Treating the Mind Through the Body Body Psychotherapy. Part 1

Rubenfeld Synergy and Holotropic Breathwork

Body psychotherapy is also called “body-centered psychotherapy,” “body-oriented psychotherapy,” “direct body-contact psychotherapy,” and “humanistic body psychotherapy.” Malcolm Brown, Ph.D., who collaborated with the founder of bioenergetics in the 1960s, describes the theoretical basis of body-centered psychotherapy in “The Healing Touch: An Introduction to Organismic Psychotherapy” (1990):

Modern psychiatry and psychotherapy will continue to flounder in misplaced practice and irrelevant theories until they recognize the simple truth that the core of man’s psyche is located not in the head, but in his total organism. The unconscious dimensions of the human psyche actually belong more to the kingdom of the body than of the mind. Furthermore, the depths and breadths of the human soul, as distinct from the mind and psyche, find their primary locus in the total organism, in its many and opposing complex fields of responsiveness.

In conventional forms of psychotherapy, little or no physical contact takes place between therapist and patient. In fact, conventional psychotherapists generally condemn such contact because it can provoke unhealthy fantasies. In contrast, all modes of body psychotherapy encourage or demand physical contact — in some cases, repeated and sustained physical contact — as a means of “unblocking” the mind. This article describes my sessions with two practitioners of body psychotherapy: one a “synergist,” the other a “facilitator” of holotropic breathwork.

Rubenfeld Synergy
The Rubenfeld synergy method is based partly on the Alexander technique. A brochure describing a 1993 conference cosponsored by the Fetzer Institute quotes her: “The body is the sacred sanctuary of the soul.” According to a brochure from the Rubenfeld Center in New York City’s Greenwich Village, “Emotions and memories stored in our beings often result in energy blocks, tensions and imbalances.” In a supplementary article, Rubenfeld states: “The body, mind, emotions and spirit all form a dynamic and unitary — although not necessarily a unified — structure.” Rubenfeld synergy involves aura analysis, “intentional and noninvasive” touch, kinesthesia, dreamwork and humor. Practitioners are called “synergists.”

The Rubenfeld Center referred me to Jayne Gumpel, certified social worker, who directs The 36th Street Center, in midtown Manhattan. I visited Gumpel there on June 9, 1993. Her fee was $90 per 50-minute session. At the beginning of the session we sat opposite each other in armchairs and chatted for about four minutes. For most of the following hour, I lay on my back on a cushioned table while she touched, held or manipulated various parts of my body. For example, she held my head in her hands, held both of my shoulders simultaneously, held both of my feet, placed her hand over mine as it rested on my chest, lifted my left arm, and poked the upper left side of my back.

Once I lay on the table, Gumpel asked me to close my eyes. She stated:

For right now, I want to invite you to just notice how you make contact with the table. So begin by noticing the back of your head. Notice where you’re most in contact with the table. And then move your awareness down to your right shoulder and shoulder blade, and notice how your right shoulder and shoulder blade contact the table.

Next, Gumpel asked me successively to turn my attention to different parts of my body’s right side: arm, elbow, wrist, fingers, hip, pelvis, thigh, leg, calf and foot. Then she asked me to “become aware of” the entire right side of my body. She inquired if I noticed any differences between my right and left sides. “Can you tell me right now what you’re aware of?” she queried.

I replied that my right side seemed to be pushing more into the table than my left and that I felt as if I were inclining to the right.

“Well, let’s see about that,” she said. Then she repeated the foregoing procedure with the left side of my body. I concluded that my left side seemed lighter than my right.

Gumpel placed her hands on my head and neck and stated:

I’m curious about that. Are you willing to experiment with it? … Imagine that your left side has a voice and your right side has a voice. Can you have your left side talk to your right side? What does your left side say? Describe yourself from what you notice on the left side.

I hesitated and Gumpel said: “So tell me what you notice on the left side that’s different.”

“Well, I know my heart is there,” I responded. “Does this mean I’m lighthearted?”

Gumpel asked me to place my left hand on my heart. “So just imagine right now that your heart has a voice,” she said. “What would your heart say?”

“Relax,” I answered.

“Would it say anything else?”

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