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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: THE JACOBSON METHOD (VERY effective, and too little known and used in early AA)
Author: Fraser Trevor
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THE "JACOBSON METHOD" Although in 1915, Jacobson began using relaxation in the treatment of patients with tension disorders, it ...


Although in 1915, Jacobson began using relaxation in the treatment of patients with tension disorders, it was not until 1924, with the publication of "The Technic of Progressive Relaxation" that he specifically described his didactic approach. In 1929, the first edition of "Progressive Relaxation" appeared. The basic instructions are relatively widely known, having appeared in several sources, including a small manual with a blue paper cover, published by the Foundation for Scientific Relaxation and originally sold in quantity lots to practitioners for about 35 cents. The widely misused term "Jacobson's Method" is analogous to musical "method" books published for the study of musical instruments, a series of "etudes" or studies each to introduce and address a particular technical aspect of performance on the instrument. Jacobson's "Method" similarly begins with a brief description of the mechanics of the motor system, followed by a series of studies that demonstrate the basic technical skills. The instructions, as in all good "methods", start simply and progressively introduce increasingly complex problems. For example:

1. Lying in a quiet place, bend the hand back at the wrist and study the sensation arising from the act (the sensation in the forearm). This first item of instruction is not relaxation but observation, the all-important ability to monitor tension, the basic element of action and behavior.

2. Discontinue that activity, and observe the changes in sensation. Practice relaxing, under the direction of awareness.

This maneuver is repeated twice more, allowing several minutes between each contraction. The remainder of the recommended hour of practice is spent lying quietly, essentially doing nothing. This doing of nothing is also a highly technical matter, including maintaining a light concentration, a slight focus of awareness on the proprioceptive senses, mainly on the muscle being studied in that session.

In successive periods, a similar approach is taken to the various muscle groups. Jacobson organized his training by geographic anatomy: limbs, the trunk, the neck, and the head. It was based on the gross movements of each major part. Every third practice session is to be a "zero period" dedicated to relaxation only, with no contraction being performed. After completing the body survey lying down, the whole process is repeated sitting up.

As with all good "methods," this one is a skeleton, providing the professional teacher with a textual aid for putting the necessary flesh on the appropriate bones. Muscles essentially are functionally the same; yet slight variations in movements or postures of different parts of the body carry great differences in meanings. These are far in excess of the physical changes involved. Jacobson expressed this in terms of a telephone message: the electric current is miniscule, however, the message could conceivably alter the fate of the world.

A nodal point in the process involves the speech and eye regions, representing language and visualization. Jacobson observed verbal and visual thought to be accompanied by measurable muscle activity in the relevant locations, suggesting that these "mental" acts are miniatures of overtly physical looking and talking. The same relationship between mental representation and subliminal physical acting out was investigated in broader kinds of imagery, such as in lifting a weight.

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