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What Therapeutic Hope for a Subjective Mind in an Objectified Body? (2004, long version)

What Therapeutic Hope for a Subjective Mind in an Objectified Body? (2004, long version)2017-04-07T02:54:51+00:00

Project Description

This is the edited and elaborated text of my presentation at the UKCP Conference 'About A Body' which was eventually published in three versions: one published by UKCP in 2006 (9000 words) and one published in two parts in the Journal for Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy. This is a third, longer version which I have used as a teaching hand-out. 
 The presentation charts - illustrated through occasional references to a case study - my journey from traditional Body Psychotherapy towards an integrative-relational stance. I share some of the major turning points and associated insights which led to the formulation of new concepts closer to an 'embodied' phenomenology of the therapeutic relationship. 
 The presentation formulates the tension between working from a 'first-and-second person' stance on the one hand, and a 'third-person' stance on the other, and suggests that both are needed and that the specific nature of that tension carries information about the therapeutic relationship. It's quite an accessible piece initially, but gets more dense towards the end. 
 Presentation at 2004 UKCP Conference 'About A Body' Abstract and Table of Contents. 
There is a short version, published by UKCP in 2006 (9000 words) as the proceedings of the conference, with an appendix: Soth, M. (2006) 'What therapeutic hope for a subjective mind in an objectified body? ' - in: Corrigall, J., Payne, H., Wilkinson, H. (2006) About A Body. London: Routledge. 
Longer published version in two parts: 
 Soth, M. (2006) 'What therapeutic hope for a subjective mind in an objectified body?'- in: Journal for Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy Volumes 1 and 2 (June & September 2006) 
Part 1Part 2 

Our modern attempt to re-include the body in psychotherapy - as necessary and promising as it is - brings with it the inevitable danger that we import the culturally dominant objectifying construction of the body into a field which may represent one of the last bastions of subjectivity, authenticity and intimacy in an increasingly virtual world. Edited from my presentation to the UKCP conference 'About A Body', this paper addresses the question how embodied subjectivity - Winnicott's 'indwelling of the psyche in the soma' - can be found within a relational matrix pervaded by disembodiment and self-objectification. 
I first discuss the ubiquitous objectification of the body in our culture and in the field of psychotherapy itself and describe it as a manifestation of an underlying experience of dis-embodiment. If we think of the late 19th century as the time of psychotherapy's birth, and consider the prevailing zeitgeist of that era, we might say that 'objectification' and 'disembodiment' are part of psychotherapy's legacy - a legacy which we are still struggling to resolve. The project of embodiment, therefore, leads us into the conception and birth trauma of modern psychotherapy, informing its recurring problems and continuing to restrict its full potential.

Following in the footsteps of modern neuroscience, we recognise the same mind-over-body dualistic paradigm which is at the foundations of their discipline as much as ours. Once we question that paradigm, there is a good chance that we end up de-constructing psychotherapy as we know it. That, of course, may not be the end of the world. Neuroscience is managing to completely dismantle its central dogmas and pull the carpet from under its own feet, re-inventing itself in the process. Modern genetics is apparently going through a similar process. Maybe psychotherapy can manage to do the same ?
Toward this end, I distinguish two ways of re-including the body in psychotherapy: one based on a 'third-person' 'medical model' stance and the other on a 'first-and-second-person' 'intersubjective-relational' stance. By formulating these two contradictory and complementary ways of using the body in terms of the therapist's implicit relational stance, I am drawing attention to what I consider an underlying paradox inherent in all therapy.
Paradoxically, the 're-enactment' of the client's original wounding, as experienced in the 'here and now' between client and therapist, constitutes both the worst and best that therapy has to offer. Through understanding the therapist's conflict in the countertransference as part of a complex relational body/mind system of parallel processes, containment of the re-enactment and spontaneous transformation may become more likely.
I suggest that both a 'third-person' 'medical model' stance and a 'first-and-second-person' 'intersubjective-relational' stance are required to psychotherapeutically meet the pervasive experience of disembodiment and (self-)objectification of the body in our culture. Specifically, I suggest that the phenomenological detail of the necessary tension between these two therapeutic stances, as experienced in the countertransference, carries - via parallel process - information about the client's inner world.

As the 'medical model' stance was the prevalent default position of what we may therefore call traditional Body Psychotherapy, and the relational one has become available only in the last decade, I use a case illustration to trace some of my own development as a therapist through the shadow aspects and pitfalls of an exclusive reliance on the first towards an integration of the two and to an appreciation of their necessarily conflicted co-existence in the paradoxical core of the therapeutic position. I propose that the crucial concepts arising from this integration, relevant to all modalities of psychotherapy, are 're-enactment' and an extended notion of 'parallel process'. This requires that the therapist can 'enter' the re-enactment experience as it manifests across the full bodymind spectrum. In summary I call this an integral-relational approach to the 'fractal self' in relationship, relying on a holistic-systemic bodymind phenomenology of enactment in the therapeutic relationship.
I close on some considerations regarding subjectivity and objectification, which seem relevant to the future of our profession.


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