By Nancy Eichhorn, PhD
Power, Culture and the Body: Diversity Issues in Contemporary Somatic Psychology Practice
with Christine Caldwell
Christine offered her insights into diversity and oppression and her research with Dr Rae Johnson (they are studying the somatic effects of oppression). She wanted to move the conversation from a general topic in order to look at our blind spots and possibilities. She noted that “All views are wrong views”, and since we all have a view we might as well relax and get as aligned as possible. Our job in body psychotherapy, she said, is to understand the lens we absorbed from our various cultures, from our training in body psychotherapy, and how we internalize norms of privilege and unexamined biases. And we have to acknowledge that a power differential exists between the client and therapist, noticing any markers of non-verbal micro aggression. How do we enact power in our therapeutic relationships?
We have to appreciate that people live in systems of oppression, and ask ourselves: What is it like to live within that system, a system that is not going away? How do you leave therapy and go back to that prejudicial system? How do you work with the internalization of oppression on part of the self?
Oppression, she said, is like domestication of animals: we restrict their movements, control their reproduction, limit their access to resources, restrict their communication. She talked about the domestication of the body in post-modern society, and joked that “we’re all in recovery around that one.” She also talked about double dipping in non-normative categories—the healthy body marginalized as the different body, and offered insights from Judith Butler’s work examining how our privilege and oppressed identities interact.
Power, Privilege, Oppression: Social Construction of the Body
The root of the word oppression is press, Christine said. To distort one’s shape with pressure, to be caught between any forces of barriers related to each other that jointly restrain and restrict. And though our bodies have universal features they are not experienced in a universal manner. We come into the therapy relationship with an authoritative knowledge of the body so how can we understand the power differential—one approach she shared was to let clients know that while we, as body psychotherapist’s, know about body psychotherapy, while the client knows about his/her own body.
She also challenged us to broaden our definition of culture to include other cultures, i.e. Queer culture. We have to ask ourselves, What culture do we privilege? Does our middle class world view clash with our client’s working class world view? Do we see them as less evolved, resistant, resisting our privileged unexamined norm?
Examining intrinsic meaning models, cultural models and practical analysis models, she disputed universal meanings such as in dream analysis where symbols are established, defined. And treating body language as if a spoken language, citing universality but not within the culture that constructs the body. And the practical analysis model that no longer sees the movement but how it is performed, the adaptive style. None of these three models are bad or good, right or wrong, she said, but as therapists we need to know which lens we have on, take it off and see what we can differently. We need to look through multiple lenses to see a moving, sensing, breathing body. How do we not run the risk of maintaining an over narcissistic view of feeling so precious, so right in your own view?
If you start to fall in love with a modality, Christine said, take off the lenses.
To talk further about the Female Body in Society and Psychotherapy and the Embodiment of Sexuality be sure to join SPT Magazine at the EABP 15th European Congress: The Embodied Self in a Dis-embodied Society, October 13-16 with pre- Congress and post Congress events.