Beyond Talk

Beyond Talk

Using Our Bodies to Get to the Heart of the Matter

By Mary Sykes Wylie

July/August 2004

A brilliant, thirty-something architect named Frank went to see Minnesota psychologist Patrick Dougherty because he'd never been able to sustain a successful, lasting relationship. Charming and voluble, he talked nonstop about his work, his social life, his multiple affairs, what he thought about art, architecture, music, politics, and the general state of the world. Several times during the first two sessions, Dougherty--who makes use of qigong breathing techniques in his clinical work--asked Frank to slow down and focus on his breath. In response, Frank would groan melodramatically, roll his eyes, take a couple of loud, stagey mock-breaths, and then skip right back to his (admittedly entertaining) monologue. Finally, a bit exasperated himself, Dougherty insisted, "Frank! Can't you just stop talking for a minute, relax, and breathe deeply?"

Frank stopped, shrugged, took one deep breath, and then screamed at Dougherty, "I don't want to fucking breathe! Don't you get it? I don't want to fucking breathe because I hate my life!"

To pause, breathe deeply, and pay attention to how it felt--nothing more dramatic than that--was enough to make Frank feel at the core of his being the extent of his anguish and loneliness. "Our clients come into therapy because they don't like the experience of themselves they're having, and they're fighting it," says Dougherty. Breathing deeply means being present to your experience and letting go of what you're…

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