I am a body-focused psychotherapist who integrates body, mind and emotions into the healing process. I combine traditional talk psychotherapy with a body-focused approach. I believe that the body is intricately linked to our thoughts and to our feelings. Because they are interwoven, the body cannot be ignored or left out of the healing process. If you would like to better understand this connection and how this process works, please keep reading.
- The Mind & the Body in Psychotherapy
- How the Body Stores Memories
- How the Body & the Mind Interact
- How We Engage the Body in Therapy
- How We Heal the Body/Mind
The Mind & the Body in Psychotherapy
Traditionally in therapy, we “tell” our story. We talk about what is bothering us, about what happened to us, about how we feel. Through talk therapy we become more aware, we gain insight, and we effect change. This is an important part of the healing process.
But it is often not enough because our minds can do only part of the healing. No matter how much we talk about it, often the issue either just won’t seem to resolve itself or the feelings just won’t “go away.” We can’t seem to truly move through and past it. That is because all of our feelings and all of our memories from our past are also stored in our body (see below). The mind and the body need to be included in the therapy process.
How the Body Stores Memories
Many years ago you developed a way of seeing yourself, of defining yourself based on your experiences growing up in your family and in your community. If you were told you could accomplish anything you set your mind to, you likely stepped into the world open and confident, standing tall, with a deep belief in yourself. If you were told you were stupid and lazy, worthless or a burden, you might step into the world with your head hung, shoulders slumped, hiding, ashamed. If you were physically or sexually abused, you might bring yourself into the world scared and anxious, staying small so as not to be noticed, or tense and guarded, living life always vigilant and watching. You might turn to food, alcohol, drugs or any other addiction to keep your feelings at bay and your inner self hidden and safe from harm.
Unresolved, painful memories from your past are still alive, buried deep within you. These unacknowledged stories and unexpressed feelings from the past get locked in your body and in your unconscious. You carry them with you into the present where they are waiting to be known and worked through so that you can heal and move on.
How the Body & the Mind Interact
You have experiences growing up. You have feelings about these experiences and you make decisions about yourself and about life based on these experiences. Your body, long ignored or overlooked, also responds. For example:
If there was a lot of yelling and fighting in your family:
- you may have felt scared and anxious
- you may have decided (consciously or unconsciously) that the world is not a safe place
- you may have reacted by turning inward and withdrawing, or by becoming outwardly tough and mean
- and your bodily response may have been to contract, brace and be vigilant, or flood with anxiety
If you were ignored or neglected:
- you may have felt scared, anxious and depressed
- you may have decided “I’m worthless,” “I’m unlovable,” “I’ll always be alone”
- you may have reacted by becoming a loner or not expecting much from relationships
- and your bodily response may have been to shut down and become numb
You learned these bodily responses as a way to keep yourself safe, even if they are uncomfortable or not very productive. You’ve grown up and you don’t need this kind of protection anymore. The threat is gone. But the body, the emotions and the mind still hold on to their old, protective ways. They don’t know how to let go, they don’t know that you are safe now. And so you bring your past into the present.
How We Engage the Body in Therapy
How do you engage the body in the healing process so you can free it from the past? You talk to it, just like you talk to the mind. The body has a voice of its own. Dialoguing with it involves learning how to listen deeply to the wisdom and the knowledge inside of you and give it a voice. You learn how to listen to what scares you, what angers you, what disappoints you, what hurts you, as well as what delights you and brings you joy, in a safe environment (the therapy session), with a safe person (the therapist).
How We Heal the Body/Mind
If you only engage your mind, you only heal cognitively, and what is stored in your body remains there, hidden. As conflicts and challenges continue to show up in your life, even if you have been able to change your thinking and your beliefs (I AM loveable, the world IS safe, I CAN protect myself, etc.), you may find yourself still reacting in those old, familiar ways. You “thought” you had resolved this, why is it still showing up??? The answer is that your body, and the emotions stored there, also need to be healed so you can more fully let go of the past.
Your mind relates to your stories. Your body informs you of buried feelings and beliefs that may not be in your conscious awareness. They act as a team in the healing process. They are the body/mind connection.