Can physical discomfort be relieved by freeing negative emotions?

Judith Woods explores the Rosen Method

What was I holding in my knees?

ANNABELLE Apsion glances thoughtfully down at her fingers clasped around a large cup of cappuccino and wrinkles her nose.

"I wouldn't say I have healing hands," she says. "But when I try the Rosen Method on people, they often say it feels like healing. It's amazing when you do touch people, because you feel so much and you can tell how people are responding. Some people find that their physical aches and pains are released."

Annabelle, an actress, is learning the Rosen Method, a gentle hands-on therapy which aims to bring mind and body into harmony.

Although its practitioners make no claims that it can cure pain, there is anecdotal evidence that shows it to be effective for stress-related problems, such as backache and headache.

Rosen is based on the belief that physical symptoms of tension are the result of negative emotional experiences that have been repressed and "stored" in the body. When the emotion is released, the pain is alleviated.

Annabelle, 35, encountered the treatment while researching her role as the hippy Alice, in Fay Weldon's television drama, Big Women, which was screened this year.

"I find doing research is a marvellous way of exploring things I'm interested in. I've always been drawn to what you might call 'fringe' things, and I love massage, which is how I stumbled upon Rosen."

By learning to "read" the body by touch, and observing a client's breathing, Rosen practitioners pinpoint pockets of tension and try to release these by applying gentle pressure. Clients are questioned at the same time about why they are holding back, in order to encourage them to unlock the feelings that have caused the muscles to tense.

"I must admit, when I first read about Rosen, I thought it sounded a bit wishy-washy," says Annabelle.

"I had no idea what to expect when I went along to a workshop; I just thought I was going for a massage. The course was run by Ulrika Tham, one of the country's two qualified Rosen Method practitioners. She asked for a volunteer and, selfishly, I thought I would be the one getting a lovely massage, so I lay down on the table."

Annabelle describes what followed as a "profound" experience, which inspired her to learn more about the technique.

"Ulrika put her hands on me, and I kept waiting and thinking: 'Come on, come on, when will the lovely massage get going?' And then I began to feel emotions that I haven't allowed myself to feel before."

According to the Rosen philosophy, many adult aches and pains have their origins in childhood. Even with a happy upbringing, a child might be urged to control emotions, such as tears, anger, disappointment or even affection. When children suppress the outward expression of feelings, they internalise them.

As an adult's muscles relax and the breath deepens, attitudes, feelings and memories that have been held in the body - sometimes for many years - begin to surface. Chronic muscular tension that cannot be released through conventional massage can often be eased through the lighter touch of Rosen.

"I was suddenly put in contact with things I had suppressed," says Annabelle. "I can't talk about them because they're too personal, but it was an incredible feeling."

It is not uncommon for clients to laugh or cry - or both - in the course of a session, as they experience a rush of release. Some clients feel the need to talk about what they are feeling or remembering, others do not. Practitioners take their cue from the client and will speak to them, or remain silent.

"I've never cried when I've had Rosen practised on me," says Annabelle. "When someone does cry, it's not at all frightening. They can cry because there is a bond of trust between them and the person who is touching them."

Not surprisingly, given the emphasis on the connection between mind and body, Rosen has its roots in psychoanalysis. The technique takes its name from the woman who developed it, Marion Rosen, a German Jew who fled shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Rosen, who is in her late eighties, had been working in the field of physical therapy in Munich in the Thirties, successfully using massage and breathing exercises on patients undergoing psychoanalysis. She continued her exploration of the connection between mind and body in Sweden, where she gained a formal qualification in physiotherapy, and later in the United States, where she has worked for more than 40 years.

By the Seventies, Rosen had established training centres in America and Scandinavia to teach her therapy. Now, interest is beginning to increase in Britain.

"The more I practise Rosen, the more aware I become of the great subtlety of what I'm doing," says Annabelle. "The body responds by relaxing or tensing and the breathing changes. You learn to read that and to ask questions that open up possibilities; you don't make your own interpretations."

Annabelle, who lives alone in north London, has appeared in television dramas, including Jimmy McGovern's controversial Hillsborough, and Soldier, Soldier and will appear in the new series of The Lakes. She says Rosen has inspired her in the same way as acting does: by increasing her ability to empathise with people and helping her understand herself and her own motivation better.

"I feel stimulated by learning Rosen in the same way as I am stimulated by acting. I become totally involved.

"Keeping in touch with your body and being in harmony with it is a very healthy thing. You never bring an emotion or a feeling to the surface unless you're ready to meet it."

In a culture where the term "psychosomatic" has a distinctively pejorative ring, the notion that ill-health is caused by the mind is unfashionable. The holistic approach inherent in Rosen recognises that just because a complaint is "all in the mind" does not make it any less painful than a physical injury incurred in an accident or through illness.

Practitioners stress that they are not psychotherapists and make no attempt to tackle serious psychological problems. Annabelle says she intends to use her training to practise on friends rather than paying clients. "If you're going to do it professionally, you've got to have a commitment to your clients and give them some sort of continuity. I don't make any claims about Rosen. I'm prepared to give it a go and, if it works, that's great."

  • Ulrika Tham can be contacted at Neal's Yard Therapy Rooms, Convent Garden, London. 0171-379 7662


    Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 1998.