Body Psychotherapist

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.


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