There is an epidemic of anxiety and depression. Today's world is filled with emotional challenge. How many families do you know that aren't dysfunctional? And who do you know that has not spent time with a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist at some time in their life? In some circles it is almost a status symbol to be in psychotherapy! And, it is not unusual to be in therapy for years. We keep our trusted therapists very busy!
We have a wide range of possible therapies to treat the anxiety, depression, panic attacks, insomnia, headaches, etc. that affects most of us at some time in our lives. There is regular mainstream treatment where insight psychotherapy is the central focus. Then there are a whole variety of strategies that include psychoanalysis, hypnotherapy, applied kinesiology (such as EFT and EMDR), 12-step programs, biofeedback, neurofeedback, breath work, qigong, Huna therapy, crystal therapy, and so much more!
Psychotherapy can lead to being "stuck in your head"
Even though most Americans still faithfully go to their therapist for years and eventually really do understand their issues, they aren't necessarily resolving them. These people are what I call, "stuck in their heads." They fill the offices of health care practitioners every day across our country. It may be good for business, but it is not a sign that Americans are solving their psychological issues.
What we learn as children becomes ingrained in our personality
When we suffer from physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse and don't have the tools to deal with it effectively, we are easily victimized. Unfortunately, these problems do not just go away, and we cannot get completely well until they are fully resolved. This can lead to serious problems that have the potential to re-surface at what seem like unpredictable times, occasionally even decades after they have occurred, and they come at a very high emotional price.
Sadly, the dysfunctional behavioral patterns we create in our childhood can become ingrained in our personalities even though the possibility of abuse is no longer realistic. As adults we'd never tolerate the abuses that occur in childhood because we have the tools we need to defend ourselves. However, the fears associated with childhood abuse persist until they are dispatched. They become what I call "paper tigers," because they are no longer real, but they have the potential to trigger such strong responses that they are difficult to resolve using logic alone. These paper tigers often have powerful long-lasting effects that can surface as panic attacks, phobias, anxiety and depression. The old tapes we learned in our childhood can become so deeply ingrained that we reflexively play them over and over again, whether they serve us or not, because of the fear generated by abusive experiences.
Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse is commonplace in the US. We witness this every day on talk shows such as Oprah and Dr. Phil. About 25 percent of our population suffers from the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that often develops as the result of these types of abuse. Many of these abused people are eventually erroneously diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, candida, heavy metal toxicity, Lyme disease, etc and have been to dozens of health care practitioners without improving. They tend to be depressed, anxious, suffer from panic attacks, can't sleep, and are faced with a variety of somatic (physical), neurological, and endocrine complaints. A few people clearly have these diseases, but it takes an extraordinary health care practitioner to make the differential diagnosis between those with PTSD and these chronic diseases. Delivering proper treatment is another challenge. I will submit another article in the near future that deals with how to diagnose and manage people suffering from these challenging chronic diseases.
Going "beyond psychotherapy"
The major underlying premise of "mind-body medicine" is that mind and body (this includes body, mind, emotion, and spirit, but is often commonly referred to as just mind-body medicine) are one and the same! They are inseparably connected. They are not pieces that can be put together or taken apart like a puzzle; they are merely perspectives of who we are. They cannot and never exist as separate parts. Everyone is hard wired to respond to every experience in life in all these domains every single time. Each perspective of who we are provides a unique window through which we can gain important information about how we function. Holistic practitioners practicing mind-body medicine go beyond psychotherapy to evaluate and treat their patients.
The mind-body dynamic
There is an enormous databank of scientific research documenting that body and mind are one. Ancient indigenous healing systems have known this for millennia. We now know that our mind profoundly affects our body and that our body has a powerful effect on how we think and feel. We also know that there is a constant back and forth dialogue going on between every cell in every organ system in our body. Because of this mind-body dynamic, therapies have emerged that allow us to go beyond the psychological and pharmaceutical approaches that have been the backbone of mainstream psychology for many decades.
This also explains how our emotions can make us sick. We know that our physical health is often reflected by problems such as ulcers, eating disorders, IBS, headaches, back and neck pain, heart attacks, asthma, etc. etc. What we think profoundly affects our biochemistry and physiology and that affects how we feel.
Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual responses reflect how we engage in every experience we have in life, and that each avenue leads to a more complete understanding of how we come to make collective decisions. Psychotherapy is important, but it is not the only approach that can do this. Neither is the use of psychopharmacology, which is unfortunately used as a first line of defense in mainstream medicine. While psychiatric medications are occasionally useful and necessary, they never, ever, ever deal with the underlying causes for psychological illness. They treat symptoms.
The way we express ourselves through movement, the way we breathe, and how we posture ourselves, reveal important information about how we think, feel, and act. Our bodies are the somatic expression of our deepest psychospiritual challenges. And, conversely, our mind and emotion have a profound effect on how our body presents itself.
One form of treatment that is effective when people get stuck in their heads involves working through the body to release "stored-in-the-body" experiences into conscious awareness. By releasing tense muscles through gentle massage combined with movement and breath work, long forgotten experiences often surge into conscious awareness. Contrary to our mind, which works overtime to protect our emotions, our muscles never lie. They simply release what is stored in them without judgment. Overwhelming experiences occurring at times in our life when we did not have the tools to deal with them leads to repressing them. Of course, they cannot be fully resolved until we have worked through them. The hope is that when they are out of sight that they are also out of mind. The truth is that until they are out of mind they remain unresolved.
The idea of somatic psychotherapy is to bring these out-of-sight experiences back into present-time consciousness at a time much later in life when we have developed the tools we need to solve problems that were only overwhelming when we did not have the savvy to deal with them. Getting "out of our heads" and into an experiential state can give us the opportunity to face emotional issues that we could not deal with when they originally occurred. Learning to be who we are, and not who we think we should be, underlies much of this aspect of bodywork.
What the future holds
Bodywork is not in itself psychotherapy. However, it is a powerful tool that has the potential to help us re-experience important events from our past that may be best explored under the supervision of a trained psychologist. The most ideal approach is for a bodyworker and psychologist to work together, and there is an ever-growing trend in modern healthcare to integrate both approaches into a single therapy. Psychologists are beginning to incorporate massage into the scope of their practices, and bodyworkers are training to bring psychology into their practices. The proper application of mind-body strategies early in the disease process and in conjunction with psychotherapy minimizes both human suffering and healthcare expenditures over the long term.