Trager psychophysical integration

Trager psychophysical integration
Trager psychophysical integration

Trager psychophysical integration therapy, also known as the Tragerwork system of physical integration, is a combination of hands-on tissue mobilization, relaxation, and movement reeducation called Mentastics.

The underlying principle of psychophysical integration is that clients learn to be lighter, easier, and freer by experiencing lightness, ease, and freedom of movement in their bodies.

The Trager method is a psychologically grounded physical approach to muscle relaxation, which is induced when a practitioner and patient achieve a state of mind called hook-up. Hook-up is described as a connection to a state of grace or powerful and nourishing life force. It is the opposite of strain or effort.


Psychophysical integration therapy began with Dr. Milton Trager (1908–1977), who earned a medical degree in midlife after working out his approach to healing chronic pain.

Trager was born with a spinal deformity and overcame it through practicing a variety of athletic exercises. At the time that he discovered his approach to bodywork, he was training to become a boxer.

His therapy came to public attention when Esalen Institute in California, the famous center of the human potential movement, invited him to give a demonstration of his technique during the mid-1970s.

Trager abandoned his private medical practice in 1977 to devote his full energy to the development and further understanding of psychophysical integration. The Trager Institute, which continues his work, was founded in 1980.


Psychophysical integration therapy has been helpful in relieving muscle discomfort in patients afflicted with polio, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, post-stroke trauma, and psychiatric disturbances. The therapy is useful in alleviating such chronic conditions as back and leg pain.

Athletes may benefit from this system to increase resilience to injuries and to improve their mental attitudes. In addition, the Trager Institute maintains that Tragerwork helps clients achieve greater mental clarity through the release of “deep-seated physical and mental patterns.”


The Trager method consists of two parts, a passive aspect referred to as tablework and an active aspect called Mentastics, which is a self-care exercise program. Although the benefits of the Trager approach are said to be cumulative, practitioners and clients appear to be free to set their own schedules for a series of sessions. There is no minimum number of sessions that clients must agree to take.


The tablework is performed on a comfortable padded table. Sessions last about 60-90 minutes. The practitioner moves the client in ways that he or she naturally moves in such a way that he or she experiences how it feels to move effortlessly and freely on one’s own.

The movements resemble general mobilization techniques, and incorporate some manual, cervical, and lumbar traction. The goal of tablework is to allow the client “slowly to give up muscular and mental control and sink into a very deep state of relaxation not unlike that experienced in hypnosis.”


Mentastics are free-flowing dance-like movements intended to increase the client’s self-awareness, as well as providing tools to help the client move through and control chronic pain. The client is encouraged to “let go,” which means that they are asked to begin a movement, then release their muscle tension and allow the weight of the body part involved to complete the motion.

By experiencing movement as something pleasurable and positive rather than painful or negative, clients begin to loosen up, learn new movements more easily, and even begin inventing their own. In the early stages of treatment, clients are advised to do Mentastic movements at home for 10–15-minute sessions, three times per day.


Prior to a session of tablework, the client dresses for comfort, “with a minimum of swimwear or briefs,” according to the Trager Institute. The client is also covered with a drape. No oils or lotions are used.

The practitioner prepares for the session by clearing his or her mind of everything but the client, until he or she achieves a state of hook-up. This attitude of “relaxed meditative awareness” on the part of the practitioner is one of the unique features of Tragerwork.

It is described as allowing the therapist “to connect deeply with the recipient in an unforced way and enables the practitioner to perceive the slightest responses from the [client’s] body.”


Because of the unusual sensitivity and heightened awareness that is associated with the practitioner’s touch, pain should never result from tablework sessions. It is important for clients to alert the practitioner to any pain associated with either the tablework or the Mentastics program.

Although the movements used in Trager tablework are gentle and noninvasive, clients who have had recent injuries or surgery should wait to heal before undertaking a course of Tragerwork.

Side effects

The Trager method should not produce physical side effects when employed by a qualified practitioner. It is possible that some clients may have emotional reactions associated with the release of physical patterns acquired as a response to trauma, but such reactions are unusual.

Research and general acceptance

Tragerwork, like other forms of bodywork, has gained increasing acceptance as a form of treatment since the 1980s. In 2000 there were 1,200 certified psychophysical integration practitioners in 15 countries worldwide.

The therapy has been reported as a commonly employed treatment for mainstream athletes. In addition, the National Institutes of Health lists psychophysical therapy as a mind-body form of complementary alternative medicine.