Do you listen to your body?
We all know that mind and body are linked, but it’s surprising how few therapies deal with both. Psychologists now understand that many emotional problems are linked to early traumas which are ‘somatised’ – held in the body. Sometimes simply talking doesn’t get to the root, because the source of the original problem is held out of awareness. Instead, clients often describe a vague feeling of stuckness, unhappiness, lack of connection, or frustration with their lives. Current problems in daily life may be triggering these feelings, but there’s an underlying sense of deeper unease.
Body psychotherapy includes a range of therapeutic approaches which aim to work with psychological problems through the body. It can include a mixture of body awareness, psychotherapeutic techniques such as gestalt and psychodrama, and the possibility of working with body movement and direct contact. A body psychotherapist can help you get in touch with those deeply-held feelings which are sensed as blocked energy. Often these are old fears, beliefs or patterns which have been taken on unconsciously at a body level, and are ready to come to the surface and be released in a safe space.
Science shows that as babies and children, our nervous system develops in order to help us grow and survive. Our body holds a record of this developmental history, which might give us a tendency to withdraw, or experience inexplicable fears; we might have learned to hold back our enthusiasm, or been encouraged to take on responsibility before we were ready. In adult life these traits can manifest in the range of psychological problems – anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, low self esteem – because these early adaptations are embodied as patterns which no longer serve us. They once helped me to survive, but now they limit me.
Body psychotherapy is particularly effective in addressing these early developmental imprints. Therapy aims to create a state of ‘neural plasticity’, allowing the brain to make new connections and establish more helpful patterns of reaction and response. By listening to the body we can follow the story back to its origin and foster change on a fundamental level. The results can include new insights and understanding, new energy, and a deeper sense of ease with life.
There are relatively few therapists working in this field, which spans psychotherapy and bodywork. Not all call themselves body psychotherapists – other terms include body-centred or body-oriented psychotherapy, embodied relational therapy, deep bodywork, and somatic psychology. Some practitioners may be bodyworkers who have also trained in therapeutic skills to deal with the psychological and emotional issues which hands-on work can evoke. Others are traditionally trained counsellors and psychotherapists who have learned to bring body wisdom into their work.
The body responds to being given attention. A client who notices stiff shoulders may discover issues around carrying responsibility, or holding things together. A feeling of numbness may suggest energy ready to move and be expressed. The heart and the gut often offer different perspectives. A simple movement or gesture may allow the body to communicate new information which the conscious mind is blocking or overlooking. If you start to listen to your body, and take its messages seriously, it will reveal a story which may surprise you!