Finding light through darkness
Depression and Body Psychotherapy
What is depression?
New visions to confront depression
According to the Essential Guide for Depression of the
In a congress about “Embryology, Therapy and Soci-
American Medical Association, depression is a mental dis-
ety”, in The Netherlands on may 2002, Barbara Findeisen,
turbance which disarrange people’s humor turning them
president of the Association for Pre and Perinatal Psychology
inadequate and dysfunctional, not letting people to conduct
and Health (APPPAH) which pioneered methods to heal the
their daily lives. Some doctors call it “flu of mental disease”
effects of early trauma, began her speech describing the
for being so widespread in a world scale.
American Society as a plastic society. “Take your child out
The depression may interrupt the ability of thinking, acting
of plastic” this is the message she tries to pass to the young
and feeling, affecting their concentration at work, family and
couples in her country. Babies need warm and touching
emotional relationship, as well as night sleeping, making
contact from mother’s body. Babies learn how to respond
to their environment before, during and after birth.
Depressive people usually have negative thoughts about
Biologically and psychologically they develop survival
themselves, about their lives and their future. The lack of
patterns that later will influence attitudes and behavior. In
hope makes them paralyzed, stuck and incapable of acting
order to survive these early wounds, defensive responses
and difficult to relate to other people. The depressed person
are imprinted in the psyche, creating stress and dysfunction.
visualizes their future in a negative way using restrictive im-
The impersonal practice of raising children, which is con-
ages. These images hold inside themselves negative, painful
sidered fashion in our technological society, supports the
and traumatic images of the person’s past.
idea of early interruption of bonding between mother
Andrew Solomon believes that depression is love imper-
and child. Children are kept away from the mothers’
fection, a lost of sense of vital purpose, lack of meaning of
body through feeding bottle, blankets, clothes, diapers,
each enterprise, of each emotion and of life itself. Depres-
cradle and other physical objects. These children may
sion not treated is the major cause of suicide in the USA.
be adapted to live an isolated life in the urban world,
Researchers demonstrated in USA that one out of ten Ameri-
with attachment for material values and objects, but
can adults will suffer from depression in the next following
paying the price of living on the edge of depression.
years and estimate that exist one depressed person in each
The loss of contact between mother and child results in
the incapacity of the person to seek real satisfaction of his
Why depression turned to be the mental disease of our
In 1992 in a training program for psychotherapists in
We are living in a confused world, overpopulated, with
Japan I found myself in a reality different to the one I was
a huge pressure for consumption and for production, com-
used. When I first met the Japanese group I asked them how
pletely dependent of technology. The world turned to be
do they live. I was stroked by the fact that all the group of
fast, materialistic and based on short-term goals. The old
30 people lived their lives alone, neither having partner nor
paradigms suffered severe changes, while traditional believes
children. On my way to Japan at a flight from Hong Kong to
and values became fragile, such as: marriage, religion, fam-
Narita I sat close to a young Japanese 18 years old who told
ily, education, etc. In countries with great social, economical
me his life history and his attempt to suicide. Afterwards
and cultural imbalances, depression may lead to be
this young man tried to contact me by phone, not only in
epidemic and treatment present many shortcomings. This
Japan but also in Portugal, where I lived at that time, asking
situation creates a legion of persons in constant fear of being
me for a person to whom he could speak. This experiences
excluded from the normal process of life.
indicates that people are ready to confront their problems if they find out somebody ready to listen and who transmit
the feeling that the may find a solution to their problems.
He is in depression for too many years; and, now is ad-
There are only few people in our society that have the
dicted to chemicals in order to confront his depression.
possibility and are capable of accept and being themselves.
In order to treat depression we need an integrated partici-
We adopt roles, wear masks and disguise our true selves.
pation of mental health professionals, and also social and
We don’t believe that our genuine self could be accepted.
familiar support. In the last years I feel more and more the
How can Body Psychotherapy contribute to the process of
need to work as a team with psychiatrists to diagnose and
treat the more complex and severe cases of depression.
Reich, in his vegetotherapy, studied character formation in
Moti is the youngest of his family and has two sis-
relation to the energy of pulsation of the organism and the
ters. When he was young his mother was his teacher at
blockage of its pulsation as muscular armour. New directions
school. She was very tough at him beating him with a
of Body Psychotherapy were influenced by him. Since 1933,
ruler on his legs and arms. He felt his heart heavy as lead.
Reich worked directly on the body in order to liberate the
It was full of fear. He wanted to die. His parents fighted
muscular armour and restore the energetic flow. He spoke
between themselves and he felt himself guilty and bad
about the unity between body and psyche.
about it. His mother suffered from anemia and bleed-
Since emotions are grounded physically, we have to work
ing. He imagined and desired unconsciously her death.
on the body in order to diagnose and treat depression. The
He remembers his childhood home as a place of sorrow.
body of a depressed person can have different shapes, but
He lived in a smal town, where al the children after
what they have in common is that in general a depress ed
finishing primary school must move to a bigger town in
person breathes in a superficial way and has difficulties in
order to continue their studies. He lived his adolescence as
his/her contact with his/her body and emotions.
a “shout of freedom”, living far away from his parents in
Sometimes a depressed person is hidden under a strong
an apartment where he was spoiled by his eldest sisters and
muscular structure, or under an inflated body, or even under
the family maid. During those years his mother died and he
started to feel guilty for that and also for not saying goodbye
In Body Psychotherapy we work with breathing, muscular
to her. In his inner ghosts he needed to hurt himself in order
tonus and emotional expression connecting our somatic exist-
to survive. When he is mistreated he accepts it because he
ence, our psychologi cal experience and searching for our essence.
is use to it, in his words “he knows how to act”. When his
When I work with my clients I look at their physical body and
wife treats him well he doesn’t know how to react and he
beyond it, I am aware of the intentionality of their move-
ments that can be restored, stimulating new embodimen ts
This also happened between us. Since he doesn’t sup-
of their psyche. The human qualities they present and their
port being well treated he always get late only enjoying half
inner resources are emphasized as a central part of their
From where to start to work with this client suffering from
The subject of Depression is a black-hole topic; it’s a topic
about destruction. We try to be in touch with it and at the
We work with the motor fields. Since in the depressive
same time we want to see the opposite of Depression: what
person some patterns of movements are missing, we try
to find the unused movements. Our state of mind affects
In order to explain the way I work with depressed clients
the shape of our body. Our muscles express our psyche, our
using Body Psychotherapy I’l present below two case studies:
external posture expresses our deepest feelings. Depression,
Case study 1:
Moti is a 60 years old man who came to
in particular, tends to fix our body language in rigid body
me because of his depression and lost of enthusiasm. He
postures. Body Psychotherapy aims to introduce the body
had also anxiety crisis and impatience with reading, lack of
language as part of the understanding and treatment of
concentration and attention. Hiss symptoms are anguish,
the human being. For instance, screaming, crying deeply,
lack of air, stomachache, and closed throat.
activation or rotation of the body can be ways of helping to
Moti lost his hope for getting better after so many at-
bring people back into suppressed movements.
tempts to different types of therapy. He looks sad and sloppy,
M y o p t i o n w a s t o s t a r t t h e b o d y w o r k
he has dreamy eyes and his skin and body looks devitalized.
b y a c t i v a t i o n a s a n a n t i d o t e t o p a r a l y s i s .
He works only few hours a day, having a low production
F o r this pur p o s e I us e d a s o ng that h e to ld
at his job, and is very critical about it saying that his work
me he used to dance with sticks in his hometown.
place is neurotic. He is disorganized and always late for his
This dance gave me the feeling of participating of a certain
appointments including his psychotherapy session.
martial fight in biblical time. This is an extreme initiatic dance,
For many years he doesn’t find pleasure in life. His wife
masculine, yang, active, and antidote to his paralyzed state.
mistreats, disqualifies and humiliates him. Moti’s friends are
Moti singed and danced using his legs and voice in a
worried about this fact, but he has no reaction against it. Of
very energized way, remembering his adolescence sensa-
course the situation also affects the couple’s children. The
tions, of a potent young man for whom the young girls
eldest daughter became revolted with the father’s passivity,
felt in love because he knew how to sing and also he
did involve with drugs and is accused by her mother to look
was a poet. At this moment he felt happiness through
like her father, not having a purpose for her life.
al his body for being alive and excited. From impotent
Moti sees himself as a destroyed man. In order to
arms and legs to strong and creative legs and arms.
survive he depends on fluoxetin, the famous Prozac.
Free hands available for strong and potent gesture and
strong legs for good grounding in the earth and life.
ing involved in our work may lead us to believe that we are
In body psychotherapy we aim integrating and mobilizing exist-
part of a separate cast. We need to protect ourselves from
ing resources. In this type of work we do not impose any emo-
this feeling, as we know well that the condition of being
tion. This emotion of happiness and hope that Moti felt was
a therapist is the knowledge that all of us participate and
buried inside of himself al these years since his adolescence.
share the suffering and joys of human condition.
He had inside of himself two matrix of knowledge: paralysis and activation.
The task of the therapy is to link these two matrixes of
Alexander Lowen, Depression and the Body, Penguin Books, 1978.
knowledge. The act of creation belongs to the client. The
American Medical Association; Essential Guide for Depression,
therapist is only a facilitator and for that reason his work has
to be very careful. We help the client to find his healthy part
in order to take care of his wounds. It is a healing process.
David Boadel a, in the Introduction to the article of Esther Frankel and Milton
Case study 2:
Ana participated in one of my workshops
Corrêa, “Biosynthesis Psychotherapeutic Micro Session in Contexts”,
as a client. She is a 42 years old woman that suffers from
Energy&Character, Vol 31 no 1, September 2000.
depression. Something pushes her down and doesn’t let her
David Boadel a, Shape Flow and Postures of the Soul – The Biosynthesis Con-
cept of Motoric Fields, Energy&Character, Vol 30 no 1, September, 1999.
have a good life. She speaks about a car accident, a serious dis-
Jerome Liss, The Scientific Basis of Body Psychotherapy part II,
ease, an emotional and financial crisis, and her impotence in
Energy&Character, Vol 22 n 2, September 1991.
general. While she exposes her problems, she makes dancing
Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis, Vision Press, 1973.
movements with her arms and I fol ow her and encourage her to continue until these movements became a cheerful dance. Here, we can see the dance and happiness as an antidote for her impotence and depression. From shrinking herself around her problems, into an extension and openness in the direction of the unknown. During the session, I asked her what was the opposite of impotence and she answered with the dance movement. In that kind of work, the therapist pays attention to new movements that are unfolding. I feel myself working on the “unconscious of the movement”. Ana had inside of herself the happiness and the movement and she only needs a little help to make them unfold. Boad-ella calls it the “loosest thread of the yarn” (the movement of the arms). We catch it and stimulate it when it begins to unfold. This loosest thread is the easiest part. I didn’t want to work with the origins and reasons of her depression. We not only confront the defenses, the character, but we work beyond it.
We look for a place that life stil pulsates in the person and
from that point may come the healing. From my experience there is always this place in the person and this gives me hope and motivation to continue my work with depressed people. Body Psychotherapy is only recycling old knowledge. When the Jews were decimated in Ukraine by Cossacks and the people began to loose all hope, a wise man, the Baal Shem Tov, went to people and said that there are many ways of contacting god, and that you may well serve him and keep hope alive, and this is through dancing and singing.
The depressed person is close within his body and his
perception of the world. Rather than insisting in the person’s obsessions we need to help him to perceive differently, to go beyond his world, to indicate that is possible to break his circular vision of life. To do this we should be open to all possible ways of expression, body and language. Body Psychotherapy shall use all the means of communications, accompanying the labyrinths of the patients and acting upon them in order to find their own way out of depression.
Maybe to become a therapist there is a dimension of
sacrum/office, of sacrifice. But we are neither the priest nor the sacrifice, and we know that we don’t have a direct link to god. But patients may feel so and sometimes the suffer-
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