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ask a therapistDear Therapist,

I’ve never been the type of person who likes to sit and just talk about my problems. I’m a runner, I’m constantly on the go.

I tried therapy once and felt like the therapist just wanted me to cry and talk about my feelings. I have some issues from my past that are definitely coming up now that I’m stuck in one place and doing shelter in place.

I want to get help, but don’t know what to do. Do you have any suggestions on how I can find a therapist that’s a better fit for me?

Best,

Trey M.

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Dear Trey,

Thanks for checking in. Firstly, I want to assure you, you are not the only person who has had that response to a therapy session. Second, I want to gladly say there are many options for you.

Therapy Options Nowadays

Many people have an image in their head about what therapy looks like when I first meet them. They usually say something like, “Therapy is where you lay on a couch and tell someone your problems.” Indeed, that’s one way therapy can look and feel, however, in 2020 there are many therapy styles that have moved beyond the couch to address the way people hold emotions, memories, and habits in their bodies.

It can be helpful to have a mental health practitioner (therapist, counselor, psychologist, etc.) work with you to carefully analyze how your body is connected with your mind, especially if you know you have trauma that comes up often for you. It can also be helpful to try the exercises below to get a taste for body focused therapies.

As a therapist, I have people look for me specifically to do mindfulness work with them. If you decide you want to work with a therapist during this time or later on, you can ask if body centered therapies are a part of their therapy style.

Some of the body focused therapy modalities you can ask about in your initial emails and phone calls with mental health practitioners are Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Somatic Therapy, Dance/Movement Therapy, Sensorimotor Therapy, and Hakomi Method.

Explanations of Three Different Body-Focused Therapies

1. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

In their paper entitled, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: Theory and Practice, Walter E B Sipe, MD, and Stuart J Eisendrath, MD do a fine job explaining the origins of MBCT: “Mindfulness practices have their root in Buddhist traditions extending back over 2,500 years. In recent decades there has been an accelerating interest in applying mindfulness in the context of Western medical treatments. MBCT is an adaption of MBSR as developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues.”

Many people call in and ask me about CBT, also called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a structured skills learning style of therapy. MBCT is also structured and teaches skills, many of which include mindfulness pieces. MBCT is not taught through a religious lens and is sometimes taught in a group format. See the video below for more details on MBCT.

 

2. Somatic Therapy, also called Somatic Experiencing

Somatic Experiencing is an important and newer therapy style that focuses in on bodies and how they experience trauma. Much of the work done in this therapy style helps us manage how we feel when we’re overwhelmed or stuck feeling something highly emotional.

When my clients and I talk about trauma in therapy, I usually mean something they get stuck on. For example, a traumatic memory could be a time someone got into a life-changing car accident.

In Somatic Experiencing, the therapist and the client would work on changing how the client’s body and mind are stuck in the fear and sadness of the accident. We would do this by paying attention to things like heart rate, where someone’s mind goes when they talk about the experience, what sensations come up in the body, how tense someone is, etc. Then we’d use things like breath or meditation to try to create a feeling of being “unstuck.”

In their research on using Somatic Experiencing for people who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Danny Brom and his team said: “SE (Levine, 2010) is a body‐focused therapy used for treating people suffering from PTSD that integrates body awareness into the psychotherapeutic process, taking a unique approach not used by other PTSD treatment methods. The focus of the therapy is on creating awareness of inner physical sensations, which are seen as the carriers of the traumatic memory.

Sometimes we need to raise awareness of what’s going on in our bodies in order to feel better about what’s happened in the past. I work with many folks who try to ignore their bodies and the problems that come up from their pasts. Ignoring can cause trauma to show up in other ways. For more details on Somatic Experiencing, click here.

 

3. Dance/Movement Therapy

Sometimes we need more than words to transform our trauma or to change into the person we’re working hard to be. Dance/Movement therapy reminds us to be present in our body and to be free/open in a way we usually aren’t as adults.

In a research study done by Sabine C. Koch and her team in 2019, the results suggested that DMT decreases depression and anxiety, and increases quality of life and the social interactions with others (in areas such as building empathy, improving self awareness, and increasing the desire to do good things with others). It also found that dance interventions helped improve flexibility and balance, which is also a nice plus.

Check out this Dance/Movement Therapy lesson video below.

 

It could be great to check out a therapist whose style includes any of the above therapy styles, especially because sometimes we’ve got to mix things up and challenge ourselves to be the best self we can be. There are so many different types of therapy experiences we can choose from, and I talk a lot with people about the courage it takes to demand more from the world of therapy.

Be courageous and try something new as you move through issues to be the best you!

Sincerely,

Sharon Alvandi, LMSW, MAT

 

Sharon Alvandi LMSW, MAT, is a clinical social worker and counselor who specializes in working with individuals needing a breath of insight around trauma, depression, anxiety, other invisible disabilities; people who have experienced or perpetrated domestic violence; young professionals looking for support; youth who are developing their identities; and folks who are experiencing, or would like to interrupt, intergenerational trauma.