Human beings are fascinating bio-psycho-social organisms. What makes up a person? Traditional psychotherapy works toward congruence in a person’s thinking, emotions, and actions/reactions. There are many therapeutic techniques that have been developed over time to explore and improve these aspects of our life. We do exist on several levels simultaneously, but are we limited to thoughts, emotions, and actions? If we look at life and the human experience, we see that there are five basic levels on which we function. These levels include the intellect and thought, emotions and actions, and the physical realm—the level of the body. Many people also acknowledge something larger, something beyond ourselves and the seen world, that contributes to our life force. For some people, the spiritual realm is considered an additional level of existence.
Therefore, a person is a psychosomatic unity (psyche plus soma, meaning physical) that exists on all five levels. Body-oriented therapy (Somatic approaches, core energetics, core evolution, bioenergetics, biodynamics) understands that the body is profoundly affected by our life experiences, and the body, in turn, affects our future.
A person is a psychosomatic unity on five levels of existence. These five levels are interrelated; though they are separate and function independently, they also work together. They are informed by one another and, together, they make up the whole person. They are formed by and affected by many forces such as genetics, culture, family history, and personal experience—especially early life experiences that occur when we are the most vulnerable. Additionally, our experience on these five levels are being co-created all of the time. They can be influenced and changed. This is what gives therapy the potential to be fruitful. Body psychotherapy works on all of these levels in order to have a strong chance for long-term benefits. Many body-oriented therapies also take into consideration the developmental stage at which a person is impacted. They aim to discover how one’s experiences lead to their present request for help.
Our awareness, the skill we have to make sense of and use the information that comes to us, is a large part of what is impacted in therapy. Because the five levels of existence are intrinsically related, each one is a gateway to the others. Let’s look at the level of emotion and see how it relates to the other levels. Emotions are experienced in our bodies, we perceive our emotion through the movement of energy in the body resulting in physical sensations. Emotions actually have a physiological component to them. Think of the language we use to depict emotion. We state we have “butterflies in our stomach” or that someone is a “pain in the neck.” We really actually feel the sensation of pain in our heart muscle over love gone astray when we are “heartbroken.” These physical cues can help us to become aware of our emotional life if we are out of touch.
Emotions are exactly this: energy in motion. The function of energy is to accomplish work. Think about a young child’s capacity to allow emotion. One minute a child is playing happily, and when something frustrating or hurtful happens, he or she expresses frustration or tears (if the child is in a safe environment). In just a short while, after the energy has moved, the child goes right on playing. Given the opportunity, we are constantly learning and using information from the emotion. Emotions are generated from a stimulus. The work of expressing emotions is to move the energy, created by the reaction, to the stimulus outside the body. From there, other levels of our being become aware of the experience. From this learning, a belief will develop that leads to action. For example, if the child became frustrated or hurt by a particular game, he or she is more likely to choose a different game the next time. Thus, pain in the body (say the cat scratched him/her) affects the emotion (wahhh!), which affects the thoughts (bad toy!), and affects his or her actions (avoid that game). Here, we can see the interconnectedness of all of the levels of existence.
All of our experiences are recorded in the body as images. When an experience is not fully processed on all five of the levels, blocks may occur and lead to distortions of perception on one level or each of the levels. This, in turn, leads to incongruence in our lives, either between the levels or between the person’s perception of the present moment. Body psychotherapy is a fluid way of working between the levels to identify and release old images, attitudes, and experiences held in our system that affect our life choices and patterns. Body psychotherapy opens and energizes the system and allows people to have new experiences and to make substantial changes in their lives.
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