Choosing A Body Psychotherapist
The body psychotherapy approach and the particular body psychotherapist you choose depend on your own assessment of what you feel you want or need. There is no one right way to have body psychotherapy any more than there is a one right method of psychotherapy.
Where is the best place to begin? First of all, there are no prerequisites for getting body psychotherapy. If you have not had any experience with having someone touch your body in a therapeutic way, or have concerns about working with your body, that is okay. You can discuss any such issues with your body psychotherapist.
Concerning which body psychotherapy modality or method to select, you could choose any that are used in practice. Select what seems right to you. No one knows what you need for healing better than your own inner healer. Trust yourself in choosing an approach and a therapist that feel right for you.
Certainly it is prudent and necessary to know something about the body psychotherapist you select by asking questions as to training, credentials, and style of work, along with what the therapy entails. Credentials are important, but the most important factors determining the outcome of the therapy are likely to be the person you choose, your confidence in that person, the quality of the relationship formed between you and your therapist, and your own commitment and efforts to change.
When it comes to training, optimally a body psychotherapist should have a college degree, a graduate degree, and training in body psychotherapy. In addition, a body psychotherapist should have undergone his or her personal psychotherapy, which should have included body psychotherapy. This is important because body psychotherapy is powerful and your therapist will want to be very conscious about when and how his or her own issues may interfere with the work. In addition, experiencing body psychotherapy is an important part of the training process because body psychotherapy is a subject that cannot be grasped solely intellectually.
There are body psychotherapists whose training began in dance, massage, nursing or medicine, as well as degrees in psychology or social work. The academic degrees are important, particularly when it comes to learning the fundamentals of psychotherapy, but the training in and experiencing of a specific body psychotherapy modality or method is one of the most important criterion according to many body psychotherapists.
The identity and reality of the therapist matter greatly. Studies of psychotherapy effectiveness have found that whatever the diagnosis, severity of the problem, level of therapist experience, and therapist’s theoretical orientation, the individual therapist is a significant factor in the effectiveness of the therapeutic experience. So whom you choose as a therapist makes a difference in how you experience the therapy and what the outcome is likely to be.
When looking for a body psychotherapist, keep in mind “the five R’s” – respect, rapport, responsiveness, readiness, and reputation. You can get clues as to how a prospective therapist fits the five R’s from a brief phone interview and your initial meeting.
The first of the five R’s is respect, meaning the attitude toward life that the therapist seems to hold. That attitude will be manifested in the stance taken toward you or anyone else. A therapist who has a basic respect for people will listen to the basics of what you want or need. You should go away with a clear sense that you have been heard and understood and that the therapist values you as a person, cares about what you are saying, and wants to help you recover and reconnect with your body.
For the therapist-client relationship to work successfully, rapport is essential. The intimacy and trust that build in the relationship between you and the therapist provide the structure that allows for personal change to take place. If the relationship is awkward, if the steps of emotional or physical self-disclosure are met with missteps in response, the learning will be limited. Therefore, because the relationship between the therapist and client is the most important factor in growth, learning and healing, you must feel comfortable with and trusting of the person with whom you work.
Rapport is not a matter of right or wrong. Rather it is a matter of how two people “hit it off.” If the therapist doesn’t feel right to you and there is no rapport, look further. However, the “right” therapist may not agree with you at times and may challenge your ideas or views of yourself. Sometimes you may even feel uncomfortable with the “right” therapist because he or she is managing to trigger something within you that needs to come to the forefront. Such situations can be okay, even necessary. But at some level there must be mutual acceptance and affirmation.
Making the decision about whether you are assessing accurately the rightness of the relationship demands a certain honesty. For example, people who have trouble relating in general will have trouble connecting with any therapist, no matter who it is. If so, accepting the problem as one’s own, rather than attributing it to the therapist, is the better path to take – even if it may be the more difficult one.
A rapport problem may be yours or the therapist’s or the chemistry between you. If you can’t work it out pretty quickly and get some sense of rapport, move on. The body psychotherapist you need is out there. Keep looking.
Responsiveness is meant here to be responsive to life, to have an acceptable level of health in body, mind, and spirit. This is not to suggest that to seem competent, a therapist must wear a size 8 dress, could lead an aerobics class, or only drinks freshly squeezed carrot juice and spring water. Health, in this sense, has little to do with shape, size, or resembling cultural ideals. Similarly, spiritual responsiveness does not necessarily mean that the therapist attends religious services regularly, or mental health does not mean having a sunny personality.
The evidence is clear that emotional and physical suffering is often rooted in damage to the human capacity to feel joy and love, to be caring. Therapists who have come to terms with their own physical, mental, and spiritual issues and see the link among the body, mind, and spirit will be better able to help you see the connection.
The therapist you choose depends on what you want to learn. The basic requirement for a therapist is someone who has mastered the fundamentals of what you want or need to learn. By your own individual standards, you need to be able to believe that the therapist you choose meets your criteria of health and responsiveness in the areas of mind, body, and spirit.
Does the therapist seem ready for you? Does he or she seem prepared? Does the therapist meet you at approximately the appointed time, and does the appointment end on schedule? Maintaining time boundaries indicates that the therapist has sufficient control of his or her work to be ready for you. How a therapist prepares for you and his or her ability to be present can show how he or she will be with you in therapy.
“By their deeds ye shall know them.” This old saying gives useful guidance in choosing a therapist. So how is one to learn about a therapist’s deeds? In many cases, word of mouth can be a good source. New therapists have had less time to establish a successful track record, but they still can give you useful background information on where they did their professional training and with whom. Most therapists who have been in private practice for a while, on the other hand, have had enough satisfied clients to offer them some guarantee of continued income or they probably would not have take the risk of going on their own in the first place.
At the same time, reputation isn’t everything. The clients of any particular therapist, no matter how satisfied, might have needed something different from what you need. The fact that someone has a reputation of being a terrific therapist does not mean he or she offers what you need. Also, while word of mouth is an excellent source, recommendations, good or bad, have to be weighed. Even the most skillful veteran therapist will have had some therapeutic failures and made some mistakes that resulted in dissatisfied clients. But if the work is basically good and done with integrity and honor, word gets around usually.
Using the five R’s should help you find an available body psychotherapist in whom you can have at least some initial confidence, and begin. After all, when you know it’s time to take action in your life, to seize the moment makes sense. Any one of the five R’s are important, but when used together they can form a well-rounded picture for making your choice.
[*Adapted with permission from Alive and Well: A Workbook for Recovering your Body (1996), by Rita Justice, Ph.D. Houston: Peak Press.]
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