In Memoriam: Gerda Boyesen: 1922 - 2005
Many of you reading this will have
known of Gerda Boyesen, and may even have experienced her work in Biodynamic
Psychology. This is just one, doubtless, of many tributes that will be made to
her and to her therapeutic work. In 1999, she was made an Honorary Member of
EABP for her many contributions to European Body Psychotherapy.
She was originally a Norwegian psychologist, physiotherapist, who developed a new form of body-oriented psychotherapy. Influences on her in this endeavour were the therapeutic massage work of Aadel Bülow-Hansen and Lillemor Johnsen, and the psychotherapeutic work (Character-Analytic Vegetotherapy) that she learnt from being a client of Ola Raknes, a pre-war psychoanalytical colleague of Wilhelm Reich.
Having brought up her three children, in the early 1970’s, she came to London and started training people in her work, first at the Churchill Centre, and later at her own centre at Acacia House in Acton Park in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. She also travelled extensively and set up training groups in many European countries, predominantly in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and France. Many thousands of people thus experienced her work, and many hundreds trained with her.
There was something fascinating, almost magical, about the essence of her work: it was very gentle and accepting. She was fond of saying, “The client is always right.” She focussed her work on following intently the client’s body energy, and in helping it to flow: physically and somatically by ‘melting’ the characterological ‘armour’ though massage and encouraging the parasympathetic side of the Autonomic Nervous System; through emotional abreaction or catharsis; and psychologically through verbal exchanges with the therapist. In this way she mirrored the client-centred work of Carl Rogers, allowed the abreactions sought by the more “primal” therapy schools, and softened the bioenergetic work of Alexander Lowen.
This was, at that time, very refreshing to people often ‘accused’ (or feeling guilty and confused) of having neuroses from the psychoanalytical perspective and thus having to ‘work out’ their problems, often quite lengthily (and expensively) or quite painfully, through one form of analysis, or other forms of deep body work (eg: Rolfing). The only alternatives to psychiatry, clinical psychology or analysis in London in the early 1970’s were R.D. Laing’s work, the radical “therapy groups” starting up like Quaesitor, or the alternative “community” houses of People Not Psychiatry (Michael Barnett, Jenny James & David Cooper). Gerda tried to provide instead a safe haven in the beautiful surrounds of Acacia House, where people could be accepted and thus learn to accept themselves. She was remarkably successful in this, and deserves the fond recognition that many have for her work.
Gerda herself mixed her natural empathy and intuitive genius with a somewhat chaotic personal manner, however the proper place for analysis is in a full-length biography; and we really hope that such a book will be published, for her work needs to be much more widely recognised in print, and in English, than it has been to date. Apart from “The Collected Papers” (long out-of-print, re-printed pieces from Energy & Character) and some other articles, her only books have been in French or German 'Entre Psyche et Soma - Introduction à la Psychologie Biodynamique', 'Biodynamik Des Lebens', and 'Vonder Lust am Meiken'.
It was pleasant and unusual that her three adult children, Ebba, Mona-Lisa and Paul, have all been very active in developing her work, and expanding it. Much credit must also be given to the stalwart presence of Dan, her second husband, and to Clover Southwell, one of her first trainees, who now carries on training people in Gerda’s work in London. We send them all our blessings!