Probably the most profound discovery of the holistic movement is the knowledge that there are many ways to heal emotionally - not all them come from psychotherapy.
Yes indeed, you can feel better - even address deep-seated emotional issues - by working with a hands-on body worker!
For that matter, nor is every type of psychotherapy 'holistic' in their aims.
Why holistic psychotherapy?
Okay, okay . . so you haven't danced in a while. And yeah, you haven't had a good laugh in a long while . . . well come to think of it, it's been a mighty long while.
What's it mean?
Holistic therapies aim not just to provide symptom relief, but to give clients the ability and means for attaining a veritable transformation in their lives.
Any therapy that is holistic always considers the "big picture" in a client's life, rather than focusing exclusively on the psychological factors involved, as conventional therapies do.
In health care, most folks recognize the term "holistic" in reference to alternative treatments as opposed to more mainstream medical interventions.
There's actually no widely accepted definition of what is meant by "holistic" psychotherapy.
Though with this holistic approach, we appreciate that genuine, lasting health is an ongoing process to be nurtured.
Holistic psychotherapy matters for your:
Breakthroughs in brain research and clinical practice can now give you the freedom to live your life as you so choose.
When you know how to use therapy, when you fully understand how personal change depends on changing the brain, you can exploit your innate ability to heal emotionally, to adapt to change, and to create the life you want. More . . .
Emotions are deeply rooted in the brain's neural wiring, and have a direct impact on the body's hormonal system. Chronic stress and anger can cripple the immune response and an emotional "shutting down" virtually guarantees poor physical health.
Therapy stops the damage caused by these chronic emotional states by changing your reaction to stress and anger "from the inside out". More...
How can you open your heart to the creative energy of the universe when you are emotionally closed and defensive in your relationships? And how can you follow a spiritual path when there's too much hurt and confusion inside?
Therapy offers a practical way of finding an inner emotional balance which leads naturally to spiritual awareness. Therapy can be the key to a heartfelt transformation in your life, an invaluable "gift" for all who choose a spiritual path. More...
Holistic psychotherapy is about personal growth
You may have gone to therapy to get rid of symptoms or reduce your emotional or physical pain. However, have you ever considered how holistic psychotherapy is actually a venue to expand your life?
In some ways, that's the impetus behind this site. I went to therapy to "solve" my pain and in the process got the freedom to pursue the passions in my life.
You're probably familiar with the face of this pain . . .
- Feeling alone even though you're surrounded by others
- Seeing others achieve success that you can't even fathom for yourself
- Experiencing life as a struggle where the in-between good moments are too far apart
My therapy experience was so far reaching for me - I wanted to share it with others. And in time, as I was able to work this way with my clients, I could see similar transformative changes for them as well.
And when I say "changes" I mean serious deviations from the normal trajectory of their lives. They had major shifts that qualitatively improved their lives.
Before you think that you need to have had some deep dark traumatic experiences to seek therapy for personal growth, let me say that your starting point is probably already evident in your life.
The process might begin by asking you a few probing questions...
- When was the last time you danced?
- When was the last time you sang in the shower?
- When was the last time you had a real belly laugh?
Too many people believe that the ability to be spontaneous, fun loving and feeling alive in the full sense of the word is something that's only for the chosen few.
Or that somehow, those lucky folks were born that way.
You know who I'm speaking about . . .
What it means to be emotionally healthy
They're self-assured and comfortable with who they are.
It's not just that they're at ease in their own skin - it's the way they experience everything around them. They see life as it is.
They're energized for change.
Sometimes serious, often playful.
They get a kick out of being alive!
Neuroscience supports holistic psychotherapy
The last two decades have witnessed an explosion of brain research that's dramatically revitalizing the practice of psychotherapy. It's providing the scientific basis for no less than a paradigm shift for clinical practice.
We can now explain the futility of clichés like "think your way to riches" or "just do it", as well as the almost universal failure of "quick-fix" self-help books and New Year's resolutions to make a lasting difference in people's lives.
You see, you can't change yourself without changing your brain. But you can't change the brain just by thinking the right thoughts.
Because lasting change happens from the inside out!
Are you living life on auto-pilot?
If you're like most people you go about your business without giving a thought to the moment-to-moment activities that consume your day.
Do you sometimes wonder if something's not working for you, that "something is missing" (and no, I don't mean your sanity!)
Do you ever stop to consider the possibility that your life could be more satisfying, more complete? Have you given up believing it could be any other way?
I'd like to ask you three questions:
- Are you living your life's purpose?
- Are you living your potential?
- Have you unknowingly sold yourself short?
How holistic psychotherapy helps
The key to personal change is understanding that our sense of well-being, and how we relate to the world, are completely dependent on processes that operate below consciousness.
In fact, the brain is predominantly occupied with processes that are not, and cannot be, brought into awareness.
But "updating" these non-conscious processes ultimately enables us to make deeper connections with others and to find more meaning in our lives.
It's my belief, and experience, that one of the more effective ways is to do this with psychotherapy.
Not just any psychotherapy, but the kind that involves an empathic relationship with an attuned therapist. It's with an "attuned" therapist where the natural up and down rhythms of the nervous system are contained and modulated.
In time, this process, becomes the foundation for a healthy optimized nervous system.
In other words, it means with each step you can tolerate stronger emotions. You can handle the intimacy of relationships. It means spiritually you feel more on purpose in your life.
And finally, achieving an ongoing integrity with yourself becomes possible.
Self-regulation of the nervous system is naturally holistic
And through this kind of therapeutic exchange your nervous system capacity for self-regulation becomes possible. Not only that, you'll usually be pleasantly surprised to learn that your ability for achieving goals - even those that at one time seemed formidable - has expanded.
That's what a 'holistic' approach is all about. It's about 'expansion' in the fullest sense of the word.
A 'holistic' model requires a whole brain approach - one that embraces right body-based strategies, tools and techniques.
It means therapy that's open to working with your body, mind and spirit.
It emphasizes moment-to-moment interactions with you and your therapist. (For example, it means you wouldn't be talking endlessly about an event without ongoing interventions for healing or being present.)
Holistic therapy matters to your health
What I'll cover in this section:
- The quality of our emotional health is reflected in the physical state of the body.
- Holistic psychotherapy is a powerful ally in healing the body.
- Psychotherapy and bodywork co-operate synergistically, each supporting and augmenting the healing effects of the other.
In the world of brain research it has not been clinically helpful to distinguish mind from body for a long time. It's perhaps the most important implication of recent neuroscience research - you cannot understand or treat either one in isolation. This intimate relationship between the biological and the mental/emotional aspects of our being has been coined "the mind-body connection".
When you have a thought, feel an emotion or take action on an impulse, your body responds. The emotional, neurological, glandular and immune systems are all wired together, speaking the same chemical language. Whatever happens in one system affects all others.
For the most part we are unaware of the influence that the mind has over the body, since its impact is overwhelmingly non-conscious.
When we have a stimulating thought or feeling ("Oh my gosh, I forgot to turn off the stove!") neurochemicals are released into the bloodstream, changing the neurochemistry of the body.
When habits in thinking and feeling are rigid and unchanging, the same hormonal responses are induced repeatedly in the body. These are ultimately driven into inflexible, uncomfortable states of "dis-ease".
When you feel stressed, anxious or upset, the body tells you something isn't right. You don't have to be a doctor to know that high blood pressure or stomach ulcers frequently develop following a particularly stressful event, such as the loss of a loved one.
In fact, when your emotional health is poor you may experience all sorts of physical complaints, such as back or chest pain, extreme fatigue, insomnia, palpitations, sweating, weight gain or loss.
The reason being…
Emotions, which are rooted in deep neural wiring, can adversely alter the internal neurochemical environment through their actions on the body's hormonal systems.
Take the stress response, for instance. When we are convinced that we face either a physical or emotional threat (the nervous system makes no distinction), a series of hormonal events are triggered by the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis.
The HPA axis is the core of the body's stress response. It is the mechanism by which emotions swiftly interact with hormones, the immune system, and the nervous system to put the body on "red alert", ready for fight or flight.
Uncertainty, conflict or a seemingly lack of control are all-powerful triggers of the HPA axis. Not surprisingly, they are almost always features of the lives of those suffering from chronic illness.
What we now know...
- "Shutting down" emotionally as a lifelong coping strategy virtually guarantees poor physical health.
- Chronic stress cripples the immune response. In particular, sustained activation of the stress pathways (via the HPA axis) tends to weaken the body's ability to fight infections.
- There is a strong and well-researched correlation between the habitual repression of anger and cardiac disease.
- Social support is a strong buffer against stress. Lack of connection ranks equally with smoking as a risk factor for cardiac disease.
- Emotional stability fluctuates with the supply of the brain chemical (i.e. neurotransmitter) serotonin. Studies show that levels of serotonin rise and fall in relation to one's social status. And not surprisingly, one's social status depends to a great degree on one's ability to make connections with others.
Let me repeat: longstanding emotional problems, if left untreated, will eventually be reflected in physical symptoms.
Because when emotions are chronically and habitually repressed (i.e. banned from conscious awareness) the body's natural defenses get confused and disrupted. Emotions become a threat to one's health rather than its' protection.
Awareness is the key to change!
Not only does the mind influence the body, but awareness of the body, of how and where it holds physical stress and emotional injury, helps heal the mind!
Your mind may repress painful emotions and memories, but the body remembers it all, and it always tells the truth!
Feelings from past experiences are "stored" in the body and unconsciously have a powerful effect on how you behave and how you feel about yourself. If you bring these unconscious feelings and memories into awareness, you have the chance to modify the old patterns that keep you from living life to the fullest.
The body is the gateway to awareness.
Demand for yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, etc. has soared in recent years as people search for relief from the tension and stress of daily life. It's now common knowledge that calming the body calms the mind.
Bodywork techniques such as massage, acupuncture, breathing practices, cranial-sacral and visceral manipulation are designed to improve physical health and functioning.
These techniques help harmonize and rebalance the nervous and hormonal systems. As physical health and functioning improve so do psychological conditions.
Moreover, when these techniques are used in conjunction with psychotherapy our awareness of how the body holds physical stress and emotional injury is significantly enhanced.
Furthermore, this increased awareness informs and directs the therapy process and enables us to work through limiting psychophysiological patterns that can't be resolved at the level of the conscious mind.
Most of my clients will hear me say . . .
Those clients who supplement their therapy with body based holistic strategies seem to progress at a faster rate than others in my practice.
Bringing consciousness to your body brings consciousness to your emotions
So what can the combination of psychotherapy and bodywork do for you?
Together they create changes from the inside out:
- The way you psychophysiologically respond to stress.
- The way you psychophysiologically respond to anger.
- The way you habitually relate to others.
- The speed at which you recover from illness or injury.
In the same way that regular exercise and healthy eating are necessary for maintaining optimum physical health, psychotherapy and bodywork are powerful allies both for healing and for maintaining the health of the whole person.
We have learned that physical and emotional well-being is based on a number of balanced and integrated states: left hemisphere with right hemisphere, mind with body…heart with spirit. You can now appreciate that genuine, lasting health is an ongoing process to be nurtured.
Expansive, peaceful thoughts and feelings induce a cascade of "happy molecules" in the body. By developing and stabilizing this natural process, holistic psychotherapy can significantly expand your ability to adapt and thrive, to get the most out of your life.
Ironically it is the doctor of the soul, the "psycho-therapist", who enables you to see that there really is no separation between mind and body.
And that makes all the difference!
Emotional baggage holds us back spiritually
You may think it's a big jump from the therapy office to the temple (or the church, synagogue, or mosque). I'd like to explain otherwise. I believe that heart, mind and body are integral to a sense of spiritual well-being.
No matter what concept or practice of spirituality you embrace, whether you follow a traditional religion, a Higher Power, or "spiritual guides", you cannot abide by your principles and insights if you are emotionally blocked.
The question is this:
Can you live mindfully, in harmony with others, if you are not in harmony within yourself?
Is it possible to open your heart to the creative energy of the universe, to the opportunities for growth that present themselves every day, when you are emotionally closed and defensive in your relationships, or within yourself?
In other words, how can you follow a spiritual path when there's too much confusion, hurt, or feelings of overwhelm inside?
Just so I'm clear what I mean by spirituality . . .
Most people have their own idea of what spirituality is. Those who actively follow a spiritual path speak in many different ways of what is essentially indescribable:
"It seemed as though I had entered into the heart of something much bigger than I was."
"It was faint yet very clear, this small voice that came from beyond my mind."
"Unlike book learning which comes from the outside, my spiritual knowledge comes from within."
Innumerable fears, big and small, block us from trusting others or even ourselves.
Yet we must find a place to start. The therapeutic alliance offers this, a place to take that first step.
For when you learn to trust your inner voice, your inner self, the world opens up for you because you have opened up to the world.
Spirituality could then be described as life characterized by "unstuckness", a sense of flow, an acceptance of all that has happened, and all that might be.
In accessing the power that's found in the spiritual realm, we become more sensitive to sensations, images, feelings, and intuitions. The language of the body is, paradoxically, the key to the language of the wordless beyond.
I want to unfold,
Let no place within me hold itself closed,
For where I am closed I am false.
If we are emotionally blocked, blind to a rigidity of reaction and feeling that has set in over the years, how can we be sure our spiritual yearnings are authentic and not skewed by the effects of unresolved conflicts?
Modern living is filled with distractions. We are easily lulled into believing more possessions and gratifications will lead to real happiness.
Is it not possible that we're obsessed with the glitter of consumerism simply because this is the way we've learned to regulate a deeply hidden sense of dissatisfaction?
We believe the more energy you bring into your life, career, and relationships, the more real satisfaction and enjoyment you'll manifest.
By liberating the huge amount of energy needed to keep painful past experiences tucked away, therapy provides us with renewed strength and motivation, a "new lease on life".
Therapy offers a practical way of finding an inner balance that naturally leads to spiritual awareness. It gives you the courage to open your heart to the world and the chance to finally find, deep inside, that which you have never lost.
In short, I believe therapy is the key to a heartfelt transformation in your life, an invaluable "gift" for all who choose a spiritual path.
2. Keep in mind that old memories stored in the body can be triggered making it difficult to accurately assess the current environment you're in. For example, one hears this all the time: "I was out with my friends, everyone was having a good time, but I was so agitated. I couldn't understand why".
Reader Comments - reply from Dr. Carole Gaato
Freeing yourself from past hurts
Why can’t I move forward from past events and why do I lose friends and cannot seem to get along…I know it’s partly ADHD, but I want to dig deeper, my relationship with my mother seems to be the break point, but I’m not sure if I am right or wrong. Angela
Thank you so much for your question. My heart goes out to as you struggle to let go of past experiences and wonder how to improve your connections with others, in particular, with your mother. At times like these we all tend to feel “stuck in our patterns” and are just not sure how to shift things around and into a better direction.
As I begin, I must say that my first response to your question is that it seems more geared towards a psychological resolution than a spiritually-based one…and you know what, I’m very tempted to think that an emotional solution is bang right-on for you at this point in time.
Why do I suggest this? Well, it seems that personal, psychological, and relational “work” tends to follow a different internal process from spiritual development. And though these two paths can compliment each other quite nicely, they require a different course as we move along.
In other words, it is very difficult to move forward spiritually when we have a lot of emotional stuff backed-up inside.
Angela, your question is an awesome one for those of us who need to delve more deeply into our stuck patterns – be they emotional or relationship problems – before considering a spiritual approach to things.
With this noted, Angela, I think you’re right on with your hunch of needing to dig deeper and it’s so good to hear that you’re open to asking yourself a question or two about your part in things.
A metaphor I often use is that in any relationship, there are three “energies”…so, in the connection between you and your mom…there is your energy, your mother’s and what the two of you co-create in the space between (kinda like a mother-daughter “dance” of energies).
At the end of the day, it’s seldom merely about the matter of “right or wrong” when things get to a “break point” in a relationship…rather, it’s much more about how each person is contributing to the flow or disharmony of what’s going on.
So, my simple answer to your rich question is to consider working with a body-based therapist for moving forward into a deeper understanding of your contributions to your relationships with others, options for change, and personal healing.
And, if it fits for you Angela…embracing a spiritual path when your time is right.
Wishing you well on your journey,
How can I enter into my heart Qalb, at the Sufi Light? Rahman
Thank you for your question Rahman.
For the benefit of others I’ll chat briefly about the terms ‘Qalb’ and ‘Sufi Light’.
Before doing so, however, I want to let you know that I’m aware that “regular” words pale in addressing the Sufi concepts you’re struggling with. With that noted….
In Sufism, the Qalb refers to the spiritual heart and not the physical body part. The Qalb is a state of deep spiritual intelligence or knowingness - wiser than the conscious brain typically registers. The opening of the heart means coming closer to God.
At the ‘Sufi Light’, all “veils” (or separations) between us and God disappear…it’s a process of self-transformation – a Oneness into the presence of the divine.
As I see it, all spiritual seekers are yearning to connect with their inner selves and divine source. And, they typically struggle with aspirations of faith, gratitude, and generosity to name a few as these mind-body-spirit experiences easily exceed reasonable human consideration.
Regardless of our spiritual perspective, when we arrive at an ever-evolving sacred space, there’s an “Ah!” as we drop in more deeply…we know that we’re on our “right” path!
Rahman, through ‘Sufi Light’ (and the secret of meditation), your heart’s path to the divine becomes more embodied…breathing techniques and prayer guide you forward.
Not surprisingly, an emotional desperation or ungrounded yearning is at cross-purposes for leaning into divine connection.
My musing Rahman is that your question may be about “time” – more specifically, that your timeframe for self-transcendence is not in accord with the perceived pacing of your spiritual journey.
I anticipate that through listening to that small, quiet voice within, you will know if you are pushing into an unfolding that’s not quite ready to bloom. If so, grace yourself with an allowing into where you are at this present moment.
As Rumi so eloquently wrote:
Oh heart, sit with someone
who knows the heart;
Go under the tree
Which has fresh blossoms.
My wish for you is compassion, staying with your practice, and trusting the Sufi Light as it guides you forward.
For a review of the reasearch on mind-body medicine visit: