The Role of the Body in Bioenergetic Psychotherapy


Body-mind psychotherapy stands in contrast to purely verbal psychotherapies by including your bodily self in the therapy session. This can take many different forms.

At the most fundamental level, body-mind and bioenergetic psychotherapy operate on the continuity of mind, body, feeling, relationship and environment. As an example, if we feel an (unconscious) conflict about reaching out for support or help, this will manifest in our bodies – in our breathing, in our musculature and often in long-term chronic patterns of bodily structure, behaving and perception.

Working with the body in psychotherapy often starts out by asking you to become aware of – and stay in connection with – how your body is responding in the moment.  What sensations are occurring in your body? What parts of your body are you least aware of? Body work is used to bring increased awareness of your bodily sensations, and to connect these sensations to your feelings and to historical events.

As you get more in touch with your body, the bioenergetic psychotherapist helps you work with breathing more deeply, registering your blocks to doing so, and grounding yourself more in your body. This means, for example, becoming more aware of what it really feels like to live in your body; noticing when you feel go numb or get anxious; feel needy, desperate, or hopeless; or feel, avoid, and hold back anger. Continuing work with your body-mind helps you release feelings that have been held back as a means of coping and surviving in your life. This increased contact with your self and your feelings develops in the safety of a solid, trusting relationship with your bioenergetic psychotherapist. From here, you begin to understand the connection between your present physical-emotional-mental state and the childhood experiences that helped to create it.

In bioenergetic psychotherapy, when it is sensible, the therapist uses contact to facilitate the therapeutic process. Contact could be as simple as help using an exercise ball for an expressive exercise, or learning how to lean on someone for support, or how to push against someone’s arm to feel what it’s like to set a healthy boundary.  Using safe contact in the context of a solid, trusting relationship with your therapist, you begin to better understand your history, your (understandable) barriers to connecting both with yourself and others – and you start to dissolve those barriers to living freely, happily, and authentically.

The use of body work in bioenergetic psychotherapy helps you move from little body awareness to more conscious body awareness; from little body understanding to greater body understanding; and from little freedom of expression to greater freedom of expression. In this process, there is also movement to greater understanding and expression of your true self, and a greater capacity to experience genuine pleasure, vitality, and joy in your life.

As noted elsewhere on this site, for all that we are, we are also embodied beings – and bringing the bodily part of you into psychotherapy helps ground and empower you as you tap all of who you are, including the living vitality of your bodily self.

As therapy progresses, you learn that habitual constrictions in your body are typically a defense against feeling and/or expressing those feelings. These restrictions in your body and breathing arise from deep-seated coping behaviors and fear of such expression. Again, this is a result of early experiences and decisions (often now unconscious) you made to cope and survive.

Given the opportunity to express your feelings by pounding, kicking, and moving – and given the chance to voice both your negativity and your wants within the framework of a safe, therapeutic relationship – you discover that you will not be abandoned or destroyed for expressing your feelings. Because bioenergetic therapy also uses verbal approaches to psychotherapy, there is now too the opportunity to understand the process with your mind, and to re-learn new ways of being with yourself and others as you let go of old patterns.

Through accepting your body, its feelings, and your needs, you broaden your contact with all other aspects of reality. Since the body is such an important part of who we are, any increase in contact with your body will produce dramatic improvement in your self image, interpersonal relationships, the quality of your thinking and feeling, and in your enjoyment of life. In this way, bioenergetic psychotherapy works with the underlying chronic body-mind patterns that are consistent throughout life and relationship… thus, effecting change in all aspects of your sense of self, interactions, relationships and daily life.