Report from the Cellular Psyche

Anita Greene
Amherst, Massachusetts
New England Society of Jungian Analysts

In keeping with the title of this Congress – the Edges of Experience – some of my colleagues might say that I am in danger of falling off the edge in proposing a new model of analytic process that incorporates both the verbal and somatic dimensions of psyche.

Moving from talk to touch in my Jungian practice has become so natural for me that I bristle somewhat at questions from colleagues concerned that I might be compromising verbal and symbolic process as well as encouraging enmeshment with patients and possibly jeopardizing my analytic objectivity. Thirty years of clinical experience incorporating this model have shown me that working from the ultra-violet imagistic pole as well as the infra-red instinctual pole of the mind-body continuum promotes analytic process.

Let me show you how it works with an example: A middle aged woman, a therapist herself, who has been working with me for several years brought in a dream about her personal mother in which she could do nothing right. She spoke of the subtle ways in which her mother shamed her around her size and her large extraverted energy. The “too-muchness” of her essential being never felt accepted and so she “dulled” herself down to fit in with what was expected, becoming sensitive to others needs and denying her own.

Halfway through the session we moved to the table. I suggested that my patient, who lay on her back, focus on her breathing and attend to what parts of her body responded to mother. As I reached under her shoulders she remarked how they seemed to tighten up every time she mentioned mother. I confirmed that was happening as we continued talking about the dream. I suggested she take a moment to focus on the shoulders. Then she said: “I think there is anger there around the deflating energy of my mother’s need for control. But I suspect this is the tightness of my own controlling energy. Who would I be if I could not restrain my intense feelings? We had moved from the external mother to the denigrating aspects of her internalized mother complex. Time was spent on the ways she belittled herself over not being a more loyal daughter, loving partner or competent therapist.

I noticed that her breathing was becoming constricted and I sensed or intuited (often I cannot tease them apart) that my hands wanted to move toward her pelvic area. I placed them gently over her belly and suggested she send the breath in under my hands. “Oh, I can’t, she replied, it’s solid concrete.” Putting my hands alternately under her right and left sides I waited until I could feel her body allow me to release her hip joints. “The cement’s cracking,” she said. “I can see a young girl’s hand reaching up and the rest of her is struggling to get free. But the harder I try the more stuck she becomes.” As my analysand surrendered into her breathing and stopped trying, the cement became softer, and a prepubescent girl sprang out wearing a red dress. “Oh, she declared, she’s a dancer. No, she’s an ice skater. I felt so klutzy then and ashamed of having to wear chubby-size clothes. How can I let that ugly, unwieldy body take center stage, which she clearly wants to do.”

The session was nearly over. We sat down again in our respective chairs as she spoke with some anguish about her rejected “ugly” side. At times, after table work, I will encourage patients to move in whatever way their body-psyche directs. Or, we will sit and reflect on what happened. I always take time to reorient patients to the world to which they must return before they leave the session. Whether I am talking or touching, I work in an embodied way, aware of my subjective bodily states and somatically induced counter transference reactions. The Rubenfeld Synergy MethodR, in which I am trained, teaches non-intrusive touch techniques as a tool to explore memories and emotions hidden away in the muscles and tissues of the body.1 The fingertips with their 700 touch receptors every two millimeters are extremely sensitive instruments for non-verbal communication. Touch directly links the “cell-consciousness” of both patient and therapist.

In my experience the greatest gift we can give to our patients is a fully incarnated psyche. A centered, grounded presence creates a neutral and safe container. The non-erotic touch (Rubenfeld calls it “Zen” hands) that I use respects boundaries and, paradoxically, allows an enabling space to develop between analyst and patient for the experiencing of past emotional events in the present moment. I am reminded of Jung’s warning to those who take flight into intuitive mysteries: “whatever you experience outside of the body, in a dream, for instance, is not experienced unless you take it into the body, because the body means the here and now.”2

More than forty years have passed since my first analyst took my hands and held them as I was leaving the session. During the hour a dream had reconnected me with a despondent little girl in myself. His appropriately timed touch, expressing concern over my distressed psychic state, brought forth a flood of tears. Unable to stem the tears nor the accompanying release of painful memories and emotions, I sought refuge in a nearby park. As I engaged with the four-year-old child, who refused to be stuffed back into a psychic closet, an inner voice spoke: “You have forgotten how primary touch is for experiencing your self.” In that moment the imaginal, emotional and sensory dimensions of psyche came together with an alive immediacy that profoundly changed my sense of self. It became the primary motivation behind my exploration of ways to integrate psyche and soma in the context of analytic treatment.

As I became aware of how split off I had become from that part of psyche that operates on a somatic level, I realized that no amount of talking or dreaming about body would reunite me with my split off body complex. In addition to my Jungian analysis I began working with Charlotte Selver in the area of sensory awareness as well as taking classes in expressive movement. At the same time I began “psychic” training at the Jung Institute in New York, I entered Ilana Rubenfeld’s “somatic” training program in the same city. Body awareness cannot be taught verbally. To touch another requires a sensitive kinesthetic awareness of one’s own bodily blocks and tensions in order to avoid bringing them to the patient, in much the same manner as a good analytical training exposes and neutralizes one’s complexes to avoid contaminating the psychic container. Let me be clear. Analysts should not use touch techniques unless they are willing to spend several years in a body training program experiencing how their bodies mirror the psychic complexes and are conveyed through nonverbal language to others.

Jung describes the unconscious complex as having a somatic aspect that locates itself in our flesh and bones. It cannot be ignored because it irritates the tissues and pulls at the nerves. In 1936 he states it most succinctly: “The separation of psychology from the basic assumptions of biology is purely artificial, because the human psyche lives in indissoluble union with the body.”3 When I first began integrating body and psyche in my practice, I found only one article written by a modern Jungian seriously considering the use of touch within the analytic setting. In 1970 Camilla Bosanquet questions whether analysts’ lack of consciousness around nonverbal communication and ambivalence toward touching may deprive patients of a valuable means of communication, including all the associations attached to the act of touching and being touched.4 In 1984 the first workshop on Body and Psyche was presented at a Jungian National Conference by Marion Woodman, Joan Chodorow, and myself. Twenty years later this Congress with its offerings and pre-Congress movement workshop attests to the growing awareness among Jungians of the reality of psyche on a cellular level.

The blindspot of Jungian analysts, many of whom are both introverted and intuitive, is the tendency to attribute the highest conscious value to image and imagination, in effect, downplaying the somatic dimension of psyche. Although Jung intuitively understood that transcending the present level of consciousness must acknowledge the body, he reveals his bias toward the ultra-violet imagistic pole of the body-mind continuum when he argues that the “realization and assimilation of instinct” can never take place at the infra-red end of the psychoid spectrum but only through the “integration of the image which signifies and at the same time evokes the instinct”.5 My clinical work demonstrates that psyche can be directly approached and assimilated through the infra-red instinctual pole by an embodied processing that involves becoming aware of what the somatic unconscious is saying with its tensions, blocks and interruptions in the flow of energy. Paying attention to a shaky queasy sensation in the belly can reveal as much about psyche as confronting a frightening figure in a dream. Both involve a dialogical and symbolic intrapsyhic process that moves us beyond immediate experience to underlying meaning.

A woman suffering from irritable bowel syndrome came to see me as a last resort, having exhausted her list of specialists. A pleasant woman, brought up in a rigid Irish Catholic household, she had bought into the parental myth of the perfect family. She spoke with a tight smile so embedded in the muscles around her mouth that no other expression seemed possible. When I gently touched her pelvic area I experienced a wave of revulsion. I asked her what she felt about the lower part of her body. “I feel disgust”, she said, “for its uncontrollable peristaltic action.” She began to describe the fetid swamp her belly had become, a place where she had buried many feelings around her parents’ shameful secrets (i.e. father’s alcoholism). My somatically induced counter transference disappeared as she owned her own feelings. Over the course of the analysis we spoke to the gurgling in her gut in the same way we spoke to an image in her dreams. The message was invariably the same: “Deny and control your emotions as previously required and your bowels will find a way to release them.” As she realized how much she had been forced to swallow but could not digest, and as she could express her blocked feelings more directly, the symptoms abated, not completely, but enough to live more comfortably in the lower half of her body. The flaring of her symptom now became a more helpful signal warning her that she was denying some emotional reaction.6

The clinical examples I have used in this paper demonstrate how body carries shadow. Jung recognized this phenomenon when he called the body a “doubtful friend” and “the personification of this shadow of the ego”.7 Of modern Jungians, Marion Woodman has been the most vocal around the widespread dissociative relationship to soma in our time. Early in her work with analysands with eating disorders, Woodman observed how distorted such patients’ images were of their bodies and how they failed to identify or accurately perceive sensory information. She writes: “Pretending there is no body, or treating it with indifference, is pretending there is no shadow.”8 For Woodman body awareness is an essential component of the analytic experience. She comments: “The body work that I do is an effort to connect with the unconscious. For me, a bodily symptom is one way of expressing the unconscious. The dream is another way of expressing it.”9

Joan Chodorow, who incorporates movement techniques into her analytic practice, believes there is a vital link between memory and movement. “By attending to the world of bodily felt sensations, the mover recreates a situation that is in many ways similar to that of an infant who swims in a sensory-motor world.”10 Sensory-motor experience releases kinesthetically stored, often pre-verbal, and affect laden memories of childhood. All three of us concur that the immediacy of the bodily experience (the here and now) provides a secure container for accessing and handling intense affective reactions at the core of repressed complexes and permits better toleration of the inevitable frustrations inherent in ego development and differentiation.

Analysts do not have to use movement or touch techniques to become more observant of the non-verbal language that confronts us daily in our consulting rooms. Crucial diagnostic information is conveyed by the way a patient enters the office, greets the analyst, sits in a chair, meets or avoids the eye, gestures or changes posture. For example, one woman in her initial session tiptoed around me and sat rather tentatively in the chair as though she were trying to avoid my energy field. The undercharged nature of her energy and the lack of muscularity in her legs revealed to me that this woman had probably never experienced the ability to stand her ground vis a vis the other. The aura of hesitancy and weakness in her body suggested an early deprivation of maternal support, which was indeed the case. She was completely unconscious of what her body-psyche was communicating to me about the exact nature of the psychic complexes we would be confronting in the analytic work.

Dissonance between verbal and body language reveals shadow. I call them “slips of the body.” After working with a dream which contained a scene with gangster types acting rather sadistically toward several women, an overly compliant male analysand straightened up in his chair, held on to his breathing and struggled to remain calm. Although his tone of voice was pleasant and indicated agreement with my interpretation of the dream, I noticed that his hands, palms down on the top of his thighs, began to move toward the knee and clench into fists at the end of the movement. At the same time I noticed my own jaws and shoulders tightening, an indication to me of somatically induced anger. When I asked him to exaggerate his hand motions, he looked at me in surprise. “What hand motions?” He looked down and repeated the movement. He admitted with some embarrassment that he was angry with me for “insinuating” that he could harbor such feelings toward women. He was trying to “wipe me off.” The atmosphere cleared immediately and we were able to engage more directly with what was actually happening between us. Resistance palpably experienced on a bodily level cannot be so easily denied, and, in fact, is more readily acknowledged. Need I add that we as analysts are not exempt from unconscious body language that may speak more loudly than our words.

Another way to invoke the body/psyche is to embody characters in dreams. A male doctor in his thirties had no memories of his childhood before ten years old. He assumed that his parents had been caring in their emphasis on achievement. After several months of work he brought a dream in which a man pressed the barrel of a gun into his back and ordered him to raise his hands over his head. We agreed that the gunman, a shadow figure, probably represented his more aggressive side that, in fact, did seem hidden under his helpful physician persona. But we could go no deeper.

To further explore what the bodily position of the dream ego might reveal about the meaning of the dream, I asked him if he would like to try an experiment – to raise his hands over his head in the same position as he had assumed in the dream. He stood in front of me and raised his arms. Then he squeezed his upright arms close to the sides of his head, covering his ears. “This is the way it was in the dream,” he said. His face showed surprise as he remembered a scene from his childhood when he was around four years old. He had just spilled a glass of milk at the family dinner table. Father yelled at him and sent him to his room. He ran away from the table with his arms above his head, shielding his ears from the sound of his father’s furious voice that castigated him for being so clumsy and stupid. The angry words entered his back as he imagined the bullets of the gunman doing in the dream. The body “re-member-ed.” The bodily felt image broke through his unconscious resistance to acknowledging the abusive side of his father. Eventually the patient was able to face his own disowned rage and aggression.11

As Jungians we need to be aware of recent research into the body/ mind connection occurring in other disciplines which is demonstrating the fundamental error of the Cartesian split. Current advances in the neurosciences are discovering a multiplicity of cellular interactions among neurons, hormones and psychological processes.

  1. Margaret Kemeny, a researcher in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, comments about the difficulty of finding a non-dualistic language to conceptualize body/mind processes. She writes that language “prevents us from seeing that these two kinds of phenomena are actually two manifestations of the same process, neither one more important than the other, and neither causing the other.”12 With great prescience, Jung stated in 1912: “It seems highly probable that the psychic and the physical are not two independent parallel processes, but are essentially connected through reciprocal action.”13 In her book, Molecules of Emotion, Candice Pert asserts that we are psychosomatic information networks. Her research demonstrates how the neuropeptides and their receptors, found in all systems of the body, are the biological underpinnings of our capacity for consciousness. Pert writes: “Mind doesn’t dominate body, it becomes body – body and mind are one. Thus, it could be said that intelligence is located not only in the brain but in cells that are distributed throughout the body.”14
  2. In his recent book, The Second Brain, the neurobiologist, Michael Gershon, reminds us of the millions of nerve cells embedded in the lining of the esophagus through the large intestine.15 Called the enteric nervous system (ENS), it coordinates all activities in the gastrointestinal system and is in constant communication with all other systems. Emotional states, especially stressful and anxiety provoking ones, can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramping and diarrhea. (See example above of a woman with irritable bowel symptom.) The child’s ENS responds to and is conditioned by the atmosphere of the home long before the cognitive brain becomes active. That may explain why gut reactions are so primal in their intensity, often providing us with more accurate feedback to an unexpected event than our reflective response.
  3. Antonio Damasio is one of the more vocal neuroscientists chipping away at the Cartesian error. He bemoans the defeat in the seventeenth century of Spinoza’s wholistic view of the complex relationship of thoughts and emotions to Descartes’ dualistic insistence on body and mind as two separate entities. His research with frontal lobe damaged patients alerted him to how interconnected both cognitive and emotional deficits are in the behavior of such patients. The title of his book, The Feeling of What Happens, Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, reveals the breadth and scope of his inquiry. From a neurological point of view, the split between reason and emotion is a fallacy. Damasio declares: “The mind exists for the body, is engaged in telling the story of the body’s multifarious events, and uses that story to optimize the life of the organism.”16

Affects are in fashion again and much is being written in psychoanalytic disciplines about their role in the shaping of psyche. In the light of the present research, Jung was remarkably ahead of his time when he stated in 1907: “The essential basis of our personality is affectivity. hought and action are, as it were, only symptoms of affectivity.”17 Although Jung did not go on to articulate a differentiated theory of affects, his early experiments with the Word Association Test convinced him of the power of unconscious emotional complexes upon his subjects. The intense feeling tone at the center of these complexed reactions produces a perseverating and cumulative effect on both body and psyche. As a Jungian I am indebted to my late colleague Lewis H. Stewart’s review of Jung’s thought on affects and his endeavor to fill in the gaps in Jungian theory around the nature and function of specific affects. Drawing on previous research into innate affects, Stewart formulates a system of seven archetypal affects, such as anger and shame, which have universal forms of facial expression and bodily innervations.18 They dynamically link the psychic and somatic experiencing of both analyst and analysand. Becoming aware of somatic cues, i.e. a tightness in the chest or an empty feeling in the stomach, can alert an analyst to the presence of a repressed affect operating beneath the verbal communication.


Imaginal processing works with the images and affects that arise spontaneously out of patients’ dreams, fantasies and artistic products during the course of analysis. It can release emotions but tends to ignore bodily based reactions. Embodied processing involves awareness of what the somatic unconscious is saying with its tensions, blocks and interruptions in the flow of energy. Although it begins with a physical sensation, it often transforms that sensation into a feeling or image so that the border between imaginal and embodied modes of experience is blurred, at which point their reciprocal relationship becomes apparent. Both are symbolic ways of working. Each mode complements the other. The imaginal approach to psyche needs the grounding effect of embodied awareness to bring the intuitive insight into the present moment of actual experience. The embodied approach to psyche needs the expansive effect of imaginal awareness to allow the sensate insight to take flight into the mythopoeic dimension of experience.

Western civilization, for much of the twentiethth century seems to have forgotten what Jung recognized as a “factor … which mediates between the apparent incommensurability of body and psyche, giving matter a kind of “psychic” faculty and the psyche a kind of “materiality”, by means of which one can work on the other.”19 Body that is regarded as only flesh, bone, sinew – materia – is still caught in the old idea of the body/mind antithesis. To introduce somatic awareness and body techniques into the analytic framework is not to introduce a suspect or alien element. Rather it is to heal a split that has haunted the analytic process for generations.


  • 1 Ilana Rubenfeld. The Listening Hand. New York: Bantam Books, 2000.
  • 2 C.G. Jung (1934). The Visions Seminars, Vol. 2. Zurich: Spring Publications, 1976, p. 475.
  • 3 C.G. Jung (1936). “Psychological factors determining human behavior,” CW 8, §232. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976.
  • 4 Camilla Bosanquet. “Getting in Touch,” JAP. London: Society of Analytical Psychology Limited, 1970, Vol. 15-1, p. 56.
  • 5 C.G. Jung (1946). “On the nature of the psyche,” CW 8, §414. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975.
  • 6 Example first published in JAP, 2001, Vol. 46, pp. 565-590.
  • 7 C.G. Jung (1935). “The Tavistock Lectures,” CW 18, §40. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976.
  • 8 Marion Woodman. Addiction to Perfection. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1982, p. 78.
  • 9 _________ “An interview with Marion Woodman,” The Round Table Review, Vol. 2-5.
  • 10 Joan Chodorow. “The body as symbol: dance/movement in analysis” in N. Schwartz (Ed), The Body in Analysis. Illinois: Chiron Publications, p. 97. Also in her book: Dance Therapy & Depth Psychology. London: Routledge, 1991.
  • 11 Example first published in JAP, 2001, Vol. 46, pp. 565-590.
  • 12 Margaret Kemeny. “Emotions and the immune system,” in B. Moyers (interviewer) Healing and the Mind. New York: Doubleday, 1993, p. 207.
  • 13 C.G. Jung (1912/1928). “On psychic energy,” CW 8, §33. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975.
  • 14 Candace B. Pert. Molecules of Emotion. New York: Scribner, 1997, p. 187.
  • 15 Michael Gershon. The Second Brain. New York: Harper Perenial, 1999.
  • 16 Antonio Damasio. “I feel, therefore I am: a thinker reunites mind and body,” E. Eakin (interviewer) New York Times, April 19, 2003.
  • 17 C.G. Jung (1907). “The psychology of dementia praecox,” CW 3, §78. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.
  • 18 Lewis H. Stewart. “Affect and archetype in analysis,” In N. Schwartz & M. Stein (Eds.), Archetypal Processes in Psychotherapy, pp. 131-162. Illinois: Chiron Publications, 1987.
  • 19 C.G. Jung (1959) “Flying saucers in modern myth,” CW 10, §780. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975.