Sophrology: a holistic healing method from France arrives in Lebanon
At the end of August, still shaken at a distance by the explosion in Beirut, and nestled in my COVID-proof Toronto home office, I prepared for my Zoom interview with Suzanne Talhouk. I knew she was the only Arab Sophrologist practicing in the Middle East, and I’d heard she was bringing this life-balancing strategy to Lebanon. My research told me that Sophrology had been sweeping Europe for some time, and was being hailed as ‘the new mindfulness’. I was curious about this woman who had pursued Sophrology in the midst of a career as Managing Director of a PR company. As soon as she came online, I was taken with how warm and animated her energy was, and by the sharp wit and intelligence that was shining through. I could see how people felt deeply comfortable with her.
We talked for a while about the things I knew we would talk about: the situation in Lebanon, how the blast affected her, how it felt to me. We talked about the painting and plant behind her. The things we notice now! The private, previously inaccessible worlds of others we catch glimpses of through a screen. And then in a natural transition, I asked my first, most obvious question.
So, what is Sophrology?
Sophrology is…a very practical wellbeing tool. What does that mean? It means that it’s simple, yet very deep. It’s very flexible, and it adapts to every single situation no matter what it is, no matter the age or the background.
In more complicated terms, Sophrology is derived from Greek words: Sos, Phren, and Logos. Sos is Sophia- Harmony- Hikmi. Phren is consciousness. Logos is science. So literally Sophrology means the science of consciousness in harmony.
If we dissect it we’ll understand that this method works on bringing this connection and harmony between the body and mind, and allowing us to understand this connection on a different level, which is a deeper level of consciousness. On that deeper level you’re able to understand your body more, your mind more, and to change and transform that level of consciousness. In the state of calmness, peace, that you go into, you become more receptive and more clear in terms of how you’re seeing things and how to take the first steps in order to make what you want happen – on many levels. Physical, emotional, it depends on your own objectives.
If you research Sophrology you’ll find they write that it’s ‘the tool’ for combining Eastern and Western wisdom. It was founded by a neuropsychiatrist in 1960 (Professor Caycedo, of Spanish Basque origin). He was very well established in the Western medical approach and Western tools, but he felt something was missing so he went to the East. From there he brought tools and combined them, and Sophrology became a beautiful deep combination, a harmony between East and West wellbeing tools.
What are the most common reasons people come to you?
Most is for insomnia. Lack of sleep. And anxiety, burnout, trauma. And other reasons, but I’m finding myself zooming in more on insomnia, anxiety, burnout and trauma. These are the majority of cases that we have, and it’s working very well on these cases, it works very quick.
And so would someone come to you and do a series of sessions?
It depends. If you have anxiety that’s very new, let’s say anxiety that is only related to the last explosion, you can have two sessions and it will be over. But the average is 5-7 or 7-9 sessions. This is another differentiator of Sophrology- it’s a limited number of sessions and then you’re done. It’s actually very funny because I tell the client “we’re stopping” (laughs). It happened with clients where I say “you’re fine, you’re sleeping very well, I think you don’t need the sessions anymore”. She’s like “Oh..but..let’s have two more!”. And I say we can, we can have two more, but you’re doing well.
It’s a very limited number of sessions because we give the client what they need to use every day to work on this problem. We don’t leave them the whole week without anything. So they start seeing the progress once they make a small 5 minute commitment every day.
If somebody were to come to you, how would you describe what a session looks like? And those tools that they walk away with for those 5 minutes a day during the week, what do those look like?
There are two kinds of first sessions. There is the trial session, which is like the session where someone who is curious about Sophrology gets to have a practical taste. “Close your eyes, let me do my job and show you”, basically. Based on your feelings and the state of relaxation you arrive into, you’ll be able to have a sense of what it is and how it works.
Other sessions are for the people who are coming to start working on something specific, anxiety or insomnia for example. So the first session will entail a series of questions that I ask so that I would understand your life and your daily routine. You as a human being. Are you more visual? More into breathing? Does your head work a lot? We use this to build the protocol and technique- it is very individual.
So this is like ‘diagnosis’- getting to know the client, understanding, without going to the ‘why’, if the client doesn’t want to. For example if you know your insomnia resulted from an abuse in your childhood, and you don’t want to talk about it but you want to fix this aspect in your life and you want to sleep, we can do that without talking about it. That’s what makes Sophrology a different tool.
After this first part, we do a taster of actual protocols, and then we have a feedback portion. What did they feel? How was the experience? Did they realize something new? We really care in the first session to put you back in your body and its own sensations. Bringing back this body-consciousness is very important. This is mainly the official first session. That’s how it goes.
Okay, and so after that, in the following sessions, you’re expanding on the work around integration/reconnection between the body/mind. Is that right?
Yes, absolutely, with the first few minutes of each session dedicated to feedback on the week before as well.
So I walk in, I sit down with you, we talk. And then you say, ‘let’s begin’. What happens next?
The most important thing in Sophrology is to explain in detail what’s going to happen during the session. Never tell the person to close their eyes before that, and they only close their eyes if they are comfortable. It is always emphasized that the person should choose, and do what feels right for them, not for us. So we explain in detail, and we also demonstrate. If it’s visualization, if it’s dynamic exercise we demonstrate every single movement until we are sure the client in front of us knows everything. When they close their eyes to begin, they already know what is going to happen. That way they are not going to think about it, but they are aware. And then we start.
Usually we start with a body scan, but these days people need to be more prepared to benefit from the body scan, so we do one of the dynamic body movements before that to bring awareness to the breath and body, to start turning the attention inward. That’s the whole point; this preparation is to turn the attention inwards, to start listening to the body. This is the first phase of the session where we work.
Once we’ve turned the attention inside, we start working on other, deeper levels, where this body-mind relationship starts being more and more in harmony. Once we let go into the body, we realize how the mind follows. This was a new experience even for me- how my body lets my mind calm down.
But also, we build an alliance, as Sophrologists, through trust, empathy, through giving the client the option and the freedom. Never dictating. We also do the movement with the client, so the client feels the Sophrologist is experiencing it alongside them. The whole session is a protective environment and energy, and what is happening while the client uses visualization, breathing, and dynamic exercise, is they experience and sense whatever they need, and whatever they can. In the session, there is no right or wrong.
That must be such a relief for people.
Yes, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt that as much as when I was learning this tool with my instructors. Like, freedom is one of the values with Sophrology. Freedom, dignity, and independence. That’s what you need to be a fully-functioning human being. So as a practitioner you have to practice that, with the client. Put it in action in the relationship with the client.
Speaking of your teachers, you learned Sophrology at the Sophrology Academy in London correct?
Yes. For two years we had two days each month where it was obligatory to be physically present, so I travelled to London 18 times (laughed).
Yeah, and actually, I think this is the best investment I did in my life really (laughs). It wasn’t even a challenge. It felt inevitable. Like in 18 months I didn’t have a delay, in the train, in the bus, or the plane. I used to do it in 72 hours, leave work, come back Monday, and I never had a delay. I felt like I was being guided to do this, and the Academy instructors and the President at that time, they didn’t try to be personal or curious- the sense of community was built just through the practices, without you having to talk a lot. It’s actually that experiential part that made me learn that you don’t always have to know the ‘why’. Because sometimes, a big part of the ‘why’ is victimizing us, it brings our vibration down. If I deal with the present moment this victimhood, this victimizing, turns into responsibility. Now I can work, now I can change, now I can…you know? So that’s what I felt. Everyone said: “You’re coming from Beirut? This is enough, this is enough commitment. How can you come from Beirut?”. And I’m like, between me and myself, how can I not?
How did you become drawn to it? How did you find out about it? Like you’ve said it was an inevitable landing place, but there had to be the breadcrumbs. How did you get there, and where were you before?
I’ve been a meditator since 2001. I started with Isha Yoga with Sadhguru, I went to India, to the Himalayas. I’ve been a seeker all my life, since I remember, since my parents remember me. I was always this spiritual seeker, and I refused to give up on it, I couldn’t (laughs). Through poetry, through meditation, through many things…through Sophism…through… So, I was always ready, in that sense, to be ‘receptive’, and one day, I was passing through a certain life situation, and I figured out that I need to align what makes sense for me as a human being, with what makes sense as a mother, with what makes sense as a businesswoman, with what makes sense as a lover. I didn’t want to have many personalities anymore, and I didn’t want to adapt to every situation the way I should be adapting without being really true to myself. Because it’s hectic, you’ll be scattered, you’ll never be in one place.
So I was in that mindspace. I was a very practical businesswoman, a managing director of a big public relations firm. But on that peak, I finally understood: I’m now on the peak. I don’t see myself in ten years as this CEO or that! I don’t want it. That was very clear. So I started thinking, “I should be doing something else. I should be finally moving to my path”. And very randomly I was driving my car listening to Montecarlo..it’s a radio station in Paris I would listen to every single day- I have a very old-fashioned taste in music (laughs). Anyway I was listening to this one day and there was an interview, and the interviewer was saying “so what happens during the session..” That was the first thing I heard. “The client would sit down, close their eyes, we would do breathing…this and that…”.
I kept listening and listening. I stopped the car and kept listening. At the end of the interview she tells her “…welcome to the Sophrology this and that”…because in France it is everywhere. Everywhere you can find Sophrology, in Switzerland it’s the same. It used to be a very Francophone wellbeing tool. So when I heard the word Sophrology I didn’t even know how to google it, but instantly I started trying, and I discovered there is one English academy, and I started writing to it, and there was no turning back. I applied for a student visa. I didn’t question why, I just did what I needed to do and in two months I was in London, enrolling in the Academy. And I started.
When you are ready, you can listen to things in a different way. That’s what I feel. I was ready for it. And what happened after made me realize I should have done what I did.
I really just want to make it a point that, at any moment in our lives, if we are present, anything can happen. And understanding our role and our capabilities, will always make us responsible and not victims. It’s the moment when you don’t trust your capabilities as a human being where you will be a victim in any situation. With Sophrology the beauty is to bring yourself into the present moment consciously, without pressure, without expectations, and without judgement on yourself. By doing that, you sometimes don’t have to do anything else. You’ll be serving yourself and your humanity. And so that’s how I’d like to conclude (laughs).
Thank you so much.
Hope you enjoyed learning about Sophrology folks. Please let us know if you’ve had any experiences with the modality in our comments. We always love hearing from you. And if you are interested in accessing sessions with Suzanne, we are very excited to share that Suzanne Talhouk, is currently a participating practitioner in our newly launched Wellness Project Healing Circles.