Saint Arnault, D., & O’Halloran, S. (2015). Biodynamic psychotherapy for trauma recovery: A pilot study. International Body Psychotherapy Journal, 14(1), 20-34.
The following study was a longitudinal pilot study using pre- and post-tests of standardized surveys measuring depression, anxiety, physical and emotional symptoms, quality of life, social support satisfaction, and social conflict. Biodynamic interventions were delivered to eight women receiving domestic violence support services with SAFE Ireland, a domestic violence shelter. Women selected for the study were over the age of 21, in the recovery phase of their survivorship, scored high on the Kessler 6 distress inventory, and expressed interest in participating in the study through their case managers. Participants were treated over a 12 month period consisting of three two and a half day Biodynamic interventions, complemented by a three hour bodywork session. The intervention consisted of both a group intervention and an individual bodywork session six months apart. The goal of the research was to examine the feasibility and acceptability of Biodynamic interventions and to foster healing for women receiving domestic violence support. Findings indicated that women, even after having been out of violence for over four years, still experienced high amounts of distress. Findings also indicated that with Biodynamic interventions, women’s distress indicators significantly improved over time, along with vitality, use of social support, and social conflict. The only score that did not change significantly was social functioning.
What was really interesting about the study was that women who had been considered to be stable and functioning well in the community by having new relationships, raising children, and working or going to school, still had high mental health distress. This confirms what the authors expected at the beginning of the study from their review of the literature and the effects of complex trauma. The study also confirms that bottom-up approaches to therapy for complex trauma are needed to adequately resolve trauma symptoms. I appreciated that the authors advocated for more studies in the field of women’s mental health on services needed for women beyond the first year of leaving an abusive relationship. Another important suggestion from the authors was that the definition of healing needs to go beyond symptom reduction and needs to look at healing as including moving back into the social world.
The authors indicated that the limitations of their study included: a small sample size and the lack of a control sample. The authors suggested that future studies should include larger and more complex trials as well as comparison research studies with standard intervention strategies such as cognitive behavioral therapy. They also recommended learning what services women access and the benefits and limitations of those services to assist women with their healing to thrive after leaving an abusive relationship. While the authors state that several of the women had experienced prior childhood abuse and violence, it would have been interesting to look at the severity of each woman’s full trauma history and their recovery rates to get a better picture of the effectiveness of the trauma interventions.
This study contributes to the field of body psychotherapy in that it demonstrates the effectiveness of bottom-up interventions on trauma resolution and quality of life. I also appreciate that this study suggests how body psychotherapy can not only impact symptom reduction for survivors, but significantly improve relationships and foster integration for trauma survivors back into society as fully contributing members. I hope to see further studies in body psychotherapy that show the development of resilience and wellness that go above and beyond simple symptom absence.