By Nancy Eichhorn, PhD
The Unique Issues in Training Embodied Psychotherapists: On Not Being a Stranger To Desire
with William F. Cornell
“Failure informs me,” William Cornell said. “You can’t learn if you’re not disturbed.”
With 45 years in the field, William certainly understands the importance of noticing what excites you and what disturbs you—these, he said, are your learning edge, your leading edge.
And as a full time training consultant working mainly with psychodynamic and analytic therapists, William knows it’s critical to step out of the box and provide treatment that fits the person not fit the person to an operationalized protocol.
We have to maintain a fundamental confidence in life and vitality, he said, and acknowledge the vulnerability of many of our clients. Noting the work of body psychotherapy has matured, William acknowledged the struggle body psychotherapy is having with itself now—with the old training processes less reliant on intense encounters and moving toward mainstream acceptance, feeling pressures to be part of the normative establishment.
“There are pressures in our field now to acquiesce to changes to meet the normativity, we’ve lost our social and cultural challenge.” William said. “Reich’s life work was to confront and challenge social conformity and oppression, and he suffered for his vision. We need to foster embodied psychotherapists not body psychotherapists.”
“Neo Reichian models suffered from the delusion of knowing too much. They knew what the body needed, what the muscles needed, what they needed to do for break-through. We have a fundamental responsibility at times to disturb our clients and vice-a-versa. We need disturbance in the field, and we need to monitor the level of the disturbance,” he said.
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘Why do we do what we do? Is it for the client? For ourselves?’ When you see a client in front of you, what helps the client be self-aware? We have to teach therapists the art of quality, nuanced attention, which will take us out of our theories, we need them but they can be blinders,” he said.
There’s been a tremendous change in what it means to work with the body. The heart of the work, William said, is to slow down. You have to understand and facilitate integration of an experience, it’s not about a break through, it’s how to bring diverse conflictual aspects of the self and body gradually to a coherent functional place, which calls for a fundamental and profound change in the work we do.
Discussing the purpose of touch in body psychotherapy, William said it needs to be used to:
• Heighten the inhibitory process in body
• Bring more into self sense
• Bring sensate to consciousness
• Inform nonverbal to client and therapist
• Integrate non verbal and verbal experience
• Support grow sense of personal agency in client body
“Touch is not a casual, intuitive, incidental experience,” he said. “It is purposeful. You must have an idea of why you are doing it and what you are doing. If we don’t know, our anxiety and shame get communicated to the client, and the touch may come across as sexual. Therapists need to learn informed touch, functional touch, and use these skills as the foundation of their fundamental intention when working with the body all the time.”
William explained that first we have to get to know our own body; we must live with it, explore its history, fantasy, desire, shame. We grow in terms of familiarity with our own body experience, which takes a time commitment. You have to respect yourself then your body experience can be transformative in a fundamental way, not only as a channel of connection, he said.
Breadth and Depth of Sexuality in Body Psychotherapy
There is only one chapter on sexuality in The Handbook, William said. Psychotherapy is not all about attachment and trauma! There’s contemporary psychology, queer theory. Sexuality writers are bringing to real life what we need to examine in our community. What happened to sexuality? What does it mean (that it’s been left out)?
“We have the most sustained experiences in our lives in our sexual relationships. What happens when we leave sex and sexuality out of our lives? We are keeping a fundamental experience out. Our attention is fading (in regards) to character theory and sexuality. Where are we acquiescing? What are we giving up? How is this normative range helping us? Clients want to be met, encountered, challenged, disturbed. We need to say, ‘man there’s so much more here, come on.’”
To talk further about the Embodiment of Sexuality and the Female Body in Society and Psychotherapy, 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.