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dove healing arts

The interface of psychotherapy and somatics

"Do not try to forget the past; it is impossible to forget the past without forgetting oneself at the same time. You may imagine that you have forgotten one or another unwanted detail, but it is stamped in some part of your body. Yet that past experience, awful as it may have been, can be used now to make your present a vital basis for a fuller, more absorbingly interesting future. When you have learned to accept the past and you have made peace with it, then it will leave you in peace." --Moshe Feldenkrais, The Potent Self

 Feldenkrais, dance, and other body awareness methods can be an important part of emotional healing. Trauma survivors can learn how to reduce stress, improve negative self-image, and create more awareness of bodily patterns around depression, anxiety, and anger. Body and mind are systemically interwoven within our neural structure; they are not, and have never been, separate. 

 The following articles are from Alan Fogel's Body Sense blog on Psychology Today and offer insight into why body centered approaches are increasingly coming into use in psychotherapy: 

 How the body remembers what the mind does not, and how that may affect recovery 

 If you are thinking about feeling, you don't know how you feel

 Why we need embodied approaches to treat trauma

When a pervasive or chronic discomfort or pain can't be traced to a structural problem or the natural effects of aging, illness, or genetic causes, it is sometimes linked to somatic (body/mind) states that developed in response to overwhelming and/or traumatic events: abuse, abandonment, accidents, crime, extensive medical procedures, the effects of war or natural disasters. 

 Traumatic events can lead you to develop patterns of holding and moving your body in restricted ways to ward off any physical "reminder" of the event or the psychological stress that resulted. If there is fear that the emotions involved (anger, sadness, helplessness, a sense of loss of identity) are too strong to safely contain, your body will often take on the function of bracing or becoming rigid in order to "contain" the emotions so that they don't "spill out". What's important to remember is that the pain and rigidity serve a purpose which is essentially self-protective. You wouldn't want to suddenly dismantle all of the defenses that have protected you. It takes time and patience to move through this process.

 Overwhelming experience is not processed or stored in the same neural systems as our everyday, non-overwhelming experience. As such, it can remain "split off" from our cognitive process and resist our best attempts to integrate it. When pieces of our past experience "pop" to the surface, we may have flashbacks of sounds, smells, feelings, and events that are not related to our current life. We may not have that much cognitive or "thinking" control over the way we physiologically respond to reminders of the original event. 

 This is where I feel the practice of bodily awareness and some kind of meditative process, learning how to stay with awareness no matter what is happening, can be a vital part of healing. We may or may not be able to completely defuse the triggers that cause us to move into vigilance, because our response is not a cognitively mediated process. We CAN learn how to rest with what is happening to the best of our ability, which helps us assess whether or not a real threat exists. We can learn how to comfort and soothe that part of ourselves, move out of fear and go on living.  Both meditation and Tara Approach techniques are extremely helpful in this area.

Feelings arise in the body, and the body is a resource for healing

A raised shoulder or hunched back is not only a "postural" difficulty that can cause physical pain. It is also a part of the image of ourselves that lives within us. Holding ourselves this way could reflect feelings of sadness, uncertainty, guardedness, or other feelings that cannot directly be said to be "physical" problems. Emotional experiences, memories, attitudes, and feelings have profound and lasting effects upon the way we experience our bodies and the way we present ourselves to others.  And, because of the power of the body to affect the mind, our bodies are powerful resources for healing, freedom, and joy.

 I earned a degree in counseling, and have benefited greatly from talk therapy. At the same time, I believe that it can be very difficult to "think" feeling different, because feeling is feeling--it contains far more information than the simply cognitive. Words alone often don't go directly to the heart of our experience. When we incorporate bodily experience, art, writing and other processes into healing, there are more doors through which healing can enter and enrich us. We can gradually bring our lives back into a sense of place and a feeling of peace and confidence. That is what "integration" means, at least to me. 

 All feelings originally arise in the body. Why is it called a "feeling"? It's because you experience physical reactions to a situation prior to having cognitive thoughts about it. You could call "feeling" the preverbal, bodily experience before a label gets slapped onto it. You feel something--then your brain thinks about it and gives it a name--angry, mad, sad, scared, happy, etc. All of this happens very quickly, of course, but that's how it works. In PTSD, your cognitive mind might not even be able to understand or cogently think about what's happening until later on. But you have a larger awareness that you can tap into, one that doesn't need to "know" in order to be innately good, innately healing, and powerful.  In choosing healers to work with, I encourage you to find those who you feel possess the capacity and love for deep listening, reflection, change, and clarity. 

 I consider issues such as body image, self-image, self-esteem, stress relief, and other so-called psychological and psychosocial reasons to be perfectly valid areas of exploration for body/mind work. We are discovering the power and presence of awareness--presence--pure Being--which permeates all aspects of your life whether you notice or not.

The trauma survivors who come to see me possess enormous qualities of resilience, reflection, determination, and courage. They have often done extensive talk therapy and yet still feel that something is missing, unclaimed, that they want back from their lives. Interestingly, the process of healing I follow is, often, not a dramatic thing but a gentle unfolding of a new life. Wakefulness and contentment, in its genuine form, is a sweet and rather unspectacular thing, which can take some getting used to. 

 

Things can change. It takes time and patience and a lot of love. But they can, and do.


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