A Game of Catch: The Spirit of Play in Somatic Therapy

I thought I would take a moment to post this article from Vanessa Hughes, from the SE blog.  She writes about her experience using Somatic Experiencing with combat veterans.  It explains a little about how SE works, in lay-person’s terms.  What I love most is her description of the spontaneous authenticity that she shares with her clients.  She writes:

My first session to “go astray” was with a frequently dissociated Vietnam vet who sat across from me, week after week: arms folded tightly across his chest, eyes locked blankly on me, and legs planted in place. I suggested we play catch. His eyes widened, “What? You wanna do what? Why would we do that?”

“I dunno,” I replied, “to see what happens.” Quite a bit did indeed happen that session while we talked, tossed, and tracked. His dissociation decreased as movement entered into the immobility of trauma. He wasn’t numb and empty as he had claimed to be. He was filled with sensations, emotions, and story— his body told that story.

Amazing, isn’t it?  That came out of a game of catch.

So many therapists take themselves way too seriously (I should know.  I used to be one of them).  We’re afraid to experiment. We’re afraid to make mistakes.  We’re afraid of looking silly…and we’re afraid to admit (as Vanessa Hughes did), that we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

But that’s the most exciting part of doing this work…it’s a journey where one never knows what’s around the corner.   There were plenty of conventional therapeutic interventions that Hughes could have tried.  I suspect there were quite a few that she did try, before finally suggesting a game of catch.

What was it about that, which brought the client of of dissociation?  Was it the movement?  Perhaps it was the tactile sensation of the ball against his hands.  Or, it may have had more to do with his connection with the therapist, who reached out to him with warmth, and a touch of humor.

Most likely, it was a combination of all of the above.  I suspect the most vital aspect was the connection…and the fact that she didn’t take herself too seriously.  I have found that it can be powerful, when I admit that I don’t know everything.  It allows a spirit of playfulness and curiosity to enter into the room.  This allows for new opportunities for exploration.  Therapy becomes a place to experiment without the consequences of everyday life…to try out new modes of being in the world…like Hughes’ client, who learned to experience his body in a new way. All because of an intervention that didn’t seem to make sense, at first glance.

So, good on Vanessa Hughes for sharing her story.  I highly recommend the “Beyond Trauma” blog, by the way.  It has many stories that illustrate the healing power of somatic therapy…from the point of view of clients, and clinicians.


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