By Nancy Eichhorn, PhD
In this third blog from the day long celebration of The Handbook of Body Psychotherapy and Somatic Psychology, Ilse Schmidt-Zimmerman talks about the:
Current State of Body Psychotherapy Research and Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapeutic Practices
Ilse offered a case study to show how our clients’ narrative stories unfold through symbolic, coherent, meaningful movements. The first narrative is motoric, then the verbal recollection follows.
She discussed coupling movement and emotions, and integrating themes of past wounding that are mirrored in body holding/armoring. Inspired by Stanley Keleman’s work, Ilse explained that her work supports clients to see the Gestalt of their helplessness and powerlessness. Part of her work includes dealing with the repetition of patterns and repeating the core relational sequence through motor movement, a reconstruction of what happened in the moment and what needs to happen to release the holding. The body organically finds each step in the direction of effective motor expression, so that emerging self parts, not yet realized, are revealed, she said.
The therapist’s role is not to induce something, she said, but rather to play a supportive role, as early experiences are physically anchored. During what she called an “incubation period”, clients’ have time to develop new functions (physical, somatic and soul), all of which are on a continuum with the startle reflex. As human beings, we meet situations and react with innate patterns, whether we focus on arrest, pause, stiffen, or contract, or hold our breath. The work is to explore how we react, either by waiting or attacking. If the sensation doesn’t pass, the startle response deepens. If threat persists, we will tense up and pull up or give in and collapse. Collapse as a continuum is not same as shock, she said.
Her talk revolved around one client, citing different movements and resultant positions. The client then noticed what was happening in her body in the present tense as well as what arose from the past, how holding and movement triggered sensations and thoughts. Ilse situated her work in multiple theories including: Affect Motor Theory; Multiple Code Theory; and the Theory of Motor Fields.
Sharing one client’s experience holding a form she had moved into, Ilse said that from an external sense the client noted her body position reflected a sense of “I just want to get out of here” then the inner form which showed a sense of “now I could stay here for a long time.” Thus the incubation phase for integration and new developments.
Citing Affect Motor Theory, Ilse said there are two archetypal movement phases: the primary phase, aka the parental envelope, which develops according to the function of parent and baby; and the secondary phase aka the expansive development of power, moving out of the parent envelope.
Noting Wilma Bucci’s (1997) work with the Multiple Code Theory, Ilse works with three codes:
1. Verbal symbolic code –language
2. Non verbal code—images
3. Sub symbolic code—motor, visceral, sensory mode.
Self-reflection allows her clients to repeat movement sequences and escape from automatic reflex responses. Her client, mentioned earlier, recognized her sense of being in an envelope, that it was not a feeling of collapse. Curious to understand more, they started to look at mirco-actions. Starting with Alan Fogel’s (2004) Remembering Infancy, where we access our earliest experiences, and adding Tronick’s work with dyadic states of consciousness and Daniel Sterns work, Ilse said that memory is behavioral and emotional, not verbal or conceptual. Occurring in the moment, memory is as real as here and now. Our body moves in relation to the context, it is actively involved in the substantiation of the remembered experience. The body, she said, spontaneously moved will retrace what it wanted to swipe away, to defend. Following this sequence, her client had a new experience of herself, a vital experience of self-evidence.