The concept of somatic expression

In the eighties Aucouturier formulated the concept of somatic expression. He described how children are capable of expressing themselves physically by establishing themselves as unique individuals in their environment. Children primarily express themselves using their bodies. They explore and discover the world, all, in relation to their body. In the first few months of life one can observe how each child has individual ways of moving and reacting, individual facial expressions and gestures. These specific and distinctive expressions are connected to their physical, emotional and cognitive experiences. These are to be respected and accepted as vital for the child. (Esser, 1992, p.22)

If the child's physical expression are the primary form of communication then the child's body and its movement must be the central focus for the psychomotoric practice. But it is not only the »body in isolation« which is bound to its neurophysiological development, but rather the body with its affective-emotional traits, which have developed out of physical, emotional and cognitive experiences.

Accepting this knowledge, Aucoutourier focuses his research on the body. The body with it's development, its diverse possibilities of expression, and its somatic conversions. How important is the body in a child's development? How does the child develop an image of her own body? How does the child develop a strong image of her individual physical being, which is such an important step towards developing an identity?

By the end of the seventies, beginning of the eighties Aucouturier turns towards developmental psychology and psychoanalytical concepts to deal with the these questions.

He was strongly influenced by Jean Piaget and Henri Wallon, both developmental psychologists. Piaget describes that in the first few months movement plays a fundamental role in the development of cognitive abilities. Henri Wallon examined the tonic dialogue, a child's pre-linguistic way of communication by using the tonus ( body). This tonic dialogue incorporates the body, its muscular tension, its sensation, its perception and feelings. Wallon describes this first tonic dialog as prerequisite for all forms of communication, especially talking. From Freud Aucouturier gains insight into the concepts of the body as an »engine« for the child's development, the body's part in the development of neurotic and psychotic behaviour and the unconscious. But the most influential impact on Aucouturier had the work by D.W. Winnicott, a child psychoanalyst. He investigated the emotional development of the child in relation to it's immediate environment.

»The fact is that the meaning of ›infant‹ is ›not talking‹. It is helpful to see ›infancy‹ as a phase which is prior to the use of words and symbols. This means that it relates to a phase where the infant is dependent on the mothers care, which is not expressed through words but trough the tuning in of the mother« ( Winnicott, 1962, p.51).

At this time Aucouturier's theory of »manque du corps« ( deficit of the body) evolved, described in detail in my book Beweg-gruende ( Esser, 1992). The theory emphasises the importance of the infants first physical relationship with her mother, father or any other close carer. These first physical relationships determine the »image du corps«, an image and schema of her own body. They also set the tone for the »imaginaire du corps«, the phantasmic images and memories, which the child, and later the adult, remembers in connection to her own body. These images, memories and phantasms, which are related to her own body, are rooted in these first relationships and effect on her whole life.

Aucouturier interprets the child's motoric behaviour as expression of her early affective-emotional experience. Through the body and its movement, the child expresses her joyful and painful experiences of being in the world and of her first relationships. These experience are absorbed by the child's body, and are consequently expressed via the body. These past experiences are always present, and will always influence her being, behaviour, emotions and thoughts into adulthood.

How does the child develop an image of her own body, which is such an important step in the development of her identity?
Aucouturier's answer is: Only those parts of the body that had joyful experiences play a role in the development of the image of the body.( Aucouturier, 1989, lecture in Bonn). He formulates his concept of the body as a unity.

The following is an extract from my article »Von Bruno bis heute« .