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Working with the body in Mental Health

There are many therapeutic models that include an understanding of the body and physiology and its role in mental health. We can use this understanding to provide the focal points for intervention in talking therapy. In our practice we do not use physical touch in any form during therapy sessions.

 

The most obvious place to start to enhance health is with good exercise, good routines and good nutrition and you might decide that you want to include therapeutic work on these areas in your steps towards good mental health.

Exercise: 
Exercise promotes mental and physical health and has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. It is a great addition to any therapeutic intervention for mental health including talking therapy and medication. Exercise can help by lifting mood, relieving anxiety, maintaining physical health and encouraging nerve cell connections in the brain, which contributes to good mental health. It can be used as a health maintenance strategy as well as an emotion regulation technique. For example, vigorous exercise such as jogging on the spot or doing star jumps in short bursts can really help with feelings like anger or anxiety as it helps to discharge the chemicals associated with those strong emotions.

Maintain a Regular Circadian Rhythm: 
Our brains and bodies function best when there are predictable sleep, wake, activity and meal times. While there is some individual variation, each of these functions involve its own set of biological processes which function optimally at particular times of day, so it helps to stick to a routine. Even though it can be tempting to try to fit more into your day, it’s really important to prioritise sleep, as sleep is where our brains and bodies heal and regenerate. It is also how experiences and emotions of the day are processed, and how learning occurs, so it’s a very important biological process. Try to go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day and aim for at least 8 hours’ sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, make sure you create a sleep routine which involves reducing physical and emotional stimulation for several hours before bed and eating earlier in the evening. Careful thought about circadian rhythm is particularly important for shift workers and people experiencing a major life stressor or period of change.

 

 Polyvagal Theory

One of the most interesting approaches that includes an understanding of the body is Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory. This theory developed from Porges’ experimental work with the vagus nerve. Our previous understanding of the nervous system responses was that it mainly consisted of two opposing parts – the sympathetic fight/flight and the parasympathetic calming part, that is sometimes called freeze/ collapse. Polyvagal theory includes a part to the system- the social engagement system that allows us to connect to others in an energised but calm state.

More information about polyvagal theory can be found here:
https://www.stephenporges.com/articles

https://youtu.be/ZdIQRxwT1I0

 

We also bring our knowledge of the body into psychological therapy for trauma.

When you have experienced traumatic events either earlier in life or as an adult, triggers in your current life can activate the physical sensations related to the traumatic events. It is also common for people who have experienced trauma to experience dissociation, which is a feeling of disconnection from the body and emotions. Dissociation can range from ‘zoning out’ or feeling numb or detached, to feeling completely separate from your body, blacking out or losing time. There is considerable evidence that traumatic experiences during childhood result in an increased risk of physical illness later in life, and conversely, people with physical health issues are at higher risk of developing a mental health condition.

 

There have been great improvements in our knowledge of the inter-relationship between the mind and body in psychology and our psychologists draw on this knowledge in their therapeutic work with a range of presenting problems.

 

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