Formative psychotherapy focuses on how we embody our experience somatically of difficulties, by contracting or expanding our muscles. This can be especially effective in working with panic attacks, anxiety, stress and anger. For example, we may tighten up when under attack as a means of protecting ourselves.
In formative psychotherapy we learn how to become aware of, and influence, the patterns we make. Through simple exercises we can learn ways to influence stress and anxiety, experience the relationship between pressure and the symptoms that increase or reduce their impact. These patterns are learned very early in childhood and become survival strategies. So, for example, if I grow up in a family with a violent parent, I may tense my musculature to protect myself from the angry parent. Over time this then becomes the default pattern so that any threat of conflict will cause me to rigidify. This pattern may prevent my ability to soften in an intimate relationship.
Through formative psychotherapy we can learn to make boundaries and this enables us to feel more in control of our lives. Often we hold on to a level of tension but do not know how tense we are. By tensing up more and then releasing the tension very slowly – known as the “accordion” exercise – we can increase our awareness of the range of movement available to us. By practising these exercises, it is possible to learn how to create a different experience by holding ourselves in a different way.