Interview with Diane Pesso

(An interview with Diane Boyden Pesso transcribed from audiotape and edited by Lowijs Perquin, March 2016)


What I want to share with you are some of my viewpoints and my goals. They go back a long, long time and are still related to what I want to achieve when I work with clients and trainees.

My wish for people is to be able to behave spontaneously, to be to their emotional state of being in everyday life, while being in interaction with others. I am convinced that this leads to better emotional and physical health. We all have handicaps as well as benefits due to our emotional history.

I am looking how a person could be functioning as healthily as possible, as happily and spontaneously in interaction with others.

When I was a young adult I started trying to figure out why my body reacted in certain ways. My viewpoint has always been that body and emotion are one and the same.  I did not think in terms of verbal problems and answers, but I knew my body was reacting inappropriately. I remember one particular situation when I was returning from college walking back home. I was aware I was anticipating an interaction of rejection and criticism from someone in the house. Rationally I knew ‘This is my own fantasy’ and yet I was expecting a strong negative interaction. I figured out it was coming from my history as a child and the way I was brought up. ‘How can I do something about it’, was what kept me busy. It was evident to me that the answer had to be in my body, if the problem was what I felt in my body. But I could not figure out what to do about it.

In my twenties I was a dancer and choreographer. I purposely took a course in human physiology, because I wanted to know more about the interplay between emotions and the body. I remember – before I knew Al – being backstage at the theater. I observed my colleagues, just before they went on stage to do their dance. I tried to see what difference there was, ten minutes before, and right as they were about to go on stage. There were very few answers for us in those days. Nowadays there is so much more, with the neuroimaging techniques and these enormous magnifications of nerve cells, you can see them connecting literally and you can study the shifts in the biochemistry of the brain and the body.

When I met Al, being in our twenties, I was fascinated by how he was always surveying himself psychologically and emotionally and by how he was figuring things out, so he would feel better. We started making long walks together and talk about all this. Well, we did not come to definite answers, we fell in love and got married. Some years later, studying human movement as dancers, we tried to figure out what kind of emotions were causing the dance movements we encouraged our students to perform.

We knew that ‘flopping around loosely’ was answering some of the questions about what their basic emotions were. We started to categorize types of movements and eventually went to the ‘Three modalities of movement’ – reflexive, emotional and voluntary – as a way to understand these processes. From my own verbal psychotherapy with a psychiatrist in Boston, new ideas kept evolving. Since I had turned off so much of the memories of my past, I got to the point that I started going back to old places in order to try and bring back memories connected to a specific spot. I specifically remember one of these occasions.

In my childhood, there was never enough money and food at home. I would get out of school and other kids would stop at the drugstore and have a sandwich. I so much wanted to be able to have a sandwich, like them. With the purpose of recollecting these memories, I went back to the drugstore and I tried to get back to the feelings of that time period. I speculated that it would help me if I could connect the rational part of myself with the part of my brain where all this emotional programming from the past was stored. What was causing me to react as if I still were the starving kid could be counteracted by the message: ‘This is the present, not the past, you can eat now, you can have your sandwich, your life now is not like in the past’. I talked myself through different emotional memories as if a part of my brain talked to other parts of my brain. This was how I tried to get the experience of a New Perspective. Of course that did not solve it all, but it was a good start.

When I look back I can say that PBSP evolved out of exploring and experimenting, letting emotions come forward and letting the body trust that process. We were desperately trying to find a way to let this all  make sense. Very soon we got absorbed in experimenting with emotional dance improvisation – in expressing the purest form of emotion without voluntary control, which I called DE, Direct Emotion.  Unexpectedly we bumped into the need for arranging the fitting interaction. First Al and I discovered Negative Accommodation for the expression of anger, exploring what feels right for the body. An important ‘letting-process’ for the person still repressing inappropriate, unwanted or forbidden emotions. Behind the anger there was the pain of unmet needs. The action had to be satisfied at the right age level with the right people reaching the point where the body felt right. I came to the concept of Ideal Parents. We offered an arena, where it feels right and satisfying on both levels: the recollection of Historical memories and the creation of a new synthetic memory in the Antidote with Ideal Parents.

Let me come to some of my goals and plans. It is my wish that in the future there will be video training materials that the clients can see and learn from, so that they can take charge in their own structure process. This will make it easier for the therapist to assist them. Secondly, materials that can be applied  in the training of the therapists. There are many steps and interventions that could be caught on video in order to deliver homework by self assessment: ‘Am I picking up what is happening in the body, what about this movement of the hands?’ –  details that can be highlighted with the help of video, which assist trainees to self-test their skills, for instance with the use of a checklist. The video training materials would be self-guiding, supported by written texts: ‘This scene is happening, what did you see here? If you did not see it, go on and pay close attention to the next slow-motion video’.

This brings me to what I see as the central goal in the training as PBSP therapists. To apply the method to encourage your clients to help themselves, while the goal for the individual client is to be in charge of their own process. It is their dance, it is their emotional improvisation or choreography. It should not be you doing your plan for them. It is for each individual client to understand the method and to be able to use it and let it happen in their way with the assistance of the therapist and the group.