All my adult life, I have been captivated by ideas, turning each one over in my mind like an interesting rock in my hand. In psychology there are a lot of rocks. I have been collecting them for years, but there was one morning when my experience was different. I woke up feeling quite strange. It felt like I had put on a T-shirt that was too small, a feeling I could not, in the days that followed, shake off. That experience changed my professional approach forever.
Oddly, I knew the cause. I was suffering from the death of a close friend, and I could not recover. In other words, emotional shock and grief had a massive impact on my body. We are familiar with how physical illness can cause us to be depressed; it is also true that depression causes physical illness. At first, this tight shirt led me to a Reichian practitioner to take me through the trauma, but eventually, I felt more comfortable with Bioenergetics, a Reichian based therapy developed by Alexander Lowen, one of Reich’s students in the 1940’s.
It makes sense to me that our body and mind impact each other and that non-verbal language, that we address in somatic therapy, was our basic form of communication before we developed verbal language, approximately 120 thousand years ago. Neuroscience points out to us that we are an embodied mind. During the traumatic events of childhood, we often numb our emotions and body sensibility in order to endure harrowing episodes we can’t control. In my training and individual therapy, we work to arouse the body that closed down as we translate the lost emotional narrative.
Being a therapist is an amazing experience and a privilege. It is something of an art not to run one theory or approach on every person who walks into the office. I have clients with a fragile sense of self, some in Oedipal conflict, some who have lost all sense of meaning, some who cannot bear who they are or the life they have trapped themselves in, clients of great sophistication who need me to listen intently as they draw their own conclusions, and clients who are not at home in their bodies; who feel alienated and frozen, split off.
There are people who need to lie on my couch, some who face me and some who stand up, as we encounter each other. I don’t believe that a one-cookie cutter approach does much good at all. However, one practice is critical–to be fully present and listen with mind and body. That single practice is the art that binds them all.