Somatic Experience in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: In the expressive language of the living, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Somatic Experience in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy

In the expressive language of the living, 1st Edition

By William F Cornell


162 pages

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The body, of both the patient and the analyst, is increasingly a focus of attention in contemporary psychoanalytic theory and practice, especially from a relational perspective. There is a renewed regard for the understanding of embodied experience and sexuality as essential to human vitality. However, most of the existing literature has been written by analysts with no formal training in body-centered work. In this book William Cornell draws on his experience as a body-centered psychotherapist to offer an informed blend of the two traditions, to allow psychoanalysts a deep understanding, in psychoanalytic language, of how to work with the body as an ally.

The primary focus of Somatic Experience in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy situates systematic attention to somatic experience and direct body-level intervention in the practice of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. It provides a close reading of the work of Wilhelm Reich, repositioning his work within a contemporary psychoanalytic frame and re-presents Winnicott’s work with a particular emphasis on the somatic foundations of his theories. William Cornell includes vivid and detailed case vignettes including accounts of his own bodily experience to fully illustrate a range of somatic attention and intervention that include verbal description of sensate experience, exploratory movement and direct physical contact.

Drawing on relevant theory and significant clinical material, Somatic Experience in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy will allow psychoanalysts an understanding of how to work with the body in their clinical practice. It will bring a fresh perspective on psychoanalytic thinking to body-centred psychotherapy where somatic experience is seen as an ally to psychic and interpersonal growth. This book will be essential reading for psychoanalysts, psychodynamically oriented psychotherapists, transactional analysts, body-centred psychotherapists, Gestalt therapists, counsellors and students. 

William Cornell maintains an independent private practice of psychotherapy and consultation in Pittsburgh, PA.  He has devoted 40 years to the study and integration of psychoanalysis, neo-Reichian body therapy and transactional analysis. He is a Training and Supervising Transactional Analyst and has established an international reputation for his teaching and consultation.



Writing about 'body work'--the way a body knows something long before it could ever be 'put' into speech; indeed even if this were an imagined possibility--is as hazardous as writing about music. If you know a work of music, as in if you know the idiom of body speech, then this is not a problem. Only a few psychoanalysts have pressed ahead with a near impossible task. Reich--the only genius in psychoanalysis who understood the foundations of character--was one of them In his own seemingly modest way, William Cornell--known over decades as a man of great wisdom about body knowledge and how the analyst can speak to this--has finally committed himself to paper. His accomplishment, performed in a highly personal narrative and yet within a deeply ordered imperative is not simply unique: it is a one off. There will never be another work even remotely like this. A book of unsparing honesty and deeply devoted to the psychoanalytical project. - Christopher Bollas

This is a brilliant, bold and ground-breaking book. Cornell urges psychoanalytic clinicians to deepen and extend their work by paying closer attention to their patients’ bodily experience, thus enabling them to find something beyond a secure base which he calls a `vital’ base . He also brings passion and scholarship to the study of theory and the book achieves a major integration of, and development in, psychoanalytic theory. It is a great read, too. Anne Alvarez, PhD MACP. Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist.

Table of Contents

Dedication, Acknowledgements. Introduction. My body is unhappy. The Radical and Tragic Vision of Wilhelm Reich. To enter the Gesture as Though a Dream: A psychoanalyst encounters the body. Hand to Hand: Touch enactment or touch analysis? Alien bodies: The search of desire. Traces of the Other: Encounters with character. The Silent Call: Reich, Winnicott, and the interrupted gesture. Rough and Tumble: Sensing, playing, and maturation. TAKE ME: Erotic vitality and disturbance. Why Have Sex? Character, Perversion, and Free Choice

About the Author

William F. Cornell maintains an independent private practice of psychotherapy and consultation in Pittsburgh, PA. In his practice and writing he has devoted 40 years to the study and integration of psychoanalysis, neo-Reichian body therapy and transactional analysis. As a Training and Supervising Transactional Analyst he has established an international reputation for his teaching and consultation.

About the Series

Relational Perspectives Book Series

The Relational Perspectives Book Series (RPBS) publishes books that grow out of or contribute to the relational tradition in contemporary psychoanalysis. The term relational psychoanalysis was first used by Greenberg and Mitchell (1983) to bridge the traditions of interpersonal relations, as developed within interpersonal psychoanalysis and object relations, as developed within contemporary British theory. But, under the seminal work of the late Stephen Mitchell, the term relational psychoanalysis grew and began to accrue to itself many other influences and developments. Various tributaries—interpersonal psychoanalysis, object relations theory, self psychology, empirical infancy research, and elements of contemporary Freudian and Kleinian thought—flow into this tradition, which understands relational configurations between self and others, both real and fantasied, as the primary subject of psychoanalytic investigation.  

We refer to the relational tradition, rather than to a relational school, to highlight that we are identifying a trend, a tendency within contemporary psychoanalysis, not a more formally organized or coherent school or system of beliefs. Our use of the term relational signifies a dimension of theory and practice that has become salient across the wide spectrum of contemporary psychoanalysis. Now under the editorial supervision of Lewis Aron and Adrienne Harris with the assistance of Associate Editors Steven Kuchuck and Eyal Rozmarin, the Relational Perspectives Book Series originated in 1990 under the editorial eye of the late Stephen A. Mitchell. Mitchell was the most prolific and influential of the originators of the relational tradition. He was committed to dialogue among psychoanalysts and he abhorred the authoritarianism that dictated adherence to a rigid set of beliefs or technical restrictions. He championed open discussion, comparative and integrative approaches, and he promoted new voices across the generations.  

Included in the Relational Perspectives Book Series are authors and works that come from within the relational tradition, extend and develop the tradition, as well as works that critique relational approaches or compare and contrast it with alternative points of view. The series includes our most distinguished senior psychoanalysts along with younger contributors who bring fresh vision.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Movements / Psychoanalysis
PSYCHOLOGY / Mental Health