I’ve loved writing regularly for Somatic Psychotherapy Today. The initial writing brief for my first Bodywise article back in the summer of 2012 was to say something about my work from ‘across the pond’ – as many contributors are based in the States. Brief sounds chilly and formal. The reality was a warm invitation from Nancy Eichhorn, the founding Editor-in-Chief, to reflect on my current work as a relational body psychotherapist, my Buddhist practice, and my work as an ecopsychologist, and then to write about them. So, I did, associating as best I could the work I was currently doing with the theme of each edition of Somatic Psychotherapy Today. It was an enjoyable challenge! Somatic Psychotherapy Today’s themes over the past five years have been many and varied, from diversity, diagnosis, and trauma to pre and perinatal psychology, embodied spirituality and societal embodiment and disembodiment, amongst others.
I had just gotten my first job at Kent State University Counseling Center after finishing my course work at the University of Kentucky and my internship at Wake Forest University. I lived in the Shaker Heights district of Cleveland and was driving down Route 480 that turns into Route 14 toward work at Kent when I was struck by a deep wave of depression. I felt like I used to feel earlier in my life. At some point I got off the road onto the sideline and just sat and was struck by the deep dark feelings of depression I was having and could not understand why that was happening. Here I was, having achieved what I was searching for my entire life, a position as a psychologist, and I was so summarily bummed out. After catching my breath, I continued driving to Kent.
Then an unusual event occurred when I was passing through the city of Twin Lakes. It was foggy out. The lake was barely visible. But on one of the lakes, just through the dense fog, I could perceive a rower in his boat. It was so striking to me that I had to stop. Amazingly enough I had my camera with me. I pulled it out, got out of the car, took his picture and then continued to work. At the time of this event, the thought did not strike me that perhaps I identified with that rower in the midst of the fog — my old feelings of depression.
Once I got to Kent and focused on work the depression lifted. On my way back to Cleveland on Route 14, I was contemplating, which I often did on the drive to and from work. My thoughts turned to the depressive episode in the morning. I was no longer feeling depressed on the return trip. I was struck by the fact that in spite of feeling depressed earlier, I stopped to exercise my creative abilities and took the photograph of the fisherman. And during the day, I did not remain depressed. I did work demanding higher order reasoning, knowledge of human behavior and emotional wounding, as well as compassion. What happened in the morning was an unusual and temporary setback. It was a pseudo-setback not characteristic at all of where I was in my mental health and functioning.
People often find themselves stuck in emotional states where they feel unhappy, anxious or depressed. They know what they feel but they are unaware of their own behavioral patterns that keep them immobilized there. Over and over they focus on their frustrations; they wish things were different. They wait for the bad feeling to go away. The more they focus on their frustrations, however, the more they find themselves stuck. They ask themselves, “What in the world is going wrong? Why won’t it change?” They continually repeat the same behaviors with the same results. For me, I ask, “Who’ calling the shots?”
Too often the answer is the neurology and hormonal chemistry of a child or adolescent who did not get recognition, confirmation, or encouragement. This youngster did not have a parent or guardian who knew how to provide a healthy role model of how to handle difficult, compromising situations. These youths saw inappropriate models or none at all. They did not necessarily feel safe or protected. As a result, they developed coping mechanisms that were the best they could manage for their age, knowledge, and resources. Often these coping mechanisms were the same as those of the parent with whom they used to identify —their dominant role model. These patterns are evolved or are created during developmental times when intellectual ability is not fully developed, when knowledge of situations is limited, when freedom of choice is restricted, and when alternatives are not available. These coping mechanisms then generalized to other situations; as time went by, when challenging, threatening, or hurtful events presented themselves, these environmental stimuli triggered the learned psychophysical protective coping mechanisms from deep in the unconscious mind. Those somatic-emotional patterns habitually, and quite automatically, jumped out and took charge. Their familiarity overrode any conscious awareness of either their happening or their origin. One might even have an intellectual sense of this pattern but the pressure is on and when push comes to shove the patterns are reenacted without the ability to control them. Let me share some examples with you.
Addiction is rampant. Drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping, food, social media, digital games, movies, whatever the ‘substance’ the effect is the same—numb out, dissociate, flee from the perception of pain (be it physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual). The number of people who are considered addicts has reached pandemic proportions—no one place, no one race, no one culture is free of this infectious disease.
But, is it a disease as many associations responsible for intervention state? Or is it a reflection of our inability to self and/or mutually regulate our affective state? Are these behaviors, labeled as addiction or addictive, are these monikers—addict, addicted— accurate? Or, do labels simply shadow deeper manifestations motivating people to reach for something to quell their emotional fluctuations, to smooth the ups and downs in their bodily being?
These questions and more are considered in our Winter issue. Our contributors share their thoughts on addiction, on behavioral patterns that become ‘stuck’, automated, reactionary in the face of overwhelm and affective arousal. Possible physiological causes are considered—think trauma and all that comes with that terminology—and potential interventions are pondered.
We invite you to read our articles and to respond to our authors.
I am a big fan of Rothschild. Her earlier book (2000) elevated awareness of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the substrate of all health, in the psychotherapy world, and taught us to look for and precisely recognize ANS signals in order to appropriately support recovery from trauma. Her new book adds excellent additional detail, including a “six-categories-of-ANS” poster that can now be viewed on the wall of our classroom at CSES. The bulk of the book is about therapy insights, which I found to be excellent; my concerns were just in a few pages of her Chapter Two.
The problem for me starts with Rothschild’s description of Polyvagal Theory (PVT), which occupies two pages in the chapter. She summarizes PVT as being the discovery of the “ventral vagus” function as distinct from the previously-known “dorsal vagus” function, which is the foundation of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Both down-regulate the heart, but in different ways. She states that calm states arise from the ventral branch, and that collapse states arise from the dorsal branch. This is not all wrong, but for a person of Rothschild’s immense professional stature, I was really hoping for more.
My clients lie. Friends, family, colleagues, strangers, themselves, no one is excluded from their liar’s club, myself included. As the clinical director of an inpatient detox and rehabilitation center (addressing all forms of substance addiction), I was lied to by my clients so often I started to expect it. However, and this is even more important, I did accept it as a symptom of the disease called addiction.
After five years at the center I realized that dishonesty in general and manipulative behaviors in particular, especially when clients were still struggling with active addiction and frequent relapses, were not embedded in their personality or characteristics. Rather, they resulted from past experiences and how the addict viewed his/her problem and its solution. I believe that accepting such a point of view can help therapists improve their ability to handle their countertransference and enable them to remain compassionate even when confronted with their clients’ dishonesty.
“Well, it’s done!” Bonnie said with a sideways glance, her eyes not quite meeting mine. A twist of her lips said, I survived, but barely.
Bonnie had come to see me shortly after A.H., her high school sweetheart and husband of more than a decade, told her he was moving out of their condo; he didn’t love her anymore. Within the throes of this shock and the stress of reordering her once familiar and stable life through a mediation process, Bonnie had been emotionally floundering.
“I didn’t lose it in the mediator’s office,” she said, recounting the ordeal. “But I’ve been crying ever since I left. I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that now we are legally separated.” She settled into the soft couch across from me, and reached for the box of tissues. “This has made my back ache worse; my whole body feels like it’s in a vice. And on top of that he’s not responding to any of my texts!”
What can the theory and practice of somatic/body psychotherapy, ecopsychology and Buddhism offer to each other?
For the past five years, Kamalamani has shared life and work at the confluence of these fields in her quarterly Bodywise articles for Somatic Psychotherapy Today, an independent international publication representing various modalities in body psychotherapy, somatic psychology, and pre-natal and perinatal psychology. This volume brings together these quarterly Bodywise articles. Kamalamani explores client work in embodied and relational ways, drawing upon her practice of Buddhism. With her characteristically warm, immediate, accessible tone, Kamalamani encourages personal reflection and professional consideration as she offers insights illuminated by traditional Buddhist texts along with personal and clinical anecdotes that range from birth to death, from meditating with character to Reich’s character structures, from trauma and terrorized bodies to diversity, embodied spirituality and pre-natal and peri-natal psychology.
In therapy, I believe our work is to support our clients as they and we enliven the places in imagination where we consciously and unconsciously create and cultivate visualizations vital for healing—specific images and sensations that are less apt to trigger distressing images but rather become integrated as components of recovery and healing. As we work within the psyche’s realm of awareness to re-envision scenes that support mental health and wellbeing, healing light becomes available when the darkness of harsher images from a terrifying past invades the mind and the body. Indeed, the recent tragic loss in Bev’s extended family had brought forth just such –a cascade of painful emotions, restless insomnia, anxious anhedonia, and a flare of her osteoarthritis.need for warmth and healing peace, Bev is learning how to confidently summon these images. However, for survivors of abuse like Bev, darker, more troubling pictures arise in the mind, unbidden and unwelcomed these images disturb their tranquility, knock them off balance.