Controversies in the Development of Embodied Approaches

Since Freud, there has been a fundamental controversy about the relevance of the various embodied approaches to psychotherapy, especially from within psychoanalysis, partly because Freud had essentially rejected (or not acknowledged) the vital contributions of Pierre Janet (a fellow pupil of Charcot’s) and his basic direction towards body-oriented (or other embodied) approaches (Boadella, 1997).

Freud also ignored (or ‘revoked’) Reich’s systematic work that had supported some of Freud’s earlier theories, though Reich’s 1934 exclusion from psychoanalysis was probably due to his controversial socio-political views. Reich was also increasingly involved with analyzing aspects of the libido, whereas Freud had moved away from this. This controversy was then perpetuated with a concern that any form of physical contact would complicate or compromise the transference process.

Psychoanalysts who touched their patients (like Fenichel and Ferenczi), were often criticized (Heller, 2012), and so potentially valuable contributions such as Fenichel’s attempts to develop a psycho-physiological approach within psychoanalysis, and Ferenczi’s or humanistic techniques of ’empathic response’ and ‘self-disclosure’ were therefore disowned (Ibid). Simultaneously, Reich was equally scathing of some of these previously supportive colleagues and thus some lost potential allies (Heller, 2012, Cpts. 16 & 18). This split led to a 50-year separation between the field of psychoanalysis (Mind) and the different embodied psychotherapeutic approaches (Body), similar to the body-mind distinction epitomized in Descartes’ dualistic statement, “I think, therefore I am”.

Many of the embodied approaches become marginalized from the post-war field of psychology and psychotherapy, despite awareness of their potential efficacy. While those practicing in psychology, psychiatry or psychotherapy, who became interested in embodied approaches, were channelled towards to mind-based approaches, medical doctors (like LowenPierrakos, and some of the other medically-trained pupils of Reich (Orgonomists and Reichians), as well as physiotherapists (like Gerda Boyesen) were more able to adopt embodied approaches to psychotherapy, as they were already professionally ‘allowed’ to touch.

This controversy is complicated by a number of different factors around the definition of touch and what kinds of touch in psychotherapy are ethical or not (Struve & Hunter, 1998; Young, 2016; Zur, 2007). There are acknowledged risks in the practice of body psychotherapy (Young, 2015) given the use of certain powerful and evocative breathing techniques and methods of energetic discharge. In addition, regression and re-traumatization is considered a risk factor when body-oriented techniques and methods are employed. Therapeutic touch can be abusive, if used inappropriately; the client’s embodied (somatic) defenses can be broken down, especially if there has been insufficient building of the core persona first; and some of the techniques that are used can be considered as regressive (or possibly even seductive), especially if used without due caution, or by an ungrounded or relatively untrained therapist.

There are also particular responsibilities within embodied approaches when working with people in trauma. World expert on the treatment of PTSD and complex trauma, Bessel van der Kolk (2015), says that therapists must have had the training, skills and understanding of a body psychotherapist in order to work effectively with people in trauma. If not, then, “… the attempt at therapeutic re-experiencing and discharge of traumatic experience succeeds only in recreating the original trauma, and even imposing a further layer of trauma on the client. The client may be no more able now than in the original situation to process their experience effectively” (Totton, 2003, p. 125). Some argue that more simplistic techniques for the treatment of trauma, such as body-oriented like EMDR (Shapiro, 2001), do not have the lasting effects of therapies that enable the person to fully integrate and come to terms with their traumatic experience over time.

In the development of embodied approaches to therapy there are confusions that still linger about the difference between “body therapy” and “body psychotherapy”. Various therapists, many of them psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists, some even influenced by Reich’s work, have developed their own form of therapy: Janov’s Primal Therapy is perhaps the best known. Other methods include Stanislav Grof’s Holotropic BreathworkJoseph Heller’s Hellerwork (similar in some ways to Ida Rolf’s Rolfing), and the Therapeutic Touch method (as developed by Kunz & Krieger). There are many other bodywork therapies and breath-work therapies that are potentially psychotherapeutic, but very few of these cross the divide and can actually be considered as a proper body-oriented psychotherapy. An example of one which did, and which fulfilled the criteria of both EABP’s training standards and the EAP’s criteria is Psychotherapeutic Postural Integration (based in Strasbourg).

Some of the confusion between modalities – at least in Europe – have recently been clarified with the development of psychotherapy as an independent profession and Body Psychotherapy as a legitimate mainstream within psychotherapy. European psychotherapy (as per the EAP Training Standards) requires a post-graduate level of entry, 4-year training, personal experience of psychotherapy and a set of professional core competencies to be attained (see the EAP’s ECP document and the EAP’s 2013 Core Competencies document). Several of the body-oriented modalities fit within these criteria.

In the USA, with the dominance of academic psychology, the establishment of body-oriented (or somatic) psychotherapy Masters and Doctoral programs in several universities has legitimized the development of a highly-qualified professional body psychotherapy training: (JFK University, Berkeley, CA; Naropa University, Boulder, CO; California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA; & the Pacifica Graduate Institute Santa Barbara, CA).

These academic and training standards have been assisted and supported by the growth of several national and international professional associations for body psychotherapy and somatic psychology, which have also helped to create a clearer definition of embodied psychotherapy. However, this professionalization process has been resisted by some (Mowbray, 1995; Postle, 2007). Furthermore, the process has not been helped by the multiplicity of the body-oriented psychotherapeutic approaches or methods or their variation of names.

In Europe, there exists: Character Analytical Vegetotherapy (Reich); Bioenergetic Analysis (Lowen); Biodynamic Psychotherapy (G. Boyesen); Biosynthesis (Boadella); Bodynamics (Marcher); Psycho-Organic Analysis (P. Boyesen); Contemporary Body Psychotherapy (CABP); Unitive Body Psychotherapy(Stattman); Psychotherapeutic Postural Integration (Painter); Concentrative Movement Therapy (Gindler).

In America, with some incursions into South America, Australasia, the Far East and Europe, one can add: Orgone Therapy (Reich); Hakomi (Kurtz); Rubenfeld Synergy (Rubenfeld); Pesso-Boyden System Psychomotor (Pesso); Integrative Body Psychotherapy (Rosenberg); Somatic Education & Formative Psychology (Keleman); etc.

There are also several other embodied methods, promoted mostly by just one person: for example, Christine Calwell has developed a method (influenced by Dance Movement) that she calls The Moving Cycle; Susan Aposhyan developed her Body-Mind Psychotherapy (influenced by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s work); Peter Levine has developed his trauma work into Somatic Experiencing; Gill Westland’s Cambridge Body Psychotherapy Centre has excellent links to the UK professional association for psychotherapy (UKCP) and to a Master’s programme at the Anglia Ruskin University; Gestalt Body Process Psychotherapy by James Kepner; Roz Carroll’s Embodied Awareness; Nick Totton’s Embodied Relational Therapy, and people like William F. (Bill) Cornell and Sue Hampton, who differently combine Transactional Analysis & Body Psychotherapy; and so forth. The multiplicity of terms that arises out of so many variations of embodied psychotherapy implies, in itself, that there is divergence of views between schools within the approach.

Additionally, and even more confusingly, there are then several ‘cross-over’ methods (or other psychotherapies that utilize embodied techniques, though they are not ‘pure’ embodied psychotherapies). We have already mentioned a couple of modalities originating from different methods that can fit within the Body Psychotherapy category, but other ‘proper’ psychotherapy methods, like Arnold Mindell’s Process Oriented Psychotherapy confusingly do not.

The development of all these methods – almost inevitably – leads into another area of confusion and controversy, that of the quality of teaching and administering these trainings. Together with Gill Westland, Courtenay Young wrote a (2014) article about the “Shadows of Body Psychotherapy” published in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. This exposé of some of the more contentious and largely unspoken aspects of these embodied psychotherapies covered concerns about distortions to the history, unacknowledged risks of practice, the ethics of touch, and significant boundary issues. Tensions – and the mixture of roles (trainer, therapist, founder, director, etc.) within many of these (quite small) training organizations was often complex to unravel. Some training schools became perceived as closed communities – something akin to a sect or cult – idealizing the trainer/founder/leader, and ignoring their ‘idiosynchronicities’ – basically a lack of proper awareness of boundary issues or possible contra-indications of the method.

Finally – until relatively recently – there has also been a general lack of properly indexed, peer-reviewed articles, studies or research-based articles in books and professional journals. This delay in the embodied psychotherapy field’s participation in mainstream approaches to communicating its theory has contributed to a perception of its work as academically undeveloped. With a recent upsurge of Body-Oriented publications, as well as some better BP research, this imbalance is gradually being addressed.

I The mind-body problem is the problem of explaining how mental states, events and processes-like beliefs, actions and thinking-are related to the physical states, events and processes, given that the human body is a physical entity and the mind is non-physical: (

II Body-Oriented Modalities that have been ‘accepted’ via the EAP’s 15 Questions on Scientific Validity: Biosynthesis; Bioenergetic Analysis; Hakomi; Biodynamic Psychology; Bodynamic Analysis; Emotional Re-Integration; Psycho-Organic Analysis; Concentrative Movement Therapy; Character Analytic Vegetotherapy;

III European Association for Body Psychotherapy (EABP); United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP); Australian Somatic Psychotherapy Association (ASPA); Japan Association for Somatics and Somatic Psychology (JASSP),