The Advantages of Body-Based Psychotherapy
I love my job. I am a Core Energetics therapist. Core Energetics is a body-based therapy that combines the best of traditional talk therapy with therapeutic techniques—such as movement, sound, posture, breathing, and exaggerated expressions—in order to help clients experience deep emotions that talking alone can’t easily access.
Every day that I work with clients feels invigorating, challenging, and full of potential. Our sessions are filled with energy, life, and movement. Best of all? My clients feel the same way. They look forward to coming, and they’re excited about the work. “Something happens” in almost every session.
I was at a dinner party recently where the guests were talking about their experience of being in talk therapy. “We talk, she is like a friend,” said one. “My therapist told me that nothing really happens until about the fifth year,” said another.
I was struck once again by the difference in experience between talk therapy and body therapy. Body therapy, also known as energy therapy, is not a social visit where we sit and talk about their lives. This is a powerful and deep process that helps people change. It is not boring, stagnant, or slow. It is alive!
Body Therapy Doesn’t Go Stagnant
Have you ever been in a talk therapy session when things just seemed to slow way down? Perhaps you got sleepy, or even wondered if your therapist was bored. Maybe you dreaded coming to that session in the first place, because you felt as though you’d hit some kind of roadblock in your journey and there seemed to be no way to progress forward.
This doesn’t happen in body therapy. Because we work specifically with energy flow in the body, this therapy doesn’t go dead. When a client gets stuck or seems bored or vacant—when the process starts to feel stagnant—I know that we are close to something important. Deadness, stuckness, boredom are always defenses, or unconscious ways we are protecting ourselves from something—probably for reasons stemming from our past that feels dangerous to express or feel.
As a body therapist I love these moments, because it’s my client’s way of saying, “I have something important to express, something that desperately wants to be heard.” Far from making the sessions stagnant, these moments of deadness perform a critical function in body therapy.
For example, let’s say that in the middle of our session a client “spaces out.” Because in body therapy we are aware of energy, I will sense that the client is not present, that his energy has “gone somewhere else.” I might stop what we are doing and ask him to breathe—to notice what he is feeling, to identify any sensation in his body. By coming back into an awareness of his body, he might notice a tightness in his throat. When we explore that, he finds that the tightness in his throat reminds him of feeling angry. Putting words to that feeling, he finds a voice that says, “I don’t want to do this.” At that point, I might ask him to punch a pillow and say that sentence to me as loudly and strongly as he can. Going through this act can be cathartic. It helps him remember that as a child, he was made to obey and he learned how to disconnect from his feelings of anger and frustration, while obeying, as a way of surviving.
In this session, the client learns that it is different today. He doesn’t need to space out. He can be electrically present, powerful, assertive, and above all, safe. Nothing bad will happen to him if he expresses his real feelings. He has the power to say no—and it feels great! This is an example of how we keep things energized and moving forward in body therapy.
In Body Therapy, Change Happens Quickly
Have you ever met someone who has been in talk therapy for years and years, and is still struggling with the same old issues? I believe that with talk therapy, clients can reach a profound state of self-knowledge and awareness. However, many people in talk therapy have the experience of understanding their deep issues and even wanting to shift them, but find themselves unable to change. This is because understanding and experience are very different.
An advantage of body therapy over talk therapy is that it actually helps people change their behaviors. Not only this, but change happens very quickly when we involve our whole body intelligence. Our minds are wonderful and important. However, if we don’t address the energetic component of our issues, we will not be able to change them.
What do I mean by this? Our bodies hold powerful and primitive experiences from the past that keep us from changing our behaviors. As a simplistic example, imagine a kid who got hit in the head by a baseball in the batter’s box, and thereafter, no matter how much his coach tells him not to, he always flinches and misses the ball when pitched to. That’s because our body has a memory—an intelligence—that no amount of talking can change.
In body therapy, we address early emotional traumas and experiences. We use the body—not just talking—as a way to re-experience blocks and prohibitions that are held deep in our bodies and are inaccessible through talking.
Let’s say a client was sexually abused as a child, and as an adult, has fear of showing or feeling sexuality. The experience of the child was one of violation and helplessness, and the child learned to shut down all signs of her sexuality to try to get safe. Today, however, these old behaviors are getting in the way of finding love in her life. She is longing for relationship, but finds that when someone is attracted to her, she feels that old fear and shuts down or runs away.
In talk therapy, she might come to understand all of this—where the fear comes from, why she behaves this way, and so on. But energetically—in her body—there is a primitive and potent experience around fear of violation. How do we work with those old blockages? In body therapy, we would work with the very young voice and energy that got blocked. We might start with her punching a punching bag and saying, “Don’t touch me!” As we encourage this energy to flow, the person begins to see that in the present she has the power to stop someone from abusing her that she didn’t have in the past. To do so at the time of the abuse would have felt life threatening, so she had to be compliant.
The physical action of resistance and strength coupled with the verbal and emotional expressions of self-assertion and even rage is always extremely powerful for the client in these sessions.
This is a big part of what body therapy does. It allows us to let energy and feelings flow through us that on an unconscious level we believe are life threatening. If we don’t address this energetic phenomena and help the person to feel—in her body—that saying no is now not only safe but holds the key to her power, then all the talking in the world and all the understanding won’t get her anywhere.
Now this person finds that when she walks out of my office, she has a sense of safety that wasn’t there before. She no longer experiences herself as a helpless child, but has a sense of herself as an adult with her own authority. Best of all, this awareness allows her to let her sexuality flow—she no longer has to shut it off to find safety.
Body therapy gives people the experience—not just the idea—that the very energy that was dangerous at one time is now the doorway to a new life and potential.
Not Fixing What Is Wrong, but Claiming What Is Right
A final advantage of body therapy is the perspective it takes on the therapeutic process. So many people who go to therapy do it to get “fixed.” Core Energetics is not about finding out what is wrong and fixing it. It is about working with the energy to reclaim our birthright—our full and complete selves, unencumbered by defenses we no longer need.
We all have defenses that inhibit the expression of our real self. In Core, we are looking to move energy through these defenses or blocks. The reason these blocks are there is because whatever they are holding back didn’t feel safe to express directly at the time they were developed. These blocks formed earlier in our lives to protect us. In the therapeutic setting, when we bring attention to blocked and held energy, we find valuable parts of ourselves that want to be freed and expressed.
We are already whole and complete—it is just a matter of removing the energetic blocks that are keeping us from knowing and experiencing all aspects of ourselves. It’s the body therapist’s job to find ways for the client to understand, express, and free up the energy trapped in these the blockages.
What I love about my work is seeing my clients engaging fully with their world, discovering new talents and possibilities. When we connect to all parts of ourselves, we find a natural pleasure and fulfillment in life. We connect to our gifts and have a desire to share them in the world.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ANN BRADNEY is a Core Energetics therapist in New York City and an international Core Energetics instructor. She is launching a Core Energetics training institute for therapists and other professionals in southern California in 2008, and is leading a series of five weekend intensive workshops at the Tao Healing Arts Center in Santa Monica, beginning in April 2007. For more information on the workshop series, go to www.AnnBradney.com.