"Stress Reduction for Psychotherapists" is intended to help the practicing psychotherapist (licensed or intern) with managing and releasing the physical and mental stress that unavoidably comes with doing this work. It is taught in video form, broken into sections for work between sessions and during sessions, but all focusing on using the breath and body to reduce stress. (The course will take you about one hour and twenty minutes to watch all the way through, but we recommend going slowly and experimenting with the different exercises. As this course uses the body so much, we encourage you to consult your physician to make sure it's all safe for your body. The information is intended to be educational, and we cannot take responsibility for any injuries. Use your medical person and good common sense.)
Herein we lay out the learning goals for the course, our focus on the body and how it can be engaged to release stress quickly, and our being inspired by the principles of the Russian martial art, Systema. Although it might seem an odd place to draw inspiration for surviving our practice of psychotherapy, Systema carries deep and old wisdom in the releasing of stress as soon as it comes in, which is a challenge to every practicing therapist.
Nathan describes the fundamental importance of the breath in releasing stress. When we are in stressful situations, such as sitting with the deep suffering of our clients, and their despair or acting out, we are often holding our breaths, or doing shallow breathing just in our upper chest. To learn to both open up the breathing, and to breath into and through different areas of our body, is a foundational skill for this course and for stress reduction in general.
In this lecture, Nathan describes what Systema calls "Burst Breathing," which is rapid breath in the nostrils and out the mouth, used to quickly shift the accumulation of stress in the body (or mind). It sounds and looks a little funny, but is very useful between sessions when we only have a few minutes to clear our system before moving on to the next patient.
"Box Breathing" is a Systema technique involving linking the breath and walking, and mixing in breaths, out breaths, and breath holds. You'll notice that when you're calm and unstressed, your breathing is generally deep and regular, so Box Breathing is a way of entraining the body to that relaxed state by regulating artificially the pattern that is otherwise naturally there.
Pushups are one of Systema's go-to exercises for quick stress release...which it's unlikely that therapists tend to do during their days. But knowing how to do pushups, and to join the breath to the gross muscle activity, is amazingly useful to clear and reset between clients (or after a long day). In this lecture, Nathan shows us how burst breathing is used in relation to pushups, and Marty gets to get some exercise.
Here we're working with pushups again, but using "breath holds" as we do the pushups. Holding one's breath does bring one to the state of body stress--"Where's the air?! What are you doing?!" says the body--but, paradoxically, allows for the quick flushing of stress otherwise in the body. It's as if the body doesn't have the resources, when it goes into survival mode, to hold onto all the more subtle stresses, and has to let them drop to deal with the obvious absurdity of our holding our breaths. So Nathan describes this wonderfully blunt way of dealing with the much more subtle levels of stress we take on as therapists.
In this lecture, Nathan continues with the holding breath exercise (last was with pushups), but applying it to squats. The process and outcome is the same, but we are modeling this in order to stuff your tool bag with possible options. At times, as you practice with these tools, you will see that for reasons known (e.g., elbow injury) or unknown ("Pushups just don't feel good right now"), having different modes of enacting the same stress reduction are really useful, and also prevent a kind of boredom or rigid patterning in practicing stress release. Here, we are still using breath hold to induce stress, and trigger stress release, just doing it standing up.
In this lecture and section, we're focusing on the use of gross muscle exercises (as opposed to the primarily breath focused exercises of the last section) to release stress. These are all ones to use between sessions or between days (doing squats in the middle of a session might create curious transference responses...), and are meant to enlist the big muscles to move the smaller tensions. So in this lecture, we're focusing more directly on pushups--what they are, how to do them, and what's the point. Presumably, every one of you have done pushups in your life, but Systema relates to these "exercises" very specifically to induce and support relaxation. This likely seems counter-intuitive, especially if you are imagining the board-straight military pushup position, but Nathan will explain why this pushup is something else entirely.
Again, with the importance of you having numerous ways of enacting the same thing (stress release and reduction), here is Nathan describing, and Marty doing, Systema situps. Just like we want our clients to have multiple routes to get to the same goal or outcome, so too should we.
Nathan describes in the lecture how to do leg raises, as a third option for enlisting gross muscle activity for stress reduction. As will all of these practices, the goal is not to build muscle or burn fat (many of the strongest and most powerful, and relaxed, Systema teachers have a respectable beer belly), but to release stress as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Here, Nathan rounds out this section on gross muscle practices with the venerable squat.
Movement, along with breath and gross muscle work, is a resource for stress reduction/release, because when we are stressed, we inevitably contract and hold, making relaxed and fluid movement impossible. It also constricts energy flow through out body, making us feel congested and often enervated. So in this lecture, Nathan shows how the use of circle and figure 8 movements in the body can serve to break open the rigid patterns that set in with stress, and remind the body that it can and is safe to move, resulting in a move back towards a relaxed state.
Wave motions are also very useful in restoring movement to, and therefore releasing stress from, the body. You'll notice that when you shiver, there's tends to be a natural wave motion, starting some place in your body, and moving out another place. We can do this intentionally, so in this lecture we look at how to feel into and enact these motions.
Every body posture and position is available for stress reduction, and again, in the spirit of having many different tools available on your bench, here's Marty demonstrating using one's movement and body weight in standing "wall work." This combines movement, gross muscle, and breath, and can be useful in situations (let's say, on the bus) where you're noticing stress but can't or don't want to get down on the floor.
In this lecture, Marty demonstrates both the use of spontaneous body movement to quickly clear body and mental stress, and a willingness to look really silly. Between or after sessions, allowing the body to move naturally and spontaneous, without any planning or forethought, can help with both coming back into the here-and-now, and with letting the tensions move out of the body in whatever way it deems appropriate. As you'll see, it looks pretty silly, but with the goal being quick stress release, and since you're alone in your office anyway, what the heck.
The prior practices are all intended to be used out of session (between sessions or between days), but then what do we do when we're in session? In this lecture, Marty demonstrates (while Nathan models a very quiet client) the focus on and intentional relaxing of the belly, which can be done invisibly while engaging the therapy. There is information, of course, in a therapist's body responses (the somatic dimension of countertransference), but at times the important need in therapy is to return to a relaxed, open, receptive state, when we're getting triggered or distracted to the point of losing connection. So this lecture focuses on relaxing the belly to, as it were, pull us back into the present.
Subtle motion is available to us in session for stress release, so in this lecture, Marty demonstrates using (generally) gross muscle contraction-and-release to "hook" what might otherwise be floating patterns of tension, and allow then to clear from the body.
In this lecture, Marty talks about the use of a "corkscrew" motion around the spine, which is part physical motion, and part energetic. What "energy" actually is could fill up a dozen of these courses, but here it's sufficient to say that it's the noticeable subtle experience of sensation in the body that is not caused by movement. Energy. Stress involves a kind of energy clotting, so this exercise/practice is simply another way to tune into the stress in the body, and move it up and out.
The gross breath we worked with previously, but can't be deployed in session (again, without some raised transferential eyebrows). Here Marty demonstrates the use of subtle, unnoticeable (to the client) breath, that's very useful as an ongoing, intentional practice of preventing stress from accumulating in session. As we start being conscious about the process of stress regulation in practicing psychotherapy, we'll soon discover how much stress we've been overlooking, and especially how much, but not being mindful, we allow to accumulate. The breath is ubiquitously useful in preventing this, whether gross like burst breathing, or subtle as is appropriate in session.
As we've seen, the body is a spectrum of gross and subtle dimensions, and as with the corkscrew exercise, we can learn and practice moving energy itself throughout the body to (as it were) wick stress from our systems. In this lecture, Marty points to and explains the general focus on energy and its movement through the body, as a general encouragment to recognize this as a resource for stress reduction, and as always, to experiment.
For the final "in session" practice, this lecture talks about enacting a calming, regulating response by filling the attention with the every-available pulse in the body. By doing so, we anchor part of our awareness in a neutral, present-centered experience, as we are listening to and engaging our client. In this way, we establish the same "dual awareness" that we want our clients to have for their own stability and relaxation, where we are not hyper-focused on content (mental or emotional), but rather are both in ourselves and in relationship.
Nathan describes in this lecture the process of tracking the pulse, but outside of session time. This can be a methodical way and sequence of entraining the awareness with the pulse, and enacting a deeper relaxation than one can reach in session.
To conclude the course, we talk about how important it is to practice, practice, practice the tools and exercises offered in "Stress Reduction for Psychotherapists." For most of us, we did not get any of this training in our educations or internships, and also for many of us, we can be more heady than embodied in our work, so these practices can prove a bit counter-intuitive or even aversive. The only way through this is to make them intuitive, by practicing and experimenting with them. Some will work, some won't, some will or won't from situation to situation. There's no cookie-cutter approach that will work, because it's not just any nervous system that is being soothed and de-stressed--it's yours! So please do take these in your satchel of stress reduction tools (we know you all have one, otherwise you would have burned out of this work) and pull them out to sharpen and become skilled at. By doing so, we become more relaxed, more efficient, get better outcomes, and are happier and more effective.
The Psyche Academy offers trainings and courses in psychology, mental health, and other mind-stuff, both for professionals in the field, and individuals looking for ways out of suffering.
It is headed by Marty L. Cooper, a psychotherapist in San Francisco who specializes in the treatment of anxiety and depression (especially ongoing and chronic forms). Marty has been practicing psychotherapy for 15 years, focusing on how fundamental change happens and can happen, and in some ways, inevitably happens. He helps clients to feel their way through their experience, but also how to map and understand their own terrain. The Psyche Academy is intended for this, the educational side of healing and transformation, the understanding of the terrain and the inspiration and confidence that there is a path and that it can be safely walked.
Marty's own experience with depression, as well as his clinical work and study, provides the basis for these courses; because maps can be problematic if they haven't been tested by actually walking them, he's tested everything that is presented, clinically and personally.