Have you ever heard the expression: “its all in your head?” This expression exemplifies the common perception of the mind and body as two distinct entities; in actuality, they are both integral parts of our being which mutually impact one another. There is a wealth of evidence of the reciprocal impacts if the mind and body, yet we continue conceptualizing them as disparate entities (see Aposhyan, 2004. Hartley, 2004 & Staunton, 2002.). This conceptualization has implications for our overall health and functioning. The intimate connections between the mind and body have been recognized since ancient times. This is evident in the healing practices of many cultures which arose hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. For instance, the Greek physician Hippocrates, as well as Aristotle and Plato were concerned with the connections between the psyche and the body. Also, over four thousand years ago, Chinese doctors cited the development of illnesses after prolonged emotional pain or agitation (Aposhyan, 2004). While these practices and ideas provide evidence of the connection between the functioning of the body and mind, they are also components of the diverse history of somatic psychology. Such ideas were also expounded by early therapists and psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich. Freud viewed psychological issues as arising from hang-up in psycho-sexual developmental stages. What’s more he conceptualized the ego as being rooted in the body-ego and made way for further developments (Hartley, 2004 & Aposhyan, 2004).
Aside from Freud and Reich’s sexual preoccupations, their work shows the importance of the unconscious in mental health, physical health and overall development. Freud’s realization that psychic energy could careen off-course, resulting in somatized bodily feelings paved the way for Reich’s work and for the development of the field of somatic psychology. Likewise, his focus on instinctual drives, the conflict between the id and ego, as well as their control by the superego served as a jump-off point for later theorists such as Adler (Aposhyan, 2004). Adler expounded upon Freudian instinct theory and described how mental stress can negatively impact both the central and autonomic nervous systems. This results in functional changes that can be seen via breathing, and extends to circulation, organs, muscles and endocrine glands of the body. These changes have since been supported by a wealth of research (see Aposhyan, 2004. Hartley, 2004 & Staunton, 2002.).; also, exploring these body systems in relation to mental health was an overriding goal of my learning. Additionally, I found Adler’s work to be significant because he was one of the first therapists to incorporate expressive movement into therapy. This spurred dance therapy and authentic movement, both of which have proven successful in working with many populations and spark my interest due to my love of dance and recent healing experiences with these tools (Hartley, 2004).
Another associate of Freud is Wilhelm Reich; Reich developed Freud’s theories of repression and defense mechanisms by creating character types. Freud’s legacy continued as Reich’s character types were expanded by his own followers. Personally, I found that these character types are only useful if they are not rigidly applied to clients. Alternatively, I found them useful as guidelines of what body posture, types and personalities may be linked to certain unconscious issues that need to be acknowledged and resolved. What’s more, his theory of character types posits that there are specific factors, leading to specific defense mechanisms and eventually, character types. While his theory does account for the interactions of experiences (particularly early in development), and unconscious feelings, as well as how the body looks and changes internally and externally, it is lacking in many respects. The character type theory does not account for resilience or mitigating factors in the child’s trajectory. Overall I find it to be reductionist, plus, it does not help tap the knowledge of the unconscious. However, there are other Reichian concepts which resonated with me. These were related the movement of energy and postural alignment ( Staunton, 2002). Vegetotherapy was conceptualized in order to access the emotions in the unconscious and to free stuck energy entrenched in the muscles. Vegetotherapy techniques involve many which I personally use as well as some practices which are still used in different therapeutic modalities. These include breathing and postural exercise and massage ( L.Hatley, 2004).
Other concepts which stem from Freud and Reich that are still useful and relevant in therapy today include the ego defenses. Both Freud and Reich believed in the analysis of client defenses. Reich integrated this into therapy via what he called resistance analysis. An important aspect of this concept is that observing the body language and mannerisms and overall presented character of a person, provides insight into the issues and wisdom within the unconscious ( Staunton, 2002).
Carl Jung was also associated with Freud in his early career. Yet, he disagreed with Freud and Reich on the primacy of the sexual drive. I agree with Jung. Moreover, it has recently been proven that one does not need the ‘orgasmic relief’ that was a source of deep frustration in Reich’s theories. Furthermore, I found it significant that Jung conceptualizes all psychic energy as libido, instead of the prior conceptualization of libido as purely sexual. Another aspect of Jung’s work which sticks out to me is his focus on subjective meanings of internal experience, as well as shared meanings of the collective unconscious (Hopke, 2002.). Jung, as well as Stanislav Grof (as cited in Hartley, 2004. Pg 94) are both concerned with the connection of the spirit, mind and body with the universal. The inclusion of spirituality and connection to the universal is important to me because it encompasses the full potential of human development. Likewise, these principles operate from a belief that humans are self-regulating and have much internal strength. I much prefer theories which are strength based; I feel that they are the most empowering.. Moreover, he conceptualized the mind and body as part of one reality and worked with this via expressive arts, verbal associations, dreamwork, and galvanic skin tests, most of which I have found personally efficacious. Also, Grof and Jung’s ideas lead to the development of other holistic therapies which are still in use today. Jung’s conceptualization of the psyche and his location of the shadow within the body are akin to many eastern philosophies and speak to the need for balance between the ‘bad’ and the ‘good.’ Jung’s concept of active imagination is also in line with ancient spiritual wisdoms such as Buddhism and Islam. While I am not religious, ancient religions and philosophies which are still extant today, can provide solid theories that help us understand the unconscious depths of ourselves and allow for increased self-awarenss. Another reason that I find value in Jung’s work is because it draws from this ancient wisdom and connects us to all of humanity. This becomes increasingly necessary in the fragmented world which we live, it also allows us to feel as if we belong, yet are our own separate entity. Jung proposed the active imagination as a way to contact the unconscious wisdom of the universal, and to confront issues in the unconscious. Active imagination is usually used to confront dream images. But I can see how it could also be used to dialogue with body parts where somatic symptoms are felt and ask them for their opinions. Also, by evaluating their qualities, the client may begin to see that their symptoms and functions mimic what is present in their lives and/or personality, yet often denied as part of their shadow (Hartley, 2004). Jung’s principle of active imagination was extended by Mary Whitehouse. Whitehouse pioneered active imagination in movement and authentic movement. Both of which are widely used today. Research attests to the healing potential tapped by these techniques (Aposhyan, 2004), and I have personally experienced this potential. In Deborah Hickey’s workshop last semester, we engaged in authentic movement. Movement was able to tap into my instinctual forces, and I was able to connect with my partner as we witnessed one another move. Our connection on the level of the collective unconscious was apparent as we both came up with the same image for a specific movement. While there are many other theories and techniques that fall within the field of somatic psychology, in this paper I will primarily address the ways that different body systems interact with the conscious and unconscious mind. For the purposes of my studies, I conceptualized somatic psychology in the broadest definition of the word to include any technique or modality which works with both the mind and body.
Another way that I was better able to understand somatic psychology was by remembering and reviewing developmental trends. As infants, our first form of learning is non-verbal. We first learn about the world and ourselves via touching and moving. We form our perceptions of ourselves, the world and other based on sensory input and exploration through movement. It is in this manner that we form our personalities, boundaries and behavioral repertoires ( Staunton, 2002). According to Deane Juhan: “movement is the unifying bond between the mind and the body, and the sensations are the substance of that bond” (cited in Hartley, 2004. Pg. 37). My studies lead me to a better understanding of how different types of body oriented therapies can introduce new sensations. In turn, these sensations can overcome defenses such as poor postural alignment, behaviors and movements and replace them with more adaptive ones ( Aposhyan, 2004). Understanding early motor development is important because: if the developmental tasks related to motor-skills are not adequately developed, numerous problems may reveal themselves later in life. Disruption of social, spiritual, intellectual, and psychological functioning may occur; also, lowered immunity is a result (Hartley,2004). Disruption may also appear in the body if natural developmental movement patterns were not fully embodied. This may lead to a disconnection with certain movements, decreased perceptual awareness and choice of movement ( Hartley, 2004).
However, I learned that these difficulties can be remedied since developmental and birthing processes can be relived via movement therapy. This includes working with different movement patterns and reflexes associated with birth and development. This type of movement therapy actually impacts the lower-brain centers and can improve the aforementioned impoverished skills (Hartley, 2004). An example of how this may be expressed is by movements of reaching out. If reaching out as an infant was met with hostility, aggression, or indifference, an individual may cease to reach out for others in life, and may not strive for their dreams. Exploration of reaching patterns of development may allow one to access these memories. Once in the realm of conscious awareness, they may be worked with and the underlying neurological programming can be altered (Staunton, 2002). While this type of movement therapy is one of many which concretely alter the brain, and change our functioning, it was important for me to cite this example because it showed the intimate connections between movement and brain development throughout the lifespan. It is at this point in my studies that I can to realize the potential that somatic psychological techniques have on developmental hang-ups and on negative behavioral patterns entrenched later in life. While many theorists emphasize the impact of early experiences, I tend to focus on the potential for change throughout life, a more optimistic view. On a neurological level, this potential rests in the neurons. The neurons are capable of infinite different formations, but these have to be stimulated into existence. By applying my prior knowledge of neural plasticity and Hebb’s Axiom, I came to see the potential for learning new behavioral patterns. Thus, therapy can be a vessel for the learning of new behavioral repertoires, which may be practiced throughout life. Likewise, movement therapy, especially those which work with developmental movement patterns, can be beneficial to individuals with congenital disorders, learning disorders and emotional or behavioral issues. This stood out because it reinforced the multi-level approach of movement based therapy, in that it has the capacity to change brain functioning and form, as well as replace social experiences which have impacted our development.
Equally, early experiences with caregivers are internalized in the unconscious mind and impact us on behavioral and neurological levels. This direct connection between the mind and body expresses itself in many ways. For example, issues with holding and development. If a person does not feel safely held as an infant and child, they may not feel a strong sense of being grounded. Lacking connection with the earth can impede motor development. Also, the lack of safe holding can bring about perceptions of being alone in an unsafe world, and may therefore cause psychological and relational issues later in life ( Aposhyan, 2002). Moving onto to explore the cellular level, I came to understand how we are also connected to our mind via the cell membrane. It is postulated that our cell membranes work similarly to our personalities, behavioral patterns in terms of how much and what they let in or out (Hartley, 2004). Keeping on an internal visceral level, I sought to better understand the interactions of systems within the body. Although I have a strong understanding of neurological and brain functions, I am less familiar with the details of the immune endocrine and neuropeptide systems of the body, yet it is the communication between, and organization of these systems that showed me exactly how the mind impacts the body. Moreover, the physical and functional connectivity of these body systems overrides the mind-body dualism (Aposhyan, 2004).
In order to fully understand these interactions, I found it useful to learn about the specific behavioral, emotional and basic physical correlates of neuropeptides. Since neuropeptides account for the vast, and diverse amount of neurological activity, It was useful to understand that they play major roles in instinctual motivations, memory, as well as pain, pleasure and emotions. Through learning how neuropeptides facilitate communication between the cerebral cortex, the limbic-system and the hypothalamus, and how the limbic system and hypothalamus send messages to the endocrine system, the immune system and the autonomic nervous system(Hartley, 2004).
Taking this a step further, I explored the impact of external stimuli on internal functioning. The best example I found is research that shows how mental stress causes the limbic-hypothalamic system to change the neural messages of the mind into the neuro-hormonal, communicative molecules of the body. These molecules cause the endocrine system to produce steroid hormones that permeate certain cell membranes and nuclei, in order to affect the expression of genes. In turn, genes cause the cells to produce various molecules which regulate many body functions such as activity level, metabolism, sexuality and the immune response to name a few ( Staunton, 2002).
The culmination of this review and new learning about neuropeptides allowed me to see how reaching the unconscious emotions in the limbic system can exact change is psychobiological functioning. Moreover this shows how the brain is connected to the body in many ways and via many systems, making it easy to see that the mind exists throughout the body, not in the brain. My understanding of the role of neuropeptides was enhanced by the fact that they work within the body in the same manner which drugs work, by attaching to receptor sites on the membranes of specific cells. Likewise, neuropeptides play roles in craving and satiation, and attach to recptor cites in the brain and activate the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward system. A common view is that neuropeptides are the physiological basis of the emotions ( Pert and Rossi, cited in Hartley, 2004). This is supported by the fact the limbic system, and other ‘emotional’ parts of the brain contain many cells with receptor sites for neuropeptides. My understanding of the role of neuropeptides was enhanced by the fact that they work within the body in the same manner which drugs work, by attaching to receptor sites on the membranes of specific cells. (Aposhyan,2004). There is also a wealth of research showing the relationships between psychological health and body health/illness. I have already hinted at this in discussing neuropeptides. Yet, Paul Martin, reviews much of this research and further expounds upon the reciprocal influences between our mental states, physical health and social relationships and gave me a lot of insight into these relationships. (Pg. 33, Hartley, 2004).
Another new piece of information I learned from recent research is that the gut holds vast numbers of neurons. Hence, ‘gut feelings,’ and also has the capacity to store emotional memory. This is referred to as the enteric brain. This bit of information really struck a chord with me. As an intuitive person who becomes queasy at the drop of a hat, I now realize the knowledge of the gut. Such ‘body knowledge’ can also be seen in processes involved in memory (Hartley, 2004). Some psychoemotional memories are forgotten or repressed but the learning experiences which led to them still create specific ways of moving and gesturing. This is what Juhan refers to as a sensory engram ( Staunton, 2002). Coupled with my prior knowledge of memory and the repression of traumatic memories, the possibilities of body oriented therapy are apparent. Since body oriented therapy works both with symbols and sensations and through the creation of a safe environment and a strong therapeutic alliance, trauma may be worked through in therapy. Here it is most important to make sure that the client is ready to work with these feelings.
Up to this point, I have explored the functioning and development of body systems more holistically, but it is also useful to consider the significance of different body systems and parts by themselves. The functions of different systems and parts of the body can parallel emotional processes and experiences. This became evident when I was learning about skin, because skin is a barrier which encounters relationships with others. One can be open to touch and new relationships or they may have ‘thick skin,’ in that their skin may be a barrier to others and to the full experience of life. Skin may also be a thin barrier, and disassociation may have occurred via traumatic touch. I learned that this may be evident when clients are immediately drawn inwardly to the organs, and may not have a fully boundaried sense of self. Therapeutic work can thus be aimed at establishing more clear boundaries, as they are able to be seen and not lose their boundaries (Staunton, 2002).
An understanding of the body parts and systems individually opens up endless potential in therapy, and allows us to access unconscious emotions and experiences that are related to the somatic symptoms. For instance, someone who often experiences high stress is often in a state of parasympathetic arousal. This arousal does not allow the parasympathetic nervous system to rest and restore the body. This is expressed in weakened immune system. Therefore, clients who are often ill or have a weakened immune system would benefit from reducing stress factors (Aposhyan, 2004). This can be accomplished many ways and therefore allow for therapy to be more client directed, as I prefer
The functioning of the muscles may also be an important area to explore in therapy. I have learned through experience, and re-learned through my studies in this course that muscles can give us a sense of strength, vitality, or confidence; alternatively, they can make us feel unmotivated and sluggish. In clinical work, working with the muscles provides potential growth experiences to a wide variety of clients. The experience of challenging movement and exercise which engages your own strength is empowering and invigorating. I engage in many types of exercise and also find that it increases my confidence ( Hartley, 2004). Many different types of exercise can engage the muscles and again, therapy can be more client-directed. Conversely, when working with people who have not yet formed a solid sense of self, or are psychotic, clear and directed movement sequences are best.
There are many other body parts and organs which I studied in my coursework thus far, but the main concept that sticks with me is that different body parts have various energetic connections. Hence, disease or dysfunction of a body part can correspond to different psychological and emotional issues and vice-versa. I have explored numerous examples of such relationships. Moreover, sometimes we connect imagery to certain parts of the body which are not universal and therefore the therapist should also explore subjective meanings linked to body parts.
At this point the evidence for the connection between the mind and body is clear. However, understanding and working with this relationship can have many positive therapeutic outcomes with diverse clients. By building my understanding of the nuances of this relationship, I feel better equipped to form treatment plans which work well for the unique challenges that each client faces. For instance, meditation, Qi gong, massage and aerobic exercise have proven .to reduce anxiety and negative effect (Rendi, Szabo, Szabó, Velenczei, & Kovács. 2008) Likewise, Qi Gong also promotes the free flow of energy (Chi or Qi) with the body and promotes spiritual awareness. Exercise and movement in groups can also build social skills, and provide a safe enclosure where movement may be witnessed by others (Hartley, 2002. & Aposhyan, 2002). There are many other benefits associated with various body exercises. This is what I will expand upon in the near future and eventually incorporate into my practice. Sexuality, is another energy/ aspect of the body which can be explored through bodywork. Sexual energy is a type of psychic energy and it should be an integral part of therapy. Therapists should be accepting of diverse sexual behaviors and orientations and explore them in the context of the client’s own body and lived experience. Unlike Jung and Freud who view homosexuality as a developmental issue (Hopke, 2002)., being gay, lesbian or bisexual should be seen as a natural variation and expression of sexual energy. It was easy for me to see how sexual energy has become disembodied due to societal preoccupation with fantasy. There are numerous modalities which work with psychic energy, sexual and otherwise. Energy that becomes stuck within different body systems can manifest itself in physical and mental problems. Seeing that we are all sexual beings, therapists must accept the sexual nature and energy of a client and be willing to work with this in therapy. Often, working with sexuality in therapy sessions entails the use of touch. Another element of somatic psychology that was important for me to explore was the use of therapeutic touch. There are numerous techniques that employ therapeutic touch, but I will explore these modalities in articles to come. In learning about somatic psychology it was important for me to explore the benefits, and potential downfalls of therapeutic touch. Touch can soften the muscles, promote relaxation, and bring feeling to previously numb areas. It may also improve circulation, metabolism and painful bodily sensations. It also benefits that body’s connective tissues. This is significant because the connective tissues promote cellular health by allowing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the cells, also, these tissues remove toxins (Hartley, 2004). Also, touch and holding can bring feelings of safety and promote more flexible boundaries. However, clients who do not have firm boundaries or are too vulnerable may feel that touch is threatening (Staunton, 2002). Likewise, those who have been sexualized since they were a young child may feel that all touch is sexual in nature. I can see that there are many tangible benefits of touch. Personally, I would use therapeutic touch, only if disembodied feelings cannot be contacted otherwise. Moreover, I would not encourage the use of touch by a therapist who is disembodied themselves, nor by a therapist who does not have a supervisor or colleague with which to discuss the decision to use therapeutic touch. My studies thus far in this course have given me an exposure to primary theories within the field of psychology. I found many theories which are discrepant and some which are complimentary to one another. What was most important to me was to identify theories that were in line with my views of humanity, as well the pan theoretical underpinnings which guide my professional development. That being said, the paper is primarily a review of the theories which resonate best with me. Likewise, theories and techniques which have solid empirical support were also a focus of my attention. I reviewed techniques and theories related to the mind-body connection from a perspective of what I could best integrate into practice. Hence, theories and techniques which recognize the client as the ‘knower’ and support their subjective meanings were a major focus.
Exploring mind-body psychology from my pan theoretical, yet client centered beliefs led me to identify a variety of practices which may be used as adjuncts to therapy, but that may cross boundaries if engaged in between myself and a client. This meant expanding my consciousness of what may be considered boundary violations due to clients unconscious memories stored in their “body memories.” An awareness and sensitivity to boundaries and an honoring of vulnerabilities, was something that stood out as vital in my studies thus far. Overall, I am left with a better understanding of both the interior and exterior of our psyche and existence. With this information I feel prepared to support clients in discovering unconscious patterns of moving, feeling and behaving. We can then form a collaborative relationship in which we challenge and restructure these patterns to those which work better for the client. I’ve learned to really appreciate the power of the therapeutic relationship and of being a witness through authentic movement practices of my own. Now I have learned a plethora of techniques relevant to improve mind-body functioning and increase self-awareness. Moreover, I have considered the ethical concerns relevant to body-related therapy.
I have also assessed and am actively expanding my own levels of body awareness and recognize the importance of being aware of another’s bodily experiences. In therapy, this bodily empathy can lead to a counselor experiencing the disowned feelings and experiences of clients. Moreover this high level of attunement has therapeutic value and will bolster the therapeutic relationship. It was also important for me to remember that we can become too ‘in our bodies’ and not enough in our mind. Overall, the restoration of balance is always the ideal.
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