One of the goals at MyShrink is to raise awareness about the importance of the "body" in counseling and psychotherapy.
Holistic Therapy Matters to Your Health
What we will cover in this article:
- The quality of our emotional health is reflected in the physical state of the body.
- Holistic psychotherapy is a powerful ally in healing the body.
- Psychotherapy and bodywork co-operate synergistically, each supporting and augmenting the healing effects of the other.
In the world of brain research it has not been clinically helpful to distinguish mind from body for a long time. It's perhaps the most important implication of recent neuroscience research - you cannot understand or treat either one in isolation. This intimate relationship between the biological and the mental/emotional aspects of our being has been coined "the mind-body connection".
When you have a thought, feel an emotion or take action on an impulse, your body responds. The emotional, neurological, glandular and immune systems are all wired together, speaking the same chemical language. Whatever happens in one system affects all others.
For the most part we are unaware of the influence that the mind has over the body, since its impact is overwhelmingly non-conscious.
When we have a stimulating thought or feeling ("Oh my gosh, I forgot to turn off the stove!") neurochemicals are released into the bloodstream, changing the neurochemistry of the body.
It may be said without hesitation," Hans Selye wrote, "that the most powerful stressors we can experience are emotional."
When habits in thinking and feeling are rigid and unchanging, the same hormonal responses are induced repeatedly in the body. These are ultimately driven into inflexible, uncomfortable states of "dis-ease".
When you feel stressed, anxious or upset, the body tells you something isn't right. You don't have to be a doctor to know that high blood pressure or stomach ulcers frequently develop following a particularly stressful event, such as the loss of a loved one.
In fact, when your emotional health is poor you may experience all sorts of physical complaints, such as back or chest pain, extreme fatigue, insomnia, palpitations, sweating, weight gain or loss.
The reason being…
Emotions, which are rooted in deep neural wiring, can adversely alter the internal neurochemical environment through their actions on the body's hormonal systems.
Take the stress response, for instance. When we are convinced that we face either a physical or emotional threat (the nervous system makes no distinction), a series of hormonal events are triggered by the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis.
The HPA axis is the core of the body's stress response. It is the mechanism by which emotions swiftly interact with hormones, the immune system, and the nervous system to put the body on "red alert", ready for fight or flight.
Uncertainty, conflict or a seemingly lack of control are all-powerful triggers of the HPA axis. Not surprisingly, they are almost always features of the lives of those suffering from chronic illness.
They were literally "scared to death"!
What we now know...
- "Shutting down" emotionally as a lifelong coping strategy virtually guarantees poor physical health.
- Chronic stress cripples the immune response. In particular, sustained activation of the stress pathways (via the HPA axis) tends to weaken the body's ability to fight infections.
- There is a strong and well-researched correlation between the habitual repression of anger and cardiac disease.1
- Social support is a strong buffer against stress. Lack of connection ranks equally with smoking as a risk factor for cardiac disease.
- Emotional stability fluctuates with the supply of the brain chemical (i.e. neurotransmitter) serotonin. Studies show that levels of serotonin rise and fall in relation to one's social status. And not surprisingly, one's social status depends to a great degree on one's ability to make connections with others.
Let me repeat: longstanding emotional problems, if left untreated, will eventually be reflected in physical symptoms.
Because when emotions are chronically and habitually repressed (i.e. banned from conscious awareness) the body's natural defenses get confused and disrupted. Emotions become a threat to one's health rather than its' protection.
Awareness is the key to change!
Not only does the mind influence the body, but awareness of the body, of how and where it holds physical stress and emotional injury, helps heal the mind!
Your mind may repress painful emotions and memories, but the body remembers it all, and it always tells the truth!2
Feelings from past experiences are "stored" in the body and unconsciously have a powerful effect on how you behave and how you feel about yourself. If you bring these unconscious feelings and memories into awareness, you have the chance to modify the old patterns that keep you from living life to the fullest.
The body is the gateway to awareness.
Demand for yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, etc. has soared in recent years as people search for relief from the tension and stress of daily life. It's now common knowledge that calming the body calms the mind.
Bodywork techniques such as massage, acupuncture, breathing practices, cranial-sacral and visceral manipulation are designed to improve physical health and functioning.
These bodywork techniques help harmonize and rebalance the nervous and hormonal systems. As physical health and functioning improve so do psychological conditions.
Moreover, when these techniques are used in conjunction with psychotherapy our awareness of how the body holds physical stress and emotional injury is significantly enhanced.
Furthermore, this increased awareness informs and directs the therapy process and enables us to work through limiting psychophysiological patterns that can't be resolved at the level of the conscious mind.
Bringing consciousness to your body brings consciousness to your emotions.
So what can the combination of psychotherapy and bodywork do for you?
Together they create changes from the inside out:
- The way you psychophysiologically respond to stress.
- The way you psychophysiologically respond to anger.
- The way you habitually relate to others.
- The speed at which you recover from illness or injury.
In the same way that regular exercise and healthy eating are necessary for maintaining optimum physical health, psychotherapy and bodywork are powerful allies both for healing and for maintaining the health of the whole person.
We have learned that physical and emotional well-being is based on a number of balanced and integrated states: left hemisphere with right hemisphere, mind with body…heart with spirit. You can now appreciate that genuine, lasting health is an ongoing process to be nurtured.
Oftentimes it is in the search for relief from illness or emotional pain that people awaken to their true spiritual path. (See the short clip: TheCancerCrusade)
Expansive, peaceful thoughts and feelings induce a cascade of "happy molecules" in the body. By developing and stabilizing this natural process, holistic psychotherapy can significantly expand your ability to adapt and thrive, to get the most out of your life.
Ironically it is the doctor of the soul, the "psycho-therapist", who enables you to see that there really is no separation between mind and body.
And that makes all the difference!
If you feel ready to begin creating a new you...
Check out the LivePerson counselors. Available 24/7.
2. Keep in mind that old memories stored in the body can be triggered making it difficult to accurately assess the current environment you're in. For example, one hears this all the time: "I was out with my friends, everyone was having a good time, but I was so agitated. I couldn't understand why".
For a review of the reasearch on mind-body medicine visit: