The concept of Bioenergetic Analysis
by Rainer Mahr
Bioenergetic Analysis is
1. a psychotherapeutic method, that pays attention to the therapeutic process and to the effect of psychotherapeutic interventions on the somatic condition and its changes.
The method tries to influence psychic processes not only via verbal, but via bodily interventions as well.
2. it decribes and understands psychic occurrences as an expression of biological, physiological, neuronal and energetic activities.
1. The Basic Conception
Bioenergetic Analysis has been developed by Alexander Lowen, who took up many concepts and opinions of Wilhelm Reich extended and modified them. (Lowen 1979,1981, 1967).
Fundamental for this concept is the idea of an indivisible unity of physical, spiritual and psychic events in human beings. This idea is proved by many daily experiences and
scientific observations: psychic conditions always find their expression in somatic reactions, positions, movements and behaviour and vice versa.
Without functioning bodily organisations, no emotions, mental processes and decisions are possible, no psychic happening can occur. Traumatic experiences in the infantile
development, that have been repressed to the unconsciousness and can lead to neurotic or personality disorders, find their expression in the bodily stance, the deportment, the gait, the patterns of movement
and the voice of the person. This experience is accumulated in the body, especially in the muscular system, but in other systems of the physiological organisation, too. That´s why experiences have been
stored up and can be read, that have taken place before the development of those neuronal structure, that facilitate imaginative and cognitive remembrance. So the early praenatal or postnatal life can be
seen and understood in a more precise way.
In bodily orientated psychotherapy it is tried – like in verbal psychotherapy – to revive the unconscious images, phantasies and remembrances and make them
accessible to treatment. Furthermore it is important, to perceive the physical remembrance again and to understand them in their biographical context. The specific patterns of tension in the muscles, the own
bodily position, the gait, the quality of the breathing patterns, the voice e.g. all should be noticed and felt again. Becoming conscious of them an the treatment and analysis of them, can change the
physical attitude and, thereby, evoke psychic and mental processes. By using different active and passive somatic interventions, it is possible to stimulate this process of somatic recollection or to resolve
stored up patterns the physiological organisation.
Bioenergetic work therefore always consists of two substantial parts, the pillars of psychological treatment of traumatic experiences and the somatic treatment of tensions
and blocks in a human organisation. As long as a person looks sad he/she cannot really have finished his/her mourning process. The manual release of the chewing muscles cannot have a permanent effect as long
as the retained rage could not be clarified.
Out of different reasons Alexander Lowen did not thoroughly explain the term “energy”. “Energy”, however, plays an important role in his concept, and
concerning this, he stands in immediate tradition of Wilhelm Reich and the early works/studies of Sigmund Freud:
Life is always navigated by energetic processes and therefore disorders, dysfunctions, “blockades” hinder the development of its potential. The actual experience
or traumatical experiences of the person´s past decide as to the available energy standard, extention and way energy flows through the body or, how it is retained. The energy can be “frozen” in
the inner tissue of a person, it can be strong in the body´s upper part, it can be weak in the pelvis or the legs and so on.
The personal development is determined by the quality of interactions and relationship with the main significant objects and by the available energy level and energy
structuring of the organism. A child e.g. with a low energy standard will not be able to resist to restrictive parents and might react depressively, whereas a child, that can mobilize power and resistance
won´t give up so easily.
The Bioenergetic Analysis has developed a character-analytical model concerning the different psychic and somatic experiences in the early human life. (Lowen 1979, Bäuerle
1988). This clearly shows, that specific life experiences, made in certain developing phases characterize the personality in a very specific way. They impress his/her behaviour, his/her relation to people,
to the world, her/his expectations, her/his spiritual physical and emotional orientation, her/his somatic stance and expression. All injuries during certain developing phases constitute special personality
aspects and can obstruct a satisfied and fulfilled life so definitely, that therapeutic help could be useful or is even necessary. The different character structures can thereby give valuable hints for the
diagnosis and can indicate where the person is hindered in its potential an in which developing phase the injury or trauma has taken place.
But a so called character structure always describes the person´s personality, not only its pathology.
Besides the traumatic experience and the thereby following restrictions of the life´s quality, the Bioenergetic Analysis also takes in consideration the specific skills and
the characteristic identity. Because the direct expression of impulses was not possible, the body needed help concerning holding, protection, affirmation were not given the afflicted individual has provided
itself with alternatives and expedients, in order to survive and develop.
The bioenergetic character structure model has described the schizoid, oral, masochistic, psychopathic (narcissistic) and rigid structure and meanwhile the borderline
structure as well.
All disorders that are treatable in verbal psychotherapy can be treated by Bioenergetic Analysis, too. Early personality disorders, oedipal injuries, posttraumatic stress
disorders all need very different forms of interventions, however. The therapeutic work is either individual work, or taken place in a group setting with adults, and with adequate modification it is also
possible with children (Ventling 2001).
2. Basic Conceptions of Bioenergetic Analysis.
Bioenergetic Analysis, how shortly outline, is based on different concepts concerning the psycho-physical human structure, the interrelation of biological and psychic
processes and its modification. There are specific ideas of health and disease and its healing process and of the way and meaning of relationship in a therapeutic process. The demand is accepted, that
concepts and hypotheses are to be set out to a scientific discussion and should be verifiable.
To look at the psychic events from a somatic point of view, makes new reflections on the body-mind-soul unity necessary. The concept of energy has to be brought in line with
the corresponding definitions in modern physics.
Since the Bioenergetic Analysis accepts in its conception and in its mode of operation the indivisible body-mind-soul-unity, it follows, like many other
body-psychotherapeutic schools a “holistic” conception. Because Bioenergetic Analysis wants to understand and wants to have an influence on the interplay of biological and psychic processes, it
has to develop a concept of the structure and the organisation of these.
Fundamental is the idea, that beings, and especially human beings are organized according to the principle of self-regulation (Capra 1996): Aiming at sustaining the living
system, to improve the living conditions, to propagate, it tries to adapt to changing conditions and to eliminate disturbances in self-regulating or self-healing processes. The principle of self-regulation
does not only work within the human organism. By this principle the organism also forms its relationships to the inanimate and to the animate social environment, to find optimal and secure living conditions
This system of interconnected mechanisms is so complex, that one can hardly determine from the outside, if and at what specific place it is possible to intervene safely and
effectively. The “human system” actually only needs help, when the self-regulation processes are massively disturbed by biological or psychic influences coming from the outside or the inside. In
our body-psychotherapy we therefore work especially on the elimination of these factors that disturb or handicap the self-regulation, mostly called self-healing. Among these factors are dysfunctional
patterns of behaviour and mental attitudes, traumatic experiences with acute or chronic fears, but also strong need-restrictions, or conditions, that hamper the self-confidence, or bodily patterns of all
kinds of tensions. Based on this background body-psychotherapeutic treatment, as it improves the potential by which the human organism can regulate itself.
Self-regulating processes not only exist in human organisms, but even in inanimate structures in our world. Humans, however, can change the interconnected mechanisms
themselves, by their own structures of thinking and consciousness and they can adapt themselves to new living conditions. That´s why human beings count to “complex” structures in our world and
are to be adjoined to the area of nonlinear reality, with the consequence that their behaviour cannot be predicted (Capra, 1996). Thereby validity and objectivity of observable effective correlations in
psychotherapeutic processes are relative.
Different standards of Self-Regulation
Besides the principle of Self-Regulation Bioenergetic Analysis notices that human life takes place on different levels (Mahr 2001):
In a human body processes occur on the organ´s physiological level that is working interconnectedly and self-regulatingly (Buhl 2001, Miketta 1997).
- These were mainly steered by neuronal processes that dim to their own work strategies and taskes.
- Each organ lives by and through a specific cell structure with its own information and regulationsystem.
- There are other levels with molecular, atomic and subatomic structures with their correlations, without those no life could exist (Warnke 1998, Bischof 1995, Dzempra-Depré, Popp
- The terms “Bioenergy” and Reich´s concept of “Orgonenergy” find their place here (Boadella, 1980).
Since all levels correlate indivisibly, each therapeutic intervention can be effective on each of these levels. Vice versa it has to be questioned, if certain interventions
are more adequate for a specific level, than others. It seems, for instance, that processes on the neuronal or subatomic level can rather be achieved by meditative methods than by aggressive exercises that
can, however, be very efficient on the physiological level.
Such a differentiate view allows the Bioenergetic Analysis to develop precise concepts concerning efficiency and design of psychotherapeutic work.
2.2. The Body-Mind-Soul-Unity
If all psychic occurrences always have a biological and physiological basis and can be seen as an expression of this process, the relation of body-mind-soul can, according
to Capra, be understood and depicted as a function of a somatic happening (Capra, 1996). The psychic is, or develops as a consequence of highly complex and connected interplays of its parts. A car e.g. is
not functioning as a car by the multitude of its parts, only by functional connection of these parts. The “soul of a car” will strongly differ from the soul of a living being, anyway. E.g. by the
ability to generate offspring, to develop the systems by themselves and to create skills, the system didn´t know before. A prerequisite for this process is a constant streaming of energy through the system
This view does in no way question that the functional expression of somatic processes – the psychic – is of utmost importance for our individual and social
companionship. But we can only observe the expression as a consequence of the biological and physiological incident that we experience as something psychic. Even transpersonal experiences can be described by
the categories of the material or energetically structured world. Concepts of modern physics, especially the quantum physics provide us with useful models.
2.3. Disease – Healing
The human organism will get sick, when its abilities of self-regulation have been disturbed, restricted or broken down. This can happen by the destruction of biological
structures. But also life conditions, modes of behaviour, and characteristic attitudes, mainly acquired in early childhood, can permanently hinder the person from doing what has to be done for the sustenance
of security, desires needs and development. This process has been described by Wilhelm Reich with the conception of pulsation of charge and discharge, expansion and contraction of all living systems. When
this oscillation gets interrupted or disturbed, the whole system will be irritated and the living processes autonomic pulsation and development will be restricted or entirely stopped. The system
self-regularly tries to create alternative and compensatory patterns (e.g. collateral blood circles in case veins are blocked, e.g. new brain area´s activation, when certain function are destroyed) On a
psychic level, neurotic symptoms, shock-traumatic reactions or characteristic behaviour have to be understood as such compensatory reactions.
In Wilhelm Reich´s opinion this pulsation is an energetic occurrence and therefore has phenomenological been depicted as to the degree of free or restricted pulsation and
also as to the free or blocked energetic flow.
Based on this background, acute and preventive therapeutic work means to Bioenergetic Analysis:
1. to optimize or at least to facilitate the human organism´s self-regulation.
2 to eliminate the factors, that hamper the pulsation or the energetic flow, or to enable the client to handle differently.
This can happen
1. on a somatic level e.g.
1. by relaxation of the muscles
2. by bringing the vegetative nervous system in balance (Buhl)
3. by changing the breathing pattern
4. by the improvement of movement possibilities
5. by the modification of neuronal structures.
2. on a psychic or behavioural level e.g.
1. by the examination of the introjected norms, rules and mind sets
2. by the analysis of the actual menace – szenario
3. by reflecting the right of own impulses of different lands
4. by improving the self- and object-perception
5. by improvement of the ability to relate to others.
In Bioenergetic Analysis healing occurs in a process of research:
The perhaps very old traumatic situation will be reproduced, but in a time and environment, that differs in many ways from the former traumatizing situation. Meanwhile the
client is grown-up, more competent, stronger, less dependent and the therapeutic setting offers trust, hope, support and understanding. Thereby it is feasible to check, if a real threat is still given, which
would demand an inner retreat, or readiness to fight, or the renouncement of important needs and desires. In spite of the rather rational description, these processes are at no rate only rational. They are
possible and often necessary in all layers of the human organisms: the rational, emotional, psychic, biological, physical and subatomic layers.
If other therapeutic schools (e.g. psycho-analysis) describe the therapeutic process as a reanimation of the traumatic situation, that can then be analyzed, they probably
mean the same procedure.
A person would be wholesome, when self-regulating processes would function in the inner organisms as well as in the outer environment and the social reality, so that
survival, propagation and development would be optimally guaranteed.
Besides the fact, that Bioenergetic Analysis has not yet developed a complete psychosomatic model, in which specific illnesses are coordinated with special psychic causes,
it mainly pays attention to the improvement of the self-regulating processes. Disturbances in this complex network can lead to acute sicknesses, and, in case the organisation doesn´t find back to its balance
on its own, chronic diseases or even death will be the consequence.
Each disease can directly or indirectly be caused by mechanical, biological and climatic influences. A person can be called “psychosomatically ill”, when it has
to be assumed, that mostly psychic conflicts are responsible for that. A psychosomatic disease has always got a real somatic basis, even though this might not always be demonstrable. It is neither
imagination, nor suggestion. If, on the other hand, somatic deficits, e.g. the lack of certain neurotransmitter, can be ascertained in a classical psychic disease like depression, this doesn´t prove that it
is only a matter of a “just somatic” disease. Since without a somatic reaction, there can be no bodily expression, e.g. in the form of depressive behaviour.
In the therapeutic work with psychosomatic disturbances, we mainly work on improving self-regulation and self-healing in the above already mentioned away. A special emphasis
hereby lies on the strengthening of self-perception and on enhancing the client´s own contact to his/her body.
Like in many different psychotherapeutic conceptions, the quality of relationship between client and therapist plays an important role for the success of the whole process.
Developmental-psychology, especially neurobiology, demonstrates, that the physical, emotional and spiritual development of human beings can only succeed in interaction and relatedness to others (Shore 1994,
Ciompi 1990). That´s why it´s plausible that the modification of such processes can only be successful by means of communication and relationship. The eminent importance of transference and projections
indicate, that certain mind sets, emotions and patterns of behaviour are connected to a meaningful relation to an other person. Working with transference it is that can be more adequate for the real life
Psychotherapeutic work needs the relationship between therapist and client, but is a lot more than just the network of transference and countertransference. First of all a
relationship is a structure, where information can be communicated that are necessary for the development and
modification of a living system (Mahr 1999). The deeper changes in the structure are intended, the more specific the required information and relation has to be. Often it
seems, that the emotional structures of relationship, combined with the nonverbal forms of communication - even including sometimes the telepathic ones – are the ones that are effective. We are
used to describe there modes of relation and communication as empathy and resonance between to people. That this interrelation is based on a biological and physical background has been made clear by the
corresponding natural sciences.
Bioenergetic Analysis uses in its sessions all possibilities and channels to communicate with each other. Voice, gesture, mimicry, eye-contact, body-expressions, position
movement and touch are – besides language – forms to communicate and to get to know the client. Especially the nonverbal forms of communication, including body-contact, are very suitable for the
occupation with the client´s earliest childhood; since at that time they have been the only, or at least the main means of communication. Like language, body-contact is interconnected with the therapeutic
intervention (Mahr 1994). The hence appearing images, feelings and emotions can be explored and analyzed. The therapeutic process and the therapeutic relationship determine what kind of body-contact is
Body-contact and body-oriented interventions in Bioenergetic Analysis are also used to improve the person´s self –perception, to relax those muscles and tissue and to
deepen the breathing. Since there tensions serve the resistance of intense and unwanted feelings, their release leads again to the contact to the underlying rage, injuries, desires and so on, and make
it accessible for analysis. The cathartic acting out of feelings the Bioenergetic Analysis is often contected with, above all aims at making the frozen or repressed feelings again perceptible and to
reanimate them. Usually they alone do not lead to healing. They are imbedded in the therapeutic process and have to be seen and analyzed in their biographic, social and psychological context.
Psychotherapeutic work with body-contact is only possible, when it is exclusively used for the therapeutic process. Only by being absolutely safe as to this, the client can
allow touch, can learn to understand its meaning and the correlated fears that come up with it. Out of therapeutic reasons there can never be a sexual contact, because a therapeutic relationship
fundamentally differs from real relations with their own aims and rules in our life. Then, the Bioenergetic Analysis does not allow personal relations and connections between therapist and client, neither
before, nor during or after therapy.
Even since Freud, but more specifically since Wilhelm Reich the concept of energy has been playing an important role in body-psychotherapy. By describing energetic
structures and processes the Bioenergetic Analysis, as an occidental from of therapy, leans on the conceptions of physics, that define energy on the ability to perform work ( Tipler, 1995). This skill can
find its expression in different energetic forms (potential, mechanical, kinetic, electric and electromagnetic energy and so on). There physical forms of energy develop and steer the human organism. Thus, it
is not necessary to postulate special “life energies”. In us the same energies function, which have been holding our universe together since its existence and in its far future.
Since there exists nothing else in our universe than energetic structures, a psychotherapist cannot do anything else than deal with energy – whether she/he analyzes
dreams or modifies behaviour.
The Bioenergetic Analysis, however tries to pay special attention to the way energetic structures work in our organism, and how they can be influenced. The work with
movement, nourishment and breathing e.g. the energy standard on an organic level or in the cell-structure and the work with the relationship and meditative methods can reach the neuronal and subatomic layer
in a very special way.
For Bioenergetic Analysis it is very important to bring the clients into contact with their feelings, to facilitate the adequate expressions and to analyze them. The
argumentation for this focus results in the structure and function, that feelings have for the processes of self-regulation in the organism itself and with its biological and social environment. According to
neurobiology (Damasio 1996, Ciompi 1999) the origin for all feelings are somatic perceptions (warmth, coldness, tension, excitement and so on), that indicate to the brain, that the organism has got deficits
and needs that have to be regulated. There are data about the status of the somatic condition. The brain collects different perceptions and becomes aware of them as feelings. By them the brain is able to
decide and to change self-regulating processes. A highly developed emotional world helps the person concerning thinking, planning and choosing the patterns of behaviour.
2.9. Scientific Unterstanding
Bioenergetic Analysis considers itself as a scientific psychotherapy and tries to define its terms distinctly, to postulate its hypotheses in a way that they can be proved
and is ready for scientific discussion (Mahr 2001, Chalmer 1999, Kriz 2000).
Its conception is mainly developed out of practical therapeutic work, but the Bioenergetic Analysis constantly tries to measure its efficiency with the instruments, that are
usual in present psychotherapeutic research (Gudat 1997, 2002, Ventling 2002, Ventling and Gerhard 2000, Koemeda 2001, 2002, Fehr 1998, 2000). Since Bioenergetic Analysis can hardly be found at universities
so far, there is almost no research coming from there. Because all bioenergetic studies by colleagues have to be carried out beside their therapeutic work and have to be privately financed, there are
comparatively only a few publications.
At the same time Bioenergetic Analysis observes the critical, theoretical, scientific debate that discloses the limited validity of its procedure (Mahr 2001). Especially the
aspects of “nonlinear reality” and the problem of splitting between observer and the observed object in the scientific process seem to principally question the predictability and the objectivity
of the reality, which has to be described (Schrödinger 1989).
Since in psychotherapy the interaction between therapist and client, and in the relation of object and subject is constitutional for the therapeutic process, scientific
methods that require this splitting, are unfit to investigate the psychotherapeutic process (Ventling 2002). Hence, Bioenergetic Analysis is challenged to develop scientific criteria that can better
understand and depict the body-therapeutic work (Mahr 2001). Like in modern physics the customary term of objectivity can no longer be sustained. A hypothesis can only be an orientation in a
psychotherapeutic process. Each client can, owing to her/his structure, develop new, never known self – regulating systems, which always have to be described by new hypotheses.
It is part of Bioenergetic Analysis´ scientific understanding that its conceptions have to be formulated in accordance with the concepts of the biological human structure.
Each psychotherapeutic intervention – verbal or nonverbal – has an effect on the biological structure. Each somatic action and each change finds its expression in psychic, emotional and spiritual
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