In psychotherapy we talk, we discuss thoughts, feelings, behaviours – usually those that make clients’ life difficult with their repetition or stagnation.
All feelings are okay, including the unpleasant ones, and it is in their nature to flow and change. But for the moment, imagine them as some very persistent guests who have come to visit. If we refuse to show them in, they will wait outside. Think of this as the process of denial, conscious or unconscious. If we let them inside and allow them to do whatever they please, they might start endless conversations with others and forget to leave. This is how symptoms arise (anxiety, depression etc.). What I have found to work best is to let the guests in, sit down with them and be present, totally, to the story they bring, and, once they have finished, to open the back door so they can leave by themselves. It is necessary to consciously repeat this ‘come-in, sit-with, let-go’ process many times, in order for this way of processing strong emotions to become automatic. And most of us need someone’s guide before we can do it by ourselves. This is similar to learning any new skill.
My aim as a psychotherapist is to help the person I am relating to to feel safe and be able, gradually and with guidance, to come in contact as deep as it is possible with their own truths and stories.
I encourage and support sustaining the client's emotional and physical contact with their state (i.e. “where do you feel sad/scared/in pain/guilty/ashamed in your body right now?”, “is it possible for us to sit with it, together?”, “how does sitting with it feel?”, “what is happening next, what do you observe?”), as by holding it together any feeling can begin to be tolerated, "little step by little step", to quote Dr. Diana Fosha, one of my favourite teachers. By “being with” our feelings, they naturally clarify. As they clarify, they change. As they change, we see options. We no longer feel stuck!
Massage is another form of therapy I love, which unfortunately I had to give up on prematurely, due to a (minor) back accident. However, what I learned during my massage training proves extremely useful now in my work as a psychotherapist, especially around the body's response to prolonged exposure to stress or trauma. For example, unprocessed emotions along with a lack of regular physical activity can lead to chronic muscular pain, can interfere with the healthy functioning of the endocrine glands, digestion predictably suffers affecting the immune system, which can lead to more health issues - that in turn require more medical treatment.
When I used to give massages, my purpose went beyond physical relaxation. I wanted to offer my clients a space where they could also free themselves from the chattering mind. In order to facilitate this, I myself became very present and did not allow, to the extent of my abilities for anything internal or external to interrupt my focus on my client. In Sri Ramana Maharsi’s words, “your hands may do the work but your mind can remain still”.