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History of Body Psychotherapy

Body Psychotherapy: It’s history and present day scope


An address to the European Association for Body Psychotherapy Congress, Rome, 1997

“Common Ground and Different Approaches in Psychotherapy” by
Courtenay Young, General Secretary, EABP

Whilst historically there is excellent evidence that the origins of Body Psychotherapy actually pre-date Freud [see the article by Barbara Goodrich-Dunn and Elliot Greene, “Voices: A History of Body Psychotherapy,” in the USA Body Psychotherapy Journal, 1:1, 2002], it is almost impossible to talk about the history of Body Psychotherapy without reference to Wilhelm Reich.

He has been both its protagonist and its detractor, in that his work has both immeasurably added to Body Psychotherapy and has also, in some instances, caused it to be rejected by other branches of psychotherapy. The fact that his early work on Character Analysis is widely accepted as a reference work by Psychoanalysis and most other modalities of psychotherapy and the fact that the next direct development of his work, Characteranalytic Vegetotherapy — which involves direct contact and touch with the body of the patient — is definitely not accepted by the psychoanalysts is interesting.

The fact that this rejection exactly coincides with Reich’s exclusion in 1936 from the International Society of Psychoanalysis is extremely significant. In 1933, Reich published a book entitled the “Mass Psychology of Fascism”. Given the political situation in Germany at the time when the German Psychoanalytical Society, with many Jewish members, was desperately trying to retain its standing with the (increasingly) Nazi German authorities, it is hardly surprising that Reich was excluded. Jung’s work has never been rejected in the same way as Reich’s was. Reject the man, and it seems you reject his work forever.

Yes, Body Psychotherapy has been both inspired by Reich’s work and has suffered from it. However out of the shifting political morass of the late 1930’s and in work in Norway until 1939, came a number of streams of Body Psychotherapy that are still very much alive today. Ola Raknes, Gerda Boyesen, David Boadella, Paul Ritter and Lillemore Johnsen were all inspired by this period of his work. Norwegian Body Psychotherapy training schools are still alive and thriving and are one of the strongest groups of Body Psychotherapists in Europe today. A.S. Niell, a client of Ola Raknes and perhaps the only true friend Wilhelm Reich had, also inspired thousands, even millions, of parents and teachers with his progressive educational theories and methods, directly based on Reich’s theories of the early sexual and physical repression of infants and the sociological conformity that is demanded by society and in schools that builds on and hardens the psychological traumas of early childhood in demonstrably physical and psychosomatic ways.

After 1939 and until his death in the mid-1950s in America, Reich continued to develop his work into many different fields. However, in Body Psychotherapy, both Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos, the co-founders of Bioenergetics, were clients of Wilhelm Reich and adopted his beliefs, his theories and adapted his therapy into a modern format, Bioenergetic Analysis. John Pierrakos went on to include a psycho-spiritual component in his later developed Core Energetic Therapy. Charles Kelley, another client of Reich’s, refined working with physical techniques on bodily tensions and developed Radix work. Myron Sharaf, also a client, and biographer of Reich, who died recently after attending the last EABP Congress in Vienna celebrating 100 years since Reich’s birth, was another active protagonist. Ellesworth Baker, author of “Man in the Trap” and many other Orgonomists (as they call themselves) still follow Reich’s work, albeit rather ridgidly, and still publish their twice-yearly scientific journal, The Journal of Orgonomy. These are Reich’s direct descendants.

But it was in the 1970’s, 15 years after Reich’s tragic trial, the burning of all his books (in America in the 1950’s!) and his death in prison, that there was an explosion of interest from the new psychotherapies of Encounter Groups, Humanistic Psychology, the Gestalt Psychology of Fritz Perls at Esalen, and countless Body Oriented therapies and psychotherapies that developed, mainly in the USA but spread back to Europe thereafter. Rolfing, Hellerwork, Hakomi, Radix, the Somatic Process work of Stanley Keleman, to name a few, and in Europe, other, later exciting developments of the many individual and talented founders of different schools, all owe a huge debt to Wilhelm Reich and his theories about the sexual, physical, emotional and psychological repression that happens in the client’s body, over and over again, on a day-to-day basis, throughout their childhood, which severely restricts their functioning potential and is the physiological basis of many neuroses and possibly psychoses as well.

It is not sudden trauma of an incestuous incident in childhood, it is constant day-to-day repression that is the etiologigy of many of our client’s problems, and this is stored in the body and in the psychosomatic memory in multiple layers. Analysis by itself will not evict it. Body Psychotherapy, and the direct connections that it forms with these physical and physiological repressions on skin, muscles and even down to the very cells of the body themselves, can be remarkably effective in undoing some of these well-established holding patterns and freeing the body and the mind of these repressive effects.

So it goes to the present day, twenty years later. Since we do not have much time, I will talk just a little about Body Psychotherapy and the European Association of Body Psychotherapy and then Michael Heller will talk a bit about the theory behind Body Psychotherapy. 2 major branches of European Body Psychotherapy will then be presented: Bioenergetics (developed originally by Alexander Lowen) and Biosynthesis, presented by its originator, David Boadella.

In Europe today, if you put together the neo-Reichian Body Psychotherapies, David Boadella’s Biosynthesis, the Norwegian Body Psychotherapists, Bioenergetic Analysis and all the people Lowen has trained over the years, the newer Danish-based Bodynamics, Gerda Boyesen’s Biodynamic Psychology, Ron Kurtz’s Hakomi, John Pierrakos’ Core Energetic trainings, Jay Stattman’s Unitive Psychology and Malcolm Brown’s Organismic Psychotherapy trainings, George Downing’s trainings, Energy Stream and Chiron in the UK, Arnie Mindell’s Process Oriented Psychotherapists and so on, we probably represent well over 5,000 practicing Body Psychotherapists and at least another 2,000 – 3,000 trainees. This may be few compared to some modalities, but we consider that we hold a not-to-be-neglected position as one of the 10 major streams of psychotherapy today, with at least 20 sub-divisions.

The European Association of Body-Psychotherapy (EABP) itself accredits about 300 established and trained Body Psychotherapists as its members and has contacts with 185 Body Psychotherapy training schools and organizations all over the world. EABP has been established for over 12 years and holds a Congress on Body Psychotherapy every two years. It has Codes of Ethics, Training Standards etc. that are becoming the “norm” for Body Psychotherapy throughout Europe. It accredits professional Body Psychotherapists at standards that are currently higher than the EAP Training Standards proposals and has been doing so for over 10 years, irrespective of the actual discipline within Body Psychotherapy or of any particular training school. We are also developing criteria for the accreditation of Training Organizations within Body Psychotherapy so that we can help implement the European Certificate of Psychotherapy.

Body Psychotherapy is often added on to other trainings (more analytical ones) as similarly Body Psychotherapists train further in many different disciplines. Theoretically there is little conflict. Pragmatically they seem to complement each other and many people train in Body Psychotherapy, as well as other disciplines. We number many psychologists and psychiatrists who have realized something fundamental is missing from their academic studies and that the people that they see as clients are not just walking heads, but they have bodies, the processes of which cannot be ignored. All this gives us a richness and an interest in each other’s work and a respect for other disciplines that I frankly have found a little lacking in EABP at present, though the theme of this Congress is going a long way towards improving the situation.

EABP is investigating research projects and is establishing a Bibliography of Body Psychotherapy (books, articles, tapes, films etc.) that will soon have between 7,000 and 10,000 entries. Whilst most Body Psychotherapists (fortunately or unfortunately) are not very cerebral, so not a great deal has been published “scientifically’, even though David Boadella’s journal Energy & Character has published 2 issues a year for over 20 years and is now being translated into many European languages, this situation is going to be remedied hopefully soon with the establishment of a “scientific” journal for Body Psychotherapy within the next 2 years.

EABP has good international contacts with the newly-formed US Association of Body Psychotherapy and hopefully soon there will be a South American Association as well, after a Congress in Sao Paulo this summer. We currently have very strong national associations in three major European countries (Switzerland, Germany & Austria) and hope to have three or more others very soon. We have good connections with many Body Psychotherapists in Australia, Brazil, Canada and Japan as well. As I said, we see ourselves as a major stream within psychotherapy as a whole, not contradicting any other stream, modality or psychotherapy, but complementing and informing it.

We have very high standards of ethics — as you might expect from a modality where practitioners work intensely and sometimes intimately with other people’s bodies. We have to have these standards, and we take this aspect of our work very seriously. Ethical misbehavior is rigorously pursued and re-education of the therapist is a major priority. There is a massive dialogue and debate about transference and touch that is also very important to us and we really want to engage in open discussion about this with other disciplines.

Finally, as you may have noticed and experienced, we have been very present within EAP, physically and emotionally. We can certainly be logical and cerebrally orientated when required, but we can also be solid and very physically engaged. We can be very grounded in reality and in the present. We are sometimes extremely passionate and vocal, when necessary and when appropriate. We also try to be compassionate. We can make contact with other people, and look them directly in the face. We can stand up and speak our truths, expressively and from the heart. We can be flexible and we can be humorous. We have clear boundaries and occupy space. All these are attributes that relate directly to the body and to the human part of ourselves and they are also attributes of a good Body Psychotherapist. Hopefully we practice what we preach. Thank you.

© Courtenay Young 1997


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