Psychomotor Therapy

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Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor

Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor, also known as psychomotor, psychomotor therapy, or PBSP, is a body-mind interactive model that analyzes the present-day effect of traumatic memories and helps people work to create new memories in order to offset emotional deficiencies experienced in the past.

Though the approach draws from several body and movement-oriented methods, it also incorporates theories and techniques from psychodynamic therapy, systems theory, and cognitive behavioral therapy, among others. This approach to treatment may be beneficial for adolescents, adults, or young children who are seeking therapy.

Created by American husband and wife dance instructors Albert and Diane Boyden Pesso, starting in about 1960, psychomotor therapy has evolved into an alternative discipline of body psychotherapy. Literally blending the root words “psycho,” or mind, and “motor,” or bodily movement, this technique has evolved into a complex method of analyzing a patient’s problems and conquering traumatic memories. A therapist guides patients through a series of motions or exercises used to gauge attitudes about certain memories, and then employs various verbal and nonverbal techniques to patch and balm any problems that are discovered.

History and Development

Albert Pesso and Diane Boyden-Pesso pioneered this approach in 1961. The couple, who met as dance students and eventually married and opened their own studio, found that when they urged the dancers who belonged to their studio to express their inner emotions through movement, many of them were able to achieve some measure of psychological relief. The Pessos recognized that while dance could help people express emotional concerns, dance alone could not resolve those issues that were already present in the dancers’ lives.

They began development of an interactive therapeutic approach, one that utilized specific words or phrases, spatial relationships, movement, and physical touch from the external world as responses to the inner emotional deficits expressed by individuals in treatment. The goal of their approach to treatment is to provide people a safe, therapeutic environment in which people have the opportunity to form new body-based memories that are better able to satisfy any emotional needs that went unmet in their earlier years.

How Does PBSP Therapy Work?

PBSP therapists believe that many of the mental and emotional concerns a person may experience in adulthood develop as a consequence of unmet emotional and developmental needs in early childhood. When childhood needs go unfulfilled in this way, according to psychomotor theory, the adult a person becomes may not be an accurate representation of their true self. One major tenet of PBSP is the idea that humans possess an innate knowledge of their basic needs, as well as an understanding of when a particular need should be met. When a person’s basic needs are not met, lasting memories of the negative experience may form, and these memories can have a significant impact on an individual throughout life.

In Therapy

Psychomotor therapy is designed to help people in treatment become more conscious of emotional and sensorimotor information to help them become better able to uncover and address their unique needs. Once the childhood memory of an unmet need is revealed, the therapist can use the acquired information to recreate an external version of the memory with the assistance of objects, other group members, or facilitators. People in treatment can then attempt to address unresolved conflicts, perform incomplete actions, process stagnated emotions, or receive the emotional support that was missing in childhood.

Some mental health professionals are wary of the possibility of retraumatization, but psychomotor therapy does not involve regression. People in treatment are simultaneously conscious of the historical memory as well as the fact that they are in the present, in the secure setting of the therapy room. The use of positive symbolic interactions is believed to help offset any psychological trauma a person may have experienced in early life, also suggesting that these new memories may be processed internally, alongside the original memory, as a more positive and affirming experience.

A Typical Session of PBSP

During a PBSP therapy session (which is referred to as a “structure”), individuals in treatment have the opportunity to access, express, and address their innermost feelings and needs in a safe environment. Structures are generally conducted in a group, but each structure is tailored to the individual needs of one person at a time, while the other group members offer support by playing roles or otherwise contributing to the structure.

People in treatment are taught a number of exercises that are meant to help them become more sensitive to the sensorimotor and emotional signals that provide information about the body and may previously have been viewed simply as physical pain. Other techniques learned in psychomotor therapy include accommodation, a role-playing skill that is used to satisfy requests of the person in treatment, and polarization, a technique that helps people work to clarify ambivalent feelings. During polarization, two group members represent the positive and negative characteristics of the same person being recalled by the individual.

Most forms of psychotherapy involve a therapist who takes charge of the session, but PBSP differs in that therapists are directed by the people in their care. This allows the individuals seeking treatment to maintain a sense of control as they receive the help they need and explore new or previously unconsidered aspects of the self.

The therapist typically asks the person in treatment to speak about the issues being experienced experiencing, gradually using respectful but probing questions to help uncover the underlying causes of these concerns. As the structure progresses, the therapist works with the individual to keep track of body sensations, emotions, verbal expressions, internalized commands, and core beliefs. Once the individual recalls an emotionally charged memory of a time when a basic childhood need was not satisfied, the therapist asks for permission to recreate an external scene of that memory. Group members may offer or be asked to play the role of the affected individual’s parents, former caregivers, or any other important “characters” in the past memory.

How Can PBSP Therapy Help?

The goal of this approach is to help individuals resolve lingering effects of trauma or memories that have a negative impact on well-being. This may include memories of early parental loss, neglect, or abuse of any kind. This treatment modality can effectively address a wide range of issues, including anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, relationship concerns, anger, and low self-esteem.

This approach is also likely to be helpful, in a more general way, to people who would like to better understand the mind-body connection or who desire a better understanding of their internal strengths, resources, and talents. People who participate in psychomotor therapy may, over time, feel more optimistic, engage in behavior that leads to improved well-being, and find more meaning and enjoyment in everyday life.

Concerns and Limitations

According to anecdotal evidence, PBSP has contributed to improved emotional and psychological health in many. However, there is limited empirical evidence to support the efficacy of the approach. Future research, in the form of randomized controlled trials, may lend unbiased support to the efficacy of the approach.

This approach may not be suitable for some people seeking treatment. Individuals who have limited communication skills, experience restricted movement, or have significant cognitive impairments may experience little to no benefit from this modality. Further, people seeking treatment should be able to distinguish between reality and a symbolic experience in order to participate in psychomotor therapy without potential harmful effects.

References: 

  1. Pesso, A. (n.d.). Transcript of a pbsp therapy session with commentary. Retrieved from https://pbsp.com/full-transcript-of-a-description-of-a-pbsp-therapy-session
  2. The PBSP Institute. (2007). Training in Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor: International curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.pbsp-institut.de/pdf/curriculum.pdf

Psychomotor Therapy in Belgium and the Netherlands.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, psychomotor therapy (of which PBSP can be one of the forms) as a kind of physical activity and body-oriented therapy has been well integrated into mental health care since 1965. Psychomotor therapy in this context is defined as a method of treatment that uses body awareness and physical activities as cornerstones of its approach. In Flemish psychiatric hospitals, psychomotor therapy is imbedded in different treatment programs for different diagnosis related patient settings. Psychomotor therapy aims to support and aid an individual’s personal development. It is based on a global view of human beings that considers each individual as a unity of physical, emotional and cognitive actualities, which interact with each other and the surrounding social environment.

Psychomotor specialists study the body and its expressiveness. The body is regarded not merely as a mechanism with neurophysiological developments, but also as a thing with deep-rooted emotional traits, which have come about through motor, sensory and emotional experiences, particularly in early-childhood. The concept of “psycho-motor” emphasizes the connection between physical skills and mental processes. When people are moving, their whole personality is bound up in the action of their movement.

History and Development

After World War II many psychiatric hospitals introduced movement therapy. Historically, the development of the body in (psycho)therapy became an important factor along with influences from other countries – USA (Pesso), Scandinavia (relaxation) and Germany (Petzold).

Psychomotor therapy is based on a holistic biopsychosocial perspective. Different theoretical psychotherapeutic backgrounds integrated into psychomotor therapy include psychodynamics, humanistic views and cognitive behaviour therapy as well as system- theory and family therapy.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, movement and body-experience are two key players used in Psychomotor therapy to influence psychosocial aspects of behaviour. Integration of cognitions, feelings and behaviour takes place through the experience of movement, experimenting with new behaviours in movement situations and body-awareness.

Most psychomotor therapists are members of multidisciplinary treatment teams working in psychiatric settings, institutes for people with mental handicaps and institutes for people with physical handicaps.

 Psychomotor Therapy at School

Psychomotor Therapy has been used in schools to help children experiencing concerns such as aggression, attention-deficit hyperactivity, or oppositional defiance learn to develop new skills and behaviors and put them into practice.

Individuals who have not previously obtained a significant benefit from talking therapy may find this approach to be more helpful, as might people who find themselves dissociating from or somatizing their feelings and/or emotions. Individuals who find it challenging to recognize their emotions may experience greater awareness through psychomotor therapy exercises.

References: 

  1. Psychomotor Therapy and Psychiatry: What’s in a Name? (PDF Download Available). Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228699942_Psychomotor_Therapy_and_Psychiatry_What’s_in_a_Name [accessed Feb 05 2018].
  2. Houben, C. (2014). Psychomotor therapy at school. Retrieved from http://nvpmt.nl/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/PMT-in-school-Caroline-Houben-march-2014.pdf​

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Individual therapy sessions

Dirk Marivoet psychotherapist in Belgium

Dirk Marivoet, MSc. is a European certified psychotherapist (ECP). He studied physiotherapy as well as psychomotor therapy at the University of Leuven. For over 30 years he has worked in a holistic way and is especially interested in the integration of body and mind.

Dirk Marivoet and his colleagues at the IBI (International Institute for Bodymind Integration) offer individual therapy sessions for those interested in this mind-body approach.

In Ghent (Belgium), Europe, the rest of the world and online.

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