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Workshop Review: The Reptilian Brain Rules: Somatic Psychotherapy – An Integrative Approach. With Kate O’Boyle – Dublin: April 2009

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

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.

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