The term “Body Psychotherapy” became established in the area of Psychotherapy during the 1980s. The European Association for Body Psychotherapy (EABP), the scientific and administrative association for Body Psychotherapy in Europe, was founded in 1988, and USABP is also active in the United States. Currently, the fourth-generation Body Psychotherapists are entering the profession, counting from Reich and Raknes.

Body Psychotherapy includes a number of psychotherapeutic modalities based on the same fundamental principles:

1.the body plays an important role in the psychic condition of the person

2.mind and body are interrelated

3.the body’s contribution and the emphasis on it enhance the healing potential of psychotherapy

Dr. Pierre Janet (1889)

It could be said that the history of Body Psychotherapy begins with the work of Dr. Pierre Janet (1889), at least 3 years before Freud officially established psychoanalysis (1892). According to David Boadella (1997), Janet placed an emphasis on the body of the patient and non-verbal communication, and his findings are directly linked to Body Psychotherapy, since they include, among others, significant information concerning the blocking of the diaphragm, the effects of emotional intensity on the flow of bodily fluids and the importance of manual work for patients who have undergone a traumatic shock.

Albert Abrams (1891–1910)

Another important researcher in the history of Body Psychotherapy was Albert Abrams (1891–1910) who based some of his theories on the work of Franz Anton Mesmer (1779) and Armand-Marie-Jacques de Chastenet and Marquis de Puységur (1784) concerning the interrelation of mind and body.

According to Boadella (1997), Freud conducted research on the findings of Janet and was influenced by his ideas, but later ignored the study of the body and focused solely on verbal communication. Initially Freud had described the idea of the ego as “first and foremost a body-ego” (Freud, 1923), stating the interconnectedness of mind and body. Also, he initially conceived of the libido within a framework of homeostasis promoting the liberation of bodily energy. Yet later he reconsidered, thinking that the body represents the dangerously predominant power of the instincts that should remain under the control of the mind. The mind thus became the focal point of classic psychotherapy as the means by which man can express his inner core after processing his thoughts and beliefs.

Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957)

Austro-Hungarian physician and psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957), student and later collaborator of Freud, gradually became the most important pioneer of Body Psychotherapy. Reich focused on the “Character” of the analysand – the special personal way of being – which forms the foundation for the symptoms that are exhibited. He introduced the concept of the “Armour” referring to the defense mechanism developed by a person in order to cope with intense sensory input and unbearable emotion. The Armour has a character aspect and a somatic aspect. Reich also developed “Neuro-vegetotherapy”, a method of restoring the health of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) through particular body techniques and exercises followed by verbal expression and processing.

Reich’s ideas on “Character” and the processing of resistance and negative transference were widely acclaimed by psychoanalysts, while his emphasis on working with the body, emotional discharge and sexuality was taken on and further developed by various neo-Reichians and Bioenergy schools.

Later, Reich developed further the concepts of orgastic potency, sexual energy, what he called “orgone energy”, becoming even less popular in the psychoanalytic circles.

Groddeck and Ferenczi

Other pioneers such as Groddeck and Ferenczi experimented working in a more direct way with the body, while Adler, Jung and other focused on how psychic energy is distributed throughout the body and on the relation between mind and body.

A few psychotherapists, contemporaries of Reich, were greatly influenced by his work with the body, in particular Fritz Perls (1969), founder of Gestalt therapy, Arthur Janov (1970) who founded Primal Therapy,and Stanislav Grof (1986) who named his own technique Holotropic Breathwork. Yet none of them acknowledged that influence.


Reich’s work on the body, muscular armoring and resistance, drew along many followers. In Norway and the United States, Reich worked with numerous therapists who incorporated his theory to their work processes. An international movement of Body Psychotherapy was developed, with quite a few variations either directly emanating from Reich’s work or adding substantially to it, or at least owing a lot to it.

Elsworth Baker

In the United States, Elsworth Baker along with co-workers – known as “Orgonomists” – founded the American College of Orgonomy (1968) and published the Orgonomy review, continuing the tradition of Reich’s Medical Orgonomy.

Second-generation Body Psychotherapists, trained by Reich in the United States and called “Neo-Reichians”, include Alexander Lowen, John Pierrakos, Myron Sharaf and Eva Reich.

Alexander Lowen (1910-2008)

Physician Alexander Lowen (1910-2008) created Bioenergetic Analysis (1975), developing and adding very significant concepts-techniques to Body Psychotherapy: “grounding” in psychotherapy, standing up and deepening breathing.

John Pierrakos (1921-2001)

John Pierrakos (1921-2001), initially worked with Lowen, and then developed Core Energetics (1987) aiming to ease the release of the core self, combining his therapeutic experience in the practice of Bioenergetics with a kind of spiritual meditation used by his wife and the focus on joie de vivre.

Eva Reich

Eva Reich, W. Reich’s youngest daughter, developed the technique of Gentle Bioenergetics or Butterfly Baby Massage (1996), a kind of soft massage that can be administered by mothers to babies born prematurely in order to aid the process of establishing a relationship that has been disrupted.

Ola Raknes (1887-1975)

In Norway, psychoanalyst Ola Raknes (1887-1975) was also trained by Reich in Characteranalytic Vegetotherapy and later he himself trained other scientists such as A.S. Neill, Paul Ritter, Peter Jones, David Boadella, Gerda Boyesen and Malcolm Brown. A few of them developed their own view of Body Psychotherapy and formed the third generation of Body Psychotherapists.

David Boadella

Thus, David Boadella developed Biosynthesis, delving on how the three embryological layers – endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm – influence the body’s current structure. Boadella was a very significant personality in the area of Body Psychotherapy, especially from 1970 to 1990. He founded the first review on the subject of Body Psychotherapy, titled Energy & Character, with the help of which Body Psychotherapy acquired consistency and an independent identity as a scientific discipline. In addition, he was a founding member of the European Association of Body Psychotherapy (1988) and its first president.

Gerda Boyesen (1922-2005)

Gerda Boyesen (1922-2005) founded Biodynamic Psychology (1980), contributing the understanding that the self-regulation system of emotional intensity functions not only through the orgasm reflex or the relaxation of muscular armour, but also based on the parasympathetic activity in the digestive system. She introduced the terms “emotional absorption” and “psychoperistalsis”, and developed theory and techniques for the relaxation of the armour at the connective tissue and muscles according to Reich. She also developed a kind of very subtle massage relaxing and rebalancing the ANS, thus enhancing the expression of emotion lying behind the bodily tension.

Her son, Paul Boyesen, later created his own method, which he called Psycho-organic Analysis.

Malcolm Brown & Katherine Ennis Brown

Malcolm Brown and his wife Katherine Ennis Brown, influenced by the Gestalt psychotherapy and by Charlotte Selver, Carl Rogers (2003), Reich, Lowen, Boadella (1987) and Boyesen (1980), developed Organismic Psychotherapy. They delved into the effect created by the therapist’s touch and how it differentiates when the therapist is a man or a woman. Malcolm Brown conducted research into the varying functionality, in therapy, of “vertical grounding” (standing position) compared to “horizontal grounding”.

Lillemore Johnsen (1981)

Lillemore Johnsen (1981), influenced by Freud and Reich, and through a more existential point of view, developed a particular method of “reading the body” through soft touching and restoration of breathing, with precise diagnosis. She called her modality Integrated Respiration Therapy.

Lisbeth Marcher (1989)

Lisbeth Marcher (1989), using some of Johnsen’s ideas, created the Bodynamics modality which states that personality problems and the elements of character structuring result from conflicts in relationships. Her techniques aim to transform old and persistent behavior motifs through the education process and the energizing of kinetic and psychological resources.

Charles Kelley (1922-2005)

Charles Kelley (1922-2005) created the Radix method (1970s), a kind of “training in emotion, purpose and improving eyesight”, combining the techniques of Reich on emotional discharge and the method of William Bates for the improvement of eyesight.

Stanley Keleman (1986)

Stanley Keleman (1986), a student of Alexander Lowen and Ola Raknes, differentiated greatly from Reich, proving that the concept of muscular armour, energy flow and its restriction is extended not only to muscles but also to the body’s soft tissue, the bowels.

Ron Kurtz (1990)

Ron Kurtz (1990), combining the influence of Gestalt therapy, Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy, Rolfing, Bioenergetic Analysis and the work of J. Pierrakos, Al Pesso and Moshe Feldenkrais, developed the Hakomi method that helps a person realize what he has the potential to become or what he should become.

Jack Lee Rosenberg (1996)

Jack Lee Rosenberg (1996) created Synthetic Somatic Psychotherapy encapsulating features from yoga, Bioenergetic Analysis, Reichian analysis, psychoanalysis, Transactional Analysis and object-oriented relationships.

Jerome Liss (1986)

Psychiatrist Jerome Liss (1986) developed the Biosystemic modality, which combines various ways of working with the body, in order to explore the relationship between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic system of the ANS. The resulting emotional deepening helps a person restore a healthy balance.

Jacob “Jay” Stattman (1989 και 1991)

In the next generation of Body Psychotherapists who had no contact with co-workers and students of Reich, Jacob “Jay” Stattman (1989 and 1991) founded Unitive Psychology, unifying elements of Humanistic Psychology with the theoretical work of Reich and some psychodynamic elements of Character Analysis. He used various techniques on the body, focusing on breathing, movement and contact, influenced by Gerda Boyesen, Reich, Lowen and Feldenkrais.

Yvonne Maurer (1993)

Influenced by Gestalt therapy and Bioenergetics, psychiatrist Yvonne Maurer (1993) developed Body-centered Psychotherapy.

Luciano Rispoli (2008)

Luciano Rispoli (2008) developed Functional Psychotherapy, exploring the functionality of a person on all levels: mind, emotion, body, physiology. Therapy aims to mobilize and again incorporate the altered functions so as to restore primal fundamental experiences.

Arnold Mindell

Arnold Mindell, initially a Jungian analyst, at the late 1970s developed his own modality of Process-oriented Psychotherapy, which follows the psychological workings of a person during his development and movement through various channels.

Modern Dance-Kinetic Psychotherapy

Another important trend is the Modern Dance-Kinetic Psychotherapy, a somatic psychotherapeutic version of the Dance-Kinetic Therapy developed by Elsa Gindler in 1910-1920.

Ilana Rubenfeld (1998)

Ilana Rubenfeld (1998) developed the Rubenfeld Synergy Method(RSM), using a kind of touch with the hands, quite similar to Gerda Boyesen’s technique of mild biodynamic massage.

There are also some people who dealt with a kind of “somatic therapy” to which they proceeded to add psychotherapeutic features so as to transform it to Body Psychotherapy. For example, in Europe, Jack Painter’s Postural Integration method (1987) was transformed to Psychotherapeutic Postural Integration, through the adoption of Gestalt psychotherapy. Also, in the United States, Susan Aposhyan (2004) transformed Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s Body-Mind Centering to Body Psychotherapy. Albert Pesso and his wife Diane Boyden-Pesso (1961), who started out as professional dancers, studied the way that movement can ease the expression of emotion. In this way, they developed the Psychokinetic modality, which has now developed into a body-oriented psychodrama.

In this history, from Janet and his sources of inspiration until today, a growing trend to marginalize the body coexists with the growing understanding of intellectual processes.

A split between mind and body dominated, whereby the mind is considered as controlling and superior to body and nature.

Freud had diagnosed the pathological consequences of this split, but later presented as a general condition, claiming that it formed an essential ingredient of civilization.

So, as mentioned before, he gave up studying the body and concentrated exclusively on verbal communication, and consequently the practice of psychoanalysis through the talking cure was restricted to how the psyche influences the body, and not vice versa. In addition, the placement of the therapist’s seat behind the “couch” obstructed the necessary visual contact with the body of the analysand, thus precluding any possible non-verbal communication

Around 1929-1930, the body was relegated to the margins. Perhaps this was related to Reich’s preoccupation with Marxism, sociopolitical theory and sexuality. When he was expelled from the international psychoanalytic community, the body was definitively split from psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Psychoanalysis turned to object-oriented relationships focusing on transference, counter-transference and the psychodynamic case history, without any references to or taking into account the body.

Thus, the integration of the somatic reality to psychotherapy is not a novel phenomenon, but rather a repudiated aspect of it.

It took 70 years, from 1934 to 2004, when the Cambridge conference titled “For the body: Working with the embodied mind in psychotherapy” was organized so that the body may reacquire its place in psychotherapy.

Neurosciences also help in the direction of an integrated approach to the science of psychology as regards man and his body.

Body Psychotherapy benefited from psychoanalysis as to the integration of the concept of the therapeutic relationship and the correct use of transference and counter-transference.

On the other hand, the concept of somatic resonance as a kind of “somatic transference”, crucial to many Body Psychotherapists, is more and more accepted in psychotherapy generally, as an important aspect of the therapeutic relationship. 

The body of the psychotherapist is now acknowledged as a significant feature of the therapeutic process (Shaw, 2003).