History as a Somatic Psychotherapist


I, Alison Ball, am a Somatic Psychotherapist in Melbourne, Australia. I have been in Private Practice since 1986 and specialised in this field of psychotherapy through a three year initial training from 1984 to ’87. I had trained as a Social Worker in the late 1970’s at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. I was a founding member of the Australian Association of Somatic Psychotherapists which has now changed to ASPA – the Australian Somatic Psychotherapists Association: http://somaticpsychotherapy.asn.au/. My colleagues are also long term members of the original association and its later incarnation whereas I have ceased my membership, though I retain my membership of the AASW.

The AASP was a constituent and founding member of The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA). To find out more about PACFA click here on www.pacfa.org.au.

In the late 1990’s I completed a Masters of Psychoanalytic Studies at Monash University’s Department of Psychological Medicine. I am a mother and grandmother and that life experience is invaluable to my work as a psychotherapist.

I see clients at 223 Camberwell Road, Hawthorn East, Melbourne and since July 2016 I also work in the Cardinia Shire. This will enable clients who live in Melbourne’s far eastern suburbs or all the way to say Berwick or Warragul to see me closer to their home.

My Professional History

My earliest job was as a primary school teacher in Victoria, Australia and I went back to this in the 1970’s before deciding that I wanted to be able to help children and their families in a different way. I embarked on a four year Degree in Social Work at Monash University, Melbourne. As well as the straight social work subjects in the final 2 years, I studied politics, sociology, Russian literature in translation and psychology. I most enjoyed the Russian literature, political philosophy and a politics course titled “The Morality of Power”.

For ten years I then worked in three social work jobs. The first was in a marriage and family counselling agency in Sandringham, Melbourne called Southern Family Life, which I believe is now called just “Family Life”. There I learned that what I enjoyed most about social work was working in the one to one relationship with clients. However, I soon found that I did not always know enough to help in the ways that seemed necessary and it took some time to find what I needed to do in that regard.

My second social work job first took me into another realm when I was employed by Wesley Central Mission and became the first social worker to be employed in a ‘world first’ centre specifically devoted to the care of people with Huntington’s Disease. I learned to work with very traumatised families who lived with a terrible chronic hereditary illness and I learned to work with anger and grief. I stayed for four years before moving to The Royal Womens’ Hospital where I worked with all the families who had a premature or very ill baby in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit. In those years there was at least one baby death each week in the unit so again, grief and loss was a big component of the work. For more information regarding Social Work, you can check out the web-site of the AASW on www.aasw.asn.au

While working at the Arthur Preston Centre for Huntington’s Disease, I found a three year experiential training in what was then called Biodynamic Therapy. It was a body oriented, Neo-Reichian therapy. I began the course in 1984. At the time it was a private course run by Jeff Barlow who had trained in Biodynamic Psychology at the Gerda Boyesen Institute in London. My trainers included Robyn Speyer who also trained at and taught the Bio-dynamic massage at the Gerda Boyesen Institute. We were also taught by Ken SpeyerDavid Boadella and Julie Henderson. We learned ways of being with clients, forms of therapeutic massage and the Bio-energetic techniques of Alexander Lowen. In 1986, Jeff and other people involved in the earliest trainings, myself included, formed the Australian Association of Somatic Psychotherapists (AASP). In more recent years, through a long and involved process in which I personally took a major role, our association joined together with our sister association which had mostly operated in NSW to form the Australia Somatic Psychotherapy Association (ASPA).

After operating as an individual educator of Somatic Psychotherapists for some years, Jeff Barlow founded and became the director of a college called the Australian College of Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy(ACCSP). To find out more about the college click here on www.somaticpsychotherapy.com.au . Students from the ACCSP training fed directly into our then association.

The training course undertaken by myself and all later students of courses run by Jeff Barlow or his college, required students to be involved in their own- at least weekly- psychotherapeutic process. This requirement – though even more intense- is similar for Psychoanalysts when training and also for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists. In my own case, that initial nine year long term commitment to my own psychotherapeutic process has been crucial to my growth as a psychotherapist and led me to believe that work on oneself should be mandatory for anyone to be able to call themselves a psychotherapist.

Regretfully that requirement is not always the case for many practitioners in the helping professions, and/or the required therapy is not adequate in my opinion. But the need to experience the in depth and long term psychotherapeutic process while working on oneself is the distinguishing feature of what makes for a real psychotherapy training. That training is quite different from simply just an academic degree. Academic work is also strong in psychotherapy training but when one has not done sufficient work on oneself then the level and depth to which a psychotherapist can work with clients will be limited. The in- depth work that some people need, requires the therapist to have more than just theoretical knowledge and understanding.

Following my initial three years of training, for many years I was always in regular supervision with a psychoanalytic psychotherapist who was a member of the Victorian Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists (to find out more about the VAPP click here for their website: vapp.asn.au).

In the early 1990’s, I also participated in an additional ten weekends over three years with a small group of colleagues and facilitated by the Sydney psychologist and psychotherapist, Carolyn Musgrave, who, at the time taught on the training course run by Jeff Barlow. Caroline helped us to integrate the somatic work within a psychodynamic framework. This introduction to object relations and psychoanalytic thinking brought a whole new dimension to my work with clients and new ways of thinking about active body work and touch in the psychotherapeutic relationship.

Concurrently with the first year of the group run by Carolyn Musgrave, I took part in a year long, small group supervision with Dr. Tristan Cornes who followed and taught the work of the psychoanalyst Robert Langs. Langs’ ideas gave me a wonderful appreciation of the value of the strict psychoanalytic frame as an extremely safe container for in depth therapeutic work and has always served as a yardstick for me in thinking about the work that I do.

Later, in the 1990’s I participated for a further five years in a twice weekly psychoanalytic group with a senior psychoanalyst. This important experience brought new dimensions to my own work and additionally seemed to serve as an integrative factor after a lot of cathartic work over the years.

From 1996 to 1998 I then undertook a 3 year Masters of Psychoanalytic Studies degree by course work and minor thesis in the Department of Psychological Medicine at Monash University. I wanted to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and understanding of psychoanalysis and I wanted to undertake an infant observation which was part of the course. The co-ordinator of this course was Associate Professor Dr. Michal Lapinski and the teachers were all members of the Melbourne Institute for Psychoanalysis- not simply academics but practitioners of the art and science of psychoanalysis. Click here to learn more about the Institute: www.mip.org.au.

This second Monash degree that I did, regretfully only survived for a few years but was an amazing opportunity and it was a great privilege to have been able to take advantage of its short existence. Very early in the course I decided that I would use the thesis as a way of thinking more about the place of touch in psychotherapy and my thesis turned into a small book titled “Taboo or Not Taboo: Reflections on Physical Touch in Psychoanalysis and Somatic Psychotherapy“. You can buy my book for about A$25-00 from Psychoz Books or by writing to P.O. Box 124 Kew, Victoria 3101 or by telephoning them on (Australia) (03) 9855 2220 or Fax (03) 9855 2225

I maintain a strong commitment to my own on-going learning through professional development activities and regular supervision. I also offer supervision to less experienced Somatic Psychotherapists or other counsellors and psychotherapists who want to explore ways of deepening their work or explore issues of physical touch in the work that they do.

I regularly attend educational seminars and conferences offered by the psychoanalytic community such as the Freud Conference and those run by the Psychotherapy Section of the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) as well as those offered by the Psychologist Psychoanalytic Interests Group called POPIG . If you want to find out more about the RANZCP click here on their website: http://www.ranzcp.org. And you can find out about the Freud Conference by clicking here: www.freudconference.com

Future Directions

As a result of my experience and the writing of my thesis I came to a new appreciation of the place of touch in psychotherapy and felt that Somatic Psychotherapy occupied a very important niche. I also came to believe that an integration of the body work with the psychodynamic is entirely possible and critical to working with some people. It has particular relevance for those who have suffered great trauma in their early lives. More and more it also seems possible that there is a common meeting ground between object relations and an intersubjective approach to the therapeutic relationship.

The knowledge base for psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and Somatic Psychotherapy in particular, has expanded rapidly. The burgeoning of knowledge regarding the neural pathways and other structures of the brain, as related to attachment and emotional development has opened up the possibility of a more credible theory base for the long held somatic understanding of the Neo-Reichians that we learned in our early training. This new knowledge is also fulfilling Freud’s own prediction in his:“Project for a Scientific Psychology” , that one day there would be the means to discover the biological concomitants of his psychological findings. And it is music to the ears of a Somatic Psychotherapist such as myself to see that papers are being written, such as“The Concept of Energy in Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology” by Mark Germaine (found in the Wiley On-Line Library at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com) . The concept of energy was vital to Reich and Neo-Reichians. It matters not whether current knowledge proves or disproves aspects and particular points of some of Reich’s and Freud’s early knowledge- it is the growing scientific understanding that is crucial and in fact much of their thinking is proven to be correct.

This, together with the developmental approach to psychotherapy as proposed by Stanley Greenspan and integrative work done by the likes of Allan Schore, Peter Fonagy and others have forged new links between the effects of trauma and deprivation, attachment patterns and the capacities for reflective self-awareness and self-regulation of affect.

The expanded knowledge base is vital, when it comes to working with people who are adult survivors of, say, childhood sexual abuse. Well ahead of their time, Somatic Psychotherapists held a niche for some years working with the integration of body, mind and emotions. Now, though with little or no acknowledgement to the neo-Reichians and Somatic Psychotherapists, the knowledge, has I believe, gone virtually mainstream and “ownership” of it has passed us by. This is partly because we were never very good at selling ourselves and our prospective audiences were often distracted by the fact that part of our work might have included “hands-on” work… a big “no-no” in establishment terms. Nevertheless it is very good and useful that there is now a much wider appreciation of the sort of work in which I, and my colleagues, were trained and took for granted as essential understanding.

Amongst psychotherapists, the one difference that still seems almost unique to Somatic Psychotherapists, at least in Australia, is the “hands-on” work referred to above. Our Association was once again way out front when we always openly dealt in our ethics code, with the issues that are involved when it seems appropriate that physical touch is needed in the therapy. Even practitioners who now embrace the need for the integration of the somatic, emotional and the psychological, are quick to say that they would never touch their clients or patients and/or rarely admit to it. Indeed most give the impression that it is never needed. And there continues to be a great reluctance to speak about this issue. But from the experience of my years of work, I am certain that with a small group of people, touch itself and direct work with the body, that is integrated into the therapeutic relationship, at times plays a crucial and important role in mitigating the worst effects on the brain itself, of early trauma and deprivation and, for some people, that touch can be critical in recovery from trauma.

The issue of touch and hands on work aside, the links between attachment and the relationships with caregivers, with emotional development and the neurological ramifications for the developing brain and in fact for the adult brain, are and always were at the base of Somatic Psychotherapy and Somatic Psychotherapists are uniquely well suited and exceedingly well trained to deal with those people who need a lot more than some sort of cognitive behavioural therapy.

The training that was later offered by Jeff Barlow in his College of Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy, in particular, gave those who studied with him all the knowledge and tools required  as being essential for working with these traumatised people. The guidelines that were put out in 2012 by ASCA (Adults Surviving Child Abuse though now called The Blue Knot Foundation which can be found at www.blueknot.org.au). Their paper is titled “Practice Guidelines For Treatment of Complex Trauma and Trauma Informed Care and Service Delivery.” It is written by Dr. Cathy Kezleman and Dr. Pam Stavropoulos and is a most valuable document that spells out in detail the skills required of such a therapist. When I first read it, it seemed to me that it was almost an exact mirror of the curriculum that students of Jeff’s College had been studying for many years.

In 2013 the Victorian government’s Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations was a great step forward and that was followed by the Commonwealth’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. People came forward to tell their stories, and many more people will require the sort of work that we as Somatic Psychotherapists are almost uniquely able to offer. The Inquiries acknowledge that finally it is being recognized and accepted by society that the legacy of trauma from childhood sexual abuse very often has led to a life dogged by mental illness. For more information on these Inquiries click here: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/fcdc/inquiry/340 or for the Royal Commission:

It is the possibility of putting all this knowledge together in the context of psychotherapy that excites me and offers most hope for real change for many clients in the future.

Please click here if you wish to make a booking enquiry with Alison in Hawthorn East or Cardinia Shire, Judith in Clifton Hill and Fairfield, Ronit in Richmond, Sheila in St. Kilda Rd, or Leonie in Carlton or the Yarra Valley.