No two sessions are ever the same. The power of PST is that it is a client-led process where the practitioner acts as a guide to support the client’s journey.
In all cases we will start with a single talk session, usually of one hour. This is a chance for the client to let the practitioner know what they would like to get from the work, for the practitioner to take the client’s history so that they begin to have some sense of what is happening for the client and to help them observe their patterns of behaviour in intimacy. It also acts as an assessment session for both client and practitioner; is PST suitable for this client, does the client feel comfortable with the practitioner?
In this first session the practitioner will propose a course of treatment for the client and outline the major steps to be taken along the way. Of course all this is subject to agreement and consent by the client and to change as the process evolves. If both parties agree to working together one or more further sessions will be undertaken at a later date.
The work itself may look very different for each client and different within different sessions for each client.
In the early stages of the work helping clients build resilience and resource may be essential, especially in the cases of trauma or abuse. PST practitioners are trained to help clients resolve trauma safely, without taking them back into the trauma itself. In the Cognitive Awareness phase of the work, the client will also be helped to understand their own limiting beliefs and behaviours around sex and intimacy and guided into understanding their roots and how to overcome them.
Once the client has gained greater awareness of their patterns of behaviour and feels sufficiently resourced, the practitioner may support them to connect more deeply with their body. Mindfulness and other techniques to ground the client and help build somatic (bodily) awareness can be used to build the client’s connection to their body.
The third phase of the work is usually the most significant part of the work. Physical release techniques from osteopathy (visceral technique) and Myofascial release (MFR) help the client connect cognitive (mental), affective (emotional) and somatic (bodily) aspects of their experience. For example, we all know that in our culture a woman is supposed to have a “perfect” flat stomach. If she does not she may tend to suck in her abdominal muscles to help her feel better about herself. If this area is touched, several things may happen. The practitioner is likely to feel the physical tensions held in the body, a contraction of the tissue in that area. The client may have an emotional response (“I don’t like being touched there”) and with this a mental story (“If I’m fat no one will love me/be attracted to me”).
Take another example: Women often suffer severe physical pain or injury during giving birth. This can change their relationship with their genitals and womb area. Working on this area can help them re-integrate that part of their body and renegotiate their relationship with it, helping them release bodily memories of trauma or pain or feelings of not being a sexual woman any longer.
Once the body has released its physical and emotional tensions, it may be appropriate to move to the next phase; Erotic Mindfulness. Eros energy is our natural life force and it is within us at all times. However, our culture tells us to suppress this and very often we feel shame about our desires or get confused about our boundaries in sexuality. Using mindfulness techniques practitioners support the client to become aware of every small distraction and interruption to their natural Eros energy flowing in their bodies.
The final phase of the work is Sexual Awakening. Using techniques including breath practices, movement and other approaches the client will be supported to find their own erotic energy within themselves. The emphasis is on the client accessing their own erotic energy rather than on the practitioner “doing” to the client.
The five stages outlined above are a pyramid; every client begins at the first stage and for some, this may be enough. Others will progress through different stages and for a small number it may be appropriate to do the latter stages of the work.
In all cases, the work is client-led and performed within strictly held boundaries and ethical guidelines. Practitioners are also required to be in supervision for their work and to conform to both the PST Ethical Statement and to The Association of Somatic & Integrative Sexologists (ASIS) Code of Ethics. This makes the space and the PST model a uniquely safe platform for exploring sexuality in a therapeutic setting.