The significance of the body in psychotherapy
What we call a body,
When a person starts therapy,
he isn’t beginning a pale conversation;
he is stepping into a somatic state
Psychotherapy, particularly psychoanalysis, is known as "the talking cure". It is often regarded as something that works by helping people “talk about what they’re thinking and feeling”, or “say what’s on their mind”, or “sort out what’s wrong in how they think”. These descriptions though, don’t address the crucial role of the body and body awareness, in how people grow and change through psychotherapy. It certainly doesn’t capture the embodied way that people live and engage in relationships.
Of course, it is true that clear thinking can make a big difference in a lot of situations, as can the ability able to descriptively name your emotions, your problems and your resources. But these are only the surface effects of what happens as people make real change in their lives. When people attend to their sense of embodiment as well as to their thoughts and feelings, they can begin to have new experiences and to draw on inner resources that allow them the creativity to move very differently in their lives and relationships. This is part of how psychotherapy works.
Your own body of wisdom
From the earliest moments of your life, your body has been the way that you’ve found out about the world and relationships, and it has been the way you have explored life and expressed yourself. At every moment, your body is engaged with, and responding to, all that you experience. This is true even when you’re feeling ‘stuck in my head’, or dulled, numb, or dissociated. This is true even for people who think that they aren’t aware at all of what’s going on in their bodies.
On some level your body is always registering what’s going on in and around you, and giving you vital information. Your body is always there ready to help you decide what you want to do, and how and when you'll do it. This is why attending to your embodied sense of yourself can help you find options that you may not have noticed or been able to take up before.
Somatic or BodyMind awareness can be described on a number of levels, from the most elemental (eg of temperature, pressure, tension or relaxation, breath movements, location of your body in space, pulse rate etc), through those that are colored with feelings (eg of gentleness in the arms, strength in the legs, tenderness in the chest), to those that have more complex meanings (eg a sense of wanting to curl up peacefully, or to kick someone in anger, or to hug them in sympathy). Somatic awareness can occur without a lot of words, certainly without a lot of talking. Sometimes it helps to stop talking to really be able to sense your body experience.
One of the ways that psychotherapy works best, is by helping people to sit with their body experience of whatever they’re noticing, including thoughts and feelings. This can be a profound way to develop a dialogue between what is known consciously and unconsciously. As this happens, the grip of old patterns, relationships, beliefs and strong emotions can start to loosen, so you can develop a more fluid relationship with your self, your life, and others.
This doesn’t mean you have to focus on your body all the time; it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t talk about what’s happening or has happened in your life, and how you’re thinking and feeling. These are very important aspects of the process. It just means that you can allow awareness of what it happening somatically (in your body experience) to be part of the dialogue.