.org
Deep Bodyworkers in the UK: www.bodyworkers.org.uk
Chiron Association for Body Psychotherapists: www.body-psychotherapy.org.uk
Independent Practitioners Network: http://i-p-n.org
Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy (against state regulation): www.allianceforcandp.org

© Tim Brown 2011