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Howard Widdicombe

Howard Widdicombe - Psychotherapist in Surrey - My Approach

My Approach

My interest in Counselling and Psychotherapy spans 35 years experience of working with people in a wide variety of different roles including, Human Resources (Personnel) Manger, Company Training and Development Manager, Organisation Development and Change Management Consultant, Business Psychologist, Counsellor & Psychotherapist, Family Befriender and Classroom Assistant at a school for autistic children.

Throughout these years, my passion and motivation has been to support people to build and sustain satisfying, healthy and effective relationships with themselves and others and achieve their desire to live rewarding and fulfilling lives.

The foundation of my work is in humanistic and behavioural psychology. I have extensive experience of a variety of humanistic psycho-educational diagnostic models and experiential techniques from both traditional and modern psychotherapeutic disciplines. My approach is therefore essentially integrative.

More recently I have become interested in the integrative approaches offered by neuroscience and somatic perspectives that view the body and mind as a complex inter relational dynamic that seeks to maximise the influence that muscular memory and effort has over cortical experience. This original approach/research, pioneered and developed by Stanley Keleman (who is the founder of the Centre for Energetic Studies, Berkeley, California), is changing the way we practice psychotherapy and guiding us in the direction of more effective work. The critical factor that differentiates this approach from traditional psychotherapeutic approaches is that it focuses on enabling us to use our cortex (brain) and muscle to voluntarily generate experiences to grow ourselves and to create a personal skill for managing our life, in our own way, with vitality and emotional truthfulness.

Formative Psychology

Formative Psychology is based on the concept that daily life is an evolutionary ongoing biological process continually forming a somatic self in a personal way. If we can develop and deepen our understanding of how this process works through learning to dialogue cooperatively with our bodies, we can begin to use voluntary cortical, emotional and muscular effort to influence and differentiate our thinking, feeling and personal experience. Alignment and integration of these different functions is the most effective way of creating sustainable changes to our own experiences and behaviour to enable us to value and respond appropriately to the wide range of differing situations and circumstances that occur in our lives.

This approach honours the universal process that animates us all whilst seeking to nurture a mature personal and social self. It's focus and approach is to work with the neurobiology of learning and behaviour - the fundamental processes that underpin our thinking, feeling, sensations and enables us to 'shape' our responses to our personal experience of ourselves and the world around us)

Working experientially with Formative methodology is the most effective way of embodying learning if we truly want to improve the quality of our lives, experience wellbeing and a sense of making the most of ourselves. Knowledge and insight are desirable but they do not of themselves, without experience, lead to sustainable personal growth, change and development. In doing simple exercises we can learn (a) ways to regulate ourselves when under stress (internal or external), (b) reduce symptoms and feelings of helplessness and to organise a more integrated way of behaving and living our lives.

A series of anatomical shapes are continually forming from our birth to maturity and on through the stages of aging and dying. Changing anatomical shapes are the continuity of human existence. These shapes give rise to our emotions, thoughts, sensations and experiences - awareness follows form. Patterns of experience and behaviour are formed from cortical, emotional and physical activity. We learn our habituated patterns of relating to ourselves and of being in the world as we become familiar with these responses.

Our anatomical structure is our embodiment in the world. At conception each one of us is given a biological and emotional inheritance, but it is through voluntary effort and self-management that this constitutional given fulfils it's potential for a personally formed life. We are citizens of two worlds, the embodiment we inherit and the embodiment we form during our lives through our voluntary effort. Anatomical activity is the basic essence of what makes us human beings. Pulsatory movements in our cell structures stimulate the synapses in our body and brain that transmit information along the pathways of our central nervous system and form the basis of our neural activity, which in turn stimulates our conscious process - thoughts, emotions, sensations, muscular activity and behavioural responses - our conscious personal experience of ourselves, and our perception of and judgments about the world in which we live.

Our brain is the central balance organ. It constantly co-ordinates the organism it inhabits (us!) with the outside world. If there is a discrepancy within ourselves, with others or the environment in which we live, anatomical activity occurs which stimulates the participation of our cognitive, emotional and somatic (physiological) selves. Without the involvement of all these processes it is impossible to establish a lasting learning pattern. Re-organisation and learning requires positive interventions into each of our established patterns of thinking, feeling and somatic organisation. By paying detailed attention to, and building our understanding of, how we organise ourselves to have the experiences we do we can recognise the cognitive, emotional and somatic patterns that are critical to the formation of our behavioural responses and learn to differentiate more effectively between the patterns that work for us and those that don't.

Voluntarily influencing our muscular-cortical relationship mobilizes our body's inherited pattern of how shapes and experiences come into being and how they fade away. This process of organising and disorganising anatomical shape through the voluntary interaction of muscle and cortex encourages the growth of new neural connections and new anatomical (physical and neurological) structures that generate increasingly complex dimensions of how we experience ourselves and the world around us.

Formative / somatic methodology teaches us how to dialogue co-operatively with the body in order to influence and differentiate thinking (cognition), feeling (emotion) and personal (sensate) experience, in order to make a managed transition between our past and present experiences. Somatic - emotional education, done mainly through the use of simple practical structured exercises over time, enables us to connect to our individual experience, emotions, action patterns, insights and images to discover how our life has been shaped historically and what is seeking to emerge for the future. When we influence our body shape, we influence how we are present in the world. Changing our shape by increasing and decreasing the muscular intensity in a pattern of behaviour is a powerful engagement of the formative process. It enables new, small differentiated and finely managed changes in our relationship to ourselves and the world around us (others) to emerge, be received, integrated, stabilised and consistent.

Learning how to develop and regulate core stability and flexibility in our physiological, emotional and cortical selves is the foundation stone of the Formative approach. Constant repetition, variation and positive reinforcement of the response patterns we want, begin to influence and affect the way we experience ourselves internally and our perception of the world we inhabit. Taking responsibility for ourselves in this way enables us to improve the quality of our lives - to live our lives in a more satisfying and resourceful way.

We can use life transitions and crisis as a challenge to form new personalised answers and to grow a warm and comfortable relationship to our body and to ourselves. Participating in our own universal life process enables us to (a) honour the process that animates all of us (b) grow an inner dialogue and a subjectivity (self-knowledge and acceptance) that forms the basis for creating value and meaning in our lives and (c) nurture and mature a personal and social self, which can enable us to lead a happier and more satisfying existence.

The influence of Stress on our life

Stress is a part of life. Understanding the psychology of stress and knowing more about how an organism (i.e. our body) adapts itself under pressure is helpful in dealing with stress related symptoms and stressful life situations

It brings tremendous relief to experience that a stress pattern has a function and is not just ?bad?. Acknowledging our personal way of reacting to internal and external stressful situations helps us to adjust and recalibrate our behaviour in a non-judgemental manner in order to be able to respond differently in similar situations in the future.

By learning to influence, through voluntary effort, the shapes dictated by inheritance and social learning we become creators of a personal world. By using the formative method we are able to make a managed transition between our past and present by differentiating our learned emotional and motor patterns.

Understanding the psychology of stress and knowing more about how an organism (i.e. our cellular body) adapts itself under pressure is helpful in dealing with stress related symptoms. In the daily acts of living our individual soma grows and is influenced by the challenges and stresses of life. Stress patterns consist of a combination of inherited and learnt emotional and motor memories. Unmanaged excitation and muscular tension, which we experience as stress, can lead to the development of a variety of physical and mental symptoms such as chronic pain, high blood pressure, sleep loss, headaches, allergies, eczema, and asthma, as well as psychosomatic and stress related symptoms and illnesses including anxiety, depression and panic attacks, all of which have a fundamental impact on our sense of (and relationship to) ourselves and how we go about living our lives.

A somatic-emotional approach is highly effective in the 'management' of these types of conditions. When we practice simple somatic-emotional exercises we learn how to dialogue with our bodies to influence and differentiate habituated patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour, to regulate ourselves under stress, reduce symptoms and feelings of helplessness and organise a more emotionally integrated way of acting and living our lives

The Use of Personal Space

In learning how to connect to our own internal Personal Space we begin the process of being able to regulate ourselves under stress, reduce symptoms and experiences of helplessness, hopelessness, anger, frustration/irritation, blame anxiety, fear, guilt, doubt, self-loathing loneliness and isolation and organise a more emotionally integrated way of acting (behaving) and living a personal life.

Creating personal space enables an inner dialogue and reflexive capacity that facilitates the adaption and differentiation of our old habituated response patterns and behaviour. It guides us towards our own felt insights and understanding rather than just attempting to 'fix' the problem / find a quick solution to avoid our own physical, mental and emotional discomfort. It is a "bottom up" dominated dialogue (i.e. it starts in our body) that supports the adaptation and differentiation of our behaviour. A "top down" process (i.e. it starts in our brain) like "I want, I should, I need to, I must" paradoxically creates more pressure, anxiety and stress which, in turn makes a change of behaviour on an experiential level rather difficult.

Our ability to experience our own personal space has an enormous relevance for self-regulation and is fundamentally important in influencing our behaviour. When we 'connect' with our internal personal space, the influence of our sympathetic (i.e. fight or flight) nervous system is reduced. At the same time parasympathetic activity is increased, which reduces tension and arousal in our bodies.Patterns of experience (our conscious awareness of ourselves and our environment) are not just mental states - they emerge from the dialogue between our cortex and our muscular/cellular structure. Engaging with our own personal space allows a multi-dimensional perception of ourselves to emerge on at least three levels - thinking, feeling and bodily sensations. The influence of personal space on our current reality can be understood analogously to the physiology of vision. Complex vision is only possible because each of our two eyes map optical perceptions in the brain slightly differently. Each eye has its own perspective from which the brain creates complex or stereoscopic vision. In this sense connecting with our personal space enables another perspective to emerge that allows a more complex perception of reality. As a result we perceive conflict or stressful situations with a greater distance, objectivity and overview. Engaging with our own personal space enables us to enter a transformative state - a relational field that creates warmth and allows novel (new) behaviours to emerge (grow / appear) that can be shaped into our own individualised responses.

If you would like more information on what is meant by Humanistic Psychotherapy please click here to download a brief introduction

If you would like more information on what is meant by Formative Psychology please click here to download a brief introduction by Gerhard Zimmermann and here to download some articles by Stanley Keleman .

Psychometric Profiling

I am also a qualified and registered user of Psychometric Profiling as a way of exploring and understanding Psychological preferences for:

many different 'lenses' to help us see clearly the way each of us has our own personal preference 'style' and how similar or different that can be to others. My aim is to use these psychological instruments to help you understand and value individual differences rather than to perceive difference as a source of conflict and tension.
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