Pleasure as Medicine for Stressful Times

Jan 09, 2015

Pleasure as Medicine for Stressful Times

Category | Pleasure Practices,

I’ve been a psychotherapist for about 20 years and have worked with people who’ve struggled with emotional difficulties. I’ve also worked with quite a few individuals whose lives have been pretty good, but they came to me because they could be a whole lot better. 

I have always taken an integrative approach, which means that I incorporate all aspects of a person – mind, body and spirit. In our culture, the mind is dominant and over active, and for the most part we don’t know how to access the wisdom of the body. Many of us don’t even know that the body holds wisdom, or that the spirit takes form in the body. 

About five years ago I felt I needed a refresher course in body-mind-spirit work. I’d been hearing about the work of Peter Levine and the Somatic Experiencing practice. This modality is promoted as a form of somatic (body-based) trauma treatment. The treatment of trauma is central to therapeutic work. We’re still learning what the effects of trauma are and how to address them. I liked this approach of working with the body, so I signed up and three years later graduated with lots of new insights and tools. 

One piece of the training that really jumped out for me was the use of what Levine calls positive resources. I had been working with clients for years, using positive resources, but Levine’s way offered a whole new twist. 

A positive resource is anything that a person enjoys, that soothes, calms and brings the person comfort and/or pleasure. Usually a therapist explores very early on a client’s relationship to positive resources. We ask questions like: What are the things you do in your life to relax? What activities do you enjoy? How often do you engage in these activities? How do they help you? 

Typically, people respond saying their pets, games or sports, friendships or other social circles, creative pursuits, or listening to music. Positive resources usually include sensate-activating things like a hot cup of tea, warm baths, getting a massage, walking in the woods.

In Somatic Experiencing, we bring the use of positive resources right into the centre of the session. What Levine discovered was that sensations are the language of the nervous system and that it’s the nervous system that is most impacted by trauma and lies at the root of so many traumatic symptoms. So, we work in the present moment, acknowledging sensate awareness around a client’s positive resources. This may include good memories of people and events, as well as noticing right in the moment, pleasant or interesting things in the office or out the office window. By focusing on these things and noticing the effect in the body, the client soothes and settles their nervous system. Somatic Experiencing can be used to work with even the most disturbing symptoms of trauma.

I’ve seen over time that if you increase the positive resources in your life, your general wellbeing drastically improves. Another name for positive resources is pleasure, all the things that bring us pleasure. When we learn to more deeply notice and appreciate the sensate experience – in the body – of those pleasures, we will find ourselves feeling better and better, we will be healing ourselves. Another way of looking at it is to “get into the body,” and more specifically, to “get into the nervous system”. 

While not all of us have experienced trauma, most of us often or periodically go through times of stress. This same body awareness can be a tremendous tool for finding balance in stressful times. My sense is pleasure is a resource that can impact us positively in many ways and so it’s an aspect of our lives that deserves way more time and attention. My hope is that this blog will help in that endeavor, so stay tuned! 


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