Joe Barnwell is a trauma therapist and counsellor providing therapy and counselling services in North Vancouver, BC

cell: 604·649·1126

email: joe@thewellnessfactor.ca

My Approach



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Therapeutic Enactment


Since my primary approach to therapy is Sensorimotor therapy, and I do not use Therapeutic Enactment(TE) in my individual therapy practice you might wonder why I even mention my experience with TE. It is because my work with TE has given me a deeper understanding of the body-mind connection. Because of my exposure to TE, when working with you I am more aware of the body and physical part of your experience and where the potential is to work with that. This is especially important when working with the effects of trauma.

Therapeutic Enactment is a form of group therapy that facilitates trauma repair. It has its roots in Psychodrama originally formulated and practiced by Moreno in the 40's and 50's.

Dr. Marvin Westwood and Dr. Patricia Wilensky of Vancouver, B.C. have refined Psychodrama into its present form, TE. For a number of years I have had the opportunity to participate in many TE groups under the leadership and mentorship of Dr. Westwood and Dr. Wilensky. This has been a tremendous learning experience personally and professionally.

It is through this work with TE that I had my first exposure in the early 90's to the value of using and noticing movement when working with trauma. The basic idea of TE is to provide "the client" with a "community", (the group), in which he/she can safely construct a situation that allows action based therapy. It involves acting out the traumatic situation in a carefully controlled and safe environment in order to avoid re-traumatization. In individual therapy it is the therapeutic relationship with the therapist that provides the container for the work rather than a group.

In TE the group members take on particular roles assigned by the client and co-therapists. These roles are often a mix of supportive people and perpetrators of violence or harm. Group members also are witnesses to the client's experience, holding the therapeutic space for him or her to maintain safety and provide a human presence. (In individual therapy it is the therapist that provides this safety and human presence.) Essentially, the enactment related to the trauma allows for things to be said or done that were not possible during the original traumatic event(s). Even though it is not possible to go back in time and change what has happened, it is still possible to express in the present, the inner urges that were stirred up in the past and still linger. With that expression in the present comes a resolve and release of energy in the mind and body.

Until it is expressed, the energy remains in the form of symptoms of depression and anxiety. Feelings of inadequacy and self-judgement can be transformed into self-regard and confidence. This happens when victims of abuse, for example, realize and feel through the confrontation of their "offender" (during the enactment) that they are not responsible for the abuse and did their best to cope with the situation. Up until that point the client can be burdened with self-doubt and shame, which are by-products of the trauma.

With TE, though not as much as with Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, deliberate attention is put on the physical experience of the client. Because of this, posture and movement or lack of movement are noticed. It is commonly recognized in psychology that posture and muscle tone take on the beliefs the person has about him or herself and how to be in the world. For example, the belief that, "I am not good enough", may be reflected in rounded shoulders, a downward gaze and an overall slouch. The belief that " I need to fight to get by in this world", may show in a rigid jutting jaw with shoulders back and chest thrust forward.

These and other postures represent a person's standard and repeated approach to life and relationships.  These postures and standard approaches limit the movement, options, spontaneity, and creativity of the person. To further illustrate, if you grew up in an alcoholic family you may have learned to protect yourself from sudden, unpredictable rages by withdrawing physically and emotionally. As part of your development this withdrawal can become a basic strategy in your relationships, which then makes it more difficult to be available for deeper intimacy in relationships in adulthood. Through TE and other trauma therapies such as Sensorimotor Psychotherapy you can become aware of the limits of your general stances and find ways to shed these stances that are no longer useful to you.

A large part of the transformative power of TE is that it makes room for the body to be a central part of the process. It is the movement that unlocks the mind and breaks the cycle of trauma reaction. The reason physical movement and focus on body sensation is important is because there is limited access to reason when the body is in high alert. Most of us can think of times when we cannot think clearly when we are anxious and are acquainted with this limitation. Moving the focus of therapy from just emotion or thought to body sensation and movement, facilitates a release of muscle and nervous tension. This release will lower anxiety levels and improve access to helpful emotions and with the improved access, feelings and thoughts can be processed more effectively.

One of the ways that I use TE practice in my individual therapy is the inclusion of movement and action as it relates to the emotional and thinking aspects of your experience. For example you may have an urge to push away "your offender". Rather than just talk about it we would, when appropriate, do some actual pushing movements to engage the body and nervous system more fully. As well, I use the here and now focus of TE therapy. Rather than strictly "talking about" the issue we create awareness of your present experience of the issue and how you are organizing your experience in terms of emotion, thinking, body sensation, sense perceptions and movement. What arises from this approach are ideas of what is working for you and what is not, then what you can do that is different or more effective.

If you think you have experienced a trauma and feel you can benefit from trauma counselling, please contact me to book an appointment or a consultation.