Seattle School of Body-Psychotherapy

A Somatic Psychotherapy Training Program

Incorporating the work of Wilhelm Reich and Core Energetics with contemporary therapies and indigenous practices, students of SSBP's integrative certification program gain a strong foundation from which to organize their approach to clients. The result is as spiritual as it is psychological, opening the client's perception to the greater world around them as well as to their own unique offering which I call "Referencing From the Self".


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Toward a Healing Society: A Core Energetics Perspective

By Aylee Welch, LICW founder & Director Seattle School of Body-Psychotherapy

Holy Moly! Every day in this country seems like a roller coaster ride and you know what, a part of me welcomes this new wave, especially the “bad” and “ugly”. Some people think it’s being exaggerated since our new administration took office but that isn’t so, the status quo is now merely being exposed. I see this as a good thing.

America must awaken to sexism, classism, heterosexualism, and unsustainable ecological practices. Beyond obvious prejudice, behind superficial masks of equality, beside our continued denial of rights to the vulnerable and the disenfranchised, we must openly acknowledge insidious issues that have been both denied and accepted as long as human beings have been alive. Exposing what has been obscured is essential to facilitate change.

In the past it was easy for white middle-class people to rationalize our values and place in society, to give a little money here and there and pat ourselves on the back. But now that the misuse of power is more blatant and obvious, we have a chance not just to react to what is going on around us, but to look at our own complicity.

In Core Energetics, the underlying theory we utilize at Seattle School of Body Psychotherapy, we look at a person’s early developmental experience and understand that each stage has a specific need to be met that gives us essential tools to negotiate the next stage. When that need is not met we compensate, creating an unstable ground and altering our ability to reference from our true self.

This is a literal paradigm arising from the work of Wilhelm Reich (1973) who was able to ascertain that life force moves from the center of the body out to the periphery and then out into the world. When our impulses and reactions are thwarted the energy is stopped in the system through our muscular skeletal body (with early wounding, the nervous system is more directly impacted than the muscles). Think of a child being told “no”. When that happens, we experience an authentic emotional reaction such as anger or shame, feelings that are literally chemical reactions suspended in saline. Then we learn that these feelings are unacceptable and should be hidden. Thus, we form a personality mask that denies our feelings, our “unacceptable” instincts and reactions; we cover it over with an attitude, leading to personality structure, that is socially palatable.

But the energy from the impulse connected to these early experiences, the feelings, remain in our system. The pressure of that energy, underneath our mask, leaks out indirectly and insidiously. The need to hide the disavowed feelings affects our thinking, our behavior, our relational patterns, and even our body structure; coloring our perceptions of the world and how we fit into it, into adulthood.

We call this trapped energy the lower self. In Core Energetics we work to develop the capacity to perceive and to penetrate the superficial mask-self to reveal the lower self. Through movement, expression, acceptance, and compassion for the original situation and our responses, we make room for new and more authentic experiences. We begin to free ourselves from reacting to past situations that are no longer present. Through awareness and the expression of those old responses, we make space to create a different reality and begin to experience more pleasure and freedom, to begin to take in the good that exists around us.

In these times our societal lower self is front and center, and we must face it one way or another. What doesn’t get exposed will never be healed, and will, in fact, maintain problems even if we form a mask over them. Democracy has demonstrated this repeatedly. Hopefully the process of exposing the real depth of our problems, our bias’s and inequities, will not spurn us to become defensive or drive us to blame while clinging to a false personal righteousness. May it lead us to take a searing look at our own personal responsibility, to become humble and open and take action towards transformation.

For example, on a personal level I can say that it is only recently that I began to grasp the high degree of comfort that I have, just from being white skinned; a comfort that so many others don’t share. And my false belief that I understand racism, that I am not racist, from this viewpoint, is arrogant and literally impossible. I see that I participate in subtle and implicit racism that continues to shape our country behind a superficial mask of striving for equality. I admit that I feel uncomfortable in an environment that is not predominantly white, that I say things in ignorance that are highly offensive. I must stay in this discomfort, put myself in new environments, and above all, begin to learn and to forge a different sense of community in real time.

I believe that, ultimately, we will find answers to our social problems through working locally in our neighborhoods through building personal relationships and seeking to understand others’ experience; relying less on government funding and focusing on local resources that are sustainable and finding solutions through acts of care and connection.

In concert with these basic concepts of Core Energetics, I believe that understanding what blocks us, looking our own personal evil in the eye, will unearth that which is done in direct conflict with actions of love. And through first acknowledging and then transforming the “not love” in ourselves, we will find possibilities and new direction. Any moment that we think we are “good” people we are in our mask-self because it takes us away from the present. Without awareness of where we are in the moment it is impossible to perceive if we are “good” are not, as each moment is different from the next.

Again, many are in great fear and despair over our current government and the actions that are tearing apart our public and treatied lands, our workforces, our very planet. More and more people are vulnerable and disenfranchised; there is real suffering. But this has always been happening. My belief is that exposing what has been obscured is essential to facilitate change. I hope that we can begin to see the true barriers under our partial democracy, the once hidden forces of power. To me that feels like life moving forward.

To act in loving ways and helpful ways to all of those around us, to have compassion and care for others, we must be able to feel all our feelings, to not be afraid of our hearts breaking or of standing in our own discomfort and fear. Expressing our rage and hatred, our humiliation and fear, not by acting them out, but by owning our hidden experience and being curious about it, by letting our deep impulses move out of us responsibly and therapeutically so that we can acknowledge it and move on. We must be able to feel even our unacceptable feelings so that we can look at and comprehend the results of our own arrogance and ignorance. I think that many hope for a gentle “positive” movement “forward”. I ask you to consider embracing the difficult times by understanding that all things must come to the fore to be effectively transformed.

Aylee Welch LICW is the founder and director of the Seattle School of Body-Psychotherapy (SSBP), where she created and offers her Body-Psychotherapy/ Somatic Therapy certification program. She is an independent clinical social worker, licensed in Washington, California and Oregon and is certified in Core Energetics and Core Soma; SSBP is an active member of the International Association of Core Energetics Institutes. Aylee has worked with people in therapeutic environments and has been teaching since 1989.

Reich, W. (1973). The breakthrough into the biological realm (p250). In Reich, The function of the orgasm: Sex-economic problem of biological energy. Volume 1 The discovery of orgone. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

A Look At Core Energetics and other Somatic Therapy Approaches

This is a short presentation of a variety of somatic therapies and Core energetics, and specifically the curriculum at Seattle School of Body-Psychotherapy.  The first part paragraph is excerpted from an older article of the same by my colleague Karyne Wilner *.


“Differences exist between Core Energetics® and other schools of body psychotherapy, and between Core Energetics® and other spiritual schools of counseling. Examples include focusing, a method developed by Gendlin (1981), which requires clients to experience sensations in their bodies through deep concentration. This technique does not use movement to unblock energy. The Rubenfeld synergy method integrates Gestalt therapy and the Alexander method, emphasizing the identification of here-and-now feeling states and therapist manipulation of the client’s body (the client lies on a massage table), but it does not acknowledge or work with energy per se (Simon, 1997). The Hakomi school (Kurtz, 1990) recognizes sensations and currents in the body but fails to stress strong physical release unless it erupts spontaneously from the client. Hakomi practitioners are trained to be extremely accepting and nonjudgmental, so as not to elicit resistance. In contrast, Core Energetic therapists welcome resistance, using confrontational techniques to bring it to consciousness to release the strong emotion repressed behind it. Holotropic Breathwork (Grof & Grof, 1990), another body technique, emphasizes breathing to resolve spiritual emergencies. However, unlike Core Energetics, it is not based on a comprehensive model of personality, nor does it use the body to diagnose underlying problems. Holotropic practitioners generally work with energy in a group format, using a form of breathing, with music in the background, that produces a state similar to hyperventilation. Finally, spiritual schools such as Jungian psychology and pastoral counseling rarely emphasize action methods or focus on the body. Instead, they use strictly verbal interactions between therapists and clients, emphasizing dreams, thoughts, metaphors, allegories, values, principles, and myths.”

(end KaryneWilner excerpt)


As Karyne notes, Core works with energy that is trapped in our body to free blocks that have led to armoring in the physical body and lead to consequences in our feeling states, our thinking patterns and our life choices.  It is provocative and cathartic but the catharsis is a small part of treatment and not the point of the work; the goal of the work is to free the prana, the life energy from our Essence which resides at the core of our being and which John Pierrakos called “the Center Of Right Energy” (C-O-R-E).  Generally in life, and especially in childhood, our responses to the demands of the world created blocks and muscular armoring have accrued over time and that inhibit the flow of energy.  We work to allow dissolved the blocks and allow Core energy to move out to the periphery of the body and into the world. In grounding this transformation in our our psychosomatic experience, we become free to be ourselves in the here and now and not be reacting to old experiences over and over again.  


Another somatic technique, Somatic Experiencing® was developed by Peter Levine and has evolved since the 70’s. SE is an intervention based on trauma theory that helps unwind trauma in the system and helps to stabilize nervous system dysregulation that occurs with trauma and can be further disrupted when revisiting the issues in treatment.  The principles found here, as many of the above listed approaches, can and are utilized as part of Core Energetics treatment, but not unilaterally. The underlying understanding of developmental psychological theory and characterology that we get in Core Energetics enables students at Seattle School of Body-Psychotherapy to know more specifically when, how and with whom to apply them during the healing process. It also encourages people to speak their truth, saying “no” to something when that is what is right for us, so the no to the outside becomes a “yes” to oneself.


Core Energetics is the underlying theory at SSBP.  It is based on the evolution of discoveries made by Wilhelm Reich and his students Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos, and the spiritual Guide lectures called the Pathwork given by Eva Pierrakos. It is a study in energy and consciousness and how this forms our life patterns.  It understands that blocks must be opened on the body, emotions, mental, behavioral and spiritual levels all at the same time in order to effect lasting change. At SSBP we also incorporate principles first purported by Gerda Boyesen in what she called psychoperistalsis.  We use it to understand the body’s cycle of learning.   And we also utilize trauma therapy and interpersonal neurobiology in our studies.  


When not mitigated by the contemporary understandings from neurobiology and the effects of trauma on people, Core, as well as other therapies, can be triggering and create disequilibrium for clients.  My goal is to help people find stabilization even as we destabilize the old ways of being as we change our way of perceiving the world through opening and moving old unexpressed energy that is trapped in our system and out of context of the time/ space continuum.  We do this through expression of what we weren’t able to express in the original event, and recouping learning and integrating information that had been hidden from the client's awareness of himself.  


It is my experience that as people begin to access energy from the Core of their being, they open more experiences of joy, pleasure and a deeper sense of who they are and what they want, developing authenticity.  Utilizing our observer self is crucial to success in this endeavor and helps us to impact the patterns we have formed throughout our lives.


The curriculum at SSBP also draws from indigenous practices, working with Heart Perception (as developed both by ancient traditions and through the Heart Math Institute) and in the Imaginal Realm, the realm of the soul.  These approaches utilize the door of the spiritual or non-material planes to effect change along with our work the other levels.  Core Energetics also integrates this Spiritual door via the Pathwork material which Eva Pierrakos brought to the work. 


In working with Heart Perception and the Imaginal Realms we are activating the movement of the Core right from the start of treatment.  John Pierrakos emphasized that Core Energetics’ goal is to release the true energy of the Core rather than to correct specific distortions so these approaches facilitate this intention well.  


The approaches at Seattle School of Body-Psychotherapy naturally awaken us to the living world around us. We begin to perceive a greater context for our existence which I believe to be integral to the satisfaction of and capacity for joy and fulfillment for ourselves and our clients for many generations to come.  May it allow us to co-create our existence not just in the context of our human concerns, but as an equal part of a vibrant living breathing eco-system.  


When we can perceive ourselves in this greater context we will be more equipped to deal with the problems facing the global world in these times, and and also to experience more fully what it means to be human and to perceive our interconnectedness to the web of life. We are training to learn this through direct experience rather than relying on experts or book knowledge and gives us personal tools for continued learning growth, making us fit for the continued evolution of our world. My hope is that this gestalt will make inroads into living in more elegant, sophisticated and sustainable ways on the earth.

Core Energetics, Healing, and the New World Order

by Aylee Welch, LICSW 11/12/16

In Core Energetics there is a notion that our patterns of relating are formed from early life experiences, in part from the suppression of our negative feelings as we shaped ourselves to fit into the world around us.  This aspect of ourselves, called the lower self or the shadow, develops when we didn't get seen and soothed in moments of difficulty as we learned to adapt to culture. It is energy that becomes pinned between our true self, our essence, and the mask which we form to deal with the outer world.  The lower self grows stronger when we have been neglected or mistreated and abused.
When unexpressed energy from these early moments becomes trapped in our system it either turns back against ourselves or is expressed sideways in a distorted manner; over time it leads to our habits and attitudes in life.  Core works to free people individually from the lower self, the defense against our long forgotten personal pains.  Change happens through loosening muscle armoring that has formed in the body, opening our lower self and our emotional expression without judgement, observing and exploring how these are linked to thinking patterns and behaviors. The change process occurs by creating a sort of chaos that allows the holding patterns to loosen and be transformed, along with this careful observation aligned with our commitment to change.

Many branches of non-allopathic medicine operate on the same principles: that instead of working toward the suppression of symptoms, healing occurs by cooperating with the system through understanding and encouraging the self healing tendencies which are found in all of nature.  This includes seeking to find the original cause of the disease from deep in the system and bringing it out into the open.  Healing is more than the absence of symptoms, it is the regression to and eventual resolution of the cause of symptoms.  Western medicine often seeks to suppress symptoms and that has also been true of our tendency to legislate morality.  
Certainly this legislation has improved life for and protected many vulnerable people in our country and elsewhere.  And yet still in America much has been suppressed and hidden.  And now our cultural lower self is coming back into the open.  Chaos is lurking and many people are at risk. Fear and uncertainty prevail and the concerns are certainly warranted.  Our old comfortable structures, our status quo, has faltered and is crumbling.  It is my deepest prayer that with careful vigilance this will be but part of a deeper healing process, that we will not give way to the lower self but be able to observe it and meet it without getting stuck in reactive patterns, in self-protective measures of siding with aggressors, nor hopelessness and terror.  
As we must do when working with our lower selves in therapy, let us not judge or fall into despair nor foster an attitude of righteousness.  We must meet the lower self expression, establishing communication with it in ourselves and in others; we must listen, witness and find empathy.  Healing requires making way for the underlying pain and old unmet needsto emerge from the shadow itself.  The lower self must somehow be explored but not indulged.  And be assured, we all carry lower self attitudes in the face of the recent election.  We all think we are right, or are getting lost in our fear and powerlessness.  All of this is merely an expression of our mask or of our lower self.  
Carefully crafted responses, based on what we know about healing the individual self, can lead us through to a completely new order rather than allowing us to become mired in a bad version of the worst of human behavior and conditions.  I don't know what the cost will be, nor how many generations it may take, but I strongly believe there is potential here, potential to take us into a creative and communal worldwide reality that is not yet even imagined.  In my experience in my practice, that is what often happens to people's lives when healing occurs on a deep level.
We had made many strides in areas of human rights and environmental concerns that may be at risk, but we also stand on bloody ground at the hands of our forefathers.  There is no room for self-righteousness and judgement, there is only room to find a new way, a new world order.  I believe we must take to our own neighborhoods, facilitating safe interaction with people who think differently than us, standing up for the disenfranchised, thinking more locally and not expecting the government to do all of this for us.  We must create interdependence and lean more toward sustainability.  
In Core after clearing the trapped energy of the lower self and making more space in our system there is movement of the pure and creative life force from the center of our being, our essence comes to express itself.  This is the emergence of the higher self that has always been there and was never lost.  It was only blocked by our confused with- held energy, fused to pain and reactions we didn't understand.  Charles Eisenstein recently wrote, "If we can stare hate in the face and never waver..., we will access inexhaustible tools of creative engagement, and hold a compelling invitation to... haters to fulfill their beauty."

John Pierrakos, the founder of Core Energetics called the higher self the C.O.R.E., the Center of Right Energy.  Journey on with careful awareness my friends, it is time to take our personal work to the community, yea even to the level of the larger world.  

The real self is the human center, the individuated life principal within each of us.  It cannot die.  It gives and receives generously.  Through living it's potential is fulfilled. John Pierrakos


Depression and Phytotherapy (and a few Gods and Goddesses too!)

It is really difficult to write a comprehensive paper on depression, it is a vast subject and can be approached from so many different perspectives. So please take into consideration that this is but a brief treatment of a complex topic.

Clearly there are a range of both situational and organic causes of depression. Genetics can play a role in depression and new studies in something called epigenetics have proven that it only takes one generation of mice to pass down a fear of something that parental mice had a bad experience with. It is extremely important to note that the theory which drives much of present day pharmaceutical intervention espousing that low serotonin is a cause of many depressive states has not been proven. What we do know is that making serotonin more available in the brain can shift the depressive symptoms. However, it is now becoming clear that people who take antidepressants (most common are serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are more susceptible to recurrences of depression throughout their life cycle than people who do not use these medications; I am concerned that this approach may be prescribing a life sentence of an ongoing struggle between depression and medication for people who take antidepressants rather than allowing a natural state to facilitate change and growth. Also of grave concern to me is the way that we have forever shifted culture by trying to rid ourselves of uncomfortable symptoms while perpetuating a belief system that only “positive” feelings are acceptable. This is not in synch with the cycles of nature in any way. Yet we forget we are of the natural world. This approach does not understand that symptoms are only a small part of the what really needs our attention. Our culture's classic symptom oriented response leads to exactly what the word depression describes: a condition of “pressed down energy”. Stuck energy that may be very important to look at, exploring the meaning of the situation and allowing it to influence our life choices, leading eventually to change that will re-establish and support the life flow.

Regarding current chemical trends in treatment, let's look briefly at what we actually do know about serotonin: it (along with melatonin and other chemicals) is a neurotransmitter and neural protector that is incorporated into every neural network on the planet as well as within the human body. Serotonin acts as an information transmitter (neurotransmitter), a hormone transmitter and a modulator of various tissues. It regulates neural networks that refine the communication between the brain and the heart allowing them to work as a cohesive system. Neuroplasticity (growing new neural networks in the brain) is necessary for any living adaptive system and serotonin plays a huge role in this. It helps to unify the entire brain into a cohesive biological system by modulating the brain and central nervous system, and continually altering the chemistry of target neurons. It influences form (the morphology- note current trends of obesity), influences sensory and motor neurons in order to track the source of stimuli from outside the system, and regulates the information that comes to us through our senses.

Serotonin neurons are in our heart, brain, digestive and immune systems and are activated by stimuli outside of the body. Serotonin exists (in the body) in any place we touch the outside world and the outside world touches us; it is the interface. As information touches the neural network the serotonin neurons coordinate our physiological response. Serotonin is highly reactive to any kind of change in the environment. It modulates the information received through our senses, the sensory gating channels. As sensory inflows occur it narrows or opens the gates to what becomes our awareness. In depression it would appear that these gating channels are narrowed and do not allow the sufferer to have a complete picture of his here and now situation.

Over 70% of the serotonin in our body is manufactured in the gut, so I would assume this would be a good place to begin the exploration of dealing with depression, looking at the condition of the gut flora, the diet, and the overall physical health of the sufferer. Some depressions are simply caused by poor physical health which needs to be remedied. For others that are situational I think it is important to not seek to suppress the experience but to facilitate the cycle that one is in so that the meaning of the mood disorder can be perceived and lead to a new way of being rather than be pushed back to status quo. Herbs that can support this process as well as other etiology will be listed later in this paper.

Now-a-days it is rare to find a person whose depression hasn't been perceived from the perspective that to be “down” is an illness rather than a part of the rhythm of life. And while I understand the extremely high severity and difficulty in some cases, I repeat that I think that we have exacerbated depression through suppression of a natural cycle. Situational depression happens for more reasons that we can count and many that we don't understand. Some causes are that a person might be recovering from loss or trauma, or dealing with unmet needs from another stage of life. Especially potent are the unmet needs of childhood that leaves some aspect of of the person stuck in an earlier stage of development despite the progression of the body through time. This is seen as soul loss in some cultures. Depression is often related to the feeling of helplessness that leads to a state of despair and of giving up. It is extremely important for the person to explore and acknowledge the meaning of the depression and take the difficult steps to remedy their situation, whether it be that something is not working in their present day reality or there is unprocessed stimuli from a past experience as is seen in PTSD or soul loss. Often it may be a combination of the 2, the present day situation triggering the old issue and making it difficult to perceive the present accurately. When we look at the role of serotonin and how it modulates information from outside it is easy to see how, if we ignore either the difficult life situation or the old material, we can upset the inherent regulatory balance of the chemicals involved.

My main orientation to mental health and depression grows from a Reichian perspective that anything that is suppressed will come out sideways because energy needs to move, it is just information, something that comes to do the work of informing us of something, similar to the way electric currents run through a wire or water through a hose. It's nature is to move. In my work at Body-Psychotherapy of Seattle, I look to open the compromised system and restore the flow of life on the 5 levels of existence: the body, emotions, thinking mind (thoughts), actions (will/ behavior) and the Big Mind (spiritual/ etheric influence of a person). I have written many papers on the subject if anyone is interested, suffice it to say it is too large of topic to do it justice here. However, the point is to create an integration of a person's life experience between these 5 realms so they work in coherence with one another rather than, for example, over-using the thoughts to justify one's actions or to deny one's difficult emotions. Working physically with the body is important to me because whatever physiological and muscular reaction we have to the external environment become involuntary reaction patterns wired into the nervous and muscular systems. These responses are set into motion when the body senses something that remotely resembles a past compromising situation, even if that is not happening in the present. Over time chemical reactions and the associated muscle memory create strong overused muscles that become an actual physical armoring that keeps us stuck reliving our early life experiences over and over again.

One of the major challenges of depression in our culture is the necessity to be high functioning all of the time. I would approach depression very differently if we had a society that had built in flexibility to allow people to adjust to these natural cycles when they beckon. Chronic stress as well as lack of meaning in life contribute to if not, at times, cause depression. This creates a real dilemma in finding healthy responses.

Herbs can play a major role in supporting a person's entire system to meet the demands placed on it while undergoing a difficult change process. It is important that an herbalist not try to be the sole health care provider for someone with a serious depression. It is important to have a guide, or several guides working together, that can negotiate all 5 levels (body, emotions, thinking, behavior etc.) into synchrony. I am less and less comfortable giving out lists of herbs for certain conditions. I think that an herbalist must have her own allies to call on in order to promote health in another. It is our relationship and our experience with the plants that that charge the treatment. But I can suggest some approaches to choosing herbs.

Firstly, be sure to think about the person's constitution, matching herbs to the unique disposition. For example, do not give a drying herb to someone with an agravated dry (Vatta) state; This is a person who might have dry mucous membranes, an airy personality and is easily distracted. Nor should you give sweet herbs to a Kapha, a person who is overly earthy, lacks expression and is slow moving. They would do better with spicy or bitter remedies, those that might confuse and exacerbate the symptoms of a Vatta person. As you can see, the symptoms of depression will manifest differently in different constitutions; basically each constitution will be exaggerated in it's imbalanced state, a Pitta person may be agonizingly irritable and restless, a Vata will demonstrate confusion and lack of concentration and a Kapha will cover all of the windows and stay in bed for months. All of these are common symptoms and may co-occur in one person, but look closely to see the subtleties and with practice you will be guided in choosing appropriate herbs. Overall, herbal remedies for depression need to be stimulating (to get things moving) as well as nourishing to the body and soothing to the nervous system.

In any depression avoid as many environmental toxins as possible; eat organic foods and avoid caffeine, sugar and processed foods. Encourage the client to surround themselves with a natural non-stimulating environment. Promote healthy gut flora through the use of probiotics and regular elimination practices. If one's feces smell strongly be sure to take this as a warning sign from the gut. For a period of time promote good elimination through the use of such herbs as Aloe, Rhubarb or Licorice and Pasqueflower; or use bitters such as Dandelion or Gentian root. This is going to be especially important in working with people with the cold damp constitution as they will tend toward a slower metabolism. But the Pitta and Vatta may also have absorption problems for different reasons.

After creating a well functioning environment in the gut use alteratives to support the liver in removing toxins from the body. Dandelion and Pasqueflower mentioned above are also categorized as alteratives. Many good blends are available. One I make for myself includes Ashwaganda, Burdock, Red Clover (for the blood) and Yellow Dock.

Extremely important is the use of nervines throughout the treatment course to soothe the nervous system and calm anxiety. I list many herbs for this in my paper on Treating the Blues. Some of my favorites: Lemon Balm, Scullcap (especially helpful for racing or obsessive thought patterns typical of a Vatta or Pitta person), Rosemary, Passion Flower, and Milky Oats (which would be good for a Pitta person as it is so cooling and damp). And of course the use of Saint John's Wort should also be considered in depressive states although studies suggest it works best in moderate cases. The sun herbs like SJW, Hawthorne, Rosemary and Frankincense (as aromatherapy) are especially good in seasonal related depressive states. All depression treatments must include getting out into natural light on a regular basis, even if it is dark and cloudy this will have a positive effect. Moving the body through walking or exercise is also crucial and especially hard to facilitate in the person with a Kapha constitution.

After supporting the liver and the nervous system look to adaptogens to put some zing back in the kidney and adrenal systems as these are heavily taxed in depression. There are SO many wonderful adaptogens, I vary my blends regularly to get a sense how the different herbs work and work together. Always use herbs you are familiar with so you can sense into how they are affecting your client. I love Shizandra, Ahswaganda, Polygonum, Gota Kola, Astragalus, Rhodiola, Don Quai, Ginseng and Motherwort. A good friend of mine has a company called Organic Unity. His adaptogen blend “Stressed to Blessed” includes a nice mixture of nervines and adaptogens including Devil’s Club root bark, Schizandra berry, Wood Betony leaf, Milky Oat tops, and Blue Vervain leaf.

And finally, for me the most important treatment guidance is taken from the practices of other cultures. In South America and Africa Shamans travel between the worlds to resolve soul loss, some of which is described above. Much of the work I do involves treating soul loss of several types, but, different from the indigenous practices, I like to make sure that I have fully prepared all aspects of a person's system so that they can retain the results long after the treatment ends. I do the scouting and the guiding but my style also puts the onus of the work on the client; with my help they bring awareness to their old patterns and interrupt them via interventions (for example by thought-stopping, a CBT intervention). I teach them how meet the old underlying need, building relationship and nurturing the young parts of themselves from within. Over time and with vigilance the information that once ran through neural network systems in predictable, outdated and problematic patterns can begin to pool as if in a dam, and finally overflow to form new neural networks that better fit the current reality.

Another great model that I always have in mind when working with depression is that found in ancient mythology involving the underworld. Persephone is one such Goddess who was abducted to the underworld by Hades. She faced many challenges there. But up above her mother Demeter searched and searched and held ground for her until she was returned. Innana of the Sumerians traveled the same journey, having to face the fierce Goddess Ereshkigal in the underworld until her time came (with the help of some tricky mud-men) to be released. This is this same journey that one takes through the belly of depression. An herbalist working on these levels might consider using Spagyric Essences, alchemically prepared herbal remedies which can positively affect depressive states. They are prepared by first distilling the essential oil, the Soul, out of the plant; then leaving the hydrosol and plant matter to ferment and distilling the alcohol from that. This is the Spirit level of the plant. The remaining plant matter is purified through fire until it is reduced to white ash from which the mineral salts, the Body of the plant, is extracted. These are put back together to form a remedy that works on the etheric levels to create change beyond the body. That change trickles down to the body and facilitates health. Organic Unity carries a line of Spagyric Essences that are made from wildcrafted plants, prepared according to corresponding astrological influences and infused with healing prayers and love. In my experience this care makes a huge difference in the potency of the remedy and it's impact on the client. I highly recommend them.

Finally, I think that the most important thing to keep in mind when working with a severely depressed person is that they must not be left on their own. Like Demeter, someone must hold space for them and watch for them from above, creating an anchor to the larger world. This space must be held by someone who is not afraid of the dark. Someone who is patient and kind, wise and strong. A practitioner with knowledge of the territory, a big loving heart and good boundaries!



Treating The Blues, an Herbal Approach

This paper is an assignment to write about herbal treatments for “the blues”, depressive states. Writing from my experience as a mental health provider I first want to say that for any condition the herbalist should have clear understanding of what is causing the problem. Depression is “pressed down energy” and it's etiology can be quite varied and thus should be the remedies. Diagnosis is a large topic which is beyond the scope of this paper and the training of an herbalist, so, in order to ensure one is treating the core issue, it may be wise to work in collaboration with a mental health provider as well as closely with the client.

To me there are two different ways of using herbs: nutritive herbs that are used regularly for food on an ongoing basis, and medicinal herbs that are employed to re-balance the system in the case of an affliction but are not used continually. These could impact the system negatively over time. Depression is a state of imbalance and in it's treatment I would want to make sure I am working to restore the innate health of the system without creating a dependency on a plant that is not meant as a food or would take over what the body needs to be doing for itself without outside help. Unfortunately in both the medical system and alternative health care people are often guided to use substances without getting to the underlying issues and truly alleviate the problem. While it is not at all true that everyone with depression needs medication, studies have shown that the most successful treatment for stubborn depression is a combination of psychotherapy and medication rather than just one or the other. If I am working with someone where we are spending more time managing their mood disorder than working with energy moving through the system to fcilitate life change, I will recommend an adjunctive herbal treatments. I will also offer this before talking about pharmacological interventions and have had very positive results when the client 1) uses clean and reputable herbs 2) has a fair amount of buy-in to the treatment and therefore takes the remedy regularly and tracks their progress.

Symptoms of depression usually start with difficulty concentrating and focusing and can include a change in sleep and/ or eating patterns- it can be either too much or too little of these; similar is the symptoms of too little movement and lethargy or evident agitation and irritation and restlessness. Loss of energy and fatigue, feeling worthless, dwelling on negative things, feeling hopeless, isolating, and at the worst, fixating on death or having suicidal thoughts or attempts are all symptoms of depression. It is common for people to feel down or depressed to some degree for short durations during life. This is called an exogenous depression and is usually situational. In these circumstances the herbalist can play a key role. Depression is often the result of trauma, it can be recent or distant including forgotten childhood trauma or chronic crisis. But when a mood problem persists it is important to take bolder action as the longer it goes, in my opinion, the more difficult the treatment. I repeat my earlier warning, an untrained person should not attempt to treat a clinical depression as this is a serious problem. But for other situations, here are some of my ideas about herbal approaches to depression:

For treatment beyond psychotherapy the first and foremost thing for me is always to look at diet and exercise. A sluggish and polluted system is under a great deal of stress which can take a toll on the body and effect one's mood and perceptions. Most people feel better when they eat fresh non-processed chemical free foods and get regular exercise with a variety of anaerobic movement and muscle building strength. But the fact that someone is unable to care for themselves in this way may be connected to the core issue of the disorder and changing this may require special care and persistence.

Caffeine is an antidepressant which works by stimulating the central nervous system and elevating serotonin and dopamine. Many many people in our culture are probably unknowingly using caffeine to self-medicate for depression. But there is a high likelihood that the long term result will be dependency resulting in headaches and other uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when caffeine is not available. Also over time one may find that they need more and more (coffee), evidence that they are developing a tolerance. A problem results when they increase the dosage and there is risk of caffeine overdose. Symptoms include jitteriness and insomnia, nervousness and palpitations and can even go into a caffeine induced psychosis. So caffeine, although it initially works wonderfully, may not be a good treatment option. While Coffee is the main caffeine remedy in our culture, caffeine is also found in sodas and teas. And many many herbs contain caffeic acid as well, such as Guarana and Maca Maca (often touted as a depression remedy).

For endogenous states and Seasonal Affective Disorder, aromatherapy is a wonderful and uplifting form of herbal treatment. These are not cures but are important supportive adjunctive therapies that can make a real difference in one's experience. Rose is uplifting and soothes the nervous system while impacting issues of the heart and desire. Lavender, Cleary Sage, Cardamom, Ylang Ylang and Sandalwood all elicit positive feelings in most people that affect the tension or lethargy that comes with depression. My preferred delivery system is via diffuser in a room where the client will be for a number of hours. It can also be mixed with a carrier oil and put directly on the skin, generally on the temples or wrists, or made into a face spray. But the best chance of smelling it for a long period of time allowing for a change in the neuro-network firing system of the brain is through the diffuser. This also allows the scent to go straight to the limbic system where it impacts the emotions.

In general, adaptogens are going to be helpful for depression. They help modulate stress through the adrenal system bringing balance to the hormones and rebooting the immune system. My favorite adaptogens are Ashwaganda and Shizandra (berry), Don Quai (for women) or Ginseng (for men). I have heard great things about Rhodeola although I have yet to meet this plant.

Rosemary tincture can help modulate a low to medium grade depression because it opens the blood flow to the brain and specifically the eyes. I have also read that it too modulates neurotransmitters. It is an herb of the Sun and a strong stimulant, although without the addictive tendencies of caffeine. I love to use it myself when dreary Seattle days and darkness are getting me down. I do consider it a tonic although even with Rosemary I would not use it on a regular basis or for years at a time. If the depression persists, a more varied treatment must be considered.

Melissa Officianalis is one of my favorite plants to recommend for depression. It is an herb of Jupiter and is therefore uplifting and expansive. I also perceive it as a Moon herb as the image I get from Lemon Balm is of Moonlight reflecting on the Water. The nectar of the Moon can be so gentle, soothing and healing, different than the excitement and stimulation of the Sun herbs. Be sure to observe your client and their symptoms well so you can better perceive which direction to go with the herbs. Certainly a dry and brittle person would be more suited to working with Lemon Balm than with the stimulating remedies, and visa versa for a more kapha person; one with a damp congested condition could benefit from the stimulating plants. Lemon Balm is a nervine and fortunately studies have proved it's efficacy in depression treatment. According to the journal Neuropsychopharmacology in July 2003, higher doses increase calmness while lower doses can increase memory and sharpness so again, observing and understanding the specifics of the experience of the person you are treating is key.

Artemesia Vulgaris: Because Mugwort is a nervine I know of herbalists who recommend it for depression and it is listed in several reputable texts. I have no experience using it for this purpose but it does regulate hormones in women which probably helps to balance hormone related depressive states. I do remember having Moxa (Chinese treatment of burning Mugwort on pressure points) during acupuncture and it causing a state of euphoria. Mugwort is also useful when treating addictions which often goes hand in hand with depressive problems. Do beware that it can be an abortifacient.

Rhodeola Rosea is mentioned with other adaptogens above. I have not used this plant yet but many studies have proven it is useful in treating of depression. It is said to greatly enhance physical well being as well as alleviate stress.

Hypericum, Saint John's Wort, is the big gun for depression for good reason. It is thought to function much as the pharmaceutical MAOI's and therefore needs some time before it's effectiveness is evident. I usually ask people to try it for 4-6 weeks before evaluating. I have had such good results with people taking 2-3 droppers of the tincture 3 times a day and after awhile they can usually reduce the dosage and frequency. I have seen many many people's pervasive despair remit with St. John's Wort and it allows the therapy to go from the crisis management of depression to being able to track and relieve the etiology. I do recommend people not start with this plant unless they are willing to take it from 8-18 moths while they do psychological work. This allows for the chance to both remove the blockages (often stuck energy associated with images from childhood) that caused the problem, as well as give the brain the opportunity to build new neuro-networks, patterns of information in the brain and nervous system, that will remain after the client goes off of the herb. I would not recommend that people self-medicate with St. John's Wort although I believe that many do. It is a plant of the Sun (as evidenced by it's vibrant yellow flowers) and according to Mathew Wood works especially on the solar plexus which allows for better food digestion; it relieves inflammation of the nerves and soothes the glandular organs and decongests the liver. It alleviates deep body tension is used as a pain reliever. It is important to not use St. John's Wort if other pharmaceuticals are prescribed as it can prevent them from being metabolized. It also is purported to cause Sun sensitivity so please warn people to stay out of the direct Sun when using this plant.

Addressing a Misconception in Body-Psychotherapy

Oddly enough, a recent ant bite has got me thinking about human behavior and psychotherapy! The little guy lived in the dessert where survival skills are paramount and he got me a good one, it hurt like the dickens for about 5 minutes. Then I forgot about it. But days later the site around the bite was swollen in a circle nearly 3 inches across. It was hard, and hot and itched- itched- itched- itched- itched. Scratching made it itch even more. Scratching also tore up the skin that was stretched tight over the inflamed tissue which could cause problems of a different nature.

You see the problem isn’t in the skin; the problem has to do with the poison that was now trapped in my system. In severe bites or severe reactions this can affect every major system of the body, the cardio-vascular system, the respiratory system, and on and on. Luckily I wasn’t dealing with any of that, my body was just having difficulty clearing the venom out of the system. But the problem wasn’t with my skin, that is merely the surface layer where symptoms of what is underneath show themselves; and herein lies my analogy to human behavior.

Often we have things on the surface level of our lives that are reactions to something deeper. Acting out or reacting merely complicates things. With my ant bite, scratching and breaking the skin could leave me open to infection, it creates scars, and also can cause cellulitis. This possibility of causing damage in an area where there really isn’t a problem is also sometimes true of behavior geared to “scratching our itch”. For instance when we are mad it is not helpful to act it out. However, it may be helpful to find a non-violent way to communicate about it. But as conscious humans we can go even further and notice if we have a pattern of anger issues in our life. Are we constantly discharging and never finding lasting relief? It may be that there is venom in the system left over from some old “insect bite” that needs to be attended to. We need to learn how to detoxify the system at a deeper level and to avoid causing more problems on the surface.

In the past, in some body-oriented therapies, doing extreme cathartic work was common. Primal Scream therapy, and early on in Bio-Energetics and Core Energetics the catharsis was of great importance. But the catharsis, when used, should only be a means of understanding the energy that we carry within us, energy that we often hide from ourselves and from others. Once we understand the capacity we have, and our many coping skills, we realize that no good can come from reaction- based behavior. Noting the times that our (ant) bites weren’t attended to, witnessing our pain from this safe adult vantage point, and bringing attention to the patterns and reactions in the present that stem from those past experiences goes a long way toward detoxification and healing without generating more surface scars.

This applies not just to anger but to whatever pattern is interfering with our life, depression, patterns of staying in relationships that aren’t good for us, anxiety, caretaking behavior; all of these may have an origin that isn’t apparent on the exterior. When we go through the body we have an additional way of accessing and understanding the physiological aspect of our experience and this gives us an advantage in multi-dimensional healing and long lasting change. Opening the physical system through exercise and expression can be a lot of fun, but we must be careful not to indulge in or mistake the cathartic experience as the cure. It is not the cure, but sometimes it is an important step in learning about ourselves. When my ant bite was inflamed putting a cool cloth on it was soothing and gave me temporary relief. It allowed some relaxation in the tight tissue which meant the poison could begin to break down and move out of the system. Drinking a lot of water also helped flush the poison out of my body. Careful attention and soothing treatment is also the key to good body-psychotherapy!

by Aylee Welch, LICSW

Active Dreaming- A Lifestyle

I am an active dreamer. This means I actively use my dreams to help me to negotiate my waking life reality. To me a dream is a place for exploration, just as “real” as the waking life world. It is a place for exploration and enjoyment, full of information we can use to understand waking life and our own life mission. It is a place where we can try out new skills or gain information about things to come. Being an active dreamer means taking an active role in understanding our own personal dream language and using it!

I want to share a story about a dream I had while at a weekend retreat with my dreaming community in the woods near Seattle last fall. We had gathered to share dreams and work with our teacher, Robert Moss. As I was falling asleep that night I set the intention to explore the land we were on in my sleep. In the morning I have the following dream which I titled The Social Worker.

I seem to be a social worker working in this muddy place where there are some dwellings and people around. It is raining A LOT. A girl had lost her best friend and her bike, some sort of tragedy. I work very hard and eventually I have two bikes under a light colored tarp to present to her. This is the culmination of my work there. The presence of the second bike means that she will somehow get her friend back.

People think this is risky of me. It is time for the unveiling and I am busy making sure it will all work out. Somehow by doing this I am also helping several men. At the end of the dream I walk out on the street ( a dirt road or path), the men greet me as though I am really special, one has only one tooth in his top row of teeth. They are all so sweet.”

Following Robert’s lightening dreamwork technique I was asked a few key questions at the breakfast table the next morning: “What were your feelings?” Physically, I woke up in a warm room and a warm sleeping bag but I was cold cold cold and I felt wet, as though I had been out in the rain all night. Emotionally I felt very tender, soft, and appreciative.

Are there elements from waking life that occurred in the dream, familiar places or people?” I am a psychotherapist, a type of social worker. One of the men reminded me of a client I saw years ago. It had indeed been pouring rain all night.

I got many helpful comments from my friends as we played the game “if it were my dream”. Robert remarked that because of my intention and because of my physical feeling of being so cold and the reality check that it rained all night, that I should consider whether, in the dream, I had indeed been exploring things going on on the land around us. He noted that people could be living in the woods here. This resonated with me and I decided to investigate and see if there might be a little girl in the neighborhood who had experienced a loss. We always make an action plan from our dreams, a way of honoring the dream and our access to the bridge between the worlds. My action plan, if I found her, was to buy this girl a bike for Christmas.

I asked the owners of the property if they knew of any little girl in the area that suffered a loss and could use a bike for Christmas. The proprietor looked surprised as she told me that earlier that very week a single mom and her 5 year old daughter had moved onto this property. The girl had lost her father a year ago, there was a restraining order that prevented him from seeing his daughter. She was distraught and had been talking about him.

So off I went to Toy's- R -Us. As I was assembling the bike over a few days I got more information about the family. I prayed for the girl continually as I put the bike together, went out again for a helmet and finally draped the whole thing in a light colored sheet as wrapping. It looked a lot like the “tarp” in my dream.

I felt very touched and excited by the whole thing. I wrote a card to the girl telling her that I had a dream about her, that the helpers all around us told me about her and that she had lost someone close to her. I said that the helpers wanted her to know that she was very SPECIAL, and she will always be LOVED and CARED FOR. I mentioned that these helpers are all around but we can't always see them.

As I wrote I realized that I lost my own father at the same age that she did and spent much of my life healing this wound. I also realized that the client the man in the dream resembled was someone who similarly lost his children when they were small, some of his work with me centered around his attempts to build relationship with them when they were adults. I began to see that the toothless man may have been my own father. He has been dead for many years.

I took the bike to the property and left it under the Christmas tree. I could hardly wait for it to get opened on Christmas morning. Eventually I received the following letter from the little girl’s mother: "Aylee, I am very sorry _______ and I were not able to meet you so that we could have given you a heart felt thank you in person for _____'s beautiful and remarkable holiday gift!...

I have heard the story of your dream and I was amazed. Not only that you had the dream, but that you also recognized and understood the significance, figured out to whom the dream pertained and followed through by actually making such an offering. This is pretty miraculous, a beautiful story that reminds us all about the presence of our guardian angels. In my tradition, Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism, the word for them is translated as "local deity protectors". In theory I should be making daily offerings to them and do sometimes. In the two months prior to your dream, I had been praying to them extensively. So I am not surprised that they were reaching out, only surprised by the exact avenues they took to reach us…

As far as the specifics, everything, the bike and helmet, fit like a dream! _____ brightened up to find such a gift under the huge Christmas tree and we are excited to bring the bike to parks near our new residence for little excursions after we are settled."

To be an active dreamer is to live daily in a powerfully magical world. By carrying out this action plan I was given an opportunity to heal backward and forward, not just for she and I, and perhaps our fathers, but hopefully affecting the whole pattern of violence and estrangement in families in our times.

Body-Psychotherapy Must Promote a Healthy Body!

In the last couple of weeks I have had 2 different people come in that I hadn’t seen for awhile and in whom I sensed a recognizable shift. The first thing I noticed with each of them was a gentle radiance around their body, the coloring in their faces was different, not the skin itself, but there was just more color, more light around them. They both also appeared calm, contained. I discovered that both of these women had been undergoing a cleansing diet under the supervision of their Naturopathic doctors. They had both cut out meat and fish and many other foods for a short period of time. One was using special supplements and smoothies to aid the cleanse process. Both were meant to add back foods slowly to test the effect on their systems but one has already decided to remain vegetarian because, 3 weeks into the cleanse and after years of a heavy meat diet recommended by a different health practitioner, she felt so much better. I had the sense that the dietary change was positively augmenting their therapeutic work.

I have been a practicing psychotherapist for 20 years and helping people for many more. In this time there have been trends where discussing the body and working with “physical” health is integrated in to the therapy in various ways. But in all this time I believe we have not been bold enough in how we address the obvious connection between the care of the body and how this affects the greater chemical make-up of the brain, of our mood and psyche. Eating habits and lifestyle choices are very personal, and our training does not include anatomy and physiology yet I think we have been much too lax in confronting these aspects of client’s lives in order to effect deep, long-lasting change. Some of this comes from the fact that there are so many different opinions about what is a healthy diet, and much of these opinions are controlled by corporate money and politics which makes speaking out potentially dangerous. And there is a tendency among all health professionals to compartmentalize a person’s health, not treating the person as a whole entity where every cell affects the well-being of the others. But we can no longer afford to go with the status flow and allow our clients, and the entire nation, to continue on a spiral of declining health trends. Because health impacts our field of mental and emotional well-being so directly, we must begin to take a clearer stance on food issues. As a Master Herbalist in training and someone who has pays close attention to diet and nutrition I am becoming especially sensitive to issues of basic physical health in my clients and am seeking ways to gently insert this into our work together. Yet I am mindful to be careful to not portray my own dietary bias while still educating clients without fear or judgment.

I am not suggesting that psychotherapists should be prescribing diets or supplements to their clients; but there are some basic physical health topics that should be communicated to clients when it is reflected in their psychological state, which may be a lot more often than we think. Here are some basic premises:

-Diet affects health.

-Exercise affects health, our bodies are made for movement.

-Our health is constantly undermined by our environment which is becoming progressively more toxic; and also by decades of poor food manufacturing practices that result in a dearth of nutrients in our food.

-Chemicals used in food, water and cosmetic products can be harmful to our health, undermining the immune system and emotional well-being

-Health is also greatly impacted by non-nutritional foods common to our culture.

-Sugar is unnecessarily added to far too many packages on the grocer’s shelves.

-Caffeine also compromises the body, especially the nervous system.

-Many basic nutrients affect depression levels and play a role in other mental health disorders.

And of course what we have known and worked with for years is that food and other substances are often used by clients to modulate emotional issues which causes and exacerbates many mental health situations.

Here are some well documented nutritional facts found easily on the web: Depression and inadequate diet are intrinsic. Calcium and magnesium levels play a role in depression, as do polyunsaturated fats, antioxidant vitamins and Vitamin D, folate and B-12. Complex carbohydrates increase serotonin which can decrease depressive symptoms and calm an anxious mind. Of course it is important for a client to have a proper assessment of how diet may be affecting their particular health issue as just implementing one nutritive intervention may not take the whole system into consideration. But providers must be willing to approach the subject and gather information about a client’s food hygiene.

So what does a therapist do? Firstly I believe it is incumbent upon us to be good role models and to be proactive about our own health and well-being. Secondly, don’t be afraid to address dietary issues and to bring it up again and again and again in sessions. “Have you thought any more about starting an exercise regime?” “What might happen if you cut down on sugar as an experiment for a month (or week) or two?” “You know we understand that fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains provide for essential nutritional needs which can improve mental health, do you eat many fresh foods?” Be willing to follow these comments up and help clients to seek help when necessary. Consult with health care providers; provide a list of holistic practitioners that clients can work with; provide reputable articles that have information on diet for mental health disorders, the internet is full of them! Follow up, follow up follow up. Educate yourself in order to educate clients. Be willing to talk to them about the subject. Recently when I asked a client about her diet she said “Wouldn’t it just be easier to go on medication? I know wellbutrin works well for me.” I let her know that if she felt antidepressants were in order we could certainly talk about a referral to a prescribing doctor, but I also wanted her to know that her lifestyle may also be playing a role in her symptoms and if we were to work on all angles we might be able to effect more complete long-term change and her feeling better a lot faster.

I would encourage clients to seek out mental health practitioners that have some knowledge of integrated medicine and nutritional health. Be willing to explore the subject of diet and health in your therapy. Read articles on-line regarding diet and your symptoms, make sure they include scientific references. These small steps can play an essential role in regaining health and wellbeing for the long run.

by Aylee Welch, LICSW

Diagnostic Labels and the Therapeutic Relationship

The relationship between the therapist and client is a subject I feel very passionate about!   We use labels to try to understand something, or to communicate about our experience.  Sometimes people come in and repeat to me what other therapists have told them, they may have a page full of western mental health diagnosis' or they might say, “I am a rigid psychopath”.  The latter refers to labels given to holding patterns back in the time of Wilhelm Reich.  These holding patterns also lead to personality traits, or what Reich called “character structure”.  While still respecting Reich's very important work, I no longer uses these labels in this way.  However many practitioners still do. 

The holding patterns are the subject of other articles, but today I want to talk about how a client would come to own such a label and if it could have any value to them.  Often clients will read a book and label themselves, and, although they may be trying to understand their experience, this may be an intellectual exercise, an idea they have in their head based on someone else’s experience or knowledge.  The problem is that the label doesn't describe what actually happens.  The labeling can be limited in that the person may not really know, kinesthetically, what it means.  It can also limit the wisdom of the body, the mind, and the emotions’ ability to have new experiences, obfuscating the change process.

Therapy is co-created between the client and the practitioner.  While a therapist needs to have a solid theoretical groundwork that guides how she understands what happens in the sessions, its function is to provide a map for the work.   I hope to use my knowledge in a way that provides a structure for understanding the therapy rather than dictates the client’s experience.  I am aware that I cannot assume to understand the experience of another.  Therefore we need to stay in constant communication, exploring and bringing into awareness what is happening for the client in their mind, body, and emotions each step of the way.  This information helps the client to see how they do whatever it is they do in their life, and gives me information to guide the session.  Awareness of what we do internally, how we structure our energy, and how it affects our thought patterns, feelings and behaviors, is a large part of what creates change.

A big reason that I employ physical exercise that can be provocative in groups and in sessions, is to open the system and help the client to explore beyond their normal experience and holding patterns.  The things that come up during the session define where we go next.  A recent group session encouraged members to explore what happens in their body under certain conditions.  For example, if you have “been left by someone you love”, or if you have “been falsely accused”.  How do you respond?  We explored the attitudes “I can do it” and “I will not let them them get me”.   Members were able to perceive their reactions in their bodies, the posture and the muscular and breathing patterns that ensued.  They were able to identify the familiar attitudes that they personally carry through life, recalling the memories that created these reaction patterns.  We walked around the room exaggerating the posture of this attitude and were able to see how the attitude was received by others and how we were affected by others’ attitudes.  These type of exercises create a solid foundation of experience to recognize reactions going on within themselves and in their dynamics with others that had, until now, been out of full conscious awareness.  

We are constantly exploring and tuning in so that clients have a way of recognizing when they are reacting to old belief systems and patterns based on past experience rather than what may actually be happening in the here and now.  Along with other preparation provided in the therapy, this self-awareness can set the stage for new experience and different reaction patterns. 

On the contrary, if I were just to tell you what (I perceive) you do, what the clinical name is for it, and how you may have come to it, this could, in the best case scenario, be a great relief to you because it can normalize your experience and give you some self-understanding.  But even if it accurately describes your reaction patterns it would be limiting because if it remains an idea or a concept, you will not have the awareness to know HOW it is triggered, the mind-body awareness to know WHEN it is being employed, or the compassion for your system that will help you to change it in the moment.  You may end up believing you are a victim of your physiology, clinging to the label rather than encouraging and allowing the innate knowledge of the system to find its way to a new repose.  It is so important to realize that reactions come from experiences, and even though they then become patterns, this is not who we are at the core.  When we identify with the reaction patterns and the labels we use to describe them we are very likely to reinforce the problem and to become stuck.

We have created a mental health system where labels are important for identifying the problem and for reimbursement purposes, but it is essential to not let that lock the client and practitioner into a way of working that 1) gives the practitioner power over the client by assuming he knows more about the problem than the client; 2) limiting the exploration of the problem and the treatment process based on the label and the idea that we are our labels  3) causes the client to identify with the label and the past experience rather than use it to facilitate change.  We must be creative in the work and seek to find the deeper wisdom of the situation at hand.

by Aylee Welch, LICSW

Exploring Attitude in the Body Part 4- Holding In

So far this series has explored how the body-mind reacts to situations in early life where there is stress from external tension or inconsistent care. But what happens when care is forthcoming to the point where a growing child feels stifled? Let’s conjure up a scenario to explore this.


Imagine a child who is oohed and ahh-ed over. This is a good thing right? Right, but the saying “everything in moderation” has merit even here. When a baby is fondled and oohed and ahh-ed over, it is meant as encouragement and an exchange of joy- this is essential for healthy development. But for some babies, over time and in certain situations, they end up learning the precise responses that make the ood-lers coo. That too is fine, up to a point, but sometimes the caregiver gets so much pleasure out of baby’s responses that the interaction becomes about making the caregiver happy instead of the caregiver enjoying and getting to know who baby is. Sometimes the caregiver may even inadvertently communicate dissatisfaction if the baby’s responses don’t meet their expectations. After awhile of this baby begins to learn it is his job to please the adult… so he smiles and responds in certain ways that make him look smart and coordinated so that mother can feel proud and important. This parent derives an unbalanced amount of pleasure over the child’s performance, feeling it reflects on them, and comes to expect it not because baby is happy, but for her own comfort and happiness. This baby can develop habitual patterns geared toward pleasing someone outside of themselves rather than balancing information from outside with messages from within, this may cause baby to lose contact with his own impulse and life flow.


Sometimes even a child’s feeding times can be for the pleasure and on the schedule of the caregiver. Imagine what it is like to be fed when you aren’t hungry, the spoonful of food comes looming toward your face. One needs to be able to turn their head away and keep their lips closed to the spoon if their stomach isn’t giving receptive signals. But if we have already learned that it is important to please the caregiver, or that it is futile to resist, and may even cause problems in the connection between our self and our caregiver, we submit. Over time in this situation we lose access to our own innate needs and wants and learn to “follow” rather than to “be” in a way that is harmonious with oneself. When a caretaker is dominant, and in this scenario they can also be overly sacrificing, the child feels obliged to her to the point that the child loses contact with their own needs and desires.


Rebellion, however mild, has an important role in one’s path to grounded independence. The baby whose job it is to generate “oohs” and “ahh’s” for the happiness of another learns from the beginning to not express his “WAHs”, his “Guffaghs”. The process differs from the child whose system has not been given to, where there is little charge and they go into the previously described (in other articles) freeze or collapse. Our current subject has been given to, their system is charged and there is a lot of energy there. But, when sensing the disproval from the other, he stops the expression of his energy by holding in, he does this in order to please which, in baby-speak, is to survive. My teachers were fond of saying “whenever there is an obligation there can be no love”. This situation is riddled with obligation.


Holding in emotional expression develops strong muscles in the young body. But because muscle control and coordination isn’t fully developed before 18-24 months of age the baby begins to experience anxiety and fear around the impulses that arise from his own body. This can be sound- joy or complaint, or even physical elimination since the baby cannot differentiate sound from the mouth vs. poop from the anus. It can be the impulse to run or reach out, to sing or to complain. He learns to close the doors of the body as best as possible. The way to hold-in is through pinching the anus and tilting the pelvis forward from below creating a flat buttocks; also by lowering the head to close the throat and rolling down the shoulders to buckle down” or “hunker in”. Take this posture and see if it feels familiar to you.


Once a child has achieved mobility, between the ages of 2-4, his job is to explore the world and to practice his independence through self-assertion (remember those “terrible two’s? This is when they try out having their own opinions of things and then see if their ego can support it). But the child with the pattern of in-holding may have difficulty doing this, his environment doesn’t supply the necessary freedom for him to explore. There may be a lot of incoming energy from his environment that, while not confrontational or degrading, contains the subtle message that “I exist for you (parent)”. This can go a long way in creating muscular and emotional responses that lead to enduring life patterns. This child gives up their freedom for closeness with the caregiver and it is self-defeating.


During puberty the child may experience shame, which is also exacerbated from difficult family situations that many of us face like divorce or peer pressure. The father may be preoccupied or absent in this family constellation which is part of mother’s focus on the child to meet her emotional needs. Of course this scenario has many different details or levels of intensity in different families. But to some extent, in their teens children from this family style might become good followers and a loyal friends; they may have an easy time fitting in since they do not assert themselves; sometimes they have problems with older siblings overpowering them but they do not like confrontation so this isn’t dealt with. If we have this pattern we may be overly submissive and very long-suffering; we can endure much. We don’t often give others honest feedback or assert ourselves, we do not express our own needs. This is a person who suffers from anxiety and a self-defeating sense of inadequacy.


When I am with people with the in-holding pattern I sometimes think of Eyore in the Whiney-the Pooh books. They might have a dense heavy muscle structure and might suffer from intestinal problems. Their charge, their impulses and expressions, are held-in. You wouldn’t notice it because it’s deep in the system but this with-held energy ends up being turned against the person who holds it. This is where the sense of inadequacy and the self-effacing attitude come from. In order to heal we must open the physical system and over time create an environment where the client can tolerate their natural responses to life, to make contact with themselves and begin to find pleasure in the flow of energy moving through the body. Over time they can learn that to do this without fear and anxiety. Through relaxing and reshaping the physical holding patterns they can learn to accept and express their own feelings. Although this may feel risky, like an act of rebellion at first, over time and with much care the person with the in-holding pattern can learn to trust and to share their deeper self. With proper help and support they can learn to reconnect with their own joie de vivre, their exuberance, joy of living, love of life.

by Aylee Welch, LICSW

Exploring Attitude in the Body Part 3 - From Demand to Despair

The last article discussed the physiological reaction of a young infant to external stress. As this infant grows and develops coordination and strength he will have new and different ways to meet the world. But if he had prolonged reactions to external stimuli, the early reaction pattern may stay buried in his system only to be triggered in the future; it creates a vulnerability and sets him up for perceiving the world in a certain way where trust is a big issue. Stress on a newborn can lead to particular psychological stressors later in life.

But let’s say everything went pretty well for the little guy those first few months and then things changed. Maybe mom had to go back to work and the baby’s safe haven is disrupted. This will be a full body experience for a small human being, it is the natural response to a situation he cannot understand cognitively. He will experience some level of shock that registers in a variety of ways in the system, the body, the mind and emotions.

Let’s imagine a 7 month old lying in his bed who wants or needs something; perhaps he is ready to get up. His way of letting us know is through crying. Usually he will get a response, but what happens when he doesn’t? He will cry louder… and louder, and harder. His body will be a fountainhead of frustration and eventually maybe even rage, WAHWAHWAH! And if he is not answered at some point he will begin to have other experiences, perhaps fear that escalates the crying even more WAHWAHWAHWAHWAH. Eventually he will become exhausted. After this experience is repeated a number of times the baby may give up and fall into a state of despair. This collapse can sometimes be seen in the muscle structure; a cave in the center of their chest or the down turn of their shoulders, forward extension of the neck and jaw. If the situation continues until the baby is standing on his feet the soft bone of the arches could collapse inward with the weight of the despair. If sometimes the baby’s cry is answered and other times not, he may develop a stronger will power before the despair takes over, in this situation the child may have more energy to sustain the demand for help.

Although it is unlikely this cycle would manifest in the body and the personality if the neglect happens rarely, this situation doesn’t have to occur all of the time in order for it to affect a baby’s experience of the world around him. It just really depends on his sense of constancy of his caregiver. Some parents may be very present and attentive when they are home and the baby feels safe and loved, others parents may be overwhelmed with tasks after work and have less ability to cater to the needs of the child.

One of the things that may become skewed in these situations is the child’s perception of his own wants and needs. Have you ever wondered why some people can take rejection pretty well and others go into such deep despair around it? It may come from experiences that occurred in this early time of life which then wires the entire system to interpret these outside behaviors in a way that is threatening to the child’s survival. We all know the deep pain of abandonment, but we have different reactions to it. Those who were affected during this early time where the baby is still dependent in a “symbiotic” way, approximately 7-18 months of age, tend to have much more trouble with this experience than others. They might stay longer in relationships where their needs aren’t met, unable to understand their own responsibility in helping themselves to get what they need by the choices they make in life.

This is a time of life when we are naturally reaching out to get our needs met. This reaching impetus is affected. When hurt in the earlier months of this developmental phase the person might retain an underlying neediness, coming across very clingy they develop traits of dependence or “co-dependence”, reactions from the early unmet needs. When stuck in this developmental stage one can retain a sense of entitlement which comes across to others as demanding even if it is disowned and portrayed in some hidden fashion. Many clients that I see feel great shame over their needs and wants. Or sometimes people develop a false sense of independence; “I will do it for myself”. In later life this person may have difficulty allowing others to see their needs which can be a barrier to intimacy or a type of loneliness.

Treatment requires a non-judgmental environment where we can explore the triggers and trace the reaction patterns in the body, the emotions, mind and will (our actions). Sometimes the works leads us to memories, other times just to a felt experience in the body and emotions. The memories or experiences are not as important as the understanding that this is a systemic block that creates the patterns of our life and our personality, but they are not who we really are. Eventually we can learn that these reactions are not true to the present situation now that we are an adult and have choices, there is no threat to our life from rejection anymore. We need to develop love and compassion for the young part of us that had difficult experiences and still struggles with the residue of them. Through the therapeutic process we can learn to love and respect ourselves and to give oneself what we need from the inside instead of clinging to an outside image that will save us. As we learn to do this we don’t fall as deeply into the trigger and the old feeling of “I do it myself” or the despair. Physiologically we rewire the system to retain its own charge and be able to direct it for our life. In this work we are gradually creating new neural networks in the brain that will give us choices that we didn’t have in the old reaction pattern, it leads to new experiences of safety and to a sense of wholeness and more trust and ease in life in general.

by Aylee Welch, LICSW

Exploring Attitude in the Body Part 2- Splitting

The first article of this series began the exploration of holding patterns in our bodies and the attitudes they express. The next article, “The Body’s Learning Cycle” demonstrated how these unexpressed responses to situations in our life become trapped energy in the system, thus creating the muscle patterns that hold the energy and the situation in the body. This is eventually expressed via attitude or personality traits. The next several articles will explore how this process is impacted by a child’s developmental stage at the time of an intrusion.

An infant and that of a 5 year old would react differently to the same situation and the situation, or stimulus, would have a completely different meaning to each of them. Working in the field of body-psychotherapy requires a deep understanding of these differing reaction patterns. As the developmental stages unfold, the shape of the body that we form for ourselves has a particular function that is created through how we perceive and move in the environment around us. Of course it is also true there are many genetic, societal and cultural influences that must also be taken into consideration when looking at the body as well.

But as far as development is concerned the infant may have less coordination, soft bones or tense muscles which are impacted in certain ways by the environment. This process can even begin prenatally. Imagine an infant in a womb where the mother is fully relaxed. She has a healthy diet and limited toxic exposure. I can picture this womb as a warm nurturing place with free flow of blood and fluids from the mother to the placenta and to the fetus. Even though it is not a cognitive experience, the baby is held in this little bubble, floating freely and allowed to grow and move without restraint.

Now imagine a womb where the mother smokes. This constricts the blood vessels and restricts the flow to the fetus. A cup of coffee can do the same thing and also have an effect on the central nervous system. All mothers have times of tension, what does this do the infant? More important is what happens when this tension becomes chronic. This environment will provide less for the child. How do you feel when you imagine these two different scenarios? What happens in your own body? Do you experience a corresponding relaxation or constriction? How do you do this, what do you notice in your own body right now? Let yourself explore what kind of holding pattern and constriction the second environment could create.

Skip ahead to the first days after birth. Let’s say the baby is held close to the mother, skin to skin as they both rest in bed recuperating and enjoying exploring one another. The baby simply opens his mouth, called rooting, and the breast is right there for him. When he struggles with his bodily functions he is held and supported, he is not alone. Touch is an essential need for an infant. It allows him to relax and for the spirit to fully enter into the body. It gives us a sense of our boundaries, where our body ends and another’s begins. It allows for a sense of holding and support that is meaningful on many levels.

Compare this scenario to one where the baby is alone in his own bed. He must work harder to get food and other needs met. What posture does his body take during this effort? What effect does it have on you to imagine this? A baby exposed to ongoing stress is likely to develop inner tension. If I put myself in the compromised situation I feel a deep pulling in in the muscles around my abdomen and solar plexus. My spine and neck are held rigidly and in that posture I feel terror and not a little paranoid. From the cognitive ability that I have (unlike a baby) from that posture I can say that I wonder if I am welcome in this world, I don’t trust and feel safe with my caretaker. A baby with this deep pattern of fear may have stringy underdeveloped muscles. Since they have little muscle control from which to respond to the situation and little cognitive skills with which to rationalize or make sense of the situation, the primary defense mechanism is splitting. A person with this experience may feel that they are always working inside to holding it together.

I don’t want to make too many generalizations about the pattern because it most important that every person find what is true for themselves from their own experience. It is important for each of us to explore what is held or what needs attention in our own body. But for people with this deep early wounding common reactions are to split off from pain (or other sensations) in the body, and to split from emotions, often turning them against oneself in self-hatred. There may be many problems in connecting in relationships and difficulty with anxiety and the ability to self-soothe. And in the extreme a person with this background can have a tendency to split off from reality.

Each of us carries tensions and defenses from more than one stage of life and we all carry this pain of abandonment in our experience so it is sometimes difficult to categorize our responses and make generalizations about what happened to us. But for change to happen it can be very useful to trace the energy holdings and see what need to be nourished or to be released from the past that will challenge our old ways of reacting and perceiving and allow for relaxation, connection and contentment in our lives. Because this particular stage of development is pre-verbal and pre-memory, people with early wounding sometimes are not aware of the situations that led to their deep sense of estrangement and hurt. But there are hints of the experience demonstrated by what happens when the person is in distress. Sometimes the crying can sounds like that of a young infant, it may have a higher tone or a whimper in the sound.

Treatment over time must bring awareness to the patterns, the splits, and work to reconnect one to their feelings and sensations. It may require physical and emotional nurturing and a holding place for one to examine their fears and rage from the past and to develop trust in the other and in oneself.

In understanding and knowing how to respond to this reaction pattern, body-psychology has an advantage in meeting this person and changing the deep physiological responses to developmental stressors. It can be very effective for healing.

by Aylee Welch, LICSW

Exploring Attitude in the Body- Part 1

If we look very closely we can find that much of our life experience is reflected in our body. As the body reacts to external situations we have internal reactions. The degree to which we can allow the “charge” from the external stimulus to be expressed, to “discharge”, determines the degree which the experience stays with us. This article will explore how this works. For starters, try the following exercise:

-Close your eyes and allow yourself to fully relax.

-Now imagine a time early in your life when you experienced an intrusion and let yourself take (and hold) the posture you have in response to this. How do you protect yourself?

-Exaggerate the response, tensing the muscles that have been mobilized and stay for a moment in this reaction.

-Now let yourself keep the tension in the internal muscles, but drop your hands or outward posture.

-Does the stance you are now in feel familiar?

Did the exercise make you more aware of tension that is always there? We can carry with us an internal posture of defense based on situations from our past. How we develop our body early in life is, in some part, a response to our experiences. This is also greatly affected by the developmental stage in which the experience occurs. The age and stage of development dictates many details of perception and formation, for example, how soft and malleable our bones are (which affects our posture), how well we can protect ourselves, what we perceive is happening in the situation based on our sense of helplessness or mastery. Future articles will discuss these important developmental issues. There are also other influences to the formation of the body such as genetics, learned behaviors and societal and cultural influences, but we can use this article to explore the more gross reaction patterns as they relate to our psychological make-up.

In the situation that you “reacted” to in the exercise were you able to move the tension out of the body in response to the intrusion? If you weren’t, and if the situation was re-occurring in your youth so as to solidify the reaction pattern, you may still be reacting to that situation over and over again even though the external environment has changed and you have grown up. One important reason to become aware of the physical reaction is that it may lead to tendencies, physical holding patterns that influence the other levels of our being, our thinking and how we make sense of what is happening, our emotional responses, and our subsequent behaviors. All of this construes an attitude, or our general personality traits.

For example, if, in the exercise, you turned your torso the right and allowed your left arm to protect your face, collapsing your chest, bringing your head downward hiding your face and letting your shoulders roll forward to protect your heart, you will have a very different attitude then someone who doubled both of their fists, drew their breath in and their energy upward and forward. This person might bring their energy outward with their eyes, tensing their jaw creating a fierce look on their face, making themselves bigger and ready to come down hard on the intrusion. Take a minute to try these two different postures and let yourself feel the emotions and attitudes that come with them. They expose two very different belief systems held by the person who experiences them and the way they perceive the world.

Now think about the memory that came up in the original exercise for you. In that memory did you get to express your protective instinct? Did you yell no or fight back in any way? If you did, you had the opportunity to release the tension in the body that was generated. This may have made it easier to relax after the experience and to go on in a flexible way. If you didn’t get to move the energy through, didn’t get to talk to someone about the thing that happened and receive some comfort and assurance, you may still have energy tied to the early experience. Your muscles that you hold against the experience strengthen over time and this forms your body structure so that eventually aspects of the way you look reflect the way you feel inside! Body-psychotherapy can help you to explore and release the holding patterns and allow you to reclaim the energy held in defending yourself. Take some time to write in your journal about the memory that came up and the way that you perceive that has affected your life. Notice the attitude you have about it. Do you see this attitude reflected in other areas of your life?

Future articles will continue this exploration of attitude in the body but for now begin to observe times and areas in your life that this attitude has become your personality. What do you want or need from that place? Is this realistic given that you are now an adult and able to do things for yourself that you couldn’t do when you were younger? Give yourself credit for having gotten through the situation in the best way possible. This can be the beginning of a deep healing and change in your life experience!

By Aylee Welch, LICSW

The Body's Cycle of Learning

The Body’s Cycle of Learning

By Aylee Welch, LICSW

In this article I will look at this physiological response of the body to stimulus that occurs in our environment and how, from an early age, that reaction pattern becomes internalized and creates our life patterns.

When something occurs in the environment, let’s call it the “stimulus”, we have a corresponding reaction that we can call the “charge”. The charge can be any type of reaction to a stimulus; it is underscored by emotional information, be it excitement, anger or fear. It is a preparation, a building of energy in our body. It carries important information for us. If the system is open and the charge is allowed its natural flow it will then be discharged through the muscles, usually through sound, breath or movement. This expression allows the physiological system to then move into a phase of relaxation. From that relaxed state the body can extract or recoup the important messages from the experience, this is the recuperation phase. It is different from relaxation in that the system is processing the information from the experience. On an unconscious level the body sorts out how well the particular response worked. This leads to a further phase called integration. When any experience goes through this whole cycle uninterrupted there is a new baseline, we now know how to, or how not to, relate to the particular stimulus we have just experienced. Then we can fully move on to whatever the next moment is presenting.

Let’s say you are walking down the street and suddenly a big dog charges at you. Your reaction is to make yourself look big and yell “NO” as loud as you can. The charge and discharge happened before you even knew it. As the dog backs away and you see you are safe your body begins to relax. You may find yourself shaking a little. This is a way for the body to continue to discharge any excess energy in your system. Eventually, when you know you are safe again, you should be able to go into the relaxation phase, a deep letting go of all of the muscle and brain activity which will lead to a state of rest after the surprise and exertion of the attack. From here your body will take stock of the fact that you were able to let the dog know you were in charge of your space. This is the recuperation phase, to understand the implications of the response. In the integration phase the information will allow you a certain sense of mastery that you can carry with you into any future situations of dog danger. You will be able to call upon the learning from this experience in future situations.

But what happens when the cycle is not completed in such a neat and clean way? Say we see the dog, we tense up with the charge but he runs in and bites us before we can respond. Where does the charge go? Perhaps it is released through a crying spell after the attack, or perhaps we have already learned early in life that we shouldn’t respond. Then we might hold the charge deep within our system while finding another way to avoid the dog attack. We manage to hold the energy with our muscle structure, holding the energy in in order to react in a way that, from some past situation, we believe will keep us safe. Look at the cycle on the circle below. In this scenario we have a stimulus and a charge, but then instead of moving around to discharge and recoup, the energy goes back down to the bottom of the chart, maintaining the system's status quo from which there can be no new learning. From this chart one can see how our earliest life lessons get replayed over and over until we can manage new reactions to carve out new learning and a new baseline to move us forward in our lives.

There are several ways that we stop the discharge and the cycle of learning which we will discuss in future articles but for now let’s look at some clinical situations to better understand the impact of the cycle and how to open it and create change. Here is a fictitious clinical example:

A client, a demure older gentleman, suffered physically at the hands of his sibling growing up and neither of his parents protected him. He tried hard to be good and to not get in trouble. He learned to be quiet and not attract attention to himself in order to keep from getting hurt. He learned to cut off from his feelings to the extent that when strong feelings emerged in others in group therapy, he would become very sleepy. He fell asleep in social situations, and needed naps every day after work. In therapy he began to recognize that being sleepy was a way of coping with feelings that he didn’t know how to deal with. He began to recognize and express them. Eventually he found that he often was irritated by other men. He perceived that they didn’t like him and he was resentful of this. During a group session he was relaying a situation where he felt left out at work. I asked him what he would really want to say or do.

“I’d like to go over there and beat them up”, he has his fists up and got a lot of enjoyment from realizing this. When offered a large pillow on which to open the expression of anger more he turned pale and closed his eyes. He states he is overwhelmed with memories of his brother towering over him. I invited him to make his palms flat and just push against the pillow, holding his big brother off. He does this with his eyes closed and his head down. He asks to stop. He realizes this is what he is always doing. He reflects that he feels the energy (rage) coming up in him and that he is afraid of his feelings, afraid that it would be too much for him and that he might lose control. So he holds it off with his muscles, not even knowing anymore what it is he has to express. He is still living the abuse that he never got to respond to.

This is an example of how an external threat creates a charge in the system to protect itself; but after years of holding and a muscle armor forming to hold the energy in, he has internalized the threat. There was no danger to him in the room at the moment, nor at work. The danger now was in feeling his own feelings. An unresolved external threat becomes an internal threat and we form our lives and our personality around holding it off. But there is no judgment when energy and charge is concerned. The fear of the energy would be the same if it were pleasure or anger flowing, the client has dulled down his excitement level so that he does not know how to surrender and allow it. He cuts himself off from joy as much as from his self-protective rage.

Look again at the cycle of learning wheel below. In this situation the client feels the charge build and ignite the natural internal impulse to protect himself. He unconsciously stops himself before the discharge. This creates a straight line back to “status quo”. The experience informs the other levels of being, the thinking, behavior and emotions. Along with the body these levels of being are the very make-up of our embodied existence. In this case he thinks, “guys are stupid” or, “nobody likes me”; and at the will/ behavior level he avoids people; the client becomes isolated in his life based on a physical blockage, the fear of his own life energy. This distorts the charge and results in energy blocks which eventually we tune out and don’t feel anymore; it is resistance to the life flow.

Over time the trapped energy crystallizes in the physical body and becomes muscle memory forming our automatic response, in this case, of withdrawal. In order to heal and change his patterns the unconscious process needs to be made conscious. Then he will remember and experience the original charge, allowing it to complete the cycle. We don’t necessarily need to remember or re-experience the content of the trauma, but of the energy we put against it; the impulse and emotional process we use to overcome the experience. Here is another example of how this can happen in therapy:

A client had experienced ongoing sexual intrusion by someone she cared about. She was constantly hoping to be able to confront the perpetrator about this and felt that her healing depended on it. During a session she went into a regressed state while lying down in my office. Noting that she was pulling her legs up and tensing them, I had her put her feet against a piece of foam and push. Her legs started shaking, this is the charge, the energy, trying to break through the muscle holding. I invite her go with the discharge. She begins to kick until she is kicking very hard and yelling “OUT” and “NO”. When she was finished she felt alive and excited in a way she hadn’t felt in years. She no longer felt the need to continue an ongoing relationship with the person, hoping to get an apology. She didn’t need anything else from the perpetrator once she freed her own energy that had gotten blocked and held back from the situation. She had to remember and loosen the energy that she had put against the intrusion, she had been holding it all of this time.

In this situation the discharge breaks through the muscle armoring; the client is open and breathless, she feels alive and her energy is flowing; she “recoups” the learning from the situation: “I expressed myself and I feel better, nothing bad happened”. Her muscles experience a different level of openness and fluid flows into the cells that were previously tight and contracted. She is in an expanded state on all levels. The system does not have to return to its former level of tension and she did not need to confront her abuser to accomplish this. She learns that now as an adult, in some situations, she may be able to stand up for herself. This is a new baseline and she doesn’t need to fall back to “status quo”.

It may be useful for readers to copy off the graph of the cycle of learning and look at situations in your own life. See if your reactions allow you to get all the way around the circle and to be able to respond to each situation as it presents itself, or whether you are disconnecting from the cycle in a way that puts you back to status quo and prevents your being flexible and present. This can be especially helpful as you meet new people, to be able to form relationships with them and who they really are rather than from your past experiences.


The Formation of the Mask

Most of us have memories of special moments in our life where we feel spectacularly buoyant, open and excited. In these moments we sometimes feel more open and alive than we are accustomed to in every day life. In the body-psychotherapy that I practice we understand that there is a wellspring of life energy at the core of each of us, no matter our constitution or personality, but we may spend much of our lives blocked from this Essence. People often come to therapy when they are tired of these blocks disrupting their lives in one way or another. Our work is to explore how we cut ourselves off from the fullness of our energy, to open the blocks and allow the life to flow more freely. This short article will describe a model for understanding what happens to keep us from our full life energy, from experiencing life from the Core.

Think about a moment where you experienced an intrusion into your space, it could be from someone startling you or yelling at you. Try to come up with a memory from your early childhood. What happened in your physical system in that moment? Most likely you went into some sort of muscular contraction, stopping the flow of energy in your body. Instinctively we have a biochemical protective instinct that allows us to act on behalf ourselves. If you have the ability to move against the intrusion by protesting, moving your body or making noise, you should eventually be able to return to the relaxed and flowing state that you were in before the intrusion, maintaining homeostasis and openness in your physiological system. This happens when we are in an environment where our instinctual responses are expressed and supported rather than suppressed. But if, as in the case of much of the social learning we get in childhood, you must suppress your immediate reaction, the protective life instinct stays in a charged state in response to the intrusion and this charge is held in your body. This can be like having a huge “no” buried under the surface of our consciousness, over time and through conditioning we become unaware that it even exists within.

For example, imagine a very small girl who is enjoying playing with her mother’s jewelry and suddenly her mother comes in and scolds her harshly. Her automatic reaction may be one of hurt or fear that turns to anger because her pleasure is stymied. “No, I want it, I hate you” she might say.

“Oh no, says her mother, “good girls don’t hate their mothers.” Since being good and pleasing is a core quality of the child, she immediately contracts and withholds her negative (protective) impulse as other feelings wash over her. She has cut herself off from the physiological charge that was her initial reaction. Over time the girl, wanting to please, becomes so skilled at stifling her impulses- to reach for certain things or to react when she is chastised- that she becomes completely unaware of these hidden feelings. In many situations we sacrifice the direct satisfaction of our primary needs (for nourishment or being held or protecting ourselves etc.). This distorts our excitation and results in energy blocks which cause a resistance to the life flow. Our negative emotions are held in through subtle muscular tension. Over time this frozen withheld energy crystallizes, becoming muscle memory and automatic reactions which block us, preventing the system from complete release and complete relaxation, and often preventing us from getting what we want in life. It takes vast amounts of unconscious energy to continue to block the withheld energy and this dulls our life, causing a variety of difficulties and our life patterns. The girl in our example has also learned complicated lessons about pleasure and her desires and natural reactions which contribute to her newfound defense mechanisms.

Simultaneously she begins to develop an idealized image of herself. This creates a mask. The mask is a reflection of the qualities of our core, but it is a reflection rather than the true quality itself coming through, much like the sun carries the heat and strength of its fire while the moon merely reflects this light. Our mask is a survival skill and can take many forms; caretaking others, being a perfectionist, being overly-intellectual, hostile, bitter, defensive, judgmental, too complimentary. The shapes and forms the mask takes becomes our personality. We all need some aspect of our mask in order to negotiate every day life, but the problem is when we over-identify with it.

The process of Core Energetics therapy, a body-psychotherapy which comes from Bio-Energetics, helps clients to discover how they block their life energy. Further articles will discuss how we use this awareness, along with an opening of the muscular system, to free up the old defensive postures and result in change in the body, mind, emotions and spirit, so that the client can express from their essence and live with all of their vital capacity.

Aylee Welch, LICSW

A Brief History of Body-Psychotherapy

A Brief History of Body-Psychotherapy

In the world of western psychotherapy "Body Oriented Psychotherapy" appears to be a new trend. But in reality Body-Psychotherapy dates back to the days of Sigmund Freud! Body-Psychotherapy was pioneered by Wilhelm Reich, who lived from 1897-1957. Reich grew up on a farm in what is now the Ukraine. He was tutored at home and spent most of his time outside. I have read that he was a natural scientist, known to experiment with breeding insects and animals as a child. He fled his home in 1914 because of WWI. After the war he went to medical school and by 1920 he was active in Freud’s inner circle and considered one of Freud’s most promising students. By 1922 he had his own “bio-psychiatry” practice and was an astute researcher and lecturer.

At this time Freud was hypothesizing that “neurosis” was caused by denial of our natural sexual instincts which leads to frustration. He called this sexual energy “libido”. It is well known that Freud later diluted this idea, in part because of his reaction to patients telling him about sexual abuse, and because of the complicated social implications of the discovery.

Meanwhile, Reich was conducting experiments that led him to conclude that life energy can be qualitatively measured in the body and that the natural build-up and discharge of this energy heightens one’s sense of well-being. Or, if it is frustrated, it can lead to the development of physical armoring and psychological problems. Reich was able to confirm the existence of this biological energy (which is more than sexual excitation) that he called “orgone energy” in the human body. He also verified its presence in the earth’s atmosphere; he developed instrumentation to observe and collect it in plants, and he harnessed it for a variety of purposes. It is because of Reich’s work that science made progress in areas such as cancer treatment, motor power and weather experimentation. But Reich’s passion and his life study was human behavior.

Reich finally split from Freud when Freud, having recanted the libido theory, developed the notion of the “death instinct”, the idea that human suffering is inevitable and therefore there is a natural tendency for self-destruction. Reich felt instead that there is a natural tendency for healing and growth. He believed that the system turns against itself only when it becomes frustrated through inability to express or to get what it needs for survival. People develop patterns of blockages in the body based in part on genetics but also because of the developmental stage he is in when major holding patterns, or frustrations, first occur.

Two psychiatrists, Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos, continued the development of Reich’s work creating Bio-energetics. Pierrakos eventually added a Spiritual component to the work and called it Core Energetics. I practiced Core Energetics for several but now my work is changing to incorporate what we understand through the fields of Epigenetics and from Interpersonal Neurobiology and Trauma Therapies. My work is much gentler and easier on the system than the way I was taught. I also find that Indigenous practices and work on the Imaginal Realm inform how I work with clients. However, this particular article describes the work that has grown directly out of Reich’s discoveries.

The principle is that our early experiences leave us with images that are generalized into our world view when we are children. These dictate what we believe about the world and how we fit into it. Energy that is held back, not expressed, from these early experiences remains trapped in the biological system so that we are bumping up against it again and again throughout our life. Core Energetic treatment is based on accessing this energy and allowing it to flow again while simultaneously dissolving the old image and freeing the person to live in and react to the present rather than to old expectations and beliefs.

As an example, imagine a baby who is repeatedly left to cry. As long as he can cry for what he needs his energy flows strongly through his body. His growing bones are still soft and when he is left to cry for too long his ribs may spread at the sternum from the exertion. After some time the baby becomes frustrated and the crying takes a different tone, “wah, WAH, WAH”, he demands.

But eventually he becomes exhausted, his voice is hoarse and the crying wanes. Still not getting a response, the infant falls into a state of despair about getting his needs met. He gives up. If this happens regularly the tendency to give up can become hardwired into the body. In some people we can see a caved in place in the middle of the chest. A result for many people is that they are hesitant to ask for what they need. Being quiet can be a compensation to avoid the despair that may be built into the system.

This experience becomes an attitude, part of our character or personality structure. It is maintained as muscle and body structure develops around the physical posture that portrays the attitude. For many reasons these early patterns are perpetuated in a person’s life and this is usually when they seek help from a therapist.

For therapy to work it is important for healing to occur on all levels of the person at once. This means the issue is treated in the body, the mind, the emotions, the behaviors (will) and the spiritual aspect so there is congruence on every level with regards to the issue. It is not enough to just talk and understand your behavior around a certain issues. It may not be enough to understand it and feel your feelings about the patterns; when you really get to the core issue you will also have a physiological change along with an emotional reaction and a new understanding of your choices and reactions. Along with this we do physical exercise to impact the body structure and support the change process.

Many modalities open the energy in the body, or work with the body and the emotions, or work with emotion, thoughts and behavior. They can help for awhile but it is crucial that all 5 levels be addressed for lasting change, otherwise any one of the levels can pull the system back to status quo. In Core Energetic/ Evolution we also use physical exercise to explore the attitudes that we hide from ourselves and from others. When we hide it, it can control us. A part of the therapy is to embrace our deep dark truths and allow them to transform.

Exercises are also used to change the body-structure. The really fun part of this kind of therapy is that there is movement and energy, the client and practitioner don’t just sit and talk and this tends to be energizing and exciting. People often report feeling more alive, more like themselves than they have ever felt before. It inevitably leads to the spiritual aspect, a deepening respect for all of life that impacts how we go about in the world .

While many practitioners are body-oriented because they bring attention to certain aspects of the body along with other traditional elements of therapy, body-psychotherapy in its deepest form can fully restore the organism to its natural state of aliveness. When we bring our awareness to how we block our life energy and release these holding patterns, we are better able to maintain this healthy state for the long term. Allowing our life to open and unfold in new ways every day is a truly joyful practice!

Aylee Welch, LICSW

What Is Core Energetics Anyway?

I am frequently asked questions about the work I do and frankly I find it hard to describe! Just this morning I received an e-mail that asked,

"So what is it you do at a session?"

I thought I would share my answer here for those of you receiving this that have yet to experience the work. Here is what I wrote.

"I hope I can answer your question in a way that makes some sense. What we would do really depends on what is going on with you! We start by talking about what you want to work on and see how that manifests in you on any level. This means the thoughts you have about it, your feelings, what happens in your body around the issue, and your actions/ choices and responses.

Say you are struggling with a situation with a friend and it makes you want to "curl up and die". We might have you exaggerate that physical posture and see what else comes up, it may bring up memories of early experiences, or we might see how the way you place your body helps you to hold yourself back from a very different but perhaps unwanted expression. Through talking, movement and the emotions that arise, we open and explore your expression, reconnecting you to your life energy. I have equipment and tools we can use to find ways to express what can't be said in the every-day world in order to move the old blocked energy.

Often our perceptions of and responses to situations in the present are related to experiences from our early life. It is the energy that is blocked from these old images that we want to release and let go of once and for all. It is amazing how we can use our reactions in the present as a sort of treasure map to find old unresolved issues and deal with them. After you have opened up the energy that has been blocked and held for so long you may find you will have a greater capacity to perceive new experiences in the present and to move from a place of peaceful strength in your life. We can now access your higher self and we will allow time to explore and reinforce this.

In a group session we often start with exercises that open up our energy and our expression or explore different attitudes and see what comes up for people from there. The exercises over time change our musculature which we have formed around old issues and experiences.

Think of the posture of a typically depressed person, with rounded shoulders and his head hanging down. If you talk about the things that led to the depression and understand it intellectually, and even if you have an emotional reaction that is a release but your body still holds the same posture because it has been that way for many years, well chances are the muscle memory will eventually bring you back to the old attitude. In this work we believe that issues have to be healed in the way we think about them (the mind), the emotions, in our actions/ choices, and in the body too, releasing and bringing change on a cellular level. This is what allows us to move on and to be free to experience life in the present moment.

In the group we also have the opportunity to explore what happens when we come into contact with other people, how we react to different personalities, how we are able to show our true selves or how we manage to get what we want and need. It is such an honor for me to work with people to make the group a safe place and to explore how we can make it safe within ourselves to create the deep connection that we all long for.

This article is a little like sitting by the side of a swimming pool, talking about what it feels like to jump in and be in the water. The conversation is nothing like the experience itself. My own experience is that through Core Energetics I feel more alive and more like myself! I am so pleased to be able to offer to this opportunity others.

Why the Body?

This article is from year's past and my work is always evolving and changing. But the basic tenants from the work of Wilhelm Reich and Core Energetics are timeless.  This article will give you a general idea of some of the underlying principles.

Why The Body?

Human beings are fascinating bio-psycho-social organisms. What makes up a person? Traditional psychotherapy works toward congruence in a person’s thinking, emotions, and actions/ reactions. There are many therapeutic techniques that have been developed over time to explore and improve these aspects of our life. We do exist on several levels simultaneously, but are we limited to thoughts, emotions and actions?

If we look at life and the human experience we see that there are 5 basic levels on which we function. There is the Intellect/ Thought, and the Emotions and Actions as mentioned above, and we also exist in the physical realm, the level of the Body. There is also something larger and beyond ourselves and the “seen” world, essentially the universal life force that is always present and is individuated in each of us and is expressed through us.  Therefore a person is a psychosomatic unity (psyche plus soma, meaning physical) that exists on all 5 levels. Body-oriented therapy (Somatic approaches, Core Energetics, Core Evolution, Bio-Energetics, Bio-dynamics) understands that the body is profoundly affected by our life experiences and the body, in turn, affects our future.

These 5 levels are inter-related, they are separate and function independently, but they also work together. They are informed by one another and together they make up the whole person. They are formed by and affected by many forces such as genetics, culture, family history and personal experience, especially early life experiences that occur when we are the most vulnerable. Additionally, our experience on these 5 levels are being co-created all of the time. They can be influenced and changed. This is what gives therapy the potential to be fruitful. Body-Psychotherapy works on all of these levels in order have a strong chance for long-term benefits. My body-oriented therapy also understands and takes into consideration the developmental stage at which a person is impacted in order to discover how one’s experiences lead to their present request for help. The same experience would affect a 2 year and a 15 year quite differently. This developmental aspect of problems is tracked in the system and given the opportunity to heal from it's original energetic.

Our awareness, the skill we have to make sense of and use the information that comes to us, is a large part of what is impacted in therapy. Because the five levels of existence are intrinsically related, each one is a gateway to the others. Let’s use the level of emotion to see this interactive relationships. Emotions are experienced in our body, we perceive our emotion through the movement of energy in the body resulting in physical sensations. Emotions actually have a physiological component to them. Think of the language we use to depict emotion. We state we have “butterflies in our stomach” or that someone is a “pain in the neck”. We really actually feel the sensation of pain in our heart muscle over love gone astray when we are “heartbroken”. These physical cues can help us to become aware of our emotional life if we are out of touch.

E-motions are exactly this: energy in motion. The function of energy is to accomplish work. Think about a young child’s capacity to allow emotion. One minute they are playing happily and when something frustrating or hurtful happens they express their frustration or tears (if the child is in a safe environment). In just a short while, after the energy has moved, they go right on playing. Given the opportunity, we are constantly learning and using the information from the e-motion.  Emotions are generated from a stimulus. The work of emotions expressed is to move the energy that is created by the reaction to the stimulus out of the body, and to inform the other levels of our being of the experience. From this learning a belief will develop that leads to action. For example if the child became frustrated or hurt by a particular game, she is more likely to choose a different game the next time. Thus: pain in her body (say the cat scratched her) affects her emotion (WaHHH!), which affects her thoughts (Bad Toy!) and affects her will/ actions (avoid that game). Here we can see the interconnectedness of all of the levels of existence.

All of our experiences are recorded in the body as images. When an experience is not fully processed on all 5 of the levels blocks may occur and lead to distortions of perception on one level or each of the levels, leading to incongruence in our lives either between the levels or between the person’s perception and what is really occurring in the present moment.  This is the difference between emotions and present moment feelings.  The feelings carry the past learning and images whereas emotions respond solely to the now.

Body-Psychotherapy is a fluid way of working between the levels to identify and release old images, attitudes and experiences held in our system that affect our life choices, patterns and emotional well-being.  Body-Psychotherapy opens and energizes the system and allows people to have new experiences and to make substantial changes in their lives, and to experience more joy!

Aylee Welch, LICSW        206-910-9766      Contact