Ira Feinstein: Could you tell us about your background and how you got to the Feldenkrais Method®?
Johanna Rayman: I’d always had an interest in movement, but it was something I kept separate from my professional life as a social worker. Around 2003, I felt pulled to find a way to integrate my interest of movement into what I loved about being a social worker.
I didn’t discover the Method until I became unable to manage my chronic back and neck pain and someone recommended it. As I continued with my lessons and my pain diminished, I got excited because the way I felt about the Feldenkrais Method was similar to how I felt about social work. I ended up joining a professional training and graduating in 2007.
IF: You currently have a private therapy practice that incorporates the Feldenkrais Method. How do you navigate when you're using the Feldenkrais Method and when you're focusing on talk therapy--or is it pretty integrated at this point?
JR: It depends. Some people come to me because I’m a therapist and a practitioner and they want to work that way, and some people are interested when I tell them what the options are. With people who are interested, I might use FI® sessions with a table or I might lead ATM® lessons with the person seated across from me as a part of a session. The role is very different from being only a practitioner, and I’m careful about introducing physical contact with people. Some people are not interested in that kind of work, and I follow their lead by seeing what they respond to. If the client isn’t responding to questions about movement or their body, I tend not to go that way.
IF: When people come to you for an integrated experience, what benefit(s) have you noticed?
JR: So many traumas that we experience are not on a verbal, cognitive level, especially for trauma that occurred when we’re little. In that case, the person might not even have a story to talk about, or if they did, it might be hard to get very much out of it. A benefit of integrating the Method into therapy is that I'm able to do work where they're not required to talk or know something consciously. What we call “trauma” can be seen as dysregulation of a person’s nervous system, and the Feldenkrais Method can be deeply organizing and regulating – this would be called “bottom-up” processing, as opposed to talk therapy, which is “top-down.”
IF: As a therapist, you have been educated in how to treat trauma, but that’s outside the scope of a Feldenkrais® training. For a practitioner without your background, what’s important for them to know about working with someone who has experienced trauma?
JR: I think it is essential to distinguish between being trauma-informed and treating trauma. Any Feldenkrais practitioner could, and should, be a trauma-informed practitioner. This could be defined as knowing that people might be coming in with a history of trauma, having an awareness of what trauma looks like, and knowing how to create a safe space for clients through collaboration and empowerment.
However, it is outside of the scope of our Feldenkrais training to “treat” trauma. We aren’t trained how to invite someone to safely delve into experiences and be able to work with them in a carefully titrated way to minimize the risk of dissociation and re-traumatization. It’s great to have a good referral list of therapists who can do this kind of work if it seems appropriate. On the other hand, referrals go both ways, and there is nothing like the Feldenkrais Method to help a person learn new “movement vocabulary” and to learn ways to be comfortable in their body, so a trauma-informed Feldenkrais practitioner would be a great referral resource for a mental health therapist who doesn’t work directly with movement.
IF: What sort of actions can a practitioner take to create a safe space for their clients?
JR: Orienting new students from the beginning can be helpful, so they understand what to expect and how you work with people. You could also say something like, “Different kinds of emotions can come up unexpectedly during a lesson and that that's okay. Let me know if you feel uncomfortable.” If someone does have an emotional reaction but can stay on the table (or in class), you can initiate a rest or shift what you are doing.
Another thing that I think is good to do before an FI lesson, especially if you’re aware or suspect a person has a history of trauma, is to help them learn that they can stop physical contact at any time. I describe the exercise first before I do it: while they are still sitting or standing, I put my hand on their arm or shoulder and the person practices finding a way to tell me to remove my hand – and then, of course, I remove my hand and say “thanks for telling me.” Clients have frequently said to me, “That was actually really hard to say” or “I need you to feed me a script. I can't come up with my own words.” It’s important for people to feel that if they say stop there will be no negative response from you.
IF: Could you share some potential resources for practitioners interested in becoming more trauma-informed?
JK: There are numerous online resources. The first that comes to mind is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA (www.samhsa.gov). This government site has a concise and thorough description of trauma-informed care so that practitioners can get an idea of what they should be thinking about in their practice.
Another resource that I’ve seen a lot of Feldenkrais practitioners using already is the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, or NICABM (www.nicabm.com). There’s a lot of mental health and neuro-biological information on that site with a lot of the “stars” from those worlds doing holding video trainings on different topics.
IF: Excellent. Thank you so much for sharing.
JR: Thank you.
Johanna Rayman, LCSW, GCFP has a private mental health therapy practice in Portland, Oregon that incorporates the Feldenkrais Method, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. Her practice has a focus on body-centered trauma recovery and social justice.