Talk is Cheap by Nicole Wegweiser, LCSW
I have been working with Greg, a Hispanic man in his late 30’s, for approximately two years. Greg was recently laid off from his job as a programmer and was sharing today about his inability to do much of anything these days but sit on his couch and stare into space. He explained that he feels stuck and has been feeling this way for quite some time. Greg additionally struggles with his weight and in the past year has gained approximately 40 pounds. He experiences shame around his body and calls himself gross and disgusting. During today’s session, Greg discussed the things that have been holding him back from exercising and applying for a new job. His dissatisfaction with both his body and where he is in his career has caused him to feel depressed and socially anxious.
Greg is also single and isolated. He has a history of unhealthy romantic relationships and grew up without his father in his life until he was 16 years old. Though Greg craves and thrives on human connection and relationships, he was describing symptoms of current agoraphobia that have prevented him from showing up to do much of anything this past week. Though Greg has presented with doom and gloom before, today was probably the worst I had seen him. He described feeling numb and his affect was flat. There was a dullness in his eyes and I began to feel like no matter what I said, it was not going to be enough to get him to snap out of this almost catatonic state. I knew I would have to get creative.
I decided since Greg was so down and negative, and just so fed up with adulting, that we needed to have some childish fun. I started the fun by having him play the opposite game. So instead of Greg saying how unmotivated he was to apply for jobs due to the prospect of having to start new relationships with people he didn’t know, a thought that currently causes him a lot of anxiety due to his physical state he was forced to say “I am so excited to apply to jobs and make new relationships with people.” We played for a few minutes but it got old pretty quickly. I could see he was sinking into my couch and I could feel the heaviness in the room. I knew I had to try something else.
I study and utilize Eriksonian hypnosis in my private practice and have spent the last couple years taking Jeffrey Zeig’s Master Class, last year in Boston, and this past year in NYC. I also have been participating in a weekly Psychodrama training/therapy group the past two years. Both are experiential forms of therapy that are in the here and now, and emphasize the importance of using the body. Rarely in either modality are you and your client sitting and talking. The limbic component is crucial to facilitate change. Experiencing something in our bodies, not just our minds, is how to tap into the unconscious processes that keep us resistant and stuck. I decided that it was time to move, and not just move, but dance!
Okay so I did happen to have a couple of things working for me in that moment. First of all, I have a Sonos music player in my office and a subscription to Apple Music which allows me to access and play any song I want with good quality sound at a loud enough volume to make someone want to get up and dance. The second thing I have on my side is that I’m a very good dancer and comfortable performing. And lastly, my client LOVES music, is obsessed with it, is a musician himself, and had mentioned in the past having an interest in taking dance lessons.
However, there were plenty of odds against me. It was bright daylight. My client said he can’t dance and refuses to, and there was a new client in the waiting room. I didn’t listen and asked him what his favorite song to dance to at home is when he’s by himself was. He was laughing, smiling, and eventually gave in and “Nerds Trying to Dance” by Pedestrian Tactics was requested. I danced to the entirety of the song and my client watched and laughed. I pleaded and practically begged him and eventually he stood up and as I began to try to engage with Greg, he sat right back down. I continued to dance and he again stood up just as the song was ending. I mentioned that I saw him stand up and I wanted Greg to get the chance to move. I was not giving up.
We contracted that we would both dance to “Blind” by Hercules & the Love Affair as long as I danced with my back to him, because he said he was too embarrassed to do it any other way. One may be thrown off by my decision to do this with Greg, me being a woman, and Greg being a man, but I can assure you there was nothing sexual about this encounter. I put on the song and we danced, he wanted to stop about halfway through the song but I told him to follow my lead and he stayed with it for the entirety of the song. I gave him specific instructions to shake his hips, shoulders, and head, with the idea behind it that he had to let go of that stagnant energy and get out of his head. As much as I wanted to turn around and see what Greg was doing and interact with him, I knew that if I had, it would be over. Greg had an unexpected, surprising experience. And in that moment, he was full of joy and playfulness.
Although I was trained in traditional psychodynamic therapy and spent years working that way, what I am realizing is that even though I can analyze the crap out of why people can’t seem to do the things that will bring them wellness and fulfillment, it very often does not facilitate change. If someone feels stuck, they actually need to move. Their body needs to have the experience of feeling unstuck so that their mind can follow. I have yet to hear how Greg has been doing since this last session, but something is telling me that he finally took the yoga class that he bought the clothes and mat for that is right next to his apartment this week, or maybe he applied for a job. At the very least, I know Greg had a lot of fun during his therapy session this week, we both did. And perhaps for right now, that is enough.