Body psychotherapy (also known as somatic psychotherapy) has been practiced for over 70 years, yet it is often characterized as a recently developed form of therapy. It is as though we have once again discovered that the body houses us and gives voice to experiences we are challenged to express through language. The following video was produced by the European Association for Body Psychotherapy and describes Body Psychotherapy:
Both the U.S. and the European Associations for Body Psychotherapy describe body psychotherapy as follows (bold added):
Body-Psychotherapy is a distinct branch of psychotherapy, well within the main body of psychotherapy, which has a long history and a body of literature and knowledge based upon a sound theoretical position.
Body-Psychotherapy involves an explicit theory of mind-body functioning, which takes into account the complexity of the intersections and interactions between body and mind. The common underlying assumption is that the body reflects the whole person and there is a functional unity between mind and body. The body does not merely mean the ‘soma’ and that this is separate from the mind, the ‘psyche’. There is not a hierarchical relationship between mind and body, between psyche and soma. They are both functioning and interactive aspects of the whole human being. Where other approaches in psychotherapy touch on this area, body-psychotherapy considers this as fundamental.
Body-Psychotherapy involves a developmental model, a theory of personality, hypotheses as to the origins of disturbances and alterations, as well as a rich variety of diagnostic and therapeutic techniques used within the framework of the therapeutic relationship. There are many different and sometimes quite separate approaches within body-psychotherapy, as indeed there are in the other branches of psychotherapy.
Body-Psychotherapy is also a science, having developed over the last seventy years from the results of research in biology, anthropology, ethology, neurophysiology, neuropsychology, developmental psychology, neonatology, perinatal studies and its own experience and findings.
Body-Psychotherapy exists as a specific therapeutic approach with a rich scientific basis in explicit theory. There are also a wide variety of techniques used, some of which are used on or with the body involving touch, movement and breathing. There are links with some bodywork therapies, somatic techniques, and complementary medical disciplines, but whilst these may also refer to the body, deal with its physiology, involve touch and movement, they are also very distinct from body-psychotherapy.
Asaf Rolef Ben-Shahar in his recent book Touching the Relational Edge: Body Psychotherapy (Karnac Books, London, 2014:xxv), after citing the above description continues:
Body psychotherapists use somatic-attunement skills to deepen their awareness of themselves and their clients as bodies. A basic presumption in body-psychotherapy is that in the very act of attending to ourselves as bodies we create a connecting movement between body and mind, between feelings, sensations and thoughts, and in the interface between us and the world. Developing a felt-sense allows us to experience ourselves as bodyminds, and the more we are able to embody our experience in our somatic reality, the greater the chance we stand to liberate ourselves from both somatic and psychological rigidities, since we acquire more than one language with which to encourage change and movement (the somatic alongside the cognitive affective language). Thus the main skill in body psychotherapy is not about a specific therapeutic technique of one kind or another, but instead it is a therapeutic position, characterized by alive and active curiosity toward somatic processes, which take place in the client, the therapist, and in the dyadic space that opens within and between the two (emphasis added).
Here is a video of Asaf Rolef Ben-Shahar giving a talk on self and mutual regulation and a description of the relational dimension of relational body psychotherapy:
It is by attending to that dyadic space that the relational imperative of body psychotherapy is most clearly realized. Our clinical faculty are skilled and experienced in different forms of relational body psychotherapy and our clinical trainings and many of our workshops are significantly informed by relational theory and practices.