Therapist Notes: movement as a therapy tool

Why and how to use movement in a therapy session

There are jokes about the therapy couch, but people expect to sit and talk during therapy. As I’ve said before, talking as the only healing path is limiting. Somatic therapists have other tools. Movement is an important one.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Movement facilitates the process of therapy. Muscular and joint activation increase access to memories and feelings through a process we call embodiment. Rather than intellectualizing experiences, we (somatic therapists) seek to embody them. Body psychotherapists use movement intentionally.

We support people to be present in their real life, not just a cognitive stew of memories or future fantasies. Remembering and imagining are important but they can be escapes from real life. Some people are so caught up in memories and what “should” have happened they miss what is happening now. Others are frantically trying to manage and control a future that hasn’t even happened yet, or are daydreaming possibilities that require groundwork in the present. Getting people present is a good start to a therapeutic session. Being present in your body is being embodied.

Embodiment is experiencing your body as it is right now, full of sensations, feelings, thoughts. Embodying your feelings means to feel them (not just think about them). Movement supports the process of embodiment, particularly for people who spend a lot of time in thinking, worrying, imagining or fantasizing.

Movement includes any motility of the body, including the flow of energy. Volitional movements help us in therapy. These include finger clenching, blinking, head shaking, jumping up and down, kicking, and punching a pillow. Different movement serve different functions. Below are some ways that movement helps us land in the here-and-now physical self.

Photo by Diego Rosa on Unsplash

Five functions that support becoming “embodied.”

Mobilizing or increasing energy in the body. Low-energy clients, whether due to fatigue, depression, or character, benefit from energizing the body. Movement literally requires energy, and it also creates the experience of energy moving through the body.

Increasing body awareness. In bioenergetic therapy, asking people to move spontaneously increases their awareness of the somatic experience. In part, this is because the movement of energy in the body generates sensations.

Reducing chronic muscular tensions and connective tissue contractions. Movement softens tight muscles in the upper back and neck, as well as the rigidly held shoulders. Softening allows energy — and therefore, feeling — to flow through those parts. Bioenergetic therapist and massage therapist Lucy Belter reminds me regularly, “Motion is lotion.” Loosening chronic constriction requires movement. Helping people to move their constricted parts also helps restore sensation and feeling in those areas.

Embodiment of emotional experience. Movement mobilizes energy, which creates sensations. Sensations are the building blocks of feeling. Movement can generate the flow of emotion very quickly. At other times, it can be a gradual building of somatic experience.

Healing and expanding relational capacities. Expressive movement with another person can be reparative. It offers a different way of being with one’s feelings, while relating to another person who is connected and present. We can translate this experience into opportunities for changing

relationships in the larger world. It helps an individual explore and develop new ways of relating to other people.

Movement expands the ability to feel and express feelings. It also provides a route for expression that people might not choose on their own. In therapy, we can invite people to use movement to process and express what they are feeling, and doing so makes it more likely that movement will become part of the person’s home toolkit.

Embodying feelings allows the person to experience and express their emotions to process and integrate them. The goal is for the person to experience their feelings, contain them without constricting or shutting down, express them appropriately, and have access to increased vitality, spontaneity, and clarity.

How do we do movement with clients?

First, we notice the client’s spontaneous movements. We can mirror them, invite the client to pay attention to them, ask them to exaggerate them, and check in on what that is like for the person.

You can ask a person to imagine what it would be like to move in a particular way. “How would it be right now to give that pillow a shake?”

If they find that interesting, invite the action. “Why not give it a try? See how it feels.”

Use your voice, eyes, and words to encourage. “Yeah! Shake that pillow.” Model narrowing your eyes and sticking out your jaw. “Give it to ‘em.”

When the client has moved, take a moment together to breathe and see what they experienced. “What was that like for you?”

Perhaps that will be enough, or maybe the person will do a little more. In any case, try out a little movement, especially if it is expressive movement like shaking a pillow, and then check in. Help the person find their inner safety. Notice breathing, grounding and connection to you. Allow for plenty of time to let feelings emerge and surface. Try not to rush to the next thing.

When we work with movement in session, we integrate it into the rest of the material. Usually, the movement will bring thoughts and feelings to the surface. These can be explored with more movement or with talking. Mostly we’re helping the client to be safe while becoming more aware of her own body experiences, so that she’ll be more free to feel when she’s not in therapy.

From Sensorimotor Psychotherapy to Bioenergetics Analysis…a big week for me.

Pat-Ogden-piccy-e1391085239545-150x150   Here is Pat Ogden, creator of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy.

On Monday and Tuesday, I had the privilege of hearing Pat Ogden talk about and demonstrate her well-articulated and immensely practical Sensorimotor Psychotherapy at a training in Charlottetown, PEI, Canada.  She was engaging and her presentation included much that is clinically useful…has been useful already here in the therapy room.

Then,  I headed off to Massachusetts for the Fall Conference of the Massachusetts Society for Bioenergetic Analysis, the method of body psychotherapy in which I am trained and certified.  So last week was pretty well packed with opportunities to learn, play and grow in the work of somatic psychotherapy or body-based psychotherapy.

photo-guestbook_lowen2Here’s a picture of Alexander Lowen, the founder of bioenergetics, leading a group some years ago.  This picture is courtesy of The Lowen Foundation.

A body approach to psychotherapy is only sensible.  Emotions are a body experience;  thoughts, actually, are a body experience.  If you get right down to it. there is not a single experience that you can have that isn’t mediated by being in a body.   Even at your most spiritual, the sensations, thoughts, feelings, and experiences you are having are being HAD by your body.  Your brain is, after all, part of that wonderful construction.

So both bio and SI privilege the somatic over the cognitive in therapy.   This has immediate benefits for clients:  first, access to issues is a lot faster and more clear when communication happens through the body.   If a client is willing to mindfully stay with his experience and report on it, without censor or judgment, then whatever is getting in the way is going to be available to work with directly.

There are differences between Bio and SI.   What is fundamentally the same is that the human experience of living in a body is the content of the session, and working with that is how healing happens.  

I know that when I move vigorously, express myself with my body and my voice, I can feel my own motivations, feelings and impulses more.  In a very concrete sense, I have more of myself.   In that way, I can be more self-possessed….I actually possess mySELF, and so I am not subject to reacting defensively or unconsciously.

Bioenergetic therapy gives us lots of tools.  We have movement, expression, vocalization, our words and stories,  our experiences of living in our bodies and telling others about those experiences.   This work is worth doing, to get in touch with what is really TRUE about yourself and how you relate to the world.

If you are interested in learning more, you can go to the website for the International Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis here bioenergetic therapy.  Or you can look for a Bioenergetic Exercise class in your community.  Or call a bioenergetic therapist for an appointment.

Do it for yourself.

Anticipation of joy? Or joyful anticipation?

PEI

We leave tomorrow for the week-long bioenergetic retreat in Prince Edward Island.  We have spent a year preparing, with more active preparation going on since January, and accelerating toward tomorrow.  The program begins on Friday evening and runs through the following Friday at mid-day, and each year it draws a diverse group that somehow becomes a community during our time together.   And I can imagine that the people who are joining us from all over the world are preparing, packing, and anticipating.

I have been busy with getting ready, looking after details, checking in with the rest of the team, and preparing myself for the work of therapy.  Body psychotherapists use their bodies in their work, so part of my preparation has been to be sure I do my bioenergetic exercises, to be aware of my sleep and nutrition, to work through any internal logjams that may get in my way.

And now, today, I am feeling that lovely anticipatory excitement that comes up when you are heading off for an experience that is new and also likely to be challenging and deepening and supportive and connecting.   The closest comparison I can get is that feeling I had when I was maybe eight years old of expecting Santa to come and bring presents on Christmas Eve.  There was an element of surprise but also the expectation was that things would be pretty good.

I am looking forward to seeing what gifts the next week brings.  Gifts are not always in bright packages:  in fact, the gifts of the retreat often arrive in the form of difficult feelings, ones we prefer to avoid.  I guess maybe the gifts come when people are offered a time and space to be themselves, bring their struggles, challenges, and their joys, express whatever their bodies need to express, and then see what happens.   Part of my anticipation is that I don’t know what will come up;  part of my joy is that I do know that things will happen, people will have opening experiences, and we will become a community.

I wish you all the gifts that freedom of expression can bring.

 

Morning lupins
Morning lupins

logoblu

 

Body pain, emotional pain: why I don’t work out at the gym

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Working out challenges me. I am challenged physically, of course, and also in terms of my attitude and thoughts, so I guess I could say that I am cognitively challenged, too. I have to stay positive, to avoid over-thinking and to just DO IT.

But what I have found out about working out at home, is that the sensations in my body allow to me access other kinds of emotional responses than I thought likely…or even possible. I suppose if I had not been a client of bioenergetic therapy for more than ten years, I would perhaps not feel free to allow the behavioural expression of my experience. But I do, and I am amazed and full of wonder at what is going on.

Specifically, when I work through some of the deepest and most chronic of my body tensions, it hurts. It hurts a lot, but I am okay there, knowing that what hurts is my own tension. I am not injuring myself but pressing extraordinarily tight tissues against gentle resistance, such as the foam roller, or opening my hip outward using a strap to support my leg. What happens is this: I wait with the sensation, sink into the intensity, try to allow relaxation to happen around the exquisite pain of the place where my resistance meets the roller (for example). And I am moved to sobbing, deep, deep sobbing, tears and wailing. It feels pulled out of me, from my deepest self, like part of me is tearing apart. Rolling my thoracic spine over the roller has a piquancy that is like nothing else, but as the roller descends toward my lower ribs, to the area of my diaphragm, the intensity increases. It is painful, genuinely painful, but I know it is not the pain of injury. It is the pain of my chronic tensions, chronic defenses against living my own life, resisting the pressure to soften, to release, to let go, to allow, to surrender.

So I do let go; I let go into the sobbing and wailing and that contributes to some softening and relaxing. I can’t stay for long; the sensations are too intense, my reactions are big, and I can only hold that space for a few moments.   There it is:  my body letting go another tiny bit, releasing ancient tensions through sobbing and vibration.  I don’t have any stories to tell myself about WHY I am crying, don’t have any need to locate a reason in my everyday world.  It just happens.  Then it is over.  And then I can step away, take a deep breath, and rest in the experience of a new and different body, a calmer and more alive self than just a few moments before.  The ground feels more secure, the world looks brighter, and I am intensely present to myself.

Finding the deep desires of your heart

What is your heart’s desire?  What do you REALLY want?

Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/
Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/

Notice what happens inside you as you sit with that question.   What is my heart’s desire?  What do I really, really want?  Watch your mind generate all sorts of answers, excuses, plausible reasons not to even consider the question, and perhaps even responses that are socially appropriate.

Maybe you were taught that it is rude to WANT something.  Maybe you had many experiences of disappointment in your wants, to the point that you stopped WANTING.  Or you told yourself you didn’t have any WANTS.   Maybe you are very busy trying to make sure other people get what they WANT, and your own little wants have lost their voices.

Watch your thoughts as you start to consider this question.  Notice if you resist the question itself (“I don’t need to read this stuff.”)  Notice if you reject your ideas about what you might want.   How do we get past the mind’s pattern of criticizing itself?   It is hard to know what you really want if you have an inner critic telling you to shut up all the time.

A beautiful place to sit and ponder
A beautiful place to sit and ponder

Now try an experiment.   Get up on your feet.  Yes, you, right now, on your feet!   Jump up and down a little bit, get your breathing going.    Now hop around on one foot, then the other foot, and maybe even wave your arms around up over your head.    Yes, get silly and move around vigorously, shaking your head, letting your jaw go loose, maybe letting some sound out of your mouth….
“ahhhh,   ooommmmmm,  raaaahhhhhh,    bbbrrrrrrrr…” whatever sounds come out as you are jumping, jogging, shaking, and waving.

Oh, yeah.  Just let ‘er rip!  Let your body move, let your voice come out, get energy flowing all through your body.   It could be a dance, could be cheer-leading, could be gymnastics or calisthenics  whatever works for you, but it needs to be vigorous, free, and energetic.  Yahoo!

Now let your body come back to a still place.  Feel your feet firmly on the ground, feel the breath in your body, notice your heartrate, still elevated, and notice what is happening in your thoughts, in your mind.   And now, just standing there, let your answer come….What do I really, really want?   What is my heart’s desire?

Let go of any judgment, any self-criticism.  What do I want, now that I have let my body start to have its voice?  Just notice what ideas come up for you, and see if you can make note of them without commentary.  What do I want?  What does my heart want most right now?   Nothing is off limits…whatever arises for you, that’s what you want.

And your job is to let it be okay that you want what you want.   That’s all….you can want whatever it is that you want.  Just wanting is a big thing for many of us.  This  exercise is a beginning. Your heart’s desire is there waiting for recognition.

What did you find out when you tried the little experiment?   I wonder what would happen if you did it several days in a row?  Could you get more skillful at letting the body’s truth come out?  Could you start to recognize self-criticism and learn to just let that go?