A body therapist for the mind
September 15, 2013 4:41 PM   Subscribe

What type of therapist, counsellor or coach am I looking for? I have integrated a lot of my childhood traumas and abuse - both physical and psychological - into my body which has resulted in having a great deal of resistance to taking care of myself. I am seeing a talk-counsellor and I have a solid intellectual foundation in psychological health but it's not helping me take care of my physical health. Woo and professional suggestions welcome.

I have heard of kinesiologists but don't really understand what they do. I had a reiki healing some years ago which had an immediate and amazing effect on releasing pent-up blocks from my body. It was a gift from the reiki practitioner so I wasn't concerned about being scammed. I just lay there and let her do her thing.

I literally dream of being physically healthy, supple and fluid but I am psychologically blocked in my waking life from taking the steps required to be so. Anytime I take concrete steps to achieve this body-life I want, I self-sabotage. A lot of the emotional abuse I endured as a child was around my desire to be physically active and healthy - my dance classes were stopped, my bike taken away, my sports participation was stymied. I was constantly told I was no good at these things by my abuser and therefore had no right to enjoy them. On the flip side, my abuser berated me for not being pretty and slender and physically attractive - things which would have reflected well on them and upped their own low self-esteem.

I can't do things on my own like watch a yoga dvd and complete the moves. I just stop. Pre-paying for classes doesn't make me go to them. I am not depressed - I find a lot of joy in life and have a good solid social circle and career - but I do have this 'thing', a interior voice or a internalised persona akin to my abuser, that sabotages any efforts I make to look after my body and make it healthy and comfortable. My abuser projected all their body issues onto me and I was a great internaliser!

My talk-counsellor is very good at talking and discussing my past abuse with her helps, but due to my extensive readings and years of self-exploration into the effects of my abuse, nothing she says switches a light on to why I can't do the things I need to do to take my physical health seriously. I feel our sessions are just validating that yes, the abuse happened, my abuser was a damaged person, I didn't deserve it or make it happen - stuff I already know.

I need something different, something physical and guided with a practitioner who can understand that emotions are lodged in my body, not my voice box. What type of practitioner or range of practitioners am I looking for? What other resources may help me?
posted by the fish to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How about a therapist with a somatic approach?
posted by latkes at 4:43 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps these folks could provide a referral to someone local to you?
posted by latkes at 4:45 PM on September 15, 2013

I really enjoyed accupuncture for these reasons.

I think you might also benefit from The Survivor's Guide to Sex because that talks a lot about being in your body and there are writing excercises in it.

I'm not sure where you are, but Dr. Sunyatta Amen is the founder of the Bellydancers of Color Association, and pretty much this is her thing. It was really through taking classes with her and her students that I got comfortable with moving my body. I've taken other bellydance classes as well, and there's just something about the vibe where they're generally so supportive and loving and positive that... well, it's just easier to be in your skin in those classrooms.

I also really, really dig laughing yoga. Totally different approach to other types of yoga that center form in that the emotional stuff is really up front and centered. Those classes I took at Jordin's Fitness in DC with Rania.

Anyways I think what made those two teachers so special is that they're explicitly about making their classrooms safe spaces, and on top of their training in body stuff, they also are anti-DV activists and about women's empowerment.
posted by spunweb at 5:00 PM on September 15, 2013

You might be looking for dance/movement therapy. I did a few sessions years ago and really, really enjoyed them as someone who had a lot of issues with being comfortable in my body.
posted by quadrilaterals at 5:00 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

...and yes, I've started crying in Rania's class. It's really small and intimate so that was less weird than it sounds, and it was a positive experience.
posted by spunweb at 5:01 PM on September 15, 2013

I would recommend either getting Esalen massage, or dancing Gabrielle Roth´s 5Rhythms.
Or both, they are related and have helped me and others get in deep contact with our bodies, work on the issues we have deposited there and make significant changes in our lives.
posted by Fermin at 6:52 PM on September 15, 2013

Best answer: I asked a friend who has done research in this field and she says you need a somatic psychotherapist. She suggests someone in that modality who does regression work. Apparently there are known techniques that engage your physical body as part of processing abuse and trauma.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:30 PM on September 15, 2013

Best answer: Where do you live? Osteopathy (Canada, UK, France, Germany, Australia) could be totally awesome for you, especially anyone who does osteopathy with a somatoemotional approach. American osteopathy is something totally different.
posted by andreapandrea at 7:32 PM on September 15, 2013

Best answer: You need an EXCELLENT accupuncturist, or accupuncturist/osteopath.

posted by jbenben at 9:51 PM on September 15, 2013

Best answer: Seconding the suggestions for yoga or a somatic counselor.

Eastern Body, Western Mind is also a neat book that combines the idea of chakras and physical symptoms with more traditionally Western psychological ideas. Each chapter is about one chakra, and includes symptoms that indicate that chakra is out of balance and suggestions for how to balance it. The suggestions tend to have a big range, so that if major physical activity frightens you, there are still helpful ideas for how to reconnect to your physical self.

I think it's a great adjunct to talk therapy.
posted by jaguar at 11:07 PM on September 15, 2013

I don't think this can be fixed with physical work alone. You may just need a better therapist. I would recommend just asking around until you find a very highly recommended psychologist. A long waiting list is always a good sign. What you're describing is absolutely something that a good psychologist would be able to help you with.

As for physical things to try, why not see if there are any local adult's circus classes? They're usually very inclusive, welcoming, low-pressure, and manage to strike a good balance between physical discipline and just plain fun. And it'll include a range of different skills and apparatus, so you're likely to find something that you click with.

Good luck. And congrats on trying to do something about it. :)
posted by pablocake at 12:20 AM on September 16, 2013

Response by poster: Many thanks for the assistance you have provided. My work has me moving between New Zealand, Australia and a Pacific island nation on approximately 3 monthly rotations (I should have mentioned that in my question) so some of the location specific recommendations won't be suitable but the general gist of all the answers have been very helpful. I will investigate somatic psychotherapy, acupuncture, osteopathy and dance movement, especially some cultural dance movement options I have access too.

My abuse was not sexual in nature and, contrary to normal beliefs, a period I spent as a sex worker in earlier years was one of the most physically liberating and healthy periods of my life.

Thanks again. The advice here has been very illuminating.
posted by the fish at 4:20 AM on September 16, 2013

Best answer: I think you need a therapist who can act as a coach, and who is exceptionally skilled. The industry doesn't manage its quality well. There are a lot of not very good therapists. They may help people to some extent because talking helps. Some of them do damage. There are mediocre therapists, and there are some who are terrific. I interviewed therapists and found a good match for the issues I'm working on. At my request, she holds me accountable for the goals I set for myself. The same is true of alternative health practioners; there are a lot of shysters among them, and a lot of well-intentioned people who aren't well trained or well skilled. Look for the level of training, years of experience and certifications or accreditation.

I literally dream of being physically healthy, supple and fluid In the areas where you're traveling, look for activities that you enjoy that play to what you already love. Bellydancing would be a good choice for someone who enjoys Mid-eastern music, expressing sexuality, and being with women in classes. In New England, there are a lot of contra-dances in the evening - high energy couples dancing with old time music. Kickboxing, martial arts, Etc. If you make a friend or 2 in class, that helps you attend. The key to physical health is to get moving with *something*, and then refine what you do to achieve your goals. Ballet is a really good way to get supple and fluid, but doesn't usually have the psychological or spiritual elements you may want. If you can join a sports team to join, your team mates will apply positive pressure to participate.

To achieve goals, bear in mind that Pavlov's dogs didn't have goals. Operant conditioning works. Break your goal down into components, steps needed to reach the goal, and markers of success on the way. Put up a calendar and put a big star on every day that you accomplish a step. Can't do it? Make the steps smaller. Give yourself a reward for every N successful steps (Every time I see my shiny pedicure, it reinforces my success at a difficult level of progress.) Reward can be a small gift you give yourself, like a Lego minifig you keep on a shelf, but it should be tangible and something you'll see. There are lots of explanations of how to do this, but it works. Your therapist should be able to help.

I'd also recommend giving yourself the things that were taken from you. Give yourself a bike, dance classes, and try hard to find a team you can join, especially if you're an extrovert. Give them to yourself as gifts, not responsibilities. It's okay to not use a gift, but it's there for you. Keep your goal in mind and also keep reminders of your goal visible, and praise yourself for any step towards progress. And, praise yourself for the tremendous progress you've made overcoming severe trauma.
posted by theora55 at 6:49 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

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