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Podcast Ep. 50 - Healing heart & mind through the body with somatic psychotherapist Betsy Powers

In this episode

We’re so excited to kick of embodied mental health month with Betsy Powers, a licensed therapist, yoga teacher, and mother who specializes in somatic therapy in addition to traditional talk therapy. Her journey into the field of mental and emotional health began over a decade ago when she began her own healing process from addiction and what she calls “self-inflicted hardship.” She earned her graduate degree from Naropa University specializing in somatic psychology and body psychotherapy. She now has a thriving private practice in beautiful Savannah, Georgia, where she lives with her partner and two children.

We talked about Betsy’s own journey out of addiction and into mental wellness, what led her into the healing arts and body-based psychotherapy, and how all of this weaves together in her parenting. If you’re fascinated by the body-mind connection, you’re going to love this interview!

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About our guest

Betsy Powers is a licensed professional counselor and yoga teacher in Savannah, Georgia. She specializes in both somatic therapy as well as traditional talk-therapy approaches and uses them in varying combinations according to each client’s preferences, needs, and comfort level. You can learn more about her private practice at www.therapysavannah.com.

Show notes

  • Betsy's private practice website is here.
  • Betsy trained at Naropa University in Boulder, CO.
  • Learn more about somatic therapy here.
  • Learn more about psychoneuroimmunology here.
  • We mentioned podcast episode 42 with Tammy Sollenberger.
  • We mentioned the Internal Family Systems model of psychotherapy. Here's a Yes Collective article introducing the model.
  • An article by Michael Tomasello on humans as "ultra-social animals."
  • Betsy promoted belly breathing (aka diaphragmatic breathing). Here's an article explaining how to do it.

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford (JW):

Betsy, we are really excited to have you on to kick off our embodied mental health month here in the Yes. Collective. So we're going to get into what somatic psychology is and how you work through all of these body based approaches. But first, I'd love for the listeners to get to know you. So my first question is when did you first realize that you even wanted to go into mental health and wanted to become a therapist?

Betsy Powers (BP):

Oh, I mean, it's so funny. There's this wonderful interview with Bessel Vander Kolk where someone asked him, like, how he got to where he got. And he said, “Isn't it a lovely pleasant rationalization to give the reasons? Because we just end up where we end up, you know?” And you can look back and it sort of makes sense in certain ways, but it's just a pleasant rationalization for like I've always just been super fascinated by people and going through my own like a very traumatic mental health struggles I sort of knew that if I could ever get over those things, I really wanted to help people because I understood what it felt like. And when you're in that place, being with someone who, you know, who has felt those feelings allows for you to open up much easier. It helps you to feel safe. It helps you to feel understood.

And so I really wanted to be able to do that for people. And not only that, but since then when I've had therapists and I was like working through things and I would have to repeat myself like five or eight times, like seeing the same boring stuff that I knew was just boring to them. I was like, I want to do that for people because that's what it takes. You know, like I just want to be there for people in their process because mine was has been so fulfilling. And I really have found like freedom from what I thought was like completely incurable. Madness. And and I want to do that for other people.

I want to sit and, like, tolerate their discomfort so that they can find freedom and know that there's not something wrong with them because they're suffering. Because that is the message, right? Like when you cry in public, people try to fix it. Right? But crying is the most primitive of the way that we process stress and I want to, like, let people cry and help them understand that because it was taught to me, but like, healing light, at least And so I just want to normalize that for people and be that person for them.

If I can do enough of my own work that I can tolerate your sadness and you're having to repeat yourself a zillion times to get over whatever this is.

JW:

Wow. Yeah. So that really lands that last part of: I've done the work so I can tolerate your sadness. That strikes me working in the childhood cancer world, that this has been a big part of our work, of what can we do in order to tolerate the anxiety, the sadness, the grief, the confusion the aloneness. Yeah. And moving from a place of early on when we started MaxLove Project that we were in a place of wanting to fix what we needed. We need to fix our son. We need and then we want to help other families fix. And there still is a certain component in that in terms of improving quality of life. But one of those, yeah. Just landed for me, so I wanted to name that. How impactful that has been for us is to expand our capacity to just be with all the difficult stuff that comes along with this journey.

But Betsy, I wonder if you are comfortable with me pushing a little bit more on your backstory. I just want to know, like, is there maybe one moment that immediately comes to mind when you were like, yes, this is what I want to do? And and like a specific moment where you're like, Yeah, this is it.

BP:

I mean, there have been like a million little ones all along the way. I know I was doing this workshop and it was for yoga for at risk youth, because yoga is a big part of my professional path. And there was somebody that was talking about somatic therapy, which like addresses not only people's like mental issues, but also really factors in the physical, anatomical, like anthropological components of us as human beings, as being this very complex creature.

And, and sort of even just that combination of words from this woman. I was like, that's what I want to do because that's been my experience. Like, I have definitely worked with therapists while I was still very ill because I'm a person in recovery. I was at a pretty awful addiction, and so I knew like I couldn't fix it were just words.

So much of my healing had to do with my physical movement, and I always was really curious about how do you do both? Because I've had therapy that I was like, Well, I can understand why I shouldn't do what I'm doing, but I can't stop myself from doing it or feeling compelled to be in this relationship that's unhealthy.

And so I just felt bad about myself because I couldn't control it. And so it didn't feel like that didn't feel like the full answer it felt like there has to be this other thing happening, you know, and to learn like we're we're animals and every other animal processes their feelings physically, our emotions are made to move us right.

Either like somewhere private so we can grieve away from something scary toward something we're angry at. Right. And so but we're the only creatures. It's just like sit still and like we just sit on it and we just, like, hope it goes away. And we haven't been given the permission to, like, do what we want to with our body, which sometimes is like being erratic and, like, crying in public and like all of those things that were really made to do and holding on to those things, it's going to come out one way or the other.

And so for me, it just felt like, oh, this is where I'm supposed to go. Help people to be able to process things in a satisfying way.

JW:

I want to put a pin in this: “animals that sit still.” I love this idea and I want to explore that in a moment, but oh, I just have I just want to keep digging. I just imagining there there's, there's this moment in your head. Like you said, there's a bunch of little small moments so I can imagine the small moments building in terms of mental health and wanting to being in the mental health field, wanting to be a therapist.

So I'm wondering, moving into somatic psychology, which I will ask you to explain in a moment, though, if there was a moment, a memory that you have where it clicked for you, like, oh, my mental health is related to this body that I'm in and like things kind of coming together or maybe it was just a bunch of little small moments strung together.

But I'm just digging for this one special moment.

BP:

Well, being a person with addiction, it really is very obvious very quickly, that mental ideas can't fix it. I mean, there is such a component of like, this is so obviously damaging to not only me, to everyone I love and to society as a whole.

Right. I'm an actual public health risk. And yet I can't do anything about it. And so to me, like, it was just that obvious like this. It can't work this way because otherwise I just feel like I am bad and wrong and there's something wrong with me. And I'm never going to get better because there's no way for me to control this with my mind, you know, because I've always been a very nice person but the things that I did in my addiction were so different than who I am in my value system that, like, I just had to find a different way, you know, like, we can talk about it and we can say pretty words about what it is, but, like, it is a mental illness. It's a physical illness, you know? And so to me, it just required I have to look bigger at this because otherwise I'm just a bad person. And that isn't working like that isn't making it better either.

JW:

Yeah. Yeah. So was there one particular body based practice that clicked for you? Was there so you mentioned yoga. Was that the first thing that really clicked for you?

BP:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I went I was in treatment for a lengthy amount of time, and and there was always yoga in there. But there was also just like being able to move and process the stress of that because so much of it is like I've heard my life to the ground. That's very stressful. So I need to process that.

And so there was a lot of talking, but the thing that was really, like, helped me sleep at night was the physical stuff. Like I would have to exercise to be able to like wear my brain out, to be able to sleep at night, to be able to like live in my own skin in a tolerable way. And obviously, like, well, obviously, obviously the further along I got, the less I hated myself.

And it was really like further along, both in a physical and mental practice and in recovery, they tell you you can't help anybody except the exact way you were helped. Right? We can't sell something we haven't done. Yeah. And so to me, it was the only way to make sense if I was going to work with people who have endlessly fascinated me and if I was going to be there for people like me, it was the only way to look at it, really.

It was the only thing that made logical sense because to me, like having a mental illness, like I find so much comfort in logic and practicality now I'm like, I just want something that works. And so to me, this is the most practical way to approach health and wellbeing.

JW:

So how do you describe a somatic psychology or somatic psychotherapy to people who have never heard of it before? Like what is somatic? What are you talking about? So what's what's the what's the easiest way that you use to describe it?

BP:

I'm always sort of humbled by this question because I know that there's people who are much more eloquent with the answer, but soma just means body and obviously psychotherapy. We know what that means. So it's built on. It's like a whole separate branch of it really builds on traditional psychotherapy techniques, but then also incorporate like I said, how we're made anatomically.

You know, we're taking in more information in one day than our ancestors did in the lifetime. And then we're expecting to have our shit together and like physically we can't like there are effects of that amount of input of this amount of like the rigor that's required to maintain a life today. Goes so far beyond what we were made to do.

And we've evolved so quickly that we just haven't caught up. But we're also very adaptable. And so I teach people about their nervous system, right? How we as animals process stress so that we can use the traditional talk therapy techniques which like allow us to find support and a healthy other that protects us so we can change the narrative of our story.

We can look into unconscious motives but we can also learn, like when your shoulders are up by your ears, what do you need to do? Right? It's like you need to think about what is happening in your body because your body is giving you signals of how you're doing all the time, you know? And so many of us have lost that connection to a point that the, the the way we're woken up is by some sort of crisis, right?

Whether it's an addiction, it's a heart attack. It's, you know, it's like bad relationships with our loved ones, our parenthood nothing to us in an honest way all the time. But but it's like living next to a train track, like you stop hearing it after a while. And so my job is to help people get back in touch with their body, right?

So it's just like we have this wonderful modern life, but there are parts of it that we really need to, like, turn the car around and come back and understand ourselves as a natural being so that we can process all of the stress and then, like, find a way to adapt because we are we're super adaptable we just need to know how to do that because a lot of the ideas we get don't work.

So much of the wounding that we get in our life is like trying to make ourselves fit into a mold that we were never made to fit into.

JW:

So that brings me back to this idea of we are the only animals that sit still. And I yeah, I love this idea. And it strikes me that, well, at least one of the reasons why this is, is that we are, as one anthropologist wrote, we are ultra-social animals. And so we are the only animals that absolutely require this social cultural framework in order to survive. Like fundamentally we need to learn, we need to be part of a society.

We need to learn the cultural ways to do things. And one of the things that we all learn early on is how to discipline our emotions. And so, like, how can we just press them down? Can we keep them down? And I'm going to assume that there is a healthy amount of emotional regulation, we would call it, that we teach our kids. And so this is you know, I'm feeling big emotions, but I'm not going to hit my sister. I'm feeling big emotions, but I'm not going to smash through the window. But most of us have learned an extreme version of that. Like I'm feeling really sad, but I'm going to resist and ignore it and avoided at all costs.

I'm feeling really mad, but I'm going to press it down and I'm never going to let it out.

BP:

Right. But it's going to come out yeah. How that comes out.

JW:

Tell me more about that. Yeah.

BP:

Well, it's so funny because I think about that with my children, you know, that like trying to explain to them about anger in a way that doesn't shame them because that's what we did in the past. We didn't have the language to sort of explain to children about anger. So we're like, just don't do it. Right? Because, like, it's bad.

Anger is a real feeling. But the problem is if you punch someone, you've doubled your problem because now the other person's upset. And so that's the thing I try to communicate to my children is like anger is totally fine and important, but the thing you lose the importance of whatever that is when you hurt someone else, right?

So like you could have had a point, but once you punch someone, no one cares. And so one of my big lines with my children alternately with like crying is I'm like, get them all out. Like, do you have any more in there? I'm like, Let them out. I'm like, do you, are you are you holding any inside? You know? And I explain that like other people aren't as comfortable with being around feelings so much of our wounding comes from other people's inability to tolerate discomfort.

Right? So like the crying in public thing right away.

JW:

Betsy, can I can I just can I pause because I just want you to repeat that part so, so much of our wounding. Can you say that again?

So much of our wounding comes from other people not knowing what to do with big feelings and so they shame us because they're uncomfortable, right? Like when someone's crying, like, how often do you want to, like, give them a tissue real fast. And it it's, it looks like a gesture of kindness, but really, it's like, can you take that away now?

BP:

Because I'm feeling uncomfy, you know, so much of that. And I know that, like, when I like, I openly cry in public, I think of it as my, like, little way to be an advocate.

I don't care if you don't like what I'm doing because I know for me, my keeping it inside is more dangerous for me than your discomfort. You know, and trying to teach my children that that it's like, if you can save it and go to your car and, like, listen to sad music and get it all out, great, because then you won't get that flack from other people.

But, like, that's also not as big of a problem as keeping that stuff inside, because, again, then you lose control of how it comes out. And that's the part that I don't want for myself or other people because I work with people all day who, I mean, if you don't deal with your feelings when they're happening, we we get so the tension builds up so much inside that then we have to numb out.

We have we get into addictions we get into like porn or shopping or like overeating.

JW:

Are you a proponent of the idea that when also we hold these feelings in and this attention and that it can also result in physical ailments?

BP:

Yes, but of course, I am like very hesitant, right? Like I'm not a scientist. I've just seen it in my experience. I've had people come to me with like real physical symptoms that they thought were like neurological disorders. And their doctors say there's nothing wrong with you go to a therapist. Yeah. And they've gotten better. So I know that our body will manifest things to get the attention that it needs.

JW:

And there is a lot of really good science that's called psychoneuroimmunology. And there's, yeah, there's there's a lot of very high quality science around, but I wanted to flag that as well. Like, yes, it will come out in all of these behavioral ways and psychological ways, but it will also come out in physical ways as well.

BP:

And we get to choose.

JW:

Yeah. And it doesn't have to be something huge like, you know, heart disease, but it can be something like I know for myself when I am carrying a lot of tension and I only know this because of the work that I've done over the past several years, there is this tension and pain that will go from my neck shoulder and then it kind of skips a little bit, but then it starts to come down my arm and then all the way through my my index finger.

I don't know why, I don't know what, but like, it is like clockwork and I can it's like, I'll know, like, oh, boy, I'm carrying a lot because I'm now feeling this. And it's, it's like my physical cue to be like, dude, you have to start to pay attention.

BP:

Right? I mean, we're made to live in our bodies in that way that we can, like, read the signs sooner. And that's really all that I'm doing is like, I love to say to people that I meet that it's like, I don't need to be smart because your body is the smartest person in the room.

I love I just get to be a facilitator of your relationship. With it because it's always honest. Yes. And it also communicates in a very specific way. So, like, your thing and your shoulder is my thing that comes on both sides and and I know what it means because I spend time, like, feeling my body in a way that, like, I can get the signs early so that I don't have to, like, get to a place where it's a crisis.

Anymore, but that just means like practice and awareness and all of those things that, like, our life doesn't really afford a ton of right now. So it really it does require work and time. But for me, there's like many activities that buy time, right? Like meditation, you know, the things that are like, I don't have time for that.

And it's like I don't know, it buys you time, right? Like you get twice the amount.

JW:

It's my favorite quote: if you don't have enough time to meditate for 20 minutes a day, then you should be meditating for an hour a day.

BP:

Exactly the same principle. And so many things are like that, right? Like for me, it's like yoga and recovery meetings, like both of those things buy me twice as much time because it helps me to like, not get so caught up in the chaos that is the pace of our lives and just be like, Oh, what's important yes.

JW:

So, Betsy, it just comes to mind from my work with parents that for so many of us at the beginning of this journey, it might feel kind of unsafe to be present in our bodies. Like we spend so much time in our heads and and for me, you know, I spent 25 years in academia, two PhDs, like I love being in my head.

I love analyzing and it feels very safe to me. And now doing more of this body based work, I realize why, because it allows me to just cut off from a lot of emotions and it allows me to have the illusion of being in control as I analyze and organize and plan. And when I first started this journey several years ago, it felt like, Whoa, there's a lot going on here.

And it felt kind of overwhelming. And so I'm wondering if you come across that.

BP:

All the time and I totally understand that, like, I wouldn't have done this work if I didn't have to. Obviously, I would have liked to have come to it much earlier, but you know, every wisdom tradition talks about the body being a temple in one version or another. You know that it's like, yes, it's like going to a strange land.

It's scary at first but we're made to have a relationship with our body that is like filling and satisfying. Like we're made to live in our body. And it takes a little while to get reacquainted, but the problem with living in our brain is that our brain is an effectual organ. It's not a perceptibly like we don't like get we don't get truth here.

We get a collection of things we've already been through and things we've heard and wounding from our childhood. We aren't getting like actual reality. And our body lives in reality all the time. So to me, someone who really, like, cares very much about being practical and rooted in reality, particularly now, like living in my brain fully isn't an option because we know our brain just makes things up, particularly when it doesn't know the answer.

I don't want to live that way anymore. I want to live as close to this planet as I can and then so I can learn how to navigate with it because it is so overwhelming.

JW:

Wow. So I have a curiosity when somebody comes in and they're new to you and they might experience what I experienced where it's not feeling so great to be in my body. I really like being in my head. What are some of the first things that you do in your practice that that would that would ease a person in to this somatic psychotherapeutic approach?

BP:

Well, I always, always work with people at their own level. Like, I honor resistance totally. I don't blow through it. I think we do that in society. We try to push ourselves to do things we're not ready to do, and that isn't of value to me. Like, I trust everybody's journey and I tell them that. And so when people are ready to start doing the work, we do stuff very simply, which is just like body scanning.

I have them sort of communicate what it is that they feel and how they feel and invite language to help them communicate this thing that doesn't really operate in normal language. It's colors, it's textures, it's images, you know, and help them understand that there's no right answer. And then I go at their pace, like when I follow people's interest, and I'll always sort of bring it back to like, let's talk about how your nervous system is made.

Let's talk about how to regulate your nervous system when you're in a crisis you know, these sort of things where we're always touching back. But I'm always, always, always moving at their pace. So for some people, there's very little somatic that we do because they still aren't comfortable. It takes a long time because you have to trust the environment to trust me, and that just takes time.

And so as somebody who lives in American society where we're like, you just beat yourself into submission, it doesn't work for me. And here I want to do less of that. I want to try to help people by like I give my trust to their ability to engage and whenever that is as like wisdom, you know, because I really do. I trust it. And people almost always like move at whatever pace they are. And it's always different than the other person, but they are always like they get where they need to go eventually.

So much of it is like, are you forcing yourself to do something because you think you have to or you or are you like really doing what works? Because if you're just pretending this isn't going to stick, no. It has to be totally based on somebody’s willingness and their decision to engage. And that's the only way that you have the energy to follow through with the work itself.

JW:

So the theme of the month in Yes collective is embodied mental health. And so I'm wondering, like outside of the therapist's office in everyday life, what does embodied mental health look like for you? What how would you describe feeling embodied mental health or how would you how would you describe what that means out in the real world as we go through our daily lives?

BP:

I think it's like realistic expectations. You know, like there are times in our life where we, like, shut off and just have to put our head down and do stuff. There are so many logistical challenges we have in a life in our day to day stuff, right? Like making dinner and having to make sure our clothes are clean and like having to pay the bills and all those things.

Like there's not I don't force myself to, like, be embodied in every moment, you know? But like, if I get a moment, like, I can feel my feet now I know what's going on. You know, I can check in in a more holistic way with myself and do so on a regular basis because it feels good right? Because I know when I'm pooped, I know what I need to rest, which sleep is not rest.

And I talk about that with everybody, right? Like we don't have any rest in our life and it doesn't take much, but like, I know when I need it because when you spend a lot of time like being in your body and teaching people to do that, you like know what you need. I'm like, Ooh, I need to, like, sit in the grass, you know, or I need to take a nap or whatever it is.

And in a way that I can then just try to follow through with. But there's other times where you just have to, like, get it done, too.

JW:

So we're going to have a lot of content this month, month on sleep. And so can you elaborate a little bit more? Sleep is not rest.

BP:

No, we just I mean, we have to sleep to function, you know, and then we like get up and we're like, OK, check that box. And then I'm just going to run around in my day. But like really there's this principle of action and rest. And to have action, you have to have rest. And we're just like, well, sleep covers that, but it doesn't really work.

That way. Like, everything that we even consider is rest in our modern life often has a like very stimulating component to it. You know, TV cell phones, you know, and that's not rest either, because the amount of activity that's happening that your brain's engaged with, your body feels like you're doing right. So if you're watching the news, your body's still stressed.

JW:

So when I'm scrolling Twitter, I'm not resting. Is that what you're telling me about saying.

BP:

No, you're not. But you can, like, scroll on Twitter and just own it?

JW:

Oh, yeah. That's you know what? And it's so funny. I have been doing that lately. I've I've said I am I am actively avoiding something right now. And I'm just going to enjoy this this act, this active avoidance as I go on and like, it like, really helps. Like, like, I'm not fooling myself. Nobody's lying to anybody. But yes, but just and then that's really great to know.

I'm not really resting. Like, I'm not really taking some time for me. I'm using this to, like, stimulate and avoid a little bit. And I can feel it. And there are some times when when yeah. Like, Twitter to me is like chocolate cake or, you know, something. It's just like, oh, I just needed that.

BP:

Yeah, exactly. And I think that we do such a disservice to ourselves by shaming ourselves. I think most people that I come across like everything they do that they enjoy, they shame themselves for and not really does. Like, I remember learning from someone, like, if you're eating something and you think it's bad for you, it is. But like if I eat a donut and I love it, it's good for my soul.

And I don't know how to own it, but it means I don't eat a lot of donuts, but I really enjoy them when I do. And it doesn't. There's something about something being not allowed. Like we're so inherently rebellious that we're like you. You tell me I can't have it. I'm going to indulge overly in whatever that thing is.

JW:

Oh, that's it. Well, yes, we, we we talked recently with an amazing effects therapist, Tammy Sullenberger. And we, you know, we asked her, how do you describe IFS to most people and said, well, there's a part of me that likes to eat cake and there's a part of me that likes to eat kale. And then she she described beautifully how when she has one piece of cake, it's OK.

But then the second piece of cake, the other the the the part that only wants her to eat kale really starts to call her me names. And then there there is this like this polarity going on in this fight inside and a lot of internal criticism. And then the other side is like, I'm going to eat a third piece of cake then.

And then the other part is like, oh, no, you're never going to eat again for the rest of your life. And yeah, so, so if on that first. Then you might be able to head off that really intense back and forth inside. What do you think about that.

BP:

I agree. Like, I think that we're sort of trained in this sort of the way that we motivate ourselves to do the right thing is through shame and what we're learning that is that, that that's a really paralyzing way to do it. And so this thing that's sort of been indoctrinated in us, like through our parents who were, you know, trying to help, like actually like solidifies the thing.

One of my favorite lines when I went to school was the only way to change anything is to accept it exactly as it is, which is like the opposite of what I've learned. Yes. The opposite of how I was raised. It's like you work your ass off to change it and they were like, well, the problem is, is when you're putting that much effort, there's all the energy is like holding it in place rather than just being like, oh, and then it has the space to be different, you know, because I think that we all do that in an effort to do the right thing.

The thing I love about IFS is that all of those voices that we make as this, like, demonizing thing are there to help us. Trying to protect us or support us or motivate us to do better. And that, like, how can you even be mad at something that's trying to help in that way? It just doesn't work. And like I said, my love language is practicality. So for me, the most practical thing to do is like acceptance and kindness and enjoyment of whatever the thing is so that I don't have to rebelliously overindulge in something because I feel like I'm being punished or whatever.

And then the ice cream doesn't even taste like anything because my whole mouth is frozen. You know, I like once it doesn't taste like anything. I'm like, Oh, I wish there might be something going on with me.

JW:

So how can parents start to bring a sort of somatic or embodied approach to mental and emotional wellness? To their kids, into their family? What does that look like in the home for you?

BP:

So the most important thing is always to do our own work. You know, it's not to impart this lesson to our children. It is to model it. It's for me when I lose my cool, which inevitably happens I apologize and I explain. My children know that loud noises make me grumpy, you know? And so when I lose, I show them like, Oh, I'm sorry.

It was just loud. Like, you're fine. You know, and and so that I'm just very open because so much of what parents do is like, we'll, like, act badly and then we'll, like, double down on it because we're embarrassed or because we're still feeling the feelings of anger, you know? And it's just like, if we can be mindful about what's happening for us, we can help them do the exact same thing.

I don't think you can do anything without modeling it and explaining our own things. Like we are all such emotional animals. We're going to, like, act out in bad ways. And to me, that's more valuable than being perfect for our kids. Oh, it's like because they're humans, they're going to be so messy and they're going to have such big feelings.

And if we can explain them right? So using anger, like using the cues of anger differently, being like, OK, something's happened to me is really important. And if I, like, act out, I'm going to make things worse. Like I said, like instead it's like, do whatever you need to do to take care of it and then like come back to the thing.

So just normalizing the feelings and helping them understand what's going on. Like the fact that crying is stress relief and that it's important, but that like they might get some flack for it on the playground if they do it in front of people but that's not their fault. Like it's just trying to to me trying to teach my kids in a way that like speaks up to them rather than down, you know, and a lot of times they'll just be like, I want to go play with my Play-Doh and like they move on quickly and that's OK because what we're doing is we're planting seeds we're planting seeds for being full people.

They're going to be messy no matter what we do.

JW:

Yeah. What do you think about the practice of of identifying where emotions come up and how they feel in the body? And I ask these questions because because it has been transformational for me to just notice, like, oh, sadness or anger or whatever is not happening in my head. It's actually happening in my body. And that has gone so far for me.

And I've started to do this with our kids. And I want to know what you think about this.

BP:

Well, again, it's the same thing like doing our own work teaches us the questions to ask, right? So because everybody's body responds differently and feels things in different ways because that has been universally my experience is that we completely experience our bodies differently. And so we can ask those questions. I know that I ask my kids that sometimes I did it last night, right?

Like, where do you feel that? And she's like, oh, no, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. Like, we forget. Like, when we're that age, we can't really, like, perceive in the same way oh, absolutely. So.

JW:

Yeah, for me. And it feels like even just asking the question because I grew up in a household where, I mean, this this is like another universe is another solar system. Like no emotional awareness at all. And then just to get the cue of like, hey, you know, what you're feeling right now is happening in your body.

You may not be able to fully detect it or be sensitive to it, but it's happening in there. Yeah. Mm hmm.

BP:

Yeah. Well, there's I mean, so many like our feelings are always factual. It's just like what we want to do with them in general doesn't like fit our societal norms, you know, and that's not our feelings fault necessarily. And so to me, it just invites this sort of curiosity and open mindedness about how complex and challenging it is.

To be a feeling being in a world that would really prefer robots.

JW:

You know? Yeah, to be a feeling being in a world that would prefer us to be robots. It's oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.

BP:

We forget that we're animals. And there are some compulsions in us that we absolutely can't like. There's no way to monitor ourselves or to be embodied enough to not, like, do things that make us embarrassed sometimes and awkward. You know, I was talking to a friend recently and she was saying that she learned on Tick Talk like that you can tell a kid that, like, you can't you can't control everything, but you can control your body.

And then the little kid did something and she smacked her on the butt before she could even think. And she's like, so apparently you can control your body until you can't. I was like, right, exactly. And that's the thing we need to communicate to our kids is that, like, we're animals and like, we can do the best we can do, like, understand.

And we really kind to ourselves about our animal natures. Yeah. So that we don't have to feel like like I felt that I was, like, just bad and wrong and broken and you know, you're just messy and complex and amazing.

JW:

Well, right. And we're yeah, we are amazing animals. And that the message that comes through for me is that it's not your fault. You are an animal and or we are animals in a social context. That would prefer us to be robots. I love that idea. And so the fact that I'm feeling tense, the fact that I'm feeling frustrated, the fact that I'm feeling tired, you know, all these things like it's not your fault.

It's not my fault. It's like we live in a society that is well, in academic research, they would call this evolution theory mismatch. Right, right, right.

BP:

Exactly. Yeah. And then but the part that we do are responsible for is how we act in the world based on those feelings. Many people act on their feelings in ways that are unjust to others because they're trying to get rid of their feeling and because we haven't been well schooled in how to tolerate our own feelings and communicate them in a way that's effective and doesn't create more damage.

JW:

Yes, I like to call this emotional processing.

BP:

Yeah, right. Exactly. And it requires processes. And there's this I mean, just to be aware in the world to me is like the most important thing we can do.

JW:

Yeah. So I love this idea of evolutionary mismatch because and I'm just going to geek out for 2 seconds here. Because we can see it in so many different areas. One easy way, and this is really appropriate for the month on embodied mental health, all of the artificial light that we have in this world, it's great. Like we can have a vibrant life after six or 7 p.m.. Like that's that, that's good. We have artificial light that allows us to do a bunch of stuff.

We're grateful for it. Nobody is saying get rid of artificial light, but what artificial light at night does is through our eyes causes all of these chemical reactions to occur that shuts off melatonin production so that when it's time for us to naturally go to sleep, say let's say 930 or ten, we're still kind of wired, we're still up.

And then when we get in bed, we're still up for a little bit more. And so this is an evolutionary mismatch. We do not evolve to live with artificial light at night, but there are hacks that we can do. So things like blue light, blocking glasses or making sure that you turn off overhead lights and have have just lower lights on that aren't overhead, has been shown to be a little bit effective as well.

So there are things that we can do to hack and to hack this evolutionary mismatch when it comes to artificial light and sleep. And I think there's we can do the same thing when it comes to our emotional worlds as well. Like you mentioned before, going into your car, playing a sad song and trying it out. I'm I am a huge advocate for that.

I can't do it in the car, but I can do it in a walk in closet for me. I guess maybe because you know, I grew up as a male as as like a cis hetero male in society. I need to do some stuff in order to get myself in the mode to really cry. But it is so good.

It is so amazing. It's like I cannot recommend it enough. And I see it as kind of a hack. Like I've got a couple of songs, I've got my quiet space and I'm going to go and cry for a couple of minutes. Yeah.

BP:

Like, I know I do for myself and I encourage lots of my clients is like, if you're feeling angry instead of again, talking to the subject of your anger like I will do like three push ups because push ups are very, they're very hard. And I like imagine the face of the person I'm mad at and I allow that because right when we're angry we're filled with adrenaline and cortisol, which are made to move us.

Right? So we lose the ability particular if you're sitting on too much adrenaline to control our behavior. But if you let it out, right, even in these quick like private moments, then those I mean, all of those hormones just get reabsorbed harmlessly. And then we can like really think about how do we want to process the information. And to me, that honors the feeling without creating the extra damage.

And and it's like for me, instead of a hack, I think about like really limiting my exposure. Like, I don't have any social media. I think I'm on LinkedIn, but that one doesn't necessarily count. No offense, like I don't do it because I feel like I'm not evolved enough to not feel badly about myself or to get caught into it.

Like I'm just barely not a monkey and so, like, we love stimulation. Yeah, we love sugar, we love these things because we were evolved to like seek it because there wasn't a lot of it. And now there's so much of it that to me, I really have to limit my exposure to very stimulating things so that I can, like, feel OK in my body.

JW:

I see that as, as definitely being a sort of hack. I mean, just it is a strategy to live in this crazy modern world and be safe.

BP:

So convenient and so abundant and we're so lucky to be in. But if we aren't taking care of that part of our existence, we're going to be anxious or depressed or addicted or all three.

JW:

Yes. Yes. I mean, it's the same thing. So with, with, with food, it's like if you have Twinkies around you constantly, you know, that's going to be problematic. Most people just know the strategy of like, if I don't have this thing around me all the time, I'm not as likely to eat it. And so it's the same thing with social media or anything else.

Yeah. So yeah, I, I love this approach. So I do want to get through a couple more questions because I know that we're short on time. I was going to ask about a bunch of different somatic practices. Alex, we know of and then I wanted you to talk about them. So instead I'm just going to list them and I would love for you to talk about any of the ones that you want to, and I'd love to know how you think they work to, to promote embodied mental health.

So we have yoga, breath work, dance awareness or visualization practices like you mentioned, body scan, massage. And if there are any others that I didn't mention that you think are really important. And so if there's any maybe one or two here that you want to call out and talk about love to hear about them.

BP:

I might answer it in a different way. So when somatic therapy was coming about, it was it was the time around where with Freud where people were pretty conservative, we didn't really want to talk about our bodies. We definitely didn't want to talk about sexuality so much. And so somatic therapy became this huge web of different people doing variations on like body based practices.

And so and I remember the last time we met, right, you asked about a method and I was like, well, tell me about it. And then I can connect it because often similar things have different names and to me the value is like if you're interested in this work, explore for the thing that suits you, just like exercise.

So some people hate yoga, but they love swimming, you know, it's just like every body is different. I believe that your body knows. And when we draw on to the thing that it needs right? So like all of those things, trying those things for me, like they're like dancing was triggering for me initially, it's not anymore because I don't care.

But I did care very much about like because I had this perception that I like was a bad dancer, a bad singer. And anyways, I do both because I don't care, but because they're fun but I think allowing people to get in at whatever level they feel comfortable. Like massage is wonderful, you know, and it's easy because you are you are allowing yourself to like take in something.

But for some people, that can be really triggering. So there's yoga where you have this like structure and it's it is within the structure of those any of those that you can then become flexible and more in touch with your body. So I really encourage people to be like follow your interest, follow your comfort and then try to find a place where you are willing to challenge yourself because all of those things are wonderful and it really depends on people's temperaments what like aligns for them.

Some people love a persona, right? Like sitting in quiet for days and then other people are like, I will die, you know? And so to me, I believe so much in people's individual journey that I really try to encourage that and just offer all of those resources. Like, What do you think of this? Here are the classes in town.

Like Try this and see what you think, because I know that people will end up in the thing that supports them and also empowering them in a culture that doesn't really do that. Empowering them to know what's right for them because all those practices are great. Yeah, but some of them might be like magical to someone, right? For me, I love yoga I love the structure of it.

I love the methodology of it. Like it's brought me to like an acceptance of myself and my body and then I can build on by like then I move to dance right then I stopped caring how I looked, and then I move to like chanting and my teaching, you know, and and so it's just like once you take on a challenge like that, you're encouraged to move forward.

And to deepen into that because swimming in embodied life is so rewarding.

JW:

Oh, yes. So the recommendation is start with something that you feel called to like. You feel like, ooh, that sounds fun. Yeah, that sounds interesting. All right, so everybody knows or at least has an idea of what yoga is. Dance. We mentioned the visualization practices massage. What about breath work? So can you describe what that might be for in the context of a somatic practice?

BP:

So breath work is something that is like it's a subtle but really amazing. There's a lot of, again, scientific research around that. When I was doing one of my yoga trainings, they were like, it's just the like freest way to get high, you know? And so it's this amazing practice where you learn not only to tone the muscles of your lungs, but also like the oxygen going in and out of your brain.

And so although someone who is more familiar can be much more eloquent about this, it's just another branch to explore that's very simple. Like you have all the tools you need and there are a lot of amazing teachers and again, a lot of scientific evidence to support it. And you do like small versions of it in yoga. And so it's just like, again, following that interest into like here is something that you've probably never tried or even thought twice about that has these amazing effects, you know, because people love getting high, they love the idea of it.

And it's like, well, maybe that in a healthier way because that is existed like we as humans and I mean monkeys, other animals do the same. Like we wanted to get high since the dawn of time. It's a great place to start.

I mean, the natural health, because that's what we're looking for is the feelings of being healthy of being like in touch with our body and touch with the world being connected that we lose in our society. It's this disease of separation and things like breath work and dance and yoga, like bring us together again, help us feel like we're not an alien because like you said, we're highly social.

And yet in America, what is valued is being independent and how I do it alone.

JW:

I feel seen on the independence part because one of the things that I have loved about learning different breath work practices is that once I've learned them, I can do them on my own. And as your instructor said, it's free. Like I have my lungs and, you know, the air around me and I can just do it.

So it's one of my favorite ones that I've learned recently or very solid. And breath work does not have to be this long, complex thing or or a long practice, even something like four, seven, eight breathing, which is just, you know, 4 seconds, inhale, hold for seven and then exhale for eight. That's breath work. That's breath work. And it has a really profound effect when you do it two or three days.

BP:

One of the most basic like ways to regulate your nervous system and to find rest is belly breathing. And I teach it to everybody that I work with, like a quick way because so many of us operate in our emergency nervous system because of the pace, because of the information. And one of the quickest ways to sort of downshift back into our more resting nervous system is this deep belly breathing that babies do.

Right. It forces us. It sort of communicates to the body that, like you're safe and you're OK. And it's a way to like reconnect to that more rested place.

JW:

Love it. All right. So I we are short on time. I'm going to ask our final three questions that we ask every guest on the show. So first, Betsy, if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say.

BP:

To start over. So what I mean by that is like when we get irritated, we get triggered, like take a breath and start over. I do this with my kids all the time because like, you know, we just get fried and they have so much energy. I'll just be like, oh, like at the end of the night. And then I remind myself when something bad happens, like start over, take a big deep breath and start again. And it works every time. And I can start my day over as many times as I need to with them, you know, because I can either be mad at them, whatever that like storyline is about, like what jerks they are or how they don't pay attention to me or respect. And to me, that is one of the most valuable practices I have as a parent.

JW:

And, and just a deep, fundamental truth. Like, every moment is fresh and new, you know? And can start fresh right now. Yeah. And so the last quote that changed the way you think or feel, a recent quote that you heard or read.

BP:

So the quote that I oh, that I hold with me that I'm totally going to butcher is by Fritz Perls. And he said something along the lines of “For people to change they have to discover that they need to do it themselves because only then do they have the energy to follow through with what's needed.” And to me, that is so valuable because like, I'm like anybody else I want to tell people like it is when I see things that I see as a problem.

Like, I want to point that out. But if I do that one, if they're not ready, it's almost like I didn't say it at all. So it doesn't matter. But also, like when they come around to it themselves, they have the ability because they came up with it to do what they need to do to move forward. And so that feels like a lot of my job because like I said, I'm kind of type-A.

I can be a little controlling. I appreciate those things about myself, but they don't really work when it comes to other people's process. And that includes my partner, includes my children, it includes my friends.

JW:

Beautiful, beautiful. So the final question, what is your favorite thing about kids?

BP:

I had to tell you a secret. I'm not really that into kids, you know. I love them very, very much. And I like you know, that same obsessive way. And I do love to see because I'm so fascinated by humans. I'm so fascinated to see like what did they come into the world with? What personalities do they come in with? What is added to them? How are they affected by things that are bad that happen to them?

You know, I mean, some older kid at the playground called my son a stupid baby. And like, we're likely going to be like unraveling that when he is 20, you know, I mean, like, well, there was that girl that was thoughtless at the playground and you were three, you know, and he like, brings it up a lot, you know, whereas like, my daughter is a fearless and I remember I said, stop yelling or something.

She goes, Mom, I'm not yelling. I'm talking confidently. And I was like, all right, no, I was like, that's fair. Because I came from a really quiet household, you know? And so to me, like, just watching them be themselves is so interesting to me. And it makes me want to just, like, be very curious and continue to do my own work so that I can be the best person, so that they know that, like, we're all going to be messy.

I remember going to school and really wonder because I always wanted to be a mom, despite my lack of interest in other people's children that like, how do I not mess them up and I learned that's impossible. Everyone messes up their kids in one way or another, right? Like, if we're perfect, then we don't set them up for the real world.

When they get out there, they're going to be scared shitless, you know? And so it's in our imperfections that they learn to grow, you know, because inevitably we parent or try to parent ourselves out of our children. But in doing so, we make other problems that we can't foresee because that's their journey. And to me, like watching all of that is the most fun ever.

And also understanding that, like, they just like they aren't me, like they don't belong to me. They like came through me, but they don't belong to me at all. And it is my job to be good enough to them and give them as much preparation for the real world as I can so that I earn a relationship with them when they're older.

I know so many parents who sort of did the, like, honor thy mother and my father. And to me, most of the people that really impose that were people that couldn't control their actions around their children and sort of have to impose that and their children feel beholden to that. And so for me, like, I really have to earn that relationship with my children and the world I mean, if it's crazy now, it's going to be crazy when they're when they're grown up.

And so I just want to help them to like navigate that and help normalize and help them understand themselves and so to me, like, it's so fun and something because of how crazy life is that I take for granted pretty regularly. Like I don't think of myself as a mom. I think of myself with like some roommates who are very young.

JW:

These little roommates who haven't paid rent. Yeah.

BP:

No, they haven't. And they're picky and, you know, all that stuff. So it's just like the greatest experiment.

JW:

I love it. Oh, my gosh. Betsy, thank you so much. This has been an amazing conversation. I can't wait to have you back on. This is really a gift. Thank you so much.

BP:

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Podcast Ep. 50 - Healing heart & mind through the body with somatic psychotherapist Betsy Powers

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Podcast Ep. 50 - Healing heart & mind through the body with somatic psychotherapist Betsy Powers

Betsy Powers, LPC, somatic psychotherapist, yoga instructor, and mom of two joins us to talk about the body's role in mental and emotional healing

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In this episode

We’re so excited to kick of embodied mental health month with Betsy Powers, a licensed therapist, yoga teacher, and mother who specializes in somatic therapy in addition to traditional talk therapy. Her journey into the field of mental and emotional health began over a decade ago when she began her own healing process from addiction and what she calls “self-inflicted hardship.” She earned her graduate degree from Naropa University specializing in somatic psychology and body psychotherapy. She now has a thriving private practice in beautiful Savannah, Georgia, where she lives with her partner and two children.

We talked about Betsy’s own journey out of addiction and into mental wellness, what led her into the healing arts and body-based psychotherapy, and how all of this weaves together in her parenting. If you’re fascinated by the body-mind connection, you’re going to love this interview!

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About our guest

Betsy Powers is a licensed professional counselor and yoga teacher in Savannah, Georgia. She specializes in both somatic therapy as well as traditional talk-therapy approaches and uses them in varying combinations according to each client’s preferences, needs, and comfort level. You can learn more about her private practice at www.therapysavannah.com.

Show notes

  • Betsy's private practice website is here.
  • Betsy trained at Naropa University in Boulder, CO.
  • Learn more about somatic therapy here.
  • Learn more about psychoneuroimmunology here.
  • We mentioned podcast episode 42 with Tammy Sollenberger.
  • We mentioned the Internal Family Systems model of psychotherapy. Here's a Yes Collective article introducing the model.
  • An article by Michael Tomasello on humans as "ultra-social animals."
  • Betsy promoted belly breathing (aka diaphragmatic breathing). Here's an article explaining how to do it.

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford (JW):

Betsy, we are really excited to have you on to kick off our embodied mental health month here in the Yes. Collective. So we're going to get into what somatic psychology is and how you work through all of these body based approaches. But first, I'd love for the listeners to get to know you. So my first question is when did you first realize that you even wanted to go into mental health and wanted to become a therapist?

Betsy Powers (BP):

Oh, I mean, it's so funny. There's this wonderful interview with Bessel Vander Kolk where someone asked him, like, how he got to where he got. And he said, “Isn't it a lovely pleasant rationalization to give the reasons? Because we just end up where we end up, you know?” And you can look back and it sort of makes sense in certain ways, but it's just a pleasant rationalization for like I've always just been super fascinated by people and going through my own like a very traumatic mental health struggles I sort of knew that if I could ever get over those things, I really wanted to help people because I understood what it felt like. And when you're in that place, being with someone who, you know, who has felt those feelings allows for you to open up much easier. It helps you to feel safe. It helps you to feel understood.

And so I really wanted to be able to do that for people. And not only that, but since then when I've had therapists and I was like working through things and I would have to repeat myself like five or eight times, like seeing the same boring stuff that I knew was just boring to them. I was like, I want to do that for people because that's what it takes. You know, like I just want to be there for people in their process because mine was has been so fulfilling. And I really have found like freedom from what I thought was like completely incurable. Madness. And and I want to do that for other people.

I want to sit and, like, tolerate their discomfort so that they can find freedom and know that there's not something wrong with them because they're suffering. Because that is the message, right? Like when you cry in public, people try to fix it. Right? But crying is the most primitive of the way that we process stress and I want to, like, let people cry and help them understand that because it was taught to me, but like, healing light, at least And so I just want to normalize that for people and be that person for them.

If I can do enough of my own work that I can tolerate your sadness and you're having to repeat yourself a zillion times to get over whatever this is.

JW:

Wow. Yeah. So that really lands that last part of: I've done the work so I can tolerate your sadness. That strikes me working in the childhood cancer world, that this has been a big part of our work, of what can we do in order to tolerate the anxiety, the sadness, the grief, the confusion the aloneness. Yeah. And moving from a place of early on when we started MaxLove Project that we were in a place of wanting to fix what we needed. We need to fix our son. We need and then we want to help other families fix. And there still is a certain component in that in terms of improving quality of life. But one of those, yeah. Just landed for me, so I wanted to name that. How impactful that has been for us is to expand our capacity to just be with all the difficult stuff that comes along with this journey.

But Betsy, I wonder if you are comfortable with me pushing a little bit more on your backstory. I just want to know, like, is there maybe one moment that immediately comes to mind when you were like, yes, this is what I want to do? And and like a specific moment where you're like, Yeah, this is it.

BP:

I mean, there have been like a million little ones all along the way. I know I was doing this workshop and it was for yoga for at risk youth, because yoga is a big part of my professional path. And there was somebody that was talking about somatic therapy, which like addresses not only people's like mental issues, but also really factors in the physical, anatomical, like anthropological components of us as human beings, as being this very complex creature.

And, and sort of even just that combination of words from this woman. I was like, that's what I want to do because that's been my experience. Like, I have definitely worked with therapists while I was still very ill because I'm a person in recovery. I was at a pretty awful addiction, and so I knew like I couldn't fix it were just words.

So much of my healing had to do with my physical movement, and I always was really curious about how do you do both? Because I've had therapy that I was like, Well, I can understand why I shouldn't do what I'm doing, but I can't stop myself from doing it or feeling compelled to be in this relationship that's unhealthy.

And so I just felt bad about myself because I couldn't control it. And so it didn't feel like that didn't feel like the full answer it felt like there has to be this other thing happening, you know, and to learn like we're we're animals and every other animal processes their feelings physically, our emotions are made to move us right.

Either like somewhere private so we can grieve away from something scary toward something we're angry at. Right. And so but we're the only creatures. It's just like sit still and like we just sit on it and we just, like, hope it goes away. And we haven't been given the permission to, like, do what we want to with our body, which sometimes is like being erratic and, like, crying in public and like all of those things that were really made to do and holding on to those things, it's going to come out one way or the other.

And so for me, it just felt like, oh, this is where I'm supposed to go. Help people to be able to process things in a satisfying way.

JW:

I want to put a pin in this: “animals that sit still.” I love this idea and I want to explore that in a moment, but oh, I just have I just want to keep digging. I just imagining there there's, there's this moment in your head. Like you said, there's a bunch of little small moments so I can imagine the small moments building in terms of mental health and wanting to being in the mental health field, wanting to be a therapist.

So I'm wondering, moving into somatic psychology, which I will ask you to explain in a moment, though, if there was a moment, a memory that you have where it clicked for you, like, oh, my mental health is related to this body that I'm in and like things kind of coming together or maybe it was just a bunch of little small moments strung together.

But I'm just digging for this one special moment.

BP:

Well, being a person with addiction, it really is very obvious very quickly, that mental ideas can't fix it. I mean, there is such a component of like, this is so obviously damaging to not only me, to everyone I love and to society as a whole.

Right. I'm an actual public health risk. And yet I can't do anything about it. And so to me, like, it was just that obvious like this. It can't work this way because otherwise I just feel like I am bad and wrong and there's something wrong with me. And I'm never going to get better because there's no way for me to control this with my mind, you know, because I've always been a very nice person but the things that I did in my addiction were so different than who I am in my value system that, like, I just had to find a different way, you know, like, we can talk about it and we can say pretty words about what it is, but, like, it is a mental illness. It's a physical illness, you know? And so to me, it just required I have to look bigger at this because otherwise I'm just a bad person. And that isn't working like that isn't making it better either.

JW:

Yeah. Yeah. So was there one particular body based practice that clicked for you? Was there so you mentioned yoga. Was that the first thing that really clicked for you?

BP:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I went I was in treatment for a lengthy amount of time, and and there was always yoga in there. But there was also just like being able to move and process the stress of that because so much of it is like I've heard my life to the ground. That's very stressful. So I need to process that.

And so there was a lot of talking, but the thing that was really, like, helped me sleep at night was the physical stuff. Like I would have to exercise to be able to like wear my brain out, to be able to sleep at night, to be able to like live in my own skin in a tolerable way. And obviously, like, well, obviously, obviously the further along I got, the less I hated myself.

And it was really like further along, both in a physical and mental practice and in recovery, they tell you you can't help anybody except the exact way you were helped. Right? We can't sell something we haven't done. Yeah. And so to me, it was the only way to make sense if I was going to work with people who have endlessly fascinated me and if I was going to be there for people like me, it was the only way to look at it, really.

It was the only thing that made logical sense because to me, like having a mental illness, like I find so much comfort in logic and practicality now I'm like, I just want something that works. And so to me, this is the most practical way to approach health and wellbeing.

JW:

So how do you describe a somatic psychology or somatic psychotherapy to people who have never heard of it before? Like what is somatic? What are you talking about? So what's what's the what's the easiest way that you use to describe it?

BP:

I'm always sort of humbled by this question because I know that there's people who are much more eloquent with the answer, but soma just means body and obviously psychotherapy. We know what that means. So it's built on. It's like a whole separate branch of it really builds on traditional psychotherapy techniques, but then also incorporate like I said, how we're made anatomically.

You know, we're taking in more information in one day than our ancestors did in the lifetime. And then we're expecting to have our shit together and like physically we can't like there are effects of that amount of input of this amount of like the rigor that's required to maintain a life today. Goes so far beyond what we were made to do.

And we've evolved so quickly that we just haven't caught up. But we're also very adaptable. And so I teach people about their nervous system, right? How we as animals process stress so that we can use the traditional talk therapy techniques which like allow us to find support and a healthy other that protects us so we can change the narrative of our story.

We can look into unconscious motives but we can also learn, like when your shoulders are up by your ears, what do you need to do? Right? It's like you need to think about what is happening in your body because your body is giving you signals of how you're doing all the time, you know? And so many of us have lost that connection to a point that the, the the way we're woken up is by some sort of crisis, right?

Whether it's an addiction, it's a heart attack. It's, you know, it's like bad relationships with our loved ones, our parenthood nothing to us in an honest way all the time. But but it's like living next to a train track, like you stop hearing it after a while. And so my job is to help people get back in touch with their body, right?

So it's just like we have this wonderful modern life, but there are parts of it that we really need to, like, turn the car around and come back and understand ourselves as a natural being so that we can process all of the stress and then, like, find a way to adapt because we are we're super adaptable we just need to know how to do that because a lot of the ideas we get don't work.

So much of the wounding that we get in our life is like trying to make ourselves fit into a mold that we were never made to fit into.

JW:

So that brings me back to this idea of we are the only animals that sit still. And I yeah, I love this idea. And it strikes me that, well, at least one of the reasons why this is, is that we are, as one anthropologist wrote, we are ultra-social animals. And so we are the only animals that absolutely require this social cultural framework in order to survive. Like fundamentally we need to learn, we need to be part of a society.

We need to learn the cultural ways to do things. And one of the things that we all learn early on is how to discipline our emotions. And so, like, how can we just press them down? Can we keep them down? And I'm going to assume that there is a healthy amount of emotional regulation, we would call it, that we teach our kids. And so this is you know, I'm feeling big emotions, but I'm not going to hit my sister. I'm feeling big emotions, but I'm not going to smash through the window. But most of us have learned an extreme version of that. Like I'm feeling really sad, but I'm going to resist and ignore it and avoided at all costs.

I'm feeling really mad, but I'm going to press it down and I'm never going to let it out.

BP:

Right. But it's going to come out yeah. How that comes out.

JW:

Tell me more about that. Yeah.

BP:

Well, it's so funny because I think about that with my children, you know, that like trying to explain to them about anger in a way that doesn't shame them because that's what we did in the past. We didn't have the language to sort of explain to children about anger. So we're like, just don't do it. Right? Because, like, it's bad.

Anger is a real feeling. But the problem is if you punch someone, you've doubled your problem because now the other person's upset. And so that's the thing I try to communicate to my children is like anger is totally fine and important, but the thing you lose the importance of whatever that is when you hurt someone else, right?

So like you could have had a point, but once you punch someone, no one cares. And so one of my big lines with my children alternately with like crying is I'm like, get them all out. Like, do you have any more in there? I'm like, Let them out. I'm like, do you, are you are you holding any inside? You know? And I explain that like other people aren't as comfortable with being around feelings so much of our wounding comes from other people's inability to tolerate discomfort.

Right? So like the crying in public thing right away.

JW:

Betsy, can I can I just can I pause because I just want you to repeat that part so, so much of our wounding. Can you say that again?

So much of our wounding comes from other people not knowing what to do with big feelings and so they shame us because they're uncomfortable, right? Like when someone's crying, like, how often do you want to, like, give them a tissue real fast. And it it's, it looks like a gesture of kindness, but really, it's like, can you take that away now?

BP:

Because I'm feeling uncomfy, you know, so much of that. And I know that, like, when I like, I openly cry in public, I think of it as my, like, little way to be an advocate.

I don't care if you don't like what I'm doing because I know for me, my keeping it inside is more dangerous for me than your discomfort. You know, and trying to teach my children that that it's like, if you can save it and go to your car and, like, listen to sad music and get it all out, great, because then you won't get that flack from other people.

But, like, that's also not as big of a problem as keeping that stuff inside, because, again, then you lose control of how it comes out. And that's the part that I don't want for myself or other people because I work with people all day who, I mean, if you don't deal with your feelings when they're happening, we we get so the tension builds up so much inside that then we have to numb out.

We have we get into addictions we get into like porn or shopping or like overeating.

JW:

Are you a proponent of the idea that when also we hold these feelings in and this attention and that it can also result in physical ailments?

BP:

Yes, but of course, I am like very hesitant, right? Like I'm not a scientist. I've just seen it in my experience. I've had people come to me with like real physical symptoms that they thought were like neurological disorders. And their doctors say there's nothing wrong with you go to a therapist. Yeah. And they've gotten better. So I know that our body will manifest things to get the attention that it needs.

JW:

And there is a lot of really good science that's called psychoneuroimmunology. And there's, yeah, there's there's a lot of very high quality science around, but I wanted to flag that as well. Like, yes, it will come out in all of these behavioral ways and psychological ways, but it will also come out in physical ways as well.

BP:

And we get to choose.

JW:

Yeah. And it doesn't have to be something huge like, you know, heart disease, but it can be something like I know for myself when I am carrying a lot of tension and I only know this because of the work that I've done over the past several years, there is this tension and pain that will go from my neck shoulder and then it kind of skips a little bit, but then it starts to come down my arm and then all the way through my my index finger.

I don't know why, I don't know what, but like, it is like clockwork and I can it's like, I'll know, like, oh, boy, I'm carrying a lot because I'm now feeling this. And it's, it's like my physical cue to be like, dude, you have to start to pay attention.

BP:

Right? I mean, we're made to live in our bodies in that way that we can, like, read the signs sooner. And that's really all that I'm doing is like, I love to say to people that I meet that it's like, I don't need to be smart because your body is the smartest person in the room.

I love I just get to be a facilitator of your relationship. With it because it's always honest. Yes. And it also communicates in a very specific way. So, like, your thing and your shoulder is my thing that comes on both sides and and I know what it means because I spend time, like, feeling my body in a way that, like, I can get the signs early so that I don't have to, like, get to a place where it's a crisis.

Anymore, but that just means like practice and awareness and all of those things that, like, our life doesn't really afford a ton of right now. So it really it does require work and time. But for me, there's like many activities that buy time, right? Like meditation, you know, the things that are like, I don't have time for that.

And it's like I don't know, it buys you time, right? Like you get twice the amount.

JW:

It's my favorite quote: if you don't have enough time to meditate for 20 minutes a day, then you should be meditating for an hour a day.

BP:

Exactly the same principle. And so many things are like that, right? Like for me, it's like yoga and recovery meetings, like both of those things buy me twice as much time because it helps me to like, not get so caught up in the chaos that is the pace of our lives and just be like, Oh, what's important yes.

JW:

So, Betsy, it just comes to mind from my work with parents that for so many of us at the beginning of this journey, it might feel kind of unsafe to be present in our bodies. Like we spend so much time in our heads and and for me, you know, I spent 25 years in academia, two PhDs, like I love being in my head.

I love analyzing and it feels very safe to me. And now doing more of this body based work, I realize why, because it allows me to just cut off from a lot of emotions and it allows me to have the illusion of being in control as I analyze and organize and plan. And when I first started this journey several years ago, it felt like, Whoa, there's a lot going on here.

And it felt kind of overwhelming. And so I'm wondering if you come across that.

BP:

All the time and I totally understand that, like, I wouldn't have done this work if I didn't have to. Obviously, I would have liked to have come to it much earlier, but you know, every wisdom tradition talks about the body being a temple in one version or another. You know that it's like, yes, it's like going to a strange land.

It's scary at first but we're made to have a relationship with our body that is like filling and satisfying. Like we're made to live in our body. And it takes a little while to get reacquainted, but the problem with living in our brain is that our brain is an effectual organ. It's not a perceptibly like we don't like get we don't get truth here.

We get a collection of things we've already been through and things we've heard and wounding from our childhood. We aren't getting like actual reality. And our body lives in reality all the time. So to me, someone who really, like, cares very much about being practical and rooted in reality, particularly now, like living in my brain fully isn't an option because we know our brain just makes things up, particularly when it doesn't know the answer.

I don't want to live that way anymore. I want to live as close to this planet as I can and then so I can learn how to navigate with it because it is so overwhelming.

JW:

Wow. So I have a curiosity when somebody comes in and they're new to you and they might experience what I experienced where it's not feeling so great to be in my body. I really like being in my head. What are some of the first things that you do in your practice that that would that would ease a person in to this somatic psychotherapeutic approach?

BP:

Well, I always, always work with people at their own level. Like, I honor resistance totally. I don't blow through it. I think we do that in society. We try to push ourselves to do things we're not ready to do, and that isn't of value to me. Like, I trust everybody's journey and I tell them that. And so when people are ready to start doing the work, we do stuff very simply, which is just like body scanning.

I have them sort of communicate what it is that they feel and how they feel and invite language to help them communicate this thing that doesn't really operate in normal language. It's colors, it's textures, it's images, you know, and help them understand that there's no right answer. And then I go at their pace, like when I follow people's interest, and I'll always sort of bring it back to like, let's talk about how your nervous system is made.

Let's talk about how to regulate your nervous system when you're in a crisis you know, these sort of things where we're always touching back. But I'm always, always, always moving at their pace. So for some people, there's very little somatic that we do because they still aren't comfortable. It takes a long time because you have to trust the environment to trust me, and that just takes time.

And so as somebody who lives in American society where we're like, you just beat yourself into submission, it doesn't work for me. And here I want to do less of that. I want to try to help people by like I give my trust to their ability to engage and whenever that is as like wisdom, you know, because I really do. I trust it. And people almost always like move at whatever pace they are. And it's always different than the other person, but they are always like they get where they need to go eventually.

So much of it is like, are you forcing yourself to do something because you think you have to or you or are you like really doing what works? Because if you're just pretending this isn't going to stick, no. It has to be totally based on somebody’s willingness and their decision to engage. And that's the only way that you have the energy to follow through with the work itself.

JW:

So the theme of the month in Yes collective is embodied mental health. And so I'm wondering, like outside of the therapist's office in everyday life, what does embodied mental health look like for you? What how would you describe feeling embodied mental health or how would you how would you describe what that means out in the real world as we go through our daily lives?

BP:

I think it's like realistic expectations. You know, like there are times in our life where we, like, shut off and just have to put our head down and do stuff. There are so many logistical challenges we have in a life in our day to day stuff, right? Like making dinner and having to make sure our clothes are clean and like having to pay the bills and all those things.

Like there's not I don't force myself to, like, be embodied in every moment, you know? But like, if I get a moment, like, I can feel my feet now I know what's going on. You know, I can check in in a more holistic way with myself and do so on a regular basis because it feels good right? Because I know when I'm pooped, I know what I need to rest, which sleep is not rest.

And I talk about that with everybody, right? Like we don't have any rest in our life and it doesn't take much, but like, I know when I need it because when you spend a lot of time like being in your body and teaching people to do that, you like know what you need. I'm like, Ooh, I need to, like, sit in the grass, you know, or I need to take a nap or whatever it is.

And in a way that I can then just try to follow through with. But there's other times where you just have to, like, get it done, too.

JW:

So we're going to have a lot of content this month, month on sleep. And so can you elaborate a little bit more? Sleep is not rest.

BP:

No, we just I mean, we have to sleep to function, you know, and then we like get up and we're like, OK, check that box. And then I'm just going to run around in my day. But like really there's this principle of action and rest. And to have action, you have to have rest. And we're just like, well, sleep covers that, but it doesn't really work.

That way. Like, everything that we even consider is rest in our modern life often has a like very stimulating component to it. You know, TV cell phones, you know, and that's not rest either, because the amount of activity that's happening that your brain's engaged with, your body feels like you're doing right. So if you're watching the news, your body's still stressed.

JW:

So when I'm scrolling Twitter, I'm not resting. Is that what you're telling me about saying.

BP:

No, you're not. But you can, like, scroll on Twitter and just own it?

JW:

Oh, yeah. That's you know what? And it's so funny. I have been doing that lately. I've I've said I am I am actively avoiding something right now. And I'm just going to enjoy this this act, this active avoidance as I go on and like, it like, really helps. Like, like, I'm not fooling myself. Nobody's lying to anybody. But yes, but just and then that's really great to know.

I'm not really resting. Like, I'm not really taking some time for me. I'm using this to, like, stimulate and avoid a little bit. And I can feel it. And there are some times when when yeah. Like, Twitter to me is like chocolate cake or, you know, something. It's just like, oh, I just needed that.

BP:

Yeah, exactly. And I think that we do such a disservice to ourselves by shaming ourselves. I think most people that I come across like everything they do that they enjoy, they shame themselves for and not really does. Like, I remember learning from someone, like, if you're eating something and you think it's bad for you, it is. But like if I eat a donut and I love it, it's good for my soul.

And I don't know how to own it, but it means I don't eat a lot of donuts, but I really enjoy them when I do. And it doesn't. There's something about something being not allowed. Like we're so inherently rebellious that we're like you. You tell me I can't have it. I'm going to indulge overly in whatever that thing is.

JW:

Oh, that's it. Well, yes, we, we we talked recently with an amazing effects therapist, Tammy Sullenberger. And we, you know, we asked her, how do you describe IFS to most people and said, well, there's a part of me that likes to eat cake and there's a part of me that likes to eat kale. And then she she described beautifully how when she has one piece of cake, it's OK.

But then the second piece of cake, the other the the the part that only wants her to eat kale really starts to call her me names. And then there there is this like this polarity going on in this fight inside and a lot of internal criticism. And then the other side is like, I'm going to eat a third piece of cake then.

And then the other part is like, oh, no, you're never going to eat again for the rest of your life. And yeah, so, so if on that first. Then you might be able to head off that really intense back and forth inside. What do you think about that.

BP:

I agree. Like, I think that we're sort of trained in this sort of the way that we motivate ourselves to do the right thing is through shame and what we're learning that is that, that that's a really paralyzing way to do it. And so this thing that's sort of been indoctrinated in us, like through our parents who were, you know, trying to help, like actually like solidifies the thing.

One of my favorite lines when I went to school was the only way to change anything is to accept it exactly as it is, which is like the opposite of what I've learned. Yes. The opposite of how I was raised. It's like you work your ass off to change it and they were like, well, the problem is, is when you're putting that much effort, there's all the energy is like holding it in place rather than just being like, oh, and then it has the space to be different, you know, because I think that we all do that in an effort to do the right thing.

The thing I love about IFS is that all of those voices that we make as this, like, demonizing thing are there to help us. Trying to protect us or support us or motivate us to do better. And that, like, how can you even be mad at something that's trying to help in that way? It just doesn't work. And like I said, my love language is practicality. So for me, the most practical thing to do is like acceptance and kindness and enjoyment of whatever the thing is so that I don't have to rebelliously overindulge in something because I feel like I'm being punished or whatever.

And then the ice cream doesn't even taste like anything because my whole mouth is frozen. You know, I like once it doesn't taste like anything. I'm like, Oh, I wish there might be something going on with me.

JW:

So how can parents start to bring a sort of somatic or embodied approach to mental and emotional wellness? To their kids, into their family? What does that look like in the home for you?

BP:

So the most important thing is always to do our own work. You know, it's not to impart this lesson to our children. It is to model it. It's for me when I lose my cool, which inevitably happens I apologize and I explain. My children know that loud noises make me grumpy, you know? And so when I lose, I show them like, Oh, I'm sorry.

It was just loud. Like, you're fine. You know, and and so that I'm just very open because so much of what parents do is like, we'll, like, act badly and then we'll, like, double down on it because we're embarrassed or because we're still feeling the feelings of anger, you know? And it's just like, if we can be mindful about what's happening for us, we can help them do the exact same thing.

I don't think you can do anything without modeling it and explaining our own things. Like we are all such emotional animals. We're going to, like, act out in bad ways. And to me, that's more valuable than being perfect for our kids. Oh, it's like because they're humans, they're going to be so messy and they're going to have such big feelings.

And if we can explain them right? So using anger, like using the cues of anger differently, being like, OK, something's happened to me is really important. And if I, like, act out, I'm going to make things worse. Like I said, like instead it's like, do whatever you need to do to take care of it and then like come back to the thing.

So just normalizing the feelings and helping them understand what's going on. Like the fact that crying is stress relief and that it's important, but that like they might get some flack for it on the playground if they do it in front of people but that's not their fault. Like it's just trying to to me trying to teach my kids in a way that like speaks up to them rather than down, you know, and a lot of times they'll just be like, I want to go play with my Play-Doh and like they move on quickly and that's OK because what we're doing is we're planting seeds we're planting seeds for being full people.

They're going to be messy no matter what we do.

JW:

Yeah. What do you think about the practice of of identifying where emotions come up and how they feel in the body? And I ask these questions because because it has been transformational for me to just notice, like, oh, sadness or anger or whatever is not happening in my head. It's actually happening in my body. And that has gone so far for me.

And I've started to do this with our kids. And I want to know what you think about this.

BP:

Well, again, it's the same thing like doing our own work teaches us the questions to ask, right? So because everybody's body responds differently and feels things in different ways because that has been universally my experience is that we completely experience our bodies differently. And so we can ask those questions. I know that I ask my kids that sometimes I did it last night, right?

Like, where do you feel that? And she's like, oh, no, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. Like, we forget. Like, when we're that age, we can't really, like, perceive in the same way oh, absolutely. So.

JW:

Yeah, for me. And it feels like even just asking the question because I grew up in a household where, I mean, this this is like another universe is another solar system. Like no emotional awareness at all. And then just to get the cue of like, hey, you know, what you're feeling right now is happening in your body.

You may not be able to fully detect it or be sensitive to it, but it's happening in there. Yeah. Mm hmm.

BP:

Yeah. Well, there's I mean, so many like our feelings are always factual. It's just like what we want to do with them in general doesn't like fit our societal norms, you know, and that's not our feelings fault necessarily. And so to me, it just invites this sort of curiosity and open mindedness about how complex and challenging it is.

To be a feeling being in a world that would really prefer robots.

JW:

You know? Yeah, to be a feeling being in a world that would prefer us to be robots. It's oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.

BP:

We forget that we're animals. And there are some compulsions in us that we absolutely can't like. There's no way to monitor ourselves or to be embodied enough to not, like, do things that make us embarrassed sometimes and awkward. You know, I was talking to a friend recently and she was saying that she learned on Tick Talk like that you can tell a kid that, like, you can't you can't control everything, but you can control your body.

And then the little kid did something and she smacked her on the butt before she could even think. And she's like, so apparently you can control your body until you can't. I was like, right, exactly. And that's the thing we need to communicate to our kids is that, like, we're animals and like, we can do the best we can do, like, understand.

And we really kind to ourselves about our animal natures. Yeah. So that we don't have to feel like like I felt that I was, like, just bad and wrong and broken and you know, you're just messy and complex and amazing.

JW:

Well, right. And we're yeah, we are amazing animals. And that the message that comes through for me is that it's not your fault. You are an animal and or we are animals in a social context. That would prefer us to be robots. I love that idea. And so the fact that I'm feeling tense, the fact that I'm feeling frustrated, the fact that I'm feeling tired, you know, all these things like it's not your fault.

It's not my fault. It's like we live in a society that is well, in academic research, they would call this evolution theory mismatch. Right, right, right.

BP:

Exactly. Yeah. And then but the part that we do are responsible for is how we act in the world based on those feelings. Many people act on their feelings in ways that are unjust to others because they're trying to get rid of their feeling and because we haven't been well schooled in how to tolerate our own feelings and communicate them in a way that's effective and doesn't create more damage.

JW:

Yes, I like to call this emotional processing.

BP:

Yeah, right. Exactly. And it requires processes. And there's this I mean, just to be aware in the world to me is like the most important thing we can do.

JW:

Yeah. So I love this idea of evolutionary mismatch because and I'm just going to geek out for 2 seconds here. Because we can see it in so many different areas. One easy way, and this is really appropriate for the month on embodied mental health, all of the artificial light that we have in this world, it's great. Like we can have a vibrant life after six or 7 p.m.. Like that's that, that's good. We have artificial light that allows us to do a bunch of stuff.

We're grateful for it. Nobody is saying get rid of artificial light, but what artificial light at night does is through our eyes causes all of these chemical reactions to occur that shuts off melatonin production so that when it's time for us to naturally go to sleep, say let's say 930 or ten, we're still kind of wired, we're still up.

And then when we get in bed, we're still up for a little bit more. And so this is an evolutionary mismatch. We do not evolve to live with artificial light at night, but there are hacks that we can do. So things like blue light, blocking glasses or making sure that you turn off overhead lights and have have just lower lights on that aren't overhead, has been shown to be a little bit effective as well.

So there are things that we can do to hack and to hack this evolutionary mismatch when it comes to artificial light and sleep. And I think there's we can do the same thing when it comes to our emotional worlds as well. Like you mentioned before, going into your car, playing a sad song and trying it out. I'm I am a huge advocate for that.

I can't do it in the car, but I can do it in a walk in closet for me. I guess maybe because you know, I grew up as a male as as like a cis hetero male in society. I need to do some stuff in order to get myself in the mode to really cry. But it is so good.

It is so amazing. It's like I cannot recommend it enough. And I see it as kind of a hack. Like I've got a couple of songs, I've got my quiet space and I'm going to go and cry for a couple of minutes. Yeah.

BP:

Like, I know I do for myself and I encourage lots of my clients is like, if you're feeling angry instead of again, talking to the subject of your anger like I will do like three push ups because push ups are very, they're very hard. And I like imagine the face of the person I'm mad at and I allow that because right when we're angry we're filled with adrenaline and cortisol, which are made to move us.

Right? So we lose the ability particular if you're sitting on too much adrenaline to control our behavior. But if you let it out, right, even in these quick like private moments, then those I mean, all of those hormones just get reabsorbed harmlessly. And then we can like really think about how do we want to process the information. And to me, that honors the feeling without creating the extra damage.

And and it's like for me, instead of a hack, I think about like really limiting my exposure. Like, I don't have any social media. I think I'm on LinkedIn, but that one doesn't necessarily count. No offense, like I don't do it because I feel like I'm not evolved enough to not feel badly about myself or to get caught into it.

Like I'm just barely not a monkey and so, like, we love stimulation. Yeah, we love sugar, we love these things because we were evolved to like seek it because there wasn't a lot of it. And now there's so much of it that to me, I really have to limit my exposure to very stimulating things so that I can, like, feel OK in my body.

JW:

I see that as, as definitely being a sort of hack. I mean, just it is a strategy to live in this crazy modern world and be safe.

BP:

So convenient and so abundant and we're so lucky to be in. But if we aren't taking care of that part of our existence, we're going to be anxious or depressed or addicted or all three.

JW:

Yes. Yes. I mean, it's the same thing. So with, with, with food, it's like if you have Twinkies around you constantly, you know, that's going to be problematic. Most people just know the strategy of like, if I don't have this thing around me all the time, I'm not as likely to eat it. And so it's the same thing with social media or anything else.

Yeah. So yeah, I, I love this approach. So I do want to get through a couple more questions because I know that we're short on time. I was going to ask about a bunch of different somatic practices. Alex, we know of and then I wanted you to talk about them. So instead I'm just going to list them and I would love for you to talk about any of the ones that you want to, and I'd love to know how you think they work to, to promote embodied mental health.

So we have yoga, breath work, dance awareness or visualization practices like you mentioned, body scan, massage. And if there are any others that I didn't mention that you think are really important. And so if there's any maybe one or two here that you want to call out and talk about love to hear about them.

BP:

I might answer it in a different way. So when somatic therapy was coming about, it was it was the time around where with Freud where people were pretty conservative, we didn't really want to talk about our bodies. We definitely didn't want to talk about sexuality so much. And so somatic therapy became this huge web of different people doing variations on like body based practices.

And so and I remember the last time we met, right, you asked about a method and I was like, well, tell me about it. And then I can connect it because often similar things have different names and to me the value is like if you're interested in this work, explore for the thing that suits you, just like exercise.

So some people hate yoga, but they love swimming, you know, it's just like every body is different. I believe that your body knows. And when we draw on to the thing that it needs right? So like all of those things, trying those things for me, like they're like dancing was triggering for me initially, it's not anymore because I don't care.

But I did care very much about like because I had this perception that I like was a bad dancer, a bad singer. And anyways, I do both because I don't care, but because they're fun but I think allowing people to get in at whatever level they feel comfortable. Like massage is wonderful, you know, and it's easy because you are you are allowing yourself to like take in something.

But for some people, that can be really triggering. So there's yoga where you have this like structure and it's it is within the structure of those any of those that you can then become flexible and more in touch with your body. So I really encourage people to be like follow your interest, follow your comfort and then try to find a place where you are willing to challenge yourself because all of those things are wonderful and it really depends on people's temperaments what like aligns for them.

Some people love a persona, right? Like sitting in quiet for days and then other people are like, I will die, you know? And so to me, I believe so much in people's individual journey that I really try to encourage that and just offer all of those resources. Like, What do you think of this? Here are the classes in town.

Like Try this and see what you think, because I know that people will end up in the thing that supports them and also empowering them in a culture that doesn't really do that. Empowering them to know what's right for them because all those practices are great. Yeah, but some of them might be like magical to someone, right? For me, I love yoga I love the structure of it.

I love the methodology of it. Like it's brought me to like an acceptance of myself and my body and then I can build on by like then I move to dance right then I stopped caring how I looked, and then I move to like chanting and my teaching, you know, and and so it's just like once you take on a challenge like that, you're encouraged to move forward.

And to deepen into that because swimming in embodied life is so rewarding.

JW:

Oh, yes. So the recommendation is start with something that you feel called to like. You feel like, ooh, that sounds fun. Yeah, that sounds interesting. All right, so everybody knows or at least has an idea of what yoga is. Dance. We mentioned the visualization practices massage. What about breath work? So can you describe what that might be for in the context of a somatic practice?

BP:

So breath work is something that is like it's a subtle but really amazing. There's a lot of, again, scientific research around that. When I was doing one of my yoga trainings, they were like, it's just the like freest way to get high, you know? And so it's this amazing practice where you learn not only to tone the muscles of your lungs, but also like the oxygen going in and out of your brain.

And so although someone who is more familiar can be much more eloquent about this, it's just another branch to explore that's very simple. Like you have all the tools you need and there are a lot of amazing teachers and again, a lot of scientific evidence to support it. And you do like small versions of it in yoga. And so it's just like, again, following that interest into like here is something that you've probably never tried or even thought twice about that has these amazing effects, you know, because people love getting high, they love the idea of it.

And it's like, well, maybe that in a healthier way because that is existed like we as humans and I mean monkeys, other animals do the same. Like we wanted to get high since the dawn of time. It's a great place to start.

I mean, the natural health, because that's what we're looking for is the feelings of being healthy of being like in touch with our body and touch with the world being connected that we lose in our society. It's this disease of separation and things like breath work and dance and yoga, like bring us together again, help us feel like we're not an alien because like you said, we're highly social.

And yet in America, what is valued is being independent and how I do it alone.

JW:

I feel seen on the independence part because one of the things that I have loved about learning different breath work practices is that once I've learned them, I can do them on my own. And as your instructor said, it's free. Like I have my lungs and, you know, the air around me and I can just do it.

So it's one of my favorite ones that I've learned recently or very solid. And breath work does not have to be this long, complex thing or or a long practice, even something like four, seven, eight breathing, which is just, you know, 4 seconds, inhale, hold for seven and then exhale for eight. That's breath work. That's breath work. And it has a really profound effect when you do it two or three days.

BP:

One of the most basic like ways to regulate your nervous system and to find rest is belly breathing. And I teach it to everybody that I work with, like a quick way because so many of us operate in our emergency nervous system because of the pace, because of the information. And one of the quickest ways to sort of downshift back into our more resting nervous system is this deep belly breathing that babies do.

Right. It forces us. It sort of communicates to the body that, like you're safe and you're OK. And it's a way to like reconnect to that more rested place.

JW:

Love it. All right. So I we are short on time. I'm going to ask our final three questions that we ask every guest on the show. So first, Betsy, if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say.

BP:

To start over. So what I mean by that is like when we get irritated, we get triggered, like take a breath and start over. I do this with my kids all the time because like, you know, we just get fried and they have so much energy. I'll just be like, oh, like at the end of the night. And then I remind myself when something bad happens, like start over, take a big deep breath and start again. And it works every time. And I can start my day over as many times as I need to with them, you know, because I can either be mad at them, whatever that like storyline is about, like what jerks they are or how they don't pay attention to me or respect. And to me, that is one of the most valuable practices I have as a parent.

JW:

And, and just a deep, fundamental truth. Like, every moment is fresh and new, you know? And can start fresh right now. Yeah. And so the last quote that changed the way you think or feel, a recent quote that you heard or read.

BP:

So the quote that I oh, that I hold with me that I'm totally going to butcher is by Fritz Perls. And he said something along the lines of “For people to change they have to discover that they need to do it themselves because only then do they have the energy to follow through with what's needed.” And to me, that is so valuable because like, I'm like anybody else I want to tell people like it is when I see things that I see as a problem.

Like, I want to point that out. But if I do that one, if they're not ready, it's almost like I didn't say it at all. So it doesn't matter. But also, like when they come around to it themselves, they have the ability because they came up with it to do what they need to do to move forward. And so that feels like a lot of my job because like I said, I'm kind of type-A.

I can be a little controlling. I appreciate those things about myself, but they don't really work when it comes to other people's process. And that includes my partner, includes my children, it includes my friends.

JW:

Beautiful, beautiful. So the final question, what is your favorite thing about kids?

BP:

I had to tell you a secret. I'm not really that into kids, you know. I love them very, very much. And I like you know, that same obsessive way. And I do love to see because I'm so fascinated by humans. I'm so fascinated to see like what did they come into the world with? What personalities do they come in with? What is added to them? How are they affected by things that are bad that happen to them?

You know, I mean, some older kid at the playground called my son a stupid baby. And like, we're likely going to be like unraveling that when he is 20, you know, I mean, like, well, there was that girl that was thoughtless at the playground and you were three, you know, and he like, brings it up a lot, you know, whereas like, my daughter is a fearless and I remember I said, stop yelling or something.

She goes, Mom, I'm not yelling. I'm talking confidently. And I was like, all right, no, I was like, that's fair. Because I came from a really quiet household, you know? And so to me, like, just watching them be themselves is so interesting to me. And it makes me want to just, like, be very curious and continue to do my own work so that I can be the best person, so that they know that, like, we're all going to be messy.

I remember going to school and really wonder because I always wanted to be a mom, despite my lack of interest in other people's children that like, how do I not mess them up and I learned that's impossible. Everyone messes up their kids in one way or another, right? Like, if we're perfect, then we don't set them up for the real world.

When they get out there, they're going to be scared shitless, you know? And so it's in our imperfections that they learn to grow, you know, because inevitably we parent or try to parent ourselves out of our children. But in doing so, we make other problems that we can't foresee because that's their journey. And to me, like watching all of that is the most fun ever.

And also understanding that, like, they just like they aren't me, like they don't belong to me. They like came through me, but they don't belong to me at all. And it is my job to be good enough to them and give them as much preparation for the real world as I can so that I earn a relationship with them when they're older.

I know so many parents who sort of did the, like, honor thy mother and my father. And to me, most of the people that really impose that were people that couldn't control their actions around their children and sort of have to impose that and their children feel beholden to that. And so for me, like, I really have to earn that relationship with my children and the world I mean, if it's crazy now, it's going to be crazy when they're when they're grown up.

And so I just want to help them to like navigate that and help normalize and help them understand themselves and so to me, like, it's so fun and something because of how crazy life is that I take for granted pretty regularly. Like I don't think of myself as a mom. I think of myself with like some roommates who are very young.

JW:

These little roommates who haven't paid rent. Yeah.

BP:

No, they haven't. And they're picky and, you know, all that stuff. So it's just like the greatest experiment.

JW:

I love it. Oh, my gosh. Betsy, thank you so much. This has been an amazing conversation. I can't wait to have you back on. This is really a gift. Thank you so much.

BP:

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

In this episode

We’re so excited to kick of embodied mental health month with Betsy Powers, a licensed therapist, yoga teacher, and mother who specializes in somatic therapy in addition to traditional talk therapy. Her journey into the field of mental and emotional health began over a decade ago when she began her own healing process from addiction and what she calls “self-inflicted hardship.” She earned her graduate degree from Naropa University specializing in somatic psychology and body psychotherapy. She now has a thriving private practice in beautiful Savannah, Georgia, where she lives with her partner and two children.

We talked about Betsy’s own journey out of addiction and into mental wellness, what led her into the healing arts and body-based psychotherapy, and how all of this weaves together in her parenting. If you’re fascinated by the body-mind connection, you’re going to love this interview!

Listen here

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or Overcast


About our guest

Betsy Powers is a licensed professional counselor and yoga teacher in Savannah, Georgia. She specializes in both somatic therapy as well as traditional talk-therapy approaches and uses them in varying combinations according to each client’s preferences, needs, and comfort level. You can learn more about her private practice at www.therapysavannah.com.

Show notes

  • Betsy's private practice website is here.
  • Betsy trained at Naropa University in Boulder, CO.
  • Learn more about somatic therapy here.
  • Learn more about psychoneuroimmunology here.
  • We mentioned podcast episode 42 with Tammy Sollenberger.
  • We mentioned the Internal Family Systems model of psychotherapy. Here's a Yes Collective article introducing the model.
  • An article by Michael Tomasello on humans as "ultra-social animals."
  • Betsy promoted belly breathing (aka diaphragmatic breathing). Here's an article explaining how to do it.

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford (JW):

Betsy, we are really excited to have you on to kick off our embodied mental health month here in the Yes. Collective. So we're going to get into what somatic psychology is and how you work through all of these body based approaches. But first, I'd love for the listeners to get to know you. So my first question is when did you first realize that you even wanted to go into mental health and wanted to become a therapist?

Betsy Powers (BP):

Oh, I mean, it's so funny. There's this wonderful interview with Bessel Vander Kolk where someone asked him, like, how he got to where he got. And he said, “Isn't it a lovely pleasant rationalization to give the reasons? Because we just end up where we end up, you know?” And you can look back and it sort of makes sense in certain ways, but it's just a pleasant rationalization for like I've always just been super fascinated by people and going through my own like a very traumatic mental health struggles I sort of knew that if I could ever get over those things, I really wanted to help people because I understood what it felt like. And when you're in that place, being with someone who, you know, who has felt those feelings allows for you to open up much easier. It helps you to feel safe. It helps you to feel understood.

And so I really wanted to be able to do that for people. And not only that, but since then when I've had therapists and I was like working through things and I would have to repeat myself like five or eight times, like seeing the same boring stuff that I knew was just boring to them. I was like, I want to do that for people because that's what it takes. You know, like I just want to be there for people in their process because mine was has been so fulfilling. And I really have found like freedom from what I thought was like completely incurable. Madness. And and I want to do that for other people.

I want to sit and, like, tolerate their discomfort so that they can find freedom and know that there's not something wrong with them because they're suffering. Because that is the message, right? Like when you cry in public, people try to fix it. Right? But crying is the most primitive of the way that we process stress and I want to, like, let people cry and help them understand that because it was taught to me, but like, healing light, at least And so I just want to normalize that for people and be that person for them.

If I can do enough of my own work that I can tolerate your sadness and you're having to repeat yourself a zillion times to get over whatever this is.

JW:

Wow. Yeah. So that really lands that last part of: I've done the work so I can tolerate your sadness. That strikes me working in the childhood cancer world, that this has been a big part of our work, of what can we do in order to tolerate the anxiety, the sadness, the grief, the confusion the aloneness. Yeah. And moving from a place of early on when we started MaxLove Project that we were in a place of wanting to fix what we needed. We need to fix our son. We need and then we want to help other families fix. And there still is a certain component in that in terms of improving quality of life. But one of those, yeah. Just landed for me, so I wanted to name that. How impactful that has been for us is to expand our capacity to just be with all the difficult stuff that comes along with this journey.

But Betsy, I wonder if you are comfortable with me pushing a little bit more on your backstory. I just want to know, like, is there maybe one moment that immediately comes to mind when you were like, yes, this is what I want to do? And and like a specific moment where you're like, Yeah, this is it.

BP:

I mean, there have been like a million little ones all along the way. I know I was doing this workshop and it was for yoga for at risk youth, because yoga is a big part of my professional path. And there was somebody that was talking about somatic therapy, which like addresses not only people's like mental issues, but also really factors in the physical, anatomical, like anthropological components of us as human beings, as being this very complex creature.

And, and sort of even just that combination of words from this woman. I was like, that's what I want to do because that's been my experience. Like, I have definitely worked with therapists while I was still very ill because I'm a person in recovery. I was at a pretty awful addiction, and so I knew like I couldn't fix it were just words.

So much of my healing had to do with my physical movement, and I always was really curious about how do you do both? Because I've had therapy that I was like, Well, I can understand why I shouldn't do what I'm doing, but I can't stop myself from doing it or feeling compelled to be in this relationship that's unhealthy.

And so I just felt bad about myself because I couldn't control it. And so it didn't feel like that didn't feel like the full answer it felt like there has to be this other thing happening, you know, and to learn like we're we're animals and every other animal processes their feelings physically, our emotions are made to move us right.

Either like somewhere private so we can grieve away from something scary toward something we're angry at. Right. And so but we're the only creatures. It's just like sit still and like we just sit on it and we just, like, hope it goes away. And we haven't been given the permission to, like, do what we want to with our body, which sometimes is like being erratic and, like, crying in public and like all of those things that were really made to do and holding on to those things, it's going to come out one way or the other.

And so for me, it just felt like, oh, this is where I'm supposed to go. Help people to be able to process things in a satisfying way.

JW:

I want to put a pin in this: “animals that sit still.” I love this idea and I want to explore that in a moment, but oh, I just have I just want to keep digging. I just imagining there there's, there's this moment in your head. Like you said, there's a bunch of little small moments so I can imagine the small moments building in terms of mental health and wanting to being in the mental health field, wanting to be a therapist.

So I'm wondering, moving into somatic psychology, which I will ask you to explain in a moment, though, if there was a moment, a memory that you have where it clicked for you, like, oh, my mental health is related to this body that I'm in and like things kind of coming together or maybe it was just a bunch of little small moments strung together.

But I'm just digging for this one special moment.

BP:

Well, being a person with addiction, it really is very obvious very quickly, that mental ideas can't fix it. I mean, there is such a component of like, this is so obviously damaging to not only me, to everyone I love and to society as a whole.

Right. I'm an actual public health risk. And yet I can't do anything about it. And so to me, like, it was just that obvious like this. It can't work this way because otherwise I just feel like I am bad and wrong and there's something wrong with me. And I'm never going to get better because there's no way for me to control this with my mind, you know, because I've always been a very nice person but the things that I did in my addiction were so different than who I am in my value system that, like, I just had to find a different way, you know, like, we can talk about it and we can say pretty words about what it is, but, like, it is a mental illness. It's a physical illness, you know? And so to me, it just required I have to look bigger at this because otherwise I'm just a bad person. And that isn't working like that isn't making it better either.

JW:

Yeah. Yeah. So was there one particular body based practice that clicked for you? Was there so you mentioned yoga. Was that the first thing that really clicked for you?

BP:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I went I was in treatment for a lengthy amount of time, and and there was always yoga in there. But there was also just like being able to move and process the stress of that because so much of it is like I've heard my life to the ground. That's very stressful. So I need to process that.

And so there was a lot of talking, but the thing that was really, like, helped me sleep at night was the physical stuff. Like I would have to exercise to be able to like wear my brain out, to be able to sleep at night, to be able to like live in my own skin in a tolerable way. And obviously, like, well, obviously, obviously the further along I got, the less I hated myself.

And it was really like further along, both in a physical and mental practice and in recovery, they tell you you can't help anybody except the exact way you were helped. Right? We can't sell something we haven't done. Yeah. And so to me, it was the only way to make sense if I was going to work with people who have endlessly fascinated me and if I was going to be there for people like me, it was the only way to look at it, really.

It was the only thing that made logical sense because to me, like having a mental illness, like I find so much comfort in logic and practicality now I'm like, I just want something that works. And so to me, this is the most practical way to approach health and wellbeing.

JW:

So how do you describe a somatic psychology or somatic psychotherapy to people who have never heard of it before? Like what is somatic? What are you talking about? So what's what's the what's the easiest way that you use to describe it?

BP:

I'm always sort of humbled by this question because I know that there's people who are much more eloquent with the answer, but soma just means body and obviously psychotherapy. We know what that means. So it's built on. It's like a whole separate branch of it really builds on traditional psychotherapy techniques, but then also incorporate like I said, how we're made anatomically.

You know, we're taking in more information in one day than our ancestors did in the lifetime. And then we're expecting to have our shit together and like physically we can't like there are effects of that amount of input of this amount of like the rigor that's required to maintain a life today. Goes so far beyond what we were made to do.

And we've evolved so quickly that we just haven't caught up. But we're also very adaptable. And so I teach people about their nervous system, right? How we as animals process stress so that we can use the traditional talk therapy techniques which like allow us to find support and a healthy other that protects us so we can change the narrative of our story.

We can look into unconscious motives but we can also learn, like when your shoulders are up by your ears, what do you need to do? Right? It's like you need to think about what is happening in your body because your body is giving you signals of how you're doing all the time, you know? And so many of us have lost that connection to a point that the, the the way we're woken up is by some sort of crisis, right?

Whether it's an addiction, it's a heart attack. It's, you know, it's like bad relationships with our loved ones, our parenthood nothing to us in an honest way all the time. But but it's like living next to a train track, like you stop hearing it after a while. And so my job is to help people get back in touch with their body, right?

So it's just like we have this wonderful modern life, but there are parts of it that we really need to, like, turn the car around and come back and understand ourselves as a natural being so that we can process all of the stress and then, like, find a way to adapt because we are we're super adaptable we just need to know how to do that because a lot of the ideas we get don't work.

So much of the wounding that we get in our life is like trying to make ourselves fit into a mold that we were never made to fit into.

JW:

So that brings me back to this idea of we are the only animals that sit still. And I yeah, I love this idea. And it strikes me that, well, at least one of the reasons why this is, is that we are, as one anthropologist wrote, we are ultra-social animals. And so we are the only animals that absolutely require this social cultural framework in order to survive. Like fundamentally we need to learn, we need to be part of a society.

We need to learn the cultural ways to do things. And one of the things that we all learn early on is how to discipline our emotions. And so, like, how can we just press them down? Can we keep them down? And I'm going to assume that there is a healthy amount of emotional regulation, we would call it, that we teach our kids. And so this is you know, I'm feeling big emotions, but I'm not going to hit my sister. I'm feeling big emotions, but I'm not going to smash through the window. But most of us have learned an extreme version of that. Like I'm feeling really sad, but I'm going to resist and ignore it and avoided at all costs.

I'm feeling really mad, but I'm going to press it down and I'm never going to let it out.

BP:

Right. But it's going to come out yeah. How that comes out.

JW:

Tell me more about that. Yeah.

BP:

Well, it's so funny because I think about that with my children, you know, that like trying to explain to them about anger in a way that doesn't shame them because that's what we did in the past. We didn't have the language to sort of explain to children about anger. So we're like, just don't do it. Right? Because, like, it's bad.

Anger is a real feeling. But the problem is if you punch someone, you've doubled your problem because now the other person's upset. And so that's the thing I try to communicate to my children is like anger is totally fine and important, but the thing you lose the importance of whatever that is when you hurt someone else, right?

So like you could have had a point, but once you punch someone, no one cares. And so one of my big lines with my children alternately with like crying is I'm like, get them all out. Like, do you have any more in there? I'm like, Let them out. I'm like, do you, are you are you holding any inside? You know? And I explain that like other people aren't as comfortable with being around feelings so much of our wounding comes from other people's inability to tolerate discomfort.

Right? So like the crying in public thing right away.

JW:

Betsy, can I can I just can I pause because I just want you to repeat that part so, so much of our wounding. Can you say that again?

So much of our wounding comes from other people not knowing what to do with big feelings and so they shame us because they're uncomfortable, right? Like when someone's crying, like, how often do you want to, like, give them a tissue real fast. And it it's, it looks like a gesture of kindness, but really, it's like, can you take that away now?

BP:

Because I'm feeling uncomfy, you know, so much of that. And I know that, like, when I like, I openly cry in public, I think of it as my, like, little way to be an advocate.

I don't care if you don't like what I'm doing because I know for me, my keeping it inside is more dangerous for me than your discomfort. You know, and trying to teach my children that that it's like, if you can save it and go to your car and, like, listen to sad music and get it all out, great, because then you won't get that flack from other people.

But, like, that's also not as big of a problem as keeping that stuff inside, because, again, then you lose control of how it comes out. And that's the part that I don't want for myself or other people because I work with people all day who, I mean, if you don't deal with your feelings when they're happening, we we get so the tension builds up so much inside that then we have to numb out.

We have we get into addictions we get into like porn or shopping or like overeating.

JW:

Are you a proponent of the idea that when also we hold these feelings in and this attention and that it can also result in physical ailments?

BP:

Yes, but of course, I am like very hesitant, right? Like I'm not a scientist. I've just seen it in my experience. I've had people come to me with like real physical symptoms that they thought were like neurological disorders. And their doctors say there's nothing wrong with you go to a therapist. Yeah. And they've gotten better. So I know that our body will manifest things to get the attention that it needs.

JW:

And there is a lot of really good science that's called psychoneuroimmunology. And there's, yeah, there's there's a lot of very high quality science around, but I wanted to flag that as well. Like, yes, it will come out in all of these behavioral ways and psychological ways, but it will also come out in physical ways as well.

BP:

And we get to choose.

JW:

Yeah. And it doesn't have to be something huge like, you know, heart disease, but it can be something like I know for myself when I am carrying a lot of tension and I only know this because of the work that I've done over the past several years, there is this tension and pain that will go from my neck shoulder and then it kind of skips a little bit, but then it starts to come down my arm and then all the way through my my index finger.

I don't know why, I don't know what, but like, it is like clockwork and I can it's like, I'll know, like, oh, boy, I'm carrying a lot because I'm now feeling this. And it's, it's like my physical cue to be like, dude, you have to start to pay attention.

BP:

Right? I mean, we're made to live in our bodies in that way that we can, like, read the signs sooner. And that's really all that I'm doing is like, I love to say to people that I meet that it's like, I don't need to be smart because your body is the smartest person in the room.

I love I just get to be a facilitator of your relationship. With it because it's always honest. Yes. And it also communicates in a very specific way. So, like, your thing and your shoulder is my thing that comes on both sides and and I know what it means because I spend time, like, feeling my body in a way that, like, I can get the signs early so that I don't have to, like, get to a place where it's a crisis.

Anymore, but that just means like practice and awareness and all of those things that, like, our life doesn't really afford a ton of right now. So it really it does require work and time. But for me, there's like many activities that buy time, right? Like meditation, you know, the things that are like, I don't have time for that.

And it's like I don't know, it buys you time, right? Like you get twice the amount.

JW:

It's my favorite quote: if you don't have enough time to meditate for 20 minutes a day, then you should be meditating for an hour a day.

BP:

Exactly the same principle. And so many things are like that, right? Like for me, it's like yoga and recovery meetings, like both of those things buy me twice as much time because it helps me to like, not get so caught up in the chaos that is the pace of our lives and just be like, Oh, what's important yes.

JW:

So, Betsy, it just comes to mind from my work with parents that for so many of us at the beginning of this journey, it might feel kind of unsafe to be present in our bodies. Like we spend so much time in our heads and and for me, you know, I spent 25 years in academia, two PhDs, like I love being in my head.

I love analyzing and it feels very safe to me. And now doing more of this body based work, I realize why, because it allows me to just cut off from a lot of emotions and it allows me to have the illusion of being in control as I analyze and organize and plan. And when I first started this journey several years ago, it felt like, Whoa, there's a lot going on here.

And it felt kind of overwhelming. And so I'm wondering if you come across that.

BP:

All the time and I totally understand that, like, I wouldn't have done this work if I didn't have to. Obviously, I would have liked to have come to it much earlier, but you know, every wisdom tradition talks about the body being a temple in one version or another. You know that it's like, yes, it's like going to a strange land.

It's scary at first but we're made to have a relationship with our body that is like filling and satisfying. Like we're made to live in our body. And it takes a little while to get reacquainted, but the problem with living in our brain is that our brain is an effectual organ. It's not a perceptibly like we don't like get we don't get truth here.

We get a collection of things we've already been through and things we've heard and wounding from our childhood. We aren't getting like actual reality. And our body lives in reality all the time. So to me, someone who really, like, cares very much about being practical and rooted in reality, particularly now, like living in my brain fully isn't an option because we know our brain just makes things up, particularly when it doesn't know the answer.

I don't want to live that way anymore. I want to live as close to this planet as I can and then so I can learn how to navigate with it because it is so overwhelming.

JW:

Wow. So I have a curiosity when somebody comes in and they're new to you and they might experience what I experienced where it's not feeling so great to be in my body. I really like being in my head. What are some of the first things that you do in your practice that that would that would ease a person in to this somatic psychotherapeutic approach?

BP:

Well, I always, always work with people at their own level. Like, I honor resistance totally. I don't blow through it. I think we do that in society. We try to push ourselves to do things we're not ready to do, and that isn't of value to me. Like, I trust everybody's journey and I tell them that. And so when people are ready to start doing the work, we do stuff very simply, which is just like body scanning.

I have them sort of communicate what it is that they feel and how they feel and invite language to help them communicate this thing that doesn't really operate in normal language. It's colors, it's textures, it's images, you know, and help them understand that there's no right answer. And then I go at their pace, like when I follow people's interest, and I'll always sort of bring it back to like, let's talk about how your nervous system is made.

Let's talk about how to regulate your nervous system when you're in a crisis you know, these sort of things where we're always touching back. But I'm always, always, always moving at their pace. So for some people, there's very little somatic that we do because they still aren't comfortable. It takes a long time because you have to trust the environment to trust me, and that just takes time.

And so as somebody who lives in American society where we're like, you just beat yourself into submission, it doesn't work for me. And here I want to do less of that. I want to try to help people by like I give my trust to their ability to engage and whenever that is as like wisdom, you know, because I really do. I trust it. And people almost always like move at whatever pace they are. And it's always different than the other person, but they are always like they get where they need to go eventually.

So much of it is like, are you forcing yourself to do something because you think you have to or you or are you like really doing what works? Because if you're just pretending this isn't going to stick, no. It has to be totally based on somebody’s willingness and their decision to engage. And that's the only way that you have the energy to follow through with the work itself.

JW:

So the theme of the month in Yes collective is embodied mental health. And so I'm wondering, like outside of the therapist's office in everyday life, what does embodied mental health look like for you? What how would you describe feeling embodied mental health or how would you how would you describe what that means out in the real world as we go through our daily lives?

BP:

I think it's like realistic expectations. You know, like there are times in our life where we, like, shut off and just have to put our head down and do stuff. There are so many logistical challenges we have in a life in our day to day stuff, right? Like making dinner and having to make sure our clothes are clean and like having to pay the bills and all those things.

Like there's not I don't force myself to, like, be embodied in every moment, you know? But like, if I get a moment, like, I can feel my feet now I know what's going on. You know, I can check in in a more holistic way with myself and do so on a regular basis because it feels good right? Because I know when I'm pooped, I know what I need to rest, which sleep is not rest.

And I talk about that with everybody, right? Like we don't have any rest in our life and it doesn't take much, but like, I know when I need it because when you spend a lot of time like being in your body and teaching people to do that, you like know what you need. I'm like, Ooh, I need to, like, sit in the grass, you know, or I need to take a nap or whatever it is.

And in a way that I can then just try to follow through with. But there's other times where you just have to, like, get it done, too.

JW:

So we're going to have a lot of content this month, month on sleep. And so can you elaborate a little bit more? Sleep is not rest.

BP:

No, we just I mean, we have to sleep to function, you know, and then we like get up and we're like, OK, check that box. And then I'm just going to run around in my day. But like really there's this principle of action and rest. And to have action, you have to have rest. And we're just like, well, sleep covers that, but it doesn't really work.

That way. Like, everything that we even consider is rest in our modern life often has a like very stimulating component to it. You know, TV cell phones, you know, and that's not rest either, because the amount of activity that's happening that your brain's engaged with, your body feels like you're doing right. So if you're watching the news, your body's still stressed.

JW:

So when I'm scrolling Twitter, I'm not resting. Is that what you're telling me about saying.

BP:

No, you're not. But you can, like, scroll on Twitter and just own it?

JW:

Oh, yeah. That's you know what? And it's so funny. I have been doing that lately. I've I've said I am I am actively avoiding something right now. And I'm just going to enjoy this this act, this active avoidance as I go on and like, it like, really helps. Like, like, I'm not fooling myself. Nobody's lying to anybody. But yes, but just and then that's really great to know.

I'm not really resting. Like, I'm not really taking some time for me. I'm using this to, like, stimulate and avoid a little bit. And I can feel it. And there are some times when when yeah. Like, Twitter to me is like chocolate cake or, you know, something. It's just like, oh, I just needed that.

BP:

Yeah, exactly. And I think that we do such a disservice to ourselves by shaming ourselves. I think most people that I come across like everything they do that they enjoy, they shame themselves for and not really does. Like, I remember learning from someone, like, if you're eating something and you think it's bad for you, it is. But like if I eat a donut and I love it, it's good for my soul.

And I don't know how to own it, but it means I don't eat a lot of donuts, but I really enjoy them when I do. And it doesn't. There's something about something being not allowed. Like we're so inherently rebellious that we're like you. You tell me I can't have it. I'm going to indulge overly in whatever that thing is.

JW:

Oh, that's it. Well, yes, we, we we talked recently with an amazing effects therapist, Tammy Sullenberger. And we, you know, we asked her, how do you describe IFS to most people and said, well, there's a part of me that likes to eat cake and there's a part of me that likes to eat kale. And then she she described beautifully how when she has one piece of cake, it's OK.

But then the second piece of cake, the other the the the part that only wants her to eat kale really starts to call her me names. And then there there is this like this polarity going on in this fight inside and a lot of internal criticism. And then the other side is like, I'm going to eat a third piece of cake then.

And then the other part is like, oh, no, you're never going to eat again for the rest of your life. And yeah, so, so if on that first. Then you might be able to head off that really intense back and forth inside. What do you think about that.

BP:

I agree. Like, I think that we're sort of trained in this sort of the way that we motivate ourselves to do the right thing is through shame and what we're learning that is that, that that's a really paralyzing way to do it. And so this thing that's sort of been indoctrinated in us, like through our parents who were, you know, trying to help, like actually like solidifies the thing.

One of my favorite lines when I went to school was the only way to change anything is to accept it exactly as it is, which is like the opposite of what I've learned. Yes. The opposite of how I was raised. It's like you work your ass off to change it and they were like, well, the problem is, is when you're putting that much effort, there's all the energy is like holding it in place rather than just being like, oh, and then it has the space to be different, you know, because I think that we all do that in an effort to do the right thing.

The thing I love about IFS is that all of those voices that we make as this, like, demonizing thing are there to help us. Trying to protect us or support us or motivate us to do better. And that, like, how can you even be mad at something that's trying to help in that way? It just doesn't work. And like I said, my love language is practicality. So for me, the most practical thing to do is like acceptance and kindness and enjoyment of whatever the thing is so that I don't have to rebelliously overindulge in something because I feel like I'm being punished or whatever.

And then the ice cream doesn't even taste like anything because my whole mouth is frozen. You know, I like once it doesn't taste like anything. I'm like, Oh, I wish there might be something going on with me.

JW:

So how can parents start to bring a sort of somatic or embodied approach to mental and emotional wellness? To their kids, into their family? What does that look like in the home for you?

BP:

So the most important thing is always to do our own work. You know, it's not to impart this lesson to our children. It is to model it. It's for me when I lose my cool, which inevitably happens I apologize and I explain. My children know that loud noises make me grumpy, you know? And so when I lose, I show them like, Oh, I'm sorry.

It was just loud. Like, you're fine. You know, and and so that I'm just very open because so much of what parents do is like, we'll, like, act badly and then we'll, like, double down on it because we're embarrassed or because we're still feeling the feelings of anger, you know? And it's just like, if we can be mindful about what's happening for us, we can help them do the exact same thing.

I don't think you can do anything without modeling it and explaining our own things. Like we are all such emotional animals. We're going to, like, act out in bad ways. And to me, that's more valuable than being perfect for our kids. Oh, it's like because they're humans, they're going to be so messy and they're going to have such big feelings.

And if we can explain them right? So using anger, like using the cues of anger differently, being like, OK, something's happened to me is really important. And if I, like, act out, I'm going to make things worse. Like I said, like instead it's like, do whatever you need to do to take care of it and then like come back to the thing.

So just normalizing the feelings and helping them understand what's going on. Like the fact that crying is stress relief and that it's important, but that like they might get some flack for it on the playground if they do it in front of people but that's not their fault. Like it's just trying to to me trying to teach my kids in a way that like speaks up to them rather than down, you know, and a lot of times they'll just be like, I want to go play with my Play-Doh and like they move on quickly and that's OK because what we're doing is we're planting seeds we're planting seeds for being full people.

They're going to be messy no matter what we do.

JW:

Yeah. What do you think about the practice of of identifying where emotions come up and how they feel in the body? And I ask these questions because because it has been transformational for me to just notice, like, oh, sadness or anger or whatever is not happening in my head. It's actually happening in my body. And that has gone so far for me.

And I've started to do this with our kids. And I want to know what you think about this.

BP:

Well, again, it's the same thing like doing our own work teaches us the questions to ask, right? So because everybody's body responds differently and feels things in different ways because that has been universally my experience is that we completely experience our bodies differently. And so we can ask those questions. I know that I ask my kids that sometimes I did it last night, right?

Like, where do you feel that? And she's like, oh, no, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. Like, we forget. Like, when we're that age, we can't really, like, perceive in the same way oh, absolutely. So.

JW:

Yeah, for me. And it feels like even just asking the question because I grew up in a household where, I mean, this this is like another universe is another solar system. Like no emotional awareness at all. And then just to get the cue of like, hey, you know, what you're feeling right now is happening in your body.

You may not be able to fully detect it or be sensitive to it, but it's happening in there. Yeah. Mm hmm.

BP:

Yeah. Well, there's I mean, so many like our feelings are always factual. It's just like what we want to do with them in general doesn't like fit our societal norms, you know, and that's not our feelings fault necessarily. And so to me, it just invites this sort of curiosity and open mindedness about how complex and challenging it is.

To be a feeling being in a world that would really prefer robots.

JW:

You know? Yeah, to be a feeling being in a world that would prefer us to be robots. It's oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.

BP:

We forget that we're animals. And there are some compulsions in us that we absolutely can't like. There's no way to monitor ourselves or to be embodied enough to not, like, do things that make us embarrassed sometimes and awkward. You know, I was talking to a friend recently and she was saying that she learned on Tick Talk like that you can tell a kid that, like, you can't you can't control everything, but you can control your body.

And then the little kid did something and she smacked her on the butt before she could even think. And she's like, so apparently you can control your body until you can't. I was like, right, exactly. And that's the thing we need to communicate to our kids is that, like, we're animals and like, we can do the best we can do, like, understand.

And we really kind to ourselves about our animal natures. Yeah. So that we don't have to feel like like I felt that I was, like, just bad and wrong and broken and you know, you're just messy and complex and amazing.

JW:

Well, right. And we're yeah, we are amazing animals. And that the message that comes through for me is that it's not your fault. You are an animal and or we are animals in a social context. That would prefer us to be robots. I love that idea. And so the fact that I'm feeling tense, the fact that I'm feeling frustrated, the fact that I'm feeling tired, you know, all these things like it's not your fault.

It's not my fault. It's like we live in a society that is well, in academic research, they would call this evolution theory mismatch. Right, right, right.

BP:

Exactly. Yeah. And then but the part that we do are responsible for is how we act in the world based on those feelings. Many people act on their feelings in ways that are unjust to others because they're trying to get rid of their feeling and because we haven't been well schooled in how to tolerate our own feelings and communicate them in a way that's effective and doesn't create more damage.

JW:

Yes, I like to call this emotional processing.

BP:

Yeah, right. Exactly. And it requires processes. And there's this I mean, just to be aware in the world to me is like the most important thing we can do.

JW:

Yeah. So I love this idea of evolutionary mismatch because and I'm just going to geek out for 2 seconds here. Because we can see it in so many different areas. One easy way, and this is really appropriate for the month on embodied mental health, all of the artificial light that we have in this world, it's great. Like we can have a vibrant life after six or 7 p.m.. Like that's that, that's good. We have artificial light that allows us to do a bunch of stuff.

We're grateful for it. Nobody is saying get rid of artificial light, but what artificial light at night does is through our eyes causes all of these chemical reactions to occur that shuts off melatonin production so that when it's time for us to naturally go to sleep, say let's say 930 or ten, we're still kind of wired, we're still up.

And then when we get in bed, we're still up for a little bit more. And so this is an evolutionary mismatch. We do not evolve to live with artificial light at night, but there are hacks that we can do. So things like blue light, blocking glasses or making sure that you turn off overhead lights and have have just lower lights on that aren't overhead, has been shown to be a little bit effective as well.

So there are things that we can do to hack and to hack this evolutionary mismatch when it comes to artificial light and sleep. And I think there's we can do the same thing when it comes to our emotional worlds as well. Like you mentioned before, going into your car, playing a sad song and trying it out. I'm I am a huge advocate for that.

I can't do it in the car, but I can do it in a walk in closet for me. I guess maybe because you know, I grew up as a male as as like a cis hetero male in society. I need to do some stuff in order to get myself in the mode to really cry. But it is so good.

It is so amazing. It's like I cannot recommend it enough. And I see it as kind of a hack. Like I've got a couple of songs, I've got my quiet space and I'm going to go and cry for a couple of minutes. Yeah.

BP:

Like, I know I do for myself and I encourage lots of my clients is like, if you're feeling angry instead of again, talking to the subject of your anger like I will do like three push ups because push ups are very, they're very hard. And I like imagine the face of the person I'm mad at and I allow that because right when we're angry we're filled with adrenaline and cortisol, which are made to move us.

Right? So we lose the ability particular if you're sitting on too much adrenaline to control our behavior. But if you let it out, right, even in these quick like private moments, then those I mean, all of those hormones just get reabsorbed harmlessly. And then we can like really think about how do we want to process the information. And to me, that honors the feeling without creating the extra damage.

And and it's like for me, instead of a hack, I think about like really limiting my exposure. Like, I don't have any social media. I think I'm on LinkedIn, but that one doesn't necessarily count. No offense, like I don't do it because I feel like I'm not evolved enough to not feel badly about myself or to get caught into it.

Like I'm just barely not a monkey and so, like, we love stimulation. Yeah, we love sugar, we love these things because we were evolved to like seek it because there wasn't a lot of it. And now there's so much of it that to me, I really have to limit my exposure to very stimulating things so that I can, like, feel OK in my body.

JW:

I see that as, as definitely being a sort of hack. I mean, just it is a strategy to live in this crazy modern world and be safe.

BP:

So convenient and so abundant and we're so lucky to be in. But if we aren't taking care of that part of our existence, we're going to be anxious or depressed or addicted or all three.

JW:

Yes. Yes. I mean, it's the same thing. So with, with, with food, it's like if you have Twinkies around you constantly, you know, that's going to be problematic. Most people just know the strategy of like, if I don't have this thing around me all the time, I'm not as likely to eat it. And so it's the same thing with social media or anything else.

Yeah. So yeah, I, I love this approach. So I do want to get through a couple more questions because I know that we're short on time. I was going to ask about a bunch of different somatic practices. Alex, we know of and then I wanted you to talk about them. So instead I'm just going to list them and I would love for you to talk about any of the ones that you want to, and I'd love to know how you think they work to, to promote embodied mental health.

So we have yoga, breath work, dance awareness or visualization practices like you mentioned, body scan, massage. And if there are any others that I didn't mention that you think are really important. And so if there's any maybe one or two here that you want to call out and talk about love to hear about them.

BP:

I might answer it in a different way. So when somatic therapy was coming about, it was it was the time around where with Freud where people were pretty conservative, we didn't really want to talk about our bodies. We definitely didn't want to talk about sexuality so much. And so somatic therapy became this huge web of different people doing variations on like body based practices.

And so and I remember the last time we met, right, you asked about a method and I was like, well, tell me about it. And then I can connect it because often similar things have different names and to me the value is like if you're interested in this work, explore for the thing that suits you, just like exercise.

So some people hate yoga, but they love swimming, you know, it's just like every body is different. I believe that your body knows. And when we draw on to the thing that it needs right? So like all of those things, trying those things for me, like they're like dancing was triggering for me initially, it's not anymore because I don't care.

But I did care very much about like because I had this perception that I like was a bad dancer, a bad singer. And anyways, I do both because I don't care, but because they're fun but I think allowing people to get in at whatever level they feel comfortable. Like massage is wonderful, you know, and it's easy because you are you are allowing yourself to like take in something.

But for some people, that can be really triggering. So there's yoga where you have this like structure and it's it is within the structure of those any of those that you can then become flexible and more in touch with your body. So I really encourage people to be like follow your interest, follow your comfort and then try to find a place where you are willing to challenge yourself because all of those things are wonderful and it really depends on people's temperaments what like aligns for them.

Some people love a persona, right? Like sitting in quiet for days and then other people are like, I will die, you know? And so to me, I believe so much in people's individual journey that I really try to encourage that and just offer all of those resources. Like, What do you think of this? Here are the classes in town.

Like Try this and see what you think, because I know that people will end up in the thing that supports them and also empowering them in a culture that doesn't really do that. Empowering them to know what's right for them because all those practices are great. Yeah, but some of them might be like magical to someone, right? For me, I love yoga I love the structure of it.

I love the methodology of it. Like it's brought me to like an acceptance of myself and my body and then I can build on by like then I move to dance right then I stopped caring how I looked, and then I move to like chanting and my teaching, you know, and and so it's just like once you take on a challenge like that, you're encouraged to move forward.

And to deepen into that because swimming in embodied life is so rewarding.

JW:

Oh, yes. So the recommendation is start with something that you feel called to like. You feel like, ooh, that sounds fun. Yeah, that sounds interesting. All right, so everybody knows or at least has an idea of what yoga is. Dance. We mentioned the visualization practices massage. What about breath work? So can you describe what that might be for in the context of a somatic practice?

BP:

So breath work is something that is like it's a subtle but really amazing. There's a lot of, again, scientific research around that. When I was doing one of my yoga trainings, they were like, it's just the like freest way to get high, you know? And so it's this amazing practice where you learn not only to tone the muscles of your lungs, but also like the oxygen going in and out of your brain.

And so although someone who is more familiar can be much more eloquent about this, it's just another branch to explore that's very simple. Like you have all the tools you need and there are a lot of amazing teachers and again, a lot of scientific evidence to support it. And you do like small versions of it in yoga. And so it's just like, again, following that interest into like here is something that you've probably never tried or even thought twice about that has these amazing effects, you know, because people love getting high, they love the idea of it.

And it's like, well, maybe that in a healthier way because that is existed like we as humans and I mean monkeys, other animals do the same. Like we wanted to get high since the dawn of time. It's a great place to start.

I mean, the natural health, because that's what we're looking for is the feelings of being healthy of being like in touch with our body and touch with the world being connected that we lose in our society. It's this disease of separation and things like breath work and dance and yoga, like bring us together again, help us feel like we're not an alien because like you said, we're highly social.

And yet in America, what is valued is being independent and how I do it alone.

JW:

I feel seen on the independence part because one of the things that I have loved about learning different breath work practices is that once I've learned them, I can do them on my own. And as your instructor said, it's free. Like I have my lungs and, you know, the air around me and I can just do it.

So it's one of my favorite ones that I've learned recently or very solid. And breath work does not have to be this long, complex thing or or a long practice, even something like four, seven, eight breathing, which is just, you know, 4 seconds, inhale, hold for seven and then exhale for eight. That's breath work. That's breath work. And it has a really profound effect when you do it two or three days.

BP:

One of the most basic like ways to regulate your nervous system and to find rest is belly breathing. And I teach it to everybody that I work with, like a quick way because so many of us operate in our emergency nervous system because of the pace, because of the information. And one of the quickest ways to sort of downshift back into our more resting nervous system is this deep belly breathing that babies do.

Right. It forces us. It sort of communicates to the body that, like you're safe and you're OK. And it's a way to like reconnect to that more rested place.

JW:

Love it. All right. So I we are short on time. I'm going to ask our final three questions that we ask every guest on the show. So first, Betsy, if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say.

BP:

To start over. So what I mean by that is like when we get irritated, we get triggered, like take a breath and start over. I do this with my kids all the time because like, you know, we just get fried and they have so much energy. I'll just be like, oh, like at the end of the night. And then I remind myself when something bad happens, like start over, take a big deep breath and start again. And it works every time. And I can start my day over as many times as I need to with them, you know, because I can either be mad at them, whatever that like storyline is about, like what jerks they are or how they don't pay attention to me or respect. And to me, that is one of the most valuable practices I have as a parent.

JW:

And, and just a deep, fundamental truth. Like, every moment is fresh and new, you know? And can start fresh right now. Yeah. And so the last quote that changed the way you think or feel, a recent quote that you heard or read.

BP:

So the quote that I oh, that I hold with me that I'm totally going to butcher is by Fritz Perls. And he said something along the lines of “For people to change they have to discover that they need to do it themselves because only then do they have the energy to follow through with what's needed.” And to me, that is so valuable because like, I'm like anybody else I want to tell people like it is when I see things that I see as a problem.

Like, I want to point that out. But if I do that one, if they're not ready, it's almost like I didn't say it at all. So it doesn't matter. But also, like when they come around to it themselves, they have the ability because they came up with it to do what they need to do to move forward. And so that feels like a lot of my job because like I said, I'm kind of type-A.

I can be a little controlling. I appreciate those things about myself, but they don't really work when it comes to other people's process. And that includes my partner, includes my children, it includes my friends.

JW:

Beautiful, beautiful. So the final question, what is your favorite thing about kids?

BP:

I had to tell you a secret. I'm not really that into kids, you know. I love them very, very much. And I like you know, that same obsessive way. And I do love to see because I'm so fascinated by humans. I'm so fascinated to see like what did they come into the world with? What personalities do they come in with? What is added to them? How are they affected by things that are bad that happen to them?

You know, I mean, some older kid at the playground called my son a stupid baby. And like, we're likely going to be like unraveling that when he is 20, you know, I mean, like, well, there was that girl that was thoughtless at the playground and you were three, you know, and he like, brings it up a lot, you know, whereas like, my daughter is a fearless and I remember I said, stop yelling or something.

She goes, Mom, I'm not yelling. I'm talking confidently. And I was like, all right, no, I was like, that's fair. Because I came from a really quiet household, you know? And so to me, like, just watching them be themselves is so interesting to me. And it makes me want to just, like, be very curious and continue to do my own work so that I can be the best person, so that they know that, like, we're all going to be messy.

I remember going to school and really wonder because I always wanted to be a mom, despite my lack of interest in other people's children that like, how do I not mess them up and I learned that's impossible. Everyone messes up their kids in one way or another, right? Like, if we're perfect, then we don't set them up for the real world.

When they get out there, they're going to be scared shitless, you know? And so it's in our imperfections that they learn to grow, you know, because inevitably we parent or try to parent ourselves out of our children. But in doing so, we make other problems that we can't foresee because that's their journey. And to me, like watching all of that is the most fun ever.

And also understanding that, like, they just like they aren't me, like they don't belong to me. They like came through me, but they don't belong to me at all. And it is my job to be good enough to them and give them as much preparation for the real world as I can so that I earn a relationship with them when they're older.

I know so many parents who sort of did the, like, honor thy mother and my father. And to me, most of the people that really impose that were people that couldn't control their actions around their children and sort of have to impose that and their children feel beholden to that. And so for me, like, I really have to earn that relationship with my children and the world I mean, if it's crazy now, it's going to be crazy when they're when they're grown up.

And so I just want to help them to like navigate that and help normalize and help them understand themselves and so to me, like, it's so fun and something because of how crazy life is that I take for granted pretty regularly. Like I don't think of myself as a mom. I think of myself with like some roommates who are very young.

JW:

These little roommates who haven't paid rent. Yeah.

BP:

No, they haven't. And they're picky and, you know, all that stuff. So it's just like the greatest experiment.

JW:

I love it. Oh, my gosh. Betsy, thank you so much. This has been an amazing conversation. I can't wait to have you back on. This is really a gift. Thank you so much.

BP:

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

In this episode

We’re so excited to kick of embodied mental health month with Betsy Powers, a licensed therapist, yoga teacher, and mother who specializes in somatic therapy in addition to traditional talk therapy. Her journey into the field of mental and emotional health began over a decade ago when she began her own healing process from addiction and what she calls “self-inflicted hardship.” She earned her graduate degree from Naropa University specializing in somatic psychology and body psychotherapy. She now has a thriving private practice in beautiful Savannah, Georgia, where she lives with her partner and two children.

We talked about Betsy’s own journey out of addiction and into mental wellness, what led her into the healing arts and body-based psychotherapy, and how all of this weaves together in her parenting. If you’re fascinated by the body-mind connection, you’re going to love this interview!

Listen here

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About our guest

Betsy Powers is a licensed professional counselor and yoga teacher in Savannah, Georgia. She specializes in both somatic therapy as well as traditional talk-therapy approaches and uses them in varying combinations according to each client’s preferences, needs, and comfort level. You can learn more about her private practice at www.therapysavannah.com.

Show notes

  • Betsy's private practice website is here.
  • Betsy trained at Naropa University in Boulder, CO.
  • Learn more about somatic therapy here.
  • Learn more about psychoneuroimmunology here.
  • We mentioned podcast episode 42 with Tammy Sollenberger.
  • We mentioned the Internal Family Systems model of psychotherapy. Here's a Yes Collective article introducing the model.
  • An article by Michael Tomasello on humans as "ultra-social animals."
  • Betsy promoted belly breathing (aka diaphragmatic breathing). Here's an article explaining how to do it.

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford (JW):

Betsy, we are really excited to have you on to kick off our embodied mental health month here in the Yes. Collective. So we're going to get into what somatic psychology is and how you work through all of these body based approaches. But first, I'd love for the listeners to get to know you. So my first question is when did you first realize that you even wanted to go into mental health and wanted to become a therapist?

Betsy Powers (BP):

Oh, I mean, it's so funny. There's this wonderful interview with Bessel Vander Kolk where someone asked him, like, how he got to where he got. And he said, “Isn't it a lovely pleasant rationalization to give the reasons? Because we just end up where we end up, you know?” And you can look back and it sort of makes sense in certain ways, but it's just a pleasant rationalization for like I've always just been super fascinated by people and going through my own like a very traumatic mental health struggles I sort of knew that if I could ever get over those things, I really wanted to help people because I understood what it felt like. And when you're in that place, being with someone who, you know, who has felt those feelings allows for you to open up much easier. It helps you to feel safe. It helps you to feel understood.

And so I really wanted to be able to do that for people. And not only that, but since then when I've had therapists and I was like working through things and I would have to repeat myself like five or eight times, like seeing the same boring stuff that I knew was just boring to them. I was like, I want to do that for people because that's what it takes. You know, like I just want to be there for people in their process because mine was has been so fulfilling. And I really have found like freedom from what I thought was like completely incurable. Madness. And and I want to do that for other people.

I want to sit and, like, tolerate their discomfort so that they can find freedom and know that there's not something wrong with them because they're suffering. Because that is the message, right? Like when you cry in public, people try to fix it. Right? But crying is the most primitive of the way that we process stress and I want to, like, let people cry and help them understand that because it was taught to me, but like, healing light, at least And so I just want to normalize that for people and be that person for them.

If I can do enough of my own work that I can tolerate your sadness and you're having to repeat yourself a zillion times to get over whatever this is.

JW:

Wow. Yeah. So that really lands that last part of: I've done the work so I can tolerate your sadness. That strikes me working in the childhood cancer world, that this has been a big part of our work, of what can we do in order to tolerate the anxiety, the sadness, the grief, the confusion the aloneness. Yeah. And moving from a place of early on when we started MaxLove Project that we were in a place of wanting to fix what we needed. We need to fix our son. We need and then we want to help other families fix. And there still is a certain component in that in terms of improving quality of life. But one of those, yeah. Just landed for me, so I wanted to name that. How impactful that has been for us is to expand our capacity to just be with all the difficult stuff that comes along with this journey.

But Betsy, I wonder if you are comfortable with me pushing a little bit more on your backstory. I just want to know, like, is there maybe one moment that immediately comes to mind when you were like, yes, this is what I want to do? And and like a specific moment where you're like, Yeah, this is it.

BP:

I mean, there have been like a million little ones all along the way. I know I was doing this workshop and it was for yoga for at risk youth, because yoga is a big part of my professional path. And there was somebody that was talking about somatic therapy, which like addresses not only people's like mental issues, but also really factors in the physical, anatomical, like anthropological components of us as human beings, as being this very complex creature.

And, and sort of even just that combination of words from this woman. I was like, that's what I want to do because that's been my experience. Like, I have definitely worked with therapists while I was still very ill because I'm a person in recovery. I was at a pretty awful addiction, and so I knew like I couldn't fix it were just words.

So much of my healing had to do with my physical movement, and I always was really curious about how do you do both? Because I've had therapy that I was like, Well, I can understand why I shouldn't do what I'm doing, but I can't stop myself from doing it or feeling compelled to be in this relationship that's unhealthy.

And so I just felt bad about myself because I couldn't control it. And so it didn't feel like that didn't feel like the full answer it felt like there has to be this other thing happening, you know, and to learn like we're we're animals and every other animal processes their feelings physically, our emotions are made to move us right.

Either like somewhere private so we can grieve away from something scary toward something we're angry at. Right. And so but we're the only creatures. It's just like sit still and like we just sit on it and we just, like, hope it goes away. And we haven't been given the permission to, like, do what we want to with our body, which sometimes is like being erratic and, like, crying in public and like all of those things that were really made to do and holding on to those things, it's going to come out one way or the other.

And so for me, it just felt like, oh, this is where I'm supposed to go. Help people to be able to process things in a satisfying way.

JW:

I want to put a pin in this: “animals that sit still.” I love this idea and I want to explore that in a moment, but oh, I just have I just want to keep digging. I just imagining there there's, there's this moment in your head. Like you said, there's a bunch of little small moments so I can imagine the small moments building in terms of mental health and wanting to being in the mental health field, wanting to be a therapist.

So I'm wondering, moving into somatic psychology, which I will ask you to explain in a moment, though, if there was a moment, a memory that you have where it clicked for you, like, oh, my mental health is related to this body that I'm in and like things kind of coming together or maybe it was just a bunch of little small moments strung together.

But I'm just digging for this one special moment.

BP:

Well, being a person with addiction, it really is very obvious very quickly, that mental ideas can't fix it. I mean, there is such a component of like, this is so obviously damaging to not only me, to everyone I love and to society as a whole.

Right. I'm an actual public health risk. And yet I can't do anything about it. And so to me, like, it was just that obvious like this. It can't work this way because otherwise I just feel like I am bad and wrong and there's something wrong with me. And I'm never going to get better because there's no way for me to control this with my mind, you know, because I've always been a very nice person but the things that I did in my addiction were so different than who I am in my value system that, like, I just had to find a different way, you know, like, we can talk about it and we can say pretty words about what it is, but, like, it is a mental illness. It's a physical illness, you know? And so to me, it just required I have to look bigger at this because otherwise I'm just a bad person. And that isn't working like that isn't making it better either.

JW:

Yeah. Yeah. So was there one particular body based practice that clicked for you? Was there so you mentioned yoga. Was that the first thing that really clicked for you?

BP:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I went I was in treatment for a lengthy amount of time, and and there was always yoga in there. But there was also just like being able to move and process the stress of that because so much of it is like I've heard my life to the ground. That's very stressful. So I need to process that.

And so there was a lot of talking, but the thing that was really, like, helped me sleep at night was the physical stuff. Like I would have to exercise to be able to like wear my brain out, to be able to sleep at night, to be able to like live in my own skin in a tolerable way. And obviously, like, well, obviously, obviously the further along I got, the less I hated myself.

And it was really like further along, both in a physical and mental practice and in recovery, they tell you you can't help anybody except the exact way you were helped. Right? We can't sell something we haven't done. Yeah. And so to me, it was the only way to make sense if I was going to work with people who have endlessly fascinated me and if I was going to be there for people like me, it was the only way to look at it, really.

It was the only thing that made logical sense because to me, like having a mental illness, like I find so much comfort in logic and practicality now I'm like, I just want something that works. And so to me, this is the most practical way to approach health and wellbeing.

JW:

So how do you describe a somatic psychology or somatic psychotherapy to people who have never heard of it before? Like what is somatic? What are you talking about? So what's what's the what's the easiest way that you use to describe it?

BP:

I'm always sort of humbled by this question because I know that there's people who are much more eloquent with the answer, but soma just means body and obviously psychotherapy. We know what that means. So it's built on. It's like a whole separate branch of it really builds on traditional psychotherapy techniques, but then also incorporate like I said, how we're made anatomically.

You know, we're taking in more information in one day than our ancestors did in the lifetime. And then we're expecting to have our shit together and like physically we can't like there are effects of that amount of input of this amount of like the rigor that's required to maintain a life today. Goes so far beyond what we were made to do.

And we've evolved so quickly that we just haven't caught up. But we're also very adaptable. And so I teach people about their nervous system, right? How we as animals process stress so that we can use the traditional talk therapy techniques which like allow us to find support and a healthy other that protects us so we can change the narrative of our story.

We can look into unconscious motives but we can also learn, like when your shoulders are up by your ears, what do you need to do? Right? It's like you need to think about what is happening in your body because your body is giving you signals of how you're doing all the time, you know? And so many of us have lost that connection to a point that the, the the way we're woken up is by some sort of crisis, right?

Whether it's an addiction, it's a heart attack. It's, you know, it's like bad relationships with our loved ones, our parenthood nothing to us in an honest way all the time. But but it's like living next to a train track, like you stop hearing it after a while. And so my job is to help people get back in touch with their body, right?

So it's just like we have this wonderful modern life, but there are parts of it that we really need to, like, turn the car around and come back and understand ourselves as a natural being so that we can process all of the stress and then, like, find a way to adapt because we are we're super adaptable we just need to know how to do that because a lot of the ideas we get don't work.

So much of the wounding that we get in our life is like trying to make ourselves fit into a mold that we were never made to fit into.

JW:

So that brings me back to this idea of we are the only animals that sit still. And I yeah, I love this idea. And it strikes me that, well, at least one of the reasons why this is, is that we are, as one anthropologist wrote, we are ultra-social animals. And so we are the only animals that absolutely require this social cultural framework in order to survive. Like fundamentally we need to learn, we need to be part of a society.

We need to learn the cultural ways to do things. And one of the things that we all learn early on is how to discipline our emotions. And so, like, how can we just press them down? Can we keep them down? And I'm going to assume that there is a healthy amount of emotional regulation, we would call it, that we teach our kids. And so this is you know, I'm feeling big emotions, but I'm not going to hit my sister. I'm feeling big emotions, but I'm not going to smash through the window. But most of us have learned an extreme version of that. Like I'm feeling really sad, but I'm going to resist and ignore it and avoided at all costs.

I'm feeling really mad, but I'm going to press it down and I'm never going to let it out.

BP:

Right. But it's going to come out yeah. How that comes out.

JW:

Tell me more about that. Yeah.

BP:

Well, it's so funny because I think about that with my children, you know, that like trying to explain to them about anger in a way that doesn't shame them because that's what we did in the past. We didn't have the language to sort of explain to children about anger. So we're like, just don't do it. Right? Because, like, it's bad.

Anger is a real feeling. But the problem is if you punch someone, you've doubled your problem because now the other person's upset. And so that's the thing I try to communicate to my children is like anger is totally fine and important, but the thing you lose the importance of whatever that is when you hurt someone else, right?

So like you could have had a point, but once you punch someone, no one cares. And so one of my big lines with my children alternately with like crying is I'm like, get them all out. Like, do you have any more in there? I'm like, Let them out. I'm like, do you, are you are you holding any inside? You know? And I explain that like other people aren't as comfortable with being around feelings so much of our wounding comes from other people's inability to tolerate discomfort.

Right? So like the crying in public thing right away.

JW:

Betsy, can I can I just can I pause because I just want you to repeat that part so, so much of our wounding. Can you say that again?

So much of our wounding comes from other people not knowing what to do with big feelings and so they shame us because they're uncomfortable, right? Like when someone's crying, like, how often do you want to, like, give them a tissue real fast. And it it's, it looks like a gesture of kindness, but really, it's like, can you take that away now?

BP:

Because I'm feeling uncomfy, you know, so much of that. And I know that, like, when I like, I openly cry in public, I think of it as my, like, little way to be an advocate.

I don't care if you don't like what I'm doing because I know for me, my keeping it inside is more dangerous for me than your discomfort. You know, and trying to teach my children that that it's like, if you can save it and go to your car and, like, listen to sad music and get it all out, great, because then you won't get that flack from other people.

But, like, that's also not as big of a problem as keeping that stuff inside, because, again, then you lose control of how it comes out. And that's the part that I don't want for myself or other people because I work with people all day who, I mean, if you don't deal with your feelings when they're happening, we we get so the tension builds up so much inside that then we have to numb out.

We have we get into addictions we get into like porn or shopping or like overeating.

JW:

Are you a proponent of the idea that when also we hold these feelings in and this attention and that it can also result in physical ailments?

BP:

Yes, but of course, I am like very hesitant, right? Like I'm not a scientist. I've just seen it in my experience. I've had people come to me with like real physical symptoms that they thought were like neurological disorders. And their doctors say there's nothing wrong with you go to a therapist. Yeah. And they've gotten better. So I know that our body will manifest things to get the attention that it needs.

JW:

And there is a lot of really good science that's called psychoneuroimmunology. And there's, yeah, there's there's a lot of very high quality science around, but I wanted to flag that as well. Like, yes, it will come out in all of these behavioral ways and psychological ways, but it will also come out in physical ways as well.

BP:

And we get to choose.

JW:

Yeah. And it doesn't have to be something huge like, you know, heart disease, but it can be something like I know for myself when I am carrying a lot of tension and I only know this because of the work that I've done over the past several years, there is this tension and pain that will go from my neck shoulder and then it kind of skips a little bit, but then it starts to come down my arm and then all the way through my my index finger.

I don't know why, I don't know what, but like, it is like clockwork and I can it's like, I'll know, like, oh, boy, I'm carrying a lot because I'm now feeling this. And it's, it's like my physical cue to be like, dude, you have to start to pay attention.

BP:

Right? I mean, we're made to live in our bodies in that way that we can, like, read the signs sooner. And that's really all that I'm doing is like, I love to say to people that I meet that it's like, I don't need to be smart because your body is the smartest person in the room.

I love I just get to be a facilitator of your relationship. With it because it's always honest. Yes. And it also communicates in a very specific way. So, like, your thing and your shoulder is my thing that comes on both sides and and I know what it means because I spend time, like, feeling my body in a way that, like, I can get the signs early so that I don't have to, like, get to a place where it's a crisis.

Anymore, but that just means like practice and awareness and all of those things that, like, our life doesn't really afford a ton of right now. So it really it does require work and time. But for me, there's like many activities that buy time, right? Like meditation, you know, the things that are like, I don't have time for that.

And it's like I don't know, it buys you time, right? Like you get twice the amount.

JW:

It's my favorite quote: if you don't have enough time to meditate for 20 minutes a day, then you should be meditating for an hour a day.

BP:

Exactly the same principle. And so many things are like that, right? Like for me, it's like yoga and recovery meetings, like both of those things buy me twice as much time because it helps me to like, not get so caught up in the chaos that is the pace of our lives and just be like, Oh, what's important yes.

JW:

So, Betsy, it just comes to mind from my work with parents that for so many of us at the beginning of this journey, it might feel kind of unsafe to be present in our bodies. Like we spend so much time in our heads and and for me, you know, I spent 25 years in academia, two PhDs, like I love being in my head.

I love analyzing and it feels very safe to me. And now doing more of this body based work, I realize why, because it allows me to just cut off from a lot of emotions and it allows me to have the illusion of being in control as I analyze and organize and plan. And when I first started this journey several years ago, it felt like, Whoa, there's a lot going on here.

And it felt kind of overwhelming. And so I'm wondering if you come across that.

BP:

All the time and I totally understand that, like, I wouldn't have done this work if I didn't have to. Obviously, I would have liked to have come to it much earlier, but you know, every wisdom tradition talks about the body being a temple in one version or another. You know that it's like, yes, it's like going to a strange land.

It's scary at first but we're made to have a relationship with our body that is like filling and satisfying. Like we're made to live in our body. And it takes a little while to get reacquainted, but the problem with living in our brain is that our brain is an effectual organ. It's not a perceptibly like we don't like get we don't get truth here.

We get a collection of things we've already been through and things we've heard and wounding from our childhood. We aren't getting like actual reality. And our body lives in reality all the time. So to me, someone who really, like, cares very much about being practical and rooted in reality, particularly now, like living in my brain fully isn't an option because we know our brain just makes things up, particularly when it doesn't know the answer.

I don't want to live that way anymore. I want to live as close to this planet as I can and then so I can learn how to navigate with it because it is so overwhelming.

JW:

Wow. So I have a curiosity when somebody comes in and they're new to you and they might experience what I experienced where it's not feeling so great to be in my body. I really like being in my head. What are some of the first things that you do in your practice that that would that would ease a person in to this somatic psychotherapeutic approach?

BP:

Well, I always, always work with people at their own level. Like, I honor resistance totally. I don't blow through it. I think we do that in society. We try to push ourselves to do things we're not ready to do, and that isn't of value to me. Like, I trust everybody's journey and I tell them that. And so when people are ready to start doing the work, we do stuff very simply, which is just like body scanning.

I have them sort of communicate what it is that they feel and how they feel and invite language to help them communicate this thing that doesn't really operate in normal language. It's colors, it's textures, it's images, you know, and help them understand that there's no right answer. And then I go at their pace, like when I follow people's interest, and I'll always sort of bring it back to like, let's talk about how your nervous system is made.

Let's talk about how to regulate your nervous system when you're in a crisis you know, these sort of things where we're always touching back. But I'm always, always, always moving at their pace. So for some people, there's very little somatic that we do because they still aren't comfortable. It takes a long time because you have to trust the environment to trust me, and that just takes time.

And so as somebody who lives in American society where we're like, you just beat yourself into submission, it doesn't work for me. And here I want to do less of that. I want to try to help people by like I give my trust to their ability to engage and whenever that is as like wisdom, you know, because I really do. I trust it. And people almost always like move at whatever pace they are. And it's always different than the other person, but they are always like they get where they need to go eventually.

So much of it is like, are you forcing yourself to do something because you think you have to or you or are you like really doing what works? Because if you're just pretending this isn't going to stick, no. It has to be totally based on somebody’s willingness and their decision to engage. And that's the only way that you have the energy to follow through with the work itself.

JW:

So the theme of the month in Yes collective is embodied mental health. And so I'm wondering, like outside of the therapist's office in everyday life, what does embodied mental health look like for you? What how would you describe feeling embodied mental health or how would you how would you describe what that means out in the real world as we go through our daily lives?

BP:

I think it's like realistic expectations. You know, like there are times in our life where we, like, shut off and just have to put our head down and do stuff. There are so many logistical challenges we have in a life in our day to day stuff, right? Like making dinner and having to make sure our clothes are clean and like having to pay the bills and all those things.

Like there's not I don't force myself to, like, be embodied in every moment, you know? But like, if I get a moment, like, I can feel my feet now I know what's going on. You know, I can check in in a more holistic way with myself and do so on a regular basis because it feels good right? Because I know when I'm pooped, I know what I need to rest, which sleep is not rest.

And I talk about that with everybody, right? Like we don't have any rest in our life and it doesn't take much, but like, I know when I need it because when you spend a lot of time like being in your body and teaching people to do that, you like know what you need. I'm like, Ooh, I need to, like, sit in the grass, you know, or I need to take a nap or whatever it is.

And in a way that I can then just try to follow through with. But there's other times where you just have to, like, get it done, too.

JW:

So we're going to have a lot of content this month, month on sleep. And so can you elaborate a little bit more? Sleep is not rest.

BP:

No, we just I mean, we have to sleep to function, you know, and then we like get up and we're like, OK, check that box. And then I'm just going to run around in my day. But like really there's this principle of action and rest. And to have action, you have to have rest. And we're just like, well, sleep covers that, but it doesn't really work.

That way. Like, everything that we even consider is rest in our modern life often has a like very stimulating component to it. You know, TV cell phones, you know, and that's not rest either, because the amount of activity that's happening that your brain's engaged with, your body feels like you're doing right. So if you're watching the news, your body's still stressed.

JW:

So when I'm scrolling Twitter, I'm not resting. Is that what you're telling me about saying.

BP:

No, you're not. But you can, like, scroll on Twitter and just own it?

JW:

Oh, yeah. That's you know what? And it's so funny. I have been doing that lately. I've I've said I am I am actively avoiding something right now. And I'm just going to enjoy this this act, this active avoidance as I go on and like, it like, really helps. Like, like, I'm not fooling myself. Nobody's lying to anybody. But yes, but just and then that's really great to know.

I'm not really resting. Like, I'm not really taking some time for me. I'm using this to, like, stimulate and avoid a little bit. And I can feel it. And there are some times when when yeah. Like, Twitter to me is like chocolate cake or, you know, something. It's just like, oh, I just needed that.

BP:

Yeah, exactly. And I think that we do such a disservice to ourselves by shaming ourselves. I think most people that I come across like everything they do that they enjoy, they shame themselves for and not really does. Like, I remember learning from someone, like, if you're eating something and you think it's bad for you, it is. But like if I eat a donut and I love it, it's good for my soul.

And I don't know how to own it, but it means I don't eat a lot of donuts, but I really enjoy them when I do. And it doesn't. There's something about something being not allowed. Like we're so inherently rebellious that we're like you. You tell me I can't have it. I'm going to indulge overly in whatever that thing is.

JW:

Oh, that's it. Well, yes, we, we we talked recently with an amazing effects therapist, Tammy Sullenberger. And we, you know, we asked her, how do you describe IFS to most people and said, well, there's a part of me that likes to eat cake and there's a part of me that likes to eat kale. And then she she described beautifully how when she has one piece of cake, it's OK.

But then the second piece of cake, the other the the the part that only wants her to eat kale really starts to call her me names. And then there there is this like this polarity going on in this fight inside and a lot of internal criticism. And then the other side is like, I'm going to eat a third piece of cake then.

And then the other part is like, oh, no, you're never going to eat again for the rest of your life. And yeah, so, so if on that first. Then you might be able to head off that really intense back and forth inside. What do you think about that.

BP:

I agree. Like, I think that we're sort of trained in this sort of the way that we motivate ourselves to do the right thing is through shame and what we're learning that is that, that that's a really paralyzing way to do it. And so this thing that's sort of been indoctrinated in us, like through our parents who were, you know, trying to help, like actually like solidifies the thing.

One of my favorite lines when I went to school was the only way to change anything is to accept it exactly as it is, which is like the opposite of what I've learned. Yes. The opposite of how I was raised. It's like you work your ass off to change it and they were like, well, the problem is, is when you're putting that much effort, there's all the energy is like holding it in place rather than just being like, oh, and then it has the space to be different, you know, because I think that we all do that in an effort to do the right thing.

The thing I love about IFS is that all of those voices that we make as this, like, demonizing thing are there to help us. Trying to protect us or support us or motivate us to do better. And that, like, how can you even be mad at something that's trying to help in that way? It just doesn't work. And like I said, my love language is practicality. So for me, the most practical thing to do is like acceptance and kindness and enjoyment of whatever the thing is so that I don't have to rebelliously overindulge in something because I feel like I'm being punished or whatever.

And then the ice cream doesn't even taste like anything because my whole mouth is frozen. You know, I like once it doesn't taste like anything. I'm like, Oh, I wish there might be something going on with me.

JW:

So how can parents start to bring a sort of somatic or embodied approach to mental and emotional wellness? To their kids, into their family? What does that look like in the home for you?

BP:

So the most important thing is always to do our own work. You know, it's not to impart this lesson to our children. It is to model it. It's for me when I lose my cool, which inevitably happens I apologize and I explain. My children know that loud noises make me grumpy, you know? And so when I lose, I show them like, Oh, I'm sorry.

It was just loud. Like, you're fine. You know, and and so that I'm just very open because so much of what parents do is like, we'll, like, act badly and then we'll, like, double down on it because we're embarrassed or because we're still feeling the feelings of anger, you know? And it's just like, if we can be mindful about what's happening for us, we can help them do the exact same thing.

I don't think you can do anything without modeling it and explaining our own things. Like we are all such emotional animals. We're going to, like, act out in bad ways. And to me, that's more valuable than being perfect for our kids. Oh, it's like because they're humans, they're going to be so messy and they're going to have such big feelings.

And if we can explain them right? So using anger, like using the cues of anger differently, being like, OK, something's happened to me is really important. And if I, like, act out, I'm going to make things worse. Like I said, like instead it's like, do whatever you need to do to take care of it and then like come back to the thing.

So just normalizing the feelings and helping them understand what's going on. Like the fact that crying is stress relief and that it's important, but that like they might get some flack for it on the playground if they do it in front of people but that's not their fault. Like it's just trying to to me trying to teach my kids in a way that like speaks up to them rather than down, you know, and a lot of times they'll just be like, I want to go play with my Play-Doh and like they move on quickly and that's OK because what we're doing is we're planting seeds we're planting seeds for being full people.

They're going to be messy no matter what we do.

JW:

Yeah. What do you think about the practice of of identifying where emotions come up and how they feel in the body? And I ask these questions because because it has been transformational for me to just notice, like, oh, sadness or anger or whatever is not happening in my head. It's actually happening in my body. And that has gone so far for me.

And I've started to do this with our kids. And I want to know what you think about this.

BP:

Well, again, it's the same thing like doing our own work teaches us the questions to ask, right? So because everybody's body responds differently and feels things in different ways because that has been universally my experience is that we completely experience our bodies differently. And so we can ask those questions. I know that I ask my kids that sometimes I did it last night, right?

Like, where do you feel that? And she's like, oh, no, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. Like, we forget. Like, when we're that age, we can't really, like, perceive in the same way oh, absolutely. So.

JW:

Yeah, for me. And it feels like even just asking the question because I grew up in a household where, I mean, this this is like another universe is another solar system. Like no emotional awareness at all. And then just to get the cue of like, hey, you know, what you're feeling right now is happening in your body.

You may not be able to fully detect it or be sensitive to it, but it's happening in there. Yeah. Mm hmm.

BP:

Yeah. Well, there's I mean, so many like our feelings are always factual. It's just like what we want to do with them in general doesn't like fit our societal norms, you know, and that's not our feelings fault necessarily. And so to me, it just invites this sort of curiosity and open mindedness about how complex and challenging it is.

To be a feeling being in a world that would really prefer robots.

JW:

You know? Yeah, to be a feeling being in a world that would prefer us to be robots. It's oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.

BP:

We forget that we're animals. And there are some compulsions in us that we absolutely can't like. There's no way to monitor ourselves or to be embodied enough to not, like, do things that make us embarrassed sometimes and awkward. You know, I was talking to a friend recently and she was saying that she learned on Tick Talk like that you can tell a kid that, like, you can't you can't control everything, but you can control your body.

And then the little kid did something and she smacked her on the butt before she could even think. And she's like, so apparently you can control your body until you can't. I was like, right, exactly. And that's the thing we need to communicate to our kids is that, like, we're animals and like, we can do the best we can do, like, understand.

And we really kind to ourselves about our animal natures. Yeah. So that we don't have to feel like like I felt that I was, like, just bad and wrong and broken and you know, you're just messy and complex and amazing.

JW:

Well, right. And we're yeah, we are amazing animals. And that the message that comes through for me is that it's not your fault. You are an animal and or we are animals in a social context. That would prefer us to be robots. I love that idea. And so the fact that I'm feeling tense, the fact that I'm feeling frustrated, the fact that I'm feeling tired, you know, all these things like it's not your fault.

It's not my fault. It's like we live in a society that is well, in academic research, they would call this evolution theory mismatch. Right, right, right.

BP:

Exactly. Yeah. And then but the part that we do are responsible for is how we act in the world based on those feelings. Many people act on their feelings in ways that are unjust to others because they're trying to get rid of their feeling and because we haven't been well schooled in how to tolerate our own feelings and communicate them in a way that's effective and doesn't create more damage.

JW:

Yes, I like to call this emotional processing.

BP:

Yeah, right. Exactly. And it requires processes. And there's this I mean, just to be aware in the world to me is like the most important thing we can do.

JW:

Yeah. So I love this idea of evolutionary mismatch because and I'm just going to geek out for 2 seconds here. Because we can see it in so many different areas. One easy way, and this is really appropriate for the month on embodied mental health, all of the artificial light that we have in this world, it's great. Like we can have a vibrant life after six or 7 p.m.. Like that's that, that's good. We have artificial light that allows us to do a bunch of stuff.

We're grateful for it. Nobody is saying get rid of artificial light, but what artificial light at night does is through our eyes causes all of these chemical reactions to occur that shuts off melatonin production so that when it's time for us to naturally go to sleep, say let's say 930 or ten, we're still kind of wired, we're still up.

And then when we get in bed, we're still up for a little bit more. And so this is an evolutionary mismatch. We do not evolve to live with artificial light at night, but there are hacks that we can do. So things like blue light, blocking glasses or making sure that you turn off overhead lights and have have just lower lights on that aren't overhead, has been shown to be a little bit effective as well.

So there are things that we can do to hack and to hack this evolutionary mismatch when it comes to artificial light and sleep. And I think there's we can do the same thing when it comes to our emotional worlds as well. Like you mentioned before, going into your car, playing a sad song and trying it out. I'm I am a huge advocate for that.

I can't do it in the car, but I can do it in a walk in closet for me. I guess maybe because you know, I grew up as a male as as like a cis hetero male in society. I need to do some stuff in order to get myself in the mode to really cry. But it is so good.

It is so amazing. It's like I cannot recommend it enough. And I see it as kind of a hack. Like I've got a couple of songs, I've got my quiet space and I'm going to go and cry for a couple of minutes. Yeah.

BP:

Like, I know I do for myself and I encourage lots of my clients is like, if you're feeling angry instead of again, talking to the subject of your anger like I will do like three push ups because push ups are very, they're very hard. And I like imagine the face of the person I'm mad at and I allow that because right when we're angry we're filled with adrenaline and cortisol, which are made to move us.

Right? So we lose the ability particular if you're sitting on too much adrenaline to control our behavior. But if you let it out, right, even in these quick like private moments, then those I mean, all of those hormones just get reabsorbed harmlessly. And then we can like really think about how do we want to process the information. And to me, that honors the feeling without creating the extra damage.

And and it's like for me, instead of a hack, I think about like really limiting my exposure. Like, I don't have any social media. I think I'm on LinkedIn, but that one doesn't necessarily count. No offense, like I don't do it because I feel like I'm not evolved enough to not feel badly about myself or to get caught into it.

Like I'm just barely not a monkey and so, like, we love stimulation. Yeah, we love sugar, we love these things because we were evolved to like seek it because there wasn't a lot of it. And now there's so much of it that to me, I really have to limit my exposure to very stimulating things so that I can, like, feel OK in my body.

JW:

I see that as, as definitely being a sort of hack. I mean, just it is a strategy to live in this crazy modern world and be safe.

BP:

So convenient and so abundant and we're so lucky to be in. But if we aren't taking care of that part of our existence, we're going to be anxious or depressed or addicted or all three.

JW:

Yes. Yes. I mean, it's the same thing. So with, with, with food, it's like if you have Twinkies around you constantly, you know, that's going to be problematic. Most people just know the strategy of like, if I don't have this thing around me all the time, I'm not as likely to eat it. And so it's the same thing with social media or anything else.

Yeah. So yeah, I, I love this approach. So I do want to get through a couple more questions because I know that we're short on time. I was going to ask about a bunch of different somatic practices. Alex, we know of and then I wanted you to talk about them. So instead I'm just going to list them and I would love for you to talk about any of the ones that you want to, and I'd love to know how you think they work to, to promote embodied mental health.

So we have yoga, breath work, dance awareness or visualization practices like you mentioned, body scan, massage. And if there are any others that I didn't mention that you think are really important. And so if there's any maybe one or two here that you want to call out and talk about love to hear about them.

BP:

I might answer it in a different way. So when somatic therapy was coming about, it was it was the time around where with Freud where people were pretty conservative, we didn't really want to talk about our bodies. We definitely didn't want to talk about sexuality so much. And so somatic therapy became this huge web of different people doing variations on like body based practices.

And so and I remember the last time we met, right, you asked about a method and I was like, well, tell me about it. And then I can connect it because often similar things have different names and to me the value is like if you're interested in this work, explore for the thing that suits you, just like exercise.

So some people hate yoga, but they love swimming, you know, it's just like every body is different. I believe that your body knows. And when we draw on to the thing that it needs right? So like all of those things, trying those things for me, like they're like dancing was triggering for me initially, it's not anymore because I don't care.

But I did care very much about like because I had this perception that I like was a bad dancer, a bad singer. And anyways, I do both because I don't care, but because they're fun but I think allowing people to get in at whatever level they feel comfortable. Like massage is wonderful, you know, and it's easy because you are you are allowing yourself to like take in something.

But for some people, that can be really triggering. So there's yoga where you have this like structure and it's it is within the structure of those any of those that you can then become flexible and more in touch with your body. So I really encourage people to be like follow your interest, follow your comfort and then try to find a place where you are willing to challenge yourself because all of those things are wonderful and it really depends on people's temperaments what like aligns for them.

Some people love a persona, right? Like sitting in quiet for days and then other people are like, I will die, you know? And so to me, I believe so much in people's individual journey that I really try to encourage that and just offer all of those resources. Like, What do you think of this? Here are the classes in town.

Like Try this and see what you think, because I know that people will end up in the thing that supports them and also empowering them in a culture that doesn't really do that. Empowering them to know what's right for them because all those practices are great. Yeah, but some of them might be like magical to someone, right? For me, I love yoga I love the structure of it.

I love the methodology of it. Like it's brought me to like an acceptance of myself and my body and then I can build on by like then I move to dance right then I stopped caring how I looked, and then I move to like chanting and my teaching, you know, and and so it's just like once you take on a challenge like that, you're encouraged to move forward.

And to deepen into that because swimming in embodied life is so rewarding.

JW:

Oh, yes. So the recommendation is start with something that you feel called to like. You feel like, ooh, that sounds fun. Yeah, that sounds interesting. All right, so everybody knows or at least has an idea of what yoga is. Dance. We mentioned the visualization practices massage. What about breath work? So can you describe what that might be for in the context of a somatic practice?

BP:

So breath work is something that is like it's a subtle but really amazing. There's a lot of, again, scientific research around that. When I was doing one of my yoga trainings, they were like, it's just the like freest way to get high, you know? And so it's this amazing practice where you learn not only to tone the muscles of your lungs, but also like the oxygen going in and out of your brain.

And so although someone who is more familiar can be much more eloquent about this, it's just another branch to explore that's very simple. Like you have all the tools you need and there are a lot of amazing teachers and again, a lot of scientific evidence to support it. And you do like small versions of it in yoga. And so it's just like, again, following that interest into like here is something that you've probably never tried or even thought twice about that has these amazing effects, you know, because people love getting high, they love the idea of it.

And it's like, well, maybe that in a healthier way because that is existed like we as humans and I mean monkeys, other animals do the same. Like we wanted to get high since the dawn of time. It's a great place to start.

I mean, the natural health, because that's what we're looking for is the feelings of being healthy of being like in touch with our body and touch with the world being connected that we lose in our society. It's this disease of separation and things like breath work and dance and yoga, like bring us together again, help us feel like we're not an alien because like you said, we're highly social.

And yet in America, what is valued is being independent and how I do it alone.

JW:

I feel seen on the independence part because one of the things that I have loved about learning different breath work practices is that once I've learned them, I can do them on my own. And as your instructor said, it's free. Like I have my lungs and, you know, the air around me and I can just do it.

So it's one of my favorite ones that I've learned recently or very solid. And breath work does not have to be this long, complex thing or or a long practice, even something like four, seven, eight breathing, which is just, you know, 4 seconds, inhale, hold for seven and then exhale for eight. That's breath work. That's breath work. And it has a really profound effect when you do it two or three days.

BP:

One of the most basic like ways to regulate your nervous system and to find rest is belly breathing. And I teach it to everybody that I work with, like a quick way because so many of us operate in our emergency nervous system because of the pace, because of the information. And one of the quickest ways to sort of downshift back into our more resting nervous system is this deep belly breathing that babies do.

Right. It forces us. It sort of communicates to the body that, like you're safe and you're OK. And it's a way to like reconnect to that more rested place.

JW:

Love it. All right. So I we are short on time. I'm going to ask our final three questions that we ask every guest on the show. So first, Betsy, if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say.

BP:

To start over. So what I mean by that is like when we get irritated, we get triggered, like take a breath and start over. I do this with my kids all the time because like, you know, we just get fried and they have so much energy. I'll just be like, oh, like at the end of the night. And then I remind myself when something bad happens, like start over, take a big deep breath and start again. And it works every time. And I can start my day over as many times as I need to with them, you know, because I can either be mad at them, whatever that like storyline is about, like what jerks they are or how they don't pay attention to me or respect. And to me, that is one of the most valuable practices I have as a parent.

JW:

And, and just a deep, fundamental truth. Like, every moment is fresh and new, you know? And can start fresh right now. Yeah. And so the last quote that changed the way you think or feel, a recent quote that you heard or read.

BP:

So the quote that I oh, that I hold with me that I'm totally going to butcher is by Fritz Perls. And he said something along the lines of “For people to change they have to discover that they need to do it themselves because only then do they have the energy to follow through with what's needed.” And to me, that is so valuable because like, I'm like anybody else I want to tell people like it is when I see things that I see as a problem.

Like, I want to point that out. But if I do that one, if they're not ready, it's almost like I didn't say it at all. So it doesn't matter. But also, like when they come around to it themselves, they have the ability because they came up with it to do what they need to do to move forward. And so that feels like a lot of my job because like I said, I'm kind of type-A.

I can be a little controlling. I appreciate those things about myself, but they don't really work when it comes to other people's process. And that includes my partner, includes my children, it includes my friends.

JW:

Beautiful, beautiful. So the final question, what is your favorite thing about kids?

BP:

I had to tell you a secret. I'm not really that into kids, you know. I love them very, very much. And I like you know, that same obsessive way. And I do love to see because I'm so fascinated by humans. I'm so fascinated to see like what did they come into the world with? What personalities do they come in with? What is added to them? How are they affected by things that are bad that happen to them?

You know, I mean, some older kid at the playground called my son a stupid baby. And like, we're likely going to be like unraveling that when he is 20, you know, I mean, like, well, there was that girl that was thoughtless at the playground and you were three, you know, and he like, brings it up a lot, you know, whereas like, my daughter is a fearless and I remember I said, stop yelling or something.

She goes, Mom, I'm not yelling. I'm talking confidently. And I was like, all right, no, I was like, that's fair. Because I came from a really quiet household, you know? And so to me, like, just watching them be themselves is so interesting to me. And it makes me want to just, like, be very curious and continue to do my own work so that I can be the best person, so that they know that, like, we're all going to be messy.

I remember going to school and really wonder because I always wanted to be a mom, despite my lack of interest in other people's children that like, how do I not mess them up and I learned that's impossible. Everyone messes up their kids in one way or another, right? Like, if we're perfect, then we don't set them up for the real world.

When they get out there, they're going to be scared shitless, you know? And so it's in our imperfections that they learn to grow, you know, because inevitably we parent or try to parent ourselves out of our children. But in doing so, we make other problems that we can't foresee because that's their journey. And to me, like watching all of that is the most fun ever.

And also understanding that, like, they just like they aren't me, like they don't belong to me. They like came through me, but they don't belong to me at all. And it is my job to be good enough to them and give them as much preparation for the real world as I can so that I earn a relationship with them when they're older.

I know so many parents who sort of did the, like, honor thy mother and my father. And to me, most of the people that really impose that were people that couldn't control their actions around their children and sort of have to impose that and their children feel beholden to that. And so for me, like, I really have to earn that relationship with my children and the world I mean, if it's crazy now, it's going to be crazy when they're when they're grown up.

And so I just want to help them to like navigate that and help normalize and help them understand themselves and so to me, like, it's so fun and something because of how crazy life is that I take for granted pretty regularly. Like I don't think of myself as a mom. I think of myself with like some roommates who are very young.

JW:

These little roommates who haven't paid rent. Yeah.

BP:

No, they haven't. And they're picky and, you know, all that stuff. So it's just like the greatest experiment.

JW:

I love it. Oh, my gosh. Betsy, thank you so much. This has been an amazing conversation. I can't wait to have you back on. This is really a gift. Thank you so much.

BP:

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

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