Body Psychotherapy: Body-Centered Techniques
There’s a long tradition of body psychotherapy in the clinical setting. It facilitates the union between mind and body, allowing contact with emotions and perceptions. In fact, the ‘physical envelope’ is more than a wonderful structure that contains the human being. It’s a channel of expression and even a canvas on which suffering is drawn.
Therapies such as EMDR ( Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing ) and the somatic experiencing approach, developed by psychiatrist Peter A. Levine, are two body-centered interventions. They’re considered to be effective in treating anxiety disorders.
Body-centered interventions or body psychotherapy has to be carried out by a professional, otherwise it wouldn’t be helpful.
The Austrian physician and psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), was considered to be the father of body psychotherapy. He was aware that people internalize emotional suffering in the form of somatization. He used this idea as the basis of his therapeutic approaches. Somatization manifests itself through headaches, musculoskeletal pain, and digestive problems.
From 1930 to the present, efforts have been made to improve this approach. Body psychotherapy aims to treat emotions that are difficult to accept and the experiences that accompany them. It also seeks to promote self-awareness. For example, body movement and even eye movement are seen as valid methods of intervention.
Antonio Damasio highlighted the role of these resources in dealing with trauma. However, a study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2019 emphasizes the need for better organization and analysis of these techniques. Indeed, although their benefits are known, not all of them are backed by scientific evidence.
You might also like to read Bodily Self-Awareness and Its Link With Suffering
Types of body-centered techniques
In recent decades, there’s been a greater awareness regarding the addressing of our health in a more holistic way. In fact, it’s now accepted that we can’t attend to our bodies yet neglect our minds. And vice versa. This has meant that more body-centered techniques are now available in psychology.
The therapeutic mind-body models based on neuroscience are some of the most significant. The University of Virginia (USA) points out that there’s a direct link between certain neural regions and the muscles that regulate the sensation of stress. The knowledge of this data facilitates a broader vision when developing therapies. We’re going to explore the alternatives in this field below, and examine their usefulness.
Individuals who are prone to excessive or exhausting thinking often exhibit greater psychosomatic problems. In these cases, body-centered therapies may be of benefit.
1. Jacobson’s progressive relaxation
One of the most frequently used body-centered techniques is Jacobson’s progressive relaxation. It was created in 1920. Today, evidence exists to support its effectiveness against anxiety. It’s a relaxation practice with the objective of increasing awareness of bodily sensations. In fact, it opens the door for the patient to make a conscious interpretation of them.
To do this, the patient employs a technique that involves the hands, neck, abdomen, back, and feet. They first create tension and then release it. This bodily tension and its subsequent relaxation connect them with the progression of their psychophysical experiences.
2. The somatic experiencing (SE) approach by Peter A. Levine
The somatic experiencing technique is a resource for treating post-traumatic stress. The psychiatrist, Peter A. Levine, indicates that stressful and adverse experiences alter the nervous system. From that moment on, the individual stops processing their experiences in a balanced and healthy way.
The purpose of this resource is for the patient to integrate what they’ve lived through and reconnect with themselves and open up to the environment in a more functional and happier way. It’s a psychosomatic method in which the therapist guides the patient to recognize what’s happening in their body and the way in which their emotions usually manifest themselves.
Among the body-centered techniques in psychology, those that involve brain electrophysiological activity are extremely significant. For example, neurofeedback is used in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, depression, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ASD). This treatment is carried out as follows:
- Electrodes are placed on the patient to identify their neural function in real time.
- Specialized software identifies which brain pattern is causing problems.
- The patient interacts with games or animations to regulate their brain waves.
- The aim is to achieve a more optimal functioning of the brain and better concentration through training.
- This is a non-invasive technique. It operates on the central nervous system so that the brain can gradually self-regulate.
EMDR therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is one of the most outstanding body-centered techniques in psychology. It’s an approach supported by scientific evidence and endorsed by the World Health Organization. It was developed in the 1980s to treat trauma.
This therapy has undergone numerous clinical trials which have proved it produces quicker results than other therapies. EMDR consists of the patient carrying out an eye movement guided by the therapist while they process the traumatic event.
You might be interested to read Six of the Basics of EMDR
5. Autogenic training
Created by the psychiatrist Johannes Schulz in the 1930s, this method is both simple and convenient for dealing with extreme peaks of anxiety. Autogenic training is an autosuggestion exercise that promotes concentration on bodily sensations as a means to lead the patient to feelings of calm and well-being.
The patient is guided through the evocation of a sensation of heaviness and, later, of warmth, in different body areas. The goal is for them to alleviate their tension and attain a state of calm that’s incompatible with any kind of stress.
6. Movement techniques
Among the body-centered techniques most used in psychology are those of movement. Through a series of postures, expressions, attitudes, and even dance, the body expresses what it feels inside in another way.
Movement therapy is a resource that complements traditional therapy. It provides freer, more dynamic, and cathartic channels of communication.
7. The technique of grounding
With grounding, the individual anchors themselves in or focuses on the present, to reduce the burden of painful thoughts. They carry out the following sense-stimulating exercises.
- Smell. They smell relaxing fragrances.
- Sight. They look at something pleasant. For example, they might take a walk or read.
- Hearing. They listen to music or talk to someone.
- Touch. They caress pleasant textures or do some kind of craftwork. They might also hug others.
- Taste. They make contact with the here and now through taste and savoring foods that they like.
8. Breathing techniques
Breathing techniques are bodily tools par excellence and great allies in the therapeutic process. They allow the release of stress and anxiety, regulate heart rate, and reduce cortisol levels.
There are different forms of breathing exercises. One of the most interesting is abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. The individual places one hand on their chest and the other on their abdomen, while inhaling deeply through their nose. They notice how their diaphragm expands. Repeating it several times produces feelings of well-being.
The grounding technique is a body-centered psychology tool using the five senses. The individual focuses on the present to alleviate their emotional pain.
Body-centered therapies are invaluable
There are more body-centered therapies than we’ve mentioned in this article. For example, yoga and biofeedback. However, we’ve listed those that are supported by a great volume of research. You shouldn’t hesitate to employ them by enlisting the help of the relevant specialists.
Finally, your mind and body make up a whole. As a rule, they can’t be separated. That’s unless you’re going through sensitive conditions such as trauma or anxiety.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Ancoli, S., Peper, E., Quinn, M. (2011). Mind/body integration: Essential readings in biofeedback. Berlin, Germany: Springer Science & Business Media. https://books.google.fm/books?id=K_YxBwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_vpt_reviews#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Nummenmaa, L., Glerean, E., Hari, R., & Hietanen, J. K. (2014). Bodily maps of emotions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(2), 646–651. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24379370/
- Tarsha, M. S., Park, S., & Tortora, S. (2020). Body-Centered Interventions for Psychopathological Conditions: A Review. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2907. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6993757/
- Taylor, A. G., Goehler, L. E., Galper, D. I., Innes, K. E., & Bourguignon, C. (2010). Top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in mind-body medicine: development of an integrative framework for psychophysiological research. Explore (New York, N.Y.), 6(1), 29–41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2818254/