The Sciences of Non-Verbal Communication

"Meanings of the Body in Psychotherapy": The Twelve Fields of Soma-Semantics
A Research Report on behalf of the World Council for Psychotherapy, Vienna

Prepared by David Boadella, B.A., M.Ed., D.Sc.(Hon)
in consultation with the colleagues listed in the acknowledgements

This is just the opening 3 pages of a 25 page article, yet to be published in either Energy & Character or the International Journal of Psychotherapy.


Introduction: the importance of Non-Verbal Communication in all Psychotherapy trainings: the research recommendations at the 1st Scientific Congress of the Swiss Psychotherapy.

  1. Human Ethology
  2. Somatic Psychology
  3. Psychosomatic Medicine
  4. Physical Dynamics of Character Structure
  5. Dynamic Morphology
  6. Developmental Psychobiology
  7. Respiratory Psycho-physiology
  8. Kinesics and Biosemiotics
  9. Kinesiology
  10. Ideo-dynamics
  11. Somatognosis: research into body-schema and body image
  12. The Philosophy of the Body


      The field of non-verbal communication is an interdisciplinary field uniting a number of distinct areas of science.

      Research has shown that a large part of our communication system, 80% according to Dr. Alfred Pritz, takes place by means of non-verbal channels. This means that every psychotherapy client, regardless of what psychotherapy school his therapist belongs to, will be sending a great deal of important information by this means.

      At the first Scientific Congress of the Swiss Charta for Psychotherapy, in May 1996, there was a presentation on the process of the therapeutic relationship by the German psychotherapy researcher, Gunter Schiepek. Writing in Psychotherapie Forum, Vol 3, no 1, in 1995 in a section on non-verbal signals of receptivity, Schiepek wrote:

"Therapeutic interventions apparantly only work if the corresponding readiness to repond in the client is available. Therapists therefore need to know how to recognise this response-readiness in their clients, primarily in the form of non-verbal indicators. In psychotherapy trainings in congruence there is a need to train a development of the capacity for awareness of the non-verbal signals of the dialogue partners."

       My personal interest in non-verbal communication extends over forty-five years, ever since I began my studies in biosysternic psychology; and my training in character-analylic vegetotherapy. In 1968 I was invited by the Chairiman of the Society for AnaJytical PsychoIogy, in England, Dr Joseph Redfearn. to contribute a main speech to a Seminar on Communication without Words at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Association, at the University of Edinburgh. Some thirty years later I am attempling to coordinate a report for the World Council for Psvchotherapv on the same theme.

      An overview of the relevant disciplines shows that 12 domains of reference can be selected. These domains show, variously, their roots in the natural sciences, the human sciences, the social sciences, and in philosophy and "Geisteswissenschaft".

      In all these various domains of knowledge, the reality of the bridge between somatic events and psychological experience is either implicit, explicit, or both. We are dealing with meanings of the body, and that is why I have chosen the term "soma-semantics" as an overview for this research project.

      Language has its own phonetics, syntactics, and semantics; and non-verbal communication, as expressed through motoric signals, is governed by kinesics, movement-phraseology, and soma-semantics. Language and movement are in fact parallel communication system,ms, two different expressions of semiotics, and therapeutic understanding requires our ability to translate between these two parallel semiotic systems. This point cannot be emphasised strongly enough. Working with the body is not an adjunct to verbal psychotherapy. In body psychotherapy the therapist works with verbal communicatioin and with non-verbal communication, and with the dialogue between them.

       In the survey that follows I attempt an outline of the twelve principle fields of non-verbal communication studies.