From ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SPECIAL EDUCATION, 1997 (Eveley and sons) New York, Volume 3.Danielle Michaux, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.
An independent science firmly established in France, psychomotricity is based on the interdependence of physical, affective, and intellectual functions and thus covers a wide field that encompasses neurology, pedagogy, and psychoanalysis.
Numerous scientific ideas from various disciplines have contributed for more than a century to the elaboration of the concept of psychomotricity. Near the end of the nineteenth century, scientific achievements made it necessary to abandon Cartesian dualism, which separated body and mind and led to a mechanistic approach to the body. Instead, the integrated action of the nervous system and its role in the regulation of the organism interacting with its environment were stressed.
Neurophysiologists started to examine the bases of tonus and movement (gamma loop and Renshaw recurrent circuit, cerebellum, sub-cortical nuclei, neo-cortex, etc). Penfield's centre-encephalic theory of motor adjustment (counter to traditional associationism) underscored the importance of the basal centres and their integrating role, and of the vertical cortical-sub cortical relationships.
Dupre’, a neurophsychiatrist, described the syndrome of motor deficiency in relation to mental deficiency and compared it with the immature state of newborn babies (limb hyper tonicity, enuresis etc). For the first time, motricity and intelligence were linked.
In "La naissance de l’ intelligence chez l’ enfant" (1936), Piaget stated that the first stage in the development of intelligence is the coordination of sensori-motor schemas (i.e. feeling and movement systems such as suction, sight, pretension, etc) leading to adaptations and assimilations that enable the individual to reach a higher (preoperative) type of intelligence. Piaget's ideas were developed further. De Ajuriaguerra showed that the tonic state is used by the newborn baby as a mode of relation (e.g. crying hyper tonicity, contentment hyper tonicity). A structuring dialogue actually takes place between mother and child. Wallon studied the relationship between motricity and character (L’ enfant turbulent, 1925). He described the body image (body scheme) as a progressive construction involving all our perceptive, motor and affective experiences.
Phenomenology too, played a role in the coming about of psychomotricity. It gave birth to the Gestalt theory, in which every physical or psychological phenomenon is seen as an indivisible whole known as the form. This theory helped shape the notions of body schema, behaviour, and movement. According to Merleau-Ponty and Buytendijk, the different types of behaviour are modalities of the in-der-Welt-sein, i.e., of mind and body as they interact continuously in the flow of life. Thus, in the phenomenal world, body and mind were no longer separated and psychomotricity could enter the field.
Psychoanalysis also contributed to the elaboration of the concept. The body was defined as a scene of pleasure and psychic development was divided into organic stages: oral, anal, phallic and genital. Moreover, it was contended that an organic or perceptual-motor function could be used effectively only if it had been effectively invested. An emotional disorder can easily bring about physical dysfunctions such as conversion hysteria or organic neurosis. Reich stated that the social-emotional state of a person influences his or her tonic state (tension rings).
The ethnology of the child also played a role. Montagner gave a minute description of the child's behaviour in the nursery and highlighted socio-affective correlations.
In France, psychomotricity was recognized as a discipline in the early 1960's. The first French Psychomotricity Charter (de Ajuriaguerra-Soubiran) was promulgated and a curriculum was created. A trade union and various publications came about.
As far as practice is concerned, a distinction is usually made between education, remedial work and therapy. Psychomotricity (Psychomotor) Education aims at stimulating a healthy child's psychomotor functions. This concept is slowly spreading in nursery schools. Remedial exercises aim at improving psychomotor symptomatology through a reprogramming of the neuromotor sphere. Model lessons by the well-known team of the Nenri-Rousselle Hospital in Paris are available. Therapy aims at deblocking and developing the disturbed child's psychic structures through bodily and relational interaction with the therapist and mediatory objects.
According to Aucouturier, technicity consists of working out sensorimotor pleasure and treatment of aggressive and fantasmatic productions. These various approaches are used primarily with children up to seven years of age, when symbolizing processes enable them to dissociate themselves from their bodily experiences. However, the concept of Psychomotoricity applies in theory, to every stage of life.