Embodied relationships: The therapist's experience
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This study explores the lived experiences of the therapist in the therapeutic relationship. It focuses on therapists understandings of their own bodies showing a range of experiences that therapists have in their day-to-day practice of psychotherapy. It then explores the understandings that these therapists bring to their experiences. The study is different from much of the current writing about therapists body experiences in that it is not written to illustrate theoretical views but is the gathering of experiences to explore how the therapists body is part of the every-day therapeutic relationship. Hermeneutic phenomenology is chosen as a methodology in order to stay close to the therapist’s experiences. The philosophical underpinnings that guide the methodology are drawn from Heidegger and van Manen. The findings of this study show that embodied experience is a dimension of the therapeutic relationship that is often hidden in its always-there-ness but is a rich source of relational and symbolic information. The significance and dynamics of the hidden-ness and revealed-ness of the embodied relationship is revealed. This includes notions such as, the body is the relational surface; it is the site of our interpretive interaction with the world. Each participant described his/her body as a site or dimension of experience that was ‘lived’ and contained dynamics, both in and out of awareness, which arose in the relational context. The therapist’s body responses often appeared to be a way of accessing material that was difficult to know about. The therapist’s ability to access, understand and consciously use the body experiences was a complex mix of their own capacities and what was possible in the moment-to-moment living engagement between client and therapist; what the therapeutic dyad were capable of engendering and exploring between them. There is richness to the lived bodily experiences that the therapists shared, which captures the realness of the therapeutic relationship and the complexity of what is enacted in the therapeutic space. The study showed that the therapists experience, understanding and use of their body, brings together the science and art of psychotherapy elucidating the use of theory in the context of each therapist’s personal capacity, sensitivity, creativity and spontaneity. The study provides a starting place for a deeper exploration of the role of the therapist’s body in the praxis of psychotherapy and the impact of the embodied experience of the therapeutic encounter on the person of the therapist.