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A 1-day CPD workshop with Michael Soth
exploring differentiated bodymind awareness of client, therapist and the relationship between them
This workshop will be an opportunity to explore how your embodied experience and perception contribute to your way of working as a therapist.
- How much of your awareness - when you are engaged in the relationship with a client – is attentive to the process between the two bodies (or better: the two bodyminds)?
- From your moment-to-moment perceptions of the two bodyminds, how do you extract meaningful information relevant to the therapeutic process?
- How can this information help us to deepen the relationship and the process and make it more effective?
- How can it give us a context for making therapeutic decisions about whether or not to touch or be touched, and if so, how?
The neglected bodies in the ‘talking therapies’
Over the last 20 years, a variety of influences from infant research, trauma studies and neuroscience have given us hints and ideas that all cognition is embodied and embedded, and relies on non-verbal and implicit processes. This has major implications for the therapeutic relationship and the talking therapies. There has been an increasing recognition in principle that the bias towards the left-brain verbal-reflective mind is to the detriment of the connection and coherence, the depth and effectiveness of whatever therapy we practice.
How to work with the body in practice?
However, it is one thing to appreciate and validate ideas like implicit relational knowing, right-brain-to-right-brain attunement and the embodied dance of primary intersubjectivity between infant and caregiver. It is quite another thing to apply these ideas in the nitty-gritty of everyday practice, with a complex, contradictory, inhibited and inhibiting client sitting right in front of us, who is nothing like a spontaneous, cuddly infant. In the heat of the moment, we are likely to retreat from the confusing and overwhelming mixture of the client’s and the therapist’s multitude of bodymind signals, and resort to the supposed safety of received wisdom: in our profession that predominantly still means a disembodied therapeutic presence and disembodying contact.
Embodied Relating - the ground of psychotherapy
However, whether we are aware of it or not, pre-reflexive and non-verbal bodymind processes shape and structure our consciousness and our presence and behaviour as therapists. For better or worse, it is largely these processes neglected in the ‘talking therapies’ which determine the atmosphere of the relational container we are co-creating a whole lot more than our thoughts and intentions. The therapeutic space we offer is only minimally affected by our models and theories and our left-brain cognitive rationales and reflections. Although in principle embodied relating is now recognised the ground of psychotherapy (see: Nick Totton’s 2018 book “Embodied Relating”), the return of the repressed body is not a smooth affair (see: Soth, M. (2010) The Return of the Repressed Body - Not a Smooth Affair. UKCP Journal 'The Psychotherapist', Autumn 2010).
Our ambivalent relationship to the body
The idea of embodiment is largely misunderstood, and in conscientious therapists’ minds often becomes another ideal or requirement to live up to or another stick to beat oneself with. This professional pressure occurs on top of whatever ambivalent relationship we may personally have with our own body. After all, therapists themselves are not free from the cultural struggles around the ‘hard problem’ of the mind versus the body, each of us identifying with as well as against our bodies in degrees, generating a wide variety of suffering in relation to our body, including fears, compulsions, entitlements, shame and hatred.
It is not the idea or any philosophy of the body, but attention to the complexity and paradoxical nature of actual embodiment and disembodiment as process that can become liberating, expansive and creative for therapists, lending our work depth, impact, joy and authority as well as sustainability. Whilst ideas from neuroscience may awaken and validate our interest in bottom-up embodied process, they do little to help us access our own ‘implicit relational knowing’ or translate such knowledge and insight into everyday practice.
The idealised body - a healthy mind in a healthy body?
The only way of effectively investigating, evolving and stretching our bodymind sensitivities, perceptions and awareness – as people and as therapists - is in the here & now through experiential engagement. This is not an enticing prospect for everybody, although experiential learning is generally accepted as an important principle when it comes to the bodymind.
Historically, body-‘experts’ have a habit of taking their embodiment agenda for granted and as a result often take a somewhat missionary position in dispensing their wisdom. The body-oriented traditions have had a tendency to pursue an idealised image of the body, along the lines of the Roman saying: ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’, which easily becomes a dangerously normative imposition (in fact, the European, and especially German, origins of these therapeutic traditions are uncomfortably mixed up with Fascist ideas of racial supremacy).
However, embodiment does not necessarily imply a perfectly fit or manicured or gym-trained body. We also want to be embodied in our pain and desire, in our limitations and vulnerability – something often neglected in a dominantly narcissistic culture, where the celebrity appearance of the body becomes an objectified fashion accessory or an advertisement for the self. Embodiment in psychotherapy is not meant to be a branding exercise by which the mind in top-down hubris imposes its goals (however noble they may be in the therapeutic realm) onto the body – embodiment is not only about having a body, but being and inhabiting the body we are.
Format of the workshop
So for the purposes of therapists’ CPD learning, to clarify the safety and parameters of the relational space we are entering into for such a workshop becomes as important an issue as for a client entering into therapy.
For this 1-day workshop we will focus on a simple distinction between spontaneous versus reflective processes throughout the bodymind, and how the tension between the two plays out in the relational dynamic between client and therapist moment-to-moment. We will use the diamond model of diverse relational modalities (Michael’s further evolution of Petruska Clarkson’s ideas) to bring a neglected relational perspective to the question of touch between client and therapist, i.e. different kinds of touch corresponding to different relational spaces in therapy.
Lunch: As usual we will arrange a bring and share lunch in the week before the event.
Exeter: The Embodiment of Relational Stances, Spaces & Modalities (Weekend 2 of 3)
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 2019.
It is likely that the group will continue in 2020 with another series of four weekends.
The bodymind connection in working with psychosomatic and physical symptoms
A weekend workshop in Athens with Michael Soth
Even though counsellors and psychotherapists are traditionally expected to focus on emotional, mental and verbal communications, many clients invariably do bring their physical and psychosomatic symptoms into the session.
Through including body-oriented ways of working into the talking therapies, we can learn to work with many of these symptoms more directly, more deeply and more effectively (and recognise other situations where the hope of curing illness through psychology is an unreasonable idealisation).
This CPD workshop is designed to expand your understanding of the bodymind connection as well as offering a wide range of creative and body-oriented techniques to include in your practice.
With some illnesses - like hypertension, chest and heart problems, digestive illnesses, symptoms of the immune system - it is scientifically established that emotional stress contributes to their origin. With many other psychosomatic problems, like all kinds of pain, tinnitus, insomnia, chronic fatigue and many other unexplained symptoms, it is known that the intensity of the suffering can be ameliorated through psychological therapy that addresses the regulation and expression of emotion and de-stresses the mind.
Stress is the catchall phrase that supposedly explains the influence of our psychological body-emotion-mind state on illness. However, what is less well understood, is how our bodymind does not just respond to stresses in our current situation and lifestyle, but carries accumulated stress from the past, reaching all the way back to childhood. A holistic and bio-social-psychological understanding of stress needs to include lifelong patterns of the bodymind including developmental injury and trauma (what Wilhelm Reich originally called character structures).
Sometimes clients bring psychosomatic illness as a presenting issue to the therapy, sometimes these symptoms actually evolve in direct response to the unfolding therapeutic process, and the therapist gets implicated in them, e.g. “After last session I had a headache for three days!”
Direct links to body sensations and symptoms as well as body image come up as part of our work in sessions every day, in so many ways: tangible pains, tensions, trembling and shaking, breathing difficulties (hyperventilation, asthma), the physical side of unbearable feelings like panic, rage, dread or terror. There are obvious somatic aspects to presenting issues such as eating disorders or addictions. And then there are the psychological implications of actual, sometimes terminal, illnesses and psychosomatic symptoms and dis-ease.
How do we work with these issues and symptoms in psychotherapy? What ways are available to us for including the client’s ‘felt sense’, their embodied self states, their body awareness and sensations, their physiological experience in the interaction ?
This workshop will give you a framework for thinking about the role of the body as it is relevant in your own style of therapeutic work, based upon the different ways in which clients as well as therapists relate to ‘the symptom’. Throughout the workshop, we will use roleplay of actual issues and dilemmas brought up by your clients. We will also identify and practice ways in which you can explore the emotional function and 'meaning' of your client's physical symptom or illness.
Drawing on a wide range of humanistic and psychoanalytic approaches (including Body Psychotherapy, Process-oriented Psychology, various schools of psychoanalysis and Jungian perspectives) as well as the holistic paradigm underpinning most complementary therapies, we will weave together an interdisciplinary bodymind approach which is applicable within the therapeutic relationship as we know it in counselling and psychotherapy.
Michael has been working with the psychological and bodymind connection of illness and psychosomatic symptoms for many years. In the 1990s he initiated a project called 'Soul in Illness', offering an integrative psychotherapeutic perspective, drawing on the wisdom which the different therapeutic approaches have accumulated regarding illness, both in terms of theoretical understanding and practical ways of working. He has run CPD workshops for therapists on ‘Working with Illness’ many times, and has developed a relational and embodied way of engaging with the client’s bodymind. In 2005 he presented for the first time his model of ‘8 ways of relating to the symptom’, which addresses the client’s own relationship to their symptom, as well as giving an overview of the different stances taken by the therapist in the various therapeutic approaches that correspond to each of the ways of relating to the symptom. These eight ways of relating to the symptom, including the corresponding theoretical understandings as well as methods and techniques for intervention, will form the underlying framework for this workshop.