Bodymind Integration : Approaching the person as a whole.

 18 July 2020 by Dirk Marivoet

“Therapy on the body without integrated work with emotions and thoughts is just as one-sided as psychotherapy that ignores bodily processes. Furthermore, working with a person should offer them a perspective and integration with ‘the whole’.

Dirk Marivoet

Abstract: Most contemporary systems of psychotherapy and body therapy are extrapolations of the reductionist view that was common in the 19th century. The author describes three main branches of this reductionism: monistic, dualistic and parallel worldviews, each of which has led to certain derivative therapeutic modalities. He takes a critical look at the ‘holistic’ view which is opposed to this position and which is often erroneously or incompletely claimed by ‘alternative’ therapies. Body and mind are sometimes separated in their treatment philosophy and methodology in clear, and sometimes in more subtle ways. It is being explored what an ‘integrated’ approach should entail that goes beyond a purely causal relationship between ‘body’ and ‘mind’.

Extrapolations from the reductionist view


19th century science viewed the universe as a collection of interrelated but essentially separate parts and particles, each of which could be studied and understood in isolation (Bohm, 1980). Most systems of psychotherapy and body therapy are extrapolations of this reductionist view (reductionism assumes that complex phenomena can always be understood by reducing them to their basic building blocks and examining which mechanisms interact with each other). In many healthcare systems, people are still viewed as an amalgam of parts. In this view, the whole is seen as the sum of the parts. Without explicitly trying to understand all the philosophical aspects of this topic (I will leave that to people who are more qualified), I would like to briefly distinguish three main branches in the world view of the ‘person as parts’: Monism, Dualism and Parallelism. Each of these approaches leads to different therapeutic approaches based on their belief system.


The typical monistic approach is the extreme reductionist approach which states that everything that exists is physical. Our mental experiences, thoughts and feelings can all be explained by physical processes (synaptic transmission, the firing of neurons, etc.). Consciousness and self-awareness (two things that seem to cause people to look for answers beyond the physical) are by-products of biological processes. In the monistic view, then, the mind is nothing other than the product of electrophysical chemistry in the brain, i.e. the human being is synonymous with the functioning of his organs, and problems can be detected and then treated by healing the affected organs (biological psychiatry, etc.). In this worldview, we also encounter a fair amount of determinism (every event – as well as human actions – has a cause, with the sequence and nature of events being completely determined by causal laws). Modern neuroscience, for example, could only develop after the theory of unbornness from Descartes’ ideas had been abandoned.


Mind and body are seen as completely separate and each part requires separate treatment; verbal therapy for mental problems and physical therapy for physical ailments. In some dualistic approaches, it is assumed that there is some effect from one area on the other, but it is believed that the correct treatment lies in the area where the ‘real problem’ exists. Kepner (1987) defines these treatments resulting from a dualistic model as singular (see below).


The realms of the mind and body are seen as separate, but are so interconnected that they have inevitable effects on each other. Psycho-parallelists believe that the functioning of the mind mirrors the functioning of the body and vice versa – mental and physical events are only correlated, there is no causal force in either part. Depending on the extent to which the parts are seen as interrelated, problems in one area are seen as function or dysfunction in the other. Changes in one part then have an effect on the other. In the case of parallelism, for example, it is assumed that psychological stress affects the body through physiological arousal. Physical discomfort can be the result of emotional conflict, or physical discomfort can cause psychological depression, for example. Kepner (1987) refers to treatment approaches based on a parallel relationship between body and mind as alternating methods.

Holistic, or Pseudo holistic?

Holism is the scientific counterpart to reductionism. Holism has therefore been one of the buzzwords within the humanistic, transpersonal, complementary healthcare and new age movements for several decades. In the popular mythology of these movements, holism is widely seen as a self-evident ‘good thing’, representing the idea that various forms of splits can be resolved, healed or transcended into a higher order integration. Indeed, such integration is often equated with health and maturity, be it in the personal, social or political sphere. The term ‘wholeness’ is a seductive, but at the same time a treacherous concept that means different things to different people. In the following, I ask to what extent certain visions of wholeness are really useful and valid.

A definition

Holism according to Kramers is the doctrine of the primary value of the whole, of the organism as a whole. Van Dale says: ho – lis – m (the ~) 1 view that there is a coherence in reality that emerges only from a consideration of the whole and cannot be found in the parts. In other words, it is the theory that the parts of any whole can only exist and be understood in their relationship to the whole; “Holism also means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Based on this definition, the individual elements of a system are determined by their relationships to all other elements of this system. A complex structure cannot simply be regarded as the sum of its parts. As an anthropological principle, the premise is that every aspect of human life should be examined in terms of its relationship to all other aspects of human life. From a micro perspective, holism means that the human organism is viewed as a living system whose physical and mental components are interdependent and interconnected. From a macro perspective, it means assuming that an individual organism is in constant interaction with its natural and social environment.

A few interpretations and versions

Perhaps the most popular version or interpretation of holism is the belief in the integration of body, mind and spirit. Ideologically, this is understood to mean the fundamental inseparability of the person’s physical, mental and spiritual being. Therapeutically, it refers to the importance of treating the person as a ‘whole’ person, as well as to the ‘healing’ resulting from the personal integration of these three aspects. This powerful and attractive metaphor has been enthusiastically promoted by many who follow the new paradigms and adhere to health and psychology. In my opinion, however, it is often limited and watered down. One of the main reasons for this is that, within the various new paradigms, it is largely equated with the ‘positive thinking’ approach that is polarized and unintegrated in itself. This is often a fairly utopian approach in which everything is or can become perfect and beautiful. This kind of holism promotes the possibility of what is seen as a perfect integration of the healthy body, the positive mind and the divine mind. This becomes apparent in the way the new paradigms usually focus on and idealize youth, physical beauty, imagination, creativity, love, empathy, happiness, self-realization, enlightenment, peak experiences, ecstasy, and peace. The problem with this kind of holism is that it is simply not holistic enough. Rather than being truly integrative, it reinforces the split of, say, good vs. evil, life vs. death, youth vs. old age, health vs. sickness, beauty vs. ugliness, imagination vs. logic, love vs. hate, and ecstasy vs. dismay. In this way, it denies, suppresses, or demonizes what Jung calls his ‘shadow’ (For a review of the shadow, see Zweig and Abrams (1996), or Pierrakos (1996) calls it the Lower Self. It is an approach that, like Rollo May (1969) noted, being unable to fully recognize or deal with the so-called “negative aspects” of the human experience such as illness, fear, hostility, stagnation, and therefore such a view cannot be a truly integrative or holistic view. I therefore offer and call this form ‘pseudo-holism’.

I also consider pseudo-holistic approaches that are all too easily opposed to the ‘old paradigms’. They make frantic efforts to confirm their own unique identities and differentiate themselves from the ‘old paradigms’. These approaches have generally identified with what they see as the positive side of the split, while projecting much of the negative side onto their opponents. This inevitably leads to a fragmented and incomplete vision. Even worse, some ‘holistic’ practitioners reject or devalue scientific and cognitive processes that accumulate knowledge. A more holistic approach attempts to integrate and heal the splits. She recognizes the need to integrate the supposedly negative, dark aspects of human nature. Moreover, a true philosophy of the Whole cannot exclude reductive research, because the research provides in detail the data that composes the whole. Such an approach is nothing new under the sun. We find them in existentialist thinking and in many psychotherapeutic theories and practices.

Applying this principle to the body-mind-spirit metaphor means that we must deal with the shadow as it manifests in each of these domains. In relation to the body, this means accepting pain, illness, aging and dying. At the mind level, we should appropriate and cope with our anxiety, depression, jealousy, anger, and other seemingly negative emotions, as well as the rational, analytical, and conceptual thinking often devalued and neglected in the new paradigms. Spiritually, we need to find a way to reconcile ourselves with meaninglessness, tragedy, human weakness, loss of faith, existential guilt, and ‘the dark night of the soul.’ When looking specifically at body therapy, we need to watch out for polarized, idealistic tendencies in our approach to the person. In practice, this can be seen as a kind of cult-like certainty, charismatic enthusiasm, spiritual glorification. On the other hand, a little self-doubt and humility is not only refreshing, but also essential, I believe. Likewise, we should attempt to balance our interest in self-realization, peak experiences, ecstasy, and the ‘positive’ effects of meditation with research into failure, through experiences, and certain real-world risks.
All this should be connected to the bigger picture of our life plan.

Horizontally and vertically. 

We still have another important problem. The above form of holism remains largely individually oriented holism. What is the role of other people, social and cultural systems, the earth and the ecosystem in this model? How do you understand the relationship between the individual and other realities? To solve this problem, we need to integrate the individual body-mind spirit (‘positive’ and ‘negative’) into the social, cultural and natural worlds. Thus, as Warwick Fox (1993) proposes, finding ways to respect and integrate all ‘four quadrants’. These are defined by combinations of the ‘inside-outside’ and ‘individual-collective’ dimensions of evolution.

The ‘vertical’ development of the person towards higher forms of (spiritual) consciousness should be integrated with a “horizontal” vision that emphasizes the importance of our expansion and sense of self outward to a wider and deeper identification with the natural world’s reach. 

In other words, we need to connect our egocentric and anthropocentric (vertical) dimensions to our biocentric or ecocentric (horizontal) dimension. There is a huge difference between being able to understand that this kind of Holism requires an integration of upstream and downstream flows, or the dimensions of inside-outside and individual-collective, and being truly capable of achieving this integration. This is the difference between what Ken Wilber (1994) calls the map and the territory. Holism or integration should ultimately be achieved in the life experience, not through models.

Back to the body in therapy: 

Therapy approaches from the reductionist view.

Singular (single) approaches:

The prevailing therapies, whether psychotherapy or physical therapy, have traditionally been ‘singular’ in their approach to the person. 

Psychological therapies such as psychoanalysis (Freud, 1938), client-centered (Rogers, 1951), and others use interventions that are almost exclusively verbal. Physical processes are often seen as epiphenomena that are connected to, but separate from, the underlying mental events. Equally singular in form are numerous body therapies, such as Rolfing (Rolf, 1977), the Alexander technique (Alexander, 1971), and the Feldenkrais Technique (Feldenkrais, 1972). These and other somatic approaches recognize the contribution of psychological processes to the formation of body tension and postural imbalances. However, they do not have a formal methodology to work with psychological processes or link psychological processes to somatic work. The singular approach, whether psychotherapeutic or body therapeutic, has an important philosophical and methodological problem!

Even if verbal psychotherapy pays attention to physical phenomena, such as by interpreting physical symptoms, the somatic methodology (direct work with the body) that the person leaves with a sense of separate parts that linearly interact with each other is missing. Connected: The mental conflict causes the physical symptoms, rather than a dilemma of the entire organism with various manifestations. Some singular approaches go so far as to assume an interdependence (but not real holism!) of mind and body. . It is often assumed that if you change psychological processes (conflict or defense), you also change the physical structure that depends on it. And from a physical point of view: if you change the structure of the body, you change the function (psychological) that depends on it.

For example, I was once told in an NLP workshop by the trainer that if you could help a depressed person to raise his posture and eye position, for example by teaching him to play basketball, this would also eventually lead to his mental attitude to change. If the treatment of depression were so easy, we wouldn’t need much therapy. A depressed person is unable to maintain an un-depressed attitude, neither physically nor psychologically, until all depressed domains are liberated and integrated! The reverse is also true: The psychodynamic exploration of conflict and suppressed impulses inherent in depression will not necessarily change the shallow breathing and depressed attitude of the client. This is not to say that the integration of a postural imbalance could not change by lifting the client’s mental constructs and attitudes, but this change is never based on a causal relationship from part to part (body on mind or spirit on body), but the fact that these aspects belong to the whole.

Alternate approaches

A possible attempt to overcome the dilemma of ‘singular approaches’ is to give due attention to the respective physical and psychological aspects of the person by alternating physical and mental therapy methods. This is a logical step for many therapists, whether psychotherapists who have learned body-oriented interventions or somatic therapists who learned therapeutic skills. Such an alternation of techniques can then take place within one session, or within several sessions. They take place at different times, and there is no attempt to work simultaneously with body and psychological processes. The problem with this approach is that, since there is a clear distinction between somatic and psychological work, the feeling of splitness in the person (client as well as therapist) may increase. It is difficult to experience a sense of one’s own unity when bodywork and psychological work happen at different times, which is not to say that integration (the sense of self as a whole) cannot occur through an alternating approach. However, integration depends on certain client capabilities that therapists cannot automatically assume. In addition, the therapies used may contain philosophical and methodological inconsistencies that may be conflicting and confusing to the client.

Layered approaches

Some body-centered therapists work in a ‘layered approach’. For example: The therapist can start by having the client conduct a Gestalt dialogue, eg a conversation between different parts of the self. Simultaneously, the therapist works on the client’s muscular tension and posture. The work looks elegant; two parallel but different voices that together form a melody line. However, the physical and psychological methods remain separate voices, although they work together. To the untrained eye, the work seems integrated, but it is not because methods used together are a guarantee of the client’s experience together.

Another problem with a layered approach is that the physical and psychological methods are derived can be from various theoretical and philosophical sources. For example, client-centered and transactional analysis do not have an explicit ‘understanding’ of body phenomena in their theory and methods. Using these methods along with a body method makes it likely that the layers of physical and psychological work remain parallel and unintegrated. There is no explicit understanding of the importance or relationship of body phenomena and emotional processes, meaning that methodologically they do not have a clear way of bringing the different layers together, and there may be different views of the person’s vision between different methods, and the nature of tension or resistance. For example, there are important differences between Gestalt, Rolfing and Reichian approaches, for example, in their view of tension and resistance, but it would be too tempting to go into this in detail in the context of this article. So if the therapist uses Rolfing and Gestalt together, for example, he is in principle no longer faithful to the theory and spirit of Rolfing, respectively Gestalt therapy, or both, a truly integrated approach as we find it in Postural Integration (PI), for example. Painter, 1987) is looking for holism, both in his methodology and in his view of the person.

An approach such as PI has been influenced by Gestalt, Rolfing, Reichian therapy, etc., but is integration and synthesis from thesis and antithesis within the method, making it not an eclectic approach or a sum of partial therapies. For a description of this method, I refer to “Deep Bodywork and Personal Development” (Painter, 1987).

Suggestion for an Integrated Approach

An integrated approach, such as Core Strokes or its predecessor Postural Integration, looks at a process (such as conflict, a life theme, a physical symptom) as part of a larger whole, which includes both somatic and psychological aspects. Every psychological theme (e.g. conflict between parts of self, emotional trauma, unfinished interaction) is part of a larger gestalt that expresses the physical expression of that dilemma (e.g. tension pattern, body, breath inhibitions). Every physical symptom, such as a chronic tension or an attitude disorder, in turn is an expression of a larger whole, which includes a psychological dilemma and is part of its expression. 

The classic psychosomatic view in psychotherapy is that mental conflict is the physical causes symptoms. The integrated vision looks at both parts as a unitary expression of the self, or of the organism. Wilhelm Reich (1949), referred to this as the functional identity of body and mind. 

In terms of method, an integrated approach brings together all aspects of the person so that the person can experience himself as a unitary organism rather than a mixture of parts. In this regard, the therapeutic technique should not separate the person by dealing with one aspect of the person as if it were intrinsically different or separate from the other.

Integrated Psychotherapy

More concretely:

  • Psychological processes that are articulated – e.g. conflicts or beliefs – are explicitly linked to their physical expression.
  • Physical processes such as posture, muscle tension, and physical ailments are seen as meaningful expressions of the person.
  • Both physical and psychological processes are considered as aspects of the same whole (the person / organism) and the division into parts. Therapeutic techniques strive to restore the sense of self as a whole and to ensure the mutual identity of the parts.


I strongly support the idea that the ‘philosophical environment’ of therapeutic practice, as well as the basis of its ethical responses, should be the modern integrative ‘whole-system’ worldview. There is much in this article that may seem critical to the new paradigms. It was always my intention to come to a clear formulation of the possibility of integrating body and mind into the practice of personal growth. I hope this text can be a small contribution to a truly holistic and integrated way of dealing with ourselves, our fellow man and the world. The traditional separation between psychological and somatic methods should not only be bridged, but the psyche and soma should be united in the person and in the method, and be related to social and transpersonal worlds (Transpersonal is a perspective or point of perception that allows you to see the concept of the ‘individual’ in its relationship to the larger ‘whole’).


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Feldenkrais, M. (1972). Awareness through Movement. New York: HarperCollins. In het nederlands: Feldenkrais, M., Bewustworden door bewegen.

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About the author

Dirk Marivoet psychotherapist in Belgium

Dirk Marivoet, MSc is European certified and accredited psychotherapist (ECP). He’s also a licenced psychomotor therapist and physiotherapist (University of Louvain). He is the founder and director of the International Institute for Bodymind Integration (IBI) and an international teacher in several Body Oriented Psychotherapy Schools and diverse other training programs. Dirk is a certified Trainer and Supervisor for Postural Integration, Energetic Integration, Reichian Bodywork and Pelvic-Heart Integration (Jack Painter, PhD), a Core Energetics Teacher and Supervisor (John Pierrakos, MD). He studied extensively with Al Pesso. His work is “polyvagal and trauma informed”. After more than 35 years of working and teaching in the field of integrative and holistic therapy, he created his own comprehensive synthesis and approach, Core Strokes, which he offers worldwide in the form of professional trainings, workshops and individual sessions. Dirk is a public speaker about these and other topics and chairs the Core Science Foundation. He lives in Ghent (Belgium).

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