Grip video # 6: Explore embodied experience

This 5-minute video clip is part 6 of the video about working with an embodied mindful pause in therapy. See transcript below the video.


Now, I want to talk about embodied experience. This is probably something that feels less familiar if you are mostly doing talk therapy, be it cognitive or psychodynamic; and more familiar if your approach is more experiential or body-oriented. But, in any case, you can get a sense of it if you think that a lot of the ways we do what we do, that we perceive what we do, that we talk about what we do, is related, one way or another, to some form of experience.

Let’s talk, for instance, about hands-on experience. (Visual of squeezing the ball) In this case, “hands-on experience” is an abstract concept. This is really literally a hands-on experience. Likewise, if we talk about ‘get a grip’: This is literally an experience of: ‘get a grip’.

I mentioned before what happens when a client is very activated, has difficulty containing their emotions, has difficulty self-regulating… In everyday language, we would say to this person: “Get a grip.”

Literally embodied experience is to realize that “get a grip” is not a phrase that could just as easily have been, “think blue” or “sit down”. It is literally “get a grip” because there is an underlying experience to what we call “get a grip.”

Having a vehicle to pay attention to what happens physically as clients deal with difficult topics, with their emotions, and with their sensations, means having a vehicle to actually explore embodied experience.

How far we go into it, how deep we go, depends on who we are as a therapist, depends on the client, depends on the session. But, even if you’re not somebody who regularly pays attention to embodied experience, you might find it interesting to notice these things when you work with clients.

I mentioned some of them, I mentioned the “get a grip” part… Also: For instance, you notice that a given client might be dealing with anger; and you notice that there is something about the way they are squeezing. Maybe they’re squeezing more, maybe it’s not just in the squeezing, but as they squeeze you notice there’s something happening in their eyes, there’s something happening in their jaw, something happening in the shoulder… And at that moment, you are literally dealing with embodied experience.

So, your style of work may be to simply notice it as information for you. It may be to gently draw the client’s attention something like: “Did you notice what’s happening in your body?” It could be directing their attention more to: “Are you noticing what’s happening in your shoulder?” You may be somebody who likes to give more exclusive directions and experiment with them.

But whatever form it takes, whether you are simply noticing it for yourself, or exploring it further with a client, I think it’s helpful to think that, at these moments, you are dealing, and the client is dealing, with embodied experience. And it is good to know that actually, the physicality of having the ball in the hand during that moment is providing a vehicle to make it a little bit more visible in the room. It gives you a gateway to explore it further if you want to. But, at the very least, to introduce that dimension that emotions are not abstract things, disembodied. To be aware of that relationship. To be aware of how connected feelings, sensations, and emotions are to actions. If just that, it would be good enough to justify paying attention to embodied emotion.

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