Therapeutic Use of Self in Rolfing® SI and the Bodynamic System

Pages: 27-29
Year: 2015
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 43 – Nº 2

Volume: 43

Editor’s Note: The Fall 1997 issue of Rolf Lines included an article “Bodynamics and Rolfing” by Bill Harvey and Russell Stolzoff. Here, Stolzoff revisits the topic of Bodynamic® Somatic Developmental Psychology and related themes in an interview conducted by Carole LaRochelle. You may want to reference the earlier article and can find the complete citation in the bibliography.

Carole LaRochelle: So, ten years after [the initial article], what is it like to ask yourself the question, “Why did I get interested in Bodynamics?”

Russell Stolzoff: It would be good to reference that article (Harvey and Stolzoff 1997) because there’s a lot in it. I was really steeped in the Bodynamic training. About two to three years after that interview, I more or less decided to double down on my Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) career, and in that sense, I made a decision to not pursue a career in body psychotherapy. However, I didn’t leave [behind] the understanding that I gained while doing that training, and I think that’s only grown. So, even though it’s not foreground, it’s definitely part of a developmental construct that I can reference when I’m working with people.

CL: What made you want to double down on the Rolfing SI, and move away from becoming a body-centered psychotherapist?

RS: I was trying to reconcile two worlds. I had completed about half of a master’s degree in counseling, and was continuing the Bodynamic training. I had one foot on a boat and one foot on a dock. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I had one foot on one boat and one foot on another boat. Rolfing SI was my original choice, and it was unwieldy in the early years. My interest in Bodynamics developed from recognizing that I had my hands on a lot more than just structure, and I needed a relational, therapeutic framework to understand and interact with people better. I discovered Bodynamics through Peter Levine’s work. I was in his first Somatic Experiencing® training. At that time he was training with the Bodynamic Institute and was utilizing some of their ideas in his work. They were cross-pollinating, especially about ideas related to shock/trauma. So that’s how I got into Bodynamics. Then, curiously enough, I moved to Washington, a state where I could [already] practice counseling legally, but I decided I didn’t want to continue the type of relationships that psychotherapy requires. The commitment on the part of the therapist can be very requiring, and I pretty much decided that wasn’t for me. I also felt my professional needs would [be] best met through being a Rolfer, and that in order to be really good at Rolfing SI, I was going to have to concentrate on it more. I felt the same way about the psychotherapy, and I didn’t think I could apply myself to them both.

CL: I know in Bodynamics, the commitment of the therapists is huge, and they actually end up re-parenting their clients because they’re trying to heal the wounds and character structure going back to a pretty young time. And I can see that might be more of a commitment than you wanted to focus on.

RS: Your comment lends itself to an interesting topic and one of the things we want to talk about in this interview: the practitioner’s therapeutic use of self in the relationship with clients. In psychotherapy, it’s a concept that pertains to every style of psychotherapy. Every form has a therapeutic stance that the therapist takes. I think we have that in Rolfing SI too, although we haven’t described it adequately. If I was to try to describe Rolfing SI’s therapeutic use of self, there would be an aspect of it in the way we use our awareness of ourselves to behave in ways that affect positive change with our clients. There’s a lot more room for fleshing this idea out. I know Pedro Prado is very interested in some of these things. I’m not too aware of the emphasis that he places on it, but he’s a leading thinker on the psychobiological taxonomy in our institute.

CL: So, therapeutic use of self would sort of fall into that psychobiological taxonomy that we have? Do you agree?

RS: Yes, although you could say that therapeutic use of self applies across all the taxonomies. With each mode of work there would be a somewhat different use of self. A well-trained and aware [practitioner] could move seamlessly from one use of self to the next, and be able to track [his] clients’ responses. Essentially, these are roles that you play in the course of doing your job. And I believe the more we recognize the roles as such, the more deliberate we can be in the way we relate.

CL: So in your private practice when you’re working with clients, are you really conscious from moment to moment? How conscious


using your self, or has it become sort of part of who you are because of what you’ve studied?

RS: I’d say it’s a bit of both. Most of the time, I have some degree of awareness, and behave somewhat deliberately, even if it’s deciding that I’m going to be more casual in the way that I relate. I usually try to relate with my clients in ways that I believe would be of benefit to them, based on how I know them and how I feel about them. This can take different forms, anywhere from being really encouraging to being prescriptive, or sometimes even challenging them in some way.

CL: So would you tend to challenge someone who is more rigid, and be more supportive to someone who has more collapse in his or her body?

RS: Perhaps. If I see someone [who] seems to be more resigned, which might correlate with hypo-responsiveness, I would want to help [him] build up, and sustain, [his] energy and impulses. Challenge could result in further collapse. On the other hand, with someone who is rigid, efforts to be supportive might not be received or taken in. Making a decision to challenge that way of being can be helpful if you can get through. Basically, everyone needs support – it just comes in different forms.

CL: It’s about supporting people where they need support, and challenging them where they need to be challenged.

RS: That sounds good to me. Yeah, that sounds right on.

CL: And everybody’s a mix.

RS: Exactly.

CL: Do you have some ideas about how Rolfers can do a better job or learn more skills to become more conscious about how they’re using themselves as practitioners, or do you have some ideas about how we can do better at teaching that in training? Maybe you have some ideas for a curriculum for a workshop on that topic?

RS: Yes. It seems serendipitous being asked to do this interview, and beginning to teach in the advanced trainings where I’ve been really surprised by the hunger that Rolfers have for more learning in the realm of therapeutic relationship. I’ve found it in workshops I’ve taught too. So, I’ve been conceiving a workshop or two that would help Rolfers develop the relational side of their work.

I’ve been hearing Rolfers ask questions about how to deal with certain types of clients. They want to know how to respond to their clients’ needs and expectations, while at the same time asserting their expertise, and utilizing their authority to conduct the relationship in a way that is mutually beneficial. You don’t have to go into a psychotherapy training to do that.

CL: As a teacher, what do you do to support students who are having a difficult time in relationship with their client? What kinds of things do you do to help them?

RS: Different things. We talk about it in our check-ins and reflections. We also use photos and video analysis. This allows us to look at the client and talk about the relationship when [the client isn’t] in the room.

CL: And you’re not talking about hands-on right now. You’re talking about the dynamics in the therapeutic relationship.

RS: I’m talking about a combination of hands-on and relating to the client. How do we structure our relationships with our clients? I think that’s one of the most fundamental therapeutic uses of self that a Rolfer could have. Because our training time is short, there is always less time than we need to present everything Rolfers need to know. So we are sending people out there without a lot of experience, and sometimes their confidence is not high. How do you overcome that kind of circumstance? The only way I know of right now is through continuing education.

CL: It sounds like you’re talking about how to consciously make a contract with the client. As you said, manage the clients’ expectations, and actually have a dialogue [with your clients about] what they want to get out of working with you. What will satisfy them? What is the bare minimum they want to get? There’s a reason they’re coming to get Rolfing [sessions], so let’s get to the bottom of what it is they want. Sometimes they just want you to make their back pain go away, and sometimes they want you to straighten their scoliosis. So, we need to have a conversation about what is a reasonable expectation for straightening a scoliosis? Right?

RS: Right.

CL: And educating the client about [his] scoliosis so that [he understands] what’s really going on. In my experience, even though people understand they have a scoliosis, they have a limited understanding about what that means.

RS: Right. Here we are, right back at therapeutic uses of self. Rolfer as educator. Helping clients understand what are the real limits of their bodies’ ability to change. There are some simple constructs that can be practiced in a workshop with role-playing and dialogue, and can be put into practice immediately. This stuff can give you what I call ‘breathing room’ within the relationship. I always say if you’re stressed, or if there’s pressure put on you to perform, then it’s harder to perform. For example, when a client comes in with something that is longstanding, and gives you two or three sessions to prove that Rolfing SI will work, you need to turn the table on that dynamic right from the outset. In this instance, I believe as practitioners we should give the client a reality check.

CL: It helps [prevent] there being a bad ending, or somebody walking away unhappy, if you can address that expectation at the beginning. And do that through education and communication.

RS: Right.

CL: I guess it’s very tempting as a practitioner to get sucked into trying to meet our client’s expectations.

RS: It is. We’re in a helping profession, and we want to be helpful. We want to be seen as skilled and effective. I just think there’s always a limitation, and we need to be aware of that and help set realistic expectations. So this means we also need to know what the limitations are. That’s part of it too. What can Rolfing SI really do? What’s the outer limit?

CL: And sometimes we don’t know. It’s ok to tell a client, “I don’t really know what’s possible for you. Are you willing to hang around and we’ll find out together?” And it’s ok to say that.

RS: Yes it is. And if that’s the understanding you have, you’re less likely to run into a problem.

CL: So is there any more that you draw on from Bodynamics regarding character structures with your clients when you’re working in your private practice?

RS: Yes. The Bodynamic system has a developmental perspective that begins before birth, and continues into adolescence. It describes overlapping developmental periods where a confluence of things happens. Emotional and cognitive development co-occurs with physical motoric development inside of a social-cultural context. I was attracted to the Bodynamic system because [it was] specific about how the motoric physical body and the psychological body develop together. I learned to see the way the body is resourced psychologically according to these ideas. It’s a way of categorizing things, and I’ve internalized [the teachings] in a way that helps me to recognize, understand, and relate to people. That’s really it.

CL: I think that the foundation of the therapeutic relationship is [the client] feeling seen. And being seen is part of being heard. The feeling is “this person gets me.”

RS: Right. I think most of us like that – when we feel understood. And we want help from someone who understands our problems. I think that’s it in a nutshell.

CL: Do you have some specific examples or ideas about how we can teach this?

RS: I’ve been working on the curriculum for a workshop. I have a framework in mind that can be easily taught. I could go into detail here, but I think it would be too much.

CL: I really appreciated how you talked about how the therapeutic use of the self can happen in all the different taxonomies.

RS: It has to. In a sense the highest use of this concept is to become more aware, more comfortable in yourself, and more sophisticated in how you relate to different types of people and situations. And so it can be used for everything. It’s not only going to make us a better practitioner, but it’s going to make us a better partner, a better friend. Another thing that drew me to the Bodynamic system and training was their fundamental belief in mutual connection, the idea and that all of our development occurs through relationship and connectedness with one another. They describe the spectrum of connectedness, and how our wounds, struggles, and abilities are all born out of social circumstances. For me, that point of view is very profound and powerful, and I can’t argue with it at all. There’s a lot of science about relatedness and it’s coming on stronger and stronger with the increased understanding of the brain. The brain needs relationship to develop in a healthy way.

CL: Are you talking about attachment theory?

RS: Yes, the ideas that were put forward originally by Bowlby have been proven. We can watch what happens to the brain in healthy relationships, and in ones that lack healthy qualities.

CL: I’m really glad you brought that up. That’s huge. We’re talking about adult attachment, and one of the things I love about that is that if you get in a healthy relationship, you can actually learn a secure attachment, even if you didn’t have it as a kid. As an adult, you can heal that, which is very positive and exciting.

RS: Yes. You’re bringing up another thing that appealed to me in their way of approaching people at the Bodynamic Institute. It’s the idea that we all miss out on certain dimensions that could have been more positive for us, and the idea that even though you can’t change what happened, you can change how you go forward. It might take some work, and it might be difficult, but the idea is that it’s worth it. It’s worth it to try and overcome things that have ended up limiting us. And that it’s never too late. Lisbeth Marcher, the founder of Bodynamics, feels very strongly about this. She would get angry with people who would give up on themselves. And in doing that, she modeled something really important for me. And I’ll never forget that. It was a gift.

CL: Someone believing in you when you’re having trouble believing in yourself.

RS: Yes. And willing to get upset with you.

CL: To care enough to get upset with you.

RS: To care enough about the connection.

CL: And that’s part of the space we can hold for our clients without being psychotherapists.

RS: Absolutely. And that’s a really good point. You can apply that to the Rolfing relationship in the sense that we hold a vision of what’s possible, even though we may not know in complete detail what is needed. Part of our job is to know that, and to be willing to help [clients] work towards it. And to realize that it might not be an easy process, but their [bodies] can change, they can change and become more comfortable, and [their bodies] can work better, can balance in gravity better. Doing Rolfing SI enhances the experience of being whole. We know that. And I think it’s important that we represent it.

CL: And that keeps Rolfing SI from falling into the fix-it paradigm. And holds onto Dr. Rolf’s idea that Rolfing SI is about the development of the whole person.

RS: Exactly.

Russell Stolzoff first encountered Rolfing SI in 1983 when he was a model client in a Rolfing training. He completed his basic certification training in 1989 and has been teaching Rolfing SI since 1999. Russell lives and works in Bellingham, Washington.

Carole LaRochelle lives in Santa Rosa, California and has been in active practice since 1996. In addition to completing the Bodynamic Foundation and Shock/Trauma trainings, Carole has studied Resource Oriented Skill Training with Merete Brantbjerg, one of the Bodynamic co-creators. She continues her study of group relational dynamics with the Systems- Centered Training and Research Institute.


Harvey, B. and R. Stolzoff. 1997 Oct, “Bodynamics and Rolfing.” Rolf Lines, 29(4):6-10. Available at bodynamics-and-rolfing.

MacNaughton, I. 2004. Body, Breath, and Consciousness: A Somatics Anthology. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Marcher, L., and S. Fich. 2010. Body Encyclopedia: A Guide to the Psychological Functions of the Muscular System. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Siegel, D.J. and M. Hartzell 2004. Parenting from the Inside Out. Los Angeles: Tarcher.Therapeutic Use of Self in Rolfing® SI and the Bodynamic System[:]

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