In Practice will be a regular feature of our Journal where we invite other psychotherapists to share an issue or dilemma arising directly from their practice which stimulates thinking and discussion.
In this issue Ger Murphy looks at the use of expressive bodywork.
A dilemma I encountered recently questioned me as to the use of expressive bodywork techniques with clients where a strong sense of ego boundaries is not yet in place.
A client, Ms.D, with whom I have worked for some months, was moving from feeling a victim of others’ hostility and violence (a regressive pattern) to owning how she in the present felt hostility and violence in her. This helped her shift from a depressed state to an enraged one. When we came to explore how she could express her rage she seemed unable to act it out using therapy room materials: racket, cushions, etc., and to talk about it was insufficient and frustrating to her. I wondered whether this may have been how she was expressing her rage here in the session i.e. “not being a ‘co-operative’ client”, and needing to resist my offer.
However, Ms.D. continued to state that in fact she needed a victim, needed someone to suffer. I initially saw this as indicating her need for retribution for the pain she felt. However, I realised, with her help, that it was deeper than this. Ms. D. states, “how can being angry alone make sense? I disappear when I’m on my own”. It became obvious that expressive bodywork aimed at the release of anger confronted her with a fear of non-being, a threat to her sense of existence, and an as yet intolerable degree of separation-anxiety.
Winnicott and others ascribe such feelings to an unsatisfactory early mothering experience where the sense of self cannot manifest due to the absence of mirroring and holding. The therapy can later attempt to provide some of these elements as a corrective experience.
It can be seen then, that a body oriented tool coming from a humanistic psychotherapy stance can be a valuable diagnostic tool in developing a way of understanding with a client, which emanates from a more analytic framework. Similarly integrating these models with this client as example may give direction to the work in that Ms. D. may later feel able to experience and release her anger with the necessary holding and mirroring having been undergone. Such an interplay between humanistic and analytic tools is, I believe, a rich area of development which can greatly benefit the work.