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Dr. Sebastian Leikert
Practicing Psychoanalyst in Saarbrücken, Germany
Member of the DGPT, DPV, DGPM
Training Analyst, Supervision DGPT
Chairman of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychoanalyse und Musik.
Head of the DPV study-group Leiblichkeit – Transformation – Behandlungstechnik
Member of the editorial board of International Journal of Psychoanalysis and The Psychoanalytic Quarterly 


Working with the Bodily Unconscious: Somatic Narration as a Method to Anchor the Working Through of the Body-Self

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Encapsulated body-engrams and somatic narration  

As a practicing psychoanalyst I began to ask myself, how to make use of the patterns of perception within the therapeutic relationship. How can we take into consideration what is going on underneath the words we use in therapy? How can we forge concepts to perceive the sensual texture of the therapeutic encounter: the sound of the patient’s voice, the sound of our own voice, resonating in a specific manner to what we have heard verbally and sensually?

When I started to be attentive to bodily aspects in the patient’s chain of association, I embarked on a journey that profoundly changed the way I practice and led me to the conviction that I had overlooked defensive structures in my previous practice that are critical in our work with severely disturbed patients. Today, I think that we must distinguish between two sections of the unconscious. Besides the symbolic unconscious, producing dreams and neurotic symptoms, a second unconscious structure must be taken into account. In the bodily unconscious we can identify a barely discovered area where traumatic inscriptions in the body-self have lost contact with symbolization.

Inviting bodily perceptions to unfold in the focus of the shared attention of the analytic couple, leads to a close investigation of the way, the patient dwells in his body. If we work this way, together with our patients we discover a structure in the body-self that has never been in the focus of an attention before. We discover syndromes that I call encapsulated body engrams. This concept describes areas of the body, that are disorganized, that carry pain, vertigo, that are numb or painfully tense. Also, the perception of falling into an annihilating abime can be uncovered. In general, these structure result from early traumata.

Working clinically with these engrams demands a recalibration of our technique. Interpretation does not play a role in these periods of working. If we enter the area of the bodily unconscious, the shared attention plays the central role. Attention, however, is not a merely receptive and passive attitude. Shared perception, focusses, contextualizes, and reorganizes bodily structures. In general, encapsulated body engrams result from a traumatic absence of an empathic caregiver. Panic reactions are then frozen in within the body-self. The pain, encoded this way, is avoided by systematically shifting away attention from the body. This leads to a process of estrangement of the psyche from the body.

The central method I employ, the somatic narration, reverses this process. The attention is now redirected to the body. The absent caregiver is now replaced by the attentive and resonant analyst. This way, the fear of being overwhelmed by traumatic disorganization can slowly be worked through. Investigating the encapsulated body engram, means reorganizing a dysfunctional pattern of innervation, a pattern that often has repeated for years and decades. If the body is discharged from traumatic load, it can begin to function as a normal body, as a container to harbor, organize, and express emotions. If this level is sufficiently worked through later narcissistic and oedipal conflicts can be worked through with greater clarity and psychic growth is no longer discouraged by hopelessness and traumatic disorganization.

(2021) Encapsulated Body Engrams and Somatic Narration – Integrating body memory into psychoanalytic technique. Intern. J. Psychoanal. 102: 4, 671 – 688 https://doi.org/10.1080/00207578.2021.1927044


Symposia and Supervision

Together with colleagues, working in a similar direction, I organize an annual symposium in Frankfurt. Internet makes it possible, to organize supervision or group-supervision in Zoom-conferences.