In psychotherapy, a profession traditionally focused on the mind, how and why might we work with the body? As our lives become increasingly sedentary, digital, and split from nature, we seem to spend more and more time cut-off from our bodily experience. It may not be until something happens to our body—we get ill, have an accident, or get pregnant—that we realise that our bodies were there all along, working for us, but not being fully appreciated or understood.
As a body psychotherapist, one of my tasks is to support my clients to a richer and fuller experience of their lives, themselves, and their bodies, in the hope that parts that have been shut-off or forgotten about can be reclaimed and reintegrated.
There are a variety of ways that we might encourage this reintegration. Let’s take the example of a client who comes for body psychotherapy wanting to work on anxiety. We might use body awareness practices and visualisation to develop the client’s internal sense of themselves and their anxious feelings. In a body scan meditation, for instance, the client brings their attention to their moment-to-moment experience of their bodies, noticing where the anxiety sits, whether there is an image that accompanies it, and tuning in to what the anxiety needs.
Let’s say that the client then feels that their anxiety needs to move around. We support them to feel into how their body wants to move to express and regulate these feelings. How the client enacts the anxiety through movement will tell us something of their inner experience. Do they run fast on the spot like they’re fleeing, or do they curl up in a ball like they’re hiding?
In another situation, the client may feel that their anxiety needs to be supported or held. Here, we might invite the client to lie down on a mattress and provide some gentle holding at the place where they feel the anxiety or another part of their body that feels safe for them. This physical contact with the therapist may provide relief, or perhaps bring the feelings into sharper focus. Either way, it provides a kinesthetic experience that may enable a deeper level of understanding than simply talking about anxiety.
However we end up working with the body in psychotherapy, the intention is to facilitate emotionally resonant experiences for the client that assists them on their journey towards a fuller sense of themselves.
Read more about body psychotherapy here.