Body Psychotherapy – Psychotherapeutic Postural Integration
Psychotherapeutic Postural Integration (PPI) – A collaborative working document compiled by ICPIT-members, intended to be the basis for a continued development of defining the place of Postural Integration® within the field of Body Psychotherapy.
Psychotherapeutic Postural Integration offers a double reading and interaction to the client: It listens carefully to the subject’s history as well as to the person’s body expression that shows at the same time. The bodymind shows two parallel forms of expression (a verbal and non-verbal one) both of which are operative when they are simultaneously taken into account. The emotional value of the words that become embodied are all the better when the subject is conscious of his/her feelings. Inhabiting our language also means living it, hearing it in our flesh. Language (verbal and non-verbal) thus becomes a powerful tool for transformation as well as for diagnosis. The sounds of the body are made of innermost movements, feelings and expressions that give life to the words or which can also contradict them.
The way to tap into feeling, memory (individual and collective) and words differs from person to person. The ‘manipulation of the energy flow’ in the Postural Integration manner is done through an elaborate system of deep holistic work with the bodymind that addresses the patterns of holding in the planes of myofascia in the body.
The word ‘Posture’ stands for the way we hold our bodies as well as for the way we stand in the world around us by our actions. The word ‘integration’ means completion, which has roots in Latin and implies the meaning ‘undamaged, unspoiled’. Thus Postural Integration means the restoration of the unspoiled posture (posture in every sense) and thereby integration into a greater whole.
Postural Integration addresses the ‘atmospheres’ and ’emotional microclimates’, typical of parent-infant interactions (drawing heavily on findings from investigations conducted by child therapists and infant researchers (such as Melanie Klein, Alice Balint, René Spitz, Margarethe Schönberger (i.e. Margret Mahler) and Donald Winnicott), as well as the ‘energy flow’ of the organism in the Reichian traditions. It works with the notion of ‘somatic memory’; the idea that, as Wilhelm Reich put it, ‘every muscular rigidity’ – or, indeed, every other bodily restriction – ‘contains the history and meaning of its origin’; and that by releasing the restriction and re-owning the memory, most importantly the emotional memory, a person can dissolve a corresponding pattern of psychological constraint.
Emotional memories are stored subcortically, via the amygdala and other related brain areas and also in the tissue itself. There is considerable evidence that traumatic memories can be stored, and expressed, unconsciously and non-verbally. In other words, emotional memories are unconscious – they appear as feelings, not as memories of feelings – and persistent.
Body-psychotherapists are trained to use bodily interaction as a reproduction of an early socialisation climate (the ‘atmospheres’ and ’emotional microclimates’, typical of parent-infant interactions) through regression in order to achieve a ‘corrective emotional experience’, as Franz Alexander called it. They will support the client’s process of self-regulation in different stages of their ‘affect-cycle’, in order for them to learn to charge their emotions in such a way that communication with themselves and with relatives improves, as well as the coping of their emotions in such a way that the bodymind has no need to create psychosomatic conditions in order to regulate emotional needs, wants and desires.
Part of these understandings offered by Body-Psychotherapy and, in particular, Psychotherapeutic Postural Integration, shows specifically and in detail how character style and suffering is a part of and can create and perpetuate a blockage in the body and mind and how these blocks can become accessible through psychotherapeutic touch, words, movement and other methods.
Body Psychotherapists have experienced over the years that special emotional patterns are being fixated in special areas, known in the Reichian tradition as the ‘seven segments of embodied experiences’.
The therapist can become a support in the growth and healing process of the client and his psychotherapeutic touch can be used as a back-up, allowing the patient to feel his suffering in its body expression and to try, in a process towards integration and autonomy, to find his way through this suffering, and thus to heal it.
Body-Psychotherapy encourages a process of dialogue, which is both verbal and non-verbal. The main point is that, whether verbal or non-verbal, the communication is anchored with reference to bodily processes.
Whether one is experiencing and expressing armoured aspects of the self, or discussing more general aspects perhaps associated with family history, or worldviews, or personal self-esteem, or reactions to anxiety or depression, verbal and non-verbal communication is clarified by the body-mind dialogue, and by the psychological and somatic process which is allowed and encouraged to complete itself. In this way the so called bottom-up and top-down approaches as defined in affective neuroscience, are applied in a balanced way.
Postural Integrators have found moreover that the following fundamental conceptual dimensions are useful for a more complete (postural) integration : top-bottom, center-periphery, left-right, front-back, inside-outside.
In an armored bodymind these divisions are still in stubborn conflict in different degrees. After ‘release work’ these, previously mostly unconscious, parts begin to coordinate with each other, and the body psychotherapist’s hands help this coming together with a category of specialised interactive ‘integration strokes’.
If there is a Body-Psychotherapeutic art, this is precisely where it lies.
In the Postural Integration process, primary interventional approaches by the therapist are factored in the following ways:
(1) Support is given for the consultant /client / patient to express his/her feelings, emotions, movement and words in the context of their psychotherapeutic and somatic process.
(2) Support is given for exploring new ways of understanding, acting and feeling.
The therapist uses a variety of tools and models within the therapy session. He also takes into account the person’s history, personally (personality) defined aspects, their conceptual environment (belief systems, expectations, etc.) and their historical and social environment (family, couple, friends, community, work, etc.).
Interventions are an area of considerable delicacy and importance to all Body-Psychotherapists.
These interventions are:
(1) verbal support of the dialogue (embodied, emotional and cognitive),
(2) non-verbal affirmation of the client’s process,
(3) relational (within the therapeutic setting).
(4) psychotherapeutic touch: e.g. informed physical manipulations of fasciae layers,
(5) other physical interaction with the patient to support the patient’s movement towards new energy and dialogue.
Postural Integration can be placed in the boundary area of five different contexts:
1. The four historical forces of psychology (being psychoanalytic, behaviourism, humanistic and existential approach and transpersonal)
3. Somatic Therapies,
4. Bio-behavioral sciences (in the sense given by S. W. Porges) and
5. The area of “La biologie des comportements”, of H. Laborit. (See also the contribution of Cascone, R. in Transformation of the Self with Bodymind Integration)
Postural Integration is a unique, holistic synthesis, not just a collection or amalgamation of methods of breathing, deep bodywork, Gestalt, Reichian work, Jungian insights and concepts and movement and energy awareness. All these aspects are facets of a central view of the individual as an energetic élan exhibiting physical, emotional and cognitive dimensions. We recognize that all our activities go in cycles or waves. Each movement, thought or feeling has a beginning, middle and end. This is a flow of energy, an idea that has been worked out in what is known within Postural Integration as “the Energetic Cycle” (“Stages in Natural Energy Flow” and ”Blockages of the Natural Flow of Energy” – see charts and descriptions online) that can be seen in breathing patterns, posture, myofascial composition etc..
Blockages are seen as running through all these dimensions. Postural Integration induces biological changes that the client senses, describes and integrates. One meaning of “integration” in this work is that the experiences one has during sessions are helped to fall into place or are given a conscious place and meaning. Depending on the stage of therapy one is in, integration is different. Integration is written down as “new memory” that is poly-rayed. The patient is helped to unite his so-called egocentric and anthropocentric (vertical) dimensions with his biocentric or ecocentric (horizontal) dimensions (Warwick Fox (1993), cited in Marivoet, 1998).
PPI refutes the idea of reducing the psychic problems to pathology only and refers itself to an existential perspective oriented towards health. As Dr. Alberto Alberti (psychosynthesis) very clearly put it, we consider that a human being can be considered “as a living being basically in good health, oriented towards the accomplishment of himself. The human being goes his existential way, meeting moments of crises and conflicts. This process can lead to pain and suffering, but not necessarily to illness”.
In fact, suffering can be considered as leading either to a pathological state – involution, regression and disease – or to an evolutive state where the human being can mature and grow. Health can be considered a form of balance and rhythm, a dynamic integration between two tendencies of human systems: harmony and growth. In some cases, illness can be interpreted as a “pathological solution”, a pseudo-integration which is, in fact, an attempt to integration at a lower level.
Postural Integration’s synthesis, as mentioned above, of both Gestalt, Reichian, myofascial and subtle energy approaches brings together the need to start with the patient’s awareness and the patient’s feelings of blockages and difficulty. Interpreting through diagnosis these body feelings and blockages can be of help only if they can guide the direction of the work with the body, feeling and cognition. Any assessment or intervention needs acceptance by the patient and integration into his or her awareness.
Strategies and goals
The overall strategy is to help with the release of blocked energy and the integration of new energy. It is important that this release, though holistic and involving every dimension, is carefully guided step by step, stage by stage to a confrontation of the individual with their basic pains and frustrations. The integration is not only a physical harmonization of the body in the aforementioned dimensions, but simultaneously a balance of the inner “roles” voices, and attitudes which support the different sides of the self. And a part of integration is learning how to maintain or re-establish inner harmony when interacting with the inside and outside world. Finally, integration brings an appreciation of the value of resonating with? the harmonies that exist in other individuals and the world (cfr. the aforementioned egocentric, anthropocentric, biocentric and ecocentric dimensions). Resonance can also be seen as coming from the client and therapist working through their transference and counter-transference to a harmony with an understanding of each other. The person should be helped to appropriate his/her needs deeply buried under defence mechanisms; the goal is not to break the armour, but to make it more flexible.
Psychotherapeutic Postural Integration has carefully explained itself as based on not merely a use of several areas – energy work, emotional release and integration, bodywork and movement awareness – but as a true new synthesis. Central to this is the practical use, illustration and exploration of the synchronous nature (see also C.G. Jung) of our experiences. In our writings and demonstrations we show how different kinds of breathing, verbal expression, body shapes are simultaneous different aspects of body character structure and how in working to transform the individual we need to synchronously work with all aspects of the individual.
To conclude, this process resembles less a technique and more a dance between the practitioner and the client; between inner sensations and outer relations…more a continuous process of becoming who we really are through the symbolic interactive experiences in the process.
The training of body psychotherapists
The power of this unitary method is explained to our students by first giving them the ingredients of the method, then showing how it the art becomes a flexible dance with many rhythms.
Our practitioners are guided through many concrete sessions to learn how to master the use of this method. We have found that practitioners from other areas understand this kind of practice when they see it in action.
Seen our trans-disciplinary interest, it is only natural that many of our practitioners and trainers are qualified in various areas. Psychotherapeutic Postural Integration has grown through its contact with these areas. Most of our trainers have originally been trained in other modalities: experiential Gestalt, psychiatric psychopathology, psychology, physiotherapy, theatre, storytelling, theology, philosophy, management.
Whatever tools and safeguards are appropriate for a verbal approach to therapy are also appropriate – with certain changes – for this bodily approach. This is a key distinction between a body psychotherapy and a bodywork approach.
- Jack W. Painter’s Answers to the 15 questions to assess the scientific validity of a psychotherapeutic modality :
Psychotherapeutic Postural Integration
- ICPIT’s formulations of the Body Psychotherapeutic process of Postural Integration
- Dirk Marivoet, De Mens benaderen als geheel, 1998.
- R. Cascone in Eckert, R. & Schlage, B., Transformation of the Self with Bodymind Integration