What is Body Psychotherapy?
Body Psychotherapy has a tradition reaching back to the 1920’s
when Wilhelm Reich, a student and colleague of Sigmund Freud, expanded
psychoanalysis by noticing how the repression of feelings corresponded
to inhibition of the body. He developed the concept of ‘character
armour’ to describe how human beings develop fixed and rigid postures
and patterns of relating in order to protect themselves against emotional
pain. Both psychological and psychosomatic symptoms, he proposed, need
to be approached in the context of the underlying character pattern.
These patterns, he understood, pervade the whole body/mind, reaching
all the way down into biological mechanisms (e.g. our metabolism, our
autonomic nervous system, our breathing etc.).
Wilhelm Reich originated a whole range of approaches, with his pupils
and followers developing particular aspects of his work further and
diversifying into a variety of modern schools of Body Psychotherapy,
such as bioenergetics (Alexander Lowen), Radix (Charles Kelly), Core
Energetics (John Pierrakos), Integrative Body Psychotherapy (Jack Rosenberg),
Emotional Anatomy (Stanley Keleman), Biodynamic Psychology (Gerda Boyesen),
Hakomi (Ron Kurtz), Biosynthesis (David Boadella).
Modern Body Psychotherapy
For 28 years, these principal branches of the Body Psychotherapy tradition
were integrated and taught in the UK at the Chiron Centre for Body Psychotherapy
and the practitioners who can be found in this directory would have
been influenced by the work of Chiron. It has tried to address some
of the shadow aspects and weaknesses of traditional Body Psychotherapy,
and has developed a 21st century approach which integrates important
psychotherapeutic principles from other therapeutic approaches, e.g.
Gestalt, modern psychoanalysis (object relations,intersubjectivity,
relational psychoanalysis), transpersonal approaches and Family Constellations
as well as incorporating inisghts from neuroscience, complexity theory
and integral philosophy (Ken Wilber).
One of the main developments is the increasing attention to the therapeutic
relationship. Of course, all psychotherapy has depended on a good relationship
between client and therapist all along, and the often rather amorphous
notion of the ‘quality of relationship’ has been recognised
as an essential ingredient in a good therapeutic outcome. But one can
have a ‘good’ relationship with one’s doctor which
is the position which traditionally many therapists tried to emulate.
However, in psychotherapy it can become easily counterproductive for
the therapist to assume too much of an expert position, from which treatment
is administered. This can play into the client’s habitual patterns
of disempowerment, compliance or passivity, thus exacerbating the very
patterns which may be causing problems in the client’s life. What
has, therefore, been increasingly recognised is that therapy is not
only something the therapist does to the client - it is something that
happens between them.
What happens in a session?
In many instances Body Psychotherapy may initially work like any other
psychotherapeutic approach: you talk about your concerns and problems
and the work develops from there. Depending on your established capacity
to be aware of your internal world (the inner processes which constitute
your self on a physical, emotional and mental level), there are many
ways and techniques to pay attention to these interlinked processes
and their correlations.
Body Psychotherapists have always made use of an eclectic range of humanistic
techniques, many of them derived from other therapeutic approaches (e.g.
Biodynamic Massage, Gestalt, Psychodrama, Transactional Analysis, Psychosynthesis).
Typically, many of us - especially when we are struggling or are in
pain - can only manage to be aware of our experience in a fragmented
way, and get caught in repetititve patterns of attending to and processing
the various bits and pieces of our distress rather selectively. Another
aspects of this is that we impose past experiences and conclusions on
our current challenges or even onto people we meet.
The simple use of body awareness can open up a whole neglected world
of information, both for client and therapist. Body Psychotherapists
rely on their senses as instruments in the therapeutic contact, and
this can lead into important aspects of the client’s struggle.
Body awareness can evolve quite naturally into bodywork which can involve
posture, movement, breathing or a combination. This can sometimes access
powerful feelings and conflicts which people learn to repress and suppress
over a lifetime, but it can also encourage grounding and containment.
Other techniques which extend and amplify the meaning of body impulses
and experiences include Biodynamic Massage, Gestalt dialogue, role play,
visualisation and guided imagery, dreamwork and creative expression
through drawing, moving etc.