About Embodied-Relational therapy
Embodied-relational therapy (ERT) is a form of Body psychotherapy started by the body psychotherapist Nick Totton, which evolved from his work with Em Edmondson throughout the 1980s and 90s. From 2006 it was further developed by Nick with Allison Priestman. From 2012 Jayne Johnson, Stephen Tame and myself joined the training team (I remained on the training team until 2015). Nick describes the process of ERT in the following way:
"the style [of ERT] is process centred and incarnation centred, approaching human beings as united bodymindspirit, perfect with a few local difficulties. Our nature seeks to express itself freely, while at the same time protecting itself in conditions often of great difficulty. This double task of expression and protection makes us subject to contradictory pulls, and offering double messages about what we feel, want and need. Through a [therapy] relationship which is supportive and non-invasive, it is possible to disentangle our doubleness and allow our process to unfold - which is what has been trying to happen all along" (from www.erthworks.co.uk)
"We all do the best we possibly can"
What I personally find powerful in working with people in an embodied-relational way is the underlying fundamental assumption that "we all do the best we possibly can". This "best we can" is based on our responses to all of our lived experiences so far. Each of us has found ingenious ways of living with, adapting to, and surviving the surroundings in which we have found ourselves, in terms of the way we relate and embody. We also continue to change and adapt to our current contexts, which may be very different to the situation in which we were born and raised. This seeking of change can be both conscious and unconscious: thoughts, feelings, behaviours, gestures, felt senses. What we might tend to see as intractable problems, conflicts and annoying habits can also be framed as a not yet complete process of these movements towards change and growth in the present day.
As an Embodied-relational therapist, I see my tasks as facilitating the completing of these processes towards change and growth. So I am there to be as fully present as possible, supporting all aspects of the client's process, to identify, acknowledge and amplify that process, particularly in how it expresses itself in the relationship between the client and myself. In working therapeutically with clients, I also keep inviting them back to a held and open space, allowing free expression in their own time and at their own pace, witnessing actively each aspect of the unfurling process. This faciliation can sometimes feel akin to being something of a therapeutic 'midwife:' witnessing and supporting a process which has its own momentum and direction, which benefits from, and is supported by, another human presence.
As human beings, with a human form, we are seeking (consciously and unconsciously) to integrate our sense of being a body, mind and spirit (or soul, or consciousness.) It seems that for different people at different times, this integrating can move between feeling like a flowing dance, a war-like struggle and a sense of imprisonment. I am reminded of Nick describing this:
"Sometimes the problem is to 'bring spirit down' into material expression, to commit ourselves sufficiently to the recalcitrance and fixity of being in the world, rather than floating off in fantasy. Sometimes the problem is to 'bring matter up' into spiritual connection, to hold sufficient inspiration and enlightenment rather than getting caught in the demands of practical existence. For each of us, there is a constantly shifting balance; also for each of us, we have certain preferences, predilections, assumptions which go to make up our character structure. This expresses itself not only in our habits of thought and behaviour, but also in our bodily and energetic patterns." (from www.erthworks.co.uk)
What was referred to as 'character structure' above, can also be seen as the way we relate; making sense of our relationship with ourselves and with others. This style of relating is inextricably conditioned by our live experiences, how we have approach living life and being a body mind spirit, bearing in mind the flow and struggles of embodying mentioned above. From the moment we are born, it is through our interactions with others that we learn and grow and start to gather information about what to expect from the world and how to respond. In working with clients, I often explore character and character influences in some depth. I have also written a book about character structure in relationship to meditation 'Meditating with Character' which you can find out about here.
So Embodied relational therapy focuses on two vital dimensions of our human nature and situation: that we are incarnate, and that we exist in relation to others.
To find out more about ERT and the current training, please visit the Erthworks website and the pages of Nick Totton, now consultant to the training and the trainers in the team: Jayne Johnson, Allison Priestman, and Stephen Tame.