"When partners learn how to set healthy boundaries, they feel more inspired to connect with each other."
Q: First off, what is body-oriented psychotherapy?
A: Davidson: Our bodies carry a tremendous storehouse of feeling, sensation and memory. So many of us are conditioned habitually to limit our body awareness, and we omit a powerful source of wisdom and vitality. Body psychotherapy says that our minds and bodies are inextricably connected; to heal our minds, we must attend to our bodies as well.
Q: How do you apply this to your work with people?
A: I help people to develop awareness of their interpersonal boundaries, to improve their capacity to listen to, and feel at home in, their bodies, and deepen their capacity to connect with others while staying connected to themselves.
Q: Could you give us an example?
A: It’s a complex process. Let’s take a woman who tells me that her partner has a pattern of harshly criticizing her; the relationship is on the rocks. She is worn out, depressed and agitated, and describes that she doesn’t know how to stop the criticism. I help her notice what happens in her body when she talks about it: Her belly tightens, her jaw clenches and she feels the impulse to disconnect. I help her stay with the sensations in her body and understand what they are telling her. Her tightening belly, in essence, forms a muscular boundary between her vulnerable organs and the outside world, to protect her. Her jaw is probably tight because she is suppressing her instinct to speak or yell. Her body is sending her all sorts of messages that, once listened to, can guide her toward effective action. She needs to express her impulses constructively, not repress or ignore them. I help her learn how to set limits with her partner, and to practice setting physical boundaries so she could experience the physical sensation of boundaries in her body. It really is O.K. to say “no” to someone you love. I help her notice how it feels in her body to do this. Once people get over their fear of setting limits, they often like how it feels. They sigh in relief, their eyes brighten, their posture relaxes and opens, and their breathing deepens—all signs of how our minds, bodies and hearts are interconnected.
Q: Who are your clients, and how does this approach help them?
A: I work with individuals and couples, with diverse livelihoods, from artist to software engineer, ranging from their mid-20’s to mid-50’s. Boundary work facilitates greater intimacy. When partners learn how to set healthy boundaries with each other—physical and psychological—they tend to trust each other more, and feel safer and more inspired to connect with each other.