The Embodied Self: Movement and Psychoanalysis (Book Review)
Author: Bloom, Katya
Reviewed By: Lynn Somerstein, PhD, Fall 2008, XXVIII, No. 4, pp. 56-57
Katya Bloom, dancer and clinical movement psychotherapist, is “bilingual,” fluent in the languages of body and mind. Her present work, The Embodied Self, explores the language of emotion as manifested in the body. In an earlier book (Bloom and Shreves, 1998), she explored using the body’s natural movements to increase awareness of feelings, enhance self-expression, and expand the imagination. Although we have never met, we are spiritual sisters: Bloom is a dancer and movement psychotherapist, I am a psychoanalyst and a yoga teacher. We both owe much to our foremother, multilingual Judith Kestenberg, who pioneered movement analysis in the United States. And we are both grounded in the object relations school of psychoanalysis.
In this present work, which began as a doctoral dissertation, Bloom introduces the reader to Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) and shows its usefulness in parsing infant observations, clinical assessments, and treatment techniques. Laban movement analysis is a “principally experiential language that ‘translates’ human movement in all its manifestations and complexities into words and concepts (p. 18).” Bloom uses LMA to “explore the interrelationships between the field of dance movement therapy and psychoanalytic theory (p. 18).” The body’s language gives access to preverbal experience and signals transference and countertransference communications as the therapist listens with “embodied attentiveness to psychophysical states (p. 155).” “Body, mind and feelings are inseparable (p. 10).”
Bloom writes clearly, holding the reader in her mind and her body, as she explains Laban terminology. She cautions the reader to try Laban categories of movement on for size, to do them and not just imagine them. I followed her instructions, tried many times, but still,some of the concepts are very difficult to digest without another knowing body nearby able to demonstrate that knowledge. Some things have to be taken in body to body in order to be felt and learned, and I struggled to apply Laban movement analysis to Bloom’s examples, and others of my own. Sometimes I longed to be individually trained by Bloom, or at least to have a DVD, a movie featuring Bloom showing Laban’s terminology, attached to the back cover of her book, as a reference. I needed an “embodied message.” Does Bloom need Laban’s language? Laban’s categories may help Bloom codify her thoughts and feelings—Kestenberg’s groundbreaking work of the 1970’s also owes much to Laban’s vocabulary of movement analysis—but for me, Bloom’s own words are eloquent and sufficient.
Bloom begins with an overview of theory showing why it is important not to leave the body out. “Consciously or unconsciously, our identity is firmly linked to our felt experience of being “bodied” (p. 17). “In experiencing the body more deeply we build bridges between different modes of knowledge—cognitive, sensory, and affective (p. 21).” I would add, “On the physical level, our history is written on our muscles, bones and nerve fibers. (Somerstein, 2008).”
Bloom asks, “Can anxiety and depression, for example, be explored as psychophysical phenomena? (p. 5)” Many researchers think that it can. Contemporary neuropsychological research charts the intimate links between body and mind, and scientists, body workers and analysts together create new, more effective clinical techniques. Allan Schore specializes in researching right brain development and PTSD; Bessel van der Kolk, uses breath work, meditation and yoga to treat rape victims and soldiers returning from war zones. Amy Weintraub relieves depression with specific sequences of yoga postures. Arthur Robbins translates the eloquent unspoken dialogue of body-to-body communication occurring within the transference-countertransference exchange. Primary to these related interdisciplinary understandings of trauma and emotional dis-ease is a dedication to honoring, rebalancing and restoring the basic mind-body relationship.
Interspersed throughout the book are pauses for the reader to reawaken to the body, with what might be called prescriptions for certain kinds of physical experiences. For me, the most powerful was a call to rebalance the attention, feel the three-dimensional aspects of reality, and move to “give the body more space (p. 21).” As I was reading I welcomed Bloom’s reminders, and I enjoyed applying her suggestions of feeling and doing the movements of others—following the rhythm of someone’s breath, for example, or inhabiting a “floating” movement.
After locating her work in time and space, Bloom continues with a description of her psychoanalytic observational studies of infants at Tavistock. Working with infants roots the clinician’s attention down inside the body; I began my own training with infants at New York Foundling Hospital. I wish that every developing clinician and body worker could have an experience like this, while studying theory and technique.
Bloom records her observations of several young children. My favorite, titled “Falling into space,” is about three year old Anny, who was observed weekly for a year. Anny’s mother had a series of miscarriages, and Anny was subject to many fears and anxieties, especially of falling down, and she actually did fall down pretty often. Falling was a major theme in her doll play, too. Anny’s mother … “seemed very much a picture of someone who wanted to keep things in place by holding still. (p. 129).” In Laban terms this is called bound flow and flexible space. “Flow is the element associated with feelings; space is associated with thinking. The two together make up the ‘remote state’ . . . that may describe someone trying to keep things under control . . .(p. 130)”
Anny herself, when she was acting like an adult, displayed “an extremely direct, pinpointedly narrow” focus, bound flow, in other words, like her mother. She alternated between identifying with mother and “rebelling against this, often with wild flowing action and heightened passions (p. 130).” It was during her rebellious intervals that she fell down. These “fallings” were her investigations into the topic: her mother’s miscarriage. Bloom writes, “ . . .it was not only the use of symbolic play which helped Anny explore feelings, but the actual physical act of embodying feelings and phantasies, exploring them using her whole body in time and space (p. 142).” Bloom registered Anny’s expressiveness body to body and provided a “resonating chamber (p. 142)” where she could receive Anny’s states of mind. Bloom did not make any interventions, which were proscribed in the infant study protocol.
Bloom’s clinical case studies tell a different kind of story: her therapeutic work in movement and psychoanalysis with adult patients. Body to body communications form the deep core of the transference-countertransference dialogue; knowing one’s own body state, where feelings reside, is a clue to understanding the feelings of the other.
In the chapter titled “Signals From the Solar Plexus,” we learn about Isabel, a young dancer who was in a terrible car crash that tragically resulted in the death of her close fiend, who was driving. Isabel survived, but her body was shattered, and her dance career was over. After her accident Isabel spent months in a hospital, unable to move, or even communicate, except by blinking her eyes. Her powerful will enabled her to regain the use of her body, although she was quite weak. When she began working with Bloom, Isabel seemed cut off from her feelings. In Laban terms, her movements lacked the “element of flow (of feeling).” Her movements, described as “gliding” or “floating,” protected her from experiencing the traumatic memories of her accident and her subsequent difficult physical recovery, which had exacerbated her already heightened dependency fears. Isabel’s mother had failed to protect or care for her appropriately during her early childhood.
Isabel located her fears in her solar plexus—popularly known as the “pit of the stomach,” (the location of the largest autonomic nerve center in the abdominal cavity) the place where we feel queasy or afraid. Working with Isabel, Bloom feels fear in her own solar plexus, and is unsure whose feelings are registering there, her own or Isabel’s. At first Isabel is intolerant of her fright, and punches herself in the solar plexus, but gradually she feels “a block of ice, holding sadness,” an old sadness, beginning to melt. Six months before ending treatment Isabel lies on her back, “reaching arms and legs softly upward . . . a baby reaching up… She holds her solar plexus and says that something is flowing. That it is cold but flowing (p. 194).” With the help of movement therapy, Isabel worked through the consequences of the many traumas she had endured, while psychoanalytic process contained the meanings of movement —body and mind working together. Bloom emphasizes that in this, and the other histories she presented, it was the “synthesis of the two processes that was instrumental in achieving the transformations described. (p. 197).”
What do these different examples have in common? Bloom speculates that in each of the people described the internalized object was weak, and so the adults and children she presented were subject to a very early sense of helplessness. The relationship with one’s own body begins with the mother’s relationship to one’s body as infant. (I need to mention here the importance of fathers, too.) The coactive energies of movement analysis and psychoanalytic theory propelled the patient’s psychic movement out of “stuck patterns of relationships with both object and self (p. 198).”
Psychoanalysis provides a framework for understanding movement qualities; movement analysis deepens communication, and includes nonverbal experience, giving language added nuance. Words like “solar plexus” or “pit of the stomach” carry rich concrete as well as symbolic meanings. Feeling words make poetry, and we become linguists. The Embodied Self teaches us grammar, and we become adept at speaking with our bodies and our minds in the art and science of healing.
Bloom, K. and Shreves, R. (1998). Moves: A sourcebook of ideas for body awareness and creative movement New York: Routledge.
Somerstein, L. (2008). Psychoanalytic benefits of hatha yoga, Integral Yoga Magazine, Fall 2008.
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