‘Only by getting in touch with your body, by connecting viscerally with your self, can you regain a sense of who you are…’ (van der Kolk, 2014: 247)
This recent interview with body-minded psychiatrist and trauma specialist Bessel van der Kolk highlights the popularity of his book, The Body Keeps the Score. Published in 2014 it has sold two million copies worldwide, demonstrating the wide-spread curiosity to understand how the body and mind interrelate.
One significant early researcher in this field was Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist who studied neuropeptides throughout the 1970s and 80s. Her research led her to understand the ‘biochemical substrate of emotions’ and how ‘the body is the actual outward manifestation, in physical space, of the mind’ (Pert, 1997: 187). She even used the term ‘bodymind’ to emphasise the 'holistic relationship of body and mind’ (Dychtwald, 1977: 11). Current heavy-weight pioneering researchers, psychotherapists and trauma specialists in the field include Antonio Damasio, Peter Levine and Bruce Lipton, to name just a few.
In psychoanalysis, whilst Freud was interested in the psychological causes of 'hysteria', and Jung delved into the unconscious through dreams, Donald Winnicott came closest to what we are beginning to understand today. He understood that ‘Human nature is not a matter of mind and body – it is a matter of inter-related psyche and soma... The basis of psycho-somatics is live anatomy…’ (1988: 26).
Winnicott wrote extensively and insightfully about the psychosomatic field, long before the bodymind had been evidenced through neuroscientific research. There is now a widely held perspective in the therapeutic community, and increasingly in the medical community, that a psychological problem can also be addressed through a physical process of the body and vice versa. This is what van der Kolk’s book demonstrates so powerfully, through many varied case studies and years of practical research.
But what is our bodymind and what is it to do with counselling? Pert described the mind as a psychosomatic network, ‘the flow of information as it moves among the cells, organs and systems of the body’ (1997: 185). According to Pert, the mind is the network that unifies all our distinct elements into one being, or self. It was to emphasise this unifying role that she used the term 'bodymind'. Some of the information it carries might be emotional memories from our early years, that have been stored in the tissues of our bodies. Van der Kolk’s work and book evidences this explicitly, with countless examples of how clients’ bodies, symptoms or physical behaviours profoundly keep the emotional score.
Dychtwald, K; 1977; Bodymind; Pantheon Books, New York
Van der Kolk, B; 2014; The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma; Penguin Random House, UK
Pert, C; 1998; Molecules of Emotion, why you feel the way you feel; Simon and Schuster Inc., London
Winnicott, D.W.; 1988; Human Nature; Schocken Books, New York