Bodytherapy is Psychotherapy, and Psychotherapy is Bodytherapy.
There, I said it.
This reality is a huge taboo, and its taboo status has been gnawing at me.
My career and its current iteration are, of course, tied to my personal story. Confusion and fear were part of my foundation in life. I started seeking answers early. For example, I was obsessed with Maslow's hierarchy of needs when I was seven and when I was nine I declared that my family's ancestral trauma would end with me (still working on that one). I went through life on shaky ground. I could not do things the “normal” way. I always had many friends and achievements but felt like an outsider.
I had my first real encounters with therapy as a teenager. I had a few psychotherapists in college. All the while, my condition declined. Finally, I met a psychologist and an osteopath, the first two professionals who treated me like a person. This is the foundation of good psychotherapy. Treating the client like they're a person.
“If your other therapists weren't treating you like a person,” you might ask, “what were they treating you like?” At times, I felt that I was a paycheck, a diagnosis, a problem, a juvenile delinquent, an ego inflator, and a stupid teenager. I also kept waiting for someone to ask me, “And how does that feel in your body?” because I was feeling A LOT in my body. I was surprised they weren’t asking.
My work with those two evolved into mentorship, shaping my modus operandi. One helped me understand transference/countertransference and parts work. The other introduced me to Osteopathic Manipulation and Katsugen Undo. Both taught me mindfulness and spirituality. I left the traditional career path and started a massage and yoga practice.
Thanks to their help, I moved on from using medication and started working with a Functional Medicine doctor. Soon after, I was able to stop FM protocols, too. By then, I had completed yoga teacher training, learned Myofascial Release ala John F Barnes, learned energy work, and had done a TON of group therapy. I stopped using anything other than food, connection, and movement for my medicine.
I felt free for the first time in my life. I seldom felt fatigued because every moment, I did things that made sense to me and regulated my nervous system.
My clientele evolved. People who had gone through trauma and were living its psychological and physical consequences came for bodywork. Sometimes, clients would shift into sub-personalities, discharge their nervous systems, or spontaneously recall memories.
When someone becomes a scared two-year-old on your table, you help them. You DO NOT tell them that this is not psychotherapy and that they need to “cut that out.” I did my best, but I knew I needed more training ASAP.
I attended the Interpersonal Neurobiology Conference and learned about Sensorimotor Psychotherapy.
One morning soon after, I woke up and wept. I knew what I had to do.
I shut down my thriving practice in Austin and came to Boulder to learn somatics. I restarted my practice, got my degree, and got certified in Sensorimotor while in graduate school.
I had the serendipitous opportunity to work with a Functional Neurological Disorders expert. My work with her brought all of my education together.
Learning to treat FND was the final domino to fall, but I didn't know it then. I was too afraid to say it because I kept encountering this implied taboo. Here’s how it shows up:
I respect the needs of large mental health institutions and workplaces that train new clinicians. Graduate programs do have rigorous evaluation practices in some sense, but screening out clinicians who misuse touch (or power, for that matter) is a task that institutions can’t or are unwilling to do. I would have to do more research to really understand why touch is particularly taboo in graduate programs. Do we think new clinicians couldn’t discern that some clients would benefit and others would not? Do educators not want to take the time to learn about touch themselves?
That touch is taboo in residential programs makes sense. I used to work at inpatient treatment centers for people living with psychosis. It was clear that the residents needed nurturing touch, but for that to occur between patients increased the risk of that touch turning into sexual contact and inappropriate boundary testing, something I saw many times. On the one hand, I think we ought to do our best to allow for platonic touch despite the risks, but I also understand why overworked, understaffed clinicians feel like they just don't want to deal with it. At a particularly high-end version of one of these facilities for people with psychotic disorders, clients were able to leave the campus to get massage therapy and PT, among other wonderful complimentary treatments. Psychosis with money looks vastly different from psychosis without, and touch is one of the things on which these clients spend their money.
There are indeed whole sectors of the mental health field where integrating touch would be far more than a touchy subject. However, there are plenty of places where it is easy and makes sense, like private and group practices and some types of community mental health clinics with relatively high-functioning, resourced clients.
I believe this bidirectional taboo persists out of habit, and it is time to redraw the boundaries. We may need a separate field or license for people who work with trauma from a nervous system perspective, or licensing boards could clearly state that specific integrations are appropriate for the license. Clinicians who work in an integrated way are not generally working outside of their license but are fearful due to a lack of clarity. For now, I will call the “field” Somatic Trauma and Attachment Therapists (STAT).
STATs support individuals' personal growth and evolution while acknowledging privilege/oppression dynamics and advocating for change in oppressive social systems.
STATs receive education, training, and supervision from other STATs.
This is a preliminary outline of the boundary of the practice of STATs as I know it and based on many hours of conversations I have had with fellow STATs. I am drawn to continue exploring what this field is as it stands right now and to document its evolution because it is certainly something that stands on its own with its own inertia moving in a direction.