What is body psychotherapy?
Body psychotherapy is an umbrella term for a variety of ways of working therapeutically with the mind and body. There are many different ways of working as a body-psychotherapist and the relationship between therapist and client can be as important, if not more so, than the actual modality. So, it’s worth checking out more than one therapist before deciding whom you’d like to embark upon the therapeutic journey with.
As a therapist, I will hold a space for you to explore whatever it is you need to explore. As well as listening I may suggest ways other than words to explore something you present. Behind all interventions will be the intention to help you find a place where you can be more at ease with who and where you are in yourself and life.
How we are on a feeling level affects all our relationships in life, both psychologically and physically. The more adept we are at contacting, expressing and understanding our feelings the more able we are to deal with the challenges life throws our way, whether in our relationships, past or present, work, family life, body or general self-esteem.
Through life, we develop unconscious armour against painful feelings. This armour can be part of our belief system (I feel small so I will act big, I always feel unloved so I will try to get everyone to love me). This amour can reveal itself through the body, self-esteem or how we are in relationships. If only we could simply drop the armour by telling ourselves to do so but regrettably this attempt often ends up becoming self-criticism. This armour initially may have begun as a response to certain environmental factors. Life force is clever, you put a plant in a bottle and it will bend to fit the bottle. Humans do something similar: we adapt by building defences. when reality is experienced as too much, we contract or deny what's happening in order to cope. We create relational ways of responding that only serve to exacerbate our situation. When we're armoured, what we need is a place we can trust again or the space to release the built-up tension that resides in the muscles.
The body remembers – There are certain times in early development that we cannot connect to through talking alone but we can sometimes get there through the body. I once travelled on a bus with a man who’d once been a soldier in a war zone, as we travelled, the bus backfired and the man instinctively dived onto the floor. His body was still in the war zone. His body was still in fright/flight/freeze mode and he needed to process and have witnessed the fear that he was still carrying. Some childhoods have been experienced as war zones, with such things as physical and sexual abuse, spanking, routine abandonment as a form of discipline, the withdrawal of love as a way to punish, tyrannical controlling, smothering, narcissistic parenting etc. As children we all need to survive and to do this we adapt, we can do this by shutting down our feelings and joining forces with the abuser and eventually abusing ourselves with self-criticism, addictions, depression, shame, self-harming etc. To move forward we need to let the body express what it's holding onto so that we can be fully alive again. By doing this we are beginning to re-parent ourselves as we listen empathically to the child that was forced into hiding and can now come out, back into its aliveness.
Gestalt is a very powerful way of working. Instead of talking about the issue, we go directly into it. The cushion becomes our partner, mother, brother, work colleague and we explore what we want to say and what they might say back. This way of working can also be used with parts of the self. The part that wants to do one thing can dialogue with the part that wants to do another. Working like this produces insights, helps us connect to buried emotions, lets us have a different outcome from an original wounding, and empowers through internalising new experiences. I have often heard people say they’re reluctant to work like this because it feels like acting and yet once they allow themselves to try, they’re amazed at how powerful it can be.
Using art material – using art materials is a great way to explore issues. For some people describing a feeling is easier when it’s done in the form of an image. This is not about being an artist, though I have to say I have never seen an image that I have not also admired as a piece of art because all images reflect the inner workings of our being. Creating images gets us into the right brain (feeling) hemisphere and so helps us connect to our subconscious more easily and this is where the root of who we are resides. Creating images is something I offer and suits some people more than others.
Our skin, our muscles, the proximity we allow in relation to others all carry an energetic charge. One person may feel too close and another never close enough. You may be cuddly but terrified of sex. As a child, you may have been inappropriately touched or not touched enough. Touch can feel like a minefield or a goldmine, depending on your experience. In the way I work, there are various forms of touch through which we can explore and this can also include the thought of touch without actual physical contact. One form of touch is in the form of working on deep tissue helping to soften built-up muscular armour, enabling the release of repressed feelings. This hands-on approach to working with the body is something we would discuss in the consultation. The touch may involve hands pushing against each other, a hand on the back, or a hug. Physical contact can be an invaluable way of connecting with unconscious material. In body-psychotherapy it may be used precisely because of its ability to trigger the unconscious and if used, is employed sensitively, always with 100% consent and obligation is always discouraged with an understanding of clear boundaries being a healthy part of who we are. Touch in sessions is not a given and I see many clients where there is no touch at all.
Who is it for?
Some of the issues I have worked with are:
Anger issues (repression to rage)
Trauma (past and present)
Body image - body dysmorphia, obesity, eating disorders et al.
Psychosomatic - back pain, tension, headaches et al.
Anxiety - shyness, fear, overwhelm, panic attacks et al.
Addiction (drug, alcohol, screen, relationship, porn, sex)
You can also use this work for ongoing personal development and support.
Before any ongoing sessions can begin you will need to have a consultation in which, together we will explore what you bring and what you hope to gain from therapy. There may be some note-taking and questions around such things as relationships, family history and any major traumas in your life. It’s also an opportunity for you to ask me any questions you might have about me and the way I work.