The Body in Psychotherapy
The Body in Psychotherapy
by Ken Sullivan
From the very beginning of life we mold and shape ourselves around our experiences. When we are loved, held and supported we will probably grow into the world with a good sense of self, holding healthy beliefs and attitudes about the world and the people in it. If, on the other hand, we grew up in an environment of fear and tension, our sense of self and our world views may end up unhealthy. We may doubt our lovability and mistrust those around us. We may shy away from intimacy and strongly protect our vulnerabilities.
Our psyches shape themselves through the development of beliefs and coping mechanisms to make sense of the world and to keep us safe. Our bodies also shape themselves to best fit the life we’ve come to know and expect. An adult who was hit or yelled at as a child may display an almost permanently startled state in how he can only breathe shallowly or in the tense and hardened neck muscles she can never get to relax. Shaming messages received from a parent may show up later in life in collapsed posture or an averted gaze. Defiance and anger may be the source of a rigid back or stiffened hips.
Body-centred approaches to psychotherapy seek to access our stories and life experiences, and their effects on our emotional and physical health, by bringing focus to the in-the-moment relationship we have with our bodies. The body-oriented therapist will watch for and bring attention to posture, gesture, breath and the general movement of the body. As these are explored and brought to conscious awareness a vast new pool of information is made available and the healing process can be greatly enhanced. This work is often done through touch with gentle and non-invasive manipulations of the body. However, this isn’t always the case. Any psychotherapy that incorporates body consciousness, focuses on the in-the-moment internal experiences of the client, and seeks to bridge what so often seems to be the mind-body gap, can be considered body-oriented.
At Transformational Arts College, the Bodies of Inquiry Program was developed to enhance the therapist’s skills in the art of body-centred psychotherapy. Students of this program learn the theory, inquiry and applications of touch needed to work at the deeper level of body consciousness in a hands-on environment.
–Ken Sullivan, Psychotherapist and Psychophysical Therapist
Ken Sullivan is a Facilitator for the Total Self, Spiritual Psychotherapy, Relationship Counselling, Body-Centred Therapy Programs and Intensives. He is a Senior Spiritual Psychotherapist for the College’s Counselling Clinic, a case supervisor and runs psychotherapy groups. Ken is also in private practice.