I am pretty excited to be able to tell you about a two-workshop series I am offering this spring. It is for people who work with postpartum moms, or who want to work with that population. The first day, on Friday 17 April, we’ll focus on the background information needed to effectively work with women who’ve experienced reproductive trauma. The second workshop is more specifically focused around clinical skills used within therapy sessions, and I hope you’ll bring your experiences to share.
For more information you can click HERE to go to the page on this blog. There you can download the flyer, and get the registration information. If you have questions about the content, let me know! Looking forward to seeing you in Fredericton this spring.
The 2014 Summer Bioenergetics Retreat on Prince Edward Island is history now. It was and it will not come again. There may be other retreats and they may be wonderful but this particular one will not be repeated.
I was fortunate to be a participant in the original retreats offered by Bethany Doyle and Rosalind McVicar. I began in 2003 and attended annually through 2012, which was the final year of their program. The retreat in 2003 was my introduction to bioenergetic therapy, and I was hooked, so much so that I applied for the training program that was starting that fall. I was fortunate to be accepted and trained with Rosalind and Bethany, as well as with Michael Maley, Louise Frechette, and Chuck Lustfield, the International Trainers who traveled to PEI for us. And I got to go to the retreat for all those years.
Several members of the initial training group are now Certified Bioenergetic Therapists (CBTs), and we have created a team to continue to offer a summer retreat on PEI. Last month, we had our second retreat with 20 participants, three therapists (see below for contact information), offerings in creativity, spirituality, and grounding movement, West African drumming, opportunities to share responsibility and support our community, plus to have massage and body work available. During the week, I also felt my connection to those who have come before, as Rosalind and Bethany offered their best wishes, and from others in my training group who sent email and phone support.
The heart of the retreat program is bioenergetics: more exercise to increase body awareness and express strong feeling, group process where we all get to know ourselves and each other, individual therapy where people can work out material that comes up in the heightened context of the group. The absolute confidentiality of the group makes it a safe place for people to work with what really matters to them, and the chance to work with deep feeling, whatever it is, opens energy for laughter and spontaneous play. And there was much laughter and much spontaneous play last week!
I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to shape and support the processes of this retreat. I learned a lot about myself and my connections to others, even as a therapist, and I appreciate the openness and willingness of all of our participants to engage in the process and support one another.
Planning for next year is underway! Mark your calendar: July 4-10, 2015, Saturday to Saturday.
We cannot return to the past; we can only go forward.
I had that thought this morning, pondering my life, my career, my current state. But I think it is likely that both parts of that thought are untrue.
We can go back and we can go forward, always and sometimes obsessively, in our minds. We do a lot of both. Sometimes I spend a lot of time in one place or the other, and sometimes just waffling in between. Remembering, for example, my mother’s death, or then her life, and wondering how much of my memories of her are based on “reality” of actual events in the world, and how much based on the reality of my child’s experience. And then flipping into some future where I have written about my life, and made sense of it all. And then flopping to another new future where I leave therapy as a career and do nothing, nothing at all. Or write, but somehow make a living at writing. Or reshape my therapy practice so I focus on groups and have more free time, or then I wonder if I don’t really embrace some idea I have for work, well, then, will I die feeling incomplete???
The point is that I am returning to the past over and over. I am slipping into the future again and again. And when I spend my days in those places I miss being alive. I miss what is actually going on.
Where can I find a balance so that I am living my life here and now, and also creating a future that conforms to my desires? Oh, that’s a point….all of this time travel is usually about control. It is about my desire to control my future and my rage that I could not control my past. Aha, yes, indeed.
I wonder if acknowledging that I want to CONTROL my future will help me let go of that deep desire. Actually, I don’t really want to control the future….I just want the outcomes to be the outcomes I want. It reminds me somehow of the prayers I was taught as a child. I was taught to ask God to bless parents, friends, the dog, and to keep everyone safe and happy. Somehow I believed that my supplication would protect people and keep outcomes the way I wanted them. That’s a pretty long history of wanting to control how things work out.
Maybe all I can do right now is try to limit my time traveling. Here and now can be a pretty good place. It can also be boring, sad, angry, irritable and cold. But the more time I spend in the present, the more life I am getting in my life. I guess I’ll try for that.
The Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller, has been on my shelf for years. I am not exaggerating. It has been there, reproaching me, taunting me with my inadequacy, for at least twelve years. Now you must understand that this is a thin little book, a small volume that consists of three of Miller’s major essays from the middle of her career as a Swiss psychoanalyst. But I have been afraid of this book, afraid of Miller in many ways.
Today, this morning in fact, I finally finished reading this book. I finished reading and now I sit, both wondering what I was afraid of, and knowing that my own struggles in reading this book come from my struggles to escape my childhood traumas. What Miller wrote was radical when she wrote it, but that was more than thirty years ago.
Her point, oversimplified, is that children experience intrapsychic wounding by parents who have not consciously realized their own wounds. This wounding happens in good families, by parents who mean well and frequently the children of such parents are “gifted:” they are leaders, intellectual, caregivers, compliant and obedient, shining lights in many ways. The problem, and there is a problem, is that these gifted children have given up parts of themselves in order to be what the parents needs them to be….good, nice, kind, smart, beautiful, athletic, obedient, quiet…whatever it is that the parent must have. When a person, a child, has to put away parts of herself in order to stay connected to the parent, those parts can go underground for years. They can emerge as peculiar behaviours, thoughts, or feelings, or show up as an absence, such as when a person feels “nothing” or “numbness” or reports that they feel dead inside. We are built with a part of us that strives toward wholeness, someone, and we get to a point where it no longer feels okay to live your life as if you are a real person having a real life. You want to actually BE a real person and actually LIVE. That means having access to all the parts of you; the nice, sweet, clean, brilliant parts, but also the dirty, nasty, angry, bitchy, sly and disgusting parts as well. We have it all but until we can find acceptance for it all, we are only living a partial life.
Miller is a psychoanalyst, so she constructs this process in terms of objects and introjects. I can see myself in those terms but also more simply. I can still hear my mother’s voice when I start to rage at myself for my usual internal list of shortcomings (that’s where the inadequacy comes in). I recognize that part of me that still operates as if striving will get me something. With striving come harsh thoughts, rigid behaviour and body, focused and energized thinking but only in rigid areas, with tunnel vision. Even though I don’t consciously feel like I need to be punished, my actions are punishing: extreme frugality, extreme exercise, extreme dieting, extreme overwork. When I get that way, now, I know that I have been triggered, something has happened. In some way I have been reminded of the child that I once was, who believed that she deserved to be punished when she was not “good.”
What I have learned about myself includes knowing that I need soothing rather than punishment when I am busy overworking, over planning, and overeating. Because the range of feelings could not be accepted and accommodated in my childhood, I learned that having some particular feelings was “bad.” Even now, even as an adult, a therapist, a psychologist, I may react with shock and shame at some trigger. . And it may take a bit of time for me to see what happened.
When I notice that rigidity coming over me, I can slow down. I can remember that my body is locked in the old, old story, not the here-and-now. I can breathe and remind myself that love is available. I can take it in, right here and now, feeling my connection to the ground and to the sky. I can soften my shoulders, relax my jaw, let my eyes rest deeply in their sockets, and remember that I am who I am, a whole person who makes mistakes and poor choices and has messy and complicated feelings, and that I am also more than that.
And I can thank Miller for her book, for her ideas that really opened up how we think about the inner world of children. I am sorry it has taken me twenty or more years to read this book but that’s just what it took. And I am grateful that I had it to read now.
I was thinking about practicing psychotherapy. Okay, I think about that a lot, and discuss it with my colleagues, and read about it and of course I also spend a bit of time actually practicing. I recently heard Randy Patterson talking about processes in therapy, and one of his thought-provoking questions was about therapy drop-out. What proportion of clients leave therapy before attaining their goals?
Apparently most practitioners will estimate about 20-25% but they will be wrong. The actual, documented typical drop out rate is more like 75-80%. So that includes the people who come once and don’t like you or the process, and also the people who work hard in therapy, start to feel better, but leave before actually accomplishing their goals.
I was just like the rest of the herd: roughly estimated that about 20 percent of people who come to therapy drop out. Upon reflection, I can see that the drop-out rate is a lot higher. Many people in therapy accomplish a lot even though they may not meet their goals, such as to no longer be depressed, or to get through a difficult situation. So even without meeting a goal, it isn’t therapy wasted. In fact, even for people who only come once or twice, the time, money, and energy are likely not wasted. When the client leaves, it may be that the process wasn’t meeting some need at that particular time, or that competing needs pushed therapy out. And in reality, the client’s goals might never actually be discussed, or defined. So the entire process, therapy, outcomes, termination, all of that might be very murky for both client and therapist.
But all that talk is just prelude to my title thought. People do leave therapy in various ways; leave angry, leave silently, leave with congratulations and great hurrahs for accomplishments They also return, and they return in various ways. If they leave in a way that feels okay to them, it makes it easier to return. And the other circumstance that makes a return to therapy easier is extreme distress.
It is not uncommon for clients to come to therapy in distress, get some relief, and, just as the therapist thinks it is time to really begin the actual THERAPY, the client leaves. Well, she got what she came for, which was relief. The problem is that if the underlying behaviour or thought pattern hasn’t changed, or maybe even hasn’t come into her awareness, she’ll likely be in a very similar distress again. So she returns to therapy and has a few sessions; feels quite a lot better, either due to the intervention, or to a change in external circumstances, or to that old placebo, time. So she leaves again…..only to return another time. Lasting change hasn’t happened; there has been, perhaps, a series of band-aids, or (better image) a step-wise movement that may be more lateral than progressive.
Is it okay to keep using band-aids when therapy might actually generate some real change ? Who makes that call? What does the ethical therapist do with this?
I don’t have an answer. Part of me thinks that it is disingenuous to just keep on with supportive counseling when I believe that a deeper, more focused type of work will be helpful in the long term. But another part of me acknowledges that for many people, symptom relief is a good thing and is sufficient. So whose goals are important here? It doesn’t make sense that my goals for your therapy should supersede YOUR goals for your therapy. But you also have less experience with therapy than I do, and you might not know what is possible.
Reflection tells me that I probably have to be honest with clients and tell them how I see it….that there is hope beyond just immediate relief from distress…but that the immediate gratification may not be there. Longer term therapies, like bioenergetic analysis which helps to restructure personality, or trauma treatments which heals through restructuring of distorted memories, can have outcomes that make a huge difference to the person. The path to those outcomes isn’t a smooth one, though, and often the courage it requires to take that path is hard to come by. So I can understand why someone might decide to use counseling as a symptom relief measure.
So ….. whose agenda, whose goals? Is feeling better a good enough goal for therapy? or do we have a better chance of getting change when we set goals that are more clearly defined??
These are some of the things I ponder. If I don’t find an answer, I usually look for chocolate. Which, in its way, performs the same soothing and comforting role as supportive counseling. Chocolate for everyone! Then back to pondering the deep thoughts.
I had to retrain my inner critic. I had a critic who was so skillful, so sly, that she could find something wrong with just about everything I thought or did. And she could present the criticism in such a way that it was clear that it was both 1) true and 2) necessary for me to know how bad I was.
Woohoo! If I had a person in my life who treated me that way, I doubt that I would have stayed around for coffee. But I lived with this person in my head for a long, long time.
One of the side effects of having a strong inner critic is that often the real-life person (me, in my case) is extremely critical of everyone and everything else. Well, it only makes sense….if that’s what you experience all the time, every day, then perhaps you figure that’s what your response to the rest of the world should be….ought to be…..MUST be.
Oh my gosh, there they are, all three of them in a single sentence….SHOULD, OUGHT, and MUST. Hmm, my old favorite thought distortion….that there are shoulds, oughts, and musts in the world. I remember the first time I ever knew that there were other ways to think about things. An art therapist who was on some committee with me, many years ago, made some laughing comment about “shoulding all over oneself” but that was long before I was introduced to cognitive psychology and I had never heard of such a thing. But before long, I was able to see that I not only “should” all over myself, but I was continuously “shoulding” all over other people as well.
In some stories, that would have been enough but no, I’m a pretty slow learner, and it took a lot more years, completion of my psychology training (which helped me to be ever more critical), and intensive body psychotherapy before I could start to really recognize the many manifestations of my inner critic. First I had to detach myself from the messages I had been hearing from myself. And that’s where, finally, the title of this post comes in.
When I can look at myself without immediate judging (“that’s okay, that’s not okay, I like this, I hate that, I’m doing well, I’m not doing so great”) then I have a chance to see what is really happening in my inner space. When I can catch a passing thought and see it as a thought, then I can notice….Oh, that was a critical thought. Hmmm, isn’t that interesting? When I can have a friendly interest in my own processes, without having to change them, harden against criticism or melt into praise, then I am offering myself compassionate curiosity.
So what happened when I began to observe my own inner critic? At first I was horrified to hear how much harsh self talk was going on. Then I realized that some part of me was being highly critical of the critic! (Yes, check out THAT logic…). When I realized that the critic was originally a defense, yes, originally something that developed to help me to negotiate a difficult childhood, then I could bring a bit of compassion to that part of myself.
In my bioenergetic therapy training program, we talked about ways to work with the critic: our own critics, and the critics that accompanied our clients into the therapy office. One plan was to figure out ways to off the critic….toss him off a cliff, for example, or trick her into leaving. I decided to take a softer approach. I decided to try to befriend my critic, and re-train her. I wanted to be in charge, so I thought I would approach this situation as if she was an employee who had taken on too much responsibility over the years.
I began a dialog of sorts in my journal, and basically re-wrote the job description. I thanked my critic for the years of protection, and spent quite a lot of time reflecting on the ways that my strong internal demand for certain behaviour saved me from an angry parent, from dismissal from my graduate program, from neglecting my children despite my fatigue. Then I just informed her that things were now different. I was an adult with good habits and didn’t need anyone constantly harping about me. What I did need, though, was support.
Support is one of those ambiguous terms. People may mean very different things by that term. So I did with my critic what I suggest clients do with family members: I carefully described what I wanted for support. I wanted, for example, my inner voice to learn to say things like “Good job on that!” and “You are working hard enough” and “It is okay to take a break.” Actually, I modeled those kinds of comments on the statements that my therapist offered to me over the years.
Did it work? Well, it was a program of change, and, like most changes, time, practice, and consistency have been involved, but yes, it did work. I have to be vigilant, as I expect most people who have lived with an ornery inner critic for about 45 years would have to be. But I can recognize my negative self talk, I can notice it without labeling and just say, oh, yes, there it is again. I wonder if there is something going on that has that critic reverting to old behaviour? And with that gentle sort of curiosity, I can look deeper without fear of what I might find.
Boy, do human beings ever dislike change! We don’t like it when we have change thrust upon us. If something changes without notice, well, then, I am unprepared, maybe taken unawares, feeling out of step or off kilter. We prefer to call our own shots, to have predictability in our lives. We don’t even like it much when the weather changes, even though it is eminently clear that the weather means nothing personal.
When we see the need for change in our own lives, we often resist it. Even if we want the change, seek it, work toward it, sometimes we get in our own way. Obstacles arise, apparently by themselves. Inertia settles into the body. We may actively sabotage our own efforts to change our behaviour. Then we give up, saying, “It’s too hard. I’ve been okay like this so far; I don’t know why I think I want to change anything anyway.” Then we settle for living less than our full lives, sighing with resignation. “I can’t change. Things just won’t go the way I want them to. There is no hope…”
I respectfully disagree! Change is possible. In fact, change is inevitable. We work incredibly hard to try to keep things, including ourselves, from changing. But change is going to happen. We can prepare for it, try to focus it in a particular direction, and let life change us. The key is letting it happen rather than trying to force it, or force ourselves.
People come into the office wanting something to change. Sometimes they want circumstances to change, but mostly they know that the change has to come from within. Sometimes people want harsh measures, and they are particularly punitive with themselves. “I have to lose twenty pounds and so I am not going to eat anything good for the next two months…” Sometimes they want me to be punitive with them; it may be the only kind of relationship they know. How different it is to allow change rather than to force it! How different to set an intention rather than create a goal and rigid steps to achieve it!
Change is happening to you, right now. It is happening to me, it is happening in all of our lives. What one tiny step can you take right now to move that change in the direction you prefer? Maybe you can step outside for a walk, or maybe just a deep breath to change your relationship to your work. Maybe you can email a friend, to change your social connections. Maybe you can pick up a bit of litter. Maybe you can send a positive thought to someone you fear, to change how you relate.
Have you ever had the experience of going back to where you grew up, seeing with adult eyes a place that you had experienced as a child? Usually people remark that everything seems so much smaller. The houses you knew, the parks, the walks to school, all of those things that were the fabric of your daily childhood experience seem to shrink in size when you return as an adult. Of course that makes perfect sense. When you were a child, you were physically smaller, so your actual relationship to the concrete aspects of your environment was different. Relative to you, things ARE smaller once you grow up.
I have recently had a different experience, one that strikes me as nearly opposite but arising from the same place. I have been visiting a part of the US where I lived as an adult, where I worked, raised children, commuted, participated in all the usual activities of a busy adult life. The area is fairly heavily populated, towns strung like tightly packed pearls on a necklace of highways, traffic usually busy, lots of stores and businesses, shopping malls and medical office parks, housing subdivisions, convenience stores competing with each other on every corner. I have been visiting my former home, the college where I worked as a professor, the community where I consulted twice a month, and places that I frequented to run, bike, walk or drink coffee. What I have discovered is that everything here is seems bigger, rather than smaller. Distances are much longer than I remembered them to be. Buildings are larger. Rooms don’t seem different but buildings themselves seem out of human proportion, or at least out of proportion to me.
What’s going on here? I think it is a great example of how our minds actually create our reality. The relevant research term is “cognitive mapping,” which refers to the internal structure we create to navigate our literal world. The parts of this literal world that I recollect the best are the ones where I had a personal connection, and I remember them without really remembering the parts in between. That is, I can easily recall the building where my office was, and the coffee place across the street. What was not clear to me (in memory) was the actual distance between them. I remembered the route to drive to the college but the distance was a shock to me! It takes a long time to get between here and there in real life, but in my memory, there was no distance, and hence no time, at all.
I am sure I could get used to this place again, and stop feeling befuddled by my perceptions. But the question it raises for me is a bit bigger. If I have created a mental map of my surroundings, based on my experiences, my “working model” of the place, that means I have left out things that my mind classifies as irrelevant. I have heightened my perception of the salient points. If I do this for locations, do I also do it for other important elements of my experience? I am sure that the answer is yes. We developed these minds to help us manage in an over stimulating environment. We automatically classify, label, categorize, and evaluate all of the data that enters our sensory systems. I appreciate that; that cognitive ability makes it possible for us to learn new things, take in new information and make sense of it. But I am still left wondering what it is that I don’t know….what might I be missing in all that is around me? If I am in fact creating my perceptual world out of some objective collection of matter and energy, I am likely missing quite a bit.
Parallel universes? Right here in our very own minds? Sure, why not? Maybe that’s a part of therapy; once you have a different way to look at your circumstances, they might look a whole lot different.
Have you noticed things that were “new” simply because you were able to shift your perspective? What does that mean to you?
There is no point in hiding anything because whatever you are hiding is sitting right out there in the open in your body and your behaviour. Who I am, who anyone is, is not a secret. Except sometimes from oneself. And then, I just have to open up to the possibility that I am deluding myself.
That was Number 8 from a previous post on things that I learned in training to become a body psychotherapist. I have had a number of queries and comments about this one. It seems to be less clear to readers than some of the other items.
Well, I guess I can understand that. What I had learned is that we are who we are, all the time and under every circumstance. We don’t get to hide behind a mask of who we want to be, or who we wish we were. We don’t get to pretend, not really, that we are someone else. Well, maybe we can pull it off for a little while, or maybe everyone we interact with is just too busy with their own pretensions to notice.
Reich suggested, a long time ago, that we develop defenses against our anxiety and neuroses that actually end up embodied. The defenses are psychological (okay, that was not Reich but Freud and others) but they become embodied. In other words, part of your body.
For example, some people tend to “do for” other people a lot. In fact, whenever they are activated (energy gets moving, perhaps due to fear or anger) they do MORE for other people. They move their anger into a hidden place and clean up after dinner, wash another load of laundry, make a casserole for another neighbor, and ignore their own exhaustion and their irritation, suppressing those sensations in order to “be nice.” These folks are likely to just sink under the weight of their life struggles, feeling hopeless and despairing. This is a defense against the feelings that come up with struggle, with interaction, with living. People with this type of defense may often have constriction in the shoulders, rounded shoulders, collapsed ankles and arches, and a head that tilts forward rather than sitting atop the spine. Sometimes the upper back will become thickened and rounded. These body structures are related to the way that the person functions in the world. This person, rounded, low in energy, will often fall into helplessness when faced with frustration and threat. (See http://reichandlowentherapy.org/Content/Character/Oral/oral_communicator.html for more information)
Another person will have a different defense: instead of curving and collapsing into defeat, he or she may mobilize into action when emotion comes up. This person might work harder, longer, and try to always, always do his or her very best, no matter what. This person might struggle particularly with being too close to people, and might keep his or her heart tucked away. You’ll often see a person with this defense being kind of pulled back in the upper body. Shoulders will be level or pulled back a bit, the head may be pulled back, and there is a sense of not wanting to get too close. This person will often have tightness in the diaphragm, and may struggle to soften the body at all. Anxiety makes him or her tighten up even more, and adhere more closely to the “right” way of doing things. She finds her defense in a rigid way of looking at the world as well as in rigidifying her body.
We all know a lot about other people without consciously thinking about it. We react to cues like the above ones without even really realizing that`s what we are doing. Some people, for example, seem to be repeatedly victimized. I had a friend once who asked me if she had a sign on her forehead, because she was so often the target of bullying and abuse. There was something in her energy or in the way that she held her body or something that communicated her vulnerability to predators. There is no way that those predators were all body psychotherapists! But they could see or intuit something about this person. Similarly, we all experience people as trustworthy (or not), as authentic (or not), as a good connection (or not). Sometimes these differences can be explained by our own history (“She reminds me of my Great Aunt Ida who was a mean old biddy and so I don’t like her.”) but sometimes the input comes from the other person.
So….we have our defenses and they are structured into our bodies. Here is an example: my shoulders are typically all bound up, with poor range of motion and frequent bouts of painful tension into my neck. I have struggled with anger: pushing it down so I don’t feel it, ignoring it in my body, and forcibly restricting myself from using my fists to express it. I also tend to have trouble taking things from other people: taking support, taking help, taking gifts (“Oh, you shouldn’t have…”) and certainly struggle to reach out to grasp something that I want. When I was a child, I was told by my mother that it was impolite to ask for something that you wanted, and that you should always wait until it was offered and never, NEVER take seconds on any food. Well, I took that teaching seriously! And ended up with a body that was structured to NOT reach out to get what I wanted, and to NOT push back or strike out in anger. Fortunately for me, I was able to work on those defense strategies in therapy and particularly in bioenergetic therapy, and developed awareness and alternatives. But my defenses will always be my defenses. That`s what Reich meant by character…our defenses create our character.
Instead, anger driven underground comes out sideways….in a kind of dance that we call passive aggressive. That’s a topic for another day….but a good one!
It is only when I think I am in control (“Aha!! She thinks SHE is in control….”) that I delude myself. When I think that I am aware of myself, that I know what is going on, and that I don’t need to do my bodywork, don’t need to spend time in mindfulness, don’t need to reflect on my life and my process…that’s when I risk self-delusion. But the body does not lie.
If your body is giving you messages, pay attention! You don’t need to run away from your life and live on a secluded mountain top, but you need to attend to what your body is telling you. If you are not sure whether the message is from your body or is a thought you are having, see if you can let the thought go and just be with the body sensations. If you start from the body rather than the mind, you’ll be able to see what IS.