North Starre Holistic Counseling

Your guide through life's passages

Dianna North MA, CRS

75 Manhattan Dr. #206
Boulder, CO 80303
Phone: 303-499-2567

Humor and Other Martial Arts

From: The Listening Hand by Ilana Rubenfeld

Humor….can change a mood, illustrate the opposite of darkness, dissipate fear and anxiety and create the safe environment that is essential for people who dare to open their eyes to see all of themselves. …..humor is of great value for understanding, remembering, learning and enhancing the change process. It can be lifesaving.

The use of humor reframes stressful situations, diverts and distances clients from their profound pain (albeit momentarily) and instills a closer relationship with their therapists. And laughter releases physical and emotional tensions. In session after session, we witness how an accepting attitude, an openness to life’s absurdity---as well as its sacredness—helps the client open up to new self-awarenesses and insights.

You can always tell when clients are getting better, a therapist friend noted----they start to laugh at themselves. When events seem unbearable, humor cuts through and becomes the glue that keeps the psyche together. Humor in wartime, for instance is legendary (which is why M*A*S*H was such a long-running hit). To find something to laugh about in the face of catastrophe helps us cope---whether the catastrophe be global or individual, physical or emotional. We can diffuse a potentially terrifying experience with a joke; a laugh can have as much emotional power as a sob. Funny stories and outrageous scenarios can open a door to wellness. They present a different perspective and interrupt “painful, hopeless and doomed” trance states.

Humor needs to be used appropriately if it is to have therapeutic benefits. A practitioner must rely on his/her wisdom, skill and judgment in deciding when to use it. As with listening touch, intentionality is vital. Sarcasm, contempt or mockery have nothing to do with healing humor…..Negativity and sarcasm do not support trust. On the contrary, they deepen the wounds that are already present. Humor is primarily used to release fear and make way for the healing process. It is an exchange of love through smiles and laughter---a process that is essential for parent/infant bonding and thus for survival.

In sum,

  • Humor provides ways to express unacceptable feelings by allowing you to talk about dark emotions, fears and shame I trusting, safe, non-threatening ways.
  • Humor shifts an individual’s frame of mind so that he/she can open up and make contact with others.
  • Humor supports communication about sensitive matters in a light way.
  • Humor has the power to change tensions, create a relaxed atmosphere and facilitate healing.
  • Humor can lead to insights about physical and emotional conflicts.
pp. 197-199

The Power of Listening Touch

The Rubenfeld Synergy Method®

By Jeanne Reock
Certified Rubenfeld Synergist
President, National Association of Rubenfeld Synergists

In the late 1960s, a young woman in New York City was shuttling back and forth between an Alexander Teacher and a psychoanalyst. She had gone to the Alexander Teacher to get relief from a serious muscle spasm in her neck and shoulders, brought on by her strenuous work as a conductor. Experiencing the gentle touch of the Alexander Teacher, the young woman, Ilana Rubenfeld, burst into tears as feelings and memories flooded into her consciousness. She got no help from the Alexander Teacher in dealing with this, only a recommendation to see a psychoanalyst. The bodyworker was not trained to deal with emotions. Yet when Rubenfeld sat and talked with the psychoanalyst, the feelings and memories would not surface; she was not able to deal with them through just talk alone.

Then came the creative breakthrough. Fascinated by what the body held and how touch elicited so much, Ilana Rubenfeld went on to become an Alexander Teacher, and then to study another approach to the body with Moshe Feldenkrais. She was also actively learning about psychotherapy from Fritz and Laura Perls, the founders of Gestalt Therapy, as well as other experienced therapists. Adding what she knew about hypnotherapy from studying the work of Milton Erickson, Rubenfeld melded it all together and let it flow into her work with Alexander clients. What emerged from this creative brew some thirty years ago is now known as the Rubenfeld Synergy Method®.

The unique essence of Rubenfeld Synergy is that it combines gentle touch and movement with active listening and dialogue, imagery, body awareness, metaphor and humor. Touch is an important and subtle form of two-way communication between therapist and client. Yet, most psychotherapists are prohibited from using touch. For clients who have found talk is not enough or who believe that the body and mind are essentially one, the emerging field of body-centered psychotherapy offers new and exciting prospects Rubenfeld Synergy is distinguished in this new field by its use of a very gentle touch.

In a typical session, the client, fully-clothed, lies on a padded table on their back and is invited to close their eyes and to focus inward on whatever they are experiencing in their body in that moment. The client is also invited to share any feelings, sensations, thoughts, or memories that come up. Since how a person lives in their body is a metaphor for how they "do" their life, this focus on the body will usually lead into issues that are troubling the client.

For instance, a client said that she was experiencing tightness in her throat as she lay on the table. The Synergist asked what that tightness might say if it had a voice. "I hate you." Who would it say that to? "My boss." Anyone else, past or present? "Yes, my father." From there the client was invited to imagine her father present in the room and to express her anger towards him, something she may never have done in real life long ago when the anger originated.

Anger or other strong feelings that are not expressed at the time they come up, lock into the body and the unconscious. From these hiding places, they can have a powerful impact on who we are, how we behave, how we feel about ourselves, and even our physical health. The same is true for beliefs that were adopted early in life, but do not serve us well. For instance, a 5 year old might get the sense from those around him/her that he/she is incompetent, never gets it right. Some people go their whole lives with that underlying belief and they perceive everything through that lens. Even though they perform quite well, they fail to recognize that or it never seems good enough; they are always disappointed in themselves.

Unearthing these subterranean beliefs about ourselves and/or about the world and other people, is one of the major benefits of Rubenfeld Synergy sessions. Once we can look at these child beliefs from an adult perspective, we can choose to let them go. We can release them from our body and from our view of ourselves and the world. We can get "unstuck" from old patterns and move into the full range of our capabilities for living a satisfying and productive life.

A number of important principles guide Rubenfeld Synergists in their work. One is the belief in the natural capacity of all human beings for self-healing and self-regulation. The Synergist is a facilitator and guide, not a magic healer. Each person is unique and each session will unfold in its own way. Responsibility for change rests with the client. Synergists also believe that body, mind, emotions and spirit are dynamically inter-related and that change in one level will affect each of the others and the equilibrium of the whole person.

The Process of Healing Childhood Trauma

The process of healing is a sacred process. I wish I could give you a road map for it….if I could I would (I’d love to have one for myself as well) Each person’s process is different depending on their conditioning, the kind of trauma they experienced, the duration of the trauma, the person, event or thing that inflicted the wound, etc, etc, etc. The time it takes is also dependent on many factors (the ability of the individual to work the process and use the tools given in any given moment, etc). Generally, whatever is up for a person is what needs to be addressed (grief, anger, memories, triggers, etc) The mind wants to have a formula and a timeline for the process, but even if there was one, our minds would sabotage it…..that’s what they do.

What I have found works best is:

  • Showing up for whatever is at hand,
  • Paying attention to how the ego-mind works with the situation,
  • Finding tools to deal with the specific situation,
  • Practicing using those tools with your best effort.

That is the “simple” plan. The mind will tell you you are not making progress, are stuck, slipping back or a number of other negative possibilities. It does not tell the truth! That is where trust comes in and it is something that one builds as one progresses.

What follows is a more extensive outline of the stages one may go through in this process. It is not linear. The stages do not necessarily come in this order, and may be revisited depending on the stuff of one’s life They may look something like:

  • The crisis stage:
    • A childhood wounding or trauma can be a major focus of one’s life, yet one may not be aware of it’s power until later in life. As the wound comes closer to the surface there is an opportunity to consciously change the inner dialogue.
  • The decision to heal and to discover the cause of one’s suffering:
    • Growth, change and recovery become the priority.
  • A healing relationship:
    • One needs a positive, affirming, nurturing relationship to replace the one in which there was trauma or wounding. This is sometimes called a “corrective emotional experience” and can be found in a therapeutic relationship.
  • Safety:
    • Childhood abuse creates a sense of fear and lack of trust in people and in the world in general. To heal, one needs to create a sense of safety in one’s body, mind, emotions, physical surroundings, relationships, etc.
  • Remembering:
    • The thoughts and feelings of the initial wounding or trauma begin to be more evident and give one a clearer picture of its extent and affect.
  • Acceptance:
    • That something traumatic happened and that it had a major affect on one’s life.
  • Having witnesses to the present day pain caused by the trauma:
    • Many childhood traumas occur in isolation or denial. Often the child has no witnesses, no protectors and no advocates. Sharing your story with a compassionate listener can be helpful and lead to validation and affirmation of the hurt.
  • Inner child work:
    • The wounded part of self needs to know that a more adult, skilled part is competent and can protect him/her.
    • Feelings of fear, anger, guilt, depression, etc. are often brought to the forefront when one is triggered by situations that remind him/her of the initial wounding. They are memories stored in the cells of the body.
    • Work with the “inner wounded child” brings recognition of where the emotions come from and gives one the power to deal with those feeling differently.
  • Realizing that you were not at fault:
    • Children can’t say no to authorities. Boundary violations leave the child with a sense of feeling blame for the actions of their care takers. The wounded self needs to know s/he did nothing wrong.
  • Trust:
    • One begins to build trust in his/her ability to see the world more clearly, to set boundaries, to speak up, to have the power to deal with the stuff of life.
  • Forgiveness:
    • One does not forgive the act, but the fact that the person involved could not come from his/her highest potential (because they were blinded by their own conditioning, perceptions, personal wounds, hurt, etc).
  • Integration:
    • One puts the pieces of one’s psyche back together and begins to feel more whole, empowered and happy.

There are many tools that can be used along the way. This is where a therapeutic relationship may be helpful. It is quite possible to create freedom from long-term suffering with help, determination, and persistence. It is worth every bit of time and effort.

Welcome to the process of transformation.

What is Rubenfeld Synergy?

Throughout life, stress, memories and emotions are stored in our bodies and show up as aches, pains and tension. Current research has proven that chronic stress can manifest physically as illness and disease, leaving us feeling tired, emotionally drained and disconnected. The Rubenfeld Synergy Method® offers a gentle way to address what is happening both physically and emotionally, by combining talk with gentle touch and compassionate listening. With the support of a synergist, one begins to see that our physical and emotional experiences are connected. When we express what is on our minds and in our heart, we are able to feel both physical and emotional relief, empowering us to improve the quality of our lives.

What is Involved in a Synergy Session?

In a Rubenfeld synergy session, the client is fully clothed and lies on a cushioned table or sits in a chair. The session begins with the Synergist inviting the client to express his or her thoughts and feelings in a supportive environment. The Synergist then makes contact with parts of the body, such as the back of the head or feet, getting in touch with the client’s energetic response as experiences are shared. Sessions range from 45 to 90 minutes in length.

Some Potential Benefits of Rubenfeld Synergy:

  • Reduced stress and tension relief
  • Increased energy and ease of movement
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Changed habitual behavior
  • Recovery from physical and/or emotional pain

Principles & Theories


  1. Each individual is unique:
  2. Rubenfeld Synergists approach clients and their sessions with this principle of honoring their uniqueness.

  3. The body, mind, emotions and spirit are dynamically interrelated:
  4. Each time a change is introduced at one level, it has a ripple effect throughout the entire system.

  5. Awareness is the first key to change:
  6. By bringing the unconscious into awareness, clients have the opportunity to explore alternate choices and to develop possibilities for emotional, physical and psychophysical change.

  7. Change occurs in the present moment:
  8. Clients may experience memories of the past and fantasize about the future, but change itself can occur only in the present.

  9. The ultimate responsibility for change rests with the client:
  10. Rubenfeld Synergists can support clients to recognize dysfunctional behavior and guide them to try new ones. They cannot force clients to change.

  11. Clients have the natural capacity for self-healing and self-regulation:
  12. Innate healing ability already exists in clients, waiting to be actualized. Rubenfeld Synergists do not "cure" or "correct" but rather facilitate clients' healing.

  13. The body's energy field and life force exist and can be sensed:
  14. Rubenfeld Synergists use gentle touch to sense energy, its pulsations and movement. When tight holding patterns in the body/mind are released, there is a marked change in the energetic quality.

  15. Touch is a viable system of communication:
  16. Rubenfeld Synergists develop "listening hands" to dialogue with clients, thus opening new gateways to their unconscious mind.

  17. The body is a metaphor:
  18. Clients' postural positions and movements may represent emotional issues in their lives.

  19. The body tells the truth:
  20. Often what clients communicate verbally is not congruent with their body's story. Rubenfeld Synergists guide their clients to listen to their body's message.

  21. The body is the sanctuary of the soul:
  22. Rubenfeld Synergy sessions may progress toward a spiritual dimension when clients deal with their "soul" issues—questioning their life values in relationships, families, communities and the world.

  23. Pleasure needs to be supported to balance pain:
  24. Rubenfeld Synergists help clients contact their strengths and joy so that they can experience pleasure to balance pain.

  25. Humor can lighten and heal:
  26. Appropriate humor, not sarcasm, interrupts habitual, painful patterns. Laughing invites deeper breathing, releases tense muscles and can heal pain.

  27. Reflecting clients' verbal expressions validates their experience:
  28. When clients hear what they have said, they often use this opportunity to reflect on their initial statements and take them to a deeper level.

  29. Confusion facilitates change:
  30. Confusion ususally interrupts habit patterns, creating a window of opportunity in which the client can experiment with new and non-habitual behavior.

  31. Altered states of consciousness can enhance healing:
  32. Altered states are pathways to the unconscious mind. They facilitate heightened awareness and enable clients to access physical and emotional memories that still inhabit their bodies.

  33. Integration is necessary for lasting results:
  34. Many physical problems change when their associated emotional material is processed. Unless clients integrate their new insights and behaviors into their daily lives, they may revert back to their previous problems.

  35. Self-care is the first step to client care:
  36. Rubenfeld Synergists are trained to take care of themselves from burnout by maintaining personal boundaries, paying attention to their physical environments and listening to their bodies, minds and emotions.

Ushering in a Century of Integration

by Ilana Rubenfeld

New Discoveries from the last part of the 20th century point toward interconnections between many fields of science and the arts. Research in each separate field demonstrates interrelationships which acknowledge that people must be treated through an integrative (not specialized) approach as whole human beings. Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, Neil Bohr's theory of complementarity, Ilya Prigogine's ideas of dissipative structures, and Ludwig Von Bertalanffy's general systems theory all suggest that the parts of a system affect each other through their interactions, constantly changing the equilibrium of the entire system.The Heisenberg principle that you cannot observe something without affecting its outcome is well known and acknowledged. Dare we ask the questions, "Are the body, mind, spirit, and emotions of a person interconnected?" and "What is the consequence for the field of somatic education?"

These questions challenged me throughout the past thirty years as I studied, trained, and taught music conducting, the F.M. Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method,Gestalt Therapy, and Ericksonian hypnotherapy and then established my own integrative therapeutic and educational paradigm called Rubenfeld Synergy Method (RSM).

Many somatic therapists and educators deal with the body-mind as it relates to "inner" and "outer" body image. Most use touch to reclaim physical functioning, to improve posture and balance in relationship to gravity, to change thinking patterns through movement, and to translate their teachings. However, they bypass the limbic brain, the home of the emotions, and concentrate instead on the neocortical brain, the site of the thinking process.

The amount of manipulation varies from one method to another along a touch continuum. Some use stronger, deeper and constant touch contact, which I classify as "outside to in" therapies, where clients are more dependent on the manipulation to accomplish change. At the other end are methods that use a minimum light touch, which I classify as "inside to out." In these therapies the degree of activity from the client varies from being very still (almost in a meditative stance) to actively moving.

In the center of this continuum we have methods that combine both of the above - the F.M. Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method. They are "outside to in" and "inside to out" paradigms and use a gentle touch to reeducate the nervous system.

In the Alexander Technique, educated touch accompanies a series of verbal directions designed to take the client from thinking to movement. Thought sends a message to the muscles and bones. Moshe Feldenkrais encouraged me not to think during a session, but to surrender to the gentle manipulations which he used in a very specific way to open neural pathways to the brain and create greater freedom of movement.

Both F.M. Alexander and Moshe Feldenkrais were products of the late 19th and early 20th century and come from the age of rationality: "If we can think things out rationally, we can solve all the problems of the world" and "Movement is life, and life without movement is unthinkable!"

For many years, I taught each of these modalities individually; but ultimately, even these gentle, middle ground methods were not sufficient for me. Many somatic methods did not address the limbic system directly and did not intentionally integrate and process the emotional material that emerged during a session. I felt a need to see how emotions participated in this process of reeducation and choice. While dysfunctional alignment and posture can be traced back to problems of structure and function, what I burned to know was the emotional history and connection. That curiosity led me to train and collaborate with the late Fritz and Laura Perls (cofounders of Gestalt Therapy) and to experiment with the integration of somatic methods with Gestalt Therapy.

Most psychotherapies intentionally do not use touch to access emotional memories. Wilhelm Reich was an exception. Practicing in the 1930's, he was the first Western psychoanalyst to show that the manipulation of a muscle could bring into consciousness past memories of experiences held somatically in the unconscious. He also explored and validated the ancient Eastern concept of energy fields that emanate from the human body. Click to read full PDF (Page 1 of 6)