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Book Review: BodyDreaming in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: An Embodied Therapeutic Approach

by Marian Dunlea

Published by Routledge 2019
ISBN 978-0-367-02594-6 (pbk)

Reviewed by Ursula Shields-Huemer

[T]he difference we make between the psyche and the body is artificial. … in reality, there is nothing but a living body. That is the fact; and psyche is as much a living body as body is living psyche: it is just the same.
(C.G. Jung, 1988: 396)

First impressions go a long way. The old adage proved certainly true in relation to my engagement with Marian Dunlea’s book BodyDreaming in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma. Dorothy Cross’ image of a black pearl on the cover of the book fascinates and intrigues with its nacreous and opalescent quality. Its mysterious appeal stirs curiosity, galvanises and focuses attention and interest. Marian Dunlea uses the image of the pearl as a central metaphor for the work of BodyDreaming: It takes an irritant to find its way into the oyster shell so that a pearl may eventually be formed – layer upon layer. In a similar way, in the process of BodyDreaming work

…we encounter, in the depths of the somatic unconscious, those irritants that initially disrupt homeostasis and disturb the natural flow of expansion and contraction of our autonomic nervous systems. […] These ‘irritants’ may include genetic factors, developmental trauma, early relationship deficits, complexes, physical or psychological trauma
                                                                                     (Dunlea, 2019: 265)

Renegotiating these traumas in gradual steps, BodyDreaming works towards restoring homeostasis, “evoking the body and psyche’s innate self-regulatory rhythms” (ibid: 265). Put differently, the aim is to work towards more “coherence in our dysregulated systems” (ibid: 3).

The author clarifies in a succinct way the boundaries of the intentions of BodyDreaming, in other words, she establishes and highlights what BodyDreaming ‘is not’. Marian emphasises that

…we are working with implicit memory, and the work is not a linear process nor is it goal-oriented. We are not ‘trying’ to make the repressed unconscious material conscious; instead we attune in the dyadic conversation between therapist and client, listening to the ‘hints and guesses’ emerging from the body, mind and soul. This is not ‘repair’ in the sense of making something bad good, but creating new synapses and new pathways for the emerging life force to flow.
                                                                                     (Dunlea, 2019: 190)

After this short introduction I now want to discuss the structure and content of the book. Following an engagingly profound appraisal of BodyDreaming in the foreword by Donald E. Kalsched, the first section of the book, “A Note to the Reader: How this book works”, traces the origins of the development of BodyDreaming through a map of Marian Dunlea’s manifold and incredibly rich training journeys, centrally amongst them Jungian psychology, BodySoul Rhythms (developed by Marion Woodman, Mary Hamilton and Ann Skinner) and Somatic Experiencing (developed by Peter A. Levine).

The reader is then invited to engage with the text as experientially as possible by assuming the dynamic role of witness. This involves staying present to the felt sense of what is happening in the reader’s body as one witnesses the presented case vignettes in the main section of the book. In other words, the reader is “tracking the way [they] are affected by what is happening for the clients” (Dunlea, 2019: 24), including sensations, emotions, images and thoughts that will arise in response to the session excerpts. Dynamic witnessing also means the reader will track when they experience hyper- and hypo-arousal, as well as a sense of “integration, flow and coherence” (ibid). Throughout the book Marian comes back to this invitation, suggesting practical ways in which the reader can participate in and experience some of the practices that are introduced and discussed, for example when illustrating the basic practices of “orienting, regulating and resourcing” (ibid: 75ff). This expanded and transformed my reading experience into a practice of inner and outer attunement, allowing me to be present and relate to the book with both a left andright brain hemisphere engagement. Marian elaborates on the importance of the right hemisphere for BodyDreaming (ibid: 82ff), drawing on McGilchrist’s seminal work (2009).

Part II of the book provides a brief overview of how the brain works and presents a summary of recent developments in neuroscientific theory that are relevant to BodyDreaming. The key concepts presented here are revisited and illustrated in their clinical and therapeutic relevance in the case material of part III, which is the main part and heart of the book. Each of the eight chapters in this section focuses on different essential elements of BodyDreaming practice. The detailed, excerpted sessions are embedded in a frame of theoretical introduction and commentary at the end. At crucial points of a session, theoretical asides “of what might be occurring physiologically, in the brain, from the perspective of neuroscience, developmental theory, and Jungian psychology” (Dunlea, 2019: 3) are also inserted. In this way “each chapter will expand and deepen [the reader’s] understanding of particular aspects of neuroscientific research” (ibid: 35). Marian Dunlea appreciates scientific theory

…as both operative and embodied. On the one hand, [it] allows us to understand the neurological and physiological processes operative in an individual that underpin emotions, complexes, and behaviour; on the other, [it] supports the development of therapeutic strategies, responses and techniques designed to release and transform energy trapped in complexes, behavioural patterns, and body symptoms.
                                                                                      (Dunlea, 2019: 35)

The way case work is presented in these main chapters demonstrates this understanding of theory convincingly, enlivening it and orchestrating a mutually animating dance between theory and practice. Their relationship is further deepened as the presented case material includes, in parentheses, the therapist’s observations and interventions, as well as explanations of the client’s behaviour and responses. To satisfy the hunger of the left-brain hemisphere, each chapter is also followed and enhanced by extensive notes: they offer a wealth of possible avenues and relevant literature for further reading, or elaborate further aspects of the presented case vignettes.

I now want to take a closer look at the author’s commentary on selected BodyDreaming sessions: Marian beautifully illustrates how important nuances of attunement are and how they have to inform the choices the therapist makes about her interventions. This is a feature that contributes to the impressive depth of all her case vignettes, but I felt there were particularly pertinent examples in the crucial chapters ‘Working with Numbness, Shut-Down, Freeze: The bushes don’t have panic attacks’ and ‘The Matter of Self-Regulation: The sun is coming out of her face’. Attunement is closely linked to the central role of “the understanding of how the quality of attention we bring to our bodies affects our cells” (ibid: 257). Marian highlights this with a poignant quote by Marion Woodman and E. Dickson (1996): “Whether we know it or not, we experience at a cellular level the love or lack of love that is directed toward us” (cited in Dunlea, 2019: 257). In the context of therapy this implies we “work to build the client’s capacity for self-regulation through the interactive regulation promoted in the therapeutic relationship” (ibid: 227).

I will briefly discuss two more of the central aims of BodyDreaming that Marian Dunlea identifies and discusses in the various case vignettes, learned secure attachment and a capacity to tolerate the tension of opposites. Three chapters of the case material focus on essential questions of early attachment and how to work with its ruptures, referring to Wilkinson’s concept of learned secure attachment (2006). This occurs when an early attachment rupture is repaired through the therapeutic relationship, so that a secure attachment can be formed. Marian asserts that “[l]earned secure attachment is the focus of BodyDreaming” (Dunlea, 2019: 131). Its practice promotes the development of a learned secure attachment to the body and thereby encourages “a conscious alignment with the self- regulating principle of the psyche which Jung called the Self” (ibid: 131). When we are attuned to the regulatory life force that we encounter in the body, in our relation to the ‘other’ and in dreams, we are likely to experience a more solid sense of “rootedness and participation in the world” (ibid: 267). The author emphasizes that dreams play a vital role in this dynamic: Jung (1935) saw dreams “as a natural reaction of the self-regulating psychic system” (cited in Dunlea, 2019: 258).

The importance of the theme of opposites for BodyDreaming highlights its deep roots in analytical psychology, which is skilfully woven into the fabric of the whole book.

In the practice of BodyDreaming we walk the tightrope of the opposites – activation and deactivation, conscious and unconscious, matter and spirit, right hemisphere and left hemisphere, ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ processing – until a new attitude or understanding presents itself as a result of our ‘experiencing the conflict of the opposites.’ It is precisely the development of our capacity to ‘experience conflict’ and tolerate the tension of opposites on which BodyDreaming focuses.
                                                                                                  (ibid: 220)

BodyDreaming in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma is a most valuable map and an inspiring, creatively annotated guide book for readers on their journey towards their psyche’s ‘pearl of great price’. With its impressive and productive integration and further development of neuroscientific research, analytical psychology, developmental psychology and somatic practices, it is the rich harvest of Marian Dunlea’s decades of personal and professional growth and experience.

Ursula Shields-Huemer, M.Phil., is a Jungian analyst, a psychotherapist and supervisor with a private practice in Galway. Her background is in literature, cultural studies and history. She enjoys lecturing and writing, with a particular love for poetry.


Dunlea, M. (2019). BodyDreaming in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: An Embodied Therapeutic Approach. London and New York: Routledge.

Jung, C.G. (1935). The Tavistock Lectures: On the Theory and Practice of Analytical Psychology. Collected Works 18, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1988). Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: Notes on the Seminar Given in 1934-1939. James L. Jarrett (ed.), in two volumes, Bollingen Series XCIX, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (London & New York: Routledge.)

McGilchrist, I. (2009). The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Wilkinson, M. (2006). Coming into Mind: The Mind-Brain Relationship: A Jungian Clinical Perspective. London and New York: Routledge.

Woodman, M. & Dickson, E. (1996). Dancing in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness. Dublin: Gill & MacMillan.

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