Through the Science of the Physiology of Emotions
In 2016, the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP) gave Dr. Eugene Gendlin its lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the field of body psychotherapy. Focusing therapy, developed by Dr. Gendlin at the University of Chicago in close collaboration with Dr. Carl Rogers, the developer of client-centered psychotherapy, has since significantly improved the practice of a large number of mental health professionals around over the world.
The basic premise of Focusing therapy is that improving a person’s awareness of the felt sense, defined as the totality of a person’s experience generated in interaction with all aspects of one’s environment, can improve cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and other psychotherapy outcomes by increasing the person’s access to the implicit knowledge embedded in the felt sense.
What is the Basic Premise of Focusing Therapy?
A person’s access to the felt sense can however be compromised by physiological defenses that often form in the body to shield the person from difficult life experiences that are hard to cope with. This can constrain a person’s awareness of life experience to limited areas of the body. Or the physiology can become dysregulated forming psychosomatic or psychophysiological symptoms. Such defenses and symptoms cannot often be undone, at least not fast enough for the client’s purpose, just through therapist’s empathy and implicit trust in clients’ ability to regulate their physiology and undo their defenses through their own process and awareness, hallmarks of the person-centered psychotherapy approach that are also characteristics of Focusing Therapy.
How does the ISP Professional Training complement Focusing Therapy?
Integral Somatic Psychology™ (ISP™) can help improve outcomes in Focusing Therapy or Focusing-based Psychotherapy by actively identifying and working with defenses against unbearable experiences and with dysregulation in the body to enlarge and deepen the felt sense. Specifically, ISP utilizes the science of a) the physiology of emotions and of b) the physiology of biological regulation to regulate the brain and body physiology to create a greater capacity in clients to cope psychologically and physiologically with intense emotions and other physiological and psychological experiences that can arise in the course of any therapy, without destroying the very experiences the client is working with through excessive regulation often done through tools such as micro tracking of body sensations, spontaneous movements, and energy discharge, a weakness in some recent body psychotherapy approaches popular in mainstream psychology. ISP can therefore be a valuable adjunct to all those all who practice Focusing or Focusing-based Psychotherapy.
ISP was a very helpful addition to my training in Somatic Experiencing. The emphasis on the bodily experience of emotions and how to work with them—recognize, experience deeply, and manage/regulate—was invaluable for my professional and personal growth.
Having been interested in affect theory for many years, I found Raja’s approach spot on in terms of redirecting attention to affect (rather than sensation) and connecting it to the whole body. This helped me understand why I was sometimes frustrated with SE™. On a personal level, I found the “hands-on” experience very valuable and meaningful, both as a patient and as a therapist.
ISP can also help in improving outcomes in Focusing Therapy and Focusing-based Psychotherapy in other ways. The pursuit of the felt sense, the totality of the organism’s response to the environment, can at times be compromised in the tracking of individual components of explicit experience such as sensations, feelings, thoughts, and behavioral impulses. Tracking of such individual components and trying to sense them altogether to arrive at the felt sense might not be as deep or as optimal as expanding and tolerating the generalized ‘affective’ experiences that underlie all components of explicit experience in the form of more general but meaningful tendencies that are closer to the felt sense. ISP offers this additional possibility of a better grasp of the felt sense by working with all levels of affect (primary, secondary, and especially the more common sensory-motor or tertiary affect) and embodying them in as much of the body as possible.
According to Dr. Gendlin, “Your physically felt body is in fact part of a gigantic system of here and other places, now and other times, you and other people–in fact, the whole universe. This sense of being bodily alive in a vast system is the body as it is felt from inside.” The comprehensive ISP model of the psyche, with individual physical (gross) and energy (subtle) bodies, dynamic collective physical (gross) and energy (subtle) bodies, and the absolute collective body of pure awareness, with simple strategies for connecting the collective bodies to the individual bodies in everyday experience, offers Focusing and Focusing-based Psychotherapy practitioners further possibilities for enlarging and embodying the felt sense of whole through the physical body of the person.
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