A Psychephysical Example

How the psyche gets involved in the physical process is hard to explain, and the day-to-day evidence is almost impossible to document. I have summarized a real life example from the early years of my practice.

I once had the pleasure of working with a young woman who was an accomplished ballet dancer.

After dancing as a principal in two ballet companies in mid-sized cities, she took a job in a major city in order to prove herself, despite being unsupported by her boyfriend and parents. The politics of the dance world there were ugly and she began to see little hope in moving up in the ranks.

She developed a “mysterious” and ultimately career-ending hip injury that resisted treatment from multiple practitioners for nearly three years, including eight months of my own treatment. She suffered great distress at the loss of her dancing career and the chronic pain that plagued her.

The following is paraphrased from the culmination of an on-going conversation, which occurred during a single body work session after months of treatment.

MSP: Lonnie, I’m going to ask you a string of questions and make some speculations that I’ve developed since working with you. I’d like for you to provide simple yes or no answers to gauge my accuracy, and we can discuss it afterwards, all right?

Lonnie: OK.

MSP: Because of your parent’s disapproval of your ballet, you were constantly forced to defend yourself. You had to push ahead at all costs and protect your ambitions and dreams deep inside your heart, does that sound right?

Lonnie: Yes.

MSP: To protect your dancing, you told yourself from a very early age that you would never give it up for anybody; you guarded it.

Lonnie: Yes. I never thought of it like that, but yes.

MSP: You’ve always thought of yourself as the top of the heap; you believed that you had the power to excel beyond your peers once you had assimilated their skills.

Lonnie: Yes, absolutely.

MSP: When you came to this city it was the first time everyone in the corps challenged you, and not just one or two dancers?

Lonnie: Pretty much.

MSP: In the past, partners supported your dance career, but living here, your boyfriend did not, correct?

Lonnie: That’s right.

MSP: So for the first time, you had the challenge of protecting your dance career from the assaults of your parents, with no support from your partner, while facing the overwhelming challenge of competing with a new corps of dancers that are much better and years younger than you’ve ever encountered.

Lonnie: It seems so clear now.

MSP: Add to this that you’re nearly broke and have little or no support group since you know very few people here.

Lonnie: Yes.

MSP: Dancing isn’t fun anymore, is it?

Lonnie: No.

MSP: You danced because it was fun and because it fulfilled you.

Lonnie: Yes, absolutely.

MSP: On some level you feel that if you were to quit, your critics would win.

Lonnie: I guess so.

MSP: No doctor or therapist you’ve ever been to has been able to find any organic problems with your hip, have they?

Lonnie: No.

MSP: This mysterious injury ended your career and got you some sympathy from those around you in the process, didn’t it?

Lonnie: Well, yeah, kinda.

MSP: Would you have ever let yourself quit, otherwise?

Lonnie: No.

MSP: Did you feel, prior to coming here, that you had a fulfilling career?

Lonnie: Yes.

MSP: You’re no longer in that relationship, you now have some distance and clarity with regard to your parents and you have hind-sight of the obsessive nature of professional ballet correct?

Lonnie: Yes.

MSP: Do you still want to dance, for the sake of the dance itself, and for the sense of accomplishment it brings?

Lonnie: Yes.

MSP: There are several small troops in town. I want you to audition.

Lonnie: Do you think I can?

MSP: Yes.

Lonnie: What about my hip?

MSP: It’s always served its purpose to dance for the love of dance. Let’s see what happens. I’ll be here for you just like I am now.

In following sessions the texture of her muscles changed dramatically. What was stone became butter. Her reactions to work became less dramatic, she became accepting of the work rather than resistant, her breathing patterns changed, as did her mood. From that point onward she did not have a single day of debilitating pain. She had flare-ups and nagging aches on occasion but danced uninterrupted for years. She gained a lightness of heart I had not previously witnessed in her.

This was the most obvious impact of the psyche on physical reality that I had yet witnessed. Most profound was how the mere realization of her self-imposed limitations gave her the power to transcend them.

In situations where etiology is a mystery and every therapeutic stone has been turned, it is time to look to the psyche part of the psychephysical balance. The more we unravel of the human nervous system, the more we discover that the physical and mental are consummately interconnected.

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