The Body in Psychotherapy


Why would we want to include the body in psychotherapy? It’s actually pretty simple: there is no concrete distinction between your body and your mind. As Dr. Alexander Lowen said, "the unconscious is the body." Exploring body process, then, becomes an important way to understand how you feel the way that you do, not just your ideas on why.

We tend to over-identify with our minds while viewing our bodies as an “it” or a “thing” that shit happens to. We say “my back is killing me!” rather than “I’m clenching my lower back.” We disown, lock away, what we can’t tolerate. Unfortunately, when we say 'no' to pain, we limit our experience of joy at the other end of the stick. This creates the fragmentation and discomfort that brings people into my office. As a therapist my intention is to hold and revere the 'completeness' of my client, so that they might come to experience themselves as integrated as well.

Consider this: Everything you’ve ever experienced in your life is stored in your body. Your memories are only a part of the equation. The rest is coded in your cells. If you sit still in a safe place long enough you might trace a benign surface tension back decades, following the thread all the way to a hurt you experienced as a 5 year old. It’s the reason why you might find yourself bursting into tears in the middle of your favorite yoga class. Being a human is WILD.

In my practice, when it's appropriate, I invite my clients to get deeply curious about what their body is saying to them. The way you sit, how you breathe, and the sensations that arise and persist during the session--a knot in your stomach, tingling hands, numbness, dizziness, heaviness in your chest, etc--are not mere frivolous details. On the contrary, these bodily sensations, diffused like a soft mist or laser precise, are revealing the truth about who you actually are in that moment. This communication is the most accurate and reliable form of information-gathering that we have, as your body is no fool and it is no liar. When it comes to unfinished business, your body-- your being-- yearns to expose what's true, yearns to be heard, held, witnessed, so that old patterns, traumas, hurts can be fully expressed and released.

Attending to the body means not having to pore over every element of the past--because what is relevant will present itself as it needs to. You don't have to remember every life event in chronological order. When you use your body as a guide, you get to bypass the constraints of old thought patterns and risk stepping into a more authentic internal space.

The beauty part? You don't have to know what to do. You don't have to come up with an elaborate, intellectualized strategy for how to heal yourself. All you have to do is have the courage to show up and compassionately turn your attention inward. In the hands of a skilled therapist the two of you together will very respectfully find the meaning in what is being revealed. TRUST the wisdom of your body. The body knows what needs to come next in order to heal. 

Photo: Corie Howell via Compfight