In the month of May, we are invited to increase our “awareness” about a fascinatingly disparate group of causes. Everything from Lupus, Better Speech and Hearing, Jewish American Heritage to Melanoma, Asparagus, Foster Care, Guide Dogs, and Mental Health are all acknowledged and celebrated in May. All of these causes are of equal importance, but this May I would like to shine a spotlight on National Correct Posture Month.
Noticing the way clients hold their bodies in session can give us important information…
As we continue to approach therapy by integrating more of a mind-body connection, noticing the way clients hold their bodies in session can give us important information about the meta-communication of their deeper feelings and needs, as well as their sense of self-worth. Trauma survivors and clients struggling with depression, learned helplessness, and anxiety often present with constricted, collapsed posture, unconsciously attempting to protect their bodies. Avoiding eye contact and making the body “smaller” in order to be safe are often survival strategies left over from an unprotected childhood. Even young children who are subjected to dismissive attachment patterns learn to be “avoidant” by using collapsed postures. Body poses that elicit helplessness and powerlessness can have a profound impact on clients’ cognitions and emotions, and communicate a message that says, “don’t take me seriously.”
During therapy, in addition to focusing on the content of a session, clinicians should compassionately encourage clients to keep noticing their posture. Making the connection between collapsed poses and their accompanying thoughts and feelings is essential as these passive poses are so automatically embodied and can only be corrected with self-awareness.
When clients experiment with expanding the spine and chest, sitting upright and tall, and looking straight ahead, they will begin to notice positive shifts in mood and thought processes.
Exaggerating the differences between collapsed and upright posture can help clients more readily differentiate between powerful and powerless. When working on issues of assertiveness training, boundary and limit setting, and using one’s voice, in addition to word choice and tone, it’s essential to incorporate postures that are empowering. As we help clients to grow and expand in their emotional expressiveness and their thinking, remember it’s equally important to help them expand with physical gestures that communicate pride, power, appropriate dominance, and self-confidence. May’s National Correct Posture Month reminds us to do just that!
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