November 4, 2010
Lately my yoga classes have focused on opening my “front body” and lifting my sternum to create space during backbends. As I drive home from class I can feel the changes in alignment in my body; sometimes they’re comfortable and sometimes they definitely are not! However, I can always trust that my teacher never asks me to do more than I am capable of. I know she will be there to support me as I take risks and move forward. All this has me reflecting on the changes we ask our clients to make in treatment and how we support them as they work through these changes.
As therapists we have all studied how motor learning takes time and repetition to occur. But what does this look like practically as we ask our clients to change old patterns and learn new ways of moving? My experience has been that individuals, no matter what their level of motor skill, are comfortable with their present patterns. Indeed, some of them have spent a tremendous amount of energy organizing their nervous systems using these movement patterns. Our attempts to help them change those patterns can be very threatening. New movements can impact on respiration, vision, and orientation of their body in space to name a few. Clients may become agitated, angry, frustrated, frightened or sad. Acknowledging and witnessing a person’s emotions can go a long way to helping them take risks in therapy and try new movements. It may also help parents to understand what may be happening for their child. This can assist them as they support their children with their new learning each day.
Confounding our understanding of what a client feels as they try to learn new movements is their difficulty communicating what is happening to them. Sometimes they don’t have the language or sometimes they just can’t put their finger on the right words during the session. Many of my older clients have been able to teach me a great deal about how new movements change their body, their emotions and their world.
When I first watched my teacher, Regi Boehme, treat a child, I wondered at her ability to emotionally connect with the child and support their growth. 20 years later our research in attachment theory has identified that there are definite neurochemical changes that occur when we form relationships with people, and these changes support the organization and optimal functioning of our central nervous system.
Ultimately we can help our clients if we develop a partnership with them in therapy. As therapists we can say to them, with our words and our actions, “I will never ask you do more than you are capable of and I am always here to support you as you take risks”. Both my professional and personal experience as a has shown me that with such a partnership, people will choose to take those risks and move forward.