A Quirky Yellow Painting

Physio and Emotional Embodiment

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I have been a physiotherapist for the past 20 years, the last 12 or so have been spent working within the community both for the NHS and privately predominantly within people’s own homes.

Throughout this time I have always had an interest in long term, persistent and complex conditions. While colleagues would often try to steer away from clients with such conditions I actually found increasingly that these are the very patients that I love working with, people with functional disorders, behavioural changes, complex multiple problems and challenges. Whose quality of life was really being influenced by their health.

As time went on I would hear myself saying that I don’t do much “real physio”, I spend most of my time listening to my patients, exploring why they do or don’t do certain things, the behaviours they or their families have adopted, their beliefs around their condition etc. Listening to really understand, asking questions to dig deeper and work out a plan together.

This is what I really enjoy doing and the results can be truly life changing for patients.

So I decided to complete a life coaching qualification as this seemed to really fit with this aspect of my work.

Initially I had been thinking of life coaching as being a separate business and service to that of my Physiotherapy. But the reason I started doing life coaching was because of how much informal life and wellbeing coaching I was doing everyday as a Physio! So why was I thinking of it as being something separate? This approach is integral to the type of Physiotherapist I am and the services that I provide.

Having the “traditional “ physiotherapy knowledge and skills gives me such a deep understanding of the physical challenges clients face while my life & wellbeing coaching skills allow me to confidently approach issues and beliefs that neither predominantly physical or psychological practitioners may feel able to do.

Ultimately this gives you, the client the best outcome. My approach is truly looking at the whole person. We are not just physical beings or just emotional beings. An issue or ailment which primarily seems to be either physical or emotional will inevitably impact on the other aspect too.

Now while a sprained ankle that improves over a couple of weeks may not have a lasting or considerable impact on our emotional well being, a long term condition such as fibromyalgia or a traumatic injury which limits someone’s ability to carry out their usual life roles or has the potential to, will have an impact on their emotional wellbeing. The emotional factors can then influence the physical symptoms and vice versa.

Equally someone who is experiencing anxiety or low mood will often experience physical symptoms too. Sore, tight muscles, headaches, neck or back pain are common symptoms that many of us can relate to after relatively short periods of feeling worried or down. So here too, especially when emotional problems have been present for sometime, we need also to address the physical signs and symptoms that have evolved.

I believe we cannot work in isolation with only the physical or emotional symptoms and expect any real life improvement.

So in working together I will do a lot of listening! I will listen to your story. I will ask you questions to ensure that I have correctly understood what you are saying. I will ask you why. I will ask you why not. I will ask you what you hope to achieve through our time together. All these questions will explore your physical and emotional wellbeing, because you are a physical and an emotional being. So we will look at you as the whole person that you are, not a condition or a label or a diagnosis. But the whole you.

That is unless you just have a sprained ankle of course, in that case I’ll refer you on to a colleague!!

So what is Emotional Embodiment ?

“ that we use our own bodily experience and processes to understand our own emotional experience, and the experiences of others – has provided a mechanism to help us understand emotional processing”

It is the idea that our emotions and our physical experiences are intrinsically linked. Our physical experience of the world influences our emotional experiences.

This is evident in the way we talk about many emotional states – anger for example – how do we know if someone is angry? Their face may become flushed, tension may be obvious in their muscles, they may change their position to make themselves appear taller by standing up etc…..

We recognise these physical attributes as signs that someone is feeling anger. We are assigning an emotion to them based on their physical behaviour, based on our experience of the physical world.

So when we think about this in terms of persistent pain or long term conditions, the emotional response we feel is influenced by our physical world. This may have become a world in which pain is experienced, where movement for example causes pain or fatigue or muscle spasm. So there has become a negative emotional association with the physical act of walking for example. It is no great surprise then when someone with persistent pain or a long term condition who is given exercises and advice to self manage by a well meaning physiotherapist doesn’t have a good outcome.

We cannot expect to improve the physical symptom without acknowledging the influence of the emotional experience that has become associated with this.

This is where my skills both in the physical world as a Physiotherapist, personal experience with persistent pain, and understanding of emotional embodiment enable me to assist my clients to wellbeing.

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