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What Is Body Psychotherapy?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 December 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Body psychotherapy applies to numerous types of therapy methods that may emphasize the relationship of mind to body and specifically do not ignore that the person is not “just a mind.” How this works out in actual practice can be greatly different depending on the body psychotherapist’s background, training and school of thought. It is possible for this work to involve physically touching clients, or the therapist could simply bring attention to the body in relationship to what a client is thinking.

This form of therapy began with Wilhelm Reich, a well-known student of Sigmund Freud, who departed from Freud in many of his key concepts in psychoanalysis. In fact the body psychotherapist of today may both celebrate some of Reich’s ideas and deplore some of his practices. He brought, to an extent the idea of touching, into psychoanalysis but also exploited it by conducting several affairs with clients. From Reich’s work, though, others in the field of mental health were inspired to create multiple schools of body psychotherapy, and these can be very different. It is definitely important to note that body psychotherapy in the modern sense is not just one thing, and can be interpreted in numerous ways.

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In the modern sense, when and if the therapist touches the client it may be in a forceful or gentle manner. Some people believe that kneading certain muscle groups help to release the body in certain ways. Others use a light touch or they instruct clients to move or perform certain movements that could be helpful in establishing connection between body and mind. When touching is used it is at the permission of the client only, and a body therapist would explain this very carefully to the client on first meeting. Appropriate body psychotherapy would never involve sexual touching or touch by the therapist against the client’s will.

Anyone who has ever experienced romantic transference (attaching feelings of love) to a therapist might still be skeptical about body psychotherapy that does involve elements like massage. There is question about the degree of will a patient actually has regarding refusing touching when strong romantic transference is in play. Even when a body psychotherapist acts in a fully ethical manner, it is wondered by some therapists whether physical contact from the therapist cross boundaries that are better not crossed. Many therapists make certain that they have little to no physical contact with clients to avoid this boundary crossing.

However, there are many people who benefit from body psychotherapy, and those interested in the many ideas this discipline supports can find therapists who practice it that do not involve any form of touching in their work. Those concerned about this issue can seek out therapists of this type. Additionally the mind/body connection is of value in the work of many therapists who are not registered body psychotherapists, just as there many doctors who are interested in the state of mind at the presentation of ill health. A number of people in both medical and therapeutic professions believe that considering the whole person always means looking at body state and mind state, and that trying to separate the two can lead to false conclusions about the wellness of the whole person.

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