Balancing Traditional and Spiritual Experience


[:en]By Linda Grace, Certified Advanced Rolfer™, Rolf Movement® Practitioner and Janet Castellini, LCSW, LCADC, NCPsyA


Introduction by Linda Grace

Our Northeast region’s second meeting about spiritual experiences and our Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) work was attended by twenty-one Rolfers and one person currently in the Rolf Institute® (RISI) training program. We met at the home of Joy Belluzzi and Alan Demmerle in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on March 11, 2018.

After the morning review of RISI business, including Board and Faculty reports, and a discussion of the Ethics Committee, we had  lunch,  and  then  reconvened  for the afternoon session with Janet Castellini, a psychoanalyst, as our program presenter. She brought her rich experience of modern psychoanalytic training and practice as well as her pursuit of spiritual experience and healing through work with states of consciousness and being taught and trained by two Native American elders.

The outline of the meeting included her talk about the container of her work, some foundational discipline, as well as a basic speaking of some skills. These included how to ask a question that doesn’t poke, how to assess from moment to moment, and how to identify and connect with the emotional thread the client presents.

We began with an exercise of placing ourselves on a spiritual continuum, and continued with Janet’s introduction to some of her work as a Modern Psychoanalyst, and how she draws on her personal resources from her work with Native American indigenous healers. The discussion was lively, and revealed that (at least in our group) attention is paid to the spirit and consciousness in our work. Individual differences seemed to  have a similar thread. I was reminded of a client’s remark that “Once you have seen the light, you have seen all of the light.”

Linda Grace

Janet Castellini


To open, the presentation focused on the need for a ‘container’ in order to make sense of the myriad experiences that Rolfers – and psychoanalysts – have when working. The word container was  used to signify the  framework within which  a practitioner works or the perspective the practitioner brings to the work. A container provides somewhere to plant your feet so no matter what else is going on, there is something to return to. So, for example, musicians needs to know scales and arpeggios and master the technique of their instrument. If these basics are not mastered, they cannot let go into the music because they will always be distracted by making sure they do something right. So, too with psychotherapy in  general: if a person does not have a foundational approach and enough hours to practice, the psychotherapist will always be distracted checking his or her interventions and wondering if s/he is doing the right thing.

The same applies to Rolfing work. If a practitioner is not sufficiently practiced and is not grounded in basic technique, then when something unusual happens, when a different state of consciousness is experienced, that practitioner might get distracted or even lost from the opportunity for structural change that is available.

Some random reflections have come to Janet and to me since the group meeting.


Janet Castellini: I’m struck by the idea that touching the client creates a way to enter another state of consciousness. After the meeting, I started thinking about what state of consciousness exists in the experience of merger, that is, loosening boundaries between people. Is it the same as working in a different state of consciousness without touching? Freud called it the “oceanic feeling” of being at one with someone else. In modern analysis, it would be thought of as being able to feel/experience what your patient feels/experiences and then return to yourself with the purpose of having that experience inform the emotional communication the analyst makes to the patient.

Linda Grace: Yes, and that was in the context you created, the idea that someone (the therapist) is in charge of the whole interaction, the discipline of the work itself, both for psychoanalysts and Rolfers. We Rolfers were already attuned to the idea of ethical practice, our therapeutic responsibility, from the meeting discussion we had before lunch. That was part of what drove several questions about overtly using spiritual matters in our practices.

JC: Yes, the idea that someone is in charge in a session is important. In my line of work, it is the analyst’s job to be in charge. It’s ironic because the patient leads the way, but the analyst is right there if there is any problem with emotions, resistances, and talking itself. It’s the patient’s job to say everything that comes to mind, and it’s the analyst’s job to figure out what’s going on and provide the appropriate emotional feeding at the right time and in the right amount.

LG: Another thought that has come up for me since the meeting was the reiteration by one of our members about Dr. Rolf’s commitment to our work with children, and the idea that we are creating a better human being through our work. To me, there seemed a religiosity to the repeated comments along this line. I’ve long since given up on the idea of creating a better human being. I suppose at most I could hope for a better, more secure attachment (in the manner of Diane Poole Heller) so that the Golden Rule might have a better foundation. The secure attachment of client and therapist is a reminder of remedial working of the initial attachment of our lives, and seems a grounding place for our work to be sought.

JC: A modern analyst would agree with you about giving up the idea of creating  a better human being. If the analyst is not okay with the person as the person is, then that person will not be able to relax enough to work on the defenses that keep [her/him] stuck in unhealthy patterns. If the analyst is not okay with the person, the analyst is, in effect, like the original adult who also was not okay with the person. Then the pattern just repeats. The idea of modern analysis is to create or improve inner strength, to strengthen a person’s foundation so that even with human foibles, [s/he] can be well and maybe even happy.

The interaction is very complex, an idea that was brought out in the meeting. I thought about the powerful transference in my own experience of Rolfing work. When my body was more painful and less reliable, when I needed to see you, I felt so needy. There was a sort of desperation to have where I hurt be touched and mended. I think of that as a very primal experience – a wordless need that someone else can fix. (Change my diaper. Feed me.) That transference is not as present now because my body is more reliable and I have come to terms with the idea that I might have to be in pain sometimes. Transference is certainly a powerful state of consciousness. It has all the weight of history – both stored emotions and repetition. But I don’t know what brainwave state that would be. I wonder if we’re talking about states of consciousness that are more subtle. After all, states of consciousness are not discrete entities.

LG: And then there’s the stages of transference, each with its own power, the development of relationship. One aspect of this might be how some clients just won’t change for a particular Rolfer, through transference development perhaps – not the ‘right’ talking, not the ‘right’ techniques of manual therapy or touching. Hoping to hit the right notes, in the first session it may take longer than an hour to establish how the client will assist in the goals set up. And the countertransference! I’m usually not thinking of that much, except as an adult to adult with goals in mind, unless I am blindsided by a certain countertransference, my nemesis – the idea that this is a hopeless situation, that I will not be able to have any effect whatsoever! Certainly one factor in this is the caretaking of my parents, who, like most parents, ultimately died.

My most uncomfortable counter transference state is a resounding gong when the client does not have any feedback for me of any positive change. In my best  therapeutic fit with a client, the client is in a state of being able to agree with some things and disagree with some things, a telling of the good, the bad, and the indifferent. If there is all resistance and disagreement,   a constant telling of what is wrong and sliding back into the experiences that produced the wrongness, a return to the movements, stances, and speaking of events that produced the wrongness, that is where I must be attentive, must say to myself, “I am in charge of this therapeutic event, what can happen in a positive sense?” I must be able to picture the better outcome, not be overwhelmed with the current client state. Sometimes I am better at that than other times.

JC: Me too. Sometimes I’m better at allowing my countertransference to exist as information about my patient, and sometimes I just get caught up in it. In my training we spend a lot of time learning  to deal with countertransference. We also learn to differentiate between our own countertransference and feelings we might pick up from the patient. So that when we meet a patient or are in a session, we have some barometer of what’s going on.

LG: The pickup of feelings and even pain from the client is important in our work as well. Some of us have become more skilled at discerning states of consciousness that are perhaps not even thoughts, more existent in the physiology, the blood pressure, the chemical state, and the relational attachment senses, and so on.    I was interested in your exposition of the brainwave states and have done a bit of looking around at that.

JC: In addition, there is my initial thought from a member’s contribution: the idea that the (skilled) Rolfer is looking at and engaging the whole character – although how that’s related to states of consciousness, I can’t quite articulate. Maybe ‘states of consciousness’ might refer to ways of seeing/perceiving.

LG: In ways of seeing/perceiving, it was brought out at the meeting that one thing some people use is getting into a meditative, sort of hypnotic or prayer-like state, to get past the ego state of wanting to ‘fix’ someone and to perceive more fully.

JC: I remember my supervisor saying to me that the idea is to be able to keep my analytic brain going no matter what is happening between the patient and me. In developing this skill of keeping the analytic brain going, the idea of supervision and the importance of having somewhere to talk over one’s experiences and think about them with others are crucial to us. In psychoanalysis, supervision also helps with the problem of catching the patient’s problems and taking them home. Which loops back to the question of merger and separation.

LG: Yes, and I immediately went to two Rolfers (Audrey McCann and Rebecca Carli-Mills) right after the program and received some supervision on a sticky question I had about a client from the week before. They opened up my consciousness, which was stuck! (A quote: “Linda always thinks she has a hammer, but she doesn’t.”) So thanks for that supervision idea. We work alone so much of the time, and we often don’t have much opportunity to share and parse our work with others. Thanks for coming to our event and sharing your skill and knowledge and fine collegial presence with us, and with me.

Linda Grace has been practicing Rolfing work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania since she was first certified in 1984 by the Rolf Institute. She continues to use Ida P. Rolf’s conceptual organization of the body, including the goals of the Basic Ten Series conception, as well as the Advanced Series, with attention to movement work in each session. These working containers may include attention to details in the cranial, nerve, and visceral systems in creating the client’s desired changes.

Janet Castellini, LCSW, LCADC, NCPsyA, is a Modern Psychoanalyst in private practice. She also teaches and supervises at the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis. She holds certifications in trauma, group psychotherapy, and supervision. She worked in the field of energy and environmental education for twenty- seven years before becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She served on the boards of  the Energy Coordinating Agency and Green Woods Charter School, both in Philadelphia, and published a number of articles on energy education. She received her bachelor’s degree from The George Washington University in Washington, DC and her masters degree from Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. Through her interest in states of consciousness and spiritual experience, she met two Native American medicine people (called doctors) from California and has been taught and trained by them for the past twenty-five years. She continues to work on the integration of unconventional methods into traditional containers.


Balancing Traditional and Spiritual Experience[:]

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