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

2.) KP: What are some of the modalities that you use when working with clients?

Janice: As part of the mindfulness approach, I will bring people into a meditative, internal state. I feel that sometimes people get lost in meditation practices, where they are left to experience it alone, and feel that helping people discern what might be helpful or not, can be very fruitful. I will explain to a client, that there is the traditional meditation practice of noting ones thoughts, feelings and sensations and returning to the breath, without getting caught in content. This is the practice of being in the moment, and letting go of constructed thoughts. In this process of “letting go” of a thought, I will often use the metaphor of a leaf floating down the stream.

There is also the method of meditation which is more inquiry based. Then the process entails discerning what to contemplate, and work with, and what to allow oneself to let go of.  I will sometimes have the client sit with their eyes closed, leading them in a grounding body scan, starting with their feet, and pouring their weight into the seat, while becoming conscious of their breath. I feel that fully inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, allows a person to move their diaphragm, drop their shoulders, and enter deeper into the caverns of their inner world.

Then at intervals I will ask the client what is arising, and assist with the discerning process. Sometimes asking the person to follow a more traditional meditation practice noting thinking, planning, etc. and returning to the breath, and going back inside, and other times leading the client into an inquiry process, which I pose as more of a psychotherapeutic process. The inquiry process can lead in different directions, including becoming aware of their body sensations, and felt sense, reflecting back their experience, or tracking an internal dialogue, between conflicting inner figures, or a back and forth between the body sensations, feelings and thoughts.

There is a back and forth between the present moment, positive memories, and traumatic experiences. I focus on the physical presentation of the client, as well their narrative. I am attuned to the story their body is telling me, how they live in their body, including their posture, gesture, affect and the sound of their voice. People’s bodies tell the story of their history. Assisting people to tune into their physical sensations, developing body awareness, and discharge, allows the person to restore the self-regulating mechanism of the various body systems. This process can be facilitated while engaging in bodywork, or while exploring inner-directed movement as well.

If a client would like to explore a bodywork process, which several clients do, it can look like this.  In the beginning of a bodywork sessions, I’ll ask the person to feel free to share their thoughts, feelings, sensations, images and memories as we explore. I take the initiation for the exploration from the client’s response. I might ask the person where their awareness is in their body, and then I might go to that place with my touch.  I might begin by asking the person to bring their awareness to where they are receiving the touch, and ask them to follow through body awareness as we explore.  I often start the bodywork at the feet to begin with grounding. A dialogue might arise, such as the hearts desire to continue a relationship, and the brains directive to end it. At the same time I will engage in bodywork that releases restrictive patterns, and opens the person to a freer body, which gives freedom to the psyche.

From a body perspective, some psychological diagnoses, such as anxiety, tend to have a physical appearance. Anxiety and fear often manifest in the autonomic nervous system as sympathetic nervous system symptoms. These anxiety symptoms take someone “up” away from the ground, the jaw gets tense, the breath gets tight, the shoulders go up, the diaphragm doesn’t move much, the abdominal organs tense and lift, and the feet lift.  This pattern of anxiety often brings people up into the brain, manifesting as a circular, obsessive, cognitive pattern where one is absorbed in thought.

So, I try to help someone with anxiety to ground, helping him or her come down into herself or himself.  We might do this by bringing in body awareness; for example, releasing the tension in the jaw, and helping them take longer breaths, focusing on breath as the person exhales through the mouth, while I facilitate the ribs moving downward. This helps the person get in touch with the inner organs and inner processes, helping them see the link between their emotions and body.   From there, we continue to work with what’s arising in the moment, exploring the body sensations, emotions and thoughts.

That same process can be taken into movement, or another creative modality such as drawing, theater, or sand tray, depending on the need.  There are several different creative forms that we play with.

A form that I practice, utilize with clients, and teach is Authentic Movement. Authentic Movement brings unconscious processes to awareness, cultivates a contemplative state of mind, and clarity of perception. Authentic movement was developed by Mary Starks Whitehouse, a dancer and psychotherapist that applied C.G. Jung’s process of “Active imagination” to movement.

The form of Authentic Movement explores the relationship between a mover and a witness, the process of being seen and seeing another. The mover, eyes closed, learns to follow the deep impulses of their unique self-directed movement. The mover listens to the subtle body sensations, breath, emotions, memories, fluid images, and thoughts that arise as they lead us into expressive or gentle movement and resonant sound. Through this process the mover learns to trust the deep wisdom of the body that comes from this inner listening.

The witness offers a compassionate presence, tracking inner responses to the mover, with the intention of focusing on self-awareness. The attention brought about by the relationship between the mover and the witness allows for creative, growthful and spiritual aspects of both to emerge. As our capacity to listen to our body develops, we discover that the fullness of the present moment is more available. The emerging material is further explored through verbal sharing, writing, art, drama, dream exploration, and clay work.

Next Question3.)  Could you describe a typical scenario where you may lead the client to do something more in the creative arts, like using theater, drawing work or the sand tray?

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