The lived body experience of the therapist-practitioner in the South African social service delivery field
The majority of the South African population receives counselling/psychotherapeutic services based on the Western medical framework, which has relegated the lived body to a body-as-object, that which is observable, tangible and devoid of any subjectivity, and also has disregarded and minimised lived bodily experiences to epiphenomena. Furthermore, for much of the past 100 years, mainstream Western psychology has been operating from a Cartesian paradigm that encourages dualistic ontological and epistemological thinking and practices, which has resulted in separating the body-from-mind (implicit and embodied knowing from explicit and conceptual knowing), and therapist-from-client amongst others. Dualistic counselling/ psychotherapeutic approaches promote one-person psychology, predominantly focusing on the intrapsychic issues of the client and thus neglecting the interpersonal and intersubjective (reciprocal and mutually influencing) phenomena occurring in the therapeutic field on an embodied and nonverbal level between the therapist and the client. Other consequences that have resulted from dualistic thinking within the therapeutic context are the exclusion, dismissal or suppression of the lived body (body-as-subject) and experiences of bodily phenomena (such as embodied self-awareness and implicit relational knowing amongst others), especially those of the therapist. The more recent developments into infant research, body memory (such as the adaptive oscillators) and the mirror neuron system have not only provided neurological evidence of embodied mechanisms that enable individuals to share, experience, sense and understand another's actions and emotions on an embodied and nonverbal level, but also highlight the importance of the pre-verbal and implicit domain (embodied knowing) as a valid source of knowing of how to be and relate with others and the environment, which includes the therapist within the therapeutic space. Thus dismissing the lived body experiences of the therapist and conceptualising the therapist as being a neutral, objective and disembodied professional, seem inconceivable. A literature search produced sparse research involving South African therapist-practitioners' experiences of their lived body and the meanings held about these experiences within the therapeutic context. This qualitative interpretive study sought to explore and describe the South African therapist-practitioner's lived experiences of the body within the therapeutic context and the meanings constructed or held about these experiences. Thirteen registered therapist-practitioners in private practice and government organisations in the Western Cape and Gauteng were selected by means of snowball sampling. Data were collected by means of naïve sketches and/or drawings, experiential body awareness activities, and in-depth one-on-one semi-structured interviews. The findings from the thematic analysis of the data revealed that lived body experiences appear to be a true phenomenon among South African therapist-practitioners. The participants reported that lived body experiences while doing therapy included bodily felt sensations and reactions, implicit knowing about something such as intuitive knowing, sense of warning/danger, implicit relational knowing about the clients and their own spatial and movement needs amongst others. These findings are reported in three articles. Article One focuses on the participants' experiences of their lived body in terms of embodied self-awareness (ESA). Intuitive or spiritual knowing, a sense of warning/danger and a sense of how to relate and be with the client (the body-schema-in-relation) were the most frequent forms of implicit knowing experienced during the therapeutic process. The participants indicated that the use of their implicit knowing (ESA) enabled them to make quick and deliberate decisions and perform actions that regulated the immediate dynamics of the therapeutic field. The second article reported on how the participants used their ESA as a form of implicit relational knowing to facilitate the therapeutic relationship, which enabled regulation of the counter-transference relationship through use of body movements and gestures, as well as facilitating their own and their client's spatial and movement needs. Article Three reflected on how the researcher's use of multiple data collection sources which were grounded in visual and sensory mediums, had evoked participant reflexivity throughout the entire interview. Participant reflexivity elicited different type data, namely the participants' ESA, into the conversational space, which enabled the participants to interpret and create meaning of their own lived body experiences, thereby contributing to the richness of the data and the credibility of the research findings. The study provides the beginning of a platform (a data base of new knowledge of the South African therapist-practitioner's experiences of the lived body) for future research and opens the dialogue for changing current practices and training, as well as for further developing current qualitative research methods which are grounded in visual and sensory mediums. Sensory based data collection methods have the potential to generate additional type of data (ESA or implicit knowing), which would not be possible through interviews alone. New insights could be gained through conducting future research that includes larger homogeneous population groups who have specific context-based understandings of ESA and the lived body. Thus insight might provide input to the further development of current counselling/ psychotherapeutic practices and training programmes that encompass the diverse South African context. It is also suggested that future research could benefit from investigating how the therapist's implicit knowing and embodied relational process factors impact the development of the therapeutic relationship and current practice.
- Health Sciences