Somatic Transference and Counter-transference in Psychotherapy

In the book “Bonding” by Stanley Keleman – the author defines transference and counter-transference as “how a client and a therapist develop a relationship with each other to individuate, seek satisfaction, or maintain their social, instinctual and personal lives.”

He points out that whereas the more traditional approaches focus solely on feelings, emotions, fantasies and images, somatic psychotherapy views bodylanguage as the real mirror for feelings and needs.

Psychologists tell us that 60 % – 90% of communication is through bodylanguage and tone of voice. It seems clear, therefore, that it is very valuable to be aware of the interaction
between therapists and clients on this level.

Wilhelm Reich died in 1957, having done a massive amount of research on the emotional life of the body, which formed the basis out of which the schools of Bioenergetics , Biodynamic Psychotherapy, Biosynthesis and other body-centred psychotherapies evolved.

Over fifty years later, whilst psychologists acknowledge the importance of bodylanguage in communication, not many training courses equip practitioners with the skills required to understand what is being communicated on this level.

We could surmise why this is the case, and I have my theories
and opinions about this. What will be more useful, however, is to consider what we can do to equip ourselves and others in our profession with these essential skills.

Stanley Keleman writes in a way that invites the reader to participate in the process emotionally and somatically, as well as intellectually.

Whilst this is very valuable and I recommend his books wholeheartedly – if you haven’t read any I suggest you start with “your body speaks its mind” – you cannot learn practical skills by reading books alone.

Similarly, whilst reading articles such as this and books such as Stanley Keleman’s can be of value, my wish is that they will lead you to explore the processes of somatic awareness and interaction more fully.

You can do this by participating in activities that increase your awareness of bodily sensations, and of the connection and interaction between bodily processes and emotions.

Whilst I am not suggesting that every counsellor and psychotherapist needs to train extensively in the emotional life of the body, I do think that some awareness of these processes are of great value.

Just as it is important for somatic psychotherapists to have an understanding of psychodynamic processes, it is equally valuable for practitioners of other modalities to gain an experiential and theoretical understanding of somatic-emotional interaction.

I am biased in favour of somatic psychotherapy – of course I am, why else would I have chosen to train in this modality? I have also learnt a great deal from other approaches, however, and this learning has been, and continues to be enriching for myself and my clients.

My wish is that practitioners of different modalities work together and learn from each other. In my opinion this is one of the best contributions we can make to ourselves, to our clients, and to the development of our profession.

Donald Marmara has over 40 years’ international experience.

Doanld currently resides in Sydney, where he sees individual clients, couples, parents and teenagers for counselling and psychotherapy.

He also supervises psychotherapists and executives, and works with organisations to facilitate effective communication, team-building and life balance.        mob: 0412 178 234