Using Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor Therapy to Heal Attachment Wounds and Trauma


By: Gus Kaufman, Ph.D.

Each of us has enormous potential. After all, we are each the product of millions of years of what works on this planet. How do we find our potential? Often it is hidden in our symptoms. Carl Jung said, “the unconscious uses symptoms to make psychic contents audible.”

Symptoms provide guides to healing—if you know how to decode and use them!

The very best way I have found to do that in my long career as a therapist is Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor (PBSP) therapy. Developed by Al and Diane Boyden Pesso starting in the 1960’s, PBSP understands symptoms as blocked energy/tension/potential. Using deep, detailed body movement knowledge, we allow the client to express the feeling and receive the needed response from ‘the right figures in the right relationships at the right ages,’ symbolically and physically/motorically.

The result? — relief, release, satisfaction, connection, meaning—a new embodied map of the world that includes the formerly banished parts of ourselves.

In our workshops and trainings, PBSP teachers teach each step of this process.

In May, I presented a workshop at the 34th Annual Boston International Trauma Conference, “Using PBSP to Heal Attachment Wounds and Trauma.” I began with the fact that our brains are not just rational. Our maps of the world include the body, movement, and relationship. To heal wounds in these fundamental systems, we need to engage them. PBSP uses these systems to re-map; we closely track body reactions and images rooted in past experience and provide what was missing – healing antidotes – via symbolic interaction with ideal parents and ideal social groups, positioned at the right age and right relationship to build fundamental trust that clients have lacked and need.

In PBSP, we work from what the body needs—like the image of a child and a parent.

What shows up when we ask clients to tune in? Perhaps it is a need for support–I conducted research many years ago in Boston that found those who had attachment loss/disruptions in childhood and lack of current support systems had what I called ‘postural insecurity’—when led through a standing relaxation they felt like they would collapse, or they stiffened to avoid this and had knee, leg, and back injuries. (This was a double-blind experiment; we used multiple regression analysis of the data, so I feel fairly certain of these connections.) So, we might have them lean on ideal parents, or even sit on their laps! while hearing, “If we had been your ideal parents back then, we would have held you and supported you.”

Sometimes what shows up is a feeling of the lack of a place— “where do I belong?”, so then what might be needed would be ideal parents who say, ‘we would have wanted you and planned for you and always had a place for you in our hearts.” If the client is feeling fearful/unsafe (a lack of protection), we have ideal parents who provide a physical shield and say, ‘we would never have threatened you or allowed anyone to harm you.” If they felt an emptiness (nurturance was lacking), parents would have fed and attended to them. If a feeling of unboundedness is so frightening, they might shut themselves down — this indicates a lack of loving limits — we might have them push against ideal parents (backed up if needed by others in the group), who can validate their strength, but not be ‘pushovers’.

As you can begin to visualize, in a PBSP ‘structure’ we work with the client (using human accommodators or pillows and imagination) to create new, healthy, embodied memories. With this imprinting the unhealthy influences of traumatic memories and “memories” of developmental deficits can be released. Through scenic symbolism – using people, objects, spatial relationships, and voice – we find and provide just what is needed.

Recently, a therapist who had done this work for themselves with me stated “My Psychomotor structures did not feel like role plays or improv. It felt real. I was able to deeply imprint what I experienced, and it changed me.”

Today, there are training programs in PBSP in the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Watch this short video explaining PBSP, where Dr. van der Kolk, discusses the benefits of Psychodrama.

Dr. Kaufman was one of the many experts in the field of trauma care and mental health who was invited to present their work at the 34th Annual Boston International Trauma Conference in 2023. The Trauma Research Foundation is beyond thrilled to announce the dates for the 35th Annual Boston International Trauma Conference – please save the date and join us in person or virtually, Wednesday, May 1 – Saturday, May 4th, 2024. We can’t wait to see you there!

Other Resources:

The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk, Chapter 18

Landscapes of the Heart, Juliet Grayson

Secrets, Lies, Betrayals, Maggie Scarf

Working with Traumatic Memories to Heal Adults with Unresolved Childhood Trauma, Petra Winnette and Jonathan Baylin

To find workshops and trainings in the US, visit

Gus Kaufman, Ph.D. is a psychologist, social activist, and senior PBSP trainer in Atlanta, GA. He has written extensively on abuse, the body, PBSP, gender, sexuality and ending male violence toward women. He is a lover of nature, hiking, birding and working to preserve the planet. He has trained therapists around the U.S., Europe and Israel.

Photo Credit: Benji Aird on Unsplash

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