WHAT IS BIOENERGETIC ANALYSIS?
The fundamental premise of bioenergetic analysis is that the mind and body form a functional unity. The basis of that unity is the biological energy of the tissues; hence the term bioenergetic. As a therapy, bioenergetics works with both mind (psyche) and body (soma). The individual is thus viewed as a psychosomatic unity .
Bioenergetic analysis, or bioener- getics, had its origins in the pioneering work of Wilhelm Reich (18971957). Reich, a psychoanalyst and student of Sigmund Freud, was the first to work systematically with the body and respiration in the psychoanalytic process. Today the concept that the body and mind are one is taken for granted. We owe our theoretical understanding of the nature of this unity to Reich, who also developed a clinical treatment integrating mind and body. Reich's accomplishment was a great leap forward in understanding human nature, His new way of viewing the biology of the human organism is the theoretical basis of bioenergetic analysis today .
Alexander Lowen (1910- ) was a student of Reich's when the latter was in America in the 1940s. Inspired by Reich's teaching, he became a Reichian therapist. After some years, he felt the necessity of moving independently to develop the efficacy of Reich's therapeutic technique. Breaking with psychoanalytic tradition, he got people up off the couch and onto their feet, and he developed many effective physical techniques .
He called his new approach bioenergetic analysis. In 1956, in New York City, with two colleagues, he founded the International Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis .
In bioenergetics, the understanding of a person is gained by contactfully looking at him or her as well as by listening. The expressive movements, form and functions of the body reveal the person as deeply as do spoken words. The imprint of early development can be seen in the body and the body's expressive functions. These effects can be related to difficulties in contemporary patterns of functioning in life. Change through bioenergetic therapy, then, is based on changes in bodily functioning .
Sexuality and self-respect are the key avenues for exploration in bioenergetic analysis. Developmental conflicts and traumas of sexuality are almost universally the underlying causes of emotional, relational and character difficulties in life. Sexuality has to do not only with sex but also with the way in which a man is a man or a woman is a woman in the world. A man's or woman's bodily, sexual and emotional capacity for sexual love is the strongest indicator of his or her health. A healthy individual will also have a strong sense of self-respect that carries over into a life respectful of those he or she loves and with whom he or she works. Enhancing, reestablishing, or building self respect is always a basic goal of therapy .
The "self," in bioenergetics, is not a psychological entity; it is the body. An individual's sense of self is a function of his or her sense of and connection with his or her own body. Self- respect, then, means to live in respect, acceptance, and accordance with one's own body, its states and feelings .
The analytic, verbal work in bioenergetic therapy focuses on explorations of the personal past, dreams, associations, and current behaviors and experiences. It also focuses on the relationship between the patient and the therapist. Such explorations allow for the uncovering of memories, motives, and assumptions, as well as for the delineation of self-defeating and destructive character attitudes .
Bioenergetic analysis focuses on patterns of chronic muscular holding which are not in the individual's awareness. The most regularly confirmed observation of bioenergetics is that the emotional and psychological problems which form patients' complaints are not simply associated with but are based upon disturbances of breathing and patterns of chronic muscular holding. These bioenergetic disturbances, which affect the whole organism and its functioning, derive from conflict and trauma during the developmental years, including adolescence. An easily understood and not uncommonly observed example is the child who is frightened of a parent; in the presence of the parent, holding the breath, .pulling in and pulling up the shoulders may be observed. The child cannot cry freely or express anger or grief. Such patterns of holding and emotional suppression commonly persist into adulthood .
Working with the body involves experiencing the body in a variety of movements, exercises and positions, some of which are stressful. The direct focus on breathing, which is the basis for energy production, increases the capacity for feeling. Such work, often evokes strong emotions, and their cathartic discharge. Typically this catharsis is a liberating experience, especially when it involves emotions that have been suppressed for many years. The individual then has an opportunity to discover in the safety of the therapeutic setting that his or her emotions: anger, fear or excitement are not dangerous, and they have a place in enhancing aliveness, effectiveness, and, above all, the pleasure of life. ' .
Usually there is a sexual component to the developmental trauma or conflict that creates a chronic pattern of bodily holding. In adulthood, the result of that aspect of the trauma may be seen in a tightly constricted, held or deadened pelvis. Associated with the pelvic holding may be limitations on sexual feeling and fulfillment, difficulties in establishing an enduring love relationship, and shame and guilt. Constrictions of this sort, apparent to the trained observer, are variously called "blocks," "armor," or "muscular attitudes."
Other bioenergetic characteristics having to do, with the individual's energetic functioning are also apparent to the trained observer. Most obviously, a lively, healthy person has an energetic sparkle, a depressed one has little energy and a dull quality, and a withdrawn one has little energy available for contact with the world. There are also patterns of over-and under-activation. Anxiety, turmoil, upsetness, torment, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and over-activity are all patterns of over-activation which the individuals have been unable to soothe, quiet or calm down. Various patterns of depressive under-activation often cover deeply held upsetness.
All these various bioenergetic characteristics and disturbances form an inte- grated whole - the individual's character. While character is an adaptation necessary for survival in childhood, in adulthood it rigidifies and limits self expression and causes misery. It limits feeling, spontaneity, productivity, the capacity for love, and the capacity for pleasure. It is always accompanied by self-defeating and hostile attitudes and self-destructive behaviors. Spitefulness, revenge, exploitation, bullying, ingratitude, power manipulations, politicking, childish entitlement - all such behaviors usually spring from character maladaptations.
In each person, these and many other character attitudes and bioenergetic characteristics take very individualistic, complex, and multilayered forms. These character developments underlie the problems that bring each person to therapy. Within these complex developments lies trapped the energy and positive movement the person might use for a more fulfilling life. Bioenergetic analysis carefully addresses these developments with the goal of freeing the trapped energy, allowing the individual to find his or her own positive movement. In this way it facilitates change on a deep bodily level.