Add as bookmark

The Listening Hand - How to combine bodywork and psychotherapy to heal emotional pain

by Ilana Rubenfeld

listed in mind body

[Image: The Listening Hand - How to combine bodywork and psychotherapy to heal emotional pain]

It was exciting to be asked to review a book that covered both bodywork and psychotherapy, especially since the work of Ilana Rubenfeld is virtually unknown in the UK (despite the author's reference to herself as 'Creator of the famous Rubenfeld Synergy method'). A musician of Russian Jewish descent, Ilana Rubenfeld was fortunate enough to spend time at the fabled Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California in the heady days of the 1960s. There she worked with Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Psychotherapy, and trained in the Moshe Feldenkrais system of bodywork.

At that time, psychotherapy was seen mostly as a 'talking therapy' and bodywork addressed the physical problems. It was Wilhelm Reich in the 1930s who made the breakthrough observation that emotions were often held in the body as muscular armouring and actually worked on this armouring with deep and pressured touch. Thus he broke the taboo against touch which hitherto existed in the psychotherapeutic community and became the father of what is known today as Bodypsychotherapy or Body-oriented psychotherapy. For Ilana Rubenfeld it was sessions of Alexander Technique that led her to several 'revelations' that were to become the basis of the Rubenfeld Synergy Method.

None of these, such as touch is a powerful means of communication, the body is an interconnected system, emotions are held and reside in the body would be revolutionary to therapists today, but perhaps they were then. And here lies the problem – this work is outdated. Also to state that the body, mind, emotions and spirit are all part of a dynamically related system is fine, but then she claims the emotional and spiritual elements of this formula were unique to Rubenfeld Synergy! We just don't believe that no-one else had noticed this! Nowhere is even a passing reference made to other Bodypsychotherapies – Biodynamic Psychotherapy, Biosynthesis, or Hakomi, for example – all well known in Europe and the US (but sadly not so in the UK which lags badly behind in this area). Has she chosen to ignore more recent work or is she ignorant of it?

Ilana gives all her examples from group work. Having worked with groups for many years we know that this is very different from individual therapy. The power and safety of the group provides a 'good enough family' to support the letting go of the old from a 'bad family' background. It is important to realize that individual therapy may not proceed as does group work, and she does not make this clear. Her ideas of how people learn behaviour, and how they might change this seem to stem from her mentor, Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy. Again this way of working is rather dated today.

Her concern with the practitioner's self-care and well-being would be recommended reading. Her self-care toolbox includes humour, movement, play, pleasure, feeding the spirit, travel, rest, body balancing, love, friendship and a wish list. Humour seems to be high on Ilana's methods of dealing with suffering, and this has to be good news. Laughter and humour have for centuries been well-known remedies for dealing with this – something many of today's therapists seem to have forgotten. Ilana seems to be a highly talented, knowledgeable, sensitive and intuitive woman who would probably be successful whatever therapy she practised. It is usually who the therapist is as a person that is more important than the actual therapy practised.

A large part of the book is devoted to exercises, done alone or in pairs. Again there is nothing new here, similar exercises can be found in many books – we remember doing similar exercises 20 years ago or more. We must question exactly who the target audience is for such exercises. Some of the exercises could lead to powerful emotional experiences, which could be very disturbing. Without the presence of an experienced therapist or group leader we would not recommend that readers try them at home. However these exercises might constitute a useful resource for therapists leading groups – especially for working with couples.

Two years ago we attended a presentation on Rubenfeld Synergy at a conference in Germany and one of us (Will) was the volunteer for a demonstration. We didn't find out what it was all about then and reading the book has still not helped clarify what Rubenfeld Synergy actually is. There is no theoretical basis presented for the work beyond the 'revelations' mentioned above. Neither were any techniques obvious to us beyond some basic Gestalt work (eg. if that part of your body could talk what would it say) which many therapists from different disciplines use. There is nothing presented in this book that convinces us that Rubenfeld Synergy is really a distinct entity. Maybe had it been written 20 years ago it would have made a useful contribution, but today it just seems another 'me too' book containing material which provides no new information to these reviewers.

Overall a disappointing book, which does not contribute a great deal to the understanding of Bodypsychotherapy, and has limited application as a self-help text.

What a pity.

Yig Labworth
Piatkus Books
0-7499 2193-5

top of the page