Monday, 26 May 2014

The Shadow Aspects of Body Psychotherapy - Summary

This is a brief and incomplete summary, in response to a current project by Courtenay Young, long-standing president of the European Association of Body Psychotherapy (EABP), co-editor with Michael of the English version of the 'Handbook of Body Psychotherapy' alongside the original editors of the German original (Halko Weiss & Gustl Marlock), to be published next year, and currently writing a series of papers on the shadow aspects of the Body Psychotherapy tradition (published in the International Journal of Body Psychotherapy). Courtenay had asked me for a summary of my current ideas on the subject, which I jotted down quickly, based on more detailed previous writings on the topic (see references below - Soth 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2010).

Michael Soth has also published several articles that address some of the 'shadow aspects' of Body Psychotherapy, where he tries to work through some of the inherited 'wounds' of the tradition - thinking about this in very similar terms to how we inherit 'wounds' from our family ancestors, by applying the notion of character formation to ourselves as a tradition and a community of practitioners. What is the character of our tradition? What are the dynamics of its origin and early development which we inherit? What are the wounds of our therapeutic ancestors and how do we still carry them today in our theory and practice?

He suggests that unless we attend to these shadow aspects, it is possible for Body Psychotherapists to actually end up perpetuating the body-mind split, rather than helping to integrate or transcend it (which is the declared intention and aim).

In order to offer a process of characterological transformation - which is indeed what most Body Psychotherapists think they are doing - a particular kind of relational space is required to contain the deconstructions, transformations and re-integrations of the client's existing sense of self and personality structure. Soth argues that for several reasons most traditional Body Psychotherapy is not managing to generate the relational space needed to truly achieve its promised objectives. In order to access the unconscious dimensions of the client's characterological reality, the therapist needs to be capable of 'allowing themselves to be constructed as an object' by the client's unconscious, i.e. via the transference. This is different from observing, interpreting and even exploring the transference somatically, as these interventions are only possible once the therapist has already recognized and articulated what the transference actually is. However, we cannot presume such a nonchalant grasp of what are after all deeply unconscious processes - in both client and therapist - without compromising our notion of the unconscious, its reach and depth and extent, and what the processes are by which we may become aware of it. We can become aware of the depths of the client's unconscious only by processing our countertransferential responses in such a way that the relational unconscious manifests in the therapeutic relationship in the first place.

The relational space needed for characterological work starts with un-knowing on the part of both client and therapist. The therapist then needs to take a stance which allows the transference to manifest, via 'allowing themselves to be constructed as an object' (taking into account that there are a multitude of ways of interfering with such unfolding of the transference). Only when these conditions are met, can a relational process emerge and deepen to the point where therapist (and client) slowly become aware of unconscious processes through getting caught in co-created enactments. Character transformation occurs via enactment - the therapist needs to be able to surrender to the enactment and respond from within it (rather then presuming to be able to operate on it from outside, as was traditionally assumed). This 'theory of therapeutic action' requires the therapist not only to be attuned, but to survive being - and being experienced - as the 'wounding object'.

The relational space needed for characterological work needs to include the therapist's flexibility between all the relational modalities (Petruska Clarkson - working alliance, authentic, reparative, transference countertransference, transpersonal; plus - as added by Soth - the therapeutically inescapable 'medical model') and kinds of therapeutic relatedness (Martha Stark - one-person, one-and-a-half person and two-person psychology). The relational space needed for characterological work also needs to include what Bollas calls the 'transformative object'; this implies the relational capacity on the part of the therapist to move along the full spectrum between the extremes of one-sided, power-over dynamics (what Jessica Benjamin calls 'doer' and 'done-to' dynamics of 'complementarity') on the one hand and intersubjective mutual recognition on the other (in humanistic language: the extremes of I-it and I-I relating).

Traditional Body Psychotherapy does not meet these criteria, for several reasons and inherited tendencies which constitute its habitual position: • A general obliviousness regarding countertransference as a parallel process (as understood in modern psychoanalysis, i.e. since the 'countertransference revolution in object relations') and therefore a systematic unawareness of the enactments of the 'wounding relationship' between therapist and client (i.e. how the client's 'wound' - as body-mind split - enters the therapy room and how the therapist and the therapeutic process enact, replicate and exacerbate the wound - whether or not the therapist's own wound enters or not, which it frequently does in significant ways). • The many disavowed and hidden 'medical model' assumptions that come down to us across the Body Psychotherapy generations, which tend to objectify the client, using body-mind terms and values: - this particular shadow aspect can be traced all the way back to Reich's (as well as Lowen & Pierrakos') medical training, Reich's own narcissism and thus the objectification of others; • A strong 'humanistic' bias against psychoanalysis, and also the cognitive-behavioural tradition, because they are largely - and correctly seen by Body Psychotherapists - as disavowing the body altogether (until recently) and failing to deeply understand somatic process in a body-mind-psyche context; • Therefore, what follows is a body psychotherapeutic idealisation of the body, that makes it significantly unlikely that therapists attend to the actual phenomenology of the body-mind relationship: the whole approach and movement could be seen to be defended against the depressive position, for instance, by holding on to a merger of the symbiotic/narcissistic aspects, thus avoiding a differentiation of the body and mind (Jung's opus contra naturam); what we need instead is a paradoxical understanding of embodiment, which is not polarized against its opposite pole of disembodiment, but embraces it as a dialectical (and therefore dynamic and evolutionary) antithesis. • A lack of differentiated and detailed understanding of cognitive (and imaginative) processes, as they are all being lumped together as defensive 'head' manoeuvres; • Some of the defensive aspects of character typology, where insufficient attention is paid to embodied object relations and internalisation processes; •An over-emphasis of the reparative aspects of the modality of Body Psychotherapy.

To be continued ...


Relating to and with the Objectified Body (1999)
The Integrated BodyMind's View on 'Body/Mind Integration' (2000)
What Therapeutic Hope for a Subjective Mind in an Objectified Body? (2004)
Current Body Psychotherapy - a Relational Approach for the 21st Century? (2005)
The Return of the Repressed Body - Not a Smooth Affair (2010)

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