Riley K. Smith, MA, LMFT
My teacher, Jack Lee Rosenberg, Ph.D., passed away last November. Jack was a pioneer in the development of somatic psychotherapy. During the 1970’s, he was searching for a more efficient therapy for addressing the deep psychic wounds that therapy clients were presenting. His search led him to formulate what he came to call Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP).**
There are therapies that focus on the mind, therapies that focus on the body and therapies that focus on the spirit. Many of us, possibly even most of us, in the LA CAMFT are integrating all three in our work. So, while this may not be new material and is greatly oversimplified for this article, I hope that you will find it validating and helpful in your understanding of your own work and an appreciation of Dr. Rosenberg’s gift.
IT’S THE SOMATIC and psychological interface of IBP that I find most compelling, even exciting. I’d like to share one of the basic IBP processes using that interface.
The process begins with breathing and the interruption to the aliveness that the breathing activates. The next step is to identify the defensive nature and function of that interruption and to make sense of it in the context of an attachment wound. The next step is to address the attachment wound and provide the corrective self support and self nurture, then to return to the breathing, uninterrupted, and the resulting aliveness.
Before I tell you about my hypothetical client, Lisa, and how the process can work in a session, I’ll briefly explain the breath work and its relationship to attachment needs in infancy.
BREATHING. Breathing fully is essential to feeling and being alive. Regulating the breath is also the primal somatic strategy for coping with attachment deficits. When an infant experiences the upset of a need not being met, it reduces its breathing to reduce the intensity of the upset it feels. While it reduces the upset, reduced breathing also makes it impossible to be fully alive and present. We must breathe fully to experience our authentic Self. In IBP, breathing fully is the most important tool for attaining and sustaining mental and physical health.
SUSTAINING CONSTANCY SERIES. SCS is a sophisticated breathing exercise that creates a profound experience of wellbeing. It combines high-charge breathing with physical stresses that result in the release of muscular and organic holding in the body. SCS stimulates and balances the central nervous system, oxygenates the blood, releases endorphins in the brain and allows energy to flow freely throughout the body. Helping the client move through the blocks or interruptions that arise during the SCS exercise is the therapeutic work of IBP.
LISA SAT UP on the table, beaming, and exclaimed, “I’m only human …and that’s enough!”
Six months before, Lisa, in her mid twenties, had come to me unhappy with her life. She was functioning well enough – living with a roommate, financially supported by her controlling father and passive, childlike mother and working to build a career as a graphic designer. She complained of being averse to relationships with men and didn’t trust women. Talented, smart and attractive, Lisa felt inadequate, unlovable and ashamed.
During the time that I had worked with Lisa, in conjunction with object relations insight work, body awareness and teaching her self-nurturing and self-support techniques, I had been teaching Lisa to build and hold a charged state in her body using her breath.
When Lisa was able to be present and charged after about thirty breaths I began to teach her the Sustaining Constancy Series, a series of stressing positions lying down while doing the charge breathing. The Series allows the release of the muscle tension which limits the energy flow throughout the body. Allowing the energy flow creates an experience of being, simply Being, profoundly alive, energized, calm and present.
Getting there, however, almost always requires addressing somatic blocks and energetic “speed limits” at the psychological level.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL/SOMATIC INTERFACE IN IBP
A part of her complex family-of-origin dynamic was that Lisa’s role in the family was that of a little girl. As a result, there was nowhere in her internalized family system for her to feel or experience herself as the grown woman that she is. Physically, she had to deny her woman-ness. This became apparent when breathing while lying on the table. When she began to feel alive in her body, she could feel her breasts and pelvic area. Her first few experiences of this led her to “split off.” She got dizzy and spacey and couldn’t continue the charging breath.
I was able to guide her through this “block.” First I asked her to make the connection to her family of origin. Once she understood her psychological need to be the child, Lisa was able to discover the parental messages that were missing in order for her to grow up. The next step was to coach her in self-nurturing using what, in IBP, we call Good Parent Messages – the basic nurturing that all children need to thrive.
Although there are twenty-two Good Parent Messages that we use in IBP, the ones most useful to Lisa in this case were:
The Mother (early childhood) Messages:
I see you and I hear you.
It is not what you do, but who you are that I love.
I love you and I give you permission to be different from me.
I’ll take care of you.
You can trust your inner voice.
The Father (later childhood) Messages:
I am proud of you.
I have confidence in you and I know you will succeed.
I give you permission to love and enjoy your erotic sexuality with a partner of your choice and not lose me.
I coached Lisa to build a charge in her body with the breathing. Then, from that place of wellbeing, say and write the Good Parent Messages to herself while tracking the sensations in her body – sensations of warmth and relaxation. Having embodied the self-support and self-nurture she could now complete the Sustaining Constancy Series without splitting off. Lisa could celebrate the somatic experience of her woman self – her whole self.
That was the point where Lisa sat up on the table and, with great joy, said, “I’m only human!”
There are many different processes and applications in Integrative Body Psychotherapy. This narrative describes one of the more fundamental processes and is greatly oversimplified.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: LMFT in private practice since 1976. Faculty member at the Integrative Body Psychotherapy Central Institute in Venice since 2004. Trained therapists for eight years as Clinical Director at an out-patient drug program. AAMFT certified supervisor till 2008. Co-author of How to Be Happy Partners, a cooperative problem-solving manual for couples. Member of CAMFT, AAMFT and U.S. Assoc. of Body Psychotherapists.
**IBP is fully described in Body, Self and Soul, Sustaining Integration, Jack Lee Rosenberg, Ph.D, with Marjorie L. Rand, Ph.D. and Diane Asay, MA, Humanics Limited, 1985, and The Intimate Couple, Jack Lee Rosenberg, Ph.D and Beverly Kitaen-Morse,PsyD, Turner Publishing, Inc., 1996. IBP training information and listing of IBP practitioners is available at www.ibponline.org. A summary of IBP is available at www.Wikipedia.com.