Apr
29
Sat
2017
“Working at the Edge of Chaos” with Nick Totton & Michael @ North Oxford Association
Apr 29 @ 10:00 – Apr 30 @ 17:00
"Working at the Edge of Chaos" with Nick Totton & Michael @ North Oxford Association | Oxford | United Kingdom

[tagline_box backgroundcolor="#fff7e0" shadow="no" shadowopacity="0.1" border="1px" bordercolor="" highlightposition="top" link="" linktarget="" buttoncolor="" button="" title="About this weekend" description="This weekend is becoming a bit of an annual tradition - it has been running for several years now since 2009. Usually we have about 12 to 16 participants, and a lively, vibrant atmosphere. In 2016 I facilitated it by myself, but usually my colleague Nick Totton and I are running it together, adding another layer of exploration and dynamic.
You can find some feedback from previous participants below."][/tagline_box]

The basic idea we get from complexity is that we do not have to rely on effort, pushing, force and discipline to create and maintain change. A lot of counselling and psychotherapy gets stuck in a battle against the client's negative patterns, e.g. addictions, eating disorders, self-harm, obsessions, destructive relationship patterns etc. The client and therapist can be seen to be working hard to confront and overcome ingrained patterns that do not seem to want to shift.

We then start thinking about the client's resistance, and their investments in maintaining the pattern, and the payoffs they get from remaining stuck in it. Client and therapist then re-double their efforts and start resorting to all kinds of techniques and tricks and methods to bring bigger guns onto the battlefield. But apart from temporary victories, the apparent cooperation between client and therapist does not seem to create lasting results.

Now, in many situations the pattern may be very ingrained and may not shift, whatever we do. However, the kinds of models and ideas which have been passed down the generations of psychotherapy over the last 100 years are largely rooted in late 19th century ideas of change - we could say in a Newtonian model of force and counterforce, or a linear model of change. In a world of discrete inanimate billiard balls, that model seems to work quite well: the harder you push, the bigger change you get.

However, in a world of complex human systems - both inwardly in terms of the psyche and outwardly in terms of relationships - that linear paradigm of change is often counter-productive. As therapists operating within that kind of paradigm, we are then exacerbating the stuckness in the system, adding to whatever resistance there already is and reinforcing it by pushing blindly against it.

This is where complexity theory can help us: by thinking of therapy and the client's inner world as a finely balanced, dynamic system of complex forces, it does not necessarily need a huge exertion of influence for the system to re-balance itself differently. On a balanced seesaw, one only needs to add a small weight on one side for it to tip.

This weekend will help you to not only think about, but to experience people and their interaction - i.e. yourself, others, the whole group, the leader - as such a dynamic system, and to attend to the processes that always already are present that want to happen within it. In complexity theory terms we are thinking about emergent processes versus established structures, intra-psychically, interpersonally and socially.

It is in the nature of this proposition that the weekend and its format are unpredictable - just like therapy itself: it has uncertainty and risk, but - at the edge of the window of tolerance - also profound transformational potential.

Here is the kind of thing that people say about previous weekends:

"A quick line to say thank you for hosting the 'Working at the Edge of Chaos' weekend. It was an experience that created room for greater awareness of myself in ways that I would never have expected..[...] The weekend surpassed all of my expectations." S.H.

“Thank you so much for leading another tremendously valuable and thought provoking weekend. And thanks also for sending the hand-outs so promptly. I really do feel that I benefit from looking at and experiencing chaos, and its edge, in the group that you so wonderfully facilitate. This is why this is my third year of attending. The experiential group process is so valuable to me. I have already seen my first client of the week and have more clearly been able to attune to the 'edge' between us and I feel that we have had a deeper session as a result. Thank you." V.J.

For a more detailed exploration of how complexity theory can be useful, read on ...

How are chaos and complexity relevant to our work as therapists?

Chaos and complexity theory are recently developed disciplines that give us new perspectives on how systems evolve and change. Therefore, the more we think about therapy in terms of systems, the more these theories apply to our work: to each individual bodymind-psyche as a system, or the therapeutic relationship, or the social networks both client and therapist are embedded in.
Process in complex systems - from galaxies to human beings to microbes - is understood to operate in a dynamic tension between stable equilibrium and evolving change, between established structures and emerging process: at the edge of chaos.

The well-known idea is that it only takes a butterfly flapping its wings to tip the meteorological balance towards engendering a hurricane on the other side of the planet. It’s not that simple, of course, but there are similar dynamics at work in the psyche, where unconscious forces can accumulate invisibly, and lead to apparently sudden, big outer changes.

The traditional ‘linear’ paradigm of change in therapy

That is not how we traditionally approach change in therapy where it is usually assumed that it takes lots of concerted effort – by both client and therapist - to make big and lasting changes. The bigger the effort and force we apply, the bigger the change. In such a Newtonian universe - rather than attending to systemic configurations - we get focussed on what we want to achieve, i.e. on insight, sustained discipline and conscious choices; this usually involves overcoming resistances. The very idea of therapy being effective is then defined in quite linear terms as achieving progress, i.e. moving the client on, closer towards some idea of psychological health; and frequently the client is expected to fully get behind the change project.
Within that mindset, much of therapy subscribes to some idea of what’s wrong and needs to be improved, i.e. ideas of pathology, borrowed from medicine - we therefore then need a ‘treatment plan’ and a therapy that is goal-oriented, symptom-focussed and directive, operating through an exclusively ‘linear’ paradigm of change. Even humanistic therapies can imply ‘linear’ agendas (e.g. self-actualisation). The idea of change as something we envision, plan and make happen is based on such ‘linearity’, like climbing up a mountain of steady progress.

Not all change is ‘linear’ – in fact ‘linear’ is the exception

Complexity theory reminds us that most change in reality does not follow those linear ideas (which are virtual abstractions and at best approximations, like a sequence of straight lines approximating an organic curve). In reality, many interdependent variables as well as feedback loops affect every part of a system - on the one hand keeping things stable in the status quo and on the other pushing for new structures, ‘attractors’ and integrations. This can lead to apparently sudden ruptures and new possibilities (which - we understand with hindsight - have been brewing for a long time, waiting for favourable conditions).
This kind of dynamic change has been called ‘non-linear’ (as the effect is not in proportion to the force invested in making it happen). And it is in the nature of the beast that this kind of change is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
So rather than relying on conscious intention, deliberation and discipline, change is seen as always already emerging, always already underway. Therefore, rather than forcing change - to get rid of something negative, or to create something positive - we can be interested in what is already happening, what wants to happen, and what is opposing it. This resonates with Gestalt’s paradoxical theory: “Change happens when we accept ‘what is’.” We then take as our starting point that we are in conflict already - pushing for change, resisting emergence, fighting against ‘what is’ – those force fields always already exist, and we ignore or override them at our peril.

A spectrum of non-linear systemic forces and tendencies

Thus, complexity gives us a more comprehensive and embracing notion that there are many different types of change: linear and non-linear, regressive or progressive, sudden or incremental, overwhelming or organic, chaotic or planned; and it gives us the idea that systemic change might only need a therapist flapping their wings in a facilitative way, rather than pushing a boulder – or a donkey – up the hill.

At the boundary between established state and emerging process is the edge of chaos, where things are complex and in flux, the full picture unknown and outcomes unpredictable - like the shapes formed by the turbulences of rising smoke or flowing water, sensitive to the slightest environmental variations. The therapeutic process is similar, and it depends on the subtlety of our perception whether we are able to notice where that edge of chaos is from moment to moment.
Rather than imagining that we are directing the boat of therapy across a calm lake in a straight deliberate line, facilitating any kind of dynamic process in any complex system is more like white water rafting - giving an occasional intentional steer at a crucial moment, but knowing that the situation is fundamentally unpredictable. The illusion of being able to control the process is one of the greatest hindrances in the helping professions, and complexity puts that impulse into perspective.

Stability and risk - the paradox at the edge of chaos

Traditional science, and traditional therapy, find it hard to tolerate and operate beyond control, in that fertile area at the edge of chaos. Complexity theory, however, gives us the tools to thrive there, helping us to understand non-linear change and to surrender to its participative, unpredictable nature. Inevitably, this confronts us with our own comfort zones and habits as therapists, e.g. our own bias towards stability or change, our own tendency to court, avoid or accept risk. This kind of enquiry opens up a rich field of therapeutic spontaneity and creativity: rather than fighting for change or against the staus quo, we attend to subtle messages of emergent phenomena in the field which are already happening.

Why call it ‘paradoxical’?

Because the more we include our spontaneous embodied, emotional, imaginal and mental processes in our moment-to-moment awareness, the more elusive the clear distinction between ‘risk’ and ‘stability’ becomes – we realise that these apparent polarities co-create each other, deconstruct each other, until each subtly turns into the other. At the edge of chaos, risk and stability imply each other …

Chaos implies ‘embodiment’ and bodymind process

Following the therapeutic process at this level of paradox requires attention to bodymind and systemic micro-detail, both internally and interpersonally, and a therapeutic presence that is equally fluid and solid: anchored and stable as well as nimble and mercurial. We then recognise that on pre-reflexive levels of the interaction in the therapeutic relationship, the attachment – and the working alliance – is indeed a shifting, oscillating complex dance - there are many butterflies flapping their wings all the time, and it needs our own differentiated embodiment and flesh-and-blood presence to notice and pursue them.

Learning together at the edge of chaos

In this territory, timing, responsiveness and spontaneity are crucial – learning about therapy at the edge of chaos cannot happen via a manual, not even a video: you need to be present, embodied in the room in the group and participate. Left-brain reflection – as important as it is in the therapeutic position – usually happens after the event, maybe in preparation for the next one … For this event, we will turn that requirement into a feature: just as we do not have control over the process in therapy, we cannot and will not set a curriculum for this weekend, and you will become co-responsible for the unfolding of your own and the group’s learning process.
The weekend is an opportunity to dance at your own growing edge as a person and a therapist, to deepen your own idiosyncratic therapeutic style and find your own way to inhabit the paradox of risk and stability.

 

Download the leaflet (including booking form)

May
13
Sat
2017
North London – Ongoing Integrative CPD Group @ The Nebula
May 13 @ 10:00 – May 14 @ 17:00

IntegrationMandala

An ongoing, integrative group

This group, led by one of the most experienced integrative trainers in the UK, will provide an ideal relational container for your ongoing development as a therapist. By immersing yourself in a diverse group of colleagues from different schools and orientations, you will widen your perspective, deepen your practice, draw both inspiration and challenge and have a reference point as well as resources and teaching to support your further development.

You can find a detailed description of the format and objectives of this group on the dedicated page.

May
20
Sat
2017
London, Ealing – Ongoing Professional Development Group for Experienced Therapists @ Overton House
May 20 @ 11:00 – May 21 @ 17:00

This group is for experienced therapists only (practising for 8 years or more), and has had a consistent core group of participants for the last 4 few years, meeting 4 - 5 days per year. There is a pool of 18 participants, and 2 more places are available from 2017. See the dedicated page for detailed info.

Jun
3
Sat
2017
Exeter: Body-oriented CPD Weekend Group with Michael Soth
Jun 3 @ 10:00 – Jun 4 @ 17:00

Exeter: Body-oriented CPD Weekend Group 2017 (Weekend 2 of 4, with Michael)

with Nick Totton & Michael

These workshops, designed for counsellors and psychotherapists from across the approaches, are an opportunity to work with and learn from two of the most experienced trainers at the forefront of bringing embodiment into psychotherapy.
Rather than grafting the body onto established practice as one more eclectic technique, Nick and Michael have been working towards a non-dualistic embodied way of being and relating in the therapeutic relationship.
This series of CPD training events provides an ideal container for your continuing professional development, rooted in your own embodied process.

For full details  regarding this unique venture in Britain's Southwest, see the dedicated page: Exeter: Body-oriented CPD Weekend Group 2017.

Jul
1
Sat
2017
North London – Ongoing Integrative CPD Group @ The Nebula
Jul 1 @ 10:00 – 17:00

IntegrationMandala

An ongoing, integrative group

This group, led by one of the most experienced integrative trainers in the UK, will provide an ideal relational container for your ongoing development as a therapist. By immersing yourself in a diverse group of colleagues from different schools and orientations, you will widen your perspective, deepen your practice, draw both inspiration and challenge and have a reference point as well as resources and teaching to support your further development.

You can find a detailed description of the format and objectives of this group on the dedicated page.

Sep
16
Sat
2017
Exeter: Body-oriented CPD Weekend Group with Nick Totton
Sep 16 @ 10:00 – Sep 17 @ 17:00

Exeter: Body-oriented CPD Weekend Group 2017 (Weekend 3 of 4, with Nick)

with Nick Totton & Michael

These workshops, designed for counsellors and psychotherapists from across the approaches, are an opportunity to work with and learn from two of the most experienced trainers at the forefront of bringing embodiment into psychotherapy.
Rather than grafting the body onto established practice as one more eclectic technique, Nick and Michael have been working towards a non-dualistic embodied way of being and relating in the therapeutic relationship.
This series of CPD training events provides an ideal container for your continuing professional development, rooted in your own embodied process.

For full details  regarding this unique venture in Britain's Southwest, see the dedicated page: Exeter: Body-oriented CPD Weekend Group 2017.

North London – Ongoing Integrative CPD Group @ The Nebula
Sep 16 @ 10:00 – 17:00

IntegrationMandala

An ongoing, integrative group

This group, led by one of the most experienced integrative trainers in the UK, will provide an ideal relational container for your ongoing development as a therapist. By immersing yourself in a diverse group of colleagues from different schools and orientations, you will widen your perspective, deepen your practice, draw both inspiration and challenge and have a reference point as well as resources and teaching to support your further development.

You can find a detailed description of the format and objectives of this group on the dedicated page.

Oct
21
Sat
2017
London, Ealing – Ongoing Professional Development Group for Experienced Therapists @ Overton House
Oct 21 @ 11:00 – Oct 22 @ 17:00

This group is for experienced therapists only (practising for 8 years or more), and has had a consistent core group of participants for the last 4 few years, meeting 4 - 5 days per year. There is a pool of 18 participants, and 2 more places are available from 2017. See the dedicated page for detailed info.

Nov
18
Sat
2017
Proposed CPD workshop: Narcissism in Therapy
Nov 18 @ 10:00 – 17:00
Proposed CPD workshop: Narcissism in Therapy @ Bristol | United Kingdom

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled
Oh, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way.

Bob Dylan: License To Kill

 

Narcissism has a reputation for being notoriously difficult to engage with in therapy, for a variety of good reasons, not least because the very idea of ‘needing’ therapy is a humiliating insult to the grandiose self. As one of the key modern ‘disturbances of the self’, narcissism has replaced Victorian repression as the psychological disease of the age, which means that the original theories of our discipline from 100 years ago no longer quite apply. As a dominant collective issue, as exhibited by the celebrity culture all over the world and all over the media, the term ‘narcissism’ has entered pop psychology and lost all precision and meaning. In order to be clinically useful, we need to have a clear, circumscribed definition of narcissism, and its origins and manifestations.

Beyond commonplace over-simplifications, the various therapeutic traditions have widely divergent ideas and theories about narcissism, leading to quite contradictory recommendations for therapists. More than many other issues, therefore, narcissism requires an integrative stance, that can draw insights and understanding from the various approaches and combine them, to provide a comprehensive understanding and therapeutic response.

Because the narcissist tries to approximate an image of perfection (attempting to manifest a grandiose self), this leads to a chameleon-like disconnection from the body, and an objectifying, ‘perfecting’ treatment of it. For many celebrities, the body becomes an advertisement of the False Self, treated like one more fashion accessory. More than many other issues, therefore, narcissism calls for an embodied therapy, reconnecting the person to pleasurable, ordinary human reality, rather than pursuing the delusions of a disembodied virtual self.

Because the narcissist was emotionally ‘used’ by their parent(s), their individuality was never fully seen and mirrored. Therefore, in the moment where we apply a generic diagnostic label and put the narcissist into the same category with many others, we are re-inflicting a lack of individual mirroring. More than any other issue, narcissism reveals some of the shadow aspects and weaknesses of our discipline. In order to make therapy possible, we cannot afford to rely on a reasonable and supposedly realistic ego-ego alliance: we need a working alliance both with the wounded, insignificant self as well as the inflated grandiose self.

This course will provide condensed understanding extracted from the various therapeutic approaches, specifically drawing from and integrating the various psychoanalytic, the humanistic-embodied and the Jungian traditions. We will combine the theoretical input with practical, experiential work, based upon vignettes and case illustrations volunteered by participants, to explore how these ideas may be applied in practice.

We will be drawing on the following literature:

  • Jacoby, Mario (2013, Reprint edition) Individuation and Narcissism: The Psychology of Self in Jung and Kohut. Routledge.
  • Johnson, S. M. (1987) Humanizing the Narcissistic Style. W.W. Norton.
  • Johnson, S. M. (1994) Character Styles. W.W. Norton.
  • Kohut, H. (2009) The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders.
  • Kohut, H. (2009) The Restoration of the Self.
  • Kernberg, O. (1984) Severe Personality Disorders: Psychotherapeutic Strategies. Yale University Press.
  • Kernberg, O. (1996) Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. Jason Aronson.
  • Otto Kernberg, On Narcissism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyP92WLLqIU ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeVMtZns5Pw
  • Lowen, A. (2004) Narcissism: Denial of the True Self. Touchstone.
  • Schwartz-Salant, N. (1982) Narcissism and Character Transformation. Inner City Books.
  • Shaw, D. (2013) Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation. Routledge.
  • Twenge, J.M. & Campbell, W.K. (2010) The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. Free Press.
Nov
25
Sat
2017
North London – Ongoing Integrative CPD Group @ The Nebula
Nov 25 @ 10:00 – 17:00

IntegrationMandala

An ongoing, integrative group

This group, led by one of the most experienced integrative trainers in the UK, will provide an ideal relational container for your ongoing development as a therapist. By immersing yourself in a diverse group of colleagues from different schools and orientations, you will widen your perspective, deepen your practice, draw both inspiration and challenge and have a reference point as well as resources and teaching to support your further development.

You can find a detailed description of the format and objectives of this group on the dedicated page.

Dec
2
Sat
2017
Exeter: Body-oriented CPD Weekend Group with Michael Soth
Dec 2 @ 10:00 – Dec 3 @ 17:00

Exeter: Body-oriented CPD Weekend Group 2017 (Weekend 4 of 4 with Michael)

with Nick Totton & Michael

These workshops, designed for counsellors and psychotherapists from across the approaches, are an opportunity to work with and learn from two of the most experienced trainers at the forefront of bringing embodiment into psychotherapy.
Rather than grafting the body onto established practice as one more eclectic technique, Nick and Michael have been working towards a non-dualistic embodied way of being and relating in the therapeutic relationship.
This series of CPD training events provides an ideal container for your continuing professional development, rooted in your own embodied process.

For full details  regarding this unique venture in Britain's Southwest, see the dedicated page: Exeter: Body-oriented CPD Weekend Group 2017.

It is likely that the group will continue in 2018 with another series of four weekends.

Jan
27
Sat
2018
London, Ealing – Ongoing Professional Development Group for Experienced Therapists @ Overton House
Jan 27 @ 11:00 – Jan 28 @ 17:00

This group is for experienced therapists only (practising for 8 years or more), and has had a consistent core group of participants for the last 4 few years, meeting 4 - 5 days per year. There is a pool of 18 participants, and 2 more places are available from 2017. See the dedicated page for detailed info.

Jan
31
Wed
2018
Proposed: Working with the Breath and on the Mattress (dates tbc) @ Fulcrum House
Jan 31 @ 10:00 – 17:00

A comprehensive course for experienced counsellors and psychotherapists
A series of 8 one-day CPD-workshops at Fulcrum House, Bristol, with Michael Soth

The significance of the breath for any kind of psychotherapy which does not exclude the body

WeidnerMelanie_Deep_BreathIn recent attempts to include the body in psychotherapy, the importance of breathing and the breath as one main regulator of the intensity of feeling has been increasingly recognised. If we want to bring the two bodies into the consulting room, we need to not only understand, but learn to actively work with the breath, the client’s and our own, and the connection between them, as part of the emotional, psychological and intersubjective encounter.

In this learning, we can draw from a wide range of different traditions, both Eastern and Western, many explicitly holistic, some psychological and a wide range of complementary therapies and practices, which have been exploring and using the breath, some of them for several decades, some of them for millennia.

Diverse traditions, contradictory principles, a multitude of techniques

One problem with the recent fashion of drawing body-oriented traditions into psychotherapy and appropriating them, is that the differences and contradictions between these traditions get ignored.

We then end up with a smorgasbord of techniques which are all presumed to work towards a common goal, but are actually profoundly contradictory, and end up pulling the process into different directions. The client’s bodymind then feels uncontained, confused, not sure whether it is coming or going.

All the different traditions, of course, each have their wisdoms and gifts, but we cannot arbitrarily mix and match them, even if it is for the valid purpose of including the body.

What are some of the key tensions and contradictions between the different orientations and principles?

Centering versus expression (charge/discharge)

Generally speaking, the Eastern traditions including yoga, meditation and the martial arts focus on belly breathing, and mindful centeredness in the ‘hara’ (the centre of the body, just below the navel) and are therefore oriented towards a calming, steadying effect. They were never designed to deal with the degree of disembodiment, traumatised dissociation, repressed feelings, neurosis or the vicissitudes of the modern psyche.

Lung_BlueNeonIn contrast, the more recent Western traditions of working with the breath, starting with Reich's vegeto-therapy in the 1930’s, were focused precisely on addressing disembodiment, repressive character armour and primarily emphasised catharsis in order to counteract chronic inhibition. There has been a host of humanistic approaches descending from that origin (or at least pulling in the same direction, e.g. primal therapy, rebirthing, Grof’s holotropic breathing and many other cathartic techniques.)

The tensions between these two kinds of traditions continue, although these days of course many hybrid forms have developed. But this dichotomy (charging, ‘mind’-less expressive catharsis versus mindful, calming centering) is not the only contradiction.

Changing the breathing pattern through the mind versus attending to it as it is

When we recognise somebody's restricted, flawed, incomplete, ‘pathological’ way of breathing, different approaches have different aims and corrective techniques, and all of these have their purpose. But in the context of psychotherapy, what are we trying to do? Are we trying to educate the client to change their way of breathing towards a ‘healthier’ breathing pattern? There may be good arguments for that. Or are we trying to understand how this breathing is part of their characterological bodymind condition? In which case there is a rationale for attending mindfully to the ‘unhealthy’ breath pattern without trying to change it.

AborigineArt1One essential feature of the breath is that it is mostly automatic or at most semi-conscious. But if we want to, we can be very deliberate with it and conscious of it. Can we use our minds and mindfulness to change our spontaneous breath pattern? Yes, in the present moment we can, but how does this impact on the breath the rest of the time when we do not make an effort to attend to it?

The psychological limitations of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the breath

Many guidelines and systems advocating supposedly correct breathing, whether it is belly or chest or diaphragm, in- or outbreath, energetic or calming, fail to take into account individual psychology. Frequently, they advocate a ‘one-size-fits-all’ notion of healthy breathing which the client is then expected to consciously, deliberately approximate.

Many clients have at some time in their lives been involved with activities or situations (quite apart from complementary therapies and breathwork techniques e.g. singing lessons, swimming or diving, illness, children holding their breath) where they learnt or were explicitly taught how to breathe. These methods have become automatic or become injunctions or ‘rules’ in people’s minds, affecting the way they organise themselves when they start paying attention to their breath.

In practices such as Tai Chi or Yoga, this may be fine. But in psychotherapy, this often becomes another ‘super ego’ injunction, usually exacerbating the contortions that are already present.

CatHoldingBreathCalm, controlled breathing can be a very good idea when somebody is in an overwhelmed, traumatised state. It can also be a symptom of freezing and dissociation. It may exacerbate a depressed condition. At the other end of the scale, many people are scared of ‘hyperventilation’ which can indeed be a symptom of a habit of hyper-arousal, constantly leading to emotional overwhelm. On the other hand, it can be argued that most of the population systematically and chronically under-breathe – they are hypo-ventilating. So an experiment in deliberately breathing more deeply might be needed in order to balance this, or to just get an experience of the edge of their comfort zone or ‘window of tolerance’.

Sustained mindfulness of breath can constellate fears of regression

Lying on the mattress to breathe conjures up a host of associations. Experimenting with how the breath affects the intensity of one’s felt sense and experience can draw attention to implicit control mechanisms. If these mechanisms are challenged – not necessarily by the therapist, but more often by internal forces – regression can occur. This can have both damaging and transformative elements, and the history of psychotherapy provides ideas and reference points for both.

Fuseli_nightmareIn our culture - dominated as it is by metaphors of development which emphasise progress, growth and ascent – any hint of regression constellates primitive and for many people catastrophic fears. The client’s ego scans vitality affects and the energetic weather in the body for signs that threaten regression, and anticipates, counterbalances and manages – in some sort of approximation of self-regulation – regressive tendencies as they arise. In order to do that, the ego needs to monitor the breath as the main regulator of intensity and charge in the system, usually automatically and outside awareness. Bringing awareness to the breath can reveal the presence of this monitoring and control process in action. It is only when the smooth operation of this pre-conscious mechanism is attended to, that the underlying body-mind split – in whatever idiosyncratic way it manifests in the client’s system – becomes more apparent. This split or battle between mind and body, reflection versus spontaneity tends to be experienced as an either-or, all-or-nothing battle around control. Within the split, surrender to the somatic processes and letting go into the body is equated with loss of control and regression (which mythologically corresponds to a descent into the underworld). Inbreath and outbreath are intimately linked to these movements of consciousness and the habitual conflicts which are structured into the client’s bodymind system.

How to recognise and engage with the complex matrix of the client’s bodymind via attention to the breath and the relational dilemmas which then arise for the therapist, especially when fears of regression are evoked, will constitute key questions throughout the course. For each participant, these fears and reactions need to be attended to and processed in the context of their own history of control versus regression.

Depth of intra-psychic bodymind focus at the expense of interpersonal awareness

Traditionally, the profound potential of breath work in terms of spontaneous and regressive experience was - generally speaking – achieved by focussing on the client’s intra-psychic and bodymind dynamic. This focus on the client’s internal experience – their body awareness including sensations, internal movements and impulses, their emotions and stream-of-consciousness - can move into the foreground at the expense of attention to the relational dynamic between client and therapist. Traditionally, body-oriented therapists working with the breath paid no attention at all to transferential dynamics. This is ironic, as our theory tells us that during states of regression early experience tends to come to the fore and then maybe even outweighs ego consciousness, thus intensifying transferential projections, often reaching back into pre-verbal and primitive states. The consequent conclusion from the theory is that when we invite regressive experience, we should be more alert than ever to unconscious processes.

Therefore, providing a relational container for regressive states, primarily by the therapist recognizing and attending to transferential pressures and countertransferential reactions and responses whilst engaged in the breath work, is one of the key integrations which are generally lacking and which we want to develop.

Traditional concepts and models of transference and countertransference tend to not be very helpful in the immediacy of breath work because of their implicit paradigm bias towards the mind and mental representations, privileging reflection over spontaneity.
ReichHowever, following in Reich’s footsteps, we can consider transference and countertransference not just as having somatic aspects or being reflected in right-brain-to-right-brain interactions, but engage in them as intersubjective bodymind processes. In this perspective, psychology and biology become inseparable polarities - differentiated, but mutually related: body, emotion, psyche and mind as fractal parts of a dynamic, integral whole in relationship.

During the course, we will aim to work in such a way that these abstract notions remain alive and experience-near, through attending to the detail of the charged bodymind dynamics occurring in the therapeutic relationship and how these are reflected holographically between the various sub-systems, levels, parts and the whole via parallel process.

In the highly charged, potentially regressive context of lying down on the mattress, spontaneous and reflective, somatic and mental, habitual and emergent processes become tangibly constellated, and open into a way of working that can range across all the bodymind levels of subjective experience.

This places high demands on the therapist’s own capacity to be present between such intimate and existential extremes as wholeness and fragmentation, integration and conflict, authority and woundedness and a unified sense of self versus multiplicity. This course aims to deepen, widen and enhance therapists’ perception, understanding and creativity in these areas of intersubjective intensity and vicissitudes.

An integrative, broad-spectrum approach to the breath

These are just some brief examples to illustrate that this whole area is a minefield. It is a minefield that we cannot afford to ignore or sidestep, but we want to approach it with an understanding of the contradictions, tensions and the opposing as well as complementary principles, theories and practices.

Content of the Course

This course aims to work towards a comprehensive understanding and practice of breath work, which draws from the diverse traditions , trying to integrate them on the basis of a holistic bodymind psychological understanding. Specifically, it will include mindfulness, meditative and yoga breathing, Grof's holotropic breathing, rebirthing, vegeto therapy, and an integrative relational form of breathwork developed at the Chiron Centre focussing on bodymind and relational ‘charge’.

with and without touch, with and without focus on the breath, with various stances from allowing (biodynamic ‘impinging from within’) to challenge (bioenergetic or vegetotherapy).

Format of the Course

As all of these techniques depend upon the moment to moment engagement with the body’s spontaneous processes, an important part of the learning will be live sessions which participants will have with each other, in pairs or triads, or in the middle of the group.

As a closed group for the duration of the course, we will together build the relational container necessary for such work to become possible in an authentic way. This course will probably be offered only once and is unlikely to be repeated in this form in the future. It provides an unusual context for intensive work over a period of 18 months.