A dear friend lost her sister to alcoholism yesterday, and even though I’m thousands of miles away, my body was remembering what it was like when my own mother, pictured in this photo, was dying from that same awful disease. When I heard the news this morning, it all came back in an instant…I was back by my mother’s bed in the hospice, with the sound of her labored breathing, the smell of her failing body, the touch of her dry skin against my hand as I put it on her arm to connect with her. Almost 20 years later, I can still see it, hear it, smell it, feel it.
I did a tremendous amount of grieving – both before and after my mother died – and yet it all flooded back just like that. As JL Moreno, the creator of psychodrama was known to say, “The body remembers what the mind forgets.”
When I was in graduate school to become a therapist, I had absolutely no training in how important it is to pay attention to the body in the process of therapy. I didn’t realize how much of what is going on for a client I was missing. Over time, through receiving bodywork, and through training in Psychodramatic Bodywork®, I’ve come to see just how vital it is to include attention to the body in the therapeutic process. I’m also aware that it’s something that most therapists/counselors don’t do because like me, no one taught them the importance of it. I know this is a provocative statement, but I now believe that it’s doing a disservice to a therapy client if I’m NOT including what’s going on somatically (in the body) in the therapeutic process.
Chinese medicine – acupuncture and shiatsu – has so much to teach us about where and how memory and energy are stored in the body, yet your average therapist, counselor, doctor, nurse, etc – actually, your average person – has no idea how it plays a role. Did you know, for example, that grief is stored in the lungs? Makes you wonder why people get asthma, or smoke a cigarette when feelings arise, doesn’t it?
Anger lives in our gallbladder and liver, and those meridians – those little rivers of energy in our bodies – run through the jaw (amongst other places), which is why so many people with unexpressed anger have TMJ or grind their teeth. That may also be why so many alcoholics drink – to medicate their anger, whether they typically express it and are trying to manage it, or if it constantly simmers under the surface. Unfortunately, as those of us who have lost someone to alcoholism know, it eventually destroys their liver.
Did you also know that fear lives in the kidneys and bladder? No wonder people have to pee when they’re nervous, or end up with low back pain (the kidneys are located in the back of our bodies just under our armpits and the lower back is considered a kidney reflex area in Chinese Medicine).
At a presentation I attended years ago given by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a pioneering researcher and practitioner in the field of trauma, I remember him saying (and I’m paraphrasing) that if you want to make an analyst’s head explode, tell him/her you can’t heal trauma by talking. The audience of therapists laughed, but the truth is, despite all neurobiological evidence to the contrary, many practitioners continue to think that you can heal trauma through talk therapy alone, and continue to work with trauma survivors in that way. It’s why after years of research, van der Kolk has published a new book entitled The Body Keeps The Score. Like other body-based practitioners, he knows that trauma – and feelings in general – live not only in the mind, but in the body.
Trauma and loss affect us on many levels and in order to heal from them, we have to work physiologically. It IS important to include talking in the therapeutic process, to integrate our experiences, but it’s not thorough enough to have a complete healing experience. When working with trauma or loss, it’s important to pendulate back and forth between feeling the experience and understanding and integrating it, but unless we release the feelings connected to it – particularly those feelings that it wasn’t safe to express at the time – we’re going to continue to be haunted with physical symptoms. Understanding alone doesn’t heal trauma or grief. As a friend of mine says, “I was going to know why I was severely depressed and wanted to kill myself, but I was still going to be dead.”
And so when I heard the news this morning, I tuned into my body and I cried for my dear friend’s loss, for my loss, and for all those who have lost someone they love to addiction.
Do you listen when your body talks to you? Are you available to hear what it says?
Understanding and being able to include the body in the therapeutic process takes extensive training and practice while being supervised. Action Institute of California offers Psychodramatic Bodywork® workshops devoted to teaching practitioners (therapists, counselors, bodyworkers, interventionists, nurses, doctors, etc) how to recognize the signs and symptoms of unexpressed feelings, and facilitate emotional releases safely and effectively. For more information on our Intro to Psychodramatic Bodywork® Workshop on April 24-26 in Costa Mesa, CA or our Intermediate Psychodramatic Bodywork® Workshop in Costa Mesa, CA on October 9-11, please see our Trainings & Workshop Schedule.
In addition, we provide psychodrama training for professionals; team building, conflict resolution and staff training workshops in business, clinical and medical settings that are tailored to the needs of your organization, and we are committed to providing safe spaces for professionals to do their own work.