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Touching the Relational Edge

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The psychotherapeutic encounter is a meeting between embodied psyches, bodies present in the room, speaking with each another, impacting and impacted by one another; bodies who are waiting for us to listen to them and dialogue with them - and speak on their behalf. The field of body psychotherapy has been exploring this embodied dialogue since the 1930s. The book Touching the Relational Edge delves into the history of body-psychotherapy, offering theoretical and clinical conceptualisations and insights, and is rich with clinical vignettes and applicable exercise, all aimed at providing the reader with a theoretical and experiential understanding of the place of the body in psychotherapy - allowing the reader a dynamic, curious and affective engagement.The book opens a window into the cutting-edge world of relational body-psychotherapy, offering the reader a personal and professional journey into the depth of therapeutic relationship as seen through anatomical and relational eyes.

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I offer these brief reflections as a psychoanalytically trained practitioner having gained a window into the worlds, past and present, of body psychotherapy through this informative text—and having enjoyed this book immensely. First, what is most significant here, is the historical and contemporaneous tracking of an ongoing relationship, sometimes distant, sometimes almost touching, between the development and practice of body psychotherapies and the development and practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapies. From Freud to Ferenczi and especially in the seminal contributions of Reich, we are introduced to the continuous, and seemingly obvious, impact of the body as catalytic to subjective experience and thus to the disorders with which both fields of therapy are concerned. Asaf Rolef Ben-Shahar traces the developing diaspora of therapeutic approaches that subsequently have emerged from these seminal psychoanalytic thinkers, particularly Reich. It is fascinating to see the range of theory and method developed over the last century in North America and Europe that has expanded the initial contributions of Reich concerning the value of attention to the body in therapeutic treatment.


Chapter One - Blanche Wittman's Breasts: Tracking the Historical Split between Body Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis


The traditions of all the dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the living.

—Karl Marx (1852, p. 15)

Nine souls

I am all but shadow

In your shadow I can rest

I am all death

In your death I might live

Eternally tied amongst your shadows, between my deaths

Stopping for a brief moment at your feet

Then I shall know comfort, in your need for me to relieve your loneliness

With your blessing

—Asaf Rolef Ben-Shahar

The birth of a split

We were not always as apprehensive of touch and body as we are today. While attention to the body and somatic processes and practices of breathwork and touch were immanent in many Eastern and non-dualistic religions and philosophies, serving as an integral part of personal growth and spiritual development, in orthodox Judaeo-Christian monotheistic traditions the body played a marginal, indirect, and almost insignificant role in personal and spiritual development (Mindell, 1982).

The seventeenth-century philosopher René Descartes, considered by many the father of modern philosophy, struggled to integrate our animalistic bodily-existence with our mental-spiritual aspects. The conclusion of his deductive philosophy, the famous cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), identified the self with the cognitive, thinking self (Descartes, 1636). According to Descartes, the body was a corporeal machine and the appropriate platform to explore it was science, while the psyche belonged to the spiritual dimensions and was therefore the property of the church. While this dualistic perception created a split between body and mind, it had at the same time “liberated” the body from the trapping claws of the church in general, and the Inquisition in particular (Rolef Ben-Shahar, 2012b; Withers, 2008), allowing for real and unthreatened scientific enquiry. Additionally, the body–mind split has also gendered roots and origins, as women were considered “body”, “nature”, while men were “spiritual”, “transcendent”, superior by nature (a split that was justified by religious institutions defiling women as “body”) (Balsam, 2012; Beauvoir & Parshley, 1949).





The trajectory along which psyche and soma have travelled over the past century has not been without its perils. Over the almost half century during which I have been professionally involved with it, body psychotherapy has evolved from a little known and/or much denigrated form of psychotherapy to an object of acute interest to mainstream psychotherapeutic circles as well as the lay public (see Greene & Goodrich-Dunn, 2013; Heller, 2012; Young, 2011a, 2011b).

The Cartesian dualism that dominated much of Western thought over the last couple of centuries formed the backdrop against which psychotherapy, beginning with Freud himself, had to labour. Fearing for the future of the new paradigm he was proposing, Freud in his later years neglected and/or rejected ideas which he had formed earlier on, but which he judged dangerously radical. Among those formulations were the ideas of the importance of the body and sexuality in both the cause and cure of what were then termed “neuroses”.





For those who want to know more about body psychotherapy, this book is a rich gift. For Asaf

Rolef Ben-Shahar manages to bring the whole body back into body psychotherapy, and to talk lucidly, with passion and commitment, about the dynamic, complex, and ever-changing reality of the body that is the primary basis from which our sense of self develops, and the ground and matrix and outcome of our being in relationship.

This is innovative territory—to give the somatic, the nonverbal as well as the verbal, the unconscious as well as the conscious full honour of place and to treat the body as part of the most deeply meaningful and influential aspects of being human and of being and becoming in relationships.

For in the context of a culture which deeply holds a perspective that divides the body from the mind, from the soul, and from the matrix of relationships, a culture which loves the word and the mind and abhors bodily processes and bodily fluids, it is easy to get hooked into such a worldview.


Chapter Two - The Melting Pot of Body Psychotherapy


Come into my hand

By your mild power; descending down the Nerves of my right arm

From out the Portals of my Brain, where by your ministry

The Eternal Great Humanity Divine planted his Paradise

William Blake, Milton, 2: 5–7

Cosmic magnetism and Mozart's piano concerto no. 18

Attempting to accurately portray the history of body psychotherapy is a complex task. First, some modalities of body psychotherapy developed independently of the main historical roots of body psychotherapy. Georg Groddeck, Arnold Mindell, and Stanislav Grof, for example, created their therapeutic practices without directly relating to the developmental route presented in this chapter, namely, of Freud and Reich. Second, as a field that integrated theoretical and clinical perceptions stemming from psychology with bodywork and somatic methodologies, body psychotherapy was not only influenced by and developed from psychotherapeutic models but also from bodywork disciplines. Wilhelm Reich, for instance, was deeply influenced by German bodywork and breathwork traditions (D. Johnson, 1995). Gerda Boyesen was influenced by psychiatric physiotherapy in Norway; Jack Painter—from Ida Rolf's structural integration (“Rolfing”) and more.


Chapter Three - A Roadmap to Body Psychotherapy Modalities


Here's my wisdom for your use, as I learned it when the moose

and the reindeer roamed where Paris roars to-night:—

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,

And every single one of them is right!”

Rudyard Kipling, In the Neolithic Age (2002)

Nine and sixty ways

Alice Miller (1981) had rejected the altruistic reasons for becoming a psychotherapist. This professional choice has usually begun with our own wound: most psychotherapists assumed a role reversal in their family—and were highly attuned to the needs of their parents. Thus, many of us have made a profession out of our pathology, and if we were lucky enough, we worked through some of these issues so they were not the only leading force in our working life choices. As analytic body psychotherapist Guy Gladstone (personal communications, 1999–2013) repeatedly said: “Most therapists attempted to save their mothers; the rest—were there to save their dads.”

I am left curious as to the biographical forces operating when we choose a psychotherapy modality to specialise in. What is it that attracts people to train in a specific modality of psychotherapy? Are there any commonalities to those who train in a particular modality? What brings people to choose psychoanalysis or cognitive-behavioural therapy; humanistic psychotherapy or family therapy? What attracts practitioners to the field of body psychotherapy? Like many other psychotherapeutic fields, body psychotherapy attracted ambitious, creative, opinionated, and complex students and clinicians, all of whom acquired varied models of training and many sought for their own particular therapeutic and personal voice to be heard. As a discipline that attempted to integrate body and mind, the verbal and nonverbal, a discipline with wild and anarchistic roots yet one that also sought scientific grounding, body psychotherapy tended to attract individuals whose issues concern splitting and integrating, paradoxes and contradictions, complex attitudes to authority figures, embodiment and disembodiment. Appropriately, there are many modalities within body psychotherapy today—some of them hold contradictory theoretical and clinical positions. These modalities may differ in their theoretical orientations or clinical applications, in their therapeutic emphases, or the variation of tools and techniques at their disposal.





Without anatomy, emotions do not exist. Feelings have somatic architecture.

—Stanley Keleman (1985, p. xii)

A churned up stomach

Peter is sitting with me in the clinic. His shoulders are inwardly collapsed; his breathing—short and quick. He shares with me a happy moment with his wife and son; a picnic in the park.

James, his son, is lying between him and his wife and they are tickling one another. Upon hearing Peter, I find myself contracted and uneasy. My stomach is churning and my neck hurts really badly. I am busy with self-deprecating internal dialogues (“What kind of therapist am I? Where is my empathy?”). My experienced incoherence is amplified as we speak; my body is inexplicably shaken by Peter’s story. “You seem to be suffering,” Peter tells me. Embarrassed, I confess:

“My stomach churns up as I am listening to you, Peter, I am sorry.” Peter smiles, “Mine too.

There was such an intolerable gap between what was happening and the way I responded to it. James was tickling me and I noticed that every time he touched me I contracted—as if I was preparing to be hit. I was lying down there, with Dianne and James; it was the most secure and loved place I could have in this entire world, yet I kept feeling as if someone is going to hit me.”






You said: One day follows another; each night followed by night.

The days are upon us, you spoke in your heart.

And you shall see eves and morns attending your sight

And declare: there is no news under the sun.

Here you are, having aged, a grey elderly man

And your days are but few, and their number is dear,

You shall now know that each day is the very last

You shall now know that each day is new under the sun.

—Poems at the End of the Road, Lea Goldberg (1973, p. 152).*

* All translations from Hebrew are the author’s.


Blanche Wittman’s breasts†: tracking the historical split between body psychotherapy and psychoanalysis

The traditions of all the dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the living.

—Karl Marx (1852, p. 15)

Nine souls

I am all but shadow

In your shadow I can rest

I am all death

In your death I might live


Chapter Four - Form and Flow: Three Levels of Self-Organisation


I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

—T. S. Eliot (1940, p. 188), Four Quartets—“East Coker”1


What is it that defines body psychotherapy as a distinct modality of psychotherapy, which could be distinguished from other psychotherapy modalities? Is it the tools and skills used in body psychotherapy—the use of touch, breathwork, and movement? If that is so, then body psychotherapy includes such variegated modalities within it, each using different therapeutic tools and operating different clinical judgment and justifications (sometimes contradictory to one another) for the use of these therapeutic tools or avoiding their use, that it would become difficult to gather all these under the same umbrella of a unified field. Additionally, some therapeutic modalities, which are clearly not psychotherapy, incorporate touch, breathwork, and movement too. Furthermore, some psychotherapy modalities, which are not body psychotherapy, utilise somatic interventions as well. Why would body psychotherapy deserve this distinct modality definition?


Chapter Five - Theory of Bodymind in Body Psychotherapy


Our bodies are us as process, not us as thing. Structure is slowed down process. As life builds structure, it builds itself in.

—Stanley Keleman (1981, p. 29)


Body–mind relationships are at the theoretical and clinical core of body psychotherapy. Naturally, we were not the first to grapple with the body–mind problem: exploring the connection between physical phenomena and psychological ones is as old as humanity, and as demonstrated in Part I (Historical), psychoanalysis itself began from studying body–mind interactions (as they manifested in hysteria). To this day, neuroscientists, linguists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, and other clinicians are trying to decipher the mysterious connection between body and mind.

Body psychotherapists presume that Descartes was wrong, and that his cogito offered a limited and partial description of human identity. The heart of our ontology (existence) is not seen as our disconnected thoughts but instead our embodied presence (including our embodied thoughts): “I am embodied, therefore I am.” Relational body psychotherapy adds yet another facet—it is not merely my own existence as a bodymind that indicates my being, but the interaction with other embodied beings (and the world) is how I am created (“I am a bodymind among bodyminds, therefore I am”).






I rested in the arms of my arms

I no longer slept

It was night in the summer, winter in the day

An eternal shivering of thoughts

Fear love Fear love

Close the window open the window

You’ll see you’ll see

The hummingbird motionless as a star.

—Dora Maar, “I rested in the arms of my arms” (1942–1943, p. 82)*

I once knew a uniquely talented Chinese doctor, who was almost equally cynical. The concept of Chi, which describes life-energy and is central in traditional Chinese medicine, was merely a metaphoric construct for him. “I don’t believe in Chi,” he used to teasingly say to his fellow practitioners. One day, when I asked him why he had chosen to practise Chinese medicine and not Western medicine, when he was clearly not “a believer” he replied: “Western medicine relates to the body as if it was a biological machine; traditional Chinese medicine relates to it as poetry.” He continued: “People respond differently to poetry than to mechanics, and I personally find it more aesthetic.”


Chapter Six - The Bodymind Character Structure


My body was wiser than me

Its pain threshold lower than mine

It said enough

When I said more

My body

My body stopped

When I carried on (and oh, I carried on)

My body could not

It failed

And I got up and had to walk

And my body at my wake

—Yona Wallach (1992, p. 155), “My Body Was Wiser than Me”1


One of the central notions in body psychotherapy is the understanding that developmental processes and developmental difficulties are both expressed in our body, particularly in our musculature. Learning about the development of character structure (and character armour) is central in the majority of body psychotherapy trainings. The term character structure, as it is used in this chapter, denotes three different facets: a developmental stage, a character rigidity, and character style.

Developmental stage: The first aspect of character structure relates to natural and organic developmental processes taking place during the first six years of our lives. Similar to early psychoanalytic models, body psychotherapy has a bodymind developmental model which characterises shared and parallel themes alongside the developmental axis. For example, all foetuses develop a startle reflex (where the arms are laterally jerked upon a sudden stimulus) and only later develop the Moro reflex, in which the arms jerk sideways and then, quickly, cling and grasp. The Moro reflex can be life-saving: it enables the baby to firmly hold on to the parent, thus to avoid falling if he is accidentally dropped. Another example is the move between horizontal posture (when the baby lies down or crawls) to vertical posture—when the toddler stands up and walks: during healthy and normal development, all babies transition from lying down and crawling, to standing and walking, a transition which carries great bodily and muscular consequences as well as psychological ones—a new bodymind organisation. The quality and rhythm of our bodily changes make sense, and could be relevant to understanding psychological processes in childhood and adulthood. As we shall later see, bodymind character structures indicate the natural progression of musculature and somatic organisation and development (and the erogenous zones identified with these developmental stages).






Teach me, god, to bless and pray

For the shine of ripened fruit, for a leaf in decay,

For this freedom: to see, to sense, to breathe, to know, to yearn, to fail and stray.

Teach me tongues to sing your blessing and praise

For each cycle of moon, for renewal of days,

Lest my day today is as it was before.

Lest my life is spent in habitual haze.

—Poems at the End of the Road, Lea Goldberg (1973, p. 154).

Traditionally, bodywork and body psychotherapy were primarily recommended to clients for whom “talking” psychotherapy was inappropriate (“difficult” clients, or those who were uncomfortable with verbal therapy), or for clients with rigid defence mechanisms, for whom words easily lost their meaning. Contemporary body psychotherapy has become much more sophisticated, subtle, and updated with psychotherapeutic advances on the one hand, and somatic content on the other. New research, for example, suggests (Rothschild, 2000, 2004) that body psychotherapy is highly suitable for trauma work. Attention to body sensations, to breath, and even gentle touch might provide clients with a sense of safety, security, and grounding—all essential for recovery (Eiden, 2011). Body psychotherapy can also be the modality of choice for clients who could not speak or for those whose speech was not coherent (Zack, 2013). And it can even be a powerful modality for couple therapy (Keleman & Adler, 2000; Kessel, 2013).





The relational matrix—a suggested model*

Three dimensions of relationships and their therapeutic relevance

Every meaningful relationship is a matrix of dimensions. The interplay between these dimensions creates the rich tapestry of human relatedness. This summary is offered here as a possible model for explaining the various levels of relating, particularly as these manifest in psychotherapy. This simple structure may help the reader better orient herself or himself throughout the book.

The first relational dimension is that of utility (or function). We need to acknowledge that every relationship we have fulfils some needs: we want something from the other, be it material or emotional. Our engagement with other people includes a functional, utilitarian side to it.

The second dimension is transferential. It means that as we enter any relationship, we bring the wealth of our previous relating history and style with us, in particular attachment relationships, and the way we have internalised these. Any newness in relating is therefore partially coloured by our previous relating-models (forms).


Chapter Seven - The Language of the Body: Further Concepts in Body Psychotherapy


Story Water

A story is like water

that you heat for your bath.

It takes messages between the fire

and your skin. It lets them meet,

and it cleans you!

Very few can sit down

in the middle of the fire itself

like a salamander or Abraham.

We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes,

but usually it takes some bread

to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,

but usually we need to be walking

in a garden to know it.

The Body itself is a screen

to shield and partially reveal

the light that's blazing inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,

all the things we do, are mediums

that hide and show what's hidden.

Study them,

and enjoy this being washed with a secret we sometimes know,

and then not.

—Rumi (1995)1

Despite the differences between modalities in body psychotherapy, there is nonetheless a terminological common ground and shared conceptual understanding. This chapter will present some of the basic concepts in body psychotherapy, in addition to those touched upon by the last three chapters. Many of these concepts, which are presented here from a relational body psychotherapy perspective, overlap and interact with one another.


Chapter Eight - Embodied Therapeutic Dialogues


Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen

I live my life in widening circles

that reach out across the world.

I may not complete this last one

but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.

I've been circling for thousands of years

and I still don't know: am I a falcon,

a storm, or a great song?

Rainer Maria Rilke, (1996, p. 48)1

This chapter represents a unique attempt to engage in dialogue with other body psychotherapists, in light of their presented clinical vignettes and psychotherapeutic interventions. I have asked six experienced body psychotherapists to send me a short clinical vignette which described a single therapeutic session. Some of these encounters are from the beginning of the therapeutic process, others from the middle of a long-term psychotherapy process. I have chosen psychotherapists with different training backgrounds, different therapeutic emphases and styles, and different therapeutic skills. However, it was important for me to choose therapists who shared a psychodynamic understanding, even if their clinical orientation was not psychodynamic.





The relational approach*

Relational psychoanalysis is a significant movement in contemporary psychoanalytic thinking, which includes a variety of theoretical and clinical schools. I have chosen to briefly review some of the origins of the relational approach due to their centrality to body psychotherapy.

Contemporary body psychotherapy is indebted to relational developments. Additionally, the principles of relational body psychotherapy may be integrated in relational practices. Since this book presents relational body psychotherapy and makes use of relational terminology and conceptualisation, some familiarity with basic premises in relational thinking will support the reading of the main arguments in this book.


In their brave scrutinising examination of the history of psychoanalysis, Lewis Aron and Karen

Starr (2013) pointed to the historically dissociative context in which psychoanalysis was created. Oscillating between binary positions, psychoanalysis defined itself by exclusion, through limiting itself to the selected few (following the Jewish tradition which dominated its creation, and to this day characterises the psychoanalytic movement). Relational psychoanalysis, a current rebellious child in the psychoanalytic arena, wished to challenge some of the dichotomies adopted by orthodox psychoanalysis, while inevitably creating new ones. Like the somatic rhythms of pulsation, form and flow, construction and deconstruction, we were called to examine our oscillating polarities if we were to transcend them, all the while realising that these were also inevitable processes.


Chapter Nine - Body Psychotherapeutic Skills


“I can't believe that!” said Alice.

“Can't you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There's not use trying,” she said. “One can't believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven't had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass: And what Alice Found there (1871, pp. 83-84).

In the last chapter we looked at six body psychotherapeutic approaches, and were able to appreciate their different theoretical and clinical richness. This chapter focuses on eight body psychotherapeutic skills, which are presented here through clinical vignettes (except one) and a short discussion. Two other skills, touch and resonance, are expanded upon in separate chapters. Client names and identifying details have been changed, and permission to use these vignettes was given. Some of these descriptions consist of an amalgamation of clients.


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