Interview with Janice Geller, Therapist and Bodyworker in Durham, NC

12.) KP: Next question: I know that you do a lot of work with mothers, fathers and babies.  Can you talk about that? 

Janice:  Yes, I do work with parents and babies around the emotional and physical stressors associated with parenting.  Working with the piece of the “should” in those environments is useful.  Trying to help the mother (or father) feel comfortable with their parenting, and at the same time offer suggestions about how she could handle the baby, or be in a different movement relationship with the baby.

Especially with a child that is colicky or is having difficulty regulating its nervous system.  That’s been one of the challenges – to help the parents feel comfortable in their role and at the same time, help them make positive changes.  When a child is having difficulty that of course impacts the parent.  Helping the mom, for example, feel comfortable with herself when her child is colicky, can help her feel more comfortable with the child.

It’s about how to feel calm with yourself, while you’re parenting a child who is screaming at the top of their lungs J.  At the same time, it’s not uncommon for the mom (and/or dad) and the baby to be dealing with physical discomfort related to specific tension patterns they are all experiencing.  The BMC Infant Developmental Movement Education [LINK] work can be particularly helpful in this arena.

KP:  So, if you have a parent with a child that is having a hard time settling, or is colicky, then that’s a specific situation where you can help?   Can you give some other examples of types of problems families may be having that you address?

Janice:  Yes, the BMC work is particularly helpful when parents have a baby that, for whatever reason, isn’t meeting certain developmental milestones.  For example, he/she may not be rolling over, or cuddling and bonding. Or the baby may be having a difficult time nursing, or not crawling, or coming into walking.  Perhaps the baby isn’t sleeping or is having digestive problems.

So I look at what may be going on that’s preventing them from reaching those milestones.  Looking at the relationship between the parent and child.  The handling of the child patterns the child.  We play with not sitting the child before they are able to come to sitting on their own, and not standing the child before they, on their own, are able to come to standing.  Staying at the developmental level that the child is experiencing, is important, rather then, for example, sitting them unassisted before they come to sitting themselves.

Allowing the child to develop at their own pace can be challenging to parents, especially if they see another child the same age, so much further in the developmental stages.  I will often frame it for parents this way: I will say that each stage of development patterns the brain, and the longer they stay in a developmental stage, like for instance rolling over, the more neural pathways in the brain are being created.

KP:  So, say the child is experiencing some developmental issues like the examples you gave about not bonding, not nursing properly, or not sleeping much.  I imagine that is really stressful for both the parent and child.   My guess is that many people’s first thought may not be to see a therapist around these issues, but it sounds like you  – with your experience with both the psychological as well as biological-oriented work – would be able to address the family dynamics, along with some of the actual physical issues, which include those developmental pieces.  You would be providing education, plus doing experiential exercises with the whole family?

Janice:  Yes, developmental movement education is part of the BMC work, so along with educating the family members, I do both psychological and physical “explorations” to facilitate change.  For example, I might bring the parent down to the level of the child, to do the same kinds of movements that they’re child is exploring.  You can start to see some of the same patterns in parents that are found in the babies, so once the parents begin to find more ease or fluidity or connection or integration in their own bodies, then they can naturally offer that to their child.  I also help parents work with how they’re handling the baby, so they can help re-pattern their own movement as well.

KP:  I’m glad you’re highlighting that because these alternative processes can be quite interesting and even fun.  It’s common for people to feel intimidated or scared by the process of “family therapy,” so I imagine that for some, knowing that there will be a lot of exploration and engagement on different levels may add some degree of safety.   

That example you gave also illustrates something commonly seen, where there is an “identified patient” in the family that is having the problem, but upon further exploration, opportunities to help the entire family system come to light.

Janice: I should also say, that I often do traditional verbal psychotherapy sessions with the mother and father, without the children. When children are involved, I always bring in play because that’s how they’re going to come back.  The parents actually often enjoy play as well. Assisting the parents with ways to teach through play for younger children is fun and informative for everyone.

KP:  I bet.  Playing is an integral part of life, regardless of age. 

Janice:  I once worked with this man and his son and I got them to wrestle.  The boy was on the autistic spectrum.  The wrestling, which the father and son continued to do on a regular basis, had an amazing impact.  It helped ground the boy and helped him feel his boundaries.  It also provided another way for them to connect in their relationship, using play in that way.  It was a great intervention for a child with autism.

KP:  We humans tend to be in the mind, on the cognitive level so much.  This has its strengths, but also presents limitations when interacting with self and others.  It’s so great that you can integrate all of these pieces: talk therapy, body awareness, movement and creative endeavors.  From my experience, that seems pretty unique, that one person would have all of those tools to draw on.  That allows for a truly integrative approach.

Janice:  Yes, for those that are open.  Sometimes it takes a bit, to open to any of it really.   Many traditional psychotherapists would never use touch in a session and certainly, many people may not think about integrating bodywork with psychological processes. In places like the San Francisco bay area, body-mind work is more common, but where I am in North Carolina, people haven’t had as much exposure to this kind of work. If people are hesitant, I will go very slowly, beginning with body awareness, and self-touch. In trauma work there is a beginning awareness that the body holds the trauma, and if you don’t work through the body, there will not be a shift. Trauma is a physiological process.

KP:  Yes, I hear you.  That’s why I think it’s so important to do things like this interview, where you can share more about your process, how this body-mind approach works, so that people can understand what a great service you have to offer! 

Janice:  I’d also like to mention that I’ve done a lot of Community Mental Health work with youth at risk, from low-income families. I have worked in intensive-in -home, outpatient and in a day treatment setting. In the day treatment program I bring in the creative arts; we do dramatic role-play enactments, art and music therapy. These youth with diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder really respond to the active, creative and playful learning environment.  Sometimes, I will bring youth clients into nature, which I notice tends to self-regulate their nervous system.

Some of the issues these youth are dealing with include misinterpreting people’s cues, and problems with conflict resolution.  I’ll often have them role-play something from their actual experience.  We’ll also practice body reading – noticing when somebody is angry, what they do with their body when they are angry versus when they’re calm.   You can essentially read other people’s states of mind through their body.   The kids seem to really love the enactments, where they act out how they’re not supposed to act and then shift over to a healthier means of resolving the conflict.  They seem to really love that play dynamic.

We also played with a movement exploration about negative and positive talk, and the impact it has on their lives. They would hear negative things said about them, and they’d begin to shrink and get more and more defended until they were lying on the ground.  And, then with the positive remarks, they grew themselves back up, getting bigger and stronger.  It was a very visual way of seeing what other people’s negative and positive language can do to your body posture and related emotional states, as well as what negative and positive self-talk can do.

KP:  You’re talking about cultivating emotional intelligence there and you’re doing it through different ways, by understanding body language, using their own bodies in mindful ways and so on. It’s an important form of intelligence that more people are seeing the value of, including in school settings.

Well, we’re going to have to stop, but that was really great.  Thank you so much for sharing.

Janice:  Thank you, it was fun to talk about it!

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