Psycho-Physical Therapy, a holistic therapeutic approach that combines theories and techniques from body therapy and talk therapy, acknowledges the importance of addressing the body and spirit as well as the mind during therapeutic work, in recognition of the fact that humans are complex beings with interacting, inseparable systems.
People seeking treatment in order to clarify their life purpose, determine goals for the future, increase self-awareness, or develop the psycho-physical resources that can increase mental and emotional well-being may find this approach beneficial.
Bill Bowen, MFA, LMT spent 35 years working in the fields of somatic-based therapies and spirituality, and Psycho-Physical Therapy evolved gradually from his efforts. Bowen, trained in a number of body-based therapeutic disciplines such as Hakomi therapy, somatic experiencing, bodynamic analysis, and biomechanics, among others, also worked closely with a number of the founders of these approaches, including Lisbeth Marcher, Ron Kurtz, Peter Levine, and Pat Ogden.
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Psycho-physical therapy is not used to diagnose, and the approach does not typically focus on what is going wrong or not working in a person's life. Instead, therapists help individuals in treatment explore the mind-body interface, accessing and utilizing their own internal ability to achieve greater well-being, in order to address both psychological and physical concerns.
Supporters of this modality believe the physical body plays an instrumental role in promoting psychological well-being. While other therapeutic approaches may address the body passively—through observation or the use of the body as an information resource, for example—psycho-physical therapists seek to actively engage the body and mind during all stages of psychotherapy. To achieve this, hands-on body work may be utilized with the consent of the person in treatment. Therapists often also study and address posture and movement patterns in order to begin developing a strategy to strengthen and deepen the mind-body connection.
The mind-body connection refers to the widely accepted concept that physical aspects of health, such as exercise, nutrition, and sleep, can often impact mental and emotional aspects of health. Similarly, a person’s cognitions, attitudes, and emotions may influence physical and biological functioning. These affects can be positive or negative.
Bodily traits and functions such as tonicity, movement patterns, posture, locomotion, support, balance, and orientation are viewed by practitioners of Psycho-Physical Therapy as important somatic resources for overall mental health. One of the major tenets of this approach is the belief that tracking the body can allow practitioners to analyze psycho-physical interactions that may reveal information about an individual’s mental and emotional state. This analysis may then lead to the utilization of appropriate therapeutic techniques to foster healing.
Practitioners have found, for example, that people who experience chronic spinal flexion—a physical condition characterized by a spine that is bent forward—are commonly affected by concerns such as low self-worth, decreased motivation, hopelessness, and depression. Psycho-physical therapists believe helping people with this condition to adjust their spinal alignment and thus achieve an upright posture is likely to promote positive emotional change.
Eight fundamental principles form the foundation of this approach to treatment.
- Each part is connected to another. Every facet of human experience—mental, physical, or emotional—is interwoven with all other facets. Different facets are able to interact and influence each other and come together to form the overall experience.
- The therapeutic process occurs within the body. The body is the vessel in which transformation is initiated, developed, and realized. Each treatment technique will either include the body or be incorporated with the body. Common techniques include movement work, bodywork, physical patterning, and the development of somatic awareness.
- Therapy is held within the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship. The relationship between the therapist and the person in therapy is at the core of the healing process. This safe environment provides space for all sharing, healing, and growth to occur. A skilled therapist possessing such qualities as compassion, honesty, and hopefulness is more likely to foster a strong therapeutic relationship, which
- The therapeutic goals drive the therapeutic process. Above all else, therapy is designed to serve the goals of the person in therapy. These goals may not be clearly defined at the beginning of therapy, but the therapist and the person seeking treatment work together to clarify and ultimately realize these goals as treatment progresses.
- The therapeutic process helps people to develop resources. The purpose of any form of therapy is to promote healing. Psycho-Physical Therapy promotes healing from within and encourages the person in treatment to discover, access, and develop inner resources. A resource is defined as any awareness, talent, action, or ability that both helps an individual to feel confident and competent in different circumstances and reduces the likelihood of the individual losing a sense of self when faced with negative situations.
- Transformation begins with awareness. While therapy may foster the development of spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental awareness, this approach focuses on building up physical (somatic) awareness. Somatic awareness helps people become more conscious of the different sensations of the body, how the body functions under everyday circumstances, how the body responds to situational changes, and the changes a person might make to improve function in the body.
- Both analytic and process orientation techniques are used. Information gathered throughout the therapeutic process is generally analyzed and implemented in order to improve the efficacy of treatment. Therapists try to identify which resources may benefit from improvement rather than diagnosing any conditions.
- Therapeutic techniques are integrated into the daily life of the person in treatment. Transformational therapy is known to be most effective when it is woven into the daily routine of an individual’s life. This approach may help facilitate a smoother transition from the safety and security of a therapy session to everyday life.
Though advocates of Psycho-Physical Therapy consider this treatment modality to be very effective, the empirical evidence supporting their claims is limited. While many mental health professionals acknowledge the importance of the mind-body connection, few clinical research studies have been conducted to highlight the specific benefits of these approaches to therapy or the advantages they may have over other treatment options.
The official Psycho-Physical Therapy website describes the treatment as an educational and therapeutic process, explicitly stating that the approach is not and should not be considered a form of psychiatric therapy, medical-based physical therapy, or clinical psychology.
- Bowen, B. (n.d.). Psychophysical therapy: Education in Somatic Psychotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.psychophysicaltherapy.com/index.html
- Hart, P. (n.d.). Mind-body therapies. Retrieved from http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/what-are-mind-body-therapies