Case History: “Get Off My Back”

One of my physician friends referred a client named Peter, (not his real name), to me because he suffered from severe back pain which he, the physician, had not been able to relieve. Peter had been to three surgeons and all had recommended surgery. He was searching for a more holistic approach. As he walked from his car into my office, I saw him rest several times on the low wall leading up to the door: then he literally crawled up the stairs! (My present offices have no longer stairs!)

In our first session he lay on my body work table on his side with his legs bent, since any other position was too painful for him. Throughout the session I simply moved his shoulders and hip joints in tiny increments. I also worked gently with the muscles between his ribs, and asked him to sense the connection to the spine. I was “speaking” with my hands and my whole body awareness into the contracted places in Peter’s body. These small psycho–physical movements suggest the possibility of resting and moving, as they simultaneously awakened his deeply buried sensory intelligence. This process connects natural pathways between mind and body memory. The stories that were stored in Peter’s cellular memory about the origins of his holding patterns began to surface and release.

He remembered being a three year old little boy trying to take care of his chronically depressed Mom, and so we created a dialogue between small Peter and his mother. In the session the child told Mom how hard it was for him to try to cheer her up and how it always felt impossible to him. He expressed how inadequate and scared he felt. Little Peter believed that if he failed to make his Mom happy he would lose her support and love, and he would not be able to survive. These early experiences set the stage for him to become a co-dependent caretaker (a typical survival mechanism for many people) that he carried into his adult life.

Peter began to release feelings of anger as I was very gently ‘speaking’ with my hands into his joints and muscles and finding ways to increase the mobility and inter-relationships of muscles and bones. We were re-routing cellular memory by creating new pathways to expand body-brain connections.

His emotions began to have more room to flow, move, and feel encouraged to find expression in this expanded body container. He began to re-parent himself by telling his mother that the adult-child role reversal was no longer acceptable, and that she needed to get off the couch and learn to nurture and support him. After this, his breathing deepened naturally. The intercostal muscles between his ribs softened and released their holding patterns. Tears flowed as Peter expressed his grief at the realization that he had been deprived of a carefree childhood.

When he got off the bodywork table he looked relieved and surprised. I showed him how he could be open to soft interconnections between muscles and bones while moving into a restful upright position, and how to take advantage of the contact of the ground as he felt it rushing into his legs making him feel solid and supported from below. He could sense that his torso was accepting this natural internal support a little more with each step. The muscles in the back released their tight gripping of the vertebral column so that the bones had room to join in the movement and form their natural curves.

During his second session, we explored how assuming the role of the caretaker at such an early age had become a habitual pattern throughout his life. He told me about his highly educated grown son who, because of his drug addiction couldn’t support his two children. Grandpa Peter had come to the rescue, again and again, and was now exhausted and drained by the continuous financial and emotional support he had offered.

As I helped him to continue to sense the possibilities of expansiveness in his muscular structure, the bones of his entire skeleton started to find new places and gave him a clear experience of what authentic and healthy support could look and feel like. Meanwhile, as we dialogued with his son, he realized that he had enabled his son to collapse on his (Peter’s) never ending support. Again, he expressed anger, but found that the anger was directed at himself. Now, it became important to return to his childhood and tell the child what a hard and impossible job he had taken on by caring for Mom’s emotional and physical needs, and most of all, what a good job he had done to try, and that he didn’t have to try any more. He could now release the early self from his caretaking responsibilities. Peter continued the re-parenting process that began in an earlier session by using his imagination to create an “ideal” nurturing mother-son relationship. This finally restored the parent –child roles and gave the child a new “job description” by teaching him how to receive from the adult world. Peter no longer needed the habit of over extending, self support was now anchored in his body and showed him the many new choices available to him.

During the third session he practiced talking to his son. He created a dialogue in which he expressed his newly found healthy boundaries and laid out a plan with a time table of support that would be acceptable to Peter and would not allow his son to manipulate his generosity and take advantage of him...

During the fourth session he told me that he had walked comfortably up the driveway and bounced up the stairs, his back pain almost entirely gone.

Peter arrived at his fifth session beaming with joy. His back pain was entirely gone!

We continued to expand the new choices for self-care on physical, mental and emotional levels while dialoguing with other challenging situations in his life. Peter was happy to report that he was now an equal partner in his inter-relationships and was able to negotiate compromises if he needed, without losing his boundaries and his self-respect.
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Ute Arnold, MFA
Body-Psychotherapist, artist, author
Unergi Holistic Therapy School