NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Experiential Psychotherapy and the Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind

As I've mentioned in prior blog articles, including Mind-Body Psychotherapy: What Your Body Is Telling You, integrating the mind-body connection in therapy offers many advantages over regular talk therapy, one of them being that emotional states in the body offer a window into the unconscious mind.

Experiential Psychotherapy: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind

What is Experiential Psychotherapy?
Experiential psychotherapy is a general name for different types of psychotherapy that integrate the mind-body connection, including: AEDP, clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy), EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing, to name just a few.

How Does Mind-Body Psychotherapy Offer a Window Into the Unconscious Mind?
Many people know that dreams offer a window into the unconscious.  I enjoy working with clients' dreams in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC.  The problem is that not everyone remembers their dreams.  But everyone has access to his or her body, and a therapist who works with the mind-body connection can help psychotherapy clients access what's happening in the body in terms of embodied emotional states.

Let's take a look at an example of this with a composite case, which represents many different psychotherapy cases:  

Rita had been to several different therapists over the course of her 20s and 30s prior to coming to see me.  Although she felt she benefited from talk therapy, she also felt there was something missing that she was unable to get to in her prior experiences with therapy.

Rita came to me because she knew that, in addition to doing talk therapy and EMDR, I use Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis with my psychotherapy clients.

At first, Rita had a hard time putting her feelings into words.  But when we focused on what she was experiencing in her body, she was able to sense into her physical sensations and gradually identify the emotions that went with those physical sensations.

So, for example, when I asked Rita to sense into her body, she said she sensed a heaviness in her upper abdominal area.  I asked Rita to stay with that, as long as it felt tolerable to her.  Then, after a few minutes, she said that she sensed, within the heaviness in her upper abdomen, a hollowness.

We stayed with that hollowness and, gradually, emotions emerged.  I saw tears begin to stream down Rita's face, and she was able to say she felt very sad.  I asked Rita to stay with the sadness and, after a few minutes, she had a memory of being alone as a young child crying for her mother.

Over the next several sessions, as we continued to work with the physical sensations that Rita sensed in her body and the accompanying emotions, more memories emerged.

As we continued to work together, what emerged was early childhood memories of feeling sad in a household where Rita was raised by a single mother who worked three jobs to support them.  As a result, Rita was often alone and lonely.

As an adult, even when Rita was in a healthy, loving romantic relationship, she often felt this heavy feeling in the upper abdomen, a hollow feeling of sadness and loneliness.  Even though she wasn't alone any more, she continued to feel the unresolved emotions from her childhood.

Part of the work was helping Rita to separate "then" (her childhood experiences) from "now" (her adult life) using a combination of Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis.

Another part of the work was helping Rita heal from her earlier emotional wounds.  We did this by working with the child part of her that felt a deep longing to be loved and nurtured.

In a relaxed state, Rita, as her adult self, had an inner dialogue with her child self, expressing love and compassion for this child self.  Then, she sensed into that child part and she was able to take in the love and compassion that her adult self was giving.

I also helped Rita to imagine a nurturing parental figure who could have been there for her when she was younger.  She chose an uncle, who actually lived out of state when she was a child, but when he was around, he was loving and emotionally supportive.

With guidance in therapy, Rita sensed back into her childhood experience as a lonely child feeling her unmet emotional needs and longing.   Then, she imagined that her uncle was sitting next to her with his arm around her.  She sensed the physical sensation of his loving gesture and how that felt in her body both physically and emotionally.

Then, I helped Rita to hold onto this experience with a technique called "anchoring" in clinical hypnosis, so she could access the felt sense of this nurturing experience whenever she needed it.

Access to the Unconscious Experience With Somatic Experiencing
As I mentioned earlier, there are various types of mind-body psychotherapy that help people to access unconscious experience by sensing into what they feel in their bodies.

Different people sense into their bodies in different ways.  Many people start with what's happening to them physically.  Others have an intuitive sense.  Others close their eyes get visual images.

It doesn't matter how someone begins the process of accessing their emotional and physical states in their bodies to get to their unconscious mind.  The important thing is that the body provides a way to access the unconscious mind and it's a matter of learning how to tune in.

Learning to Tune Into the Body to Sense Physical and Emotional States
Many people need to learn how to tune into the body to sense physical and emotional states because it doesn't come naturally to them.  For clients who have difficulty, I help them with a step-by-step process that most people can learn.

I usually recommend that people read Ann Weiser Cornell's book, The Power of Focusing - A Practical Guide to Emotional Self Healing, a book that helps people to develop a felt sense of their experiences in an easy, accessible way.

Getting Help
Whether you've had prior experiences in psychotherapy or not, if you would like to have a deeper understanding of yourself and get to the root of your problems so you can heal emotionally, you could benefit from working with a licensed therapist who uses the mind-body connection in therapy.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.