Master Class: An Interview with Albert Pesso by Nancy Eichhorn


(Excerpted with permission from Nancy Eichhorn’s article in the Spring 2012 issue of the USABPs magazine, “Somatic Psychotherapy Today.”)

Visionaries see what has never been seen. Entrepreneurs bring these visions to life.  Teachers impart concepts so others can use them. And Masters? They see what hasn’t been seen, do what hasn’t been done, and embody the teachings of a lifetime enabling the survival of the Self and the human species.

At age 82, Albert Pesso is one of three living masters of body psychotherapy. His contributions to the field over the past 50 years are innumerable; he has written or contributed to almost a dozen books and written more than 50 articles along with leading seminars worldwide in the Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor (PBSP) mind body approach he co-founded with his wife, Diane Boyden-Pesso. Pesso will be honored as the 7th recipient of the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy’s Lifetime Achievement Award during the August 2012 USABP Conference in Boulder, Colorado. He is also presenting a pre-conference workshop on “The Drive to be Happy in an Imperfect World,” August 9, 2012.

“We’re made genetically to be able to be happy in an imperfect world that is endlessly unfolding, and we are the local agents of that unfolding process,” Pesso said during a recent SKYPE call. “Our lives are not predestined, the world is not done, and we are not puppets in it. We are part of an exciting unfolding and participate in it.”

As a writer responsible to create Pesso’s character with words that do justice to his truth, I feel stymied—nouns and verbs cannot convey the body and the immense actions of this man. Pesso joked saying that “the body guy got into language,” but his essence doesn’t conform to a unidimensional character placid on a page. Pesso has choreographed his professional footfalls starting as a dancer studying under Martha Graham before moving into his roles of teacher, researcher, therapist, director and co-founder of PBSP.

Early in his career, Pesso believed that truly talented performers knew their instruments intimately—a flutist fingered her flute, a drummer drilled his drums with a synchrony of beat and sound, and a dancer knew his body’s movements—and what created and maintained each action and reaction inside and out.  His drive to understand the body’s mechanisms led to dancers connecting with their deepest emotions to bring forth on stage. The release proved cathartic in many ways but nothing truly changed, healing wasn’t achieved. When he and Diane started cathartic healing groups, unconscious family-of-origin holes and roles resulted in mismatches between participants. Pesso knew healing was an interactional process but something was missing.

“The participants were touching stuff in the body that never got answered, but we had to learn how to give them what the body needed rather than simply let it out. The old idea that you have to get it out to get new in is absolute nonsense,” Pesso said.

Pesso has introduced a multitude of topics to the field of psychotherapy including theory and terminology. His views on trauma and its triggers in the amygdala include the standard three—flight, fight, and freeze—and he offers a fourth—appease—a novel and accurate action that saves lives as surely as running, striking back or playing dead. His concept of “Holes and Roles” within family networks that translate throughout our lives include what he calls our “stem-selves” , the parts of ourselves that are able to fulfill any role be it father, mother, sister brother, teacher, friend, minister or miser, murderer, or demonic monster.

Pesso speaks of the mind’s eye and the mind’s body: the mind’s eye sees mental imagery; the mind’s body feels the sensations of mentally enacting what was seen (aided by mirror neurons) or what was perceived as needing to be done. Pesso articulates that first we see in our mind’s eye and then we do in our mind’s body before there is a single thought.  “Seeing and doing” become recorded as sensorial and motoric memories based on past experiences that create our current reality. Accessing memories of how we see and what we do with what we perceive to foster new memories creates lasting change in our lives. Pesso’s latest venture into the brain’s memories and their impact on our lives involves getting into the brain without cutting it open.

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