Beyond antagonising: how not to enact the body-mind split interpersonally
By habitually championing body against mind, or spontaneity against the repressions/dissociations of the ego, we are in danger of enacting the body-mind split between client and therapist, leading to ruptures in the working alliance. This workshop explores taking a third position that can facilitate deep bodymind and relational integration, by re-defining and refining our notion of ‘embodiment’ in non-polarising terms that are actually helpful in transcending the body-mind split and Cartesian dualism.
For much of my professional life as a Body Psychotherapist, I have taken an anti-position against the pervasive dis-embodiment in the culture around us, based on a clear perception of the body-mind split (or better: mind-over-body split). Since the 1970s we have shouted from the margins of psychotherapy and railed against Cartesianism and the dominance of the talking therapies. It was not until the 1990s that we have increasingly been recognised and validated. Step by step neuroscience has confirmed intuitions that we have been working with for decades.
However, in actual therapeutic practice I have found problems with taking such an anti-position - I came to the conclusion that by championing the body, spontaneity and expression, I was often turning myself into an “enemy of the client’s ego”, with counter- therapeutic consequences in the working alliance. Often, I would find myself siding with the client's body against the client's mind - what had originally been a battle inside the client's body-mind system, became a battle between the client and me. This was not a problem as long as the client's ego was sufficiently committed to the project of embodiment. But over the decades, these clients were becoming rarer, considering that many clients in our times suffer from disturbances of the self, rather than repression.
During the 1990s I went through a crisis in my therapeutic stance and theoretical outlook, that challenged many of my assumptions that I had been taught in the 1980s. Many developments arose out of that confrontation which I can now appreciate with hindsight: I had to look into the shadow aspects of the Reichian tradition, including its emphasis on ‘one-person psychology’; I tried to re-integrate the modern humanistic expression of Body Psychotherapy with its psychoanalytic origins; I developed a broad-spectrum embodied integration of all the various therapeutic approaches; and I had to investigate the diverse and contradictory understandings of what different traditions mean by ‘quality of relationship’, leading towards my attempt to embody all the various relational modalities and put the paradoxical tension between the working alliance and enactment at the heart of our work.
So this workshop is the result of my attempts over the last 25 years to move beyond my original anti-position against dis-embodiment towards a non-polarising integrative, relational and systemic stance, with implications for our theory and practice, and many changes in our own assumptions as a discipline. The workshop will be a mixture of theoretical and practical exploration, allowing participants to apply the questions and ideas to their own practice.