How did the mind and the body become so separate in Western medicine when it is obvious that they are connected in every way? It seems so counterintuitive to divide the mind and body into two regions, as it were; emotional issues separate from physical and vice versa. How could it be possible that the trauma, neglect, and difficult experiences that we experience throughout our lives – which Western medicine would argue were mental and emotional issues – won’t affect us physically? How is it possible that a physical dysfunction like illness wouldn’t affect us mentally?
Every difficult experience – childhood trauma and neglect, addiction, illness, traumatic or life-altering events, and grief – affects us emotionally and physically, even causing serious illnesses like autoimmune disease, heart disease, and diabetes. (I’ll be writing more in future posts on related subjects like developmental trauma, neglect, fight/flight/freeze response, and adrenal/cortisol exhaustion!) I believe the neglect and trauma I suffered in my own childhood caused me deep spiritual, physical, and emotional wounds that ended up having serious effects.
My parents taught me that the needs, reactions, and responses of my body and mind should be ignored, repressed and regarded as shameful. Their mental illnesses also impacted me negatively. All of these things caused me to have emotional issues – codependency being the biggest, but also fear of abandonment, inability to have any “negative” feelings, etc. However, I believe my history also led to physical issues – my RA – which twisted and debilitated my body. There was no beginning or end to the problem – the RA was affecting me physically, emotionally, and mentally, but emotional and mental issues caused the RA.
I read blogs and posts now by those suffering from chronic and autoimmune illnesses and almost all of them have some details about their chronic childhoods or the stressful events or relationships that happened in their lives before their illnesses (which probably contributed to their illnesses.) It is devastating and just reinforces my belief that separating and treating the mind and the body instead of treating them together is counterintuitive and can be harmful. Desperate for a way to heal my mind and body, I brought my intertwined problems to Jill Ableson: the emotional issues that were blocking me from achieving the life I wanted and the RA that was twisting and hardening my body.
Jill created SPRe® (Somatic Psychological Recovery), a body/mind therapeutic technique based on her training as a Certified Rolfer, her years of experience with cognitive therapies, and the work of Dr. Candace Pert, a pioneer in the field of neuroscience: neuropeptides, neurotransmitters, and cell receptors. Pert’s book, The Molecules of Emotion, changed how the scientific world thinks about how the body and mind are connected and how emotions can affect us in physical ways. Pert reasoned that the body and mind were chemically linked and that emotions, events, and past experiences directly influence our health. http://candacepert.com/
“The body is the subconscious mind; information just below the surface, including the skin, is an autobiography of the individual and where life experiences went well and where or how they did not. Our symptoms, discomfort, or physical issues may have always been a mystery to us, yet the body holds the history and the potential to enlighten us when combined with cognitive cooperation and power of accurate language.” Candace Pert, Ph.D
SPRe® works by helping an individual understand and process symptoms and stuck feelings through exploration of past events and what decisions were made around them, while creating a stronger physical structure that is able to integrate what the client learns about themselves – leading to better emotional and physical health and a stronger Self. If one is looking in the right way, the body can be read like a geological record; a soft tissue timeline containing physical records of events, experiences, traumas, decisions, things we lacked, the people in our lives, and injuries.
The body’s tissues organize themselves around these things so that the individual can go on with their lives, but it is inevitable that physical patterns and symptoms will occur connected to these places. This is called somatization: the body reflecting the psychology and life of the individual. We can fool ourselves by compromising, settling, and denying but our bodies, our deeper unconscious selves, are hard to fool. It is our symptoms that nag us, call us, and stubbornly require us to pay attention to what needs attention. Recurrent bladder infections because we are so “pissed off” at romantic partners; chronic back pain that keeps us from continuing to “shoulder everyone’s burdens”; swelling or bloating tissues in an effort to “keep the world at bay.”
Jill and I explore my somatic symptoms and why my body does what it does but we also work with traditional psychology; issues, patterns, projections and transferences, and Jungian and family psychology theories. Like a gardener that removes a vine that is choking a plant, Jill helped me unwind the damage that my upbringing did to my physical and emotional structures and allowed me to live and breathe freely. She held my structure as it was, while helping it do something new. She showed me that my body and mind are one entity and helped me dissipate the shame with which I viewed my physical and emotional needs; keeping my body strong, mobile, and capable of supporting the full, rewarding and heartfelt life that I was able to create, despite my illness and emotional issues.
Therapy can be painful, and boring, and tiring, but it can also be transformative, empowering, and life-changing. I’ve seen enough benefits to the therapeutic process to believe that everyone should be involved in it. If you think you are feeling the effects of trauma and neglect: finding a therapist who can hold the physical and the emotional is a really good choice. Therapy can lead to abundance, better relationships, better health, and an all-around better life – or, if nothing else, relief from pain – and who doesn’t need that? Whatever type of therapy you choose, it’s about exploring everything; the reward of investigating your life is that by making sense of your life story you can change it.
This work is in its genesis in Seattle, however, those who are interested can look at the website, http://www. Sprebodywork.com, as well as investigate Hakomi, Stanley Keleman at http://www.centerpress.com, Hellerwork, and Soma.