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Working online with embodiment

Nick Totton

July 2020

How to “create and maintain embodied contact” while working online is a challenge most of us have faced in these unprecedented times. Having started his online work long before the lockdown, Nick Totton is optimistic that we can adapt and indeed suggests that online work can help us to trust our gut response in moving from “the visual to the visceral.” Here he offers some practical tips and mindset tools for working online successfully.

It’s been great to see the adaptability that therapists are capable of in the face of lockdown and distancing – including body psychotherapists, who encounter very obvious extra difficulties. People are discovering that they can do much more on line than they thought. Dozens of interesting webinars are springing up (some of them involving me); among these are courses on how to run online courses and sessions!

Again, there is a particular issue here for body psychotherapists: how to we create and maintain embodied contact with our clients through the medium of the internet? As someone who has been practising mainly online for the last seven years since I moved to a remote part of the country, I know that I have found a way to work successfully online with embodiment; so I have been trying to model how I do this in order to convey it to other people – and also studying the difficulties that practitioners say they have encountered.

I have come up with a few practical tips, but also with a more general approach which seems to me to help. First three tips:

• It seems to help a lot to use a headset. Both people can hear subtle qualities of voice more clearly this way; and also, it cuts out the subliminally heard echoes that tell us we are not occupying the same space.

• If you don’t believe you can sense the other person’s embodiment through the internet, then you won’t be able to – because you won’t actually try.

• It doesn’t help to try to stretch and lean so as to observe the other’s bodily cues. This only tenses you up and diminishes your subtle sensitivity. Instead, focus inside your own body, which is already responding to the other.

This third point connects up with my more general approach. I have been writing and teaching for a while now that to work with embodied relationship we need to make a paradigm shift ‘from the visual to the visceral’: in other words, stop trying to perceive the other’s embodiment across space – setting up a distanced observer role for ourselves – and instead find the gut response which our body already has to the body of the other. This immediately puts us into relationship, or rather, makes us aware that our bodies are already in relationship.

I have already argued that bodies pick up all sorts of complex signals through all sorts of subtle channels, but that we don’t actually need to know how this happens in order to get the benefits. This is true in face-to-face contact; and perhaps even more true over the internet. Relax, and let it happen.


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