NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Mind-Body Connection: Developing a Felt Sense of Your Internal Experiences

In a prior article, Developing Your Inner Sense of Being Calm, Grounded and Centered, I began a discussion about developing the ability to be calmer and more grounded and centered in your body. I also provided techniques for how to do that.  But what if you don't have a sense of what's going on in your body and you're having a hard time connecting? That's the topic for this article (see my article: The Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

Mind-Body Connection: Developing a Felt Sense of Your Internal Experience

Developing a Felt Sense of Your Body
Since the mind and the body are connected, it makes sense that what goes on in the body affects the mind and what goes on in the mind affects the body.

Most people are so accustomed to focusing on their thoughts that they don't have experience paying attention to their bodies.  When asked to sense into their bodies, they have no idea how to do this, so this is something I teach many clients in my psychotherapy private practice in New York City and I'll address in this article.

What is a Felt Sense?
A felt sense is an internal bodily awareness that develops as you become more attuned to what's going on in your body.

The concept of a felt sense was developed by the American philosopher, Eugene Gendlin, and it refers to the connection between the mind and the body.  According to Gendlin, who developed Focusing therapy, the felt sense is a combination of emotion, awareness, intuitiveness, and embodiment.

When people begin to practice getting a felt sense, the experience is often unclear to them. Initially, people often describe it as a vague sense of their inner experience.

On the most basic level, they might experience it as various sensations in their body, aches, tension, soreness, tightness and so on.

As they practice and become more attuned to their body, they might begin to become aware of other physical sensations as well as emotions that are linked to those sensations.

How to Begin to Develop a Felt Sense of Your Body
When I work with clients, I often teach them how to develop a felt sense of their body so they can be aware of their emotions and where they feel these emotions in their body.  This is a valuable skill to have in therapy because it allows you to sense what you're feeling and the progress you're making in therapy.

Whether you realize it or not, you've had the experience of having a felt sense of your body many times.  You just might not be accustomed to thinking about your experience in that way.

For instance, when you wake up in the morning and you have a vague sense that you have a sore throat, in order to figure out if your throat is dry or if you really have a sore throat, you might sense into your throat when you wake up, then again after you have a drink of water and later on when you have your coffee or tea.

This sensing in is an initial experience of having a felt sense, and it could include any part of your body.

You can practice doing this when you wake up in the morning by sensing into different parts of your body to develop an increased awareness of your body.

Becoming More Attuned to the Mind-Body Connection Through a Felt Sense
As you become more aware of what's going on in your body, you can begin to connect bodily awareness with your emotions.

I often teach my psychotherapy clients, who are disconnected from what's going on for them physically and emotionally, to develop this skill.

Since emotions are held in the body, you can begin to become more attuned by paying attention to muscle tension in your body.

For instance, you might become aware that whenever you feel angry, you feel tension in your stomach.  Or when you're anxious, you feel tension in your shoulders or lower back, and so on.

How Trauma Affects the Mind-Body Connection
By definition, trauma is a psychological response to an experience that's overwhelming for the individual. What matters is the individual's subjective experience of the event(s).  What might be overwhelming for one person might not be overwhelming for another.

When someone experiences trauma, s/he can lose an ability to experience the felt sense and the mind-body connection.  This is called "dissociation"  or "emotional numbing" which is a self-protecting mechanism to keep the traumatized person from being completely overwhelmed.

There are various degrees of dissociation on a spectrum from mild to severe.  Usually, the greater the impact of the trauma on the individual, the more dissociated s/he becomes.

Although this emotional and physical numbing is self protective, it also creates problems for the individual because s/he has a decreased awareness of emotions and bodily sensations (see my article: What is Emotional Numbing?).

Emotional numbing can decrease awareness of emotional pain but, unfortunately, it also decreases awareness of positive emotions too like joy and happiness.  It can create a feeling of emotional flatness and rob the individual of a rich emotional life.

Emotional numbing can make it difficult for the individual to know what s/he feels at any given time.  Aside from making it difficult for the individual, emotional numbing can create problems in a relationship (see my article: How Trauma Affects Relationships).

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people have a difficult time sensing the mind-body connection, especially if they have suppressed their emotional and bodily awareness because of traumatic experiences.

Experiential therapists, who use mind-body oriented therapy, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and AEDP, work with clients to overcome the clients' blocked sense of emotions and bodily sensations so they can be aware of their felt sense and live a richer, more fulfilling life (see my articles:  Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Talk Therapy and Experiential Therapy Helps to Create Emotional Breakthroughs).

If you're struggling with unresolved problems that create obstacles for you emotionally and physically, you could benefit from working with an experiential therapist.

Many therapists, including me, are providing online therapy (also known as teletherapy or telehealth) while they're out of the office due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Overcoming your problems in therapy will allow to live your life to the fullest.

About Me
I am an experiential therapist who is licensed to provide psychotherapy services, which include psychodynamic psychotherapy, EMDR trauma therapy, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing, sex therapy, clinical hypnosis and EFT for couples.

I work 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.