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Matt Healey

Matt Healey

Your body is an important source of information and wisdom in therapy.

In this article I look at why your body is an important source of information and wisdom in therapy. Our bodies hold the memory of our experience. Depending on how we process our experiences we may end up storing a large amount of our emotions and thoughts in our bodies. Over time this can contribute to many health problems , both mental and physical. Learning how to access and attend to our bodies in a safe and constructive way can help relieve tension, identify stress or anxiety and break repetitive patterns that cause us suffer.

sensations and thoughts

Our way of experiencing is first felt through bodily sensation. How we mentally perceive this sensation determines what emotion or feeling we ascribe. That emotion or combination of emotions deeply informs our cognitive awareness of how we can interpret it. From there we move between the exchange of sensation and thought. We move forward and back between sensation and awareness until the event or experience has been sufficiently understood by our bodies and minds.

positive experiences

A positive example of this can been seen when we encounter someone we find loving and supportive. Our bodies register a sensation. This sensation is pleasant and then we ascribe a mixture of thoughts, emotions and memories. This helps us understand these sensations and make sense of it. Its really important for our mind and body to be able to make sense of this.

This happens really quickly. Once we have gone through this evaluative process we could say, when I see this person I feel this way. If we are fortunate we might have lots of wonderful experiences of this person and form a positive and secure association with them.

negative experiences

And the opposite happens too. An unpleasant sensation can ascribe an unpleasant emotion that creates a stressful response in the body. And this, depending on the severity or duration can cause the body and mind to experience a range of different responses. Sometimes its something we can deal with and sometimes its beyond our capacity. When something happens that produces a stress response that is too much for us we call that a traumatic event. A traumatic event can effect the body and mind in many different ways. For more information about the symptoms of trauma follow this link.

The point I would like to convey here is that it all begins with sensation and the body. The body is how we experience the world, its our everything and yet its not all of us. I like to think of the body as mine but not me. The body can be thought of as the vehicle of experience and the mind is its driver. You may also subscribe to the idea of having a soul or spirit too.

Moving between sensation and thought can inform us deeply of whats really going on

Moving between sensation and thought can inform us deeply of whats really going on. This also gives us the chance to re-evaluate whether our thoughts and emotions are truly representative of our sensations and vice versa. The body often has a fairly different story to tell compared to the mind. Taking the time to listen can be a surprising and enlightening venture. Focusing our awareness on the information and intelligence of the body can be the key.

So what does this look like in therapy?

It’s like most standard therapies that involve talking but I also use a combination of breathing, awareness and mindfulness techniques. I can offer guided meditation, autogenic training, and focusing to clients that feel they would benefit from more meditative approach. I never impose a course of action. At times I might offer a technique, some guidance or an observation, but you will always choose the direction you wish to follow.

Who can benefit from this approach?

Anybody who wishes to gain physical, emotional, and psychological safety and rebuild a sense of control and empowerment. This approach is particularly useful for survivors of trauma and those experiencing a toxic amount of stress. For more information or to schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation please contact me here.

(Please note: In this article I have used some basic examples to illustrate a point about the relationship between sensation and thought. This topic is part of a much bigger conversation about attachment theory, trauma, and polyvagal theory. For those interested in learning more about these topics please follow the links).