Experiential Methods of Grief Therapy
Many of us have gotten out of touch with our physical selves. We have become so good at intellectualizing and live so totally in our thoughts that our emotional life suffers, becoming constricted and narrow. We find life losing its richness, we are unable to truly enjoy ourselves or maintain closeness with others.
The foundations for a fulfilling life must be our emotional depth; yet, we find that we cannot connect either with our awkward body or our deprived feelings. Often we feel alone, isolated and dissociated. We may be easily hurt and in pain, feel fragmented, and confused. We lack balance, we do not feel centered or grounded.
These techniques also have the ability to increase ego-strength and self-esteem. Every time we within and explore the depths of our psyche, then emerge and reintegrate, we gain a feeling of enhanced competency. We lose our fear of our own unconscious.
Most of us have spent a lifetime fleeing emotional pain and this adds to our belief that we are powerless and incompetent, with much to fear.
When we stop this flight we draw on our inner resources and are strengthened . . .
We have come to think that we shouldn’t experience the emotions that have been labeled as “negative”: fear, sadness, vulnerability, emptiness, guilt. Without the ability to tolerate these emotions, we lose the ability to full. Without the ability to tolerate these emotions, we lose the ability to fully experience pleasure. This is not our intent; but our refusal to accept pain shuts down both sides of the spectrum. Thus, when we regain our ability to tolerate physical or spiritual pain we increase our feelings of pleasure and open ourselves to regained memories and new experiences. This ability to tolerate and manage pain give us feelings of power, control and competency.
Another benefit is that learning takes place in a holistic way. The simultaneous education of body and mind ensures that we never forget what we learn. We have failed to recall the admonition to “educate the whole person”; experiential methods bring us back to this basic form of “re-education”. The learning that comes from experiences belongs to the learner, not to the teacher; thus we own our experiences.
Working against resistance and unconscious defense mechanisms slows traditional counseling and traumatic experiences take years to reveal. However, in relaxed states, resistance is diminished dramatically, and the time necessary to recover lost memories, feelings and images shortened. Additionally, many people find themselves very preoccupied with the therapeutic process, their relationship to the therapist and the intensity of feelings connected to the process. It is almost as if the rest of life is put on hold. Experiential work minimizes these difficulties and is, in fact, often energizing.
Experiential techniques help us learn quickly about the functioning of our mind/body/spirit. We learn to regulate our moods by regulating our breathing and to soothe ourselves by placing our hands over certain parts of our bodies. Through self-relaxation we can recapture repressed memories feelings and thoughts. We come to understand most of our psychological mechanisms. Because they become more obvious as we experience rather than analyze them, we obtain priceless insights about ourselves.
The following is a description of the various components of the techniques developed by the Center, the Blended Experiential Method.
The Blended Experiential Method
Relaxed Brainwave States
Though there is a great deal more to discovery about brain functioning, brain waves have been charted. These charts clearly indicate that in a relaxed sate, deeper access to the unconscious mind is achieved.
Most culture have developed rituals for utilizing the unconscious. The Zen and Buddhist meditations are perhaps the best known; there is also early Christian chanting, Sufi twirling, Indonesian trance dance, yoga and numerous other forms for developing relaxed states of consciousness.
In the West, hypnosis is used, and self-hypnosis is increasing in popularity. Guided and self-directed imageries are also ways of moving into relaxed states. Many ways have already been discovered for entering and using relaxed states of consciousness.
Clearing and composing the mind allows for a deep feeling of relaxation, even more powerful than sleep. The “relaxation response” involves actual physiological changes in the body. Blood pressure is lowered, circulation increased to the periphery of the body and in the extremities accompanied by a corresponding temperature rise. Muscles that have been chronically tense are able to relax.
When awakening from meditation, imagery, trance dance or hypnotic trance, a deep sense of pleasure is often reported. In fact, we can learn to enter this state quickly at home or work in order to feel totally refreshed. Once we have learned to use these states for relaxation, they can also be used for education, therapy and increasing our creativity.
The unconscious mind can take in great amounts of information with little effort and process complicated data. Dysfunctional learning patterns are diminished and perception is unburdened, and individuals are receptive to feedback when seemingly asleep. Significant material about the workings of the psyche can be discussed: how we protect ourselves from emotional pain, abandonment, and hurt and how we push people away when we need them the most. This essential information can be delivered so that learning occurs with little or no interference.
Working in relaxed states allows the unconscious mind to take control and move quickly to unresolved conflicts.
Age regression is almost automatic and requires little effort. This regression, in the service of the ego, provides a reliving and re-experiencing of old feeling states, memories, thoughts and experiences. The remembering that goes on in a traditional therapy session can be extremely intense and vivid, but it doesn’t compare to the reliving that happens in altered states. Dream images can re reworked so that the unconscious processes new information and heals itself. In this therapeutic environment change can occur more rapidly.
Through the use of guided imagery we can access the deeper knowledge that is within us. We can ask a part of ourselves, manifested in an “advisor” or “ally” to help us understand our patterns, or to solve problems, or to build our creativity.
For example, we can converse with an imaginary being who speaks for our unconscious. We can ask for help understanding why we feel the way we do, or can request that our unconscious deliver a dream that will make our situation clear. We can also let our mind wander in reverie so that unconscious art forms take control of our images. We can do this in more or less disciplined ways so that we get different results. We can write poetry, draw, paint or sing in a relaxed state. These experiences, while not always aesthetically perfect, are always fun and often eye-opening.
All experiences are stored in the memory of the body. Many of these hurts, traumas and embarrassments are structured into our physical selves.
By applying pressure or massaging muscle groups, powerful emotions can be evoked. Accessing these emotions via the body often saves time and brings the feelings and memories into focus. Bodywork systems that are used are: Shiatsu, Acupressure and Aikido. The ideas of connection certain metaphorical images to meridians often yields accurate information about the body/mind state.
Structural integration is also a powerful tool for evoking emotionally charged material. Reich and Lowen form the backbone of many of our techniques. The idea of character as structured into the body, because mind and body are actually one, is a more accurate view. If we believe this, then we can approach from either side and effect the other.
Thus, if we help make the body more flexible, we also make the mind more flexible. The body often leads us in our course of therapy. In a relaxed state, the body itself will often move in a way that lets its occupant know what is needed.
For example, a person who has been abused will find herself repeating the movements without being aware that she is responding. As she becomes aware of the movements that her body makes, she then comes in contact with the associated feelings. A person in need of nurturing will sometimes find his arms wrapping around himself in imitation of a hug.
Although really a part of bodywork, breathing is a method in its own right.
By breathing into the lower abdomen or the upper chest, we can start in motion powerful rhythms leading to deep, basic emotional issues.
For example, Lowen describes depression as “not breathing into the chest” or shallow chest breathing. When we increase the depth of breath entering and leaving the chest, almost immediately repressed feelings of sadness and loss emerge, enabling us to deal with them effectively. It is common for chest breathing to evoke intense feelings within a few minutes.
While at first, people are unaware of the reason for these deep feelings, exploration brings the thoughts to the surface. The way in which breathing is constricted or blocked tells us a great deal about the underlying emotional difficulties.
Freeing the breathing unlocks the motion which in turn unlocks a wealth of stored energy. Patterned breathing also sends us back into our past and evokes images which have been forgotten.
Thus the imagery emerging during and after breathing exercises can be rich in unconscious symbolism and meaning.