By Joe Church, published in Norwich Mind’s Associate Magazine, May 1st 2013
In the 1970’s Dr Fritz Smith, an inspired medical doctor, osteopath, and acupuncturist, combined his understandings of these Eastern and Western traditions with insights he gained from his extensive experience of meditation. Out of this he came up with a hands-on method of healing the body through touch that, to his surprise, also had profound and far-reaching positive effects on the mind.
As a practising Zero Balancer and psychotherapist who is trained in the Person Centred Therapy, a humanistic talking therapy developed by Carl Rogers’, I am struck by how Rogers’ Person Centred Theory so clearly reflects the principles behind Zero Balancing, and vice versa. Essentially, they both offer the client, in different ways, the ‘conditions’ for activating and supporting what Rogers called the Actualising Tendency – a person’s natural and innate tendency towards healing, growth and well being.
The difference is, whereas Person Centred Therapy works mainly on the level of the conscious mind, Zero Balancing works at the level of the Unconscious. And this is one of the reasons why they compliment each other so well.
In this article I would like to outline how Zero Balancing touch, or ‘interface’ touch, can be agued to be an embodied version of Rogers’ Core Conditions of Empathy, Congruence and Unconditional Positive Regard – qualities that he says are both necessary and sufficient for a therapist to bring to the therapeutic relationship in order to facilitate positive change. I would like to explain how the Zero Balancing practitioner offers the client an embodied, and largely unconscious, experience of being met in this way, through the medium of touch, and what some of the therapeutic benefits of this can be.
I trained in Zero Balancing fifteen years ago after having experienced it myself. I will never forget my very first session. I arrived feeling anxious, stressed about issues I had been carrying with me for many years, and quite lost to myself. Half an hour later, and no talking, I got up off the couch, and although none of my issues had been resolved, I experienced what I can only describe as peace. I felt a tangible sense of ease and well-being that pervaded my whole mind and body, right to my bones.
In the ensuing days and weeks, although life’s challenges continued to cause me acute stress, something of this peaceful experience remained with me, and from it there emerged a renewed confidence and humour that seemed to arise from being rooted in my body and being rather than having anything sorted out in my life. From this new perspective the issues and worries in my mind seemed to have less hold on me. I began to discover my inner resources, make more creative choices, and my life began to change for the better.
In this as yet little known therapy the client lies down, clothed, in a relaxed position. The practitioner places held stretches and gentle but focussed pressure with the fingers, called ‘fulcrums’, into key areas of the bones and joints, using a particular kind of touch called ‘interface’ touch.
To touch a person at interface, I have to embody empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard. Inherent in interface touch is an instinctive awareness of the client’s psychological and physical boundaries, and an ability to meet them there without interference or distance. I don’t need to know the content or story of the person’s experience, but I must sense the person on an essential experiential level, exactly as they are, without imposing my own ideas or agenda.
From this place, I must sense how they would like to be met through touch, both on the level of their physical body, and on the more subtle level of who they are. I do not work this out with my mind. Rather, if I allow my own body to intuit, one might say ‘empathise with’, exactly where and how the client would like to be touched, in a way that also feels good to me and my body, then the client instinctively knows that it is safe to trust and let go into the experience and the relationship.
With interface touch it is essential that I am absolutely clear where I ‘end’ and the client ‘begins’, so that we do not ‘blend’ and lose our boundary. The result is that the client has an enhanced experience of themselves in relationship and at a clear interface, and as I work I simply bear witness to the client’s experience. It is not personal, but rather an essential meeting at the level of instinct and being – a deep, honest and very real, or as Rogers might say, ‘Congruent’ meeting, but with no ‘content’ in the form of talking or conscious communication. It is as if our busy minds have got out of the way and our unconscious bodies are having an instinctive conversation.
As I work I evaluate the clients skeleton with my hands, picking up on where the client is ‘holding’ pain or history in the tissue. I then touch the person there at interface for a few seconds. Interface, as well as clear boundaries, requires very clear focus and no judgement at all. There is no message conveyed by my touch that the person should let go or change in any way.
Instead I am simply acknowledging what I sense and ‘showing’ it to the person – shining a clear light on it if you will. The soreness or stuckness or numbness, or whatever it is, gently comes into the person’s awareness as they are put in touch with themselves on an instinctual level. The result is that they have a deeper experience of themselves in relationship to another without any judgment whatsoever. I see this equating to an embodied experience of Rogers’ Unconditional Positive Regard and Therapeutic Presence.
Being touched in this way allows tension, emotions and other residues of personal history held deep in the body to be let go of, usually without catharsis. Directly releasing ‘holding’ from the body’s energy field in this way can, with regular sessions, help address all manner of personal issues, ranging from every day stress or chronic anxiety to early childhood trauma or a lost spark for life. It also helps with many stress related physical symptoms, such as sleeplessness or tension headaches.
Some people choose to just have Zero Balancing. Others find it beneficial to have talking therapy too. I have noticed in my practice how people who have Zero Balancing along side their talking therapy tend to move more quickly through their issues. Coming from a more embodied place, and more rooted in their being, there is often more perspective and humour with which to engage with the emotional terrain and the issues being tackled.
It has been beyond the scope of this short article to elucidate all the theory and explain exactly how this happens, but I hope that I have at least highlighted some parallels between this mode of bodywork and Person Centred Therapy, and how they complement each other so well.