Embodiment in Body Psychotherapy
Embodiment can be defined as a subjective experience, as a felt sense of being in my body, identifying with the ‘lived body’ moment-to-moment.
There is a lot going on in the body, on all kinds of levels, every second, and it is one of the functions of consciousness to screen out the bulk of it. So ’embodiment’ cannot mean that I am aware of everything that is going on, that is impossible as we know from neuroscience. However, it does mean that reflective awareness and spontaneous processes come together, pretty much in the sense of Winnicott’s phrase “psyche indwelling in the soma” (1987). In simple terms it means that sensing, feeling, imagining and thinking are working together as aspects of an organismic, embodied experience of “interdependent self” as process.
The crucial aspect of embodiment, therefore, is not the body per se, but the mutual, reciprocal, self-regulating and self-organizing relationship of body and mind as antagonistic and complementary poles of experience: psyche and soma coming together as differentiated poles, being experienced as intimately related, as the ground of subjectivity. In this definition, then, there is no ’embodiment’ without subjectivity or intersubjectivity.
Embodiment also means that parts of our conceptual system and therefore some aspects of our language are structured by the features of our bodies and the functioning of our bodies in everyday life. Embodiment encompasses more than the (human) body. The body is some particular living entity whereas embodiment refers to a general process. Images and texts are embodied in media, a measuring system becomes embodied in an instrument, meaning is embodied in signs, habituation is an embodiment of ways of life, etc.
About intersubjectivity, Donald Winnicot once said: ‘there is no such thing as an infant’, meaning, of course, that whenever one finds an infant one finds maternal care, and without maternal care, there would be no infant. Ana-Maria Rizzuto adds ‘Communications between mother and child involve their entire bodily being; voice, posture, gestures, closeness of bodies, and ways in which their bodies fit into each other in moments of physical contact.’ The principle that ‘nurture’ gets internalized and embodied as what was previously conceived of as pure ‘nature’ was implied in character analytic theory all along: emotional interpersonal processes become internalized and embodied as body/mind processes. The way the infant is held and related to becomes the way the person’s mind is capable of holding and relating to their feelings, which is reflected in the way the brain relates to body physiology, which is reflected in the way different sub-systems of the brain relate to each other (e.g. the cortex to the limbic system).
Dirk Marivoet, Registered Psychotherapist (BVP-ABP, EABP, EAP, WAPCEPC) and Psychomotor Therapist (VVPMT), CCEP, PT