Jeff Guenther on Oct 20, 2019
I have been a therapist for 15 years. I guess you could call me a narrative therapist? But who really knows—I’ve absorbed so many different treatment orientations over the years that I am truly eclectic. Maybe I’m more of a relational therapist? But I couldn’t define for you what a relational therapist is. It’s embarrassing. It also feels normal—like this is what happens to seasoned therapists. We become a melting pot of different therapy interventions.
Recently, I started seeing a new therapist—maybe the 10th therapist I have seen in my life. She is a body-centered, somatic-based therapist and I have some issues with her style. Not because she’s a bad therapist. So far she seems like a fantastic therapist. It all has to do with my bias and feeling awkward. And maybe feeling a little jealous. Let me explain.
Before I get into it, you should know that this week on Say More About That I talk to Kay Lee, a somatic body-centered therapist. She schooled me on what exactly body centered therapy is, how to be embodied, why we should be embodied, what the body is good for and so much more. You can hear my bias come up in the interview. I talk about my experience with a somatic therapist and why she decided to become one herself. We laugh a lot and have a ton of fun. You can listen by clicking play below or check it out on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Somatic therapy, also sometimes known as body-centered therapy, refers to approaches that integrate a client’s physical body into the therapeutic process. Somatic therapy focuses on the mind-body connection and is founded on the belief that viewing the mind and body as one entity is essential to the therapeutic process. Somatic therapy practitioners will typically integrate elements of talk therapy with therapeutic body techniques to provide holistic healing.
It’s important to note that there are many types of body-centered therapy. I’m not an expert on any of them, so I’m not going to list them here. I will say however, from my own personal experience and talking with other folks, there can be an element of “woo” or spirituality with body-centered therapy. That was actually what drew me to it in the first place. Currently, in my own therapy, I attempt to connect with what my spirit self, or higher self, is trying to tell me. My spiritual self often has some important things to say and sometimes has pretty impressive insights. I’m also asked to tap into my body to get info on messages coming through. This is all great info and data to gather. But this is also where my bias pops up.
I’m a very spiritual guy. I’ve always wanted to get a shirt that says that in big letters. (Funny, right?) If a client comes in and they want to get spiritual then I’m happy to follow them down that path. But I feel embarrassed to bring it up on my own with a client. I feel like they’ll discredit me as a therapist and I’ll lose some of the well-earned trust that I’ve built up. I’m jealous that my therapist can do it so naturally. I see her tapping into her intuition and I love it. She doesn’t say she’s actively being intuitive, but I know she is. If I was like that with my clients, I would expect them to roll their eyes at me and walk out.
When my therapist asks me what my foot is trying to say as it nervously taps the carpet, I can go inward and figure out what’s coming up. But if I ask a client why they are all of a sudden wiggling their toes while they talk about their boyfriend I feel like an idiot. I know I shouldn’t feel bad. I know there is info there I should collect. But I just can’t bring myself to say a lot of these things.
On this week’s podcast with Kay, I jokingly remark about how maybe I’m a better therapist because all I need access to is the neck up, while Kay needs access to the full body in order to be a good counselor. Of course, it’s not true that I’m better because I only work with what’s rattling around in my client’s heads. Kay has a good comeback for me when I playfully confront her. In truth, I wish I was more comfortable with tapping into my own intuition and asking clients to tap into theirs. Even if I think I sound silly when I do it.
So what’s my problem? Why can’t I dive into body-centered trainings and live out my dream of becoming a somatic therapist? I love how they are so focused on their body-centered interventions. I feel like I’m flailing in my treatment style sometimes. And somatic therapy feels so holistic. There are so many fun tools and activities you can use with clients.
I think my main problem is that I want to meet the clients expectations. I’m sure sometimes I am projecting on to them what I think they expect from therapy. But I think of myself as a “give the client what they want” kinda therapist. Most of my clients assume they’ll come in, sit on the couch, and I’ll dig into their stories and analyze what’s going on for them. And that’s basically exactly what I do. I’m worried that clients will think I’m a quack if I practice outside of what’s comfortable for them. Just to be clear, I can be a challenging therapist that pushes my clients into uncomfortable spots so that they can learn and grow. But when I do challenge my clients, it’s presented in a way that doesn’t stray into territory that could feel “out there.” And I suppose that’s fine in many situations. When challenging a client you want them to be able to receive your message in a way that they can understand. But it really locks me into communicating with them in a stereotypically clinical way.
I guess what I want to say is that I have not let myself grow into the type of therapist I’d like to be. Maybe I’d be a better therapist for my clients if I allowed myself to be more body-centered. But it’s hard to fight this voice inside of me that’s telling me I’ll be seen as a little whacky. Which is ridiculous because I think therapists like Kay and my own personal therapist are doing cutting-edge work. So if you’re a therapist and you’re holding yourself back from doing the work that you feel truly inspired to do, I hope you take this blog as a sign and become the healer you really want to be. Personally, I’m planning to push through my bias and sign up for a body-centered training this year. I’ll keep you posted!
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Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.