Gurucharan S. Khalsa, PhD

Psychotherapy: Grounded in the Body and in Relationships

Common Questions

Claremont, CA Psychotherapist Gurucharan Khalsa

How can therapy help me?

    • Therapy provides a safe place to be yourself. As problems increase, there is often a sense of isolation. When we feel alone, we are more easily overwhelmed by life. In therapy, you are not alone. You do not need to confront the wounds of the past or today's challenges by yourself. You have support.
    • Therapy challenges your current structural patterns:

i. Thinking : What we believe about ourselves and the nature of the world developed early in life. For most of us we live as though what was true , is still true . This cuts us off from current strengths and resources when they are needed most. Especially in stressful situations, we contract into old ineffective patterns of mind, emotion and relationship.

ii. Emotions activate internal patterns through the glandular system (chemical energy), nervous system (electrical energy) and body’s structure (physical energy). We actually can get addicted to the internal chemistry of anger, hurt, anxiety and depression. These emotions overwhelm the intellect and our good common sense learned over a lifetime. When emotions have not been integrated (experienced, expressed, understood, embodied), these patterns constrict the body and the mind leading to chronic tension and obsessive thinking. In the therapeutic relationship, emotions can be safely felt and expressed. They can become a resource, not something to be avoided.

iii. Physically , the body holds against difficult emotions and beliefs of insufficiency by a hardened chest that protects the heart or a chaotic, upset stomach that prevents us from taking in that which nourishes us or a locked pelvis that blocks our passion or tension in the legs that leaves us feeling ungrounded or frozen shoulders that get in the way of reaching out to give or to receive help or a pain in the neck that separates the wisdom of the head from the values of the heart. My approach to therapy helps you reconnect in your body so that you can tolerate and integrate difficult emotions, re-evaluate who you see yourself to be, allowing compassion, forgiveness and love for self and others to be shared freely.

iv. Relationship: When young, aspects of ourselves were welcomed into the world. Other parts of our who we were was ignored, criticized, rejected, punished. The latter became disowned, hidden in the unconscious, in the body, in 'acting out' behaviors. A depressed mother may not be able to tolerate your sadness; an angry father may not be able to tolerate your fear; an overwhelmed family may not be able to see you in a way that afirms the truth of your life. In the therapeutic relationship all of who you are is welcome. Disowned parts are invited in, leading over time to the experience of being more whole.

v. Spirit: In our best selves, we all feel connected to something greater than our individual self. It may be family or a religion; a social movement, a trade or profession; to our citizenship, gender or race; to God or spirit or nature. We find resources in that connection. We are a part of a greater whole. Drawing on that expanded sense of Self, we can find courage, resiliancy, strength and peace. When appropriate, techniques are shared and practiced that can increase your connection to and your feeling a part of that greater, more inclusive self.

    • Therapy helps you have access to your strengths in difficult situations.
    • Therapy provides a doorway through which your sense of what is possible expands.
    • Therapy is a process by which you can "become the change you want to see in the world". (borrowed from Mahatma Ghandi)

What is a somatic relational therapist?

a. Relational: We live in a relational world. We are born in relationship, first literally through another body, then to those who care for us in our infancy. In those early months and years, we see ourselves and the world through the eyes of others. Over our first 20 years or so, we establish a relationship with our selves. Our relationships continue expand over the course of our lives; yet often, we continue to live with attitudes and beliefs established in those early relationships…..”Is the world a safe place? Will I be loved? Can my love be received? Will anyone notice that I am here?..." The goal of a somatic-relational therapist is to use the therapeutic relationship to open to the truth of what is available today, rather than to continue to live in the limitations of the past.

b. Somatic: We are in a physical body. Some would say we are a physical body, others that we have a body. Our relationship with our bodies can be a source of pleasure and a source of pain. Emotional pain is ‘felt’ in the same part of the brain as physical pain. The body can also be a source of support for the life and a wellspring of information about the life. Enriching the relationship with your body to shift from pain to pleasure, from isolation to connection, from closed to open, from one energetic state to another is a focus of the somatic-relational therapist.

Why is exploring my childhood important?

We are born into an environment that is limited and limiting. We adapt to that environment in order to make the best of it. In that adapting, we develop those strengths and resources that are tolerated, perhaps welcomed, sometimes even celebrated in that environmtent. Sometimes we must develop strategies simply to survive. Aspects of ourselves that are potential personal strengths and internal resources, but that find no fertile ground in which to grow, go undeveloped. If mother is depressed, perhaps it is intolerable for you to be sad; if father is angry, perhaps you remain quiet, never finding your voice; if parents are missing, chaotic, disconnected, perhaps you grow up too quickly, losing access to the playful, joyful innerchild. We make decisions about the nature of the world and our place in it based on those early environments. As adults, the environment is often very different, our options certainly are; yet, we can be stuck in those old decisions and our life limited as a result.

Why involve the body in therapy?

Why not. The body is so amazing. It responds to the internal and external environments. It reflects patterns of thinking and feeling and relating to others. By releasing tension in the body, you free up possibility in the mind. By strengthing your capacity to set limits and say 'no', you release tension in the chest that was once needed to protect your heart. By learning to live in the present moment, you can let go of the burdens of the past and anxieties of the future; release the tension in the shoulders that carried those burdens, feel lighter, freer, more alive.

How do you work with the body?

With most clients I use body awareness and basic grounding exercises. With some clients I use movement exploration and emotionally expressive exercises. What happens with any individual client really depends on that client's needs and timing.

a. Awareness – Explore patterns of contraction (protection) and openness (vulnerability) and the cost and benefit of each. Simply notice what you sense in your body in difficult and in comfortable situations. Then use the body as a way to shift from one energetic (emotional pattern, thinking pattern, stress pattern) to one more useful and more true.

b. Finding your movement - From unconscious with certain people or when certain issues come up to conscious, giving you more control of your body and emotions. Exploring how you hold yourself and how you transition from open to closed; and from closed to open.

c. Explore exercises to help you ground. Exercises to help you discharge stress and emotion. Exercises to help you become aware of patterns of tension in your body and their function .

Do I really need therapy? I can usually handle my problems.

If you find yourself, trying your best and winding up someplace other than where you want to be, therapy is probably a good option. Everyone goes through challenging situations in life, and while you may have successfully navigated through other difficulties you've faced, there's nothing wrong with seeking out extra support when you need it. In fact, therapy works best with people who have enough self-awareness to realize they need a helping hand; that is a good beginning. You are taking responsibility by accepting where you're at in life and making a commitment to change the situation by seeking therapy. Therapy can provide long-lasting benefits and support, giving you the tools you need to avoid triggers, re-direct damaging patterns, and overcome whatever challenges you face.

Why do people go to therapy and how do I know if it is right for me?

People have many different motivations for coming to psychotherapy. Many are simply curious. Some may be going through a major life transition (young adulthood, divorce, new job, etc.), or are not handling stressful circumstances well. Some people need assistance managing a range of other issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, addictions, relationship problems, spiritual conflicts and creative blocks. For others there may not be a specific stressor, but recurrent patterns ot thinking, feeling, behaving or relating that you want to improve. Therapy can help provide some much needed encouragement and help with skills to get through these periods. Others may be at a point where they are ready to learn more about themselves or want to be more effective with their goals in life.

What is therapy like?

Because each person has different issues and goals for therapy, therapy will be different depending on the individual. In general, you can expect to discuss the current events happening in your life, your personal history relevant to your issue, and report progress (or any new insights gained) from the previous therapy session. Depending on your specific needs, therapy can be short-term, for a specific issue, or longer-term, to deal with more difficult patterns or your desire for more personal development. Either way, it is most common to schedule regular sessions with your therapist (usually weekly).
It is important to understand that you will get more results from therapy if you actively participate in the process. The ultimate purpose of therapy is to help you bring what you learn in session back into your life. Therefore, beyond the work you do in therapy sessions, your therapist may suggest some things you can do outside of therapy to support your process - such as reading a pertinent book, journaling on specific topics, noting particular behaviors or taking action on your goals. People seeking psychotherapy are ready to make positive changes in their lives, are open to new perspectives and take responsibility for their lives.

What about medication vs. psychotherapy?

It is well established that the long-term solution to mental and emotional problems and the pain they cause cannot be solved solely by medication. Instead of just treating the symptom, therapy addresses the cause of our distress and the behavior patterns that curb our progress. You can best achieve sustainable growth and a greater sense of well-being with an integrative approach to wellness. Working with your medical doctor you can determine what's best for you, and in some cases a combination of medication and therapy is the right course of action.

Do you take insurance, and how does that work?

Please see rates and insurance page

Does what we talk about in therapy remain confidential?

Confidentiality is one of the most important components between a client and psychotherapist. Successful therapy requires a high degree of trust with highly sensitive subject matter that is usually not discussed anywhere but the therapist's office. Every therapist should provide a written copy of their confidential disclosure agreement, and you can expect that what you discuss in session will not be shared with anyone. This is called “Informed Consent”. Sometimes, however, you may want your therapist to share information or give an update to someone on your healthcare team (your Physician, Naturopath, Attorney), but by law your therapist cannot release this information without obtaining your written permission.
However, state law and professional ethics require therapists to maintain confidentiality except for the following situations:

* Suspected past or present abuse or neglect of children, adults, and elders to the authorities, including Child Protection and law enforcement, based on information provided by the client or collateral sources.

* If the therapist has reason to suspect the client is seriously in danger of harming him/herself or has threated to harm another person.