Reviewed by Brenda Boland
On the 18th of April 2009 I arrived at the Education Centre at Our Lady’s Hospice Harold’s Cross in Dublin to meet with my colleagues from the Irish Gestalt Postgraduate Group to take part in a seminar titled “The Reptilian Brain Rules: Somatic Psychotherapy – An Integrative Approach to Healing” lead by Kate O’ Boyle. The “postgrad group” meet a number of times during the year for continuous professional development and to deepen personal as well as professional bonds.
After the signing in, and having an opportunity to greet and reconnect with Gestalt friends and colleagues, the organisers of the workshop introduced Kate. We heard about Kate’s professional journey to date and discovered that her training provided her with more than a career but also with a philosophy for living. She spent a period at a Buddhist university college in the USA and her non-judgemental stance – “just be curious” – had a positive impact on our work throughout the day. There is much to tell about Kate. As well as her training in Somatic Psychotherapy Contemplative Movement Therapy, she has trained in Authentic Movement, Contemplative Movement Practice, Therapy, Hellinger’s Hellinger’s Family Constellation Work and EMDR. She trained both in Ireland and in the USA and I believe her wealth of training and experience allowed her to be real and fully authentic and present with us as Kate throughout the workshop.
At the beginning of the work I, like many others, reached for pens and notepads. Kate suggested leaving them aside and to trust that we would assimilate whatever we needed from the day’s workshop but also that she was providing a handout of the course content for each of us. After the schedule of the day was arranged – coffee breaks, lunch time and a finish time – it was time to move to the theoretical and experiential content of the seminar. As I reflect back on the day I believe that the process of how we reached agreement on these matters had a profound impact on the rest of the day. My usual experience at workshops is that these times are scheduled in advance, but Kate deferred to the group to come to an agreement on these matters, taking into account the needs, wishes and plans of the entire group. She encouraged discussion and the right of every voice in the group to be heard. She acknowledged that this was her response to growing up in Belfast during “The Troubles”, when people did not listen to each other and voices were not heard. By starting the day as she did by encouraging dialogue we then closed the group with a spontaneous and very intimate discussion on the difficulties of ageing, particularly for women in this patriarchal society in which we live, (we were fifteen women at the workshop), and also a discussion on the ongoing problems our country faces due to the trans-generational impact of trauma.
“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly”
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Throughout the workshop Kate touched on many issues in relation to the Truine Brain and Trauma and because it is such a vast subject her focus for the day was largely on the Reptilian Brain and the Nervous System, referring to the amygdala, “as the body’s alarm button”. Affects, and shock and terror can show up suddenly at any time without any apparent cause, “triggered by countless conscious or unconscious cues” (Cozolino, 2002). As therapists we work with clients who have difficulties with dissociation, panic attacks, anxiety, phobias which all suggest an underlying dysregulation of the nervous system as a result of perceived or actual threat. Kate stressed the difference between shock trauma and developmental wounding and through the use of experiential exercises we were given an opportunity to reconnect and discover for ourselves the physical bodily aspects of our own shock trauma and developmental wounding. Our lived bodies are constantly there functioning as an organ of perception, this became apparent in the opening round of the workshop, when each of the fourteen participants present in the room had unique responses to the reflective meditation, experienced my perceptions confirmed throughout the day by Kate an d my Gestalt Colleagues and once more had the joy of experiencing the healing power of this confirmation of my “being” , that is so different to how things were for me once upon a time… We experienced Kate working to heal the impact of trauma by helping group members verbalise and rationalise their bodily sensations, affects and their felt emotions. Once again I think of Beisser’s Paradoxical Theory of Change ”Change occurs not by trying to go somewhere you are not but by staying with what is” (Beisser 1970)
When the group came to a close I had to head off to catch a bus and did so in haste while many of the others stayed to plan our next workshop. I do hope we will have the opportunity to work with Kate again as I believe we have so much to learn from her and not only about trauma. Thanks to Kate, Margaret and Emma and my IGC colleagues for a fascinating, full and unique day.
Beisser, A. 1970). The Paradoxical Theory of Change. In J. Fagan and I.L Shepherd (Eds.), Gestalt Therapy Now. New York: Harper and Row.
Cozolino, L. (2002). The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy. New York: W.W. Norton.