What Is Bioenergetic Therapy?

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Bioenergetic therapy explores how body, mind, and spirit are interconnected. The word "bioenergetic" has its roots in the Greek words for life ("bios") and energy ("energeia"). Bioenergetic therapists use movement, breathwork, touch, and dialogue to help their clients release physical tension that may be contributing to emotional and mental distress.

Bioenergetic therapy is based on the theory that physical and emotional health are connected. When we're physically healthy, we're better able to cope with stress and emotions. Conversely, when we're emotionally healthy, our bodies are better able to function properly.

The aim of bioenergetic therapy is to help clients release physical and emotional tension that may be causing problems. Bioenergetic therapy can be helpful for a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, stress, anger management, and trauma. It can also be used to improve overall physical health.

Bioenergetic analysis was developed by Alexander Lowen, M.D. in the 1950s. Lowen was a student of Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst who believed that physical ailments were rooted in unconscious psychic conflict. Lowen expanded on this idea, to include the notion that chronic stress could also lead to mental health issues.

Bioenergetic Therapy Techniques

Therapists practicing bioenergetic therapy will typically use a variety of techniques, depending on their area of specialization and the client's specific needs.

Some therapists may use body movement to express and release emotions, while others may encourage clients to express their feelings through words or art activities. The focus is on helping clients release internal tension and stress through body movement, breathing techniques, or other forms of expression.

Bioenergetic therapy can help a person to move past habitual patterns of living, and learn how to react differently in specific situations. This type of therapy is usually more active than traditional talk therapies, which gives clients time to reflect on what they are learning about themselves.

Bioenergetic therapists encourage individuals to live fully in the present moment, engage in physical activity, and discover new ways of being in healthy relationships with other people.

Below are some specific techniques your therapist may use during bioenergetic therapy:

  • Grounding: This technique involves having clients engage in physical movement or exercises to help them feel rooted and present in the moment. This also may help to discharge excess energy and tension.
  • Sensory Awareness: This involves helping clients become more aware of their body sensations, including feelings, sounds, smells, and tastes. This can help them to release tension and become more grounded.
  • Movement: This technique involves releasing tension through movement. For example, your therapist may have you walk, run, or dance to express anger or frustration. Or, you might kick or punch a pillow to release energy or pent-up emotions.
  • Containing: This technique consists of having clients refrain from engaging in a movement in order to allow them to feel what's going on inside their bodies. For example, a client may be asked to avoid the urge to tap their foot or cross their arms.
  • Supportive Contact: This technique involves the therapist making supportive contact with a client to help them focus and feel grounded in the present. For example, when a therapist holds their hand close to or against a client's body when they are in an expressive movement, the therapist is applying "supportive contact."

What Bioenergetic Therapy Can Help With

Bioenergetic therapy can be potentially helpful for anyone who needs to release tension and stress related to painful or traumatic emotional experiences. However, it may be used for people with specific issues that involve the body and emotions, such as the following:

A 2006 study of the effectiveness of body-focused psychotherapies (in which bioenergetics is a type) in outpatient settings showed that after six months of therapy, patients had significantly improved regarding their level of impairment and psychopathology.

In addition, after the end of therapy (maximum two years), large effect sizes were observed for outcome measures. The study authors claim that these results support the effectiveness of body-focused psychotherapeutic methods.

Things to Consider About Bioenergetic Therapy

Bioenergetic therapy will not be the right choice for everyone. Bioenergetic therapy isn't an effective or appropriate choice for psychological and emotional issues that aren't connected to the body.

Bioenergetic therapy is not a replacement for traditional psychotherapy or medication. If you are taking medication for a mental health disorder, it is important to continue taking your medication while also undergoing bioenergetic therapy.

If you are considering bioenergetic therapy, it's also important to recognize the limitations of this approach. Bioenergetic therapy is not effective at addressing all psychological issues, and it will not cure medical disorders. In addition, if you have had boundaries crossed in the past with regard to touch, you may feel uncomfortable during bioenergetic therapy sessions.

Finally, research evidence supporting bioenergetic therapy is sparse. While this does not mean that the therapy does not work, it is important to be aware of the lack of empirical evidence before making a decision about whether or not to pursue this treatment. In particular, it's important to consider other empirically validated treatment alternatives when making a decision.

How to Get Started With Bioenergetic Therapy

If you feel that bioenergetic therapy may be helpful for you, there are a few steps to take before embarking on this course of treatment. One important step is consulting with your doctor to make sure it's safe for you to receive bioenergetic therapy given your particular conditions or health status.

Once you have the go-ahead from your doctor, it's important to find a qualified therapist who can help guide you through the process. You can ask around for referrals or check with professional societies and institutes that provide training in bioenergetic analysis.

Make sure to interview any potential therapists before settling on a particular provider. You should ask questions about their educational background, their experience working with people in your situation, and what techniques they use on a regular basis.

A bioenergetic therapist will try and help you work through emotionally charged experiences that are often difficult to address alone.

Bioenergetic therapists are generally licensed mental health professionals with additional training in the principles of bioenergetics. Your therapist should be committed to providing a safe space for you to express yourself openly and honestly. If a therapist makes you feel uncomfortable, it's best to trust your judgment and find a new therapist.

A Word From Verywell

Bioenergetic therapy is a form of complementary psychotherapy that focuses on efforts to heal the stress that builds up in the body in relation to past emotional pain. This type of therapy can be most helpful for people who have difficulty expressing their emotions solely through words, and want help in addressing their distress using a variety of body-based techniques.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Alexander Lowen Foundation. What Is Bioenergetic Analysis?

  2. GoodTherapy.org. Bioenergetic Analysis.

  3. Koemeda-Lutz M, Kaschke M, Revenstorf D, Scherrmann T, Weiss H, Soeder U. Evaluation der Wirksamkeit von ambulanten Körperpsychotherapien--EWAK [Evaluation of the effectiveness of body-psychotherapy in out-patient settings (EEBP)]Psychother Psychosom Med Psychol. 2006;56(12):480-487. doi:10.1055/s-2006-951848

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.