The Body Dialogue, An Action Structure To Build Body Empathy

by Linda Ciotola, M. Ed., CHES,(ret.), T.E.P.

“The Body Dialogue” is an action structure using role reversal to build a bridge of empathy between the body and the self.  The director facilitates a conversation between the body and the self in an attempt to repair the bridge of broken trust and to re-establish the bond that was disrupted by the trauma of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse; medical trauma; illness; aging.  The goal is to facilitate the self’s acceptance of the body and the self’s willingness to listen to the body; to hear the body’s needs and for the self to make a commitment for the body’s care.

“The Body Dialogue” evolved in the 1990’s from work which I was doing in my private practice, mainly with clients suffering with eating disorders.  Regardless of weight, size, or shape, clients often talked about their bodies as something separate from the self, and labeled the body names such as “blubber”, “jelly roll”, “pot bellied pig”, and “beached whale”.  Clients engaged in a struggle to control and dominate the body often through dieting, food restricting, purging, laxative and/or diuretic abuse, excessive exercise, use of stimulants, etc.  The body rebelled by reactively binging, over-sleeping or insomnia, constipation, and lethargy.  Thus ensued an embattled struggle between the self and the body for power and control.

Later in my work, I found “The Body Dialogue” to be useful in the work I was doing with trauma survivors during my training with The Therapeutic Spiral™ and sometimes included use of  The Body Double™ with the Body Dialogue in working with clients who struggled with dissociation (see  Trauma Survivors often used words like “disgusting”, and “gross” to address the body, which had been the holder of the trauma and pain.  “The Body Dialogue” frequently resulted in the client’s expression of sorrow and gratitude to the body for all it had suffered and survived.

The next application of “The Body Dialogue” came during an in-service, which I facilitated for colleagues who work with eating disorder clients, but who themselves were facing declining physical capacities due to aging.  The conversation between the body and the self again resulted in a new acceptance of the body’s limitations and allowed the body to make specific requests of the self about the kind of care it now needed.

“The Body Dialogue” may be used with clients in private practice using an empty chair as well as in groups when another group member may take the role of the body.  “The Body Dialogue” may be done seated or standing, with protagonist (self) facing the auxiliary (body).

The Six Steps of “The Body Dialogue” are:
The protagonist and body are in role with chairs facing one another; or, may be standing, facing one another.
     Step 1:  The director says, “Here is your body.  How long have you had this relationship with your body?”  (Protagonist says how many years).  “Tell your body how you feel about your body now.”  Protagonist makes a statement to the body.
   Step 2:  Role Reverse with body to see what body says, wants, needs.
  Step 3:  Role Reverse to see if protagonist can do what body is asking for and make a commitment.  Director:  “Look into the eyes of your body and make the commitment to do what you said.”
     Step 4:  Continue role reversing between self and body until there is some agreement and new relationship between body and self.
  Step 5:  Director looks for non-verbals to get information about what the new relationship could be.  Body positions can be changed to facilitate the new connection, e.g. from face to face to side by side.  Encourage physical connection between body and self if it doesn’t occur spontaneously, e.g. holding hands, hugging, etc.
     Step 6:  Director:  “Make a final statement to your body to close out the scene.”


   Step 1:  Kelly chooses Missy for role of Body.   Director to Kelly (Self):  “What do you want to say to your body?”
    Step 2:  Kelly moves in, holds body’s hands and is crying.  “You are sick right now and I feel really sad that I haven’t been taking good care of you somehow.  I know I’ve gotten better, but I’m still not good at letting you rest, rest for no reason, not just when I am sick.”
  Step 3:  Role Reverse.  Director to Kelly in role of Body, “What do you want Kelly to do before you get sick?”  She answers, “I need to go slow sometimes and it’s hard for you, for your mind to go slow.  You forget it’s important to go slow with me and when we rest we have time to be together.  I need more rest than you.  Sometimes you try to make my needs match yours and we aren’t always in tune.”
   Step 4:  Role Reverse – Kelly (Self) admits to body that she doesn’t pay attention to body’s needs.  Body (Missy in Role) repeats, “We are together when we rest, that’s our time together.”  Kelly (Self) says, “I have heard the teenage part, but I forget about the baby – that’s the part that needs to rest.  That’s the part I forget because I didn’t even know you were there for a long time.”
   Step 5:  Role Reverse:  Kelly speaks in role of body, “I’m really cute and I need to rest.  Babies need to go slow and to rest.  I’m good at the later years, but I need more rest.”  Self (Missy in role) says, “You are cute!”  Role Reverse:  Kelly (Self), “I will let you rest more, hear your needs and be attuned.  I’m not gonna wait til you cry.  I’m just gonna know what you need.  Role Reverse (lines repeated).  Body says, “I do trust you.”
  Step 6:  Final Statement to Body.  “You are a gift from God and I am grateful you didn’t die despite my hard efforts.”  Body says, “I stuck with you and I’m still here.”  Self says, “I don’t feel like you’re holding it against me and I’m grateful for that as well.  I’m gonna listen to the baby better.  I can do that.”  They hug.

Director gently facilitates rocking motion and labels it “Rock the baby”.
End of scene.

When used in a group setting, “The Body Dialogue” may be used as a warm-up, or may be used as vignettes giving several group members an opportunity to have the conversation between the body and the self.  Sharing, of course, follows.

I welcome questions, comments, and the shared experiences of other directors who use “The Body Dialogue” at
Copyright, 2005.

Caldwell, C. (1996).  Getting Our Bodies Back.  Boston:  Shambala   Publications, Inc.
Ciotola, L. (2004).  The Body Dialogue.  unpublished article
Dayton, T. (1997).  Heartwounds.  Deerfield Beach, FL:  Healt Communications, Inc.
Farhi, D. (1996).  The Breathing Book.  New York:  Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Hudgins, M. K. & Kellerman, P.F. (2001).  Psychodrama with Trauma:  Acting Out Your Pain.  London:  Jessica Kingsley publishers, RRP

Hudgins, M. Katherine (2002).  Experiential Treatment for PTSD:  The Therapeutic Spiral Model.  New York, NY:  Spring Publishing Company.

Hudgins, M.K., Burden, K.B., Ciotola, L., and Halm, R. (2002).  The Body Double:  An Advanced Clinical Action Intervention Module in the Therapeutic Spiral Model™ to Treat Trauma.  Unpublished article.

Lewis, T., Amini, F., Lannon, R. (2000).  A General Theory of Love.  New York:
Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc.

Linden, P. (2001).  Winning is Healing. Columbus, OH:  CCMS Publications
A downloadable book,

Walk Around the Clock

(an Action Structure created by Linda Ciotola, M. Ed., CHES (ret.), T.E.P.)
Create an imaginary clock by setting chairs or “Furry Auxiliaries” (puppets, or stuffed animals) at 12, 3, 6, and 9.  Another option is to place the numbers on sheets of paper, and place them on the floor.  Client walks around clock while doing a soliloquy about what has transpired in previous 24 hours.  Therapist “doubles”.  Particularly useful in helping to identify triggers and consequences for addictions, eating disorders, etc., and for assessment purposes.  (This can be adapted to groups by having members take roles of time).  This exercise can be repeated several times if more days need to be included.
**Soliloquy with “double” ~ Walk Around the Clock:

•  Allows Therapist to get sense of where client has been in last 24 hours
•  Behavioral analysis of impulsive behavior – back up to see trigger (engaging body)
•  “Typical day” – feelings, thoughts, behaviors
•  Elicits events which prompt therapist’s follow-up
•  Clock – different times represent past, present, future . . . move to where you need to be
•  Helps person focus on history as a way to then move to more quickly to what the goal is
•  In residential setting, investigate how nights were . . .
•  Grief work – time when loss happened / or before, related to death, serious medical treatment,
•  Ways to adapt to individual therapy are up to Therapist’s imagination



If client’s appointment is at 3 PM, begin soliloquy with walk at 3 PM the day before and have client walk and talk around the clock.

**  Soliloquy:
  The protagonist shares with the audience the feelings and thoughts that would normally be kept hidden or suppressed.  The protagonist may be engaged in a solitary activity, such as walking home, winding down after an eventful day, or getting ready for an event in the near future.  It might involve advice giving, words to bolster courage, or reproachful criticism.  Variations include having the protagonist soliloquize with a double as the two of them walk around, having the protagonist talk to a pet, or converting the inner dialogue into an encounter with an empty chair or auxiliary playing a wiser, future self or another part of the personality.  (Z. Moreno, 1959 in Blatner, Foundations of Psychodrama. 1988, p. 176-177).

In the “Walk Around the Clock”, the client’s soliloquy can be given focus by the Therapist, and the Therapist can function in the “double” role to help deepen and clarify.

** Double (Classical):  The Protagonist is joined by an auxiliary, either a trained co-therapist or a group member, whose role is to function as a support in presenting the protagonist’s position or feelings.  Doubles should first work toward establishing an empathic bond with the protagonist.  In general, they stand to the side of and at a slight angle to the protagonist so that they can replicate the nonverbal communications and present a kind of “united front”.  The double is one of the most important and basic techniques in psychodrama. (Leveton in Blatner, Foundations of Psychodrama. 1988,  p.164)