Michael Coster Heller
Psychotherapist, Lausanne
Flesh of the Soul
The body we work with
Bern: Peter Lang, 2001
Body Psychotherapy:
history, concepts & methods
New York: W.W. Norton, 2012
Psychothérapies corporelles
Fondements et pratiques
Louvain: DeBoeck, 2008
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 Biodynamic Psychology

Biodynamic Psychology

Biodynamic Psychology is based on notions and methods shaped by Gerda Boyesen, and subsequently incorporated developments from other trainers of her psychotherapy school.

The frame in which Gerda Boyesen developed her ideas was set in Oslo (Norway) by Trygve Bråtøy, who was working at that time as a psychiatrist in the Oslo hospital. Bråtøy was trained by Wilhelm Reich, who was, in those days,  one of Sigmund Freud’s main trainers. He later agreed with Reich, that the action of psychotherapy could be enhanced by associating psychological and bodily dynamics in one theoretical frame, and formed an association with a physiotherapist called Adele Bülow Hansen.

 Scandinavia has formed some of the leading specialists on body techniques, and Bülow Hansen is one of them. Bråtøy and Bülow Hansen created a space in a psychiatric hospital where patients would be taken care of at the level of the body by a psychotherapist, and by a psychoanalyst who would also supervise the physiotherapy. Their idea was to construct a set of parallel but coordinate approaches, in which the psychiatrist would not touch the patient, but listen to what the psychotherapy sessions may have activated, while the physiotherapist would focus on body dynamics (e.g., muscular tension, blood circulation, posture, etc.), remaining attentive to what had been clarified during psychotherapy sessions.

Gerda Boyesen first trained as a clinical psychologist, and then later trained as a physiotherapist in the Bülow Hansen method. This move had been encouraged Ola Raknes, with whom Gerda Boyeson was having psychotherapy. Ola Raknes trained with Reich when he was developing a form of psychotherapy, called vegetotherapy, in which one person explored bodily and psychotherapeutic dynamics. When Reich exiled to the USA, Ola Rakness remained in contact with Reich and trained in Orgone therapy.

Rakness had a practice in Oslo and in London. When he became too old for constant travels, he asked Gerda Boyesen if she would replace him in England. She accepted, and for the first time had to work as a psychologist and as a physiotherapist with the same patient. This forced her to find a method which could combine psychotherapeutic and physiotherapeutic methods synergetically in such a way that one person could offer the type of treatment that provided in Bråtøy’s institute as well as classic vegetotherapy … which is how Gerda Boyesen began to assemble what was first known as the Gerda Boyesen Method. In the 1970s, many practitioners asked her to train colleagues, both in London and on the European continent. Having formed a teaching team (which included her three children: Ebba, Mona-Lisa and Paul Boyesen), she called her approach Biodynamic Psychology at the end of the 1970s. It is under this name that her method spread in all the continents.

The basis of Biodynamic Psychology thus synthesizes the Norwegian psychology of the 1960s (mainly Freudian and Jungian), Norwegian physiotherapy (mainly massage methods) and Reichian ways of coordinating body and mental work.

Her body of work focuses on the strengthening of psycho-physiological mechanisms of auto-regulation. By definition, for her, these mechanisms recruit mental, emotional, muscular, physiological and energetic dynamics. Her work has mainly focused on methods that open patients to the deeper layers of their souls. Gerda Boyesen’s assumptions are close to those of the Reich of the 1940s, who assumed that, once a person had been opened, natural auto-regulation would spontaneously activate mechanisms of inter-personal regulation that could lead to a happier life.

Paul Boyesen initially created the Psycho-Organic Analysis school because his experience had taught him that reconstructing a new life required not only an inner opening to one’s intra-organism regulation systems, but also a capacity to find social support through which such a reconstruction could gradually be realized. I use the term construction as suggested by Jean Piaget, who believed that individual enthusiasm and creativity only finds its full activity when it is echoed by relevant and dynamic social support. The implication of Paul Boyesen’s work in the 1980s is that Gerda Boyesen’s work requires additional methods that allow individuals to protect what they have discovered in depth psychotherapy when they find new ways of participating in the exhilarating but tough social contexts that characterizes human life today. I am sure that when asked, both Paul and Gerda would agree with this general formulation, but Gerda focuses on intra-organism dynamics, while Paul focuses on their incarnation.

In this web site I will develop these themes, but in what has become a different frame of reference.

Michel Heller

Assens 5.3.2004

Recommended reading:

—   Boyesen, Gerda (1985): Entre psyché et soma. Introduction à la Psychologie Biodynamique. Texte établi et traduit par Paul Gérôme. Paris: Payot.

—   Nunneley, Peg (2000). The Biodynamic philosophy and treatment of psychosomatic conditions. Bern: Peter Lang’s

- http://www.lsbp.org.uk/Clover%20Southwell.html