Biodynamic Psychology: Healing through the wisdom of the body
By: Ellena Fries


Article from: Positive Health, July 2006

Biodynamic Therapy was developed by the Norwegian psychotherapist, clinical psychologist and physiotherapist Gerda Boyesen (1922-2005), who lived and taught in London, where she died last December after an extraordinary rich and fulfilled life. It is a great joy for me to be part of the Biodynamic community and I highly appreciate the opportunity to share some of my insights into one of the most important psychotherapeutic techniques today: a technique that uses the treasure of body’s wisdom, a technique that reaches far beyond words to find healing, where pure verbal therapy gets to its end.

THE BEGINNINGS

Wilhelm Reich, student of Sigmund Freud, was first to understand and introduce the importance of body and touch into psychotherapy. He laid the foundation for modern body psychotherapy. Gerda Boyesen was one of the second generation’s pioneers. She was already studying psychology, when she started to work with Ola Raknes, one of Reich’s close students in Norway. To fully understand the body and its anatomy, she additionally trained as a physiotherapist, where she got in touch with a very effective neuro-muscular massage technique1, which became the basis of Gerda Boyesen’s ‘Deep Draining’, and the foundation of ‘Biodynamic Massage’ (see below).

The term “Biodynamic” refers to the concept of life energy flowing naturally in a healthy body. This flow of energy is either supported or disturbed by our personal life experiences. The more it becomes disturbed, the less healthy we’ll feel in our physical and psychological existence. Our life story is inscribed in our bodies. The way we develop our posture, the tonus of our muscles, the curves of the spine, the form of a toe, the shape of a face are all connected with the happy and the less happy experiences in our lives.


THE PRIMARY PERSONALITY – TRUE EXPRESSION OF SELF

Biodynamic Psychology believes that every human being has a whole & complete inner core remaining unaffected by life’s turbulences, called the Primary Personality. Its counterpart though, the Secondary Personality, feeds on all life’s experiences, which make us suppress or distort our primary impulses of true self expression. Thus, over time, the way we present ourselves to the world is formed and crystallizes in a person’s typical character and body posture2.

Here is a simple explanation of this process: Let’s assume something frightening happens to a child. Its primary reaction would be either to scream, cry or run away out of fear; to hit, kick or shout out of anger; or maybe at the end of the experience to reach out for its mother out of the need for comfort.  The urge to express these feelings is not only psychological, but is a very physical, mostly instinctual reaction in the vegetative system. It can be described as a movement of fluid (or ‘life energy’) in the body. If the expression gets blocked, the fluid will not dissolve and cause waste in mind and body. Tension builds up in the muscles to hold back the physical expression. On the emotional level the child will feel frustrated, confused, unworthy, helpless…and in deep stress. This physical an emotional tension remains in and affects the vegetative system long after the original urge has subsided and been forgotten. If this process is repetitive armouring happens. Armouring means that a certain muscle or a group of muscles become so stuck in their expressions that a chronic blockage arises. Reich was mainly talking about muscular armouring, meaning the skeletal muscles, whereas Gerda Boyesen found that the armouring is also happening on the even deeper level of the visceral, the muscles of the guts. The guts, she found out, are deeply involved in a person’s self regulation of stress and conflict (see below ‘psychoperistalsis’). We learn to suppress the urge to express ourselves from early age on, because in individual families and in society generally, the spontaneous expression of certain feelings is not welcomed. There may be prohibitions, disapproval, punishments or even more serious traumatic experiences like physical violence and sexual abuse to make us repress or restrict the instinctual responses.


BODY WISDOM AND THE BIODYNAMIC HEALING PROCESS

A certain amount of stress and conflict though is quite natural to human life. And true it is that the human body and psyche has got an inbuilt self healing and self regulating ability, which can deal with this limited amount very well. Once the limit is stepped over self regulation stops working properly and a blockage starts to establish. The good news is that the Primary Personality even though it can be heavily covered by many layers, it is never destroyed. With few exceptions most people have healthy aspects with a good, flowing contact to the Primary. These aspects might be hidden away, but they are in a way just waiting to be rediscovered. So they will easily be accessible for a client and provide a positive force and source of strength.Subtle impulses are incessantly sent out from the core to brain and body carrying healing wisdom in form of what physical movement, what sound, or what other expression or action is necessary in order to release and rebalance the stuck energy of that person in this moment. One of the aims of Biodynamic Body Psychotherapy is to help the client to regain awareness of these subtle impulses ‘impinging from within’ and learn to trust and follow their guidance towards the enfolding of true self. Biodynamic Body Psychotherapy disposes over a wide range of techniques to work through a person’s layers of armouring, in respect of the person’s pace and in a gentle allowing way.

On this path the client will most certainly meet his/her resistance. It is one of the fundamental beliefs of Biodynamic Psychotherapy that resistance needs and deserves respect, and its attitude towards it is one of open, loving inquisitiveness and understanding: why is that resistance there? What is/was its job? What does it need to let go? Once valued for its aims and purposes linked to the past, the resistance will soften up and allow being seduced to give way to more appropriate behaviour for that person’s life now.

Because blockages manifest on the vegetative and therefore subconscious level an essential part of the therapy works beyond words, in direct contact with life energy (hence its name ‘vegetotherapy’). We can be mentally very aware of an issue, but as long as it is not cleared out of the body’s system, it will most certainly continue to give us trouble. This process develops gently in the safe environment of the therapeutic setting before it will integrate more and more into the person’s outer life. Ultimately the person’s self regulation will be restored and fully functional again, so that he/she will be able to deal with the minor disturbances of everyday life on his/her own. Harmony, health and a deeper feeling of pleasure in being alive usually emerge out of this process.


THE SPIRITUAL EMBRACE OF BIODYNAMIC BODY PSYCHOTHERAPY

Biodynamic Body Psychotherapy acknowledges the spiritual dimension of our existence. I feel the wish to emphasize how I personally work on this premise. I see Body Psychotherapy (among many other methods and ways) as a very powerful tool to learn as much as we can about the path and intention of our soul here on earth and to nourish that sparkling star in our heart, which radiates love and a ‘yes’ for life. I see every blockage as a blessed obstacle with the potential to wake us up and guide us to merge with our Primary Personality, which is directly linked with the higher self. Wonderful moments full of awe happen, when a client experiences this contact: deep healing is taking place. There is no need for words; peace, harmony and love radiate naturally from that person and pervade every cell of his or her body as well as the direct environment. It is like witnessing a miracle in all its simple beauty.


The limits of my work and any kind of Psychotherapy lie for my understanding within the boundaries of the spiritual blueprint of a person’s life at this moment in time and I see my work in service of this greater perspective.


WHAT TO EXPECT IN A BIODYNAMIC THERAPY SESSION:

Biodynamic therapy works in depth with the link between mind, body and spirit.
The attitude of the therapist is one of cooperation with the client. Together they set out on the journey to explore and understand where the symptoms or issues the client brought to the sessions originate and what the person needs to regain his or her balance. The therapist takes sides with the healthy core and supports the client in his or her ability to connect with that core and listen to its messages. Non-verbal language is used as a means of communicating between the conscious and subconscious, for example in exploring a spontaneous gesture or movement, expression of the eyes or the sound of the voice.  Non-verbal therapeutic interventions are for example specially devised massages, breath work, body awareness, regression therapy, vegetotherapy and emotional expression. Touch is part of biodynamic psychotherapy, but will only be used with the understanding and agreement of the client. Verbal psychotherapy is to a certain extent always part of the setting. At the beginning and the end of a session, the verbal part functions like a bridge between the day to day life and the therapy session and often it is important for the client to verbalise her/his experiences from the session in order to integrate it fully in his/her life.
There might be sessions, when verbal psychotherapy is what the client needs in this moment of his/her process. But the Biodynamic therapist will be aware of the nonverbal language and thus read between the spoken words.


BIODYNAMIC MASSAGE

Biodynamic Massage works within the above outlined holistic perspective of body, mind and spirit. It can be part of the therapeutic journey or it can be used as a treatment in its own right. How does it differ from other holistic/therapeutic forms of massage? Biodynamic Psychology knows and uses the techniques and effects of classical massage as well as those of the more spiritually oriented new-age massage types and very similar results can be expected: general improvement of the metabolism, balance of the respiratory system, reduction of stress and stress related symptoms (headaches, insomnia), calming of the nervous system, easing of muscular tensions and related physical pains and aches (back, neck, shoulders), release of toxins, aura balance to name just a few.

But some essential aspects surpass the areas of common ground hugely and give biodynamic massage its unique character:
The Biodynamic Therapist is trained to communicate through touch with the vegetative system in order to bring the stuck energy and tensions to a release. Gerda Boyesen discovered that the peristaltic sounds gave her a feedback about how the body (always understood as in unity with the whole person) and mainly its vegetative system responds to the touch of the therapist. This reaction can be different for every few inches of the body. The peristaltic sounds are part of the self healing or self regulating ability of the body and they indicate the digestion of emotional stress. This function of our intestines Gerda Boyesen called the “psychoperistalsis”. The biodynamic therapist may use an electrical stethoscope to keep track of the sounds during the treatment. Biodynamic massage knows about the effect of touch: “When we touch a body, we touch the whole person”. Every massage is in a way an intimate meeting. Even the simplest body contact touches at issues around closeness and distance and massage tends to associate with the regressive moments and corresponding emotions in a person’s life. A biodynamic therapist knows about this dynamic. She or he is also aware of the effects of transference and counter transference any situation of physical closeness may cause and is able to deal with it professionally. Sometimes this process will not show on a conscious level of interaction or it will be very natural and easy, and sometimes it may induce the step from massage to psychotherapy.

For a biodynamic massage treatment the therapist may use a massage table or work on a mattress on the floor. For a success of the treatment it is not necessary to work on bare skin; it is up to the client to decide if he/she wants to be touched directly on the skin or not. It is up to the therapist to decide the use of any oils or lotions for the treatment. Some massages follow a fixed structure, like the back massage, belly massage, exit massage (head, hands, feet) and all the ‘deep draining’ treatments. But many others follow the clients verbalised needs, the feedback of the peristaltic sounds and the therapist’s intuition.

WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM BIODYNAMIC MASSAGE?
Biodynamic massage is suitable for those looking for release of stress related symptoms and other psycho-physiological conditions. Headaches, anxiety, insomnia, depression, arthritis, M.E., etc. have been treated successfully; for those looking for a pleasurable relaxing massage; and for those wanting to increase their body awareness and wanting  to embark on a journey of self discovery through a body centred approach. The ‘deep draining’ is suitable for those on the path of self discovery, willing to commit for a certain time and looking for the combination of massage and psychotherapy.

BIODYNAMIC GROUP THERAPY                    

Group therapy in contrast to the 1:1 setting relying on the relationship between client and therapist, offers a diversity of relationships similar to real life, optimal ground to explore different ways of contact with each other and the self. It creates the possibility to encounter immediate emotional reality and its effect on the body and mind in a continuous process. The participants find a deeper sense of their true nature and come to understand what is going on in threir present lives in the light of our past experiences. Trust, openness and speaking out freely transforms the group into a safe and secure place, where it is ok to experiment with and share a newly found truth or to try for the first time to speak up for yourself. Eventually fear and shame can be overcome and a deep loving understanding towards ourselves and each other arises. Beginning to know that “I am ok the way I am!” is a truly wonderful and freeing experience.


Ellena Fries

Ellena Fries is an experienced Biodynamic Body Psychotherapist.
Ellena trained with the Gerda Boyesen Institute and ESBPE (European School for Biodynamic Psychology) for five years in Biodynamic Psychology, Body Psychotherapy and Massage. She is also a certificated practitioner for Gerda Boyesen’s Deep Draining, as well as a Yoga teacher and Reiki Master. From her first career Ellena holds a University degree in Social Anthropology and Ethnology and she spent many years travelling and learning about cultural, social and spiritual diversity in people. Ellena says: “The essential wisdom I discovered in those years was the beauty of the all uniting force of humanity”.

Ellena worked with individuals and groups in her own clinic in Cologne, Germany for 10 years, before she moved to Cornwall in 2003, where she now lives and works in and near Penzance as a member of the local Complementary Health Initiative (CHI). Ellena offers sessions for individuals and couples and she facilitates groups for body psychotherapy and/or biodynamic massage. She is also pleased to offer ‘block therapy’ for clients from further away, which comprises a minimum of three sessions over three days. Her work is based on the ethical guidelines and training standards of the European Association for Body Psychotherapy (EABP).
“I bring many years of experience of my own exciting therapeutic & spiritual journey into my work. I believe that every being is wonderfully unique and I want to support my clients to discover and follow their own special path with love and compassion towards themselves and others.”

INFORMATION
If you want to talk to Ellena about individual work and group therapy in Penzance and Sancreed or want to organize a workshop or talk with her please contact 07900324079 or 01736 363534 or info@ellenafries.com
Ellena is also involved in a mental health project in Cornwall, which is called ‘Space for you’ and offers a therapeutic week for people with mental health issues in Sancreed House, a beautiful location in West Penwith. Therapeutic treatments range from art therapy to Biodynamic Body Psychotherapy in a program individually tailored to the needs of the client. (Sometimes funded through the NHS).


1 This was the method of Aadel Bulow Hansen, who had her own clinic in Norway. Bulow Hansens’s massages – without her having any knowledge of Reich’s theories - succeeded in melting the muscular armouring. Gerda Boyesen trained with her and part of the training was to receive the massages  herself, which opened Gerda’s process to a level she hadn’t been able to reach before.

2 Even though there are other aspects involved in character formation, like genetic inheritance, character typeshave been and still are important for Body Psychotherapy.

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