An Outline on Leading Theorists in Emotion focused and Body Centered Therapy

In Integration of Experiential Awareness

By Robert J. Caffrey, M.A.

“Every character formation…fulfills two functions: first, the armoring of the ego against the outer world and against the instinctual demands; second, the economic function….the binding of the continually produced anxiety.”

Wilhelm Reich

“Human anatomy is a dynamic, kinetic, and emotional process. Anatomy gives an identity, a specific recognizable shape, and a way of functioning based on that shape. They study of the human shape reveals its genetic and emotional history…….Particular anatomical shapes produce a corresponding set of human feelings.”

Stanley Keleman

“We ask the patient to become aware of his gestures, of his breathing, of his emotion, of his voice, and of his facial expressions, as much as of his pressing thoughts….Awareness always takes place in the present. It opens possibilities for action.”

Frederick S. Perls, M.D., Ph.D.

“The character of the individual as it is manifested in his typical pattern of behavior is also portrayed on the somatic level by the form and movement of the body…The body expression is the somatic view of the typical emotional expression which is seen on the psychic level as “character”.”

Alexander Lowen, M.D.

I. Wilhelm Reich

(A.) Character analysis: Reich believed that neurosis located itself in the very tissues of the body, where it is manifested as physical tension patterns (body armor) and emotionally restricted functioning (character rigidity). It needed to be resolved through awareness, and a somatic event (release of tension) in the context of verbal therapy.

(B.) Key contribution of this theory was “muscular armor” or “body armor”.

(C.) Repetitious trauma, insult, conflict leads to an individual developing an energetic body structure (“character”) developed for protection.

(D.) Structure and accompanying resistance to energetic flow impacts how the person lives themselves and how others respond to them.

(E.) Holding patterns of the body limit/restrict emotional expression.

(F.) Characters can be typed and provide information regarding the history of trauma, abuse, insult, conflict in childhood.

II. Frederick S. (“Fritz”) Perls

(A.) Gestalt therapy: Perls theorized that human nature is organized in patterns and is understood by individuals in these terms. Behavior must be understood as a part of the pattern or the whole.

(B.) What the client does physically says something about what they think, and what they think says something about how they do, what they do.

(C.) Neurosis arises from an individual’s inability to find and maintain the proper balance between one’s self and the rest of the world.

(D.) “Retroflection” or “Top Dog/Bottom Dog”. Our bodies are the evidence of how we learn to do what was done to us. An individual learns to treat himself or herself as they were treated (“Bottom Dog”) or how they would have liked to treat others (“Top Dog”).

(E.) Physical tension in the body created by retroflection, which prevents the flow and completion of natural emotional energetic charge. ”

“I’ll give you something to cry about!”
“What kind of coward are you?”
“Big boys/girls don’t cry that way.”
“You belong to me.”

These statements are examples of ways to prevent a natural emotional response.

(F.) Perls believed that awareness of the body reactions helps us to learn the truth of our history, and our experience

” What are you doing?
” What do you feel?
” What do you want? ”
“What do you avoid?
” What do you expect?

– The therapists should help the client focus on “how” rather than “why”?

– The therapist must be aware of their own process, pre-convictions, in order to be able to “say”, and “know” what they “see”.

– The therapist should ask questions rather than make statements.

“Are you aware of your speech?”
“Are you aware of the expression on your face”?

– The client’s body, structure, responses, reactions always makes sense given the context of their life experience.

– The focus of a session is on a continuum of non-intellectual awareness. Focus on sensory data, feelings, emotions, breathing, and body sensations.

– Reality is here and now.

“Everything I say and do is part of me and an expression of my identity at that moment.”

III. Alexander Lowen, M.D.

(A.) Biogenergetics: “The study of personality in terms of the body.” – Lowen theorized that “personality” is the way an individual is in the world, body-wise. – Given this fact, the way the person holds their body and moves is diagnostic of character styles.

(B.) Five Basic Holding Patterns (i) Holding together in response to the fear of falling apart/fragmentation (ii) Holding on in response to the fear of rejection/abandonment (iii) Holding up in response to the fear of failure/dominance (iv) Holding in, in response to the fear of letting go/exploding (v) Holding Back in response to the fear of being overwhelmed

(C.) Holding is representative of a person’s emotional blocking. Holding is the “process” by which that person interrupts their own energy flow.

(D.) Structures are tied to trauma or other, insult in the developmental stages/tasks of a child. Lowen stressed that the course of therapy was to: ” Identify tension patterns ” Release tension, free emotions ” Provide interpretation/support for memories and emotions energizing from the unconscious

IV. Stanley Keleman

(A.) Keleman states that individuals use their bodies to function emotionally.

(B.) All individuals stand upright. Given this fact, individuality is found in the variety of shapes and postures they assume.

(C.) “Insults to form” – human structure, uprightness and shape is altered by insults, challenges and assaults.

(D.) Expansion and contraction, under pressure action, over pressure action, pulsation all occurs in the body, in response to environment, thereby giving it its shape.

(E.) Breathing – form of expansion/contraction. Emotion – energy of softening/hardening

(F.) The shape of the body affected by “stress”. Impact depends on: – Timing – Number – Source – Duration – Severity

(G.) Hardening to initial insult, loss of shape, swelling, or collapse as assaults continue and increase. “A lot of forming goes on outside the purview of self-awareness….When I work with a person, I keep a close eye on what is emerging in whether he or she is presently forming.” Stanley Keleman

Copyright © 2009, Robert J. Caffrey, M.A., Hartford, CT 06105