What is Spontaneous Healing Intra-Systemic Process therapy?

Spontaneous Healing Intra-Systemic Process (SHIP®) is a form of therapy that has been developed over several decades by Dr. JO Steenkamp, a clinical psychologist in South Africa.

It is a psychobiological (emotional and physical) approach for the healing of trauma; the result of grounded theory (information gathered during thousands of individual psychotherapy sessions) coupled with existing psychological theories.

Although it is still a relatively young form of therapy, the advances have been quite rapid.

SHIP® is based on the premise that under optimum conditions ‘spontaneous healing’ is inherent to all life, since all life forms possess a tendency towards growth, balance and integration. Built into the human system is an innate wisdom that aims to achieve balance between all the different sub-systems of the body. We all have a natural ability to self-correct and heal, to be ‘whole’ and ‘in flow’, as the result of this spontaneous healing process in our psychobiology.

However, this natural regulation can be disrupted and overwhelmed – for example in the face of a traumatic experience – so our spontaneous healing process is not fully completed. Rather than being fully processed and released, the experience becomes lodged/stored in our psychobiology.

In response to everyday stressors, this stored experience may be reactivated, numerous times, and result in a whole range of trauma-spectrum manifestations (TSMs), including mental, physical, emotional and behavioural disorders.

During SHIP®, a trained SHIP therapist guides a person to locate these stored experiences in their body, which might manifest, for example, as backache or tightness in the chest or neck. Rather than avoiding physical and emotional discomfort, it is encouraged to passively experience them, so that the body’s natural healing mechanisms are given the chance to activate and complete their natural release pattern.

The therapist acts more as a facilitator of the healing process – creating and holding a healing space. As natural flow and healing take place, the person’s body will restore its own balance and wellbeing.

Once the psychobiological blocks are released, the therapy concludes with an integration phase to ensure there are no activation triggers remaining.

This approach to healing is uniquely tailored to the individual, and places each person at the centre of their own healing journey. It is a long-term therapy, that moves through five distinct phases, which will vary in length from person to person.

There are currently four categories of SHIP®:

  • SHIPiC® (SHIP® in Children – under 12)
  • SHIP® for Adolescents (between 12–18)
  • SHIP® for Adults (18 and above)
  • SHIP® for Acute Trauma (18 and above).

Within each category, freedom from chronic physical and psychological symptoms takes place, as well as freedom from destructive and negative patterns and themes in functioning and behaviour. A new-found psychobiological flow is achieved – as our body systems are restored to the way they are naturally supposed to function.

What is SHIP® used to treat?

One of the advantages of SHIP® therapy is its broad spectrum of application possibilities. It has proven over many years, and many psychotherapy sessions, to be helpful in treating a number of DSM-5 disorders, including:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • anxiety disorders
  • mood disorders
  • somatoform disorders
  • sexual dysfunctions and problems
  • sleeping disorders
  • personality problems and disorders
  • panic disorders and panic attacks
  • eating disorders
  • phobias
  • impulse control problems
  • identity problems and disorders.

In addition to treating a range of mental health disorders, SHIP® has also been found to be effective in treating numerous physical, emotional and behavioural conditions, including:

  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • headaches, migraines, tension
  • self image and assertiveness
  • psychological burnout
  • rehabilitation and adjustment (for example, after accidents, operations)
  • adjustment following life crises (for example, death of a loved one, terminal illness, loss of job, divorce, etc)
  • aggression problems
  • destructive behavioural patterns and habits
  • stress-related problems
  • chronic pain
  • interpersonal problems
  • personal growth.

As a treatment, SHIP® provides a focus on cognitive, behavioural, emotional and bodily experiences and is therefore an integrated and holistic approach.

It can be used to treat all age groups, and has different categories specialising in age-appropriate psychotherapy. It is culture free and therefore appropriate for use across all culture groups, respecting each individual’s own frame of reference.

What are the practical benefits of SHIP® as a psychotherapy model?

When we have not integrated past traumatic memories they remain out of our conscious awareness while at the same time determining how we react to the world around us in the present. This results in repetitive behaviours and choices that are not aligned with our wellbeing and can create destructive, painful patterns in our personal lives and relationships.

In facilitating healing at different levels of the self – the mind, emotion and body – SHIP® offers a wide range of benefits, including:

  • It is applicable to the treatment of a variety of psychobiological dis-eases.
  • It is a practical form of psychotherapy that does not focus on pathology but on healing and growth.
  • The structure of SHIP® serves as a measurement for progress.
  • It allows for individual differences and pace. It is non-judgmental and follows the client’s own rhythm and tempo and respects the client’s feelings throughout.
  • It activates a spontaneous healing process in each individual and does not only offer temporary solutions in the form of short lived coping techniques and dissociation.
  • It focuses on psychological integration and freedom from painful and hurtful experiences.
  • It helps to heal the past that contaminated and dictated a person’s life. It helps a client not to be a victim and slave of his or her circumstances and provides him or her with control over his or her life.
  • It releases a great deal of positive energy within – it unlocks wisdom and the client experiences freedom that will allow him or her to accept the self and others.
  • It improves self-validation and the client’s emotions are less fluctuating.
  • Chronic life crises disappear and creativity in personal lives and careers are unlocked.
  • It helps the client to feel more comfortable with self-assertion to the degree that they no longer feel threatened by other people.
  • The client becomes more spontaneous and the constant sense that something inside of them is holding them back all the time disappears.
  • SHIP® helps set up inner flow and integrated self. The hidden disconnected, spontaneous self is accessed, given identity and validated.
  • Life takes on a new definition, the sense of losing out on life disappears and the client’s place and contribution in life opens up.
  • SHIP® is flexible and adaptable, e.g. it can even be used with people with hearing difficulties and problems.
  • SHIP® helps set up inner flow and an integrated self – the hidden disconnected spontaneous self is accessed.

[Taken from The SHIP® Foundation website: https://www.ship.org.za

Is SHIP® safe?

Screening and assessing clients is an important factor in deciding whether SHIP® is a suitable and safe therapy option. There are some people for whom it is not advised, for example, those with:

  • Organic mental health conditions
  • Lack of motivation and focus on treatment
  • Not requiring long-term psychotherapy
  • Chronic substance abuse.

How effective is SHIP®?

In the past few decades, scientists and doctors have begun to seriously explore the possibility that talking therapies may not be the only – or even the most effective – way to move on from traumatic experiences from our past.

Therapies using the body to revisit and release emotional trauma – including SHIP®- have had well-documented success (often used in conjunction with traditional psychotherapy).

The SHIP® method has proven to be extremely effective in integrating deep trauma and creating sustainable transformation in a number of settings.

It has been shown to be highly effective in treating depression and stress disorders, low self-esteem and destructive behaviour patterns.

As a psychobiological approach (addressing both emotional and physical imbalances), it has also proven to be helpful in alleviating physical symptoms such as migraines, chronic back pain, ulcers and asthma.

As a relatively new approach, research into the effectiveness of SHIP® is ongoing, and includes a wide variety of contexts, including sport psychology, the military and young people with SEBDs in the education system.

THE SHIP® FOUNDATION was established as a training school for Clinical, Counselling and Educational Psychologists registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) in September 2001. The HPCSA accredited THE SHIP® FOUNDATION with CPD status in 2002.

If you are interested in finding out more about the SHIP® approach, to benefit you or a loved one, please contact us for further support and guidance.

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