In the following, I want to share the context in which I see Energy Psychology operating. It has its roots in approaches that combined body and mind in a wholistic manner and can be traced back as far as Wilhelm Reich, a second generation psychoanalyst and a student of Freud, and “one of the most radical figures in the history of psychiatry”1. He included the physical body in this form of mind-focused “talking therapy”, was a pioneer in every way and influenced many approaches of body-centred therapies, like Bioenergetics (Alexander Lowen), and also disciplines like Gestalt Therapy.
Wilhelm Reich pointed out that a healthy body’s functioning can be described as a flowing movement, like the sine curve. Any blocked emotions correlate with tensed muscles in the body that restrict the natural flow and limit its possibilities. For example, take the hand that can move freely between open and clenched. If you now put some tension into the hand and half close it, the range of options is greatly reduced.
There are approximately 640 skeletal muscles in the human body that offer a wide range of holding tension. A great number of combinations is possible that make up very unique individual patterns, described by Reich as “muscular armour” and determined the “character structure”.
In the same way, as Wilhelm Reich’s approach was revolutionary at its time and anything but conventional, Energy Psychology is the new name for a stream of on-the-edge way of therapy. It works directly with the energy pathways and addresses the energy centres. Therefore it not only has an impact on the emotional and mental health but also on the physical health. It has been called “modern psychotherapy’s enfant terrible” and been “alternatively praised and ridiculed, extolled and rebuked”2.
“From the point of view of Energy Psychology, painful physical, emotional and spiritual symptoms are the result of a disruption in the energy system. When the disruption is corrected, symptoms will be replaced by healthy functioning.”3 The focus is on the energy system, where an unhindered flow represents health, and illness is nothing but blocks in this flow. In Gestalt Therapy, we talk about the self-regulating system of a healthy body. In the same way, as darkness is no entity in itself but merely the absence of light, here the focus is on health and if there are blocks, illness are seen as a temporary blockage of a natural flow.
Methods of Energy Psychology use the “natural resources of the body’s energetic system”4
A question that has always interested me is “what brings about healing/change in counselling and psychotherapy?” Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, explored the unconscious mind by letting his patients lie on the famous couch and free associate. He let them talk about their difficulties to affect behavioural change. He also attended to their dreams to deduct information that would give a clue to understand their current problems. Occasionally, a cathartic release would happen, when patient were overcome with emotions and released those. This lead to actual change, while a mere cognitive understanding and analysis of their childhood gave the patients a good understanding of why they behaved the way they did, yet it did little to change a certain behaviour.
We now know that 95% of the brain’s activity is involved with subconscious processes, and only 5% are conscious. Habitual patterns, phobias, anxieties and neurotic behaviours operate from the subconscious mind and cannot be controlled by the consciousness.
Gestalt Therapy seemed to have found a short-cut to accessing emotions more directly by attending to the obvious in the here-and-now. As Fritz Perls showed in his famous theatrical conducted workshops, people changed within relatively short time-frames by experiencing alternatives to the familiar. He included practical experiments, a learning by doing. This provided a more direct access to relevant patterns and made it unnecessary to analyse past events. I remember when I explored psychoanalysis, that I could explain why I would not do the dishes in our living community, but it did not change my behaviour.
Whilst, when I first experienced Gestalt Therapy, I was very easily in tears without necessarily knowing why. Gestalt Therapy operates in the here-and-now, assuming that all relevant information is available as we allow it to rise into awareness. It assumes an organismic self-regulating process, stresses the importance of the relational experience between therapist and client and embraces a concept of the field that contains vital information and forms a wider context.
Energy Psychology, now goes an even more direct path by accessing the meridians and energy lines. It “is the blueprint, the infrastructure, the invisible foundation for the health of your body”5. It refers to the energy pathways and energy centres that affect cells, organs, moods, and thoughts. “Energy Psychology utilises techniques from acupressure, yoga, qi gong, and energy medicine that teach people simple steps for initiating changes in their inner lives.”6
It caught my attention when I heard that methods of EP work without necessarily having to relive past traumas. It seems a most painless process. This is in particular of interest for clients who don’t want to reveal private information or show their vulnerability.
I remember how uncomfortable it felt when I had to revisit past traumas in working with ACC clients on their sexual abuse, and questioning them in order to be able to fill in the application sheet. It felt like exposing them to a secondary traumatisation. Now here is a way that we even might not need to know the content of the trauma, difficulty or problem. It brings in a different component to the familiar “talking therapies”, that can also be disappointing when clients seem stuck in a rut and repeat the same old story over and over again, and no matter how much they share, it seems not to make any significant difference to their condition.
A caution is in order now. It sounds seductively simple and seems to be suitable to be practiced by anybody, which of course is not true. To work sensitively with a client requires a thorough training as it is provided by counselling or psychotherapy programmes. To have a simple method that promises to be able to heal everything in a painless manner is like the promise of a wonder drug. It simply doesn’t work in a simple “how-to-do” manner. Real life is mostly a bit more complicated than simple schematic examples.
I see these methods more as an additional training for health professionals than a stand-alone method. It might be useful for counsellors to keep an open mind and to embrace insights that are backed up by modern science, a science that goes beyond a mechanistic, materialistic out-dated understanding. Rupert Sheldrake calls it the “Science delusion”, the belief that science already understands the nature of reality, that the fundamental questions are answered, leaving only the details to be filled in.”7 He refers to 10 common assumptions in science that don’t stand up in light of new findings: “The ‘scientific worldview’ has become a belief system. All reality is material or physical. The world is a machine, made up of dead matter. Nature is purposeless. Consciousness is nothing but the physical activity of the brain. Free will is an illusion. God exists only as an idea in human minds, imprisoned within our skulls.”
I believe, we can best be of service to our clients as we stay open to new insights and learning. Take the dominance of the heart over the brain. Different to common assumptions it is not the brain that is in charge and gives commands to the heart to follow, but the heart gives more commands to the brain. There is an electromagnetic energy field around the heart that by far exceeds the confines of the physical body.8
This has big implications. Imagine, we can trust our hearts more and bring our rational thinking in line to serve our feeling, intuiting senses. Maybe we can then bring more compassion into the world, more connecting and less analyzing and labelling. Focus on our hearts, there might be more love, less fear, and less need to control the situation.
How would this confirm your work, or how would that challenge what you currently do?
Rudolf Jarosewitsch, June 2013
2John Freedom, Energy Psychology: The Future of Therapy? Http://noetic.org/noetic/issue-thirteen-august/energy-psychology/
7Rupert Sheldrake, Science set free
8HeartMath Research Centre: Science of the Heart