What is Body Psychotherapy?
Body Psychotherapy is a holistic form of psychotherapy which incorporates the body within the psychotherapeutic process.
Based on the idea that the body is directly linked to thought and emotions, Body Psychotherapy uses various techniques which enhance the awareness of our body and its direct connection with our thoughts and emotions, for the restoration of pathological symptoms. As in other forms of psychotherapy, the client works with the psychotherapist to understand the issues s/he confronts. Together, they examine the way in which the client’s current problems might relate to their past, their experiences within their family environment and any major losses or traumas they had. They work together to discover what the client needs in order to deal with their current situation in the most satisfying, authentic and responsible way. They explore the client’s skills and talents that s/he can utilize and most importantly: they explore the client’s ability to heal themselves.
What happens in a Body Psychotherapy session?
In order to facilitate the analysis process, the body psychotherapist utilizes techniques which focus on the body and in particular on the level of bodily sensations which are often out of our awareness. For example, if the client refers to an emotion s/he is feeling, the body psychotherapist might ask: in which area of your body do you feel this emotion? The body psychotherapist can help the client enhance their awareness of their body posture or a spontaneous movement. S/he may propose body techniques related to breathing or standing and use touch in order to enhance the therapeutic outcome. S/he may also help the client pay attention to their dreams and spontaneous images that provide a deeper meaning for the interrelation between body and psyche.
These techniques help the person come into direct contact with their emotions, reactions and typical ways of relating to other people as well as to discover and activate new potential.
What is the advantage of working with the body?
There are many idiomatic phrases which indicate the somatic aspect of experience. For example, we refer to our ability to “take a stand”, to “be grounded”, to have a sense in our guts about something, to have an “open heart”, to “raise a wall”. In Body Psychotherapy these are not just metaphors. They are the reality of our experience which manifests in our body. They are often keys to crucial decisions we made for ourselves or ideas unconsciously passed to us through family or culture. For example, many people learned to withhold the expression of emotions which were forbidden in their family. Some have the tendency to collapse or withdraw or avoid challenges because they have been discouraged in the past.
In Body Psychotherapy, we examine these body postures, patterns of tension or weakness, because they are linked to central issues of our existence and experiences. Working through all this, helps us develop self-awareness and open the way for new modes of being.
For example, a woman who was discouraged to speak within her family environment, might explore how she learned to clench her throat, shoulders and jaw in order to remain silent. As she works through her emotions towards her family, she might learn how to bring more energy to the upper part of her body so as to have the strength to speak up for herself. In a similar way, a man who finds it hard to relax and allow himself to rest, might explore how he forces his body to keep alert. He might then realize that he learned to get into this alert state as a child, in order to avoid suffering from the lack of proper response to his needs (emotional/physical). This will enable him to consider new ways of being with himself and others.
Why is Body Psychotherapy effective?
Body Psychotherapy emphasizes vey basic life processes: how we connect to other people, how we claim for and get what we need, how we build boundaries to define ourselves, how we see ourselves and how others see us, how we organize our potential to get out into the world and how we return to ourselves to rest and replenish our psychic power. These are basic processes – bodily, emotional, interpersonal and mental – that may have been supported or injured in our lives. They are also processes that any of us can develop further, in the present.
When we incorporate our body in the psychotherapeutic process, we may observe and listen to it and thus reveal parts of the unconscious – since the body holds records of all early experiences. When we enliven, relax, nurture our body, we can awaken parts of our psyche that may have been dormant or unseen. Body work can thus bring us in contact with deeper inner resources and larger primitive and archetypical forces that life offers.
What more does the body approach provide compared to other psychotherapeutic approaches?
An approach that examines all the aspects of the self, is obviously a more complete way of working, either the issues we deal with affect us bodily or emotionally. Most people have a complex relationship with their body and a lot consider it as disconnected from the Self. They pay little or no attention to their body, seeing it as a vehicle for living. They often acquire a more conscious relationship with their body only when they get sick.
A psychotherapeutic approach which helps us deepen our awareness in our body experience, to observe the ways in which we express ourselves through movement and gestures –which may sometimes be in contrast to how we think we feel– can offer a great opportunity for reconnection.
Working with the body allows for greater variety of expression through movement, touch or greater awareness of the way in which the body reveals a truth that is beyond the constrictions of language. The body has an innate wisdom which provides the opportunity for a more harmonious coexistence with ourselves and others, if we can use it as a guide for well-being.
Terms and presuppositions for republishing
Panagiota Kypraiou MSc, ECP, MBPsS - Body & Gestalt Psychotherapist, Parent Education Coordinator, Body Psychotherapy Supervisor www.psychotherapeia.net.gr