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SPIA's Orientation to Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy has a rich and complex history. The following is provided to give a brief overview of some of the major strands of theory which inform SPIA's orientation to psychotherapy.

The psychodynamic tradition

Classical psychoanalysis began with the work of Freud whose central contribution was to show that human behaviour and experience is frequently determined by unconscious processes. Freud believed that people's difficulties mainly arise from the conflicts between their sexual and aggressive impulses (the 'instincts' or 'drives') and internalised values and constraints. In psychoanalysis the relationship which emerges between the analyst and patient (the transference) is used as a way of understanding unconscious processes.

Different psychodynamic schools have developed since Freud and their contributions have transformed the classical psychoanalytic notions of what is therapeutic. In particular, the SPIA courses focus on historical and contemporary developments in object relations theory, self psychology and attachment theory. While they contain significant differences, all of these approaches have moved away from Freud's emphasis on drives and conflict in understanding human development. Rather, they emphasise that babies are innately motivated to connect with others and to develop an ongoing emotional bond with their first 'objects' - the parents and especially the mother.

Emotional disturbances have come to be seen as originating in the patterns of our very early relationships - patterns which are internalised and then lived out both in our inner world and in our daily life and also in the therapeutic relationship. This relationship is seen as an opportunity for clients not only to gain insight but also to experience a developmentally appropriate relationship in which they can grow. Recent work in developmental theory and early infant research has further helped in forging new ways of conceptualising human development and the therapy process.

Intersubjectivity theory has developed out of a critique of the notion of ‘objectivity’ in the psychotherapy process. It has led to further exploration of how the subjective experience of both therapist and client influence each other. All 'individual' human processes are understood as reflecting the relationships in which they occur.

These different approaches offer a wealth of theory and clinical experience for understanding the development of the 'self' and the ways in which the formation of a healthy sense of self can be disrupted. While psychoanalytic psychotherapies have not traditionally encouraged working directly with the body, they have contributed significantly to our understanding of the unconscious relationship between 'body' and 'mind'. They also contribute to an understanding of the subtleties and complexities of the therapeutic dialogue and the importance of establishing a safe and secure space for deep therapeutic work to be able to take place.

The body-oriented tradition

Reich, the originator of the body-oriented tradition, was a psychoanalyst and contemporary of Freud. Reich’s work opened the way for a valuable examination of how emotional experience is structured in our bodies and shapes our very experience of life, of ourselves and of our patterns of engagement with others. Reich also developed ways of working therapeutically which engage directly with the client’s dynamic bodily experience. Reich’s ideas have been reformulated by later theorists in the light of contemporary ideas about therapeutic processes.

Body-oriented psychotherapy is grounded in the belief that psyche and soma form a single holistic entity - the bodymind. Thought, emotion and somatic (ie; lived bodily) experience are understood as inextricably linked, interfunctioning aspects of the person’s whole being.

Body-oriented psychotherapy emphasises the importance of therapists attuning to embodied experience, paying direct and conscious attention not only to symbolic meanings but also to their own and their client's bodily experience, within the therapeutic space. Body-oriented psychotherapeutic skills can be used to facilitate exploration and expression; to help clients develop self awareness, a capacity for self regulation and a stronger sense of self; to facilitate the integration of previously disavowed aspects of the self and to develop a greater sense of vitality and aliveness.

Training in Somatic orientations was first introduced to Australia in the early 1980s by a small group of Neo-Reichian therapists whose work was largely informed by biodynamic and bioenergetic theory and practice. In recent years in Australia there has been a significant move - especially within the Australian Association of Somatic Psychotherapists (AASP)- to bring together relational psychodynamic orientations and body-oriented approaches.

An Integrated Approach

Over the last ten years there have been some major developments within psychoanalytic approaches in Europe, the United States and in Australia, including a powerful philosophical critique of Cartesian dualism which has been vitalising psychotherapeutic thinking about the body and embodied experience. The findings of contemporary neurobiological and infant research, as well as research in the areas of trauma and PTSD, are also stimulating a break down of simple dichotomies between body and mind, affect and cognition, word and action.

SPIA's approach reflects this contemporary integration.

In the Psychotherapy Training Program and Psychotherapy Studies, we work within a psychodynamic perspective.Students also develop skills in observing and attending to bodily experience at subtle, verbal and non-verbal levels. There is the opportunity to learn how and when to work with more direct, active interventions, within a relational psychodynamic framework, when appropriate. This enriches and extends the therapeutic work, deepening people's understanding of their inner world and interpersonal relationships.