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.

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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.

I want it my way or, the REAL cure for stress

Everything in my life would be so simple if only everyone did exactly what I want them to do all the time. In fact, that’s so obvious that I can’t really believe I have never said it before.  If you people would just do things the way I want them done, then I wouldn’t have all this stress.

Why can’t you conform to MY expectations?  Why won’t you give up your own needs, desires, and wants in order to  meet mine?   If you won’t do that, then LIFE IS NOT FAIR.

And you know what that means……I’ll have to be all stressed out about life not being fair.

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It isn’t really just people, though.  I want the DOG to do what I want.  And I really, REALLY want the weather to do things the way that I prefer them.  Like I’ve really just about HAD IT with the snow. We are in the middle of yet another blizzard (can I stand to write another blizzard post?) and I want it to JUST STOP.  STOP IT!!!

And that’s where the whole house of cards breaks down.  Becomes pretty funny, actually, when the absurdity is revealed.

I can rail at the weather all I want but it isn’t going to have any effect.  The weather is what it is. I can rail about the dog, too, and I could even do something to separate myself from him or train him to behave differently, but my major complaint is shedding and neither he nor I have any control over that.

We often live in a illusory world where we believe that we should be able to control other people.  We want to control not only how they behave, but often (and more insidiously) how they think and feel.   We want them to LIKE us, or think kindly toward us, or treat us with respect.  We get stressed in our attempts to manage other people’s thoughts about us and their behaviour toward us.  We think we know what’s going on inside other people, we think we can foretell the future based on what we think THEY think, and we think that there is something we can do about it.

??????????

Yes, that’s living in illusion.   A whole whack of layers of illusion.  Imagine the fabric that is called illusion….wedding dress stuff, layers and layers of tulle-like poufyness.  Then imagine what it would be like to have your hold on reality swathed in layers and layers of illusion:  not being able to find the ground, or find what is real….yes, that would be stressful!  Sometime we believe that the solution to the stress is for the other person to just Just Shape Up.  In other words, do what I want you to do, and do it now.  Then I won’t have to be all stressed.

If we look at the weather, the absurdity becomes obvious. If only the weather would cooperate, I wouldn’t have to suffer.  Not true! Suffering is a result of believing that I shouldn’t be inconvenienced. If the weather were perfect, I’d find something else to suffer (be stressed) about.  And I can’t change the weather anyway.  There’s got to be a better answer than that!

There is a better answer, one that actually works. The truth is that our thinking is wrong on two counts.   First, our stress is not a result of other people’s behaviour (or even the weather).  The stress comes from fighting with illusion….fighting imaginary tigers, if you will.  And the second wrong-thinking part is the idea that the cure for my upset (stress) is for the other person (or dog, or the weather) to conform to my expectations.  After all, I shouldn’t be inconvenienced if I haven’t agreed to it. That is not fair.  And that’s a thought a lot of us share.

The cure for stress is to get out of illusion, including the illusions that life contains no inconvenience and that life is fair. Imagine beating your way through the layers and layers of gossamer fabric, wrapped oh so gently around you, encompassing and wrapping you and keeping you in suffering.  The hardest part is to really allow yourself to wonder if you are in illusion. This is actually an empirical question.  It is testable.  You can ask yourself the question…”What do I know?”   And sit with that. What do you really KNOW right here and now? What do I know as opposed to what do I think, believe, or feel to be true?

I start with the things that are incontrovertible.  I know that I am breathing, for example.  I can feel it.  I can stop and notice my breathing.  Yes, I am certain that I am breathing.  Am I alive in my body?   Can I feel my feet on the floor?  Press them right into the floor and feel them there?  Yes.  I am breathing and I can I feel my body, beginning with my feet. So now I know that I am alive, a living organism, having an experience.   What else can I notice?

Then coming back to the upset at hand….what do I KNOW?   What have I seen, heard, observed?   Can I separate that from what I think I know about what I have seen, heard and observed?  For example, can I notice someone’s behaviour without engaging my beliefs about it?  Without the script or storyline? Can I just see what IS without all the layers of how it Should Be or or How I Want It To Be, or How Other People Might Think About It?

It is simple.   But it isn’t easy.  When I ask myself, what do I want to happen in this situation, I can see if I want to control something (or someone) else.  When I ask, what do I really know about this?, then I can better see what my own illusions are contributing

What do I KNOW right here in this moment?  Right here and now, can I separate my moment-to-moment experience from my thoughts, beliefs, plans, memories, concepts, and ideas?  Can I see what is mine and what is someone else’s?  Can I allow other people the same opportunity to be themselves that I want to have in my own life?  And when that becomes possible, what do I notice about my own suffering, or my own stress?

Freedom from illusion isn’t freedom from pain.  But it sure can minimize the suffering.

All I ever wanted…

“All I ever wanted since I arrived here on Earth were the things that turned out to be within reach, the same things I needed as a baby — to go from cold to warm, lonely to held, the vessel to the giver, empty to full. You can change the world with a hot bath, if you sink into it from a place of knowing that you are worth profound care, even when you’re dirty and rattled. Who knew?”

This quote is from an article in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/eating-healthy-habits-how-to-satisfy-your-soul_n_1940936.html) that is an excerpt from Anne Lamott’s new book.

It sure made me think.  To go from cold to warm…from lonely to held….from empty to full.  All body states, all states of being in the body.   We think, and so because we think, we assume that thinking holds the answers or the keys to our well being or our sense of “okayness.”      Thinking is an important tool, for sure.  It is essential for solving problems, and for generating new creations.  But to FEEL okay is a body thing.

 

It is funny, or at least ironic, that we assume that we need to THINK about stuff in order to feel better.  We certainly know that our thinking can make us feel worse.    So we make the logical assumption that we need to think in order to feel better.  But what if that is a false assumption?

Maybe we just need to FEEL in order to feel better.  Maybe we need to get in touch with what our body is experiencing right here and right now.   If I can’t feel what’s going on in my body, then I am out of touch with the largest part of myself.   So when I can’t FEEL, I need to move some energy in my body so that sensation becomes available to consciousness.

Check in right now.  What are you aware of IN YOUR BODY?    If you aren’t feeling all that much, get up, swing your arms around, pick your knees up, one after the other, jog in place, or do a few old-faithful jumping jacks.  Move enough so that your breathing changes.   Then slow your motion until you find a place of stillness, and check in again.  What’s there for you?  Where are you on the cold-to-warm, lonely-to-held, empty-to-full continua?  What is your full experience right in this moment?