Taunton Racecourse on a glorious spring day was the venue for TAP’s 2018 Spring Conference on 14th April. This eagerly awaited and anticipated event featured therapist, trainer and author Nick Totton who had left his beloved Cornwall to present ` We are all Body Psychotherapists` to TAP Conference delegates.
Welcomed by vice chair Andrew Wilcox, Nick started his presentation by inviting the audience to get comfortable by stretching and relaxing their bodies and said that he would endeavour to speak with the audience rather than at them.
Referring to the title of his presentation, Nick shared his view that Body Psychotherapy is an unfortunate name but one that is around at the moment. He felt it sounded like he only worked with people’s bodies whereas Body Psychotherapy is about working with the whole of the person, therefore he believes `Embodiment Therapy` would be a better title.
Outlining what `embodiment` actually is, Nick spoke of how the mind and body are interlinked and how we need to get to know and make friends with the huge number of things going on in our bodies like twitches, gurgles and sighs and also with all the emotions and impulses. When we connect with ourselves and recognise our own rhythms of embodiment we can begin to observe how they are influenced by being in association with another embodied person.
Nick went on to explain how Embodiment and Relationship are inseparable both in human existence and in psychotherapy. When investigating embodiment we meet relationship; if we investigate relationship we find embodiment. For the practitioner who recognises the interaction of these two aspects of being human, the gift will be therapy that is far more powerful.
Challenging the assumption held by some that Mind and Body are somehow separate, Nick declared himself a `Bodymind`. Offering examples of how some might view the supposed divide between Mind and Body, Nick asked as a sick person might ask his body - `Why are you doing this to me?`. Then again as an Insomniac `I want to go to sleep, why won’t my mind stop? `
In therapy Nick’s goal is to follow the client wherever the process takes them but the nature of the embodied relationship between client and therapist is central.
As the conference progressed Nick invited delegates to participate in some experiential work. The first exercise was with someone that was unknown to them. Standing close in silence, delegates examined their feelings; what was it like to be near the stranger? Was their body opening up to them? Was their body moving towards them or pulling away? Most delegates engaged with the exercise, some standing some sitting. Some in perfect stillness, while others wiggled, rocked or moved their arms as to a silent cadence.
A second exercise followed a similar pattern but with someone new, followed by another change of partner for a third exercise but this time with eyes closed as well as in silence. On being invited to speak, participants visibly relaxed and laughter was heard. Examining this fascinating experience the audience was asked to consider once again their feelings; was it mine or was it theirs and how hard was it staying in the here and now?
After such an interesting and absorbing morning the conference broke for lunch and what a sumptuous affair it was. Feasting on the tasty fare provided, delegates took the opportunity to network; making new acquaintances and renewing old ones.
Nick launched into the afternoon session by speaking of trauma, a subject that many therapists will encounter in their work almost daily. If the person is traumatised, they can’t relax. They are waiting for something bad to happen. We see trauma in everyday life, ordinary forms of trauma showing itself before we learn how to relax. The more traumatised we are, the more we are stuck with one foot in the past and one foot in the present. It’s believed that feelings are held in the body and that the body has memory.
Nick mentioned Peter Lavine who has spent most of his working life working with trauma and traumatised clients. Peter has developed an approach to trauma called Somatic Experience which focuses on the physiological aspects of the condition.
With much interaction from delegates, the widely debated question of `touch` between therapist and client arose. This topic appears to have surfaced at many of Nick’s Workshops and Talks as he quickly embraced the subject calling the taboo of touch within the counselling relationship a `19th Century Fossil. Different kinds of touch were discussed, from a simple handshake or hug at the end of a session to a more intimate holding of someone when they are sobbing. Reflecting that it’s all about what we are comfortable with, Nick added that the more embodied we are, the more that we can find a way.
With the therapeutic relationship between therapist and client often extremely close, it was unsurprising to hear that in the instance of a client suppressing an emotion the likelihood of this being picked up by the therapist is very high. Nick added that the messages might be subliminal and to him the idea of telepathy made perfect sense, however in everyday situations the signals are likely to be swamped by hundreds and hundreds of other people.
Moving into the last 45 minutes of the conference, delegates discussed what had resonated for them in the morning and also what hadn’t. All too soon the conference drew to a close but Nick had one more gem to leave with us; ``The body always knows the right thing to do``.
A warm round of applause followed a vote of thanks by TAP Chair Helena Trump.