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Phenomenological / Emotional / Somatic Approaches

Close-up of a tree branch in a temperate rain forest dripping with moss filaments and moisture

Image credit: helivideo - stock.adobe.com

Sensation tell us a thing is. Thinking tell us what it is this thing is. Feeling tells us what this thing is to us.

                                                                                   – C. G. Jung

Being in our direct, immediate experience is often one of the most difficult things to do, because it includes all of us – thoughts, emotions, sensations. Typically we'll have blocks to some aspects of each of these as a way to buffer our experience. Without access to the full range, we are to some extent "flying blind" through life, as each channel feeding us vital information will be flattened to some degree. Psychoanalyst Harry Guntrip wrote, “There cannot be a whole complete human being without an integration of feeling with thinking and acting, provided by ‘doing’, arising spontaneously out of the fundamental experience of ‘being’.” A phenomenological approach to psychotherapy is engaged with your immediate experience. You can bring in the past, but how does that connect to right now? Those linkages bring us more into the immediacy of what is going on. This immediacy includes soma (body), as what we feel in the body is always part of the moment of now, always immediate. As we come more into immediate experience, we land more in all of the dimensions of our experience and our experience starts to open and change.

 

From this approach, psychotherapy is not just "talk therapy" but an opening to the dimensionality of our being.

  • On the level of the mind, we want to include your thoughts, ideas, beliefs, day-dreams, and mental loops. . . Our stories are encoded with meaning and, if we pay attention, guidance. Exploring our mental world we learn more about what we value and where we find meaning. In psychotherapy we ask the mind to consider new ideas, and from these there may be new and fresh understanding, ways we open not just to insight but new ways of thinking. At the same time, we don't want psychotherapy to be two "talking heads" in a stereotype of "talk therapy." I find that the mind is most open when it is anchored in embodied understanding and also informed by the heart.

  • ​The domain of emotions is easy for some and hard for others. As children, we all felt the full range of emotions, and we felt fully and deeply. The adults around us had reactions to that, and society had ideas about what we should feel and express. As a result, many people chose not to feel, or to try to feel only certain emotions. Because of this, your emotional life may be an impenetrable black box, or fearful terrain, or hyper-tuned in its sensitivity. Psychoanalyst Nancy McWilliams wrote, “Feelings have their own kind of wisdom,” and our work in psychotherapy is to find out what we feel so that we have access to that wisdom. Feelings lead us to the compass of the heart. Perhaps because of this, some ancient Greek philosophers believed the heart was the seat of the mind.

  • In the body realm, we are informed by tensions, gestures, sensations. Armoring of the body to suppress sensation and emotion is quite common, and something I saw often in my decades of work as a bodyworker practicing Rolfing® Structural Integration. A bodyworker can work to soften those tension patterns, but the changes may not last because of unprocessed life experience and feelings stored in how we hold our bodies. My approach is to include a somatic lens that find the ways in to the body and its memories and secrets so that psychotherapeutic transformation is embodied transformation. 

The "therapeutic relationship" that develops in psychotherapy is unique. This is how Carl Jung spoke of it:

 

You see, I have my life story, and you have yours. I know that I am sitting here and that I am talking to you, and you know the same thing as far as you are concerned. We are exchanging words. But aside from words, which address themselves to the intellect, there is so much more in the air between us: feelings, images, part-souls, or segments of the psyche. When we allow this fullness of experience into the room, the nature of relating changes, and with it comes a capacity to relate in new ways.

My work as a psychotherapist includes listening to this multi-layered conversation and drawing your attention to all of these elements, to see the many ways your psyche and unconscious are communicating.

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