Imagine that your body is like a car. To a great extent, both are designed for the purpose of navigating the world around you. The axles and wheels are your legs and feet, the gas engine is your stomach, and the on-board computer is your brain.
The on-board computer is constantly monitoring everything else, often without
you even noticing. But when the on-board computer of a car notices a problem, it gives you some kind of warning: if you let the gas tank get too low, a light will flash on your dashboard and a chime will sound. To address this problem, you stop at a gas station and fill your tank.
When it comes to our mental health, we often look only to our brains, our on-board computers, as both the problem and the solution. We think that by changing the way we think about ourselves and our experiences, we will cause ourselves to feel better. And, to be honest, this is not wrong. On your car, it is possible that when the warning light comes on, you could have plenty of gas left. The gas sensor may be faulty, interpreting a half or a quarter of a tank of gas as being almost completely empty. And, often, our brains make similar mistakes.
However, if for some reason we decide that we can make the gas light go away by adjusting only our on-board computer, it’s very likely that we will soon find ourselves stranded on the side of the road, upset that we didn’t pay attention to the fact that we were about to run out of gas. By trying to change only our thoughts, we make the same mistake with our mental health. We often overlook the fact that our bodies can also be part of the problem as well as hold part of the solution, though perhaps not always so straightforwardly as putting gas in our tank (though eating well does support stable and positive mental health!).
Body psychotherapy brings attention and awareness to what is happening in the body so that we allow this information to help us better understand and begin to shift our negative moods, the ways we think about and perceive our experiences, and our automatic reactions to difficult situations (reactions that often create outcomes very different the ones we truly desire).
In part 2, I will discuss more one potential benefit of the integrated mind-body approach of body psychotherapy. In parts 3 and 4, I will explore two other central benefits of body psychotherapy, and, in Part 5, I will explain what I mean by “what is happening in the body,” how it relates to our well-being, and offer an example of what a body-psychotherapy approach may look like in a therapy session.