The Mindful Body: Communicating With the Body in Therapy

How a Transition to Mindful Body-Focused Therapy Enriched a Formerly Talk-Only Practice

The Mindful Body: Communicating With the Body in Therapy

It’s an article of faith among many somatically-oriented practitioners that the body knows more, knows it more directly, and expresses it more honestly than does the often muddled, deceitful, and fearful mind. These practitioners also use somatic techniques to become more aware of transference and countertransference reactions in therapy.

Gay Hendricks, author of more than 20 books on conscious relationships and personal growth, is one of them. Hendricks remembers that the first time he used a mindful body “presencing” technique—a way to help people become fully present in the moment by becoming conscious of their somatic experience—he was a frustrated therapist acting on a hunch.

He noticed that the man in a couple he was working with, while angrily complaining about his wife’s failings, kept unconsciously touching his chest near his heart.

Hendricks told the man what he was seeing: “I hear how angry you are about this, but you keep touching your chest, and usually that’s where I feel my sadness. Can you tell me what’s going on in your chest?” The man stopped mid-harangue, his face fell, and he began tearing up.

After that session changed Hendricks’s view of the body in therapy, he began working with his wife, Kathlyn Hendricks, and together they developed an eclectic method of working that includes breath work, movement, meditation, mindful body awareness, and coaching for couples on how to communicate and listen.

Like many of what might be called the second, or even third, generation of somatically-oriented therapists, Hendricks is less interested in dramatic catharsis that clears out the emotional sinuses than in a softer, gentler, but presumably more lasting, habit of mindful body awareness. In this mindful body awareness, the body and mind are deeply attuned to what’s going on. So Hendricks works at encouraging the body to “speak even louder” than it already is, amping up the volume of what it’s trying to say so its brain-deafened proprietor can hear it.

Mary Sykes Wylie

Mary Sykes Wylie, PhD, is a former senior editor of the Psychotherapy Networker.