Body psychotherapy is a type of psychological intervention that emerged in the second half of the 20th century and claimed the importance of physical functioning in the emergence of neurosis and other disorders, as well as in well-being. general.
In this article we will describe what this therapy consists of and what aspects unite and separate three of the the main theorists of body psychotherapy: Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen and Eugene Gendlin.
What is body psychotherapy?
The term “body psychotherapy” is used to denote a set of interventions centered on the body. This type of treatment became popular in the 1960s and 1970s; later, they would happen to be considered as alternative and little respectable methods, although the interest by the bodily therapy returned to grow in the new century.
Unlike behaviorism, psychoanalysis and humanism, which dominated the field of psychotherapy at the time, body therapies do not focus on observable behavior or mental content, but on the sensations felt at the physical level. The organism itself is understood as the central aspect of human identity.
In this context, bodily and psychological disorders, in particular neuroses, are considered to be a consequence of the build-up of tension in different areas of the body, as well as the disconnection between mental life and the experience of the organism. . However, the specific assumptions vary depending on the school we are referring to.
There are several branches of bodily psychotherapy; most of them theoretical models and methods developed by particular authors, some of whom were very charismatic and exerted an almost messianic influence on their followers. Three of the most influential therapists in body therapy were Reich, Lowen and Gendlin.
Wilhelm Reich: characteristic vegetotherapy
Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) trained as a psychoanalyst, although he was eventually expelled from this movement. It was a peculiar figure who attributed the neurosis to sexual repression and socio-economic inequalities, and a strong advocate of the integration of Freudianism and Marxism and the sexual revolution. Many thought he was mentally unstable.
Reich advocated the existence of a “muscle memory” consisting of the physical recording of childhood conflicts and traumas; these situations would generate tusks organized in seven rings of body tension, Associated with the chakras. He called the configuration of these defenses “characteristic structure”, and his study “therapy of Analoanalítica character”.
The build-up of tension is due, according to this author, to the repression of emotions in difficult situations in order to avoid the anxiety associated with their free expression. Reich psychotherapy focused on analyzing the interplay between muscle tension, bodily sensations, psychic trauma and character.
Reich postulated the existence of a biologico-sexual energy called orgón to which he attributed physical and mental life, as well as atmospheric phenomena; in fact, this energy should be due to the light radiated by the sun. The word “orgone” is derived from “organism” and “orgasm”.
Since Reich linked neurosis with sexual dissatisfaction, he also developed orgasm therapy. Through this intervention, it aimed to help the patient to release the accumulated sexual energyThis would decrease the build-up of tension and allow the free flow of orgone through the body.
Alexander Lowen: Bioenergetic Analysis
Alexander Lowen’s bioenergetic analysis (1910-2008) he was greatly influenced by the work of the Reich. Both authors shared hypotheses about the sexual origin of neurosis and about bodily experience as the core of human experience, although Lowen strayed from his teacher’s postulates when he began to focus. on orgone.
For Lowen the organism of the people constitutes an open system of energy organized according to two poles: the head and the genitals. Under normal conditions, energy flows freely and evenly from pole to pole, but the build-up of tension in different parts of the body can hinder this flow, generating characteristic alterations.
This author has described five pathological personality types based on major stress and blockage points, as well as physical and psychological characteristics. His bioenergetic therapy, consisting of specific exercises for each character disorder, aimed to restore the balance between body and mind by releasing energy.
The five bioenergetic traits described by Lowen are the following:
- schizoid: People who grew up in cold and hostile environments, thoughts are dissociated from emotional life and bodily experience.
- Oral: It is an egocentric and dependent or too independent personality, derived from the dissatisfaction with the emotional needs of the children.
- masochistic: Excessive pressure from adults can hinder the pursuit of pleasure, generating hostile and negative personalities with suppressed aggression.
- psychopathic: These people deny their feelings and fear that others will take advantage of them, so they try to control and seduce others.
- Difficult: Rigid character is characterized by stubbornness, ambition, aggressiveness, interpersonal distancing, compulsive sexuality and denial of pleasure
Eugene Gendlin: Approach
Besides training as a psychotherapist under the tutelage of Carl Rogers, Eugene T. Gendlin (1926-2017) was a philosopher influenced by existentialism and phenomenology. Gendlin’s emphasis was on creation of meanings and symbols from bodily experience.
Gendlin called “experimenting” with the ability of people to feel physical sensations. By “experiencing” we can become grounded in our body, while symbolizing the experience allows us to express it in an emotionally healthy way.
He has developped its main therapeutic tool, Focusing, With the aim of helping your patients to connect with their physical sensations and their life experiences. After dealing correctly, the person would also become able to symbolize correctly and assign meaning to them.
According to Gendlin Focusing, or “crucial internal act”, consists of the following six steps:
- Clarify a space: it consists essentially in relaxing physically and mentally, in distancing oneself from worries.
- Select a problem: decide what you are going to work on, feel the associated emotions but don’t lose them.
- Find a felt sensation: Fully feel the overall emotion produced by the selected problem.
- Find a handle: identify a symbol (a word, a phrase, a picture …) that faithfully represents the problem.
- Resonate the clamp: examine the relationship between the clamp and the sensation felt; if it’s not perfect, find another outlet.
- Ask questions: reflect on how it felt and wait for answers with changes in emotions.