Response to “Benefits of Talk Therapy”
By Brad Kammer
Somatic Psychotherapist and Adjunct College Professor in Ukiah, California
I enjoyed Dr. Sandberg’s commentary on the “Benefits of Talk Therapy”, identifying the “biological” effects of “therapeutic” mental health approaches. As a clinically trained Somatic (body-oriented) Psychotherapist, I would like to broaden the therapy he advocates to also include therapies that reference or rely on the body.
As we now know from decades of research on the brain, certain psychological conditions actually inhibit or disrupt brain areas responsible for language and memory. For example, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Medical Director for the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, has demonstrated the limitations of using cognitive-based approaches in working with PTSD. Dr. van der Kolk calls for body-centered treatment focused on accessing the implicit biological responses that lead to illness.
Somatic-oriented therapists see that the brain processes life experience from the bottom-up. This means that when we encounter overwhelming life events our subcortical brain systems are disorganized first, which then affect cortical brain systems including our cognitive, emotional and language centers. In order to adjust maladaptive beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, the underlying subcortical processes that fuel these cortical responses must be addressed. These are typically addressed via medications, but those fixes are often short-term and come with unwanted side effects. When informed with the “body in mind”, our clinical efforts strive not solely to reduce symptoms, but for creating the conditions which support greater health, well-being and resiliency. I liken it to a re-wiring of our nervous system. When we identify and address the body’s story, we become engaged with the psychobiological pathways that allow us to support new neural connections.
To most effectively deal with the host of disorders we see in our practice, Somatic Psychotherapists employ a wide range of techniques – beyond just talk. Some of the techniques we employ are: somatic mindfulness, breathing exercises, embodied resources, visualizations, vocalizations, movements such as yoga and dance, theatrical activities, art and play. We are more than just talking heads, we are living, breathing, moving, sensing, feeling beings.
I am not one to throw the baby out with the bath water, so I have sought an integrative approach to treatment that embraces the best of the “talk therapies”, including psychodynamic, humanistic and cognitive-behavioral approaches, with the best of the “body” approaches, particularly Somatic Experiencing. Developed by Dr. Peter Levine, Somatic Experiencing takes lessons from animals in the wild who even after harrowing life and death encounters are able to rebound and return to normal functioning. This therapeutic approach works to restore our hard-wired psychobiological responses to life experience that are designed to increase our capacity to survive, and even thrive. By integrating the body and mind in treatment, we give our clients a felt experience of renegotiating the dysregulated neural patterns in an atmosphere of safety, curiosity, and experimentation.
After years of traditional talk therapy and reliance on medications, my clients are often relieved and excited to actually feel profound shifts happening inside them during sessions. This empowers real change. In the meantime, I get to play, hum, move and explore in therapy – and continue to be in awe of the body’s inherent capacity to affect healing and growth.
Neuroscientist Alan Schore, hits on why I love to teach:
“The key to the future is not so much in changing the minds of those of us trained in clinical models of the last century as capturing the imagination of the clinicians and researchers who are now coming into the field. Unlike previously trained clinicians, they don’t have a problem integrating mind and brain, or mind and body, and they don’t have to unlearn what we had to unlearn. They also don’t see an unbridgeable gap between scientific theory and clinical practice. It’s this next generation of clinicians who will determine where the field will move in the future. In the last decade, I’ve seen a burst of energy and excitement in mental health, and I’m very enthusiastic about how the paradigm shift is being propelled forward.”
Elizabeth Wright from “The Nature Cure – For The Body”
(written over 150 years ago!)
“Even wise men say that the times demand a rapidity of action which cannot be sustained except by unnatural stimulus and expenditure of vital energy. The spirit of the times demands that we should hurry ourselves to death, eating , drinking, sleeping, and working, with a deadly activity, which prevents any of these things being done thoroughly.
Why this scrambling haste? Have you not time to live well while you are about it? We Americans are in such a desperate hurry we have not time to even chew our dinners before they are swallowed. We cant wait for the cars to stop before we jump upon the platform, nor wait for the steamboat to be moored before we leap across a nice place in which to drown, in order to get on board or on shore. We count it wasted time to do slowly what it is possible to do rapidly even to live. The deliberate philosophy has few votaries among our countrymen. Because man is not a ruminating animal, he seems to think he needs no time for chewing anything but gum or tobacco, and these he chews as he runs.
………………Oh! all ye whose lives have been a feverish strife after some imaginary good, come and slake your thirst and cool your fever in the clear waters of the many springs among the hills. Let nature’s breath breathe into your failing lungs the healing of her own. Let the serenity of Nature steal upon your unrest, and give you her tranquility. Allow the vigor of her unfailing forces to renew your lives. Let the great pulses of her ever beating heart throb with your own. “
I received such heart-felt, positive feedback from the “Transforming Stress” classes I’ve offered recently that I’m creating a “Transforming Your Health” series for the City of Ukiah in 2012. I will post event flyers for the workshops when they’re ready to go…but look for them beginning in Feb 2012.
I am excited about a new workshop I am co-creating with my colleague and good friend Sean Re, MFT. The working title is: “Personal Growth as a Vehicle for Ecological, Political and Social Change.”
It will be about the most important and effective tool of any movement striving for real change – ourselves! Without each individual being regulated, functional and aware, we are at risk for creating systems that are dysregulated, dysfunctional and unaware of their effects.
Sean and I both believe strongly that for there to be real, paradigm-shifting change, it starts within…and moves out from there.
Over the next few months, Sean and I will be attempting to articulate our own vision of what this process looks like and how it can be implemented in a realistic, accessible way. Any comments or suggestions from you all would be greatly appreciated.
Link up to my facebook and twitter pages to keep updated about when this workshop will be presented, and other classes and workshops I offer. If you are interested in bringing me to your locality for any of the classes/workshops I offer, please email me and we can discuss possibilities.
I enjoy the efforts you have put in this, regards for all the great blog posts.
Just wanted to give you a shout from the valley of the sun, great information. Much appreciated.
One of my heroes is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma. She emanates grace in everything she does. And yet, she is fully human. She has been a major inspiration in my life.
I just read the latest interview with “Daw Suu” and her answer to this question jumped off the page:
“Q: Do you think that in the future you will have a chance to go to Naypyidaw and meet Snr-Gen Than Shwe [Burmese military regime leader]?
A: I don’t think that way. I think of how I am going to make it happen. I am not sure if you have heard that Gandhi was very fond of a Christian hymn, even though he was a follower of Hinduism. The name of the song is ‘Lead, Kindly Light.’ It says: ‘I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.’ Gandhi believed that, and so do I. I will do my best to walk, step by step. If I am on the right track, I will reach the right place. I don’t want to try to imagine something very distant. For me, hope is the desire to try.”
I really like your blog and i really appreciate the excellent quality content you are posting here for free for your online readers. thanks peace claudia.
A great way to start off my 1st ever blog…I was sent this Rumi poem today, and since I’m winding down the semester, it felt right to put this out there.
Two Kinds of Intelligence
There are two kinds of intelligence: One acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.
With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.
There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.
This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.
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