Mind-Body Psychotherapy is a unique integrative approach to therapy, in that it brings the mind and body into the therapeutic space. When we experience issues relating to mood, such as high stress, anxiety or low mood, for example, it affects our thinking and beliefs about ourselves and others. Naturally, this can then influence how we relate to others and also what we do or don’t do because of our thoughts and feelings (e.g. avoidance behaviours). When we feel emotionally distressed, it also releases stress hormones into our body which further escalates symptoms that we may be struggling with. For example, when we feel anxious about a particular outcome, this may show up as tightness in the chest or tension headaches for example. As this cycle continues to escalate, it can cause further physical, emotional and relational issues.
Mind-body psychotherapy, also known as somatic psychotherapy, is an integrative therapeutic approach that recognizes the intricate connection between the mind, body, and emotions. It acknowledges that our physical experiences and psychological experiences – thoughts and emotions are deeply intertwined and as such, influence one another. In addition, to exploring psychological issues, we explore their impact on the body to promoting overall well-being and healing.
How can past events and past relationships influence the Mind and Body?
In today’s fast-paced world, it can be challenging to bring mental clarity and emotional balance if we are feeling triggered by our own internal narrative (e.g. I’m not good enough) or other people’s expectations. In addition, our sense of self has also been shaped by earlier life and relationship experiences. This combined, can positively or negatively affect our overall wellbeing.
For example, if you experienced an excessive amount of criticism as a young person and also only received praise for doing well in exams, this can lead to a belief that you are only of value if you constantly achieve 100% in all areas of life which can lead to placing unrealistic expectations on yourself and potentially others. This belief would also leads to rigid internal thinking styles, such as… “I must succeed in this, there is no other option and if I don’t it means I’m a failure”. This type of thinking will trigger internal stress which results in the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
The physical impact of repeated escalations in stress result in potential negative affects on various systems in our body – it can lead to increased blood pressure, heart problems, digestive system issues, a compromised immune system and/or hormone imbalances. In addition, the release of the bonding hormone, ‘oxytocin’ is compromised and as such, it can be more difficult to feel that sense of connection to ourselves and others as our nervous system is in a constant state of high alert – also known as, ‘fight, flight or freeze.’ Over time this is expressed psychologically as high stress, anxiety or low mood and disconnection. The good news is that we can also work on re-dressing this and eliciting the ‘relaxation response’ more often, thus activating the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ system instead of setting off our sympathetic nervous system. This promotes homeostasis or balance in our physical systems in addition to bringing more clarity to our thoughts and decision making processes and how we connect to others. Put simply, a healthy, balanced mind promotes a healthy balanced body and vice versa.
Mind-Body Psychotherapy approaches include…
1. Embodied Awareness: Mind-body psychotherapy emphasizes developing a heightened awareness of bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. By paying attention to these experiences, individuals can gain valuable insights into their psychological well-being by understanding emotional and relational triggers and being more conscious of next step choices.
2. Non-judgmental Exploration: This therapy encourages individuals to explore their experiences without judgment or criticism. It creates a safe space for individuals to express and process their emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations and understand their relational or bonding (attachment) styles. This generally leads to healthier and more life affirming choices in those areas.
3. Integration of Mind and Body: Mind-body psychotherapy focuses on integrating the mind and body to promote restorative healing and positive change. It recognizes that unresolved emotional issues have the potential to manifest as physical symptoms. By addressing both aspects, individuals can achieve a more balanced and harmonious state.
Techniques Used in Mind-Body Psychotherapy:
1. Somatic Experiencing: This technique helps individuals release and resolve trauma or stress stored in the body. By gently guiding individuals to notice bodily sensations and facilitating their
expression, somatic experiencing aims to restore a felt sense of safety and well-being.
2. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): MBSR combines mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and gentle movement to reduce stress and promote self-awareness. It helps individuals
cultivate a non-judgmental attitude towards their experiences, enhancing their ability to cope with challenges and build resilience. It also leads to more compassion towards oneself and others.
3. Breathwork: Focusing on conscious breathing techniques, breathwork helps individuals regulate their emotions, reduce anxiety, and increase relaxation. It can be used to release tension
held in the body to promote a sense of calmness.
4. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment therapy approaches explore; the nature of thoughts, emotions and behaviours and how to recognise and create change, of unhelpful beliefs or habitual thinking styles that are not aligned to your overall goals (in relation to yourself or perhaps work, life or relationship goals). Therapy aims to support you in increasing personal fulfilment and joy as you process and heal, thus becoming more in ‘flow’ with your life aspirations.
Benefits of Mind-Body Psychotherapy:
1. Enhanced Emotional Well-being: By addressing the mind and body together, mind-body psychotherapy can help individuals gain a deeper understanding of their feelings and develop healthier emotional balance. It also supports more clarity of mind and less ruminating on hypothetical worries.
2. Identifying and expressing our Needs: When we become more aware of our felt sense experience along with understanding our habitual ways of thinking or behaving when triggered, we become more attuned to our ‘needs’. We don’t behave or relate from past experience expectations (e.g. people can’t be trusted… because my previous partner was unfaithful – or – others will let me down and I can only rely on myself … because my emotional needs were not met as a child and young person due to a pre-occupied or emotionally distant parent etc.) In identifying our emotional and connection needs, we make healthier choices and let go of self-sabotaging ways of being in relationships.
3. Stress Reduction: Mind-body techniques can effectively reduce stress levels by promoting relaxation, improving emotional regulation, and fostering a sense of balance.
4. Physical Healing: As mind and body are interconnected, mind-body psychotherapy can alleviate or lessen some of the physical symptoms associated with, or exacerbated by, psychological distress; such as chronic pain, headaches, hormone imbalances, memory difficulties, heart problems and digestive issues.
When you think of any significant problem or issue that you have faced in your life, you will also remember how it felt and also how it may have impacted your internal narrative and given rise to certain beliefs or ways of relating. You may also remember how this showed up in your body e.g. stomach problems or tension migraines. In addition, earlier life relationships can influence our expectations in how others will treat us or activate certain ‘defences’ in behaviours or trigger feelings that may or may not be helpful in the current situation or relationship. Mind-body psychotherapy recognises this and works towards supporting the whole person while recognizing the profound connection between the mind and body.
By incorporating techniques that address both aspects, individuals can experience improved emotional well-being, reduced stress, and enhanced physical healing. It also tends to lead to healthier relationships as you let go of beliefs and their corresponding behaviours or defences that no longer serve you, e.g. people pleasing or being the ‘fixer’ because that was a role always expected of you, in favour of becoming more attuned to yours and other’s needs and relating more authentically to these. There is wisdom in the saying; To Thine Own Self be True. If you are seeking a comprehensive therapeutic approach that considers the whole person, mind-body psychotherapy may be a valuable option to explore on your journey towards wellness.