Body Awareness Therapy And Eating Disorders: What The Science Says

What is Body Awareness Therapy?
Body awareness therapy is based on the work of a French psychotherapist named Jacques Dropsy. In the 1970s and 1980s, he developed a treatment method he called intelligences du corps, the intelligence of the body. Drawing on the experiences of therapists with the Alexander technique, Feldenkreis technique, Tai Chi, and Zen meditation, Dropsy developed this therapy of nonverbal communication to increase awareness of the body.and mindfulness in movements.

Dropsy's therapy works with movements all of us find very basic, such as sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. The exercises in Body Awareness Therapy emphasize breathing, balance, and awareness. The therapy also uses voice (although not necessarily words), massage, and relational exercises.  Certified body awareness therapists can be found in northern Europe, especially in Sweden.

How does Body Awareness Therapy work?
Dropsy and researchers that have come along after him believe that motions are linked to emotions, that physical movement changes the way we feel. They believe that the workings of our metabolism influence our interactions with others, and vice versa. They believe that our inner dramas are linked to motion, emotion, and metabolism.

The Body Awareness Therapist begins work with training in breathing. Breathing centers the emotions. It needs to be free and "elastic," responsive to the physiological needs of the body, with the emotions centered in the person rather than some outside influence. Then the therapist helps the trainee to achieve that same kind of elasticity at the beginning and end of muscle movements. These movements need to be flowing and rhythmic, as if the body were providing making music and the movements are the notes. Practice in centering continues with learning how to move from the core muscles in the center of the body.

Body Awareness Therapy progresses to other-awareness therapy, the same kind of centered, flexible, elastic motion that trainees learn with their bodies they then learn to apply to relationships. And as relationships improve, trainees can then turn to existential concerns such as self-awareness and a quality Body Awareness Therapists call "unity".

Does body awareness therapy really work?
There have been a number of controlled clinical trials of Basic Body Awareness Therapy for a variety of health conditions.

  1. Researchers at a consortium of universities in Spain used Basic Body Awareness Therapy as a treatment for fibromyalgia. Volunteers who received sessions reported significant improvement in pain, anxiety, and depression after 12 weeks. These improvements continued for at least another 12 weeks.
  2. Researchers in Sweden and Australia did a controlled clinical study of Basic Body Awareness Therapy as a treatment for the chronic pain of whiplash. They found that the treatment reduced pain and also increased the number of reported social interactions after about 12 weeks.
  3. Swedish investigators did a study of "exercise" versus Basic Body Awareness Therapy in treating major depression. Patients reported that they felt better, and they became more physically active.
  4. Investigators at the University of Lund in Sweden are currently completing a study of the use Basic Body Awareness Therapy as supportive treatment for autism. Preliminary results are that the therapy improves "flow" of muscle movement and increases the ability to understand and respond to body language of others.
  5. Researchers at Haukeland University Hospital and Bergen University in Norway are currently conducting a study of Basic Body Awareness Therapy as a treatment for osteoarthritis of the hip. The researchers are investigating the possibility of using Basic Body Awareness Therapy as a substitute for hip replacement surgery.

There is a lot of enthusiasm, especially in northern Europe, for using Basic Body Awareness Therapy as a treatment for conditions of chronic pain, social isolation, and depression, which often accompany eating disorders. But how useful is this method for treating the eating disorders themselves?

Basic Body Awareness Therapy for eating disorders
Doctors and nurses affiliated with the Department of Nursing and Physiotherapy at the University of Almería in Spain have tested Basic Body Awareness Therapy as an addition to regular treatment for people who have been living with eating disorders for less than five years. Using a psychological instrument called the Eating Disorder Inventory, the researchers found that patients who received Basic Body Awareness Therapy:

  1. Had lower scores on the "drive to thinness" scale.
  2. Had lower ratings of "body dissatisfaction".
  3. And had lower ratings on an "ineffectiveness" scale.

In this single, small study, Basic Body Awareness Therapy did not result in higher self-esteem, greater confidence in social relationships, reduced fears of taking on the challenges of adult living, or reduced perfectionism. However, that may be because the researchers worked with a relatively small group of volunteers for a relatively short time. There is increasing evidence that Basic Body Awareness Therapy can help people who live eating disorders deal with pain and depression, and there is at least some evidence that it helps improve some of the issues seen in eating disorders, too.