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What is Body Psychotherapy?

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The heart of body psychotherapy is the exploration of what it means to be fully alive and what hinders this. Health is more than being only averagely tired and not ill in any tangible way. Body Psychotherapy is a holistic psychotherapy, which starts from the premise that there is connection between all things. In particular mind and body are connected and so thoughts and feelings are reflected in the body.

Body psychotherapy has evolved from the work of Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). Reich, became curious about how emotional difficulties show themselves in physical symptoms. During the 1960's his ideas were consistent with the wave of Eastern philosophy that was sweeping the West and more recent forms of body psychotherapy have integrated some of this thinking.

There are different sorts of body psychotherapy. Some of the body psychotherapies in Europe are:

  • Biodynamic Psychotherapy
  • Chiron Body Psychotherapy
  • Biosynthesis
  • Hakomi

In practice, there is dialogue between the different training institutes and the practitioners are often trained in more than one form of body psychotherapy.

Our life story is embodied

The body reflects a person's current emotional state. So a sad person will often look unhappy without having to say it. The body also reveals something of a person's life history. So if we have had stresses, shocks, trauma and unhappiness in the past, which are unresolved they will also show physically even if we do our best to put on a brave face. Sometimes there may be no obvious event causing distress, but it might be that in childhood our natural liveliness was not welcomed, or perhaps we have had to fend for ourselves before we were really ready to do so.

When relationships and events from the past have been problematic or unsatisfactory the body hints at this in the way we breathe, our posture, the way we move, walk and talk and the overall feeling inside of restlessness or that something is not quite right. Often we take this for normal as we have become used to it. Sometimes the hints from the body are stronger, so there may be a feeling of being stressed, you may have aches and pains, perhaps difficulty in sleeping, inability to relax and enjoy it. You may also find it difficult to make decisions or concentrate or you might feel on an emotional roller-coaster. All of these signals from the body point to not being as fully alive and joyful as we could be.

What happens in body psychotherapy sessions

As with any sort of psychotherapy sessions, this will involve talking with the therapist. It may also be suggested that you lie down and learn some methods for coming to know what the body is trying to communicate with you through its different sensations. It may be suggested that you try walking around the room and perhaps notice how this changes your experience of yourself compared with sitting. Sometimes biodynamic massage can be offered. Drawing, dance and talking to objects representing parts of yourself and other people might be suggested. These methods are offered as possibilities and as ways to find out more about yourself. The psychotherapist should be able to explain to you the reasons behind them and how you might benefit. Your wishes and choices should also be respected about these ways of working.

The relationship with the psychotherapist

The way that you are able to relate to the psychotherapist is usually more important than any methods for any healing to occur. The body naturally moves towards finding its own solutions and regulating itself, but for this to happen over time you should have a sense of feeling safe, accepted and understood. The psychotherapist is also likely to be warm in manner towards you.

The "How" of communication

Your psychotherapist will be interested not only in what you have to say, but how you say it. Typical questions are "As you tell me that, how are you feeling in yourself?" "What do you notice about yourself physically as you tell me that?" You should be helped to answer these sorts of questions, particularly if this way of thinking about yourself is new. Gradually over time you will be guided to have a direct experience of yourself and especially of bodily communications. Often by simply giving attention to bodily states and patterns of thinking in the presence of an interested psychotherapist there will be changes in you. However, change cannot be forced. When it does occur tensions may soften and you may feel a sense of space and flexibility inside. In your daily life you may find that you feel you have more choice and seem to take charge of your life more fully. Often when physical tensions are released there will be memories, images and feelings connected with events from the past surfacing.

How long will it take

Body psychotherapy is a depth method which hopes to do more than deal with current difficulties. In the long term there is the possibility of discovering how to live your life more fully following profound changes in yourself. This takes time and so you are likely to have weekly sessions for up to two years and sometimes longer. Initially most body psychotherapists are likely to offer a first consultation. This is an opportunity for you to explain what you are looking for and to find out more about body psychotherapy. If you decide to continue after this, then most body psychotherapists will suggest coming for 4-6 further sessions so that you can discover more of what's actually involved and whether it suits you. Then you can decide with the psychotherapist whether you want to continue for longer.

Body psychotherapy qualifications

Many body psychotherapists are registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy and will be subject to codes of ethical practice and ongoing professional development.



By Gill Westland
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