Body psychotherapy

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Body psychotherapy,[1][2][3][4] also called body-oriented psychotherapy, is an approach to psychotherapy[5] which applies basic principles of somatic psychology. It originated in the work of Pierre Janet, Sigmund Freud and particularly Wilhelm Reich who developed it as vegetotherapy.[6]


Wilhelm Reich and the post-Reichians are considered the central element of body psychotherapy.[7] From the 1930s Reich became known for the idea that muscular tension reflected repressed emotions, what he called 'body armour', and developed a way to use pressure to produce emotional release in his clients.[8] Reich was expelled from the psychoanalytic mainstream and his work found a home in the 'growth movement' of the 1960s and 1970s and in the countercultural project of 'liberating the body'.[8] Perhaps as a result, body psychotherapy was marginalised within mainstream psychology and was seen in the 1980s and 1990s as 'the radical fringe of psychotherapy'.[9] Body psychotherapy's marginal position may be connected with the tendency for charismatic leaders to emerge within it, from Reich onwards.[10]

Alexander Lowen in his Bioenergetic analysis and John Pierrakos in Core energetics extended Reich's finding of the segmented nature of body armour: "The muscular armour has a segmented arrangement...always transverse to the torso, never along it".[11][12] Lowen claimed that "No words are so clear as the language of body expression".[13] Subsequently the Chiron approach added influences from Gestalt therapy.[14]

The early 2000s saw a 'renaissance of body psychotherapy' which was part of a broader increased interest in the body and embodiment in psychology and other disciplines including philosophy, sociology, anthropology and cultural studies.[15] Object relations theory has arguably opened the way more recently for a fuller consideration of the body-mind in psychotherapy.[16][17][18]


There are numerous branches of body psychotherapy, often tracing their origins to particular individuals: for example, 'Bioenergetic analysis' to the work of Lowen and Pierrakos; 'Radix' to the work of Chuck Kelley; Organismic Psychotherapy to the work of Malcolm and Katherine Brown;[19] 'Biosynthesis' to the work of David Boadella;[20] 'Biodynamic Psychology' to that of Gerda Boyesen; 'Rubenfeld Synergy' to Ilana Rubenfeld's work;[21] 'Body-Mind Centering' to Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's work, and 'Body-mind Psychotherapy' to Susan Aposhyan.[22]

Many of these contributors to body psychotherapy were influenced by the work of Wilhelm Reich, while adding and incorporating a variety of other influences.[23] Syntheses of these approaches are also becoming accepted and recognised in their own right (e.g. The Chiron Approach: Chiron Association of Body Psychotherapists).[24]

Alongside the body psychotherapies built directly on the work of Reich, there is a branch of post-Jungian body psychotherapies, developed from Jung's idea of the 'somatic unconscious'.[25] While many post-Jungians dismiss Reich and do not work with the body,[26] contributors to Jungian derived body psychotherapy include Arnold Mindell with his concept of the 'dreambody' and the development of process oriented psychology.[27][28][29][30] Process oriented psychology is known for its focus on the body and movement.[31][32]

Body psychotherapy and dance movement therapy have developed separately and are professionally distinguished, however they have significant common ground and shared principles including the importance of non-verbal therapeutic techniques and the development of body-focused awareness.[33]

A review of body psychotherapy research finds there is a small but growing empirical evidence base about the outcomes of body psychotherapy, however it is weakened by the fragmentation of the field into different branches and schools.[34] The review reports that one of the strongest studies is longitudinal (2 year) outcome research conducted with 342 participants across 8 different schools (Hakomi Experiental Psychology, Unitive Body Psychotherapy, Biodynamic Psychology, Bioenergetic Analysis, Client-Centred Verbal and Body Psychotherapy, Integrative Body Psychotherapy, Body-Oriented Psychotherapy, and Biosynthesis). Overall efficacy was demonstrated in symptom reduction, however the study design limited further substantive conclusions.[35]

The review of outcome research across different types of body-oriented psychotherapy concludes that the best evidence supports efficacy for treating somatoform/psychosomatic disorders and schizophrenia,[36] while there is also support for 'generally good effects on subjectively experienced depressive and anxiety symptoms, somatisation and social insecurity.'[37]


Body psychotherapy is one modality used in a multi-modal approach to treating psychological trauma, particularly PTSD and C-PTSD.[38][39][40][41]

Recovering a sense of physical boundaries through sensorimotor psychotherapy is an important part of re-establishing trust in the traumatised.[42] Blending somatic and cognitive awareness, such an approach reaches back for inspiration to the pioneering work of Janet, as well as employing the more recent work of António Damásio.[43]

The necessity of often working without touch with traumatised victims presents a special challenge for body psychotherapists.[44]


The European Association for Body Psychotherapy (EABP) and The United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP) are two professional associations for body psychotherapists.[45]

The EABP was founded in 1988 to promote the inclusion of Body Psychotherapy within a broader process of professionalisation, standardisation and regulation of psychotherapy in Europe, driven by the European Association for Psychotherapy (EAP).[46] The EABP Board committed to meeting the EAP standards for establishing the scientific validity of psychotherapy modalities and achieved this in 1999/2000 for Body Psychotherapy as a whole, with individual modalities subsequently also achieving this recognition.[47] The EABP provides a searchable bibliography of body-psychotherapy publications, containing over 4,000 entries.[48]

The USABP was formed in June 1996[49] to provide professional representation for body psychotherapy practitioners in the United States. The USABP launched a peer-reviewed professional journal in 2002, the USA Body Psychotherapy Journal, which was published twice-yearly from 2002–2011.[50] In 2012, the sister organisations, EABP and USABP, together launched the International Body Psychotherapy Journal.[51]


The importance of ethical issues in body psychotherapy has been highlighted on account of the intimacy of the techniques used.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Totton, N. (2003) Body Psychotherapy: An Introduction Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-21038-4 (pb); 0-335-21039-2.
  2. ^ Staunton, T. (Ed.) (2002) Body Psychotherapy Brunner Routledge. ISBN 1-58391-115-4 PB0; 1-58391-116-2 (pb)
  3. ^ Macnaughton, I. (2004) Body, Breath and Consciousness: A Somatics Anthology, ed. Macnaughton, North Atlantic Books. ISBN 1-55643-496-0 ISBN 978-1-55643-496-9
  4. ^ Courtenay Young (2010) article The Science of Body Psychotherapy Today
  5. ^ Sharf, R.S. (2011) Theories of Psychotherapy and Counselling p. 600
  6. ^ "What is Body Psychotherapy and Somatic Psychology?". USABP. 
  7. ^ Totton, N. (Ed.). (2005). New Dimensions in Body Psychotherapy. London: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill p.3
  8. ^ a b Totton, (2005) p.3
  9. ^ Totton (2005) p.3
  10. ^ Eiden, B. (2002) in Staunton, T. (Ed.) Body Psychotherapy p.27
  11. ^ Reich, (1976) Character Analysis p. 370-1
  12. ^ Eiden, p. 39-40
  13. ^ Cited by Schutz, W.C. (1973) Joy p. 26
  14. ^ a b Sharf, p. 600
  15. ^ Totton (2005) p.4-5
  16. ^ Eiden, p. 38-9
  17. ^ "HOW CAN BODY PSYCHOTHERAPY HELP?". Cambridge Body Psychotherapy Therapy. 
  18. ^ Brown, Time. "Body Psychotherapy – a short guide to the art and science of Bodylistening". 
  19. ^ Brown, Malcolm (2013). "Organismic Psychotherapy: Our recent Italian workshop". Somatic Psychotherapy Today (Spring): 52–54. Retrieved 22 December 2013. 
  20. ^ Boadella. D. (1987) Lifestreams: An introduction to Biosynthesis. Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7102-1145-7
  21. ^ Steckler, L. H. (2006). Somatic soulmates. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 1(1), 29–42. doi:10.1080/17432970500410960 (p.32-34)
  22. ^ Aposhyan, S. (2004) Body-Mind psychotherapy: Principles, Techniques and Practical Applications. W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-70441-6
  23. ^ Marlock, G. & Halko Weiss (Eds) (2006) Handbuch der Körperpsychotherapie (The Handbook of Body Psychotherapy). Schattauer. ISBN 978-3-7945-2473-0
  24. ^ Hartley, L. (Ed.) (2009) Contemporary Body Psychotherapy. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-43939-8
  25. ^ Totton, N. (2003). Body Psychotherapy: An Introduction. Berkshire, England: Open University Press, McGraw-Hill House. ISBN 0-335-21039-2 (p.28)
  26. ^ Heuer, G. (2005). “In my flesh I will see god”: Jungian body psychotherapy. In N. Totton (Ed.), New Dimensions in Body Psychotherapy. ISBN 978-0335-21592-8 (pp. 102–144). London: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill. (p.106,107)
  27. ^ Caldwell, C. (1997) 'Dreams and the dreaming body. Amy and Arny Mindell' in C. Caldwell (Ed.) Getting in touch: The guide to new body-centered therapies. Wheaton, IL: Quest. ISBN 978-0835-60761-2 (p.61)
  28. ^ Totton, N. (2003). Body Psychotherapy: An Introduction. Berkshire, England: Open University Press, McGraw-Hill House. ISBN 0-335-21039-2 (p.107-108)
  29. ^ Audergon, J.-C. (2005). The body in Process Work. In N. Totton (Ed.), New Dimensions in Body Psychotherapy (pp. 153–167). London: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0335-21592-8
  30. ^ Young, C. (2011). The history and development of Body Psychotherapy: European collaboration. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 6(1), 57–68. doi:10.1080/17432979.2010.545189 (p.65)
  31. ^ Payne, H. (2006). Tracking the web of interconnectivity (Editorial). Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy: An International Journal for Theory, Research and Practice, 1(1), 7–15. DOI: 10.1080/17432970500468117 (p.9)
  32. ^ "Modern Body Psychotherapy". bodypsychotherapist. 
  33. ^ Steckler, L. H. (2006). Somatic soulmates. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 1(1), 29–42. doi:10.1080/17432970500410960 p. 40-1.
  34. ^ Röhricht, F. (2009). Body-oriented psychotherapy: The state of the art in empirical research and evidence-based practice: A clinical perspective. Journal of Body, Movement & Dance in Psychotherapy, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 135-156.
  35. ^ Koemeda-Lutz, M., Kaschke, M., Revenstorf, D., Schermann, T., Weiss, H., & Soeder, U. (2006). Evaluation der Wirksamkeit von ambulanten Körperpsychotherapien—EWAK. Eine Multizenterstudie in Deutschland und der Schweiz. Psychotherapie Psychosomatik medizinische Psychologie, 56, 1–8 cited by Röhricht, p.146
  36. ^ Röhricht, p.147
  37. ^ Röhricht, p.149
  38. ^ Levine, P. (1997) Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 1-55643-233-X
  39. ^ Victims of Cruelty: Somatic Psychotherapy in the Healing of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Eckberg M. Levine P.
  40. ^ Levine, P. (2005) Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body Sounds True, Har/Com edition. ISBN 1-59179-247-9; ISBN 978-1-59179-247-5
  41. ^ "Integrative Body Psychotherapy". INTEGRATIVE BODY PSYCHOTHERAPY - IBP. 
  42. ^ Ogden, P. et al, (2006) Trauma and the Body p. xxv
  43. ^ Foreword, Ogden, p. xxix-xxxii
  44. ^ Rothschild, B. (2002) 'Body psychotherapy without touch', in Staunton, Ch. 5
  45. ^ "What is EABP". European Association for Body Psychotherapy. 
  46. ^ Young, C. 2011, 'The history and development of Body Psychotherapy: European collaboration,' Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy: An International Journal for Theory, Research and Practice, 6:1, DOI: 10.1080/17432979.2010.545189 p.59
  47. ^ Young, C. 2011 p.61
  48. ^ EABP bibliography
  49. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-30. Retrieved 2013-09-30.  Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  50. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-03. Retrieved 2013-09-30.  Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  51. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Heller, Michael C. (2012). Body psychotherapy: history, concepts, methods. (M. Duclos, Trans.) New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-70669-7
  • Lowen, Alexander. (1958). The Language of the Body.