THE PSYCHOPERISTALISM OF GERDA BOYESEN
In the 1960s, going against the general trend, Gerda Boyesen, a Norwegian clinical psychologist and physical therapist, developed forms of intervention in body psychotherapy that were based on listening to the peristaltic sounds of the sigmoid colon53 with a stethoscope. The basic principle is that any intervention that returns movement to the peristaltic activity is pertinent to the restoration of the organism’s systems of physiological auto-regulation. This work is founded on the hypothesis that the peristaltic process can be activated by digestion or mechanisms linked to the release of stress. In the case where the mobility of the digestive tract is associated to affective dynamics, Boyesen speaks of psychoper-istalism.
Currently, psychotherapists who practice this method use electric stethoscopes with loud speakers to detect rapid changes in the motility of the colon:
1. Everything that occurred at the moment when the peristaltic activity quiets down is likely to be an event associated to an anxiety that has a negative impact on the mechanism of auto-reparation of the organism Boyesen assumed that something knots up at the vegetative level when something knots up at the affective level.
2. Everything that occurred at the moment when the peristaltic activity gets going again in a noticeable fashion is likely to be an event that is associated to something that unknots itself at the vegetative, the affective, and the cognitive level.
The event associated with the change of peristaltic activity can be a gesture, a mental association of the patient, a smile of the therapist, a particular way to massage, a change of light in the room, and so on. The therapist and the patient therefore inquire together about what happened at the crucial moment and give a particular importance to these events. The method used for this inquiry is free association. Having said that, it is impossible to know with certainty what event is really associated to each change of peristaltic activity. The relevance of a series of thoughts, conceived at a particular moment, can be confirmed by its impact on the therapeutic process, or if its association with a peristaltic change repeats itself. This method is useful to distinguish two types of utterances:
1. The relevance of the content from the point of view of the thoughts: a phrase can be used to express an idea, a feeling, or a memory. Here, the patient and the therapist closely follow the validity and the cognitive relevance of the content for example, the exactness of a memory and its link with what has effectively happened. There is therefore no reason to listen to the peristaltic noises because the relevance of an utterance is based on criteria that have nothing to do with the physiological reactions.
2. The relevance of the content for the vegetative system: a phrase can unleash a peristaltic activity that was previously blocked. A patient is thus able to discover that to speak about God, about the love of his parents, about his need to succeed in life does him some good, although this person intellectually refused to accord any value to these notions. The idea here is not to transform an atheist into a believer but to help a person sense that a phrase can be logically false but positively resonate at one level of his being. A patient who believes himself to be independent of religion or of his parents can thus discover that his detachment is not as absolute as he believed. An identical argument can be made to bring to the light of day contents that block the peristaltic activity of the patient. Sometimes there are truths that hurt, or ways to experience a truth that hurts.