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What is Core Energetics ?
The Core Energetics approach to personal growth was developed by John Pierrakos M.D. in 1971 and is a further refinement of Bioenergetics, which was developed by Alexander Lowen M.D. and John Pierrakos. Lowen and Pierrakos, both psychoanalysts, were clients and then students of Wilhelm Reich M.D.
After studying with Reich, they added their own refinements to Reich’s discoveries and principles to produce the systematic therapy that became known as Bioenergetics and Pierrakos then split with Lowen and his further development of the work became known as Core Energetics.
Core Energetics is a body-mind therapy which addresses how beliefs, feelings and inner life are sustained and reinforced in the body. In childhood, repeated patterns of feelings create specific patterns of muscular tension and weakness in the physical body which relate to trapped emotional memory.
These habitual patterns become largely unconscious as we adopt them and then use them later in life to meet our needs. This system was developed in an era before Neuroscience was able to explain the mechanics of such processes as the neural and nervous system level.
Neuroscience has validated the key concepts that as the human nervous system develops in human infants, new brain systems and brain maps develop with the help of stimulation from the people in one’s environment. The Oral phase of development is one such key time of personality and bodily development, via massive brain plasticity, during the window of 6 months till 2 years.
Core Energetics was able to describe and explain key trauma or developmental interruptions during this and other key childhood developmental stages, and the impact on one’s body and mind/personality that occurred, by further refining both Reichs and Alexander Lowens Bioenergetic work.
Core Energetics has a basic premise that human beings are psychosomatic beings with a basic inseparability of the body and the mind. Each person has an inbuilt impulse towards unity and connection that gets thwarted by outside forces and traumas to the bodymind system.
Core Energetics believes we each have an innate balancing and healing mechanism within us that works to create both unity and safety with the various opposing or antagonistic elements of ourself and the world outside of us.
The word ‘Core’ in Core Energetics refers to our inner divine or true authentic self, where the inner impulse and the outer expression of this are the same, or put another way, our unified self. Core Energetics enables the transformation of all obstacles blocking contact with one’s own core.
Core Energetics sees the shadow as a part of the core of life. The concept of the shadow mirrors that of Carl Jung. The shadow contains primitive, undifferentiated life force, a power which is disowned and needs to be integrated into the personality.
Core Energetics therapy involves the unblocking and releasing of emotion in order to self-heal both physical and mental conditions. This therapy process focuses on unifying and connecting the body, emotions, mind, will/intent, and spiritual self into a unified whole that expresses your complete reality.
When Core Energetics is used along with specific bodywork, CBT, Psychotherapy, and a spiritual component, can activate a greater consciousness and assists clients in getting through the layers of energy to be able to reconnect with their core and innate capacity to love.
Core Energetics proposed that each one of us has a spiritual identity that is often disowned or repressed in childhood development or via our cultural and peer pressures. Core Energetics notes, as does both Shamanism and Carl Jung, that psychological health includes a spiritual identity or dimension in the overall psyche of a person, and this aspect often re-emerges during the dismantling of neuroses, blocks, traumas, and addictions that dog many people.
Core Energetics does not propose a particular spiritual framework or path or system. It leaves the client to explore and find their own expression or truth in this area, but notes it represents a healthy aspect of the Self.
The core of the individual person, stripped of all its masks, pretensions and ego antics, is the soul, and its nature is love – the life energy. Core Energetics believes that love is all there is. Everything else is fear, or the fear of fear.
Those fears are really distortions and illusions and create a form of rigidity in thinking and in the body. But fears are real enough to us so that they are preventing us from living spontaneously, and with as much flow and as much love as we would like to live.
In this model there is a flow of bioelectric energy that runs through and around the body, and which is also the container for the emotions, mind, will and spirit. Refer to our Embodied Spirituality – Compassion and Care of Oneself article for more detail about the 4 bodies of man.
The theory is that one current of energy runs from the earth, up through the legs and onto the head of a person. This current of energy somatises into the body by the subsequent activation of the Sympathetic state of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
It represents our masculine self and energy, and activates our will, our doing or actioning, and our creation or manifesting potentiality. It also puts people into the “fight or flight” state when it is a chronically held disposition towards life. Refer to the section on The Role of the ANS elsewhere in this website for more information on this condition.
Another current of energy runs from the air down into the crown of our head and down to and out the feet. This descending current of energy is our feminine self and spirituality, and is the basis for us resting in our state of “being”, reflection and being present “in the moment” or feeling interconnected with all other life.
This is also the current of energy that somatises into the body by the subsequent activation of the Para Sympathetic state of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This state creates the basis for bodily health due to the role it plays on our HPA axis in the brain, and the triggering of the immune system to heal and maintain healthy regulation of the body. Refer to the section on The Role of the ANS elsewhere in this website for more information on this condition.
Core Energetics agrees with Wilhelm Reich on the topics of characterology and the formation of the 5 primary character types. Refer elsewhere in this website for more information on each of these topics.
In an energetic context the Core Energetics Model (above) illustrates the layers of our energy and defence systems. The concept of the Core (higher self) is that it is a pulsing, moving energy of life. This is our Life Force which seeks constantly to expand and grow.
When in touch with this part of ourselves we feel love for our fellow creatures and ourselves. It is our connection to the universe and forms part of our spiritual nature. The Lower Self (shadow side/primal wound) arises due to violations of the core and promotes survival thinking and self-oriented behaviours.
When we are hurt, rejected, or violated we feel anger, hate and rage. Children in our society are punished for expressing strong emotions and quickly learn to hide them.
This energy becomes stagnant and produces the next layer of defence, which becomes the physical armouring. The concept of Physical Armouring is the theory of the ways our bodymind creates muscular blocks in the body to dim awareness and numb out feelings.
This form of defence becomes the patterns of holding the physical energy. This creates muscular blocks to feeling and energy flow in the physical body.
For example, fear can unconsciously elicit held breath and raised shoulders. If this happens often enough a person develops permanent holding patterns and tension which are clearly evident in the body.
Refer to Reich’s Segmental Armouring Theory for more information.
The Social Mask is what we develop to become acceptable, to adapt to our early life challenges, and is what we are supposed to be like, act like,and think like. It is a false Self that is our adapted self and it is what we pretend to be so that our caretakers and later society will accept us.
Pierrakos noted that “The mask dampens the vibrancy and buoyancy of the life centre.”.
The therapist provides a supportive environment in which the client can access deep inner processes, reach catharsis or containment, and release blocked energy in the body. Although aware of the client’s character defences and destructive life patterns, the therapist focuses on the core of the person: his/her spiritual capacity, ability to love and life task.
The therapy is considered a process and not an event. It involves several stages of progression which each must be negotiated before commencing the next stage.
The first stage involves analysis a clients history, understanding their background and the formative events, dynamics, experiences, and who were the significant others in their life. From this understanding we will see this story written into the body posture, shape and structure, as well as the personality, where a coping mechanism which we call the mask exists.
We map out the mental or ego compensations and adaptations which form defences and also map out how the bodily defences exist in sympathy to create an overall bodymind defence network. The Mask is an important concept. In Core Energetics it is understood that as children, human beings are constantly being taught how to act and behave.
This creates repression of one’s true self, and in reaction a mask is created, which the individual uses when faced with people they love and depend upon. This mask conceals both the Higher Self and the Lower Self, two other fundamental concepts in Core Energetics.
The Higher Self is the Core, that authentic spiritual reality which is the source of one’s energy and consciousness. In contrast, the Lower Self is an individual’s destructive energy directed at themself and at those who have prevented their true and free expression.
It serves to protect us from the potential consequences of authentic emotional expression, and becomes fixed, hardened and literally shapes our physical bodily structure. The Lower (negative) and Higher (positive) selves are dualistic opposites or the dual nature of man. Both are in truth but each expresses a different pole of energy and consciousness of the person.
In this first stage of therapy we penetrate and confront the mask as it exists at both the bodily and mental/emotional/spiritual levels. We take the client from unconscious to conscious awareness and appreciation of their own mask, character structure, and defensive armouring.
We teach certain energetic and somatic bodily exercises, work with the client to start to express their emotions through their body, where they start to feel again. Clients start to notice their defences and old unconscious patterns which ran them in the past.
They begin to reclaim disowned thoughts, memories, feelings, and truths, as well as to make conscious distorted beliefs, wrong conclusions about themselves. They start to release any pent-up emotions and energy.
As the therapy moves into the second stage of the work we see the therapist taking the client deeper into their shadow or lower self where deeper feelings are held, and the destructive or negative parts of the self start to feel safe to be released and expressed.
The therapist may employ specific Sensorimotor Psychotherapy techniques first to stabilise the client and create a safe and stable container for any emotional release work to come. We may release strong emotions like anger but it is the finding of meaning and transformation of beliefs at this point which is the key point for healing to occur.
Emotional release work is quite common in this second stage of the work. Some muscular release or use of somatic equipment such as rollers, punching bags, or cathartic release of rage or terror can be slowly introduced where needed.
This must be carefully approached so as not to traumatise or re-traumatise the client. The muscular blocks in the body may be approached for release and re-patterned.
The second stage will answer questions about why there is a pattern or attitude of denial in the client, understand the disowned parts of the self at a deep level, and start reclaiming and re-integrating these. The meaning and intent of the various defences are probed and understood, the knock-on-effects into other areas of life and the cost therefore of holding onto that attitude are confronted.
The third stage of the work looks to transform the client and reorient them towards finding their life purpose, and to increase meaning and purpose in their lives. A fundamental aim of any therapy session is making contact and allowing the client to again trust making contact with others.
This happens when there is an energy resonance between the therapist and client. You are on the same wavelength and have both moved beyond mask.
At the start of each session, the therapist creates a safe container for the work and connects with the Higher Self or positive intention of the client. The aim of the therapist is to penetrate the Mask, through which the Mask is identified and the pain of being false is acknowledged.
The second phase is to release the Lower Self, and in this phase the present is connected with the past and the integration of unresolved issues and ‘charge’ held in the Lower Self takes place.
In the third phase, to centre in the Higher Self, the individual is encouraged to reach for the creativity and love within themselves through greater connection with the Higher Self.
In the fourth phase, to uncover the Life Plan, the individual is taught how to act upon the Core’s impulse so as to actualize his/her life task. Not every client wants to proceed this far in therapy and that is fine.
The therapist works with the client on all five layers of his humanity i.e. body, emotion, cognition, will and spirit. Closure simply means to find a way to transition the client from the work of the session to whatever work or life context he/she is returning to.
Spirituality is the connection between the being and the essential true self: the Core. The therapist believes that the deeper this connection is, the deeper an individual’s contact is with his spirit, others, the world and the Cosmos.
Spirituality is a belief and so it is not imposed on any client’s reality, nor any tradition or religion type suggested. Clients either want this dimension in their therapy work or they do not, and both are acceptable stances to take in our work.
Furthermore, spirituality is when engaged another level of resource that for believers is essential in the self discovery of creativity, joy, love and the greater purpose of life. Counselling with Core Energetics therapy can also address subtle aspects of self that some may call ‘spiritual’, as deeply held beliefs and inner life experience are addressed to enlarge the possibilities in your life.
At times it can be helpful to couple psychological insight with spiritual experience when addressing your inner life experience. Core Energetics therapy is an effective means of transpersonal counselling for those who seek such work.