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Ehrlich, M.P. (1970). The Role of Body Experience in Therapy. Psychoanal. Rev., 57(2):181-195.

(1970). Psychoanalytic Review, 57(2):181-195

The Role of Body Experience in Therapy

Milton P. Ehrlich, Ph.D.

Traditionally, psychotherapists define their work in terms of the verbal encounter between patient and therapist. The mainstream of analytic writing since Freud has consistently placed enormous faith in the power of the word to set man free; that is, verbal insight or intellectual understanding is thought to be liberating. This emphasis has seldom been challenged. One exception is Frieda Fromm-Reichmann,8 who appreciated how much the patient needs an experience, and not an explanation. Others, like Fromm,7 insist that if nothing else happens during a session, at least the patient should have the sense of aliveness, of being more vitally in touch with himself than he might otherwise be. Most people find the possibility of personality change an awesome challenge. A therapist's primary responsibility, therefore, is to provide a climate where the patient feels enlivened and thus develops the honesty and courage leading to true self-perception and self-development.

Body awareness has the potential for transforming the self. Sensor)' and kinesthetic awareness is a rich, untapped source of nonverbal communication if both patient and therapist are sensitive to the infinite number of subtle ways in which inner feelings are expressed in posture, facial expressions, breathing, gait, voice—indeed in all expressive movements including the basic activities of standing, walking, sitting and lying. Discovering the language of the body— which is not an easy task—entails a heightened awareness of proprioceptive sensations. This experience can serve as a vivid anchoring point to reality, allowing for the kind of direct perception that leads to accurate self-knowledge.


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