Embodied-Relational Therapy
General Principles

Embodied-Relational Therapy has its roots in Reichian body work, process approaches, psychodynamic therapies and earth-centred spirituality. Initiated by Nick Totton and Em Edmondson in the late 80s, ERT continues to grow and develop, especially through Allison Priestman’s contribution.

ERT is an holistic integrative approach focusing on two facts about human beings: we are embodied and in relationship. To be alive we need to be  a body, to be alive we need to relate to others; our greatest challenges and our greatest joys follow from this.

As human beings, we are integrated body-mindspirit; on the whole, we find this condition  hard to manage. Sometimes the problem is to 'bring spirit down' into material expression, to commit ourselves sufficiently to the recalcitrance and fixity of being in the world, rather than floating off in fantasy. Sometimes the problem is to 'bring matter up' into spiritual connection, to hold sufficient inspiration and enlightenment rather than getting caught in the demands of practical existence. For each of us, there is a constantly shifting balance; also for each of us, we have certain preferences, predilections, assumptions which go to make up our character structure. This expresses itself not only in our habits of thought and behaviour, but also in our bodily and energetic patterns.

What we have just called 'character structure' can be usefully reframed as 'style of relating'. There is a consonance between a person's style of relating to the conditions of existence - to embodiment - and their style of relating to other human beings. (After all, it is through interactions with other people above all else that a baby learns what to expect from the universe and how best to respond to it.) Our nature seeks to express itself freely, while at the same time protecting itself in conditions sometimes of great difficulty. This double task of expression and protection makes us often subject to contradictory pulls, and offering double messages about what we feel, want and need. Through a relationship which is challenging but supportive and non-invasive, it is possible to disentangle our doubleness and allow our process to unfold.

ERT draws a great deal from other therapies, but brings these ideas and techniques into a new synthesis with its own unique flavour and values, described in terms of seven ‘metaskills’: Awareness, Trust, Contactfulness, Spontaneity, Spaciousness, Relaxation and Wild Mind. Encouraging a deep letting go into what is, ERT takes a position of profound trust that what ever is trying to happen in someone's life needs to happen, and whatever needs to happen is trying to happen.

The fundamental assumption of Embodied-Relational Therapy is that we all do the best we possibly can - the best that we know so far. Each individual has come up with a brilliant solution to the conditions in which they have found themselves - the optimum style of relating, the optimum balance between body and spirit. Equally, each person is seeking, consciously or unconsciously, to change their behavioural style in accordance with current conditions - which may be very different from the conditions in which we grew up. Whatever appears in a person's life as a problem, a symptom, a conflict, can also be understood as an incomplete attempt to change and grow.

So the core tasks of the therapist are:

  • To support all aspects of the client's process - not just the bits we like! This is harder than it may sound, and is probably the heart of the therapeutic project.

  • To identify and amplify that process, especially as it expresses itself through relationship - through the feelings each person has about the other.

  • To come back, over and over, to a centred and open position, holding the space so as to allow the client free expression within it, and so as to witness every aspect of the situation including one's own responses.

You will find more thoughts about all this in some of Nick's articles under Writings, and also in Nick's chapter in New Dimensions in Body Psychotherapy and Nick and Allison's chapter in About Relational Body Psychotherapy.