Becoming remotely unstuck: Processing emotions on the move.
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Working with movement in therapy can be effective with many issues and especially for shifting ‘stuckness’ in emotions. Emotion focused work can happen both within the therapy room or outside in the environment, where a natural therapeutic frame can be created.
This blog explores working with emotions and movement together in therapy, in both the content of the therapeutic work and the context or setting of the session. This is particularly relevant at the moment with an enforced increase remote working this year. The difference between emotions and feelings, and how this can be applied when working with movement, is also explored.
A safe space
Therapy focuses on creating a safe space for the client to enable such emotions to be explored. Work by video call or phone call requires clients to have a private safe space where they can talk openly and not be disturbed for the session, but for some people their safe space is not inside their home, especially if this shared with family or housemates, or perhaps the person they may want to speak about is also in the house. Remote sessions are sometimes disturbed by children, home deliveries and day to day family life. It is hard for some clients to genuinely find that space, inside for the session, and then open a door and be back in the room, without the journey from the sessions to process and reflect.
For some people, their safe space is being outside, in nature, walking and talking, or moving alongside a therapist (at the client’s pace). But if a face to face session outside is not possible, this can also be achieved through taking the remote session outside by phone call. This year I have been able to hold sessions with clients, from my therapy room, whilst they have walked and talked outside, enabling clients to hold their choice and autonomy about their surroundings with regards to being able to talk openly, feel safe and maintain their confidentiality. This has been a powerful dynamic living frame * for working with emotions.
Emotion focused work interconnects and compliments the therapeutic aspects of movement. E-motions by interpretation are always on the move. Emotion focused work involves identifying, naming and exploring what emotions are being experienced and what meaning is then attached to the emotion. Often this work explores giving permission to have this feeling and providing permission to express it. It is ok to be sad, to cry, to feel angry and to safely express anger. I work with both verbal expression in language and bodily expressions in movement. So, naming an emotion, understanding its function, and reflecting on the impact of this on self and others.
I find reflections on how previous expressions of a particular emotion were received by significant others is a particularly releasing part of the work. How another significant person in an attachment relationship or dependent relationship responds can form a blueprint for that expression, and this can be a parent, partner, sibling, or even a manager at work. Emotion focused therapy can explore giving permission to find a place (both internally and externally) to allow a feeling and attach meaning to these feelings.
Emotion or Feeling?
How did that make you feel? Is the ubiquitous phrase every therapist will ask at some point, but do we need to explore emotions first?
Emotions and feelings are words often used interchangeably. Emotions are bodily reactions, physical and instinctive, activated through neurotransmitters and hormones released in the brain in a response to a stimulus. Whereas feelings are triggered by the emotions, the conscious experience of the emotions, but shaped by past beliefs, thoughts, and experiences. Feelings are the meaning attached to the emotions, and two people can experience the same emotion but label and feel it differently.
One way of processing emotions is to put them in motion. Emotions are transient and fluid, they move quickly, whereas the feelings can linger and develop into longer mood states. If we move with the emotions, such as through walking, and can process these on move, we create a natural form of bilateral stimulation enabling the left/right brain processing and shifting stuckness.
Working therapeutically with a client’s movement whilst I was stationery and not (physically at least) moving or being alongside them was insightful. I was able to focus on holding the process of the session remotely and staying present, but I noticed I also became attuned to external noises, such as traffic noise or quieter footsteps when off road.
I noticed when movement was paused to rest against a wall or a tree. I began to feel more in tune with the rhythm of the session, sensing the difference in terrain and atmosphere, and the rhythm of speech and silence alongside the movement. I was then able to use the difference between emotions and feelings, to focus on exploring the emotion during periods of movement and working with the associated feelings during periods of being stationary.
I found it helpful to have a check in and out at the start of each session. Checking if the starting and end point is home and where the ‘journey’ to the session begins and ends, which promotes being mindful of where the client feels safe to establish their dynamic living frame. Being able to take the session outside for the client helps replace the physical journey to sessions, have a safe space on the move, and can be powerful for the therapeutic relationship and the progress and process of the therapy.
*The concept of the Dynamic Living Frame is explored in Jordan, M (2015) Nature and Therapy: Understand Counselling and Psychotherapy in Outdoor Spaces. Hove: Routledge