Psycho-Physical Therapy

Explorations in Somatic Psychotherapy

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Why Actively Engage the Body in the Process of Psychotherapy?

Living Experiences are Embodied Experiences.
Being embodied is central to all living processes. Without a body there is no life, as we know it. If the body is indeed central to living experience then it surely must have significant value in the psychological healing process. There are many different therapeutic approaches and methods for engaging the body as part of the psychotherapeutic process. Although these methods differ from one another, they all share a common belief that it is clinically useful to include the body in psychotherapy. The Psycho-Physical Therapy approach actively engages the body in the process of psychotherapy. The word active is important in this context. This is not a passive process of just observing the body or using it as a source of therapeutic information. The physical structure is actively engaged through out the therapy.

The body is our container. It gives us form and boundaries.
It is the vessel we live in. The body is the vehicle that generates our movements, gives form to our expressions, and facilitates our interactions with the world around us. The body is not just a structure that houses and serves the needs of the mind. It is rich with its own innate intelligence. The body is a dynamic unified complex system. All of its parts are interconnected and interdependent. Body and mind work together. They are mutually influential and interactive. This is called psycho-physical functioning the combined interactions of body and mind. Because of this interconnected functioning, psychological issues affect the body and, conversely, the quality of physical interaction has an affect on psychological functioning. This concept is common knowledge but is often underutilized in psychotherapeutic work. To actively work from this concept means to continually look for and engage the interactive dynamics of mind and body in all stages of the therapeutic process. In the Psycho-Physical Therapy method this is more than just an idea or technique; it is a deep-seated value that shapes the way we work.

The body reveals psycho-physical organization.
Psycho-physical interaction can be observed by tracking the body. Psychological patterns influence how the body organizes. Physical patterns influence how we think and feel. We can see evidence of psychological issues in a person’s posture and movements. For those therapists that can read the body, these patterns reveal important psycho/physical information about a client’s organization and ways to proceed with the therapeutic work. The basic concept is that the body reveals the functioning of the mind and the interactions of body and mind. To actively work from this concept requires a therapist to have basic skills in tracking and assessing postural and movement patterns, qualities of stability and mobility, tonicity, autonomic responses, etc. With these skills a therapist can recognize and more fully explore a client’s psycho-physical patterns of dissociation, defense, resistance, excitement, etc. The therapist can determine if the client is collapsing, contracting, withdrawing, resisting, mobilizing, integrating, etc. Assessment of the best therapeutic approaches for working with these patterns can then be made more effectively.

The body is a significant vehicle for accessing and processing psychological material.
The body reveals evidence of psychological organization and in so doing, points to where therapeutic focus and interventions might be engaged. The body will reveal through its patterns, especially movement, where an access route to core material may be available. The body’s response to accessing psychological material will reveal important information about how, when, and where processing psychological issues can most effectively be accomplished. The body becomes a vehicle for deepening the psychological work. To actively engage this concept requires a therapist to have skill in tracking the body. It also requires an understanding of how to work with what is being presented both physically and psychologically. Accessing and processing psychological material by working back and forth across the mind/body interface is central to the Psycho-Physical Therapy method.

The body is a source of psychological support and transformation.
The optimal performance of basic physical functions is important for psychological health. Physical functions like locomotion, balance, support, containment, orienting, etc. are important resources for over all psycho-physical well-being. We call these somatic resources. These resources are the anatomical and physiological qualities and actions that support a physically felt experience of self, of competency, and of well-being. When these functions of the body are not adequate then psychological functioning can be adversely affected. For example, if a person lives in a state of chronic spinal flexion or collapse it is common to also find psycho/emotional issues about devalued self-identity. This tension pattern restricts full respiration and affects the person’s availability of energy. He or she may feel depressed, hopeless, burdened, etc. With the changing of spinal alignment, from chronic flexion to a more optimally upright posture, a client’s internal experience of their physicality begins to shift. This in turn facilitates a change in psycho-emotional perception. A new quality of identity is encouraged. We call this, “building somatic resources”. Building these more effective somatic resources supports psychological change. Developing both healthy physical and psychological resources is an essential part of psychological transformation. To fully help a client build resources requires a therapist to have the knowledge and skill to track the body. The therapist needs to be able to assess the quality of existing psycho-physical resources. The therapist also needs to have an understanding of how to support a client in building new psychological and somatic resources. The work of helping a client create optimal psycho/physical functioning through the building of resources is the primary healing modality in Psycho-Physical Therapy.