This therapy is a form of body-oriented psychotherapy which was developed during the mid-twentieth century. Bioenergetics views the mind, body and spirit as interdependent and reflective of each other. When an individual combines active body exercises and verbal therapy together, bioenergetics therapists try to liberate the mind and body from its restrictive or destructive patterns and aim to help such people to live more fulfilling and pleasurable lives.
Bioenergetics attempts to integrate emotional expression, bodily sensation, intellectual understanding and the spiritual and symbolic meanings of each individual's life.
History of Bioenergetics
Bioenergetics was developed by Alexander Lowen, M.D., who was a student of Wilhelm Reich, M.D. Reich was the founder of medical orgonomy and was a colleague of Sigmund Freud and is typically credited as the first person in Western psychotherapy to work directly with the body as a psychotherapeutic treatment. Reich believed the body had involuntary responses to emotional situations and from that standpoint made his own theoretical conclusions regarding human personality.
From his research, Reich theorized that personality problems are anchored in the body as chronic muscular tensions. Reich found that these chronic muscular tensions tended to decrease a person's energy level and ability to feel a wide range of emotions, particularly pleasurable ones. He believed that by deepening an individual's involuntary breathing process the chronic muscular tension could be released and a full stream of physical and psychological energy would follow.
Lowen was a young man when he first recognized that regular physical activity not only improved his physical state, but his emotional state as well. He became interested in techniques which had a mind/body relationship but never felt satisfied with their conclusions until he heard Dr. Reich lecture. After studying Reich for a few years to be a Reichian therapist, Lowen was not happy with his success with his early patients and spent 1947 to 1951 studying medicine and earning his M.D. from Geneva University in Switzerland.
Lowen then worked with another former patient of Reich to develop exercises which applied pressure directly to chronically tensed muscles. These exercises developed the basis for bioenergetics.
How Bioenergetics is Practiced
After years of thought and experimentation, bioenergetics was based on a model of the human personality being comprised of conscious thought or will and various biological impulses. Lowen believed that healthy people follow their biological impulses completely and only suppress them when they personally desire to do so. He thought neuroses develop when these biological impulses are suppressed though conscious control as a response to some type of fear.
Lowen thinks this process s starts early in human development. For instance, when parents disapprove of a child who is crying and the child learns to stop crying because he perceives this disapproval, suppressing the feelings because he or she wants to.
When the child learns to alter its physical impulses to fear rather than pleasure, it instills a new sense of personal power over its environment because of willful control of its biological impulses.
During his research in the 1950s, Dr. Lowen recognized that negative emotions and attitudes affected a person's body language, including the way they would sit, stand, move and breathe. These negative forces had a tendency to cause people to develop what he called "character armor" as a shield against psychological suffering and pain. The emotional states such as embarrassment, fear or anger were reflected in the person's tense muscles as obviously noted in their stance and posture. He believed that by working on the body, such feelings could be released to liberate both the mind and the body.
Conditions Benefited by Bioenergetics
The conditions which can be helped by the use of bioenergetics include fatigue, asthma, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), wheezing and peptic ulcers. Among other effects, bioenergetics works to allow individuals to have a new awareness of their bodies and helps those who may be suffering from poor self images to begin developing a more positive attitude about their bodies and themselves. Because of this, bioenergetics can be useful in helping conditions related to low self-esteem, such as addictions, eating disorders and depression. Practitioners are known to claim that with the use of bioenergetics such conditions can frequently be alleviated or even completely healed.
Finding a Therapist
Contact a national organization in order to be assured the therapist is qualified to practice bioenergetics in a proper manner. The proper mix of body work and verbal therapy with an experienced therapist allows the patient to integrate his or her new-found emotions and physical sensations into their whole personality.
Phases of Bioenergetics
After a thorough assessment of the patient is made, the practitioner will typically recommend one-on-one therapy or involvement in a group session. Exercises are performed to unlock the "character armoring," which in turn allows the body to function freely and focus on the following three main areas of treatment:
- Breathing - Hyperventilation or other breathing irregularities can be caused by chronic muscular tensions due to emotional stress.
- Character Structure - Five major character structures are studied in bioenergetics. Each patient displays elements of more than one of these structures.
- Grounding - The bioenergetics practitioner believes that humans are connected with reality through their feet and legs. Patients learn to connect with the ground so they can literally "stand on their own two feet."
The use of bioenergetics has been known to arouse very deep emotions in some people. Therefore, it is necessary to be under the guidance of an experienced practitioner who is at ease with such reactions and deal with them in a professional and positive way.
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