Peace in Ecoland? (Ecotone #5)

Peace in Ecoland? Ecotone #5

With the holidays upon us, my mind turns towards reconciliation. In previous articles, I’ve written about the struggles both bodyworkers and psychotherapists face as they face each other in this land we share. Personally, I’m envious of my ancestors. Hundreds of years ago in European tradition, and even today in aboriginal cultures, healers did not sort themselves by kinds of healing. Holistically, they addressed both the mind and the flesh as they supported wellness in their neighbors. I’ll save the history lesson on how the two were split, save that flesh was given to the Church’s care, where it was met with harsh judgment and extreme efforts at control. It is not surprising, then, that the vanguard of those who redeem the flesh, and the spirit inhabiting it, should often consist of iconoclasts capable of resisting rigid thinking. Alas, not all rebels rebel intelligently.

Psychotherapeutic Bodywork

I was warned of this when, at the start of my career, I consulted with Joyce Beck, who was later, with her husband, to found the Crossings. When I enthusiastically informed her that I was going to figure out on my own how to combine my newly acquired licenses, she stopped me, and firmly advised me to receive proper training in a validated form of psychotherapeutic bodywork prior to continuing in that goal. I explored several, including Bioenergetics, Hakomi, Radix, and Body Talk (not, by any means, a complete list), prior to finding my right fit in EMDR, SomatoEmotional Release (Upledger Insitute) and currently Somatic Experiencing (Foundation for Human Enrichment).

Once, therapists in either category believed they needed to make a choice. Massage therapists put down their scented oils to pick up a counseling degree, and psychotherapists, discontent with their practice, abandoned the couch for the table. However, a solid foundation in an effective combination therapy, which engages the body primarily even though it may not involve touch by the therapist, seems to have far-reaching positive effects, making such choices unnecessary. It allows both the conscientious bodyworkers and the psychotherapists who have studied it to expand their healing abilities. Two colleagues of mine have done so, the psychotherapist
now studying craniosacral bodywork, and the massage therapist carefully pursuing psychotherapeutic work with her well-informed clients.

Healing Communities

I’ve enjoyed several local healing communities which have sprung from training in a particular school. Within these groups, there is a great synergy from the confluence of diverse backgrounds, with mutual respect and benefit. However, I’ve also encountered both individuals and schools at both end of the spectrum at cross-purposes with the other. At a training I went to several years ago, I was the only mental health practitioner in a room of 200, studying a treatment specifically formulated to assist in emotional processing. The trainer’s discouragement of my input left me outside the circle, so to speak, as my colleagues struggled with the most rudimentary counseling techniques, which the training failed to provide. Among “complimentary” care practitioners, there seems to be, even in these pages, a small number who discourage psychotherapy for serious mental health issues such as depression and bipolar disorder, and promote exclusively alternative methods which have yet to be consistently validated as effective.

I do empathize with this defensiveness, even anger, among these practitioners; too often, psychotherapists and psychiatrists meet the very real misery of human experience with pill bottle and diagnostic manual in hand. Like one-trick ponies, we apply one or two standard interventions to match that diagnosis, applying our failures to a statistical column and chalking it up to “resistance”. And while many psychotherapists may authentically believe that a kindly hug may offend the client’s boundaries, others hide their own attachment issues and fears of liability issues behind a refusal to provide even the safest, most comforting touch.

What is a client, struggling through serious obstacles to become well, to do in the face of this mutual hostility? And when practitioners work with each other, forming a treatment team, what rules do we play by to provide a consistent care plan? There are ethical guidelines and boundaries to such teamwork, and I’ve both witnessed and experienced the negative fallout ensuing individual caregivers providing contradictory opinions, and even voicing dislike of other caregivers, to the vulnerable people in their care. Clearly, a Yuletide spirit is seriously needed here.

So this holiday season, as we close our year with festivals and friends, let us consider what good things might happen if “Peace on earth” included that hotly-contested area, the ecotone. And if you want to get a sense of what that peace can feel like, I invite you to take a little trip up to the Crossings, where the different disciplines are honorably melded. I’ve often wondered at the profound sense of peacefulness and rejuvenation I feel when I’m up there; I realize, now, that it is a version of the ecotone as it can be, with equal respect for all.