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  • Writer's pictureIngrida Danytė

The Somatic Education and Therapy Association in Lithuania celebrates its first anniversary

Interview with Kamile Pundziute, President of the Association

The Somatic Education and Therapy Association (further referred to as SETA) celebrated its first anniversary on 21 February, 2021. The work of the Embodied Practice team is closely associated with this organization. SETA is like an umbrella that connects us and other professionals working in Lithuania. Today, I am talking to the head and the president of the SETA association Kamile Pundziute about things that have been done throughout this year and dreams that are hoped to come true in the near future.

We, the practitioners at the Embodied Practice, in the online blogspace BODY SPEAKS write and talk a lot about Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy. And here another mysterious term appears - somatic education and therapy. Kamile, can you tell me how are these terms related?

Somatic education and therapy is a broader term. It entails applying bodywork and movement techniques for educational and health purposes. Bodywork and movement techniques are knowledge systems that enable us to get to know ourselves, integrate body and mind and facilitate the functioning of a person through conscious and restorative movement and bodywork. It is a broad definition of the profession, that includes separate disciplines, which have their own educational and therapeutic particularities, specific principles, methods and techniques. The working principles are similar: through augmenting awareness, kinesthetic and proprioceptive sensitivity and consciousness they are deepening the knowledge of experiential anatomy, solve postural, movement and psychosomatic problems, repattern movements into healthier and more effective ones.

The field of somatic education and therapy that is the most common in Lithuania is Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy (IBMT). It is based on Authentic movement discipline, Body-Mind Centering® methodics and Somatic Psychology. Other well known disciplines are Feldenkrais method, Alexander technique, Laban Bartenieff movement system and others.

Whom does the Somatic Education and Therapy Association unite?

So far, technically, the basis of this association is specialists in Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy, who are engaged in both educational and therapeutic activities. The association was founded due to the initiative of those specialists. But professional interests of Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy are very similar to the interests of other somatic practitioners. One of the objectives of the association is to represent them. Since Lithuania is a small country it seemed reasonable to unite different professions that are not very present in Lithuania yet. There is a wish to lay a wider path that later could be followed by other, related professionals.

Could you name who these related professionals are?

Following the example of the International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association (ISMETA), we decided to unite the entire professional family of somatic education and therapy in Lithuania . Thus, the following techniques, methodologies and systems could fit under the SETA umbrella: Body-Mind Centering technique, Alexander technique, Feldenkrais method, Laban Bartenieff movement system, Watsu, somatic psychotherapy, craniosacral therapy, authentic movement. It would be nice if more of these specialists appeared in Lithuania.

How did this activity, this practice, appear in Lithuania? What did this association grow from?

In the field of somatic education and therapy, Lithuania has the largest number of Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy specialists trained by the institute established in London. This institute also organizes a three-year training program in Lithuania for people who want to acquire this profession. Agniete Laurinaityte brought the curriculum to Lithuania.

There are no possibilities to learn other somatic education and therapy techniques, methodologies and systems in Lithuania - professionals in these fields have acquired their qualifications abroad. The lack of training programs in Lithuania makes it difficult to legitimize the profession. Our main and most serious job as an association currently is to make sure that these people, who have an education, have a practice and have world-renowned professions, would find their rightful place in our legal system.

It is important to understand that each country's legal system is different - it has different requirements. In Lithuania, one of the most important requirements for the legalisation of a profession is a higher education program. There is no higher education program in Lithuania in the field of somatic education and therapy. So we also need the association in order to find ways to say - we exist.

So at the moment, the main activities of the association revolve around this issue of legalization of the profession, right?

Yes, this is a very important topic. Our biggest headache. But there are other areas of activity as well. First of all, we introduce the public to the fact that there is such an area of services. Because it is a very new profession and it is not present in universities, the public is unaware that it exists. So one of our goals as a professional association is to communicate about ourselves, to explain to people who we are, what Bodywork and Movement Therapy is, what other types of somatic therapy exist, when they are applied, what benefits, what results can be expected. We want a person to know - he can address us as well.

Another goal of our association is to take care of our own growth as professionals and provide mutual support. Within the association, we meet at conferences and less formal events where knowledge is exchanged, as well as, by spending time together, we get inspiration for joint projects. Intervision groups and seminars that support our professional growth are very important for supporting each other.

Also, by having the association, we acquire a legal entity through which we can write projects, receive funding for this particular area.

Kamile, could you tell us what the members of this association do, where they work, how do they apply the knowledge acquired in their studies?

The professionals of our association work, however not under the name of this profession, in health institutions ranging from mental health hospitals and centers in the public and private sectors to private practice. They work with a wide range of client groups, from clients with very serious mental disorders to a sphere of personal growth by offering education. So this spectrum includes people who suffer from depression and eating disorders. There are also children on the autism spectrum and people who have no diagnosis but have such common human problems that we usually go to a psychologist with. And, of course, there are those who are simply interested in personal growth, interested in their body, the abilities of the body, the wisdom of the body and want to apply this through creativity or in the creative process of their life in a broad sense.

Can you mention specific projects, spaces where members of the association work?

Yes, for example, last year the audience was presented with the exploration of Aistė Kriukelytė and Rasa Birietė - “Human. Impulse. Movement”, which examined the dance born as a performer's reaction to the body of the spectator observing them. One of the main methods of this exploration is the practice of Authentic Movement. This practice is one of the fundamental elements of Bodywork and Movement Therapy. So it's more of a creative project. Rita Karklytė works at the Depression Treatment Center. So she can be met there. Several therapists work with children who have developmental disorders in the Home of Five Senses and their private practices. Vējūnė Gota combines Bodywork and Movement Therapy with psychological counseling in private practice. Aina Pakeltė combines this therapy with yoga, organizing workshops that are probably more in the field of personal growth. So here is more education, less therapy. It is worth mentioning the Dance Space - a weekly practice of conscious free dance - which I facilitate and invite to. Auksė Luišaitė - Jauniškė also conducts somatic meditations. Auksė is also the flag bearer of the Authentic Movement in Lithuania. She invites people to meetings with the Authentic Movement, she has a group. Vilma Kraelskaitė is also a dula. She connects these two areas. There are also activities of other members that are equally important.

What is the dream of the association? What would the association like to achieve?

The biggest wish is to have a lively association that brings together professionals who share knowledge and care about the quality of services in this area. We also would like the profession of Somatic Education and Therapy to be recognized in Lithuania so that we can work in state owned health care institutions. We are already working in the private sector. There are less legal regulations there but at the same time it is detached from state funding. However, since we know how powerful this therapy and education is, how rich it is with its wide variety of techniques, we wish it to be available to all people, even those who may not have the funds to go to the private sector. I would like these services to be available to everyone. Perhaps they could be at least partially funded by the state. That is why we need to introduce ourselves, who we are, to present the strengths of this profession so that we can offer these services to everyone.

Could you name our friends and peers in Europe?

Our movement is first and foremost connected to the Institute for Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy (IBMT) in London. We also maintain relations with ISMETA, that is the International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association. ISMETA is a global organisation, its roots are in the USA. The Body-Mind Centering Association is also very akin to us.

And can you explain why it is worth meeting these professionals, what benefits this therapy and education can bring, what groups of people can greatly benefit from it?

Perhaps I could start with one fact that has shocked me quite a while ago, which I read in a scientific article: roughly more than half of the people who see a GP in the UK have symptoms that can not be medically explained. This means that we have many ailments, the origin of which is medically unclear. Different modalities interpret those ailments in their own way. It can be viewed from a spiritual side. There are many esoteric practices. Meanwhile the Bodywork and Movement Therapy is a beautiful blend of ancient Eastern philosophy and Western science. We promote a holistic view of human health that is highly aligned with modern health policy of the World Health Organization. This policy calls for health to be seen not as the absence of disease but as creating physical, mental and social well-being.

Therefore, this profession, combining old Eastern wisdom with modern science, enables us to work with those human ailments that Western biomedicine is incapable of treating. Sometimes distant Eastern methods are not entirely acceptable to us. Thus, specialists in Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy and other somatic practitioners very nicely balance on the edges of acceptability and unacceptability of these methods. Also, while reading case studies and other research, we encounter many miraculous cases where nothing helped but body oriented work did help. The wisdom of the body we work with or want to teach about is not fully cognizable in our Western world. That is why Body and Movement Therapy is such a new, surprising field.

We also know that it is very effective to work primarily through the body with children who have developmental disorders. By the way, yesterday I read an excerpt from a book that described the neurological specifics of children on the autism spectrum. The newer brains and lower brain centers of these children are not communicating entirely correctly with each other, thus their brains need to re-learn to synchronize these activities. In the past, the specialists who worked most often with these children on the autism spectrum were the ones who focus on the outcomes of specific skills. For example, a 3-year-old child must be able to do certain things - fasten a button, pull the zipper. In therapy, an occupational therapist is the one who teaches a child in such cases. Meanwhile Bodywork and Movement Therapy comes from another angle. It helps to kind of switch the brain into the right way of working, working through the body and movement. Then the task of solving becomes easier for the child.

Thank you, Kamile, for the conversation, for your time. I wish the dreams come true and I wish the association has another wonderful, productive year.

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