Autogenic Training provides a drug-free approach to a whole host of stress-related conditions, both physical and emotional. The technique teaches individuals a simple relaxation method which can increase body awareness, reduce the automatic stress response, and interfere with the stress-symptom spiral. Autogenic Training practice brings on what noted cardiologist, Dr Herbert Benson, called the Relaxation Response.
This is a state of deep rest that is a wonderful state allowing the body to repair and recuperate naturally. This 'self-healing process' may be used to naturally boost the immune system and help to restore emotional and physical balance. Trainees are asked to seek medical advice before undertaking Autogenic Training, as this method by itself may not be sufficient to reverse many ailments and symptoms.
Autogenic training is often referred to as the western world's form of meditation, appealing to those who are less interested in the religious and cultural aspects of traditional meditation but still wish to obtain the benefits.
Research has demonstrated that Autogenic training works well alongside traditional medicine as an effective treatment for a wide range of stress related disorders. Autogenic training has been available on the NHS for a period of over 50 years. Autogenic training may be taught in 8 to 10 weeks to individuals or in groups of eight. The course involves learning to practice a series of six standard exercises using passive awareness, concentration and acceptance. These six exercises form the basis of the method. Each week or session, a new phrase is learnt and is intended to be repeated and practiced whilst focusing attention on different parts of the body. It is important that the exercises are practiced with 'passive concentration', which is a meditative state of mind enabling the body-mind to enter a calmer, more restorative state.
German neurologist and psychiatrist Dr Johannes Schultz developed Autogenic training back in the 1920s. Whilst Dr Schultz was researching the physiology of deeply relaxed states he found that teaching his patients to make auto suggestions that they were experiencing physical sensations of deep relaxation, would enable their nervous system to switch from stress to relaxation mode. In 1907 Schultz went to study medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland. This is where he began his specialisation in psychiatry and became deeply influenced by the work of Professor Oscar Vogt. Vogt had spent most of his life studying psychosomatic medicine and during his research, he found that patients who practised verbal exercises to induce a hypnotic state reported a better sense of well-being. The patients also reported reduced symptoms of headaches, fatigue, anxiety and other ailments.
Building on these insights, the next goal for Schultz was to find a way of achieving a similar state to hypnosis, without actually hypnotising the patient. After trialling a number of methods, he found the most effective way was to direct attention to the body using passive concentration and a verbal formula. Schultz published these findings in his 1912 research paper Autogenic Organ Exercises. After additional years of research and training, Schultz published the first edition of Autogenic Therapy in 1932. It explained the clinical application of the six standard autogenic formula which are widely used throughout the world today.
What do we know?
There have been numerous studies which have explored the effectiveness of the Autogenic system and it is now considered a viable treatment for issues outside of just the stress and relaxation realms.
A comprehensive study of the technique found that it had a large effect in reducing the resting pulse rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride and free fatty acid levels. This study was conducted by Dr Carruthers and appeared in the British Journal of Medical Health. The study was followed up four years down the line and in addition to all of the above, was also found to be successful in reducing the risk of a heart attack.
A further study by Dr Kai Kermani required individuals with HIV to use the technique to see if it relieved some of the symptoms. It was found to decrease pain, night sweats, diarrhoea and weight loss and also improve quality of life, giving individuals a more positive outlook and a higher average survival time than those reported elsewhere.
What to expect
What does the teacher do?
As with all therapies, your first step will be an initial personal assessment. This is when your therapist will take the time to learn about any medical history you might have, what the problem is, and be sure you have sought the appropriate medical or psychological advice. It is important that you provide your therapist with as much information as possible as this will enable them to develop a thorough and personal training plan.
Because Autogenic training is held in high esteem in the medical world and is used by the NHS, it could be that you've been referred for treatment for a specific medical condition, meaning you will require very careful monitoring throughout the course. Even if your AT therapist is medically or psychologically qualified, it may also mean close co-operation between your therapist and GP or consulting physician.
Once you have had your initial consultation your therapist will be able to form a training plan which is tailored to you. Each exercise week will focus on a different body system and will require the repetition of a series of simple phrases.
When the course is nearing completion you may have reached the stage where you are able to practice the exercises and achieve passive concentration without help in a variety of everyday situations. It is important to foster the integration of the Autogenic training into everyday life.
The six autogenic 'formulas' or states
As mentioned previously, Schulz developed six standard 'formulas' which are now the basis of most Autogenic training techniques around the world. The 'formulas' are directed to different parts of the body, starting with arms and legs, and a new phrase is added each week. The formulas are musculoskeletal heaviness and warmth, heartbeat calmness, breathing, solar plexus warmth, forehead cool.
For each of these, you will usually be asked to recite a phrase silently with closed eyes, for instance, “both legs are heavy”. It is recommended that you practice three times a day for 5 – 15 minutes each.
How many sessions will I need?
Courses will usually cover a period of between eight to 10 weeks, either individually or in small groups. The exercises learnt are to be practised for 10 – 15 minutes three times a day and it is important to keep a diary of experiences so you can have a record of your journey and so your therapist can monitor the progress you are making at home.
How can it help me?
People from all walks of life experiencing a variety of symptoms may be able to reap the benefits of greater resilience, boosted immune system functioning, lower blood pressure, and more from Autogenic Training practice.
AT has also been shown to enhance performance and creativity. It's even been reported to have helped airline pilots adjust to jet-lag, astronauts adjust to space travel and motion sickness, and businesses frequently use it to keep work stresses at bay and performance high. Even though you might not be about to rocket off into space, there are numerous other health challenges that can benefit from Autogenic training. These are mentioned in the National Institute for Clinical Excellence care pathways where relaxation therapy is recommended – please contact an Autogenic Therapist directly for more details.
What qualifications and experience should therapists have?
Autogenic training is not currently regulated by law in the UK meaning there are no set guidelines as to what training and experience is needed in order to teach the autogenic method to clients.
However, the British Autogenic Society is the UK’s professional association for Autogenic Therapists. All Autogenic Therapists listed on the Society’s site have been trained to the same standard, follow the Society’s code of ethics, and do continuing professional development in the field.
Reviewed by Dr Ruth T Naylor, The British Autogenic Society, March 2018.
Find an autogenic trainer
All therapists are verified professionals.