Bioenergetic Analysis, an approach to therapy focusing on the mind, body, and the energy flowing between them, is based on the premise that the mind and body function as one. Though considered a humanistic approach by some individuals, the approach is rooted in psychoanalysis and makes use of relational therapy, physical body work, and body expression analysis.
Sessions may be offered individually or in group settings, and people seeking therapy to achieve greater emotional and/or physical well-being may find Bioenergetic Analysis a beneficial approach.
Alexander Lowen, long-time student of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, developed bioenergetic analysis in the 1950s after splitting from Wilhelm Reich. Bioenergetic analysis is Lowen's own approach, but his theory was influenced by Reich's ideas, as the two worked closely together in for years.
Lowen believed that an excess of stress could lead to chronic muscular tension in the body and result in unwanted mental health concerns. Every change, according to Lowen, could impact the body. and understanding the mind-body connection was an essential aspect of healing.
In 1956, Lowen established the Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis (IBA), and he published the first training manual in 1972. By 1976, the IBA had become popular enough that it had grown into the IIBA, or the International Institute of Bioenergetic Analysis. Today, Bioenergetic Analysis is practiced widely in many parts of the world.
Lowen's work was influenced by that of his mentor, Reich, and the personality theory they developed together. This theory was grounded in Reich's concept of character armor—the psychological defenses, constructs, and physical manifestations that make up a person's character. While this armor was originally intended for protection and security, according to Reich, he proposed that it could occasionally turn into patterns of chronic muscular tension and/or deadened affective states. A child, for example, who repeatedly hides in a closet to keep away from an abusive father might find safety in this tense, alert position as a child, but the same tension and fearful affect may do more harm than good once the child is an adult.
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Lowen adapted this study by further clarifying Reich's proposed patterns of protective behavior. Lowen described these character structures as a systems of defenses used for survival and security. These defenses, which develop over time, can manifest into psychological symptoms, chronic muscle tension, and other patterns of physical and emotional distress. From his observations of how these defense systems manifest, Lowen identified five basic character structures loosely based upon Freud's developmental stages. These classifications are not individual classifications of people, but of character structures only.
- Rigid. Sometimes referred to as The Perfectionist, the Rigid character type might have experienced intense rejection from a caretaker at a point in their childhood when they were most vulnerable. In response, they may reject their own nature and strive for unattainable ideals in order to satisfy the rejecting caretaker. Attractiveness, athleticism, and intelligence are of primary importance to The Perfectionist. Impeccable grooming, issues with anxiety, low self-esteem, black-and-white thinking, sex issues, and a suppressed immune system are all common in this character type.
- Masochistic. Also called The Endurer, the Masochistic type might have dealt with a controlling or needy parent from an early age. Crushed attempts toward independence may result in a docile, compliant child. Rage suppression, dependency, and powerlessness can result in self-defeating and self-humiliating behavior. Thick musculature, stomach blockage, tight facial muscles, and slow movements are common in this character type.
- Psychopathic. Also known as The Controller or The Leader, the Psychopathic character type could have experienced constant criticism from direct caretakers. In order to cope, this character type may lead people to develop a false self to avoid rejection. This false self can manifest as narcissistic traits, but low self-esteem typically lies under the surface. Additionally, this character type often learns to control the critical parent to protect from further abuse, and this can result in a tendency toward manipulative behavior. Puffed-up appearance, muscle rigidity in the pelvic region, and tightened, raised shoulders are common with this character type.
- Schizoid. Sometimes referred to as The Unwanted Child or The Dreamer, the Schizoid type most likely experienced real or perceived rejection and hostility from caretakers, even while still in the womb. Neglect, undernourishment, or abuse may have impacted this child on a molecular level. Poor posture, shallow breathing, chest tightness, and low energy affect are common in this character type.
- Oral. Also referred to as The Needy Child, the Oral type often experienced some interruption of care, loss of sense of security, or failure to have basic needs met. This character type seem empty or in need of “filling up," and some may take on overwhelming caretaker duties or develop addictions. Shallow breathing, chest tightness, thin build, weakness in limbs, and chronic tightening of the abdomen are common in this character type.
Bioenergetic Analysis therapists work to help individuals improve quality of life and overall well-being. By providing a safe and nurturing environment, therapists attempt to create an atmosphere that allows people in treatment to open up, and they listen to the story that the bodies of people in treatment are telling by identifying specific patterns of posture, breathing, and expression. As part of Bioenergetic Analysis therapy, practitioners conduct body work to address the physical manifestations of tension that may not be helpful, doing relational work throughout treatment.
Therapists may utilize unique and varied techniques in order to help those they are treating achieve good results, including:
- Grounding. The therapist asks the person in therapy to attune to the flow of the energy from their body to the ground. Stretching, vibration, and breathing exercises are used to help the person feel connected. Grounding may be achieved while standing, sitting, or laying down.
- Movement. The therapist encourages expression through movement, especially of the parts of the body where tension is held. A person may be encouraged to repeatedly kick a mattress to remove tension, for example.
- Containing. The therapist asks the person in therapy to refrain from certain movements until they are analyzed and better understood. A person with tension in their calves may want to rapidly tap a foot on the ground, for example, but the therapist prevents this from happening in order to explore the feelings behind the desired movement.
- Supportive Body Contact. The therapist uses therapeutic touch to call attention to body tension or support the person's work in adjusting to safe touch. The therapist may support a person's head, for example, while the individual performs various leg stretches on a bench.
Bioenergetic Analysis must be provided by certified, trained professionals. Training, which typically takes about four to six years, occurs in two phases, pre-clinical and clinical. The pre-clinical phase addresses the theoretical foundations of Bioenergetic Analysis, while the clinical phase largely focuses on the application of the theory and techniques. Throughout their training, hopeful practitioners of Bioenergetic Analysis will participate in their own therapy, receive supervision, and meet all other curriculum requirements. Eligible candidates who complete the IIBA-approved training program may then apply for certification.
Because Bioenergetic Analysis can simultaneously address psychological issues, physical tension, and relational concerns, it can be an effective treatment for a wide range of issues and conditions. Bioenergetic Analysis therapists believe that when energy is stored in one area for too long, the block that is created can have a negative impact on a person's thoughts and emotions. Conversely, when negative thoughts or feelings become repetitious and pervasive, this can impact the body. Bioenergetic analysis theory holds that when energy does not flow naturally between body and mind, it can become trapped and devolve into problems that impact a person's functioning.
People who are comfortable with the therapeutic use of touch may find Bioenergetic Analysis can help address:
This therapy may also help people develop greater sense of bodily awareness and increased acceptance of their bodies and all of their feelings and reactions.
Since this therapy was first pioneered, the moderate amount of research conducted appears to indicate that Bioenergetic Analysis is an effective treatment for various mental health issues. Other studies suggest that trained therapists are often able to use body reading and character analysis with some degree of accuracy. Proponents of Bioenergetic Analysis also claim that those who have experienced the benefits of this approach have been greatly helped, thus contributing anecdotal support. The theory upon which this approach is founded was based on Lowen's personal observations, however, and more empirical research is likely to be beneficial to the field.
Another concern raised about the approach concerns the use of therapeutic touch. It is always recommended that therapists use touch with caution. Practitioners of this modality follow strict guidelines that regulate the supportive use of touch, but some people seeking treatment may have had their physical boundaries violated in the past and may experience no benefit or even unintended harm from the use of therapeutic touch.
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- Reich's segmental armouring theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.energeticsinstitute.com.au/page/reichs_segmental_armouring_theory.html
- Samsel, M. (n.d.). The Concept of Character in the Reich and Lowen Tradition. Retrieved from http://reichandlowentherapy.org/Content/Character/Overview/general_character.html
- Training in bioenergetic analysis (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bioenergetic-therapy.com/index.php/en/the-bioenergetic-analysis/ba-as-a-practice/training-in-ba
- What is bioenergetic analysis?. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bioenergetic-therapy.com/index.php/en
- What is bioenergetic analysis? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nanziba.com/bioenergetics