Photo by Brooke Cagle

Slippery Slope Workshops using Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor

The Slippery Slope Workshops are for people who have either committed a sexual offence or who are at risk of sexual offending or of re-offending. The group is run by myself, Juliet Grayson, using a psychotherapeutic method called Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor (PBSP).

Theory behind Method: When I asked Glyn Hudson Allez, a therapist and author who has worked with sexual offenders for 25 years, if all those who have committed a sexual offence have abuse in their history, she said, “No. But replace the word abuse with trauma, and the answer is yes. Every time.”

This got me thinking. Early trauma releases an overload of feelings. Trying to manage this with cognitive understanding, as in ‘talking therapy’, doesn’t always work. In PBSP we address the embodied memory of the underlying historical trauma and provide the person, in a carefully structured manner, an experience of how it ‘should-have-been’ when they were a child. Instead of abused, they would have been respected, or nurtured, or supported, or protected or taught appropriate limits. What we see – again and again – is that when a person can experience the fulfilment of the above five basic needs (and in PBSP, we do not just suggest the idea of them but concretely give them a believable experience of how ‘it could have been’ with the appropriate need being fulfilled at the appropriate time by the appropriate role figure), the body becomes quiet and calm. The theory is that this reduces the historical ‘overload’ exacerbating the issue or keeping the person in the grip of it. And it thus reduces compulsive behaviours or habits. With a new, alternative memory, now based on a different concrete experience structured in the therapeutic session, the person does not continue to carry the overbearing weight of history. It is as if the new, recent memory of pleasure or of satisfaction – arising from what ‘should have been’ – is competing or lessening the grip of the old, embedded memory of what was the trauma. And this makes the previously compulsive behaviours easier to change.

I came across PBSP in 2001, and have steadily trained in the method, as a therapist, then a supervisor, and now one of only two PBSP trainers in the UK.  Working with many different kinds of issues, convinces me that PBSP is the most speedy and effective method for doing this deeper, and often, unconscious work. One session can create profound changes, like a paradigm shift, though I recommend eight to twelve sessions to embed the work – and more where the client continues to feel it is still beneficial.

What is PBSP? Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor is a method of psychotherapy offering individual therapy within a group context through carefully orchestrated role-play. It can seem similar to family constellations or psychodrama, yet is radically different, in both practice and theoretical underpinnings. One thing that marks PBSP out is that in the antidote phase (where the client experiences a satisfying experience leading to a new memory), group members role play Ideal Figures, maybe an Ideal Mother or an Ideal Father, to give the client ‘what they needed as a child’. PBSP says ‘our basic needs should be met at the right age and by the right kinship relationship at the right time’. Our aim is for each person to create ‘memories’ of living a life of pleasure, satisfaction, meaning, and connectedness.

How does it work? Memories drive who we are. Change memories, and you change people’s identity & behaviour. When we are born, we are pre-programmed with ‘genetic expectations’ – that we will get welcomed, nurtured, supported, protected, and that we will be given boundaries and limits. This is why , as children, we cry when we are not fed. We know that we should be fed. When we get well fed, with the right food, we feel satisfied. In a PBSP structure (a client session) the therapist helps the client access unconscious information that has been out of their awareness, about what they needed-as-a-child but didn’t get. Sometimes, of course, with clients who have a history of abuse or trauma, the information of what happened to them is conscious. Then, using the Ideal Parents, we give them what they needed. This sounds a very simple process, but whilst the basic structure follows a pattern, the range of work that the client could do varies immensely, and there is an infinite range of potential structures. Each one is tailor-made to the client’s very specific requirements.

To give a simplified example: imagine a 50 year old man arriving at a workshop, with a core level of anxiety that he permanently lives with. It may be so familiar that he is barely aware of it, yet he knows that his life is not satisfying. We discover that at the age of 6 he experienced severe violence (a trauma). In a structure, Ideal Parents (role-played by members of the group) might say, ‘If we had been your Ideal Parents when you were 6, we would have protected you’. We are aiming to create a new experience in the here-and-now with Ideal Parents that becomes an alternative memory which competes with the old memory of the abusive past experience. The Ideal Parents would also have loved and nurtured him. It is vital that we make this ‘new option’ completely believable to the then-6-year-old-child-inside-the-now-50-year-old-man. The man leaves the workshop with the ‘inner’ 6 year old calmed by the experience of feeling protected and nurtured. He is surprised to notice during the following days and weeks that he is not as anxious as he used to be, and feels happier. This change lasts. An interesting phenomenon is that not only does he feel better, but others witnessing or participating in the workshop also feel more relaxed. Whilst a structure is much more complex than this, this snapshot gives a taste of PBSP.

The Format of the Slippery Slope Closed Group: This started in Chepstow in January 2016.   The group meets for four days per year, (meeting for one day, approximately every 3 months) and participants can attend for all four days (which is the preferred option), or join as a guest for just one day.  Each participant will have some structures (client sessions) during the group meetings. Participants will learn from their own structures, from playing roles for each other, and from witnessing other people’s structures. Volunteers from the general public will also be invited to join the group to ensure there are enough people to play the roles. This means that it will be a mixed group, of sexual offenders, those at risk of offending, and none offenders, There will be both men and women in the group.

The Need: Sexual offences account for approx 1.2% of all reported crime. There were 54,355 reported sexual offences in 2010/11 . Of these, according to the NSPCC website, 32% of these were against children under 16. Many people think that more sexual offences happen that are never reported. It appears it is increasingly very hard for people who feel they are at risk of offending to get help, to stop them from offending or re-offending. Currently there is almost no support for this large client group. As far as I am aware, there is nothing else available in the UK that explores the underlying factors that may have contributed to the offending behaviour.

Research on PBSP: Juliet has been collecting client’s self reports of the significant changes they make after PBSP structures for many years: Here is feedback from the slippery slope courses http://therapyandcounselling.co.uk/feedback-from-slippery-slope-group/

Here is feedback from pesso boyden courses open to the general public  http://therapyandcounselling.co.uk/feedback-from-coursespbsp/

In the Czech Republic, research has been done using fMRI scans with clients with have suffered trauma. This shows that after PBSP sessions the brain is activated in different areas – so we are literally ‘rewiring’ the brain and changing the way that clients think. Treatment prevents re-offending:

Evaluation of Slippery Slope Workshops: To evaluate PBSP with those who have committed a sexual offence, Juliet has teamed up with Sam Hanks, an MSc student in Social Science Research Methods (Criminology) at Cardiff University. Sam has evaluated the Slippery Slope Programme as part of his postgraduate dissertation. His focus is on how PBSP complements and compares to other methods of treatments available to sexual offenders. The research project is available here

Juliet Grayson is a UKCP registered NLPtCA and NCIP accredited psychosexual therapist and supervisor. Having worked as a therapist since 1991, she began training in PBSP in 2001, and is one of only 5 certified practitioners of PBSP in the UK. Juliet is contributing to the book, “Sexual Diversity and Sexual Offending. Research, Assessment and Clinical Treatment in Psychosexual Therapy” edited by Glyn Hudson Allez (to be published in 2013). Her chapter is entitled ‘Back to the Root: Healing Potential Offenders’ Childhood Trauma with Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor’, and includes a description of the PBSP method and an elaborated case study using it.

Finally: Many therapists work with the victims of sexual abuse. My belief is that if we want to reduce sexual offending it is essential to work with the perpetrators too. Work with one victim and they may come to terms with what happened. Work with one perpetrator and we may prevent many future victims .