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Home arrow Articles arrow Somatic Psychotherapy: The view from the second year couch

Somatic Psychotherapy: The view from the second year couch Print E-mail

by Joanna Woutersz

Four years ago, one late summer afternoon I sat under an old Morton Bay Fig in Blackwattle Bay, Sydney, and dreamed about how I wanted my life to be different. I was twenty-eight at the time and I had just done 'The Turning Point'. For me, Turning Point was like a door opening. It showed me that I had more choices in life and could take up a bigger space in the world. Back then, there were many things that I wanted to change; I wanted to have a happy relationship, my own home, a sense of my place in the world, to be more secure within myself and I was looking for a new career direction.

Two years later, post 'Mastery', '21C', 'Life Death and Purpose', 'Breakthrough', 'Upfront' and several 'Turning Point' service teams, I found myself sitting in a circle with twenty-eight people on the first night of the Somatic Psychotherapy course with Jeff Barlow. Initially, Somatics* was a shock to me. Having had a steady diet of personal development workshops for the previous year or so, I found Somatics to be very different. The main focus of first year was to gain some initial grounding in somatic psychotherapy - basic counselling skills, bodywork, theory and group process. Second year deepens the work and has been a very different experience for me. I have learnt to draw the bodywork and verbal work together in an embodied way, the group dynamics have been more challenging and the theory has become more 'real' as I am able to see how it applies to my own life.

In training to be a therapist and learning to be present with others, you need to be able to sit with yourself - your own pain and joy - more easily. If Turning Point is about starting to open the shields that we all wear, Somatics is about looking at the nuts and bolts of that shield, while also studying psychodynamic theory, learning bodywork and counselling skills, undergoing personal therapy, reading widely, and doing assignments! For me, this has been a gradual process of learning to open my heart and trust myself: it has meant embracing my vulnerability, realising that as strong as I am, I can also be quiet and soft and shy. It has meant confronting my fears about intimacy and trust in a big way through working with a group of people. I am more aware of what my drives are and am learning to sit a little bit more comfortably with the internal emptiness that's often underneath my drive to achieve. It is a confronting journey during which it feels like everything I hold within is coming out and everything that I put on the outside is turning inwards.

Somatics training has made a huge difference in the service teamwork I do at Zoeros. My counselling and bodywork skills have improved as I have become more grounded and present, my capacity for holding a space has expanded and I am more able to bring my heart into the work and to allow the process to unfold. Doing Upfront work, I feel more grounded, funnily enough because I am more in touch with my fears.

Jeff Barlow's empathic way of encouraging each individual has taught me to be more kind to others and myself. It has helped me become less attached to the outcome, which for someone who has spent thirty odd years being driven by results is a big change! When you work with a master teacher and get to be on the receiving end of, not only his skill and years of experience as a teacher and therapist, but also his genuine compassion and wisdom, you are more able to find the compassion within your own heart and practice it in daily life.

As part of the course, you need to work on yourself and be in one-on-one therapy. For me, therapy has been life changing and much of my growth over the last two years has come through being 'held', listened to and understood by my therapist. It has helped me to 'drop down' instead of 'holding up' so much in the world and to build from within rather than looking for something outside to fulfill me.

Having considered other courses and done much soul searching, I believe that this is the best Somatic Psychotherapy training available in Australia. Jeff Barlow's passion for this work and commitment to training therapists and raising the standard of somatic psychotherapy is extraordinary. This course definitely caters for people who are serious about becoming therapists or using the skills in a related profession. Everything that is taught - the different theories, bodywork, counselling and psychotherapy skills, the personal and group work - helps students build their skills as therapists. The exposure to different theories combined with the experiential work means that when I work with people, I work from a strong base, rather than out of my own process.

The more work I do on service teams, the more I realise that you never know what trauma or pain people have experienced and it's essential to understand what you are doing in the therapeutic process. If people have the courage to open up to me as a therapist, I want to have the courage to face my own fears and undergo solid training, which includes not only the actual course itself but also the sometimes painful internal work of knowing myself.

One of my Somatics teachers said, "If you listen to what is, next happens." I now live not too far from that Morton Bay fig in Blackwattle Bay. I often walk in the park and think about how I actually have many of the things that I once longed for. At the end of second year, my quest to become a therapist and teacher is ongoing, but I know that by doing this course I have started to put down some roots.

PS: 'The view from the therapist's chair' by Joanna Woutersz.

Five years down the track since I wrote this article, I still go for a walk in Blackwattle Bay Park and gaze at my tree. It has become a bit of an anchor for my dreams. I am now a practising somatic psychotherapist and have been teaching Turning Point since 2001. Now, more than ever, I appreciate my somatic training. It has provided me with a strong, solid base from which to work with people both one on one and also as a group. I often draw on the theories that I learnt, the counselling and psychotherapy skills, the bodywork skills – all these are incredibly valuable.

But, I think more than anything else, the reason why I value my training so highly is because it expanded my sense of myself and the world. It has led me on a path working with people in a way that takes me to the very heart of what it means to be a human being. Give yourself the gift of this training and your experience of yourself and others and life itself will undoubtedly change and grow and deepen.



Joanna's reference to:
* 'Somatics training' is an abbreviation for the 3 year professional training programme in Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy, provided by the Australian College of Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy.