What is Bodynamic Psychology?

Muscular man tying running shoes

Bodynamic Psychology is a body psychotherapy grounded in the idea of mutual connection and dignity. The goal of this therapy is for a person to feel connected to others and themselves without disowning any portion of their experience. When a person feels the need to sacrifice either form of connection to maintain the other, then that is where a psychopathology develops.

If a person has to sacrifice an aspect of their experience in order to remain in connection with others (to be acceptable), there is a loss. If a person has to sacrifice their connection with others in order to feel whole, there is a loss. Either option is less than ideal, but both can and do show up in every person’s life in a variety of ways. There certainly are parts of our human experience that can be undesirable or unlikeable, however, in denying that they are a part of our experience we then lose out on emotional information for the enrichment of our personal development. Dignity comes through acknowledging and owning your experience and emotion, regardless of how you ultimately choose to follow through with it.
There are three main areas of diagnosis in Bodynamic Psychology, and each is related to the other. These are:
    1. Muscular Analysis (Body Map)
    2. Ten Ego Skills
    3. Seven Developmental Character Structures

Muscular Analysis

Starting with muscular response analysis, Lisbeth Marcher and the founders of Bodynamic Analysis discovered that a variety of muscles and connective tissues in the human body respond to psychological content. This means that how we think, act, and interact in this world is in a feedback loop with our muscles. This response can be seen in muscles by how they respond to touch, from sluggishly receptive to rigidly resistant. This is correlated to psychological content. For example, if someone is invading our personal space, a healthy response is to create a boundary. In children, this looks like turning their heads away from the intruder or reaching up to push away. As they grow older, they use words like “no” or “stop” to have the same effect. It is this abstraction from physical into symbolic–actions into words–that influences thought life development. The muscles involved in turning or pushing away will show responsiveness in relationship to the degree of success with the developmental action.

If a child is unsupported in creating a healthy boundary, then the muscular impulses to push away are resigned as ineffective. The muscle when tested appears sluggishly responsive. When they resign, they no longer feed back the impulse to the brain, and the child no longer “feels” the impulse to form a boundary. If the child has an unremedied hypo-response to declaring a boundary, then their symbolic mental map of boundaries remains undeveloped. This is how a child can give up their sense of self for contact with others.

The reverse is possible as well, where the child succeeds–sometimes–in forming a boundary. A sense of fight is necessary to maintain the boundary, and an ever-present uncertainty about the boundary is developed. This fight is coded into the muscles responsiveness as rigidly resistant to touch. This can lead to a “hyper-responsive” muscular pattern, where the boundary muscles like the triceps are rigid.

Rigid muscles, much like resigned muscles, are ineffective at providing dynamic feedback about impulses to the brain. The impulse is always on, so the child is always feeling the need to throw a boundary up. The impulse is disproportionate, and as such, creates an undesired relationship rupture. This is how a child loses connection with others to maintain a sense of self. For a child, it could feel as a lose-lose; prevent overwhelming intrusion at the cost of losing connection with a care-taker.

A healthy response then is one where an impulse is well-contained by a steady trust that it can be felt, executed, and let go of while maintaining a sense of self and desired connection with another person. Ideally, the muscular response when tested is elastic and lively. A clear boundary stops an intrusion but doesn’t scare away another person. It regulates an interaction at a level that can be experienced and integrated in a mutually satisfying way.

With training, a clinician can test for a “hypo-response” in the triceps of the child. This hypo-response is tested by determining the degree of responsiveness a muscle has to physical contact; this is separate from muscle tension, in that a tense muscle may or may not be rigidly responsive to touch, and a loose muscle may or may not be delayed or unresponsive to physical touch. Expert coaches in professional league sports have been doing muscle analysis on athletes for years. Runners, for example, have their strides analyzed for which muscles they use and don’t use, and then undergo physiotherapy to better utilize ALL their muscles so that none have to be overburdened, and that all muscles can work as they function best. Bodynamic Analysis extrapolates this into psychotherapy interventions.

The functional-symbolic connection of muscles and thoughts is what Bodynamic Analysis (and many other somatic psychotherapies) refer to as a psychomotor resource. A resource is something you have available to use to solve problems that you face, physically or emotionally. Bodynamics maps out over 125 muscles and connective tissues and their psychomotor functions in their manual, The Body Encyclopedia. Now, there are a LOT of muscles and connective tissues in a human body, how does one make sense of which ones to work with in therapy?

Ego skills

That’s where ego skills and character structure psychology come into play! Firstly, ego skills. These are varied skills used to navigate connection with oneself, with reality and your environment, and with others. These skills take the form of getting sensory information and impulse feedback to inform intuitive–and sometimes cognitive–decision making.

Take for example Grounding – named as such because it has to do with the sensation of connection to the ground, physically and symbolically something stable and supportive; this is intertwined with a sense of reality testing as well.

The muscles in your feet, calves, hips, and spine all relate to the sensory experience of grounding – each of these at one point or another developmentally are used to connect with the ground. Take for example an infant, they lay on their back and are supported along their spine by the ground; you, as a literate adult, are either sitting in a solid chair or standing steadily on your feet as you read this.

Alongside Grounding are ten other ego skills identified under the umbrella of Bodynamics. Some others are ego skills such as Centering, Connectedness, Self-Assertion, and Cognitive Skills. A trained clinician can identify these through conversational themes and behavioral observation. Where there are deficits in these ego skills, the clinician can work with developmental movements (like pushing, grabbing, pulling, and so on) to enhance a client’s coping capacity. These movements are chosen to target specific muscles–and vice versa–to tune a client’s awareness to their impulses and build their capacity to handle them. They don’t happen in isolation, either. They integrate best when brought together with their relevant situations. E.g. Using boundary muscles in therapy to re-explore how your coworker has recently disrupted your boundaries. The more immediate the struggle is, the more relevant the muscle skills are toward healthy integration.

The Character Structure model

Between the large amount of muscles and connective tissues, as well as the variety of personal, interpersonal, and environmental resources of Ego Skills, a new pattern emerged that the founders of Bodynamic Analysis uncovered: the character structures.

They’re named character structures because of the predictable pattern of muscles that become significant at different times throughout childhood and adolescence, and how these muscles correlate with developmental themes.

For example, the youngest character structure is called the Existence Structure. This one is thematically related to an individuals experience of their right to be, to exist, and whether or not they feel welcome. This stage of development happens between the second trimester to the first year of life. In this time, a child’s developing nervous system is testing and forming a sense of how secure their being is. Toxic shocks in utero, life-threatening illnesses or injuries, neglect, disapproval of the nature of their existence (either an undesirable pregnancy or being born an undesirable gender), and so on all impact a child’s perception of their existence. A threatened existence forces muscles and impulses into a state of either resignation or challenge.

In adults, this limited, hypotonic experience of existence–Mental Existence–can look like someone who presents as stiff, rigid movements, deeply in their thoughts, and has little awareness of their body or coordination in movement. Their faces tend to show little dynamic expression of emotion. The expression, “I think, therefore I am,” resonates deeply with them.

The existential challenge–Emotional Existence–is characterized by a larger-than-life presence that presents loudly, both in fashion and voice. They frequently crave physical contact, but aren’t easily or satisfied in an enduring way with contact. They often feel more fragile, and have a hard time containing their emotions. In this state, extensive thought can prove challenging, but also provides more balance. Deep emotional contact resonates with them, affirming their shaky fight for an acknowledged existence.

All of this is on a spectrum, and the individual who feels secure in their existence–Healthy Existence–is one who can both entertain grand thoughts and contain their emotions, pulling on the strengths of both Early and Late states dynamically and proportionately to appropriately solve problems. The joy of good therapy and restorative relationships is that we can grow in our capacities in so many ways.

Character Stages and corresponding rights:

  1. Existence Structure: the right to exist;
  2. Need Structure: the right to have needs;
  3. Autonomy Structure: the right to be autonomous;
  4. Will Structure: the right to be intentional, directed and willful;
  5. Love/Sexuality Structure: the right to feel loving and sexual feelings;
  6. Opinion Structure: the right to have your own opinions;
  7. Solidarity/Performance Structure: the right to be a full member of a group, apart from needing to compete and perform.

Each of these themes can be integrated on a spectrum, for example, a child may learn to feel the right to express sexual feelings but not loving feelings in a clear and bounded way, or vice versa. Each of these themes gets introduced mostly consecutively, and to a degree concurrently, until around the age 12. As they go through the teen years, each of the stages tend to be revisited in highly unpredictable ways. Breaks in mutual connection here can cause resources to be lost, and conversely, a restorative relationship here can compensate for earlier deficits.

In summary, Bodynamic Analysis is a comprehensive developmental somatic psychology that brings together individual muscles, life skills, and developmental themes to restore dynamic functioning to people. The end goal is mutual-connection–connection with self and with others–and to be able to appropriately respond to life’s challenges; to face reality in its entirety. Problems are not solved in a vacuum, but by bringing life’s struggles into sessions and experiencing old struggles with new support.

Official Bodynamic International website: https://www.bodynamic.com/

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