The TAP Spring Conference 2018 takes place in just a month's time, on 14th April. Nick Totton will be addressing the delegates on the theme 'We are all body psychotherapists'.
To clarify what 'body psychotherapy' is for those interested but not expert, we have asked long-time TAP Council member Ian Stevenson to interpret and summarise the key points. If you have not yet booked for the conference, then see our 'Conference' page for full details. You can download the booking form direct from that page or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
It promises to be an absorbing, interactive and positive day, offering insights to the way body therapy can influence practice.
Shakespeare wrote of ‘the heartache and the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to’.
We are afflicted by both the frailties of our physical being and by the suffering which is the common lot of Humankind.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists hear and respond to those experiences mainly through the medium of speech. What they do is often referred to as talking therapies.
The body can can also speak but in a different language. If we can but listen and interpret, the body can tell therapists things which might otherwise be overlooked.
We exist in a physical body and experience things within that body. Body psychotherapy (BP) does not see a split between mind and body. Both influence each other and can’t always be accessed by words.
We are all aware from our earliest days how we are affected by our gender, relative size-height, weight-and health. Later in life sexual orientation and more subjective aspects such as ‘race’ or ‘looks’ can be of tremendous impact. They not only affect how others relate to us but how we feel about ourselves.
Those who come to TAP evening talks will remember Matthew Appleton’s inspiring talks on the experience of the baby in the womb and the lasting effects. Psychosomatic illness or illness resulting from emotional / physical causes- is a large, if unquantified, proportion of the cases presented to the medical profession.
The experience of trauma, prolonged and deep anxiety, physical, mental and sexual abuse, neglect, hate and childbirth, can all have effects which are not always acknowledged but do affect us. The memories of these events is stored in our bodies.
One example is a deep defensiveness which can be reflected in muscle tension or rigidity, called ‘armouring’ by one of the pioneers of BP, Wilhelm Reich.
Things like energy flow and release, muscle pulsation and contraction, and energy charge and discharge are all things body psychotherapists pay attention to throughout treatment.
Those who have studied yoga or had acupuncture will know that similar concepts of energy flow have been part of Asian civilisations for several thousand years at least.
Some of these effects can be inferred by an alert therapist and give some insight into the issues that clients or patients come with. A wide varieties of techniques have been used by BP practitioners. Many of them are found in other schools of therapy and so BP can link with what other practitioners do. One of the differences is in the use of physical contact which is an area where therapists have, rightly, to be cautious. However, having a clearer understanding of uses -and misuses- can provide more safety for those who might wish to implement it.
Nick Totton argues that embodied relating is the soil from which all therapy grows, and that conscious understanding of this makes our work more powerful and accurate.
He says, “Embodied relating is embedded in our everyday life: we can all 'do' embodied relating, though some do it better than others. Like many other important aspects of life, it generally happens of its own accord, but sometimes benefits from the sort of close examination which tends to happen in therapy. However, psychotherapy has a history of keeping embodiment out of its field of awareness, and of preferring language-based relating to all other kinds - indeed, until quite recently, of downplaying here-and-now relationship altogether. All these things are now changing.
Embodiment and relationship are inseparable, both in human existence and in psychotherapy. If we explore embodiment, we encounter relationship; if we explore relationship, we encounter embodiment. Therapy is more powerful when the practitioner is able to recognise the constant interplay between these two aspects of being human, and to follow and support the shifts of change from one to the other.”
Nick Totton’s Embodied-Relational approach involves not just the ‘heartache and thousand natural shocks that can affect us’, but the concept of a dynamic force within us which can heal and make whole.
Ian Stevenson March 2018