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  • Writer's pictureFrederic Lowen

Comparison of the Body - Mind Split in Contemporary Psychology with the Ideas of Bioenergetics


     The Body-Mind Split is a term that has been in use for decades, if not centuries, in philosophy and psychology. Although there is growing popular and professional interest in the relationship between mind and body, and the implications for health and well being, there is no commonly accepted definition of the mind-body split. It has different meanings in different contexts.

     Bioenergetically, the body is the source and residence of feelings, while it is the mind that engages in cognitive, non-material mental activity, i.e. thinking. It is my hypothesis that thinking and feeling, mind and body, exhibit a split condition where thinking and feeling are disconnected, and that this condition is fundamental to psychological disorder. I refer to this condition as the mind-body split. I will argue that it is highly pervasive in developed human culture, yet little recognized despite its' dangerous destructiveness. 

     The nature of the mind-body split as conceptualized in Bioenergetic Analysis will be presented, with the idea that the mind-body split is fundamental to and existent in psychological disorders. Research and review of pertinent contemporary literature will be used and cited to support or refute this hypothesis.

     Further, the mind-body split is also likely fundamental to much physical and physiological disease and distress, as well as dysfunctional social behavior that is considered to be 'normal'. The importance of the mind-body split in the obvious social dysfunction humanity currently faces will be briefly considered, as will the aspect of spirit and spirituality  and its' relationship with mind and body.

The Mind-Body Problem

     The mind-body split is intimately related to the ancient un-resolved mind-body problem. The solution to the “mind-body problem” has eluded philosophers, scientists, and psychologists currently and forever. Solving the mind-body problem refers to finding the missing link between psychology and physiology to solve such questions as: how are psychic (cognitive) mental activities linked to observable physiological activity? For example, what biological cellular activity is responsible for decisions, memories, motivations, emotions, and intentionality generally? More specifically, what physiological activities are responsible for, or associated with psychological cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and mood disorders? 

     The American Psychological Association frames the mind-body problem as two questions: 1) which sphere, mind or body, takes precedence in the genesis and maintenance of disease? 2) how does mind influence body, and conversely how does body influence mind?  The APA recognizes six broad categories of 'solutions' to the mind-body problem, however philosophically derived. Two categories are considered dualistic (mind and body are separate entities): interactionism and parallelism. Four categories are considered to be monistic: either mind and/or body is an aspect of the other in idealism, epiphenomenalism, and materialism; or both are aspects of a larger whole entity in double-aspect theory, an approach called neutral monism (2018).

     The rise of psychology over the past 150 years has been guided in part by ancient philosophical notions hundreds and thousands of years old. With the advent of scientific methodologies applied to investigations of the psyche in the 19th Century, new insights and new questions were uncovered. Such was the case when Freud and Breuer discovered the unconscious in the clinical application of hypnotherapy for hysteria, leading to the world-shaking theory of Psychoanalysis and the new field of psychotherapy. Psychology has since added much clinical insight into many questions that had been accessible earlier only by philosophical reflection, not the least being the solution to the mind-body problem. 

     Currently, the solution of the linkage between mind and body sought by many academically-trained clinicians and researchers is an empirical, quantifiable objective mechanism. Such a mechanistic causal paradigm generally assumes that neurophysiological activities are responsible for mental activities and psychological disorder. Another common view analogizes the relationship between mind and body with computer software and hardware (Bracken, 2002). Other views recognize a mind-body disconnect as the computational mental activities not receiving accurate internal and/or external sensory inputs (Pănescu, 2013). Eastern approaches to health recognize the disconnect as in ancient Japanese Hara tradition: the human diaphragm separates the light above (consciousness) from the darkness below (unconsciousness), and well-being is dependent on their integration, psychically and somatically (Lowen A. , 1972).

     I suggest the mind-body relationship resembles the dual-aspect theory, with energetic functioning as the common determinant of psychic and physical manifestations. Thereby the mind-body relationship is associative and correlative rather than causal and mechanistic. This project will in part, explore how the view from an energetic perspective, more precisely from a bioenergetic perspective, links physiological and psychological activity. 

Mind, Body, and Energy

     Clinical psychotherapy began to conceptualize and work with the ‘energy’ of human beings since Freud's early 20th century concept of libido as the energy force of sexual, and later, of general human motivations. In the following 100 years clinicians have developed energy work and energetic concepts that suggest a solution to the mind-body problem. Most closely characterized as a double-aspect theory, I suggest the energy and bioenergetic processes involved in cognitive and emotional motivation, physical movement, and behavior is the common linkage between psychic and physiological response.

     Philosophically, because the energy acts as a common influence on mind and body functions, such a model would be considered monistic. It should be noted that the energy model that is the basis of modern body-psychotherapy has an important aspect of dualism embedded within its' theory. This dualism is exhibited in the nature of vibrations and pulsations (energetic phenomena that characterize life) in which the extremes of movement trace dual polarities, while recognizing the unity of the whole at the same time.

     Also, from clinical work, Reich postulates that when human energetic impulses are obstructed, the impulse splits into two opposing antithetical forces that manifest as potentially conflicting forces, or motivations. For illustration, if the newborn's impulse for mother's nipple (for sustenance, security, contact and connection) is blocked by the mother for whatever reason, the newborn experiences both the desire for the maternal object simultaneously with an anger towards mother; mother becomes both good mother and bad mother. These natural phenomena are offered as examples of the dualistic aspect of bioenergetic functioning.

     Bioenergetically, life is characterized by such unity, duality and polarity, with energetic vibrations and pulsations occurring within and between all living things. Health requires a freedom for pulsations and vibrations to occur without restriction or distortion. Disorder and dysfunction is characterized by a loss of pulsatory/vibratory freedom. Health is regained with the restoration of pulsatory and vibratory energetic functioning. 

     Mind and body are recognized as dual polar aspects of being human: mind and body are the manifestations of one's energy, self, soul, spirit, etc. Much as the two faces of a coin are manifestations of the coin, neither face is the coin. As polar aspects of the whole, healthy functioning requires a balanced pulsatory/vibratory 'swinging' of energy between the poles of mind and body. With an understanding of the energetic processes, the energy model or paradigm, it may be seen that body and mind, although inseparable integral parts of the whole person, are distinct aspects, as Descartes declared. However, as distinct aspects of being human, body and mind are susceptible to becoming disconnected and dis-integrated in their functioning. 

     Dysfunction occurs when the integrated pulsatory/vibratory energy becomes stuck, distorted, or suppressed. Such disturbances result from emotionally traumatic experience, most commonly involving associated fears powered by energy-charged experiences that have not been sufficiently resolved. The fear prevents an integrated appropriate mind and body response that allows the energy to discharge to resolve the traumatic tension. Without appropriate discharge, the energy manifests itself in the mind's control and hegemony over the body, and/or in acting-out behavior where the bodily feeling and distorted inappropriate emotional expression overwhelms the mind. These are typical states of the mind-body split, a functional disconnect between the psychic activities of the mind (thinking), and the physiological activities of the body (feeling).

     It is clearly observable that many psychiatric and psychological disorders feature disconnects between the cognitions of the mind and the physiology of the body. As example, eating disorders are manifested as eating, or not eating behaviors in response to anxiety and underlying unconscious fear rather than hunger and satiation. Such disconnect between mind and body is a clear indicator of a mind-body split (MBS). 

     It is gratifying to see at least a partial recognition of the MBS, not surprisingly in regards to eating disorder. Alitta Kullman (2019) has coined the term "dysensithymia," described as "an impairment in the ability to distinguish between felt-states or senses of the body and mind" (p.36), a condition she believes accounts for why clients respond to stress and anxiety with hunger. I agree that it is an inability to distinguish between the impulses of the mind versus those of the body. I believe further that the underlying condition creating such inability is the energetic dis-connect between mind and body. Connection and integrated functioning of both is necessary for such ability. The MBS precludes distinguishing ability, as it precludes one from knowing one's truth. In this case, the client's truth is that she is anxious, not hungry; but she cannot distinguish. This is an obvious example of the effect of the MBS.

*This text is an excerpt from a full paper by Frederic Lowen

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