Body of Evidence

Our bodies tell our story

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So you believe in psychotherapy, but after God knows how many sessions on the couch, you just feel all yakked out. Or you hurt all over, but your doctor says there's nothing physically wrong. You may be a candidate for the growing number of body-centered therapies (also known as somatic psychology) that bridge the mind/body gap.

Christine Caldwell, founder of the Naropa Institute's Somatic Psychology Department, says somatic psychology 'values the physical body as a structural blueprint for our consciousness and essential aliveness. It seeks to rectify a historical overemphasis on cognitive processes being central in human experience.' Practitioners believe that memories are stored in our bodies' tissues, and that by tapping directly into the emotional roots of our aches, we can break through physical or emotional pain on a more gut (as opposed to intellectualized) level.

The grande dame of somatic psychotherapy is Ilana Rubenfeld. In a conversation with Family Therapy Networker editor Richard Simon (Sept./Oct. 1997), she discusses how her 'listening touch' technique, the Rubenfeld Synergy method, adds another dimension to a therapist's understanding of a person's story. 'It's like taking a black-and-white photograph and suddenly adding the dimension of color,' she explains. 'Being able to listen to and understand their body's story lets you cover territory that would take three to four times longer to deal with using only words.'

A typical Rubenfeld Synergy session begins with the client (fully clothed) lying face up on a massage table. After a verbal check-in, the practitioner slides his or her hands under a client's back or lightly touches the neck or shoulder to get a sense of the person's physical and emotional state. As the client talks, the practitioner listens to the 'body story' or the patterns of excitement or tension or relaxation that occur.

Clients report experiencing a feeling of powerful catharsis during these sessions. 'After the 15-minute hit of Rubenfeld Synergy, I felt as light and present as if I'd spent two weeks at a spa,' Simon said. And he didn't even have to go on any hikes.