INTEGRATING BREATH WORK AND PSYCHOTHERAPY
Riley K. Smith, M.A., LMFT #7928
My teacher, Jack Lee Rosenberg, Ph.D., passed away last November. Jack was a pioneer in the development of somatic psychotherapy. During the 1970’s, he was searching for a more efficient therapy for addressing the deep psychic wounds that therapy clients were presenting. His search led him to formulate what he came to call Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP)*.
There are therapies that focus on the mind, therapies that focus on the body and therapies that focus on the spirit. Many of us, possibly even most of us, in LA CAMFT are integrating all three in our work. So, while this may not be new material and is grossly oversimplified for this article, I hope that you will find it validating and helpful in your understanding of your work and an appreciation of Dr. Rosenberg’s gift.
LISA SAT UP on the table, beaming, and exclaimed, “I’m only human …and that’s enough!”
Six months before, Lisa, in her mid twenties, had come to me unhappy with her life. She was functioning well enough – living with a roommate, financially supported by her controlling father and passive, childlike mother and working to build a career as a graphic designer. She complained of being averse to relationships with men and didn’t trust women. Talented, smart and attractive, Lisa felt inadequate, unlovable and ashamed.
THE SUSTAINING CONSTANCY SERIES
During the time that I had worked with Lisa, in conjunction with object relations insight work, body awareness and teaching her self-nurturing and self-support techniques, I had been teaching Lisa to build and hold a charged state in her body using a particular way of breathing that builds energy throughout the body. When the energy is contained instead of discharged it energizes, relaxes tension and creates a felt experience of total aliveness and presence.
(THE IMPORTANCE OF BREATHING. Breathing fully is essential to feeling and being alive. Regulating the breath is also the primal somatic strategy for coping with attachment deficits. When an infant experiences the upset of a need not being met, it reduces its breathing to reduce the intensity of the upset it feels. While it reduces the upset, reduced breathing also makes it impossible to be fully alive and present. We must breathe fully to experience our authentic Self. In IBP, breathing fully is the most important tool for attaining and sustaining mental and physical health.)
When Lisa was able to be present and charged after about thirty breaths I began to teach her the Sustaining Constancy Series, a series of stressing positions lying down while doing the charge breathing. The goal is, ultimately, to release all the muscle tension which limits the energy flow throughout the body. The energy flow that develops is accompanied by an experience of being profoundly alive and present.
Getting there, however, often requires addressing somatic blocks and energetic “speed limits” at the psychological level.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL/SOMATIC INTERFACE IN IBP
A part of her complex family-of-origin dynamic was that Lisa’s role in the family was that of a little girl. As a result, there was nowhere in her internalized family system for her to feel or experience herself as the grown woman that she is. Physically, she had to deny her woman-ness. This became apparent when breathing while lying on the table. When she began to feel alive in her body, she could feel her breasts and pelvic area. Her first few experiences of this led her to “split off.” She got dizzy and spacey and couldn’t continue the charging breath.
I was able to guide her through this “block.” First I asked her to make the connection to her family of origin. Once she understood her psychological need to be the child, Lisa was able to discover the parental messages that were missing in order for her to grow up. The next step was to coach her in self-nurturing using what, in IBP, we call Good Parent Messages – the basic nurturing that all children need to thrive.
Although there are twenty-two Good Parent Messages that we use in IBP, the ones most useful to Lisa in this case were:
The Mother (early childhood) Messages:
I see you and I hear you.
It is not what you do, but who you are that I love.
I love you and I give you permission to be different from me.
I’ll take care of you.
You can trust your inner voice.
The Father (later childhood) Messages:
I am proud of you.
I have confidence in you and I know you will succeed.
I give you permission to love and enjoy your erotic sexuality with a partner of your choice and not lose me.
I coached Lisa to build a charge in her body with the breathing. Then, from that place of wellbeing, say and write the Good Parent Messages to herself while tracking the sensations in her body – sensations of warmth and relaxation. Having embodied the self-support and self-nurture she could now complete the Sustaining Constancy Series without splitting off.
Lisa could celebrate the somatic experience of her woman self – her whole self. That was the point where Lisa sat up on the table and, with great joy, said, “I’m only human!”
There are many different processes and applications in Integrative Body Psychotherapy. This narrative describes one of the more fundamental processes and is greatly oversimplified.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Faculty member at the Integrative Body Psychotherapy Central Institute in Venice since 2004. Trained therapists for eight years as Clinical Director at an out-patient drug program. AAMFT certified supervisor till 2008. Co-author of How to Be Happy Partners, a cooperative problem-solving manual for couples. Member of LA-CAMFT, AAMFT and U.S. Assoc. of Body Psychotherapists.
*IBP is fully described in Body, Self and Soul, Sustaining Integration, Jack Lee Rosenberg, Ph.D, with Marjorie L. Rand, Ph.D. and Diane Asay, MA, Humanics Limited, 1985, and The Intimate Couple, Jack Lee Rosenberg, Ph.D and Beverly Kitaen-Morse,PsyD, Turner Publishing, Inc., 1996. IBP training information and listing of IBP practitioners is available at www.ibponline.org. A summary of IBP is available at www.Wikipedia.com.