"Each being possesses an immanent dignity; it is already gifted by the loving Creator with a sanctity beyond our ability to understand." ~ Mary Beth Ingham
Photograph by Edward Weston
"Each being possesses an immanent dignity; it is already gifted by the loving Creator with a sanctity beyond our ability to understand." ~ Mary Beth Ingham
Photograph by Edward Weston
Sometimes it’s easier to hurt physically than to hurt emotionally. Sometimes the low back pain, twisted knee or achy shoulder is less distressing than the emotions “behind” those symptoms.
Here’s an example. I recently had a very intense therapy session in which I felt feelings from my childhood that I’d rather not feel. I hesitate to even write about them. Not long after this session, I developed a strange pain in my right low back. I imagined a tumor, a pulled muscle, I googled the Quadratus Lumborum muscle, conferred with my chiropractor brother, asked a colleague for a trade, thought about dying from cancer. Then I noticed that I felt emotionally numb. I wondered… when did I start feeling this back pain… and what was I feeling emotionally?.... As soon as I realized that I was avoiding my feelings, that the REAL issue was emotional pain, the physical pain started to subside. The less need I have to distract myself from the emotional pain, the less physical pain I manifest.
What did I really feel? (And this is a great question to ask yourself at any moment during the day.) I feel shame. Shame for not overcoming childhood pain. Shame for not loving all parts of myself, after all these years, shame for not standing up for myself with the therapist, and shame for feeling anger towards the therapist. In the past few days it became easier to feel the back pain than to feel the shame.
How can I heal that shame? Feel it. Share it. Know that I am not unique. Have compassion for myself. Don’t expect the shame to disappear; what we judge won’t budge. Maybe spend some time just acknowledging and feeling the shame. Comfort the part of me that feels ashamed.
Our feelings can guide us. If we don’t feel them they may transform into depression, muscular tension, eating disorders, etc. Let’s listen, feel, and let go. Let’s prevent the headaches or heart palpitations or back pain; feel the feeling. Try this: notice an uncomfortable or tense area of your body. See if it’s associated with a thought or a feeling. Feel the feeling. Then, instead of jumping to a more “positive” thought or feeling, breath in that discomfort, that pain, that anxiety into your whole body! Breathe it in. Feel it. Then exhale it and let it go. Do that a few times and see what happens. Let it flow.
When we look at a plane, we see a sleek machine with wings. If we could see inside an airplane, we would know that most airplanes have more than one engine. Commercial airplanes have an autopilot option and flights often employ two pilots. So who is in charge and what powers the plane? It depends.
Similarly, our bodies/psyches can be powered and ruled by a variety of “engines.” So who is in charge of you? It depends. Is it your inner critic? Does she or he rule you? Or is it your inner child? Perhaps your Higher Self is in charge...until you visit your parents, at which time your inner child takes over. When we are encouraged to “think positive” or use the power of our intentions, which part of us is “intending?”
Perhaps we need to question the power of our intention. Can we really attract what we want by thinking positive thoughts or by chanting affirmations? After all, who is it that is chanting that affirmation? What happens when our conscious mind affirms that we are happy while our shushed inner child silently frets? If we continuously shush that inner child, he/she will get more insistent, more powerful. He or she will shout over the affirmations. Let's listen to our inner child, access our inner nurturer, let our capital 'S' Self overwhelm us with his/her innate optimism and positive spirit!
"Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once, beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something that needs our love." Rainer Maria Rilke
Let’s talk about demons and dragons. What are the dragons in your life? Who are the demons? We all have parts of ourselves that we are not proud of. How do we deal with these parts? Do we challenge our demons, shun them, or embrace them? Do we slay our dragons or do they slay us?
Maybe what seem like demons are repressed feelings or exiled parts of ourselves. We all have a part or parts of us that we imprison. This part could be a wounded inner child, or angry feelings, or a shameful memory. We hide those unwanted feelings or parts in a dark place. Unfortunately, the darker the dungeon, the angrier or more lonely or more ashamed they become. The spurned feelings get stronger. Once we get to know them, however, they don’t seem so threatening. If we attend to them, talk to them, they calm down and stop yelling. We can open the door, let them out, and find that they can actually be quite civil after a nice tea-time chat.
Maybe these feelings or parts are like histamine. Histamine helps our bodies fight off pathogens like cold viruses, causing us to feel sick. Our noses run, we develop a fever, we feel run down. We don’t like the histamine, the mucus in our nose, the fever, but they are our helpers. Similarly, our inner critic tries to protect us by criticizing us. He or she may believe that criticism prevents us from getting into trouble; if we feel shame about an act, we will probably refrain. How about our inner child? He or she may throw a tantrum, wanting attention, rest, or love. Our Shadow is another part of us that feels like a threat. But when we shun our Shadow, we project it onto others and lose a potentially valuable part of ourselves.
Our immune system, our Shadow, our inner child, our critic; all may make us feel sick, but it it a love-sickness; the phlegm, the criticism, the walling off don’t feel good, but they are our body’s and psyche’s attempt to heal or protect us. So perhaps what seem like demons and dragons are hexed princes. When we embrace our inner critic, tend to our wounded inner child, love each part of ourselves, the demons, like the kissed frog, become princes.
Jung said it first :-) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvgmyaSTosg
"Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name on history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts." ~ Eknath Easwaran
Artwork by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
While working towards my counseling degree, I wrote this research paper advocating the use of touch in psychotherapy. I hope that you can look beyond the paper’s formality and enjoy the content!
The use of touch in psychotherapy is controversial. Many therapists and counselors nonetheless find it beneficial and some even necessary, for facilitating health. While physical touch is widely acknowledged and scientifically proven to have a healing impact on physical health, (Dworkin-McDaniel, 2011; Zur, 2011), the use of touch in a psychotherapeutic setting has historically been perceived as questionable if not absolutely forbidden (Pinson, 2002). This paper will briefly discuss the origin of this ambivalence and will defend the use of touch as beneficial and ethical.
There are many sources feeding the ambivalence surrounding touch in psychotherapy. Touch has the possibility of conveying inappropriate power and/or sexuality. Teachers, childcare workers, and of course mental health professionals are cautioned against touching clients and students for fear of being misinterpreted or even sued. What the professional intends as therapeutic touch may be perceived by the client or student as a sexual overture, crossing a boundary, or a display of power. Especially in Western culture, touch outside certain contexts such as romantic coupling and handshakes is suspect. From a Freudian perspective, touch can impede transference or can inappropriately gratify the “Id” and thus delay its mastery by the “Ego” (Pinson, 2002). Many therapists avoid touch, citing fears of unintentionally harming clients or of engendering culpability.
In spite of these cautions, therapists and healers have been using touch in many forms throughout time, to the recipient's benefit. As stated above, touch has been proven to be physically beneficial to humans. Touch can decrease stress hormones, increase serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine levels, decrease anxiety, and improve the immune system's functioning, among other benefits (Dworkin-McDaniel, 2011; Field, 1998; Zur, 2011). Studies have shown that patients in traditional psychotherapeutic settings appreciate and have benefited from touch (Horton, Clance, Sterk-Elifson, Emshoff, 1995; Smith, 1998). Jesus, mothers, lovers, shamans, as well as massage therapists, use or have used a hands-on approach to facilitate spiritual, physical, and/or emotional health. And many scientists and health care professionals are questioning whether the three realms (spiritual, physical, and emotional) can be separated. Therapeutic touch is healthy for body, mind, and spirit.
Many psychologists believe that not only is touch not inappropriate in a psychotherapeutic setting, it is actually beneficial. And scientists have proven the connection between the body and emotions (Beckes, 2015; Numenmaa, Glerean, Hari, & Hietanen, 2013; Pert, 1997). If the emotions and body are interconnected, it behooves a mental health professional to treat and even diagnose using the schema of psyche-soma unity. As Pert (1997) states, “...the deepest oldest messages are stored and must be accessed through the body. Your body is your unconscious mind, and you can't heal it by talk alone” (p. 306). Body-centered psychotherapy is based on such a premise. Body-centered psychotherapy encompasses many different approaches to healing, all acknowledging the direct effect of emotions on the body and the effect of the body on emotions. These therapies, in other words, assume the interconnectedness and possibly undifferentiated nature of body/mind. Ofer Zur, in his article on touch in psychotherapy, references more than ten body-centered psychotherapy methods popular today, beginning with an approach developed by Wilhelm Reich, a student of Sigmund Freud (Zur, 2011). Other respected psychotherapists who work with the body include Alexander Lowen, Peter Levine, Ron Kurtz, and Fritz Perls, the originator of Gestalt Therapy. If we see that there is no distinction between the body and the mind, or at the least, a direct effect of one on the other, then including touch as a diagnostic and a healing tool by mental health professionals makes good sense. All healing professions have ethical standards to curtail the inappropriate use of touch, and most therapists and counselors, when presented with proof of the benefits of touch and the interelatedness of body and emotions, will consider the benefits of touch to outweigh the risks. While therapists should use caution when touching clients, the proven connection between body and mind suggests that the use of touch in the context of psychotherapy deserves further attention. And studies involving recently developed body-centered modalities should prove their efficacy and win advocates.
Beckes, L., Ijzerman, H., & Tops, M. (2015). Toward a radically embodied neuroscience of attachment and relationships. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9, 266 [article number]. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00266
Dworkin-McDaniel, N. (2011). Touching makes you healthier. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/05/touching.makes.you.healthier.health/
Field, T. (1998). Massage therapy effects. American Psychologist, 53(12), 1270-1281.
Horton, J. A., Clance, P. R., Sterk-Elifson, C., & Emshoff, J. (1995). Touch in psychotherapy: A survey of patients' experiences. Psychotherapy, 32(3), 443-455.
Nummenmaa, L., Glerean, E., Hari, R., & Hietanen, J. K. (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(2), 646-651. doi:10.1073/pnas.1321664111
Pert, C. B. (1997). Molecules of emotions. New York, NY: Scribner.
Pinson, B. (2002). Touch in therapy: An effort to make the unknown known. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 32(2/3), 179-196. doi:10.1023/A:1020545010081
Smith, E. W. L. (1998). Traditions of touch in psychotherapy. In E. W. L. Smith, P. R. Clance, & S. Imes (Eds.), Touch in psychotherapy: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 3-13). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Zur, O., & Nordmarken, N. (2011). To touch or not to touch: Exploring the myth of prohibition on touch in psychotherapy and counseling. Retrieved from http://www.zurinstitute.com/touchintherapy.html
Can psychotherapy feel good? Or is psychotherapy all about swimming in the muck of shameful impulses? “Getting help” has come to mean exhibiting one’s dysfunction in front of a stranger. What if there was another way to think of psychotherapy? I believe that psychotherapy can feel good. It may sometimes even be fun -- and maybe it’s more effective when it’s fun.
What are the origins of this aversion to psychotherapy? Let’s go back 100 years or so. Remember Sigmund Freud? It seems that we as a culture can’t forget him. And we shouldn’t. But we may want to question some of his biases. At the root of Freud’s theory is the idea that our Id -- our impulsive, untamed “inner bad-boy” (or girl), is continuously in conflict with our Superego; our conscience. We wish we could get rid of our mom and marry our dad, and we feel miserable because our superego tells us No. Our desires and drives get us into trouble. In this worldview the human condition is fundamentally unworkable. We experience a never-ending conflict between what we want to do and what we “should” do. What would a therapy session be like in which the therapist perceives the human condition as unworkable? What would it be like to talk to a therapist who believes that he has to fix you? How would the therapist interact with a client whom he/she believes is inherently dysfunctional? I’ll call this psychotherapist Therapist 1.
Now imagine a therapy session in which the therapist believes that the human psyche is innately functional, maybe even sacred. This therapist (Therapist 2), believes that our impulses are good. She may ascribe to the Internal Family Systems model -- a model that identifies “subpersonalities” that help us cope. She knows that all our subpersonalities or “parts” want the best for us, that each part is valuable and lovable. What Freudians call the Id, Therapist 2 might call an inner child. What Freudians call the Superego, this therapist might call a taskmaster. Therapist 2 would listen to the inner child, hear out the taskmaster, call on the inner nurturer, bring forth the Wise Self. She might encourage the inner parent to calm the child. She might listen while the Wise Self counsels the taskmaster. Therapist 2 would facilitate a dialogue among parts, knowing that all want the best for their person. In other words, our inner wisdom, under the right circumstances, (and sometimes with a little nudging), can gracefully ease us towards health. Humans are not inherently neurotic. We are inherently wise. Healers like Therapist 2 can help us access that wisdom and honor each part of ourselves. That kind of therapy session feels good!
Here’s an analogy that might help. Most of you have probably received a massage. As psychotherapy aims to improve psyche functioning, massage therapy aims to improve body functioning. Using the model of two hypothetical massage sessions is a good way to compare the two psychotherapy approaches described above. Massage Therapist 1 believes that bodies can’t self-regulate. She may bully the body in order to bring it to her vision of health. Massage Therapist 2 believes that bodies have inner wisdom and the capacity to self-heal. She will approach the client gently and respectfully. She may give a little boost to the body’s self-healing ability. Massage Therapist 1 would probably (unintentionally) inflict pain, while Massage Therapist 2 would playfully partner with the body to facilitate equilibrium.
Since Freud’s time, couches have been a kind of icon associated with psychotherapy. How did that happen? Why did Freud’s clients lay on a couch and why are therapeutic couches rare these days?
From what I understand, Freud encouraged his clients to lie on a couch for two reasons 1) so that they would not look at him, and 2) so that they would relax and more easily free-associate. Was Freud self-conscious? Have practices changed because contemporary therapists want their clients to look at them and not relax? I wonder….
I doubt that Freud was self-conscious about his looks. Rather, I believe he felt that if clients looked at him during a session, they might detect body language or facial expressions that would influence their thoughts and feelings. The clients might tune in to the therapist and attend to his/her needs instead of looking within. They might aim to please the therapist rather than explore their own psyche.
Couches also facilitate relaxation. When a client relaxes, free-association comes more easily. Free association is one of the key therapeutic psychoanalytic devices. The idea is that the client, by not censoring her own flow of thoughts and words, accesses her subconscious. The subconscious, according to Freudians, is a place of repressed drives, threatening impulses, prohibited desires. Why access this scary place? Because “what you don’t remember you act out.” An abused child may grow into an adult who subconsciously seeks an abusive mate so that she can work out what she couldn’t as a child. Acquainting one’s self with subconscious desires brings understanding, a chance to process, and subsequent freedom from destructive desires. In the words of Dr. C. George Boeree, "When the client can be made aware of the meanings of his or her symptoms (through hypnosis, for example) then the unexpressed emotions are released and so no longer need to express themselves as symptoms.”* Freud wanted clients to relax to more easily access their subconscious and ultimately find relief and release.
As a psychotherapist and integrative healer at the Lotus Center, I have similar goals. Unlike Freud, however, I give clients the option of lying on a massage table. The results are basically the same. The client relaxes and looks inward and I am more able to focus on the client. I can also focus more deeply on the client’s process and not on my own facial expressions or what the client thinks of my shoes. (Seems that I’m the self-conscious one!...) It also allows me (with the client’s permission), access to feet, hands, elbows. I’m thus able, through touch, to channel Reiki energy and sense the client’s energy. I tune in to different parts of the body -- and sometimes bring the client’s attention to certain parts of his or her body. It allows me to use touch as a vehicle of healing. Most importantly, having the client on a massage table gives her/him a chance to tune into his/her body, notice sensations, and relax. Relaxing the body facilitates inward reflection (accessing the subconscious), and mindfulness (awareness of present feelings and sensations). These are key goals of most psychotherapy approaches; self-awareness as a path towards understanding, freedom, and ease. And these are my goals also. I encourage clients to relax, look within, and love what they find.
So, to summarize, you could say that I’m a Freudian in the sense that I encourage bodily relaxation as an aid to psychotherapy. Whatever you call me, I would like to invite you to relax on my couch.
What happened to the term “psycho-somatic? For some reason it is no longer common parlance. What does the term mean? In popular usage, the term implied that the ailment referred to was “all in ‘your’ head.” The roots of the term are the Greek words psyche which means mind, and somato which means body; therefore a true translation would be mindbody. A psychosomatic disorder, for instance, can be described as “a disease which involves both mind and body.”1 I’m glad the term is not used in a derogatory way anymore, but I wonder why it’s rarely used at all. Perhaps we have retired the term because research has confirmed the mind/body connection.
Can an ailment be “all in your head?” Let’s think about it. Is there a part of the body that is not affected by our thoughts and feelings? Test anxiety may bring on sweaty palms. Chronic emotional stress can cause adrenal fatigue. Imagining hamburgers stimulates salivary glands. Depressed feelings can translate into slumped posture and fatigue. And researchers have discovered that even our DNA can be affected by emotions. “According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA.”2 So trauma, and the resulting emotions, can change molecules.
Does this have implications for psychotherapy? As a body-centered psychotherapist and integrative healer, I’d like to propose that the best psychotherapy is embodied psychotherapy. Since emotions can have physical expressions, and since our bodies dialogue with our psyches, it makes sense for client and psychotherapist to tune into the body. Client and therapist can better understand and heal if we notice sensations in our bodies. Tuning in to our bodies helps us to access information below the level of consciousness. In the words of Candice Pert, “...the deepest oldest messages are stored and must be accessed through the body. Your body is your unconscious mind, and you can't heal it by talk alone” 3 By tuning in to the tension in your shoulders, you may realize that you feel the “weight of the world” and need to delegate responsibilities. By noticing a subtle pain in your jaw you may take account of the repressed anger towards your spouse. Your neck muscles may be tight for fear you’ll “lose your head.” You may be weak in the knees, dizzy with love, or live with a “pain in the neck.” Your hip may hurt because you feel “out of joint.” The body speaks in telling symbols. It behooves us to listen.
We are psycho-somatic beings -- and to me that means it’s not all in our heads. It’s also in our hips and our necks and our backs and our shoulders....
3 Pert, C. B. (1997). Molecules of emotions. New York, NY: Scribner.