The Missing Ingredient from Most Therapy

By | January 2, 2019

Therapy can change people’s lives in powerful ways. It helps clients develop insight, strengthen awareness, and learn to trust. A client’s relationship with their therapist can function as a “stand in” for healthy formative relationships clients never had–or never had enough of–early on in their lives with significant others. Over time, therapy can create the conditions that allow people to process overwhelming feelings within the container of another person’s supportive, caring attunement. This can provide the psychological and emotional scaffolding people often need in order to “grow up” the parts of themselves that may have remained stuck at earlier stages of development.

Attuned Mirroring

David Richo, in his audio series Growing Pains and Growing Up describes how “attuned mirroring,” in a healthy relationship, is a gift a person gives to another without losing anything in the process. He likens it to the way you can download a program onto a new computer, remove the original disc, and still have both the original disk and a new copy of it that now functions independently of the original. This can be the case in therapy.

Most psychotherapy is highly thought-centered. Cognitive behavioral therapy is about recognizing the impact of thought patterns and beliefs on feelings and behaviors. Psychotherapy–with it’s Freudian roots–focuses on bringing awareness to unconscious aspects of ourselves. Insight-oriented therapy is about creating the conditions for “ah-ha” moments. These insights are then processed in conversation with a therapist, through discussion, hopefully leading to new, more positive behaviors.

In therapy, even when clients are encouraged to feel, connect with, or bring awareness to the experience of emotions in their body, it’s often while they’re sitting in a chair. Clients may feel emotions in the here-and-now of a session, but other than blinking, shifting the position of their legs, crossing or uncrossing their arms, or reaching for handkerchiefs, the typical range of motion in a therapist’s office is limited.

Motion gives us Access to Emotion

When it comes to the types of therapy insurance companies reimburse, I believe movement is a critical missing ingredient. Movement–which is to say, motion–offers us an incredible, visceral, immediate access point to emotion. It’s not as easy to feel the fullness of our emotions when we’re sitting still, legs rigid, hands folded on our laps or crossed over our chests. There are many portals to our inner world, just as their are many roads to Rome. Motion, however, is one of the most direct routes, and it’s rarely incorporated into traditional therapies.

The etymology of the word “emotion” already underscores its potential therapeutic function. The word is based on the Latin emovere. The suffix, e- is a variant of ex-  which means ‘out,’ while movere means ‘move.’ Emotion, essentially, means: “to move (something) out.” One powerful way to do healing work is through allowing movement to guide the processing of feelings and emotions, ideally with musical accompaniment. Movement can help us feel, and feeling can help us move. Just as a woman in labor who has been supported in trusting her body may find she knows how to move her baby through her birth canal and out into the world, our bodies can guide us into finding ways of moving our emotions through us.

Although some therapies use techniques that incorporate actual movement into the treatment, you may need to seek out your own movement-access points to emotion beyond a therapist’s office. There are a growing number of powerful forms of healing movement available today, many of them performed in a group setting. Moving within a group brings in an additional missing ingredient from a lot of individual therapy: community.

Try finding ways to move your body in sync with your emotions, or consider exploring movement through Fluid Feminine Movement at S Factor by Sheila Kelly, Femme!, Embodied LiveKukuwa Fitness, or Walk and Talk Therapy, something Kate Hays writes about in Working It Out: Using Exercise in Psychotherapy.

Photo by Ali Yahya at Unsplash

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