2.) KP: I’d like to circle back to the piece that you were talking about earlier about the body-mind connection, how emotions can come up when working on the body. Can you talk more about that?
Beth: So, I’m not a psychotherapist. I don’t put myself out there as someone who you would come to if the psychological work is your primary concern. But, bodywork is touch, it’s very intimate; more for some than others. It’s touch, it’s contending with pain, and it’s time…I’m spending time with people. Sometimes the session is more non-verbal and sometimes people talk. But, over time, I’ve seen a lot of emotional responses – emotional might not even be the right word – on the table that I’ve wanted to understand better. Right now, I’m a little over halfway through the Somatic Experiencing training.
Somatic Experiencing is a way of working of trauma, with trauma being broadly defined as “any experience that overwhelms our capacity to process it or to handle it.” I know you’re a psychotherapist and I’m not sure who will be reading this, but a lot of people think of trauma as a dramatically terrible event or experience like child abuse, or rape, or war, but from the Somatic Experiencing perspective, trauma is not the event. It’s the way someone’s physiology changes because of any experience that overwhelms our capacity to deal with it.
It’s different for everybody. So, what is traumatic to one person, may not be to another. Or, a dramatically terrible event might be within one person’s capacity to integrate, whereas it isn’t for the other person. I started taking this training because I started seeing things on the table like someone bursting into tears, but at the same time not being able to identify the specific emotion around it. Or, feeling the quality of someone’s body where they clearly needed some help. It’s hard to put it into words, but it’s something in there that’s dense, that keeps me out. Or, being drawn somewhere over and over but not seeing any change.
KP: So, you’re talking about how the body is telling you a story, with different layers of complexity, and you’re trying to understand that more, including understanding how trauma impacts the body and mind.
Beth: Yes, and I could tell that if I had some framework for it, I could see what was going on better, so, I decided to take the Somatic Experiencing training. Even though I’m not a practitioner of this yet, it’s influencing my sessions in a deep way already.
KP: As you know, in our mainstream culture, there isn’t a lot of encouragement to show emotions. In psychotherapy, it’s generally understood that this is one place where it is safe, where it is “appropriate” to share emotions, but even with that understanding, people can feel inhibited. So, I’m curious about how you navigate this in your work. For instance, do you just allow this piece to come up or do you educate clients about this possibility of emotions arising through the bodywork and let them know that it’s ok to share them?
Beth: I try to be very invitational about it without putting any pressure on, and I’m very careful about scope of practice. So, if someone comes in who primarily wants help with a mechanical problem, I probably won’t introduce it right off the bat. I’ll see what happens in the sessions and then give options and normalize any surprising responses. But, if during the intake I can see that the person has some distress, I’ll explain that sometimes feelings come up, and if they do that those feelings are welcome, that there’s plenty of space for them and there are ways to work with them if they want. But they don’t have to, they get to decide. I’m not necessarily expecting them to happen and even if they come, there’s no pressure to go into them unless the client wants to. As a bodyworker, staying within my scope of practice means encouraging the people on my table to notice the sensation aspect of whatever they are experiencing. For many people, that helps regulate any distress that comes up. Also, if the touch is feeling good (I try to make sure it does!), being able to feel that goodness even when difficult emotions are coming up can be helpful.
KP: That sounds like a reasonable approach.