Self And Body-Cathexis Change 
In Therapy And Yoga Groups


Published in: American Society of Psychosomatic
Dentistry and Medicine, 29(3), 1982.


According to literature, two very different types of groups 
produce positive changes in clients' attitudes towards themselves 
and their bodies. Group therapy, emphasizing interaction and con- 
frontation of interpsychic conflict on the one hand, and yoga em- 
phasizing non-interaction and transcendence of conflict by devel- 
oping a calmed mind and relaxed body, on the other hand, both reap 
beneficial effects for participants. Little or no empirical research has 
compared therapy and yoga groups on the particular dimensions 
of body and self-cathexis. This study sought to answer the question 
of whether therapy and yoga group participants show comparable 
change in self-cathexis and body-cathexis. 

Subjects from non- body oriented therapy and yoga groups, and 
groups of control subjects who were in neither therapy nor yoga, 
were administered the Secord-Jourard Body-Cathexis, Self-Cathexis 
scale as before and after measures. Differences between before 
and after test measures showed that in comparison to a 
control group, yoga participants changed significantly more 'On self- 
cathexis (p.<.03) and body-cathexis change ratings (p.<.05). 
Therapy groups did not show significant body-cathexis change in 
comparison to control groups (p.<.05) but they did show signifi- 
cant positive self-cathexis ichange (p·.<.01). Therapy and yoga 
groups were not significantly different from each other, and no sex 
differences were observed in any group.

These findings suggest that contrary to the main curative ele- 
ments of interaction and confrontation of interpsychic conflicts 
present in much of Western group therapy, yoga, an essentially non- 
verbal, intrapsychic system of therapy, is also effective in producing 
desired changes in feelings towards one's self and body. Second, in 
order to produce change in body concept and self-concept, group 
therapy is likely to be most effective when intra-psychic, interpsy- 
chic, and techniques which involve the body are combined. 

Recognition of mind-body functional interconnectedness is
hardly novel to psychological thought. Many have noted the exist- 
ence of a close relationship between feelings one has towards one's 
self and one's body (Witkin, 1965; Wylie, 1961; Fisher, 1970), sug- 
gesting the theoretical importance of perceived body characteris- 
tics on the formation of the self-concept. Psychological attributes 
associated with body parts seem to correspond to self-aspects. For 
example, according to Reich's concept of body-armoring, a person's 
unconscious desire to defend against disturbing feelings or thoughts, 
may be expressed through the body by a rigid, controlled muscu- 
lature (Reich, 1942). 

Many have found that specific aspects of one's body concept and 
self-concept are statistically related (Secord & Jourard, 1953; Ro- 
sen & Ross, 1968; Weinberg, 1960). Secord and Jourard (1953) de- 
fined these aspects, body-cathexis and self-cathexis, as the "degree 
of feeling of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with various parts or 
processes of the body" (p. 343). In other words, those working in 
the body-self concept realm have found that there is a significant 
relationship between feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction 
about 'one's self and about one's body. Secord and Jourard (1953) 
also found intercorrelated relationships between body-cathexis and 
self-cathexis of .58 for men and .68 for women. This suggests that 
both sexes tend to cathect their bodies to the same degree and di- 
rection as that of their selves, but that women cathect their bodies 
more highly than men. Other studies have shown that wom- 
en have significantly lower body-cathexis rating than men 
and more somatic complaints (Johnson, 1956; Plutchik, 
Weinger, & Conte, 1971). Such differences may arise because wo- 
men are more likely than men to be anxious-about their bodies due 
to the social importance attributed to the female body (Secord & 
Jourard, 1953). For many people, the security one has in one's: body 
is related to the security with which one faces one's self in the 
world (Zion, 1965, p. 494). 

It should be apparent from the above discussion that self-con- 
cept and body concepts are important variables affecting the way a 
person adjusts to the environment, and techniques which imple- 
ment positlve change in one's self and body concepts should be rec- 
ognized and researched, 

Research indicates that positive Changes in self-concept are 
produced by therapy groups emphasizing interaction among mem- 
bers (Truax, Schuldt, & Wargo, 1968; Liberman & Yalom, 1973)

Body therapies such as Reichian therapy, Lowenian bio-energetics, 
primal therapy (Brown, 1975) and psychomotor therapy (Pesso, 
1969) which stress the use of action exercises and emotionally re- 
leasing verbal techniques also indicate positive change in self and 
body satisfactions. 

Of the specific curative factors involved in producing these de- 
sired self and body concept changes in therapy groups, interper- 
sonal feedback seems to be the main variable (Berzon, Pious, & 
Parsons, 1963; Corsini & Rosenberg, 1951). Hull (1971) Posited 
that there is an "interactive effect between emotional disturb- 
ance and verbal inhibition" and that those who are inhibited in 
verbalizations tend to communicate with the environment through 
body Ianguage and complaint of somatic problems (Reusch, 1961). 

Supporting these findings and going one step further, Fisher (1970) 
has stated that the attitude one accumulates towards his body is 
itself "resultant and reflection of interpersonal relationships" 
(p. 152). This interpersonal basis of body schema is further drama- 
tized by findings indicating body concept changes during psycho- 
therapy (Fisher, 1970). These studies indicate interaction may be a 
prerequisite to change. 

Yoga, an Eastern systems approach to therapy, stresses intra- 
psychic, non-verbal experiencing as a tool for change, rather than 
interaction among group members. The main techniques consist of 
developing relaxation through the practice of meditation and body 
postures. Studies done with students of yoga indicate positive psy- 
chological changes regarding self-attitudes (Nuernberger, 1976; 
Polowniak, 1973; Auriol, 1972) and body attitudes (Johnson, 1974). 
Yoga and psychotherapy are similar in their attempts to increase 
the client’s self-reliance and modify unrealistic expectations of self 
that occur as a result of relying upon environmental cues. Yoga 
therapy stresses that preoccupation with feedback from environ- 
mental gratification and frustration is the root cause of mental ill- 
ness. "The aim of this psychophysiologic therapy is to minimize 
this preoccupation, increase self-awareness and thereby produce bet- 
ter integration of the personality with resulting-actualization Of 
one's creative potentialities." (Vahia, Donngaji. & Jest, 1973. p. 
p. 557).

In summary then, it appears according to literature that two 
very different systems of therapy produce positive changes in cli- 
ents' attitudes towards themselves and their bodies. Group therapy,
emphasizing interactions and confrontation among group members, 
and yoga therapy, emphasizing non-interaction and transcendence 
of conflict in conjunction with a calmed mind and relaxed body, on 
the other hand, both reap beneficial effects for participants. 

Self-concept changes in group therapy are reported in abun- 
dance; body concept changes are referred to minimally; research 
on the dimension of self-concept and body concept in yoga groups 
are reported, but not extensively by any means. According to the 
literature, no empirical research has studied and compared self- 
cathexis and body-cathexis change between non-body oriented thera- 
py groups and yoga groups. This study was conducted to provide such 
a comparison. 

The Secord-Jourard scale (1953) was used to measure body- 
cathexis and self-cathexis. This scale contains 40 items pertaining 
to the body and 40 items pertaining to the self. The subject rates 
these items in terms 'of a five point scale of feelings. Split-half ire- 
liabilities for the scale are reported us .84 (males) and .75 (fe- 
males) 'On the body-cathexis portion of the scale 'and above .91 on 
the self-cathexis scale.

Using the body-cathexis and self-cathexis scales as before and 
after measures of change, the following 'hypotheses were advanced 
in this study.
1. Participants of yoga groups will show significant change in 
self-cathexis and body-cathexis measures as compared to 
control subjects, and these changes will be in a positive di-

2. Participants of therapy groups will also show significant 
change in self-cathexis and body-cathexis measures as com- 
pared to control subjects, and these changes will be in a 
positive direction. 

3. Due to the emphasis of the differing treatment modalities, 
yoga groups will show greater change of body-cathexis than 
therapy groups. Therapy groups, which in this study are 
essentially not body-oriented, will show greater change in 
self-cathexis, as compared to yoga groups.

Table 1

Two-Tailed Analysis of Variance Summary for Self-Cathexis 
and Body-Cathexis


Table 2

Summary of Body-Cathexis and Self-Cathexis Results: 
pre-means, post-means, mean differences, standard deviation

Table 3 
Contrast Coefficient Matrices for 
Body-Cathexis, Self-Cathexis Differences for all 2 Treatment Groups

A total of 120 subjects participated in this study. Of these, 
33 were students of yoga groups (10 males, 23 females); 45
were participants in a form of group therapy (18 males, 27 females);
and 42 control subjects were students in an introductory psychology 
class, participating in neither groups of yoga or therapy (9 males, 
33 females). The mean age of participants in the therapy groups 
was 38 years; yoga groups, 25 years; and control group, 23 years. 
All groups were tested with the Secord-Jourard scale at their first 
meeting and again ten weeks later. 

Yoga groups used were conducted at Georgia State University, 
and at various YMCA's in the city of Atlanta. These groups were 
considered beginning groups by the instructors, and participants 
were screened on the basis of having had little or no previous ex- 
perience in yoga. In addition, these participants were not currently 
undergoing therapy. The form of yoga taught consisted mainly of 
Hatha yoga. This form stresses the daily practice of postures as a 
means of developing concentration skills, increasing voluntary reg- 
ulation and consequential expansion of one's self-concept. Interac- 
tion was limited, 'consisting for the most part of exchanging in- 
formation on correct postures.

The therapy groups were eclectic, but non-body oriented in 
their approach: They ranged from a theme-centered group for di- 
vorced women to non-thematic, client-centered groups. As with the 
yoga groups, therapy groups were offered at Georgia State Univer- 
sity and in the city at various community mental health centers. Subjects 
were screened on the basis of not having been in extensive 
group therapy previous to this group, and were not currently in- 
involved in any dance, movement, or yoga class. The therapists all 
had doctoral degrees in clinical or counseling psychology and at 
least one year of post-graduate experience leading groups. 

The control group was composed of students in an introductory 
psychology class offered at Georgia State University. Again, only 
subjects who were in neither therapy nor involved in any dance, 
movement, or yoga class were eligible. 


The analysis of variance (see Table 1, page 81) showed that 
group type significantly influenced participants’ degree of self-ca- 
thexis in a positive direction (p. <.026). No significant effect was 
initially found on the body-cathexis scale (p. <.129). Sex differ-
ences and sex group interaction were also found to lack significance 
(p.<.99). Examining group means before treatment (in Table 2, 
page 82) indicates the groups were not significantly different from 
one another on the body-cathexis scale (p.< 12), but were different 
on the self-cathexis scale (p.<.01). This latter difference was due 
to the higher starting self-cathexis rating of the control groups, and 
not due to differences between the therapy and yoga groups. Table 
2 also indicates that while all three groups had higher posttest than 
pretest scores on each scale, the predicted trend of mean differences 
was clearly shown. Differences between means were greatest on 
the body-cathexis scale for yoga group's, and lowest on both scales 
for the control groups. In view of these observed comparisons, a 
priori Orthogonal contrasts (one-way analysis of variance) were 
performed on the data, comparing each experimental group to the 
control group (see Table 3, page 83). From this analysis, it ap- 
peared that both therapy and yoga groups, when contrasted to the 
control group significantly accounted for positive change in self-ca- 
thexis (p.<.01, p.<.03, respectively). On the body-cathexis scale, 
yoga groups increase significantly in a positive direction when com- 
pared to control groups. Therapy groups, however, did not show 
significant positive increase in body cathexis (p.<.39) as compared 
to control groups. Table 3 also shows that yoga and therapy groups 
did not differ significantly from each other on either scale after 


The results of this study showed that in comparison to control 
groups, body and self-cathexis improved for yoga group subjects, 
whereas only self-cathexis improved for therapy subjects. This sug- 
gests that yoga may be an effective therapeutic technique in pro- 
ducing self and body concept changes, even though its main cura- 
tive elements are different from those of therapy groups, The find- 
ings also suggest that therapy groups which emphasize interac- 
tions among members, but do not utilize action methods or body 
techniques, may change self-aspects in a positive way, but not body 

From the data, it is apparent that therapy groups had the lowest 
self and body-cathexis ratings in the beginning and end of this 
study. Yoga groups had the next highest ratings, and control groups 
had the highest beginning and end test ratings. Further analysis
revealed therapy and yoga groups were not significantly different 
from each other, either before treatment or after treatment. This 
finding suggests that yoga groups and therapy groups are composed 
of similar populations of people and that yoga may be serving as a 
kind of therapy in the minds of those involved. The control group 
differed significantly from the yoga and therapy groups in a positive 
direction on the pretest self-cathexis ratings, suggesting students 
of introductory psychology seem to be composed of those feeling 
greater satisfaction towards their body and self. This data seems 
to lend tangential support to findings by Jasker and Reeds (1963) 
that the Secord-Jourard Body-Cathexis and Self-Cathexis scale 
differentiates among neurotics and normals, with normals indica- 
ting greater body and self-satisfactions.
The initial analysis Of variance, which revealed no significant 
sex or group by sex interaction effect (p.<.99) may have been ac- 
counted for by the large discrepancy between the numbers of men 
and women in this study (37 males, 83 females). Further investi- 
gation of this research study could be improved by having equal 
numbers of men and women in each group. 


In summary, participants of both yoga and non-body oriented 
therapy groups significantly increased positive feelings towards 
themselves, whereas only members of yoga groups significantly 
increased in their positive bodily feelings. First, this suggests that 
although the practice of yoga does not include the main curative 
element of interaction and problem sharing among group mem- 
bers, significant therapeutic changes in self and body satisfactions 
nonetheless occur. Second, a review of the literature indicates the 
importance of recognizing the interrelated relationship between 
body concept and self-concept. The results of this study conclude 
that in order to produce changes in body concept and self-concept, 
group therapy is likely to be optimally effective if methods em- 
phasizing Interaction and non verbalization, body work and cogni- 
tive, rational approaches are combined. No sex differences were 
found in this study, perhaps due to the unequal numbers of men.


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