Addressing a Misconception in Body Psychotherapy

Woman holding cut out speech bubbleOddly enough, a recent ant bite has got me thinking about human behavior and psychotherapy! The little guy lived in the dessert where survival skills are paramount and he got me a good one, it hurt like the dickens for about 5 minutes. Then I forgot about it. But days later the site around the bite was swollen in a circle nearly 3 inches across. It was hard, and hot and itched- itched- itched- itched- itched. Scratching made it itch even more. Scratching also tore up the skin that was stretched tight over the inflamed tissue which could cause problems of a different nature.

You see the problem isn’t in the skin; the problem has to do with the poison that was now trapped in my system. In severe bites or severe reactions this can affect every major system of the body, the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, and on and on. Luckily I wasn’t dealing with any of that, my body was just having difficulty clearing the venom out of the system. But the problem wasn’t with my skin, that is merely the surface layer where symptoms of what is underneath show themselves; and herein lies my analogy to human behavior.

Often we have things on the surface level of our lives that are reactions to something deeper. Acting out or reacting merely complicates things. With my ant bite, scratching and breaking the skin could leave me open to infection, it creates scars, and also can cause cellulitis. This possibility of causing damage in an area where there really isn’t a problem is also sometimes true of behavior geared to “scratching our itch”. For instance when we are mad it is not helpful to act it out. However, it may be helpful to find a non-violent way to communicate about it. But as conscious humans we can go even further and notice if we have a pattern of anger issues in our life. Are we constantly discharging and never finding lasting relief? It may be that there is venom in the system left over from some old “insect bite” that needs to be attended to. We need to learn how to detoxify the system at a deeper level and to avoid causing more problems on the surface.

In the past, in some body-oriented therapies, doing extreme cathartic work was common. Primal Scream therapy, and early on in bioenergetics and core energetics the catharsis was of great importance. But the catharsis, when used, should only be a means of understanding the energy that we carry within us, energy that we often hide from ourselves and from others. Once we understand the capacity we have, and our many coping skills, we realize that no good can come from reaction-based behavior. Noting the times that our (ant) bites weren’t attended to, witnessing our pain from this safe adult vantage point, and bringing attention to the patterns and reactions in the present that stem from those past experiences goes a long way toward detoxification and healing without generating more surface scars.

This applies not just to anger but to whatever pattern is interfering with our life, depression, patterns of staying in relationships that aren’t good for us, anxiety, care-taking behavior; all of these may have an origin that isn’t apparent on the exterior. When we go through the body we have an additional way of accessing and understanding the physiological aspect of our experience and this gives us an advantage in multidimensional healing and long lasting change. Opening the physical system through exercise and expression can be a lot of fun, but we must be careful not to indulge in or mistake the cathartic experience as the cure. It is not the cure, but sometimes it is an important step in learning about ourselves. When my ant bite was inflamed, putting a cool cloth on it was soothing and gave me temporary relief. It allowed some relaxation in the tight tissue which meant the poison could begin to break down and move out of the system. Drinking a lot of water also helped flush the poison out of my body. Careful attention and soothing treatment is also the key to good body psychotherapy!

© Copyright 2010 by Aylee Welch, LICSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Molly D

    September 27th, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    What a great analogy that all of us can understand!

  • Hannah H

    September 28th, 2010 at 3:53 AM

    a very nice way of explaining things,i must say :)

    its true that most of us talk about and bother too much about things that do not actually require much attention.we may sometimes be the reason why a simple thing may get blown up into something very when i look back i’d say yes,it has happened to me,but luckily it was not something that caused a lot of damage.

  • BH

    September 28th, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    There are a lot of ants out there! People who are looking at hurting others are not uncommon and are abundantly found all over :P

    It is our responsibility to actually protect ourselves and if bitten by these ants, to get rid of the ‘poison’ that has been injected into us and to relieve ourselves :)

  • Jon

    September 28th, 2010 at 4:17 PM

    This is exactly the point that so many people need to realize but so often overlook and ignore. It is just not the surface issue that needs to be addressed but all of the other stuff going on beneath the surface that none of us pay that much attention to. That’s the real stuff that makes things so out of control sometimes yet many of us are adverse to looking at the issues in that way.

  • sammy.D

    September 29th, 2010 at 6:52 AM

    many things that go wrong in the present actually have something that we have forgotten about,something that happened in the past.figuring out those things and actually recalling them may not be easy but if done can surely help solve the problem at hand.

  • Richard Lawton

    November 3rd, 2010 at 1:09 AM

    Good article, thanks. For me the issue is one of integration. Catharsis is productive when it is part of an integrated healing, otherwise it is just discharge of energy. Many people are prepared to scream and shout, but not feel the grief that is also there. Others willingly weep, but are reluctant to rage at what was done to them. True healing can only take place when people are willing to embrace the whole.

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