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Monday, November 6, 2017

Using Somatic Psychotherapy When the Client Has No Words To Describe the Problem

In prior articles, I've discussed the mind-body connection and psychotherapy (see my articles:  Mind-Body Psychotherapy: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious MindClinical Hypnosis and the Mind-Body ConnectionOvercoming Childhood Trauma That Affects You as an Adult, and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Clinical Breakthroughs).  In this article, I'm focusing on how Somatic Psychotherapy can be used when the client has no words to describe a psychological problem.

Mind-Body Connection: Using Somatic Psychotherapy When the Client Has No Words to Describe the Problem

There are times when, due to the nature of the problem or for a variety of reasons, the client might not have words to describe the problem.

So, when might this happen?  One possibility is that the traumatic event might have occurred when the client was very young so there aren't clear memories or it might have even occurred preverbially (a birth trauma would be an example of preverbal trauma).

With regard to preverbal issues, before a child can speak, she cannot symbolize her problems for herself or others because she doesn't have language, so there are no words.  However, as I've discussed in a prior article, the body holds onto unconscious memories, and it's possible to use mind-body oriented psychotherapy (also known as Somatic Psychotherapy) to work on the problem.  More about this below.

Most forms of psychotherapy rely exclusively on words to resolve psychological problems.  That's the nature of talk therapy.  The client comes to see the psychotherapist, describes the problem as best as she can and they work on the problem by exploring the current situation, getting history, and helping the client to make psychological connections and work through the problem.

But when the problem is outside of the client's conscious awareness, she might only have a vague awareness, if at all, of what the problem is.

At that point, psychotherapists who are trained to use mind-body oriented therapy, like EMDR therapy, clinical hypnosis or Somatic Experiencing, can help the client to explore the problem by using the mind-body connection.

The following fictionalized vignette illustrates how the mind-body connection can help when the client is unable to express the problem in words:

Prior to starting therapy again, Nina had been to several therapists in the past.

Although she liked her prior therapists, she didn't feel she got much out of therapy because she didn't know how to describe her problem.  She only knew that she felt extreme anxiety whenever she went home to visit her grandmother.  Other than going to her grandmother's home, she usually didn't feel anxious.

Talking about her anxiety with her prior therapists didn't help her.  They were only able to get so far, but she continued to have this extreme anxiety whenever she went on these visits.  Even talking about going on one of these visits was somewhat anxiety producing.

Nina chose her current therapist because she read articles that certain types of mind-body oriented therapy are helpful with clients where regular talk therapy hasn't been helpful.

Using Somatic Psychotherapy When the Client Has No Words to Describe the Problem

Nina's current therapist worked with Nina to help her to explore the sensations and emotions that she felt in her body using a technique called the Affect Bridge in clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy).

Nina was able to tell her therapist that, aside from the anxiety she felt, she also felt a tightening in her stomach when she thought about those visits.

Over time, as Nina and her therapist continued to explore these emotions and sensations, Nina realized that her anxiety about going to her grandmother's house was longstanding--ever since she was a young child.

Further exploration in her therapy sessions revealed that Nina felt most anxious about her grandmother's basement.

Then, gradually, over the course of months, as Nina became more attuned to what she was experiencing, she remembered that she saw a man molesting her cousin, Betty, one day in the basement.  At the time, Nina became so frightened that she ran upstairs and she was too afraid to tell anyone what she saw.

Since memories tend to be unreliable, even memories that are associated with the mind-body connection, Nina called Betty and she began speaking to her about her anxiety when she visited their grandmother's home.

She didn't know how to ask Betty about whether she was sexually molested or not, but she didn't have to because Betty told her that she also felt very uncomfortable going there and then she told Nina what happened:  A handyman who came to do repairs was in the basement when Betty went down there.

He seemed nice at first, but after talking to her for a few minutes, he grabbed her and touched her breasts.  As soon as she was able to pull away, Betty ran upstairs, but she never told anyone what happened--until she had this conversation with Nina.

Then, Nina told her that she recently remembered in therapy that she was on the basement steps when she saw this man molesting Betty, but she was also too afraid to tell anyone, so she ran.

Nina and Betty talked for a long time and Betty was able to confirm the details that Nina remembered in her therapy.  They were also able to be emotionally supportive of each other.

When Nina had her next therapy session, she told her therapist that Betty confirmed the memory.

Her therapist told her that, even though Nina wasn't the one who was molested, that it was emotionally traumatizing to see her cousin being molested.

From that point on, now that they knew they had a valid memory, her therapist used EMDR therapy to help Nina to work through the trauma.

There can be times when, for a variety of reasons, psychotherapy clients are unable to express their problem in words.  In some cases, there are no words and in other cases the issues might be unclear.

Using a mind-body oriented therapy can get to unconscious issues that regular talk therapy often cannot.  The reason for this is that the body offers a window into the unconscious mind.

Mind-Body Connection: Using Somatic Psychotherapy When the Client Has No Words to Describe the Problem

It can take a while before a client becomes accustomed to accessing emotions and sensations through the body, but many clients become adept at this over time.

Clients who are already in talk therapy and who want to remain with their current therapist can have adjunctive therapy sessions with a therapist who uses mind-body oriented psychotherapy (see my article: What is Adjunctive Therapy?).

In that case, the talk therapist is the primary therapist and the mind-body oriented therapist is the secondary therapist.

For clients considering adjunctive therapy, it's best to start by talking to your primary therapist about it.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're finding that regular talk therapy hasn't been helpful to you, you might consider a form of somatic psychotherapy (How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

We know so much more now about the connection between the mind and the body than we ever knew before, and psychotherapists who use various forms of somatic psychotherapy usually know how to help clients to access unconscious issues.

Rather than suffering on your own, you could benefit from getting help from a psychotherapist who uses somatic psychotherapy.

The first step is to set up a consultation.

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 or email me.

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