Taking the Leap into Emotional Counselling
This is Part 7 of a serial blog post. In Part 6, I list every treatment, healing modality, and technique I explored over a 20 year period. In Part 5, I share the start of my healing journey following Harrington rod removal, thanks to the care and coordinated approach of a massage therapist and fitness trainer. Missed the earlier posts? Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
Shortly after my Harrington rods were removed, I was talking to a friend about my rehabilitation regime combination of massage and gym training. As a dancer himself, he recognized the obvious benefits of these activities, but he also suggested I consider doing some emotional counselling to support my physical healing.
Even though the rods were gone, the frustration around them was not. I still had a lot of emotional confusion about my back and my body in general. I was happy the ‘heavy metal’, was out, and I felt more free in my body, but I realized that the spinal fusion would always be there, and I was still frustrated with pain and stiffness.
How was I ever going to accept my reality?
As my friend reminded me, the body and mind affect each other in myriad ways. So he suggested I meet his friend Suzanne, who specialized in a technique called psycho-synergistic massage that involved emotional counselling. I was sceptical; I had never heard of it before.
I was also nervous at the prospect of emotional counselling. Although I was generally an outgoing and positive person, the body work I was doing had exposed other problematic issues, such as body shame, lack of self esteem, anxiety and depression. The idea of discussing these matters with a stranger made me feel vulnerable - I never thought I would ever be able to expose my secrets to anyone. And for some reason, I was determined that I would NEVER cry in front of anyone either. Come to think of it, when I had my original surgery as a teenager, I didn’t cry once during the whole ordeal - and the fact that people noticed and commented that I was such a 'mature and brave’ young woman left me believing an unfortunate message: that people were considered stronger and better if they didn’t cry.
Nevertheless, my friend was able to coax me to meet Suzanne because she would give me a massage while we talked! He also told me how she was one of the most understanding and compassionate therapists I could ever meet. She had suffered a lot of her own physical challenges throughout her life, and that is what had compelled her to study healing techniques.
I made an appointment.
When Suzanne greeted me at her door, I was surprised to see that she walked with a cane and had a limp, and that she held her hands in an unusual way. Nevertheless, she got me to lie face down on the massage table and started to gently touch my feet as I began to talk. It was almost like acupressure, but instead of pushing deeply with one finger or elbow, she would lay her whole hands open with the palm down and just let them rest there like weights, which was very comforting. As she worked up my legs, she asked me questions and she answered mine. She told me that she was born with a condition that meant she had undergone many orthopaedic surgeries since she was young. For years, she had been confined to a wheelchair, but had fought to walk again. She had several setbacks when one of the surgeries went wrong, which led to other problems. Although her touch was gentle, loving and soft, I learned quickly that she was fierce, with a fighting spirit. And I am not sure how she did it, but it only took me about 20 minutes before my tears started to flow!
This is not to say that tears are necessary in every counselling session, but they can be incredibly helpful. It became apparent that I needed a good cry. In fact, it turned out I needed several! My stoic behaviour pattern of never letting myself cry, and pretending I was okay all the time, was not going to be possible any more. When I think now about how many times I held back tears so much that it hurt in my chest, I am aware of all the trauma and sadness I was literally swallowing. That creates a lot of tension in the body!
Suzanne had developed her own practice involving a combination of gentle touch, different kinds of massage, creative games, and counselling, which, as referenced earlier, she called psycho-synergistic massage (no wonder I’d never heard of it before!). Her gentle actions combined with her loving words opened the door for me to let go of the considerable amount of emotional baggage that had accumulated in my heart, mind and body over the past 21 years. Crying it out was only the first step, but it was an important one. Each time I cried, I felt my body relax more. And as I relaxed, I could feel tension flush away. And during the next couple of years that we worked together, I learned to express and transform the fears, sadness, anger, shame, frustration and other negative body emotions into confidence and compassion for myself.
I am pretty sure that if I had only done ‘talk therapy’, it would not have worked out as well for me. Suzanne’s approach of combining touch and talk allowed my body and mind to relax together, giving me space and time to begin to let go of the buried emotional trauma I had been carrying since my original scoliosis surgery at age 14.
As I became stronger both physically and emotionally, I decided to start dancing again - something I really needed to feed my spirit. But as much as I enjoyed the new freedom in my spine without the Harrington rods, I also became aware of a new fragility. I was still healing, and when I pushed too hard, I hurt myself. One time when I naively tried a yoga class, my back went into spasm and my sacrum popped out of place. I learned the hard way that I had to be very careful, and if I wanted to do the things the doctors had warned me about, such as dancing and yoga, I would need extra help.
Thanks to the emotional counseling, I felt ready to open myself to other people and experiences and different healing techniques. I was excited to try as many things as possible in a quest to not only avoid injury, but to support the adjustment of my body, mind and soul as my spine settled into a new way of being.
Ultimately, this experience marked the beginning of my understanding of the importance of supportive care.
In my next few posts, I will talk more specifically about my successes and challenges with master teachers and practitioners, and the pros and cons of different techniques, including Pilates, osteopathy, naturopathy, alexander technique, feldenkrais, meditation, acupuncture, many different kinds of massage, and eventually the technique that changed my life for the better… the exercise I was told to NEVER do… Yoga. Read Part 8.