My Model of Embodied Therapy

Embodied Therapy and Physical Touch for all Forms of Bodily Abuse and Trauma

Almost everyone who endures some form of bodily physical or sexual abuse, neglect or deprivation, crippling physical injury, or chronic medical condition has had their body or parts of their embodied experience stolen from them. The issues of embodied trauma create many different feelings around the individual's own body and effects the ways they engage in, or avoid, physical contact with others. Stolen embodied experiences vary in degree and manifest in ways that are specific to each person. Although sometimes obvious, more often body issues are subtle and in some instances, an individual may not even be unaware of or have reluctantly accepted their embodied limitations.

Sadly, many victims of bodily abuse have given up on bodily pleasure. From the warm embrace of a friend or family member, to sensual and sexual pleasures, the enjoyment of their physical body has been ravaged and replaced with embodied trauma flashbacks that seem indiscriminately activated even when engaging in healthy forms of physical contact. Many forms of healthy physical connection are rejected and avoided in order to not feel embodied flashbacks that bring into consciousness ways their trauma continues to intrude on their body. The possibility of enjoying one's own physical body often feels impossible to reclaim.

Embodied therapy is a form of treatment designed to help individuals reclaim their stolen bodies. By combining embodied therapy with psychoanalytic psychotherapy my patients can address both their emotional and body issues created by trauma. The integration of embodied therapy and psychoanalysis in my treatment approach offers patients unique opportunities for a safe and personalized approach to addressing all types of embodied trauma.

My Embodied Treatment Approach

My model of embodied therapy is anchored in multiple theories including trauma theory, psychoanalysis, transactional analysis, and in my thirty years of experience in body psychotherapy. It offers a continuum of touch from physical interactions such as handshakes or hugs to more complex and complete ways of working with the body that promote an integration of mind and body and result in patients experiencing their bodies in fundamentally new ways. I have published articles on this model in the peer reviewed Transactional Analysis Journal. I also having a forthcoming book on my model to be published by Routledge Publishing in 2022. A description of this book and links to it can be found here

Isn't Talking About My Traumas Enough?

Yes and no. Many patients prefer to work in therapy with me without any forms of physical contact being used in the therapy. While non-touch therapy for many traumas can be effective, working directly with the physical body ­­­in therapy can result in a more comprehensive transformation of the ways an individual experiences their own body. Ingrained embodied limitations, such as fear or suspicion of touch, can become explored, understood, physically addressed, and transformed to various degrees. Such therapy also helps to address issues of chronic anxiety and depression that originate within embodied trauma flashbacks. Often patients discover how even subtle embodied trauma memories can influence their mood or emotions.

Informed and disciplined touch moves patients more directly into embodied trauma memories where such memories can be observed, analyzed, and physically felt. Addressing both mind and body for certain types of trauma creates opportunities for the patient to explore and transform their embodied trauma memories. In treatment, the individual can explore and discover the return of a bodily capacity to do something(s) that attend to these embodied trauma memories in the here and now. In this work, traumatic body experiences that still create issues for the person can be transformed thereby reducing the impact of trauma memories on the patient's body.

The idea of working with touch in therapy, even with a knowledgeable and trusted therapist, can be an anxiety-filled proposition and can even be seen as suspicious for patients who have abuse histories. This is one of many reasons why my work with embodied therapy and physical contact with a patient usually occurs after months, if not years, of working together to create the type of space, trust, and therapeutic relationship that can provide a feeling of safety, especially for when embodied trauma flashbacks surface in a session.

Do I Have to use Physical Touch in My Therapy, or Can My Therapy be Without Touch?

There is absolutely no pressure, expectation, or obligation to work with physical touch in therapy with me. This modality of therapy is offered and available only if and when both the individual and I feel such work would be safe and beneficial to them.

Some patients who choose not to include direct physical touch in their work with me find ways to directly address their embodied issues outside of their therapy. For instance, some patients work with massage therapists. We then discuss and process their experiences of massage in their therapy with me. This can be an effective way of connecting mind and body in treatment without and physical touch.

How Can I Work on My Embodied Trauma in a Nontouch Talk Therapy?

As noted earlier, many patients find paying direct attention to their body and embodied trauma something they have avoided for years. Working on body issues in a traditional nontouch therapy can provide patients with understanding and insight into how their embodied trauma has impacted their relationship with their own body. This work can assist the patient in becoming more comfortable and curious about their body in ways that can be transformative.

Based on a patient's interest and their therapeutic needs, nontouch embodied work can range from brief attention, to a more sustained focus embodied processes and issues. The therapy addresses ways the patient's mind and body are in harmony, and ways they are more spilt from one another. This helps the individual begin to recognize predictable patterns of sensations and movements that correlate to certain moments and experiences of trauma. For example, they may notice how speaking about a specific moment in their trauma leads to shallow and anxious breathing. In addition, specific body movements, such as a reoccurring shoulder twitch, can be explored and often then linked to a specific trauma moment. The more an individual engages in analysis of their own body, the more natural the integration of mind and body becomes in their treatment.

This form of treatment is not a quick fix. Therapy for reclaiming a body that has been stolen as a result of trauma takes months and years, not weeks. This process requires mutual trust and commitment in order to understand and addressed embodied trauma within a safe therapeutic relationship. For some individuals, the prospect of reclaiming their stolen body after years of silent suffering is what can make the undertaking of this type of therapy possible. If you would like to learn more about this form of treatment, I would welcome your call.