The Tortoise and the Hare

How the digestive system informs Biodynamic Psychotherapy

by Donald Marmara, somatic psychotherapist

Gerda Boyesen, the Norwegian clinical psychologist and physiotherapist who set up the school of Biodynamic Psychology and Psychotherapy in London, tells this story.

When she was seeing clients at her clinic in Oslo, she noted that she was having significantly better results with some clients than with others.

What made the difference?

Curious to find out what made the difference, she analysed the data, only to come up with the rather strange finding that she had more success with clients that she saw at certain times of the day.

Taking this a step further, she became aware that the clients who were making significantly better progress saw her at times when there was not much traffic going past her clinic, which was on a busy street.

She then realised that, at those times, she was able to listen to the sounds of the digestive system of her clients, whereas during the noisy times she was unable to hear them.

Testing her hypothesis

In order to test her hypothesis that she was actually being guided by these sounds, she started using a stethoscope to listen to the intestinal sounds of her clients during bodywork sessions.

Her hypothesis was proved right and she started to get significantly better results all round.

Over a number of years of detailed studies, she discovered that the digestive system’s function included the processing and elimination of stress products, and that its action was vital to the processes of therapy and healing.

The discovery of Psychoperistalsis

She called this action Psychoperistalsis, to distinguish it from Peristalsis, which is the term used to describe the pumping action of the walls of the digestive system in digesting food.

This discovery formed one of the most important cornerstones of Gerda Boyesen’s method of somatic psychotherapy which she calls Biodynamic Psychotherapy.

What is also really interesting here is her discovery that the psychoperistalsis opens, and is able to eliminate waste products and therefore complete the healing/therapeutic cycle, only when the person feels safe.

She uses the term organismic safety to describe feeling safe to let go on a deep level.

Why safety is so important

This gives us a physiological understanding of why feelings of safety are so important in sessions.

Unless we are able to create relationships where our clients feel safe, the changes that take place are much less likely to be deep and sustainable as we will not get complete healing cycles.

Another important and connected discovery is that the psychoperistalsis is much more likely to open when the client is allowed to proceed at their own pace, without any pressure or pushing on the part of the therapist. This also validates an “allowing” approach.

It is a case of slower is faster, like the tortoise and the hare!


Donald Marmara trained with some of the leading authorities and innovators in Europe and America in the fields of body-centred psychotherapy, massage, education and developing human potential, including Gerda Boyesen (Biodynamic Psychotherapy), David Boadella (Biosynthesis), and Robert Fritz (Structural Consulting).

Donald has over 40 years’ experience and has presented seminars at various conferences including the British Holistic Medical Association & The Institute for Cultural Affairs in London, on behalf of MBF Health Management to leading corporations in Sydney, at the International Ecopolitics Conference at Macquarie University in Sydney, and at the Australian Counselling Association’s National Conferences in Brisbane & Melbourne.

Donald currently resides in Sydney and can be contacted on 02 9413 9794 or 0412 178 234