When trauma, loss, confusion, or disillusionment visit us and things feel overwhelming, we may be ripe to fundamentally transform our lives. It is as if we are up against a wall, and our only choices are to try to bury our heads in the ground (or computer), or step into the unknown. The unknown is filled with uncertainty and magic. It is here that we face our dragons and find our treasures. It is here that our magnificent, authentic selves can begin to come forth.
In therapy, we create a safe environment, then take our flashlights out and investigate the elements of our experience. Thoughts, memories, beliefs, images, body sensations, and feelings are all investigated. Stories about ourselves, especially deficiency stories like "I'm not good enough" are looked into. Anxiety is taken apart so that we become acquanted with the sensation and thoughts that are stuck together to convince us of a threat. We also work with compulsions and addictions to see what is holding them in place.
How does body oriented psychotherapy differ from traditional therapy?
In body oriented or somatic therapy, instead of focusing solely on insight or behavior, we pay attention to the body as our primary guide in our unfolding process. For example, a client might be talking about a familiar story while unknowingly bracing his arms and tapping his foot on the floor. Most traditional therapies would continue working with the story, but the somatic therapist would be interested in what was going on with the bracing and tapping. Unconscious body movement and sensation are often driving our behavior and with mindfulness, can offer a direct path into our unconscious mind. For example, the movement of the foot could signal a wanting to escape or an impatience. Bracing could be a signal that our nervous system is getting activated and we are stuck in a frozen trauma memory. When we do this type of therapy for a time, we learn to trust our body signals so that we can better navigate the world and regulate our nervous systems.
How does Zen Buddhist pracice influence your therapy work?
Zen practice, for me, is not a religion or set of beliefs. It is a way of learning to be present to the moment without illusion. Many people from different religions practice Zen without any conflict. For more than 2000 years, Buddhist psychology has emphasized the use of mindfulness in becoming more aware and present in our lives. Modern psychology has in the last couple decades seen the value of this and employed both the concept and the term. Unless I can find a place of rest and peace within myself, I don't see that I would be of much use to my clients. Zen pracice offers that to me.
How do you work with anxiety?
There are a couple of approaches I take in working with anxiety. The first is to help the client learn to regulate their nervous system. Again body awareness can be the key to nervous system regulation. Clients learn to pay attention to subtle sensatons and involuntary movement rather than spin out with the story of what they're going through. Breath comes into awareness, especially belly breathing which can take one out of the flight/fight response. Grounding practices like yoga and Chi Gong can be very helpful.
The second approach which can be helpful is learning how to regulate our nervous systems with others. Many of us were brought up in a way that made us feel we had to take care of our fear by ourselves, so we don't even approach others when we are beginning to feel anxious. In fact, many avoid other human beings when anxiety arises. In these cases, it is important to learn to relate to our family and friends in a way that helps us to either feel more alive with depression or calmer with anxiety.
The third approach has to do with working directly with deep seated trauma that is at the root of our anxiety and needs to be addressed in a careful and modulated way with a skilled therapist.