Contemporary Body Psychotherapy: The Chiron Approach (2009) ed. Hartley, L Routledge: London, pp89-105

This book looks at the ground-breaking work of the London based Chiron Centre for Body Psychotherapy, a training centre recognised worldwide by professionals in the field. The book brings together Chiron trainers and therapists, describing how their integrative approach has enabled cutting-edge thinking. It covers
• the roots and the development of the Chiron approach
• the evolution of an embodied, integral and relational approach to psychotherapy
• moving towards an integrative model of trauma therapy.

Click here for further details of the book and its contents (in PDF format)

An extract from Roz Carroll’s chapter:

Self-regulation – an evolving concept at the heart of body psychotherapy

Appealing to the body as some sort of absolute ground, immune to the demands of relativism, is tempting but unhelpful… However, bodies in relationship can generate an authenticity of contact that carries its own authority, and that grounds psychotherapy in ways which allow creative transformation. (Totton 2005: 24)

Self-regulation: regulation, control, or direction by or of oneself (itself) [OED] [i]

The historical context
In the field of psychotherapy self-regulation is a term widely used term to describe the ability of an individual or system to maintain, or recover, equilibrium. Despite variations in the theory of how self-regulation is achieved, it is generally perceived to be an attribute of a dynamic ongoing organismic process - a movement towards balance, self-expression and health. 

The seeds of a scientific model of self-regulation were based on the concept of homeostasis. This principle of biology was first observed by the founder of modern experimental medicine Claude Bernard, then developed by the physiologist W.B.Cannon, and summed up in the title of the latter’s famous book The Wisdom of the Body (1932). [ii]   Bernard’s discovery about how each organism maintains stability of its internal environment influenced Cannon’s own research (Heller 2007). He coined the term ‘homeostasis’ which is still used today to refer to the body’s capacity to maintain dynamic equilibrium within a range of variables, managed by the autonomic nervous system. These include heart rate, body temperature, breathing, blood pressure, and metabolism and must be kept within a certain range for physical well-being, and indeed for survival. ‘Fight or flight’, Cannon’s phrase for the action of the sympathetic nervous system, refers to an organism’s stress response. The complementary function of the parasympathetic nervous system is associated with rest, digestion and relaxation. (Carroll 2005a)

Homeostasis is the proto-type for the broader term of self-regulation which is now used in a range of contexts (psychotherapy, child development, education, sports psychology) to describe the internal rules of a system, including learning styles and how individuals manage feelings, impulses and bodily states. It is a concept that has been influenced by science, philosophy, and by many theorists of psychotherapy, often with different emphases and meanings. (Carroll 2003; Heller 2007; Jung 1921; Reich 1972; Schore 2003)


Many interrelated physiological phenomena are involved in a mother and infants’ psychobiologically attuned interaction:  nuances of facial expression, rhythmic co-ordination of sound and movement, gazing and touching, all of which have a direct impact on the nervous system. The mere perception of emotion on the mother’s face or in her voice can generate a resonant emotional state in her son or daughter. (Beebe & Lachmann 2002:37) The attuned mother adjusts the mode, amount, variability and timing of her stimulation to the child’s temperament and capabilities; this ‘demonstrates her sensitivity not so much to the child’s overt behaviour but to his or her internal state’. (Schore 2003: 39) As well as learning to soothe her infant, the mother is involved in

            Face to face interactions …[which] are affect-laden, short interpersonal

events …To regulate the high positive arousal, mothers and infants…

synchronize the intensity of their affective behaviour within lags of

split seconds.

(Feldman, Greenbaum & Yirmiya 1999: 223, quoted in Schore 2003: 38)

This interactive resonance enables the infant to experience feelings which are co-regulated with an adult in a meangingful way. Repeated interactions, attuned and non-attuned, pleasurable, frightening, or calming, become internalised, with a multiplicity of implications for the ‘body-mind-brain’. (Schore 2003) This builds the intersubjective sense of self derived from mapping motor-sensory elements of the body-engaged-with-another (Trevarthen & Aitken: 2001). These implicit early prototypes of relationship are  structured into the infant’s body at every level - motor, autonomic, hormonal and sensory  - underpinning the pervasive tenacious unconscious expectancies that clients and therapists bring to the therapeutic encounter. (see How unconscious is ‘unconscious’? in Soth’s chapter)

It is the calibration by the parent of degrees of feeling, of change, of engagement according to the infant’s spontaneous self-regulating that teaches and conveys how to relate. There are obviously huge variations in parents’ capacity to respond to their child – depending on their own state, their history and the context - and infants are also able to spontaneously regulate their own level of arousal by turning away, interrupting eye contact, gesturing, crying, and so on. Infants and children may also be used by the parents for their own regulation via projections into the child. When the infant is left alone, or responses are persistently inconsistent and unattuned, self-regulation gets tilted towards auto-regulation. (Schore 2003) This involves substitute contacts, such as thumb sucking, which may develop into elaborate and compulsive modes of caretaking and control in relation to the self or the other.  (Winnicott 1972) These modes of ‘management’ come into therapy as defenses and re-enactments, which are sometimes very subtle and encapsulated.


Countertransference: the self-regulation of the therapeutic couple as a system

Energetic perception enables the therapist to ‘see’ the layers of history in the client’s body, as well as heightening sensitivity to the client’s current readiness to engage.

Countertransference, a phenomenon which follows inevitably from such a resonant engagement, is a process whereby the therapist becomes affected by the client, pulled in, and increasingly defined through, with and by the other. 

The principles that apply in individual self-regulation also apply to the therapeutic pair as a couple. The two person system is a dynamic balancing act, with the level of feeling often fluctuating as the interaction between client and therapist is managed both implicitly (through self and interactive regulation) and explicitly (as far as these processes are the subject of verbal exploration). As therapist and client get to know each other, and the defences against interactive regulation begin to melt, new patterns emerge like new dance steps, new experiments in being-with-another. A comment or look may lead to a subtle shift, or a new cycle.  (Carroll 2005b)

Sometimes, though, these transformative shifts occur in more  radical or dramatic ways. The countertransference is generated by a deep encounter between therapist and client, and an intense charge may build as certain elements remains fixed or hidden or unacknowledged over a period of time. What is not self-regulated by the therapist and by the client, and between them, starts to form its own ‘demand’ for regulation. Powerful unregulated affect pulls or pushes the therapist into an action that re-orients the system by bringing to the surface what has been suppressed. 


[i]   The word ‘self-regulation’ dates back to 1693 with the meaning of ‘control or direction of oneself’. Its was first used in biology in 1896.

[ii] I remember the emphatic support among the Body Mind Centering training group for the title Wisdom of the Body Moving when the editor, Linda Hartley, proposed it as the title for her forthcoming book.


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