Bodynamic Analysis: A New Somatic Psychology
Founded in Denmark by Lisbeth Marcher and her colleagues, Bodynamic Analysis is a carefully researched and constructed body-oriented psychology. For 25 years Marcher studied a combination of physical therapy and psychotherapy, and in this process discovered not only that emotions were held in the body musculature, but that there was a developmental sequence to the muscle enervation. These observations and insights allowed her to create a developmental map of the body using the muscles’ state of tension or collapse for each age level.
Marcher also correlated specific muscles with the psychological functions showing the close parallel between physical development and psychological development.
In documenting the age at which each muscle is activated and the psychological content of each of them, Marcher eventually identified seven developmental stages.
A typical course of Bodynamic therapy begins with an initial meeting where a detailed relationship history is taken. This will also include a short trauma history i.e., such as a difficult birth, sexual molestation or early accidents and surgeries, which can also affect developmental resourcing. If these are present, they will be flagged for special trauma oriented work.
Sometime near the beginning of the therapeutic process a Bodymap is done.
Using the Bodymap, Bodynamic Analysts are able to 1) find where the blocks are located in the client’s body and 2) are then able to work on developing the resources
She believes humans’ basic drive is more toward being connected to other people in what she calls the “the drive toward mutual connection.” Thus Bodynamic Analysis helps individuals achieve fulfillment in the their relationships
It is made in a three-hour session and tests the tonicity of over 200 muscles in the body to see if they are neutral, hypo or hyper-elastic. Analysis of the Bodymap tells the therapist what parts of a person’s history are active in the present. The Bodynamic therapist then interprets the findings in terms of this history and present issues of concern in the client’s life.
The next step is for the therapist and client to make a treatment “contract” that stipulates specifically what the client wishes to work on. If the issues to be worked on are not too complex, the therapist may determine that short-term work is indicated. If the issues are more complex, or involve earlier developmental difficulties, or if traumatic experiences are indicated, longer-term work is likely appropriate.
In a typical Bodynamic session the verbal exchange between client and therapist is augmented and enhanced by: 1) experiential work that combines physical movements (contracting or stretching particular muscles) 2) hands-on work, which is a gentle contact with muscles that energizes them and often supports the emergence of issue-related and age-appropriate psychological material. This non-verbal part of Bodynamic work allows accessing of unconscious psychological material that was blocked, forgotten, or never learned.
“Therapy without body awareness lacks a vital element, while a body awareness work that is not grounded in solid psychotherapy will not produce lasting change.” – Lisbeth Marcher
As one example of this, consider the action of the triceps muscles on the back of the upper arm. It’s physical action is to extend the arm or push away. The corresponding psychological content of the muscle is related to setting limit limits. When an adult has under-elastic or collapsed triceps this is a strong indication that they have a difficult time saying “No” or keeping others at an optimal distance. While this can make all relationships difficult, it is especially problematic in intimate ones. Simply working with this muscle to develop the resource of limit setting can lead to a major shift in a client’s ability to sustain and enjoy relationships.
When working with the muscles psychological material can come up as an image, body sensation, memory, or emotion. The client and therapist work with this information to integrate and reclaim early abilities and resources, and then practice ways to use these in the present.
In working on the issues current in a client’s life, the under-elastic or collapsed muscles are usually worked with first. By increasing the elasticity of these muscles, one supports the psychological resources associated with them. Only after building up strengths and resources, can defensive patterns that at one time kept the child safe (or even alive) be comfortably and safely relaxed. This entails working with over-elastic muscles and related issues. And while Bodynamics is typically a complete primary therapy, it is also suitable as a short-term therapy and as an adjunct to other modalities because it can focus on specific issues..
Ultimately, the goal of Bodynamic Analysis is to be able to strengthen the clients ability to make healthy choices and experience healthy relationships.
Bodynamics’ empirical study of the psychological function of the muscles is encoded in its model of Seven Developmental Stages. This detailed developmental knowledge affords practitioners an alternative to simply following a client’s process while exploring a given issue. It facilitates the establishing of a more defined context, related to the presenting issue, in which a client’s process can be contained and then followed. This leads to a more complete resolution of the area being explored, and also facilitates more integration of new abilities and perspectives into the client’s personal life.
Using the Bodynamics model will sensitize you to the themes around which both relationships and psychological development take place, greatly facilitating your ability to form working relationships with your clients. And since attachment behavior is formed in the first three developmental stages, your work with the themes, resources, and muscles of these stages will nurture a deeper therapeutic relationship, one that allows the healing of attachment disruptions.
Historical Origins of Bodynamics
Bodynamics was originally the work of twelve Danish therapists working collectively for over twenty years. The psychological functions of the individual muscles were determined empirically from 10,000 reports of both therapist and client for a given session. The reports would describe which muscles were worked on, which issues were evoked, and which age level seemed to be involved. Since each muscle gets its psychological imprint during the developmental time period in which it comes under voluntary control, this information was then organized into the Seven Developmental Stages model. Additionally, it led to a model of ten so-called Ego Functions, like grounding, centering, boundaries, patterns of interpersonal skills, etc. For a scientific validation of the Bodynamic system, see:
Much of this information was recently published in a large reference volume by two of the Bodynamic founders: Body Encyclopedia: A Guide to the Psychological Functions of the Muscular System, by Lisbeth Marcher and Sonja Fich.
The Principles of Bodynamic Somatic Developmental Psychotherapy
The organizing principle in Bodynamics is called Mutual Connection. It concerns how we learn to be ourselves and be with others in relationship, and how the parent and child mutually create this pattern of mutual affective regulation. By comparison, attachment research examines the instinctual response the child (or any mammal) has to the stress of being without the parent in an unfamiliar or stressful situation, which evokes both the fear cry and the move towards proximity.
This is especially apparent in the first 18 months of development when the child is the most dependent on the parent. Mutual connection is a broader category that looks at the different mutual strategies both child and parent develop during each developmental stage, reflective of the basic themes of that stage. Just as attachment behavior, once established, holds consistent throughout a person’s life, so too do the behaviors learned and held in the body.
Bodynamic Organizing Principle:
Mutual Connection — When I am all of me, and you are all of you, can we be in deep connection?
If the answer is yes, then the child will learn and develop the somatic, mental, and psychological abilities appropriate for that developmental stage. If not, then the child will give up, hold back, or not acquire some developing aspects of its self or of the relationship.
In each of the Seven Developmental Stages this central question of relationship is acted out around the theme and the new and developing abilities and behaviors that come under conscious control in that stage. (See the chart of Bodynamic Character Structures.)
Recognition of three possible outcomes for the developmental tasks of each developmental stage:
Resourced position: Developing the appropriate abilities; Early positions: Resignation, giving-up the abilities or never having learned them; Late position: Holding back abilities or acting rigidly.
If the overall answer to the question of Mutual Connection for a given Stage is YES, we get:
A Resourced or Healthy Position in that developmental stage. This means that the relationship with caretakers has been “good enough”, and the child has developed the appropriate abilities.
If the answer is NO we get two possible limiting adjustments to self and/or to relationships:
Early Position in that stage: If the disturbances are early in the stage, severe, or persistent. This position is mostly characterized by resignation, and by important resources either given-up or never having been learned.
Late Position in that stage: If the disturbances are later in the stage, less severe or less persistent. This position has more energy and resource than the early position. However, it is characterized by a holding back of ability or by acting in a rigid manner.
Since the abilities/resources available in the early developmental stages are broad and not specific, protective strategies employing them have a broader and more disruptive effect. Thus, for a given developmental stage, the differences between the Early and Late positions is greatest for the earliest stage (Existence), and decreases continually as we go to later stages.
In Bodynamics we treat people’s character positions as creative, protective patterns adopted to preserve a sense of self and/or a connection to care takers. We do not characterize people by their protective patterns, but rather see these as limiting their options in certain situations, and often leading to repetitive, frustrating outcomes or patterns later in life.
Thus, Bodynamics is a framework, a lens through which we look. It is not a set of techniques. One colleague described her work as being like a trail guide. When working with a client, even though she’s never been in this exact place before (this client, this issue), she is familiar with other similar terrains.
This gives us the courage to trust, to wait, to allow something to happen. We may slow things down so we and the client can be aware of moments of opportunity, where we can see or sense a shift or an opening, and take advantage of this by bringing awareness to it. We may use the muscles, our intuition, or our previous experience to make small probes that might aid the verbal therapy. Slowly, we come to see the details, the steps, the trajectory (trail) that will help this client resolve and integrate this experience, while in relationship with us.
Body-oriented Therapy Approaches
Held-back abilities or expression: classically identified as sup- pression and repression, leads to use of free association, and then to recognition that impulses and defenses are also held in the body. Leads to Reich, Orgonomy, Bioenergetics, Radix, emotional release
Resignation – Some abilities, expressions, or awarenesses are never learned or quickly given up (resignation). These mostly do not come up spontaneously in psychotherapy.
Resourced or healthy expression: not so much acknowledged or studied.
Identification of Seven Developmental Stages, with three possible positions in each stage.
Recognition of patterns (diagnosis) of holding-back or acting in a rigid manner; of resignation or lack of resources:
Body shape, posture, and movement.
* Presentation and absence of issues brought to therapy.
* History contained in the muscles. The Bodymap.
Advantages of the Bodynamic System:
º Awareness of the Seven Developmental Stages helps the therapist
to recognize patterns, to see present issues in their developmental context.
º Having a detailed idea of what resourced or healthy functioning looks like for each developmental stage enables the Bodynamic approach to be healing-centered.
º Ability to work with specific issues. History of a client can be brought in as needed. Attention to body sensation and use of particular muscles can help to bring a client’s history into the present.
º By distinguishing Early and Late positions the therapist can re-spond more appropriately. In general, with someone acting from a Late position we use awareness, encouragement, support, challenge, and confrontation. In general, for someone acting from an early position we use awareness, encouragement, support, teaching of abilities or skills, and practice with skills. We also affirm and encourage the use of resources, of abilities, and teach and train them when they are absent.
º Allows greater resolution of issues and integration of new abilities into client’s daily life. Knowledge of issues and abilities arising in different developmental stages, and awareness of the language and body postures involved, enables a therapist to recognize if/when a client has changed issues or jumped to a different developmental stage. Following a clients process, while holding them in one position in a given stage, leads to greater clarity, more rapid resolution of issues, and more integration into the client’s life. (The therapist may also choose to move to another developmental stage if a missing resource from that stage would aid the resolution of the issue at hand.)
º Ability to recognize when a resource is missing when working with
a related psychological issue. Often, simply the teaching of a new resource may go a long way towards resolving an issue. For example, people who often get overwhelmed in a relationship may be lacking the skill of setting limits. Teaching the skill and grounding in the related muscles can be followed with rehearsing its use in session as preparation for bringing the skill/ability into daily life.
º Decreases the fear of and problems inherent in regressive work.
When called for, resources from later developmental stages can be developed. Once these resources are available, regressing to earlier stages is not experienced as so threatening.
Structure of the Training
In this training we will cover all seven developmental stages, starting with the earliest, the Existence level, and going up through Solidarity/Performance. We will go through the same learning steps for each stage. These include a discussion of the themes for the stage, a demonstration of the related postures, experiential use of some relevant muscles, taking on the early and late positions and interacting from these, a Parent/Child exercise that gives some sense of how problems arise in this stage, a lecture on working with issues from this stage, selection of volunteers for a demonstrations session, one or several demonstration sessions, discussion of these session and how we use the material in our practice, and final questions. Trainees will then do supervised practice sessions for each developmental stage.
In the first five-day module you will learn about our approach to psychotherapy, and how we developed and use a container model for structuring a therapy session. We also will cover the Existence and Need developmental stages. In the second, four-day module, we will cover Autonomy and Will; in the third, Love/Sexuality and Opinion, And in the fourth Solidarity/Performance, and the resources/abilities of Grounding, Centering, and Support.
Appendix: The Bodymap: Bodynamics’ advanced diagnostic tool
A muscle gets its psychological imprint during the developmental time period in which it comes under voluntary control. The imprint leaves the muscle with neutral elasticity, under-elasticity, or over-elasticity. The elasticity imprint of a muscle is not changed by exercise and will persist until the corresponding psychological issue is worked through. Muscles that are imprinted in the same time period, around the same developmental issues, are taken to belong to that developmental stage.
Muscle elasticity and the Bodymap: On the Bodymap we measure four degrees of over-elasticity (shades of red), four degrees of under-elasticity (shades of blue), and neutral elasticity (green).
For a given developmental stage, if a majority of the muscles are neutral or close to neutral, we say the person is resourced in that stage.
For a given developmental stage, if a majority of the muscles are over-elastic, we say the person is in the late position for that stage.
For a given developmental stage, if the majority of the muscles are under-elastic, we say the person is in the early position for that stage.
Along with showing disturbances in the developmental stages and in the ego functions, the Bodymap can reveal problems from birthing and from trauma.