Deep Feeling and Body Oriented Psychotherapy – Some brief comments

by Dr. Paul Vereshack

Over the last fifty years with the rise of the Alternative Therapies, it has become fashionable to ask our clients how they feel. In doing so we are approaching the processes of very deep therapy. We are not however truly entering these processes by simply asking the question and then passing on.

If however, we lie a client down in a darkened sound proof room and then ask this question, and do not pass on to other topics, an entirely different kind of therapy begins. If we ask the clients not to talk, but rather to steep themselves more and more deeply within the feeling or body sensation, these feelings and sensations begin to act like a magnate, drawing deeper and deeper unconscious material toward the surface of our minds and bodies.

Even this however is not enough. The material arriving in conscious awareness must be externalized and those externalizations, to be effective, must themselves have certain properties. They must not only arise directly from within the actual feelings and sensations in which the client is immersed, they must be completely congruent with those feelings and sensations. That is to say, the words and brief phrases that are used must be few and poignant, in order to cause an inner body shift. They must also come with a deep sense that they are exactly correct.

I have often commented that if a client says more than ten words in a row they are coming ungrounded from the deeper level of themselves. During an externalization even more than three words may fracture the moment.

For example, “I don’t want you to come into my room and hurt me daddy,” will not connect the client experientially with the abuse. The shortened phrase, “Please don’t hurt me,” or just the word, “don’t!” will drive the process deeper and intensify it so that the deepest possible experiencing will occur. Body movements must also be congruent. The child who curled up on a bed while being beaten must curl up the same way to most effectively trigger the experience during therapy

Now the question, “How do you feel?” becomes a tool of extraordinary power, and a new therapy is born.

Allowing the client this “wide open field of permission,” created by the darkened sound proof room, and by a therapist who can listen to very deep pain without interrupting the process, results in a kind of release that comes from the core, and not from the “defensive” psychotherapy knowledge of the practitioner.

This method although extremely simple, brings with it many problems. Let me mention one or two.

The process of moving freely from association to association with simple phrases and body movements can seem very chaotic, and hence very frightening. This fear mobilizes the defenses of the therapist, and either brings the process to a halt through the therapist’s “helpful” but basically defensive interventions, or gives rise to reliance upon therapeutic belief systems which create obsessive believers and obsessive followers. These clients when they in their turn, begin to work with others, may further propagate belief systems to which they have been introduced. Thus thoughts and theories are carried to the next generation of therapists so that everyone can feel safer amidst the “chaos” of the unknown.

If for instance a therapist holds the belief that birth trauma is the ultimate cause of pathology later in life, or that disordered psychology is caused by such things as the struggle of the sperm through the fallopian tubes, or the moment of conception, or the mind set of the pregnant mother or any other seemingly universal causation, this narrowness and arrogance of belief will narrow and constrict “the wide open field of permission”.  Sure as the day follows the night clients will be misdirected and their potential destroyed.

To avoid this, we must listen from a place of “emptiness”, free from belief and free from complex “therapeutic knowing”. Listening like this allows the client’s associations, and not the therapist’s theories, to be the true compass on the therapeutic path. The approach of informed empty mindedness, demands that we go through the therapy ourselves in order to arrive at a place where ultra high levels of tension and ambiguity become the goal, and not the enemy of the growth process. Obtaining closure, through interpretations aborts the wide open field of permission and returns the therapy to shallow waters. In fact it creates rigid corridors within the mind and body systems, corridors which the brain will then return to time and again since these become the point of least resistance for the searching mind.

We can come to see that the “chaos” of the deep therapy room is not chaos at all. It is simply the brain working directly in its associative mode. This non logical mode has itself long been understood as the mechanism of the deep unconscious.

Psychoanalysts have referred to the connections that arise in this seemingly magical kind of thinking as “Primary Process Thought”. Its non logical function stands in contrast to the logic of “Secondary Process Thought” which is the mechanism the brain employs at the conscious level. Interestingly, the illogic of deeper process while looking “chaotic” in the darkened and soundproof therapy room, always makes perfect sense in the end, if we allow it to reach its conclusions.

Another issue, and there so many, is that this kind of therapy does fracture the usual defensive structures of the mind, to a greater or lesser degree, therefore its goals are different.

The use of these techniques will lead to an over all release of body tension, with a greater freedom from so many of the illnesses that inner stress produces. There will also be however, a rising sensitivity in its clients and practitioners; in essence creating a person who is more easily triggered into emotional pain. This is offset by a dropping away of the fear of painful experience, to be replaced with the confidence that we can handle whatever feelings come along.

Thus the goals of this therapy are not simply a loss of pain and disability. They are the creation of a new kind of suppleness with which to face our lives. I do not fear that you will hurt me, because if you do, I am not afraid of the hurt. I can lie down and process it to my advantage. In addition and seemingly to the contrary, I become strong enough to speak my truth and thus begin to lead a life that does not court, or permit hurt, in the first place.

Many things begin to change as our personality becomes less afraid of itself and hence of others. New quality in relationships is demanded. The old abusive dumping of one person’s unworked through material upon another is no longer tolerated.

Since defensive structures are being undone in clients, there is a necessity that a certain level of what we call ego strength should exist prior to the therapy. This therapy in its purist form is not for everyone.  We tend to believe that if only we do the work no matter how damaged we are, we will heal. Such is not the case.

It is also true that this therapy may be modified for those who need something less intense.

To benefit from this kind of work, genetic endowment, early nurture, amount, kind, and length of psychological damage, must all be considered.

In addition, motivation is a key issue. A person must have come to a deep and desperate desire to go inside themselves and into their deep pain or the gates of the mind will not swing open and if they do the non motivated person will be in terrible trouble. They will have to deal with what they do not want coming up from their unconscious and may then blame the therapist for their predicament.

Lack of motivation and poor information about the process at the outset can be a serious source of difficulty for both therapist and client. It can lead to the most frightening words a therapist can ever hear, which I believe are, “What have you done to me.”

All this not withstanding however, what I have personally seen and experienced across forty years of practice is that the average person when allowed to feel deeply using the above mentioned methods will have an experience of growth unparalleled among the modern therapies.

Dr. Paul Vereshack has been in the practice of Depth Therapy for more than 40 years. He is the author of the on line book, “The Psychotherapy of the Deepest Self”, which is fully available on his web site at www.paulvereshack.com as, “Help Me – I’m Tired of Feeling Bad.” All his degrees are from The University of Toronto, Canada. He teaches the principles of deep psychotherapy by facilitating intensive seven day training groups both in Canada and in other countries. There will be two groups in Ireland in the spring of 2006, details of which can been seen advertised in this issues of Inside Out.