Ahead of our online Somatic Masterclass we wanted to give you the chance to learn more about one of our three brilliant speakers – Body Psychotherapist Tony Buckley.
With 25 years’ clinical experience in trauma work and as an experienced and revered trainer (who you may recognise from previous BTP CPD days), Tony has such much insight to share around working with the body in therapy.
Who is Tony Buckley?
If we described all of Tony’s professional experience you would be reading this article for a long time! We’ll try to keep it brief but if you would like to grasp his full gamut of experience you can read about it here.
Tony is originally Gestalt trained but has since gone onto become a qualified Sensorimotor Psychotherapist, with over 25 years’ experience working with trauma. His roles range from working with Transport for London, supporting staff in the traumas that are sadly a frequent part of their role, to working with adolescents, at a university and in private practice as well as providing supervision and education in various capacities. Bodywork and sensorimotor psychotherapy are particular passion of his – researching and applying somatic ways of working with trauma.
The body is always part of therapy
Therapy has for so long focused on thoughts and emotions, and Tony believes that we need to be bringing more attention to the role of the body. He explains that there will always be a physiological aspect to what clients are bringing to us and that there is value in working with this.
“The body is always communicating.”
Preparing for trauma work
Working with the body is especially important in trauma work. Before a client can contemplate exploring their experiences they will often need to reach a place of stability, with solid foundations enabling them to begin processing. Tony uses psychoeducation which include somatic methods of grounding, breath work and boundaries. There can also be education around how trauma affects the body (Polyvagal Theory is helpful here) and learning to recognise triggers.
This kind of somatic work can help not just to recover from trauma or distress, but also to build resilience to overcome future emotional challenges.
The body as entry point
As well as enabling grounding, the body itself can be the primary entrance point to working with trauma, rather than the events or the story.
“The story the body has to tell is generally a little more accurate than the thoughts we put on top of our experience – because our bodies were there… they live through everything and our bodies remember.”
Tony explains how working in the here-and-now with the body can be a safer and more productive way to move through trauma, rather than retelling a story repeatedly which may be triggering.
Therapists will need to monitor clients in session to ensure they are staying within their window of tolerance, while ideally working to expand this window. Clients can also be taught to use mindfulness so they are able to observe their emotions and body sensations rather than being overwhelmed by them.
The Princess and the Pea
There’s a wonderful analogy Tony uses, relating trauma to the story of The Princess and the Pea. He explains how the meanings associated with trauma, often formed in childhood, can become stuck and become an implicit part of the client’s being. Psychoeducation and processing in therapy can help to address the ‘pea’ that has been causing discomfort ever since.
Trauma and finishing the movement
In our last Trauma Conference, Tony’s seminar explored how the freeze response, or practical circumstances, can block an individual’s movement during the initial response to trauma. There may be a desire, and deep regret at having not been able to, push away an attacker or put out an arm to protect a loved one for example.
If this is in the client’s awareness, psychoeducation can ease the guilt around their freezing but there can still be a feeling of stuckness. Working somatically, Tony helps clients to literally make and finish the movement that they wish they could have completed in the past. If this isn’t something the client has articulated but the therapist notices a bodily impulse or intention, they may bring this into awareness.
This idea of completing a disrupted movement can give clients an “act of triumph” that they never got to experience when the trauma first occurred.
Habitual postures and movements
This kind of work can also address habitual postures and movements associated with the trauma, working through the emotions associated with these and what it may be like to move out of these automated ways of holding yourself which compound such feelings. This is especially true of movements that indicate defensive subsystems (fight, flight, freeze, flop).
“People learn how to survive difficult experiences and they keep those patterns in the body reacting automatically, unconsciously and autonomically.”
Therapists will need to track the client’s physicality with more attention to detail than usual – noticing and commenting on a client’s minute movements such as “I notice you start to slouch as you recall that”, or acknowledging dilations of nostrils and blanching of the skin for example.
Embracing play and laughter
Back in 2014 Tony delivered a CPD day for us on “The Art and Science of Play: Using Play, Humour and Laughter in Therapy”. It was refreshing to hear him talk about the value of laughter in the therapy room and the therapeutic worth of this.
He explained how play and laughter help regulate the emotions of depression and anxiety, moving away from both hyper and hypo arousal into a more positively moderated space. Clients who have been traumatised or depressed can lose the capacity for play and so also the capacity for happiness. Being able to feel safe and re-engage with play and laughter, especially in a relational capacity, can be a wonderfully healing experience.
It’s also relationally valuable in the realisation that therapy doesn’t have to be stuffy or relentlessly painful – sharing a laugh (without analysis!) can be bonding.
The movies as trauma metaphor
Tony’s recent research work uses the metaphor of the movies to understand trauma. We can look at memories as a movie sequence to understand how clients can become stuck in their physiological trauma response, like a bad movie scene replaying. Experiences so overwhelming they cannot be processed may lead to dissociation, which we can look at as like censorship in the movies of images that are viewed as being too harmful.
More than just a way of understanding trauma, this analogy extends into recovery – with the hope of moving the body to a sense of the memory being “completed” rather than stuck on replay. The idea of the “latest movie release” implies recovery through the restoration of nervous system equilibrium.
Tony as a trainer
As well as being a Body Psychotherapist Tony is also an experienced trainer. As well as being vastly knowledgeable, he is also an engaging presence, using practical exercises, humour and visual images to aid understanding. One delegate perfectly described him:
“Tony is an excellent trainer – gentle, humorous, and congruent. This was a well presented workshop.”
Want to learn more about somatic therapy? Watch Tony Buckley’s online training Keeping the Body in Mind. If purchased you have 6 months to watch the video in your own time.
You can also learn more from Tony on working with the body at his CPD day on Polyvagal Theory: Therapeutic Presence and The Relational Space Between Us on Saturday 28th November (online, with catch-up available for 6 days after).
Here’s a glimpse into what the day will entail: