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  • Helena Andrejkova

"Ideal Parents" therapeutic technique (aka Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor)

"Ideal Parents" therapeutic technique (aka Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor)

Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor (PBSP) is an original psychotherapeutic method designed to reduce the influence of negative emotional and relational experiences from childhood. The author of the method is Albert Pesso (1929–2016), an American psychotherapist, and his wife Diane Boyden Pesso (1929–2016). Both Albert and Diane shared professional background in expressive dance, movement theater and choreography. In these disciplines, they discovered and defined the basic therapeutic principles, parallel to the famous attachment theory, modern psychoanalysis and especially the current knowledge of neuroscience studying the development and activity of the brain in the emotional and social area.

Origin and basic principles of the method When Albert and Diane founded a dance school in Boston New York in 1950s, they created a series of interactive exercises for their students, which were supposed to allow them greater authenticity of movement and expression. As the students performed the exercises, they felt emotionally unsettled and experienced flashes of memories, often negative ones. As today's PBSP therapists know, when expressing emotions, a person automatically performs so-called emotional movements (grabs his head, claps his hands, jumps for joy etc.). It is especially abundantly manifested by facial expressions: open eyes, raised eyebrows, a smile and general movements of the mouth, clenched teeth and so on. Emotional movements are characterized by the fact that the limbic system plays an important role in their execution - the part of the brain that is the center of long-term memory and primitive affective reactions. This is a crucial neurological connection that the authors took into account.

When their dance partners reacted inadequately to the expressed emotions of the peers (for example, to the expressed anger with a condescending reaction, to joy with boredom or a smile), the students used to feel nauseous and often memories of their parents reacting in a similar fashion emerged. Thus, the students reacted through the current situation (partner in the exercise) to their former experiences (images of the parents in the memory) written in their long-term memory. The more difficult things they experienced in the past, the harder they tolerated emotional discomfort in the exercise. Albert and Diane have been researching these, in the presence literally tangible, projections of difficult childhood experiences of their students and discovered a revolutionary thing:

when the partner in the exercise receives precise instructions on how to respond to the emotion adequately (which they show through facial expressions, gestures, words and movement that they take their partner's anger seriously or rejoice with them), the protagonist of the exercise will feel relief and satisfaction, and what's more, the effect can be deep and long-lasting.

PBSP works like a "time machine" on the emotional plane. If we are in experiential contact with something negative from our life and - now and here - we embody (in the space of the room, scenically, ritually, in a symbolic shortcut) what was needed then, at that moment this present experience can have healing potential. The brain has the ability to write it into long-term memory as an alternative to the "then and there" experience. Newly set alternative experiences of good development patterns allow us to finally see a slightly different world, less burdened by the negative that we once experienced. This is the basic principle of PBSP.

Personality theory according to PBSP PBSP is fully in line with developmental theories of psychoanalytic origin that have been developing since the time of Sigmund Freud. They emphasize the importance of childhood experience with caring figures for the quality of life in adulthood. A person does not come into the world as 'tabula rasa', but as a kind of "semi-finished product". It is created from information about the successful survival of thousands of previous generations. But they must necessarily develop their genetic dispositions in relationships – first with those closest to them, later with other people.

Children need to experience the right thing, with the right people, at the right time. Parents have the task of fulfilling the child's needs so that the child feels:

  • loved (wanted, surrounded by the love and attention of those closest to him)

  • saturated with good, "nourishing" stimuli (not only food, but also loving contact, stimulating world around, information)

  • supported (so that the parents stand behind the child, can hold and encourage the child)

  • protected (so that the parent stands in front of the child, protects the child and stands up for the child),

  • the world has its order - clear boundaries in the relationship with the parents symbolizing the outer world (the child recognizes that things are not unlimited and chaotic).

Parents should also help the child develop awareness (find words for things outside and inside) and finally develop the so-called "pilot" (ability to self-reflect, coordinate experiences and act responsibly). If everything succeeds to a satisfactory degree, a person is close to developing and realizing his uniqueness, experiencing life as meaningful and fulfilled. With the feeling that he also contributes to the whole.

But the world is not perfect. There are wars, diseases and misfortunes. Our closest relatives often couldn't give their children what they needed for various reasons. We are born into circumstances that we do not choose, but in which we must live. Every living being does what it can to survive with as much pleasure and as little suffering as possible. From the beginning, the child's brain "reads" what the world is like. He infers later verbalizable truths about how things are in the world, and at the same time develops strategies for surviving in it and, after all, achieving satisfaction in the form that is at hand. If you can't get the real thing, you can at least get what's available (if I don't have a meaningful enough emotional life, I can at least "fill" myself with food or TV shows). If we can't get the right thing with the right people, then at least with those who are nearby (other people, animals, nature) If the right thing doesn't work out at the right time, then at least we try it later (getting married as a desire for unconditional acceptance and love).

Our experience carries, to certain extent, the burden of adverse experiences from the past. From a developmental point of view, each symptom has its own logic given the time when it was perhaps the only available, often self-preserving, mechanism (e.g. food helped in its time to satisfy the need for a nurturing, loving relationship with the parent).

Today's form of PBSP - healing in symbolic reality The method has undergone extensive development. Today, it is hardly noticeable that it was developed by dancers. Therefore, PBSP is not dance therapy, as people often mistakenly believe at first. Therapy takes place in so-called structures. Structure is the name for a therapeutic process lasting one session. The name structure means that the client should be 'more structured' and formed at the end of the session.

In general terms, the structure can be described as follows: the client talks to the therapist about what they want to talk about. If negative emotional memories appear in connection with, for example, parents (but also with other characters), the therapist gives suggestions for the staging of so-called ideal characters (here "ideal parents") who are the exact opposite of the negative brought by the "real" ones.

The client works with the therapist on their representation, where they will stand or sit, how they will interact, what they will say. The characters speak to the client (with the help of the therapist who suggests what the ideal parents are saying to provide unconditional acceptance, support, boundaries and love) in direct speech with exact words that are "put into their mouths" in such a way that the most effective alternative experience to the historical negative experience or formula is formed. Gradually, an effective, staged, symbolic reality emerges. If a person experiences relief and a new, positive feeling in symbolic reality, it is healing and instructive (a fictitious client can say, for example: "...ah, like this when I see how ideal parents stand together behind me and show affection, I feel surprisingly light and it frees me. I can imagine that I could..." (discovers a new possibility, creates new positive believes about themselves). Such a new experience "teaches" the client a feeling that has been lacking in their life. In that sense the BPSP therapy can be a healing and nurturing experience. Translated from:

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