The Value of Embodied Therapy.
Have you noticed how talking about things, especially difficult things, can make them seem easier to bear? A problem shared and all that. I know there is value in words and stories but I’m going to suggest here, that in therapy you need to access more than words for transformation and growth to occur.
I’m sure you notice that when you tell a difficult story there are layers to it. You can tell it time and again, each time with more or less contact to the underlying emotions depending on how it is being received, who is listening, how you’re feeling. Sometimes stories become stale. Often the stories I hear in therapy are empty of much emotional connection, they have become dried up and distanced from the emotional tone, as a way of protecting the integrity of the self. Its a very creative adjustment to be able to do this! It protects us from emotional overwhelm and allows us to function in our jobs and families. But it also takes an enormous toll. A little like my iPhone battery which is being drained by mysterious background apps even while not in use, so we become drained by the energy required to keep these difficult feelings at bay. The result is fatigue, loss of enjoyment in life, difficulty engaging…sounds familiar?
A counter-intuitive way to work…
Rather counter-intuitively, the work of therapy is to re-engage the lost emotional tone, recover the fullness of the experience and sit with it, allowing engagement and processing of the underlying feelings. It’s not for the faint hearted! There is much literature about the heroic client in psychotherapy. It takes dedication and trust, a really strong relationship with the therapist and a burning desire for change on the part of the client. It has to get worse before it gets better! Therapists need a sign outside which says, “You need this much trust to ride this ride”.
Gestalt is particularly good at engaging us as clients to become more present to our emotional experience. I remember a therapist of mine when I was hedging around, avoiding dropping into myself and “talking about”, demanding of me, “Did you come here to chat or to do therapy?” We even ask that our clients use language differently, avoiding the abstract use of ‘you’, ‘one’ and ‘it’, replacing these pronouns with the far more confronting ‘I’. When I start to make I statements, what I am saying comes home.
The caveat here is that it needs to be done gently, safely and in the context of a strong and supportive relationship. Often the therapy room itself becomes a crucible for the transformative experience. Too often the emotional is invited without this support, and this can be an undoing of both client and therapist.
Telling it all in a rush!
In my earlier work I found myself often needing to slow clients down so that they could stay with the emotional tone and explore it instead of rushing past and on to the next thing. Actually, this was how I was when I started therapy. If I talked fast, maybe I could splurt it all out without too much damage! I rapidly realised the benefits of allowing myself to make contact with the deeper emotions. I felt calmer, more in control. I began to treasure myself more and allow and accept myself, feeling compassion for the difficulties I had experienced. I began to change! I accessed a deeper part of myself as I let these feelings have some space, and this deeper pat of me has become a great friend.
Staying with the experience.
If moving towards the emotions is counter-intuitive, staying with them can be even more challenging. In some ways I see therapy as a grounding in how to build emotional tolerance. It helps us to excavate a deeper vessel in ourselves which can hold the painful emotions without overflowing. As I have practiced this, what I notice is that tears come more readily, so does joy, my inner compass moves very freely now, it is no longer stuck at true North sending me on the same journey, but allows me freedom to move wherever I need to. This is real freedom and strength. I’ve overturned my original ideas about vulnerability and the showing of emotion being a weakness, they are my greatest strength! As I wrote this new website, the copy which poured out of me was all about choice and freedom, this is what Gestalt therapy has offered me and can offer you.
Work with me
If what I have written here resonates for you, ! am available in the inner west of Brisbane. Contact me through my website. I can’t wait to meet you!