A Brief Look at Energy Work and Shamanic Practices in Psychotherapy

by Christine Wick, Ph.D.

In my work with clients, I sometimes incorporate tools and methods that are not strictly psychological in origin. My clients and I have found that there can be further release of limiting thoughts and patterns of behavior by temporarily giving up the question of why they feel or act in troubling ways and instead turning attention to inner sensations and associated imagery.

I have found the concept of a flow of energy through one’s body to be useful in psychotherapy. Many people have blockages, particularly in the pelvis area, due to a variety of reasons like past emotional hurts or physical traumas. These can be cleared through the client noticing sensations such as heaviness in the belly or tightness at the heart, voicing associated thoughts, images and feelings, and then having that particular energy center opened by me as the practitioner and using breath to pulse the “heavy energy” out. Understanding what is happening is less important than experiencing some lightness or relief from discomfort.

I will also often suggest rituals to clients to augment the change process. A typical one involves fire. Building a fire, and then placing in it an object such as a branch, which represents the person or quality one is “letting go” of, can help concretize the experience of giving up something (for instance, fear) to make room for something else (e.g., taking on a new challenge).

Shamanic practices stem from the oldest spiritual beliefs in the power of nature. From my years of therapy experience, I believe that clients who have had problematic parenting can gain inner strength and healing by seeing themselves as growing like a plant does, needing sun, water, good soil. In a sense, they learn to “bypass” their family heritage and find other sources of emotional nourishment. I encourage clients to walk outside to get direct effects from sunlight, natural beauty, etc. but also encourage them to build their inner imagery of places in nature that are soothing or exciting.

Many tools from shamanism teach an intuitive way of knowing. By sharpening their intuitive skills, clients can learn to be less reliant on rational thought alone, as linear thinking is often inadequate when dealing with questions of love, loss, meaning, purpose.

One of the great values of therapy is in providing a place where people can tell their life stories, often stories they haven’t told before, and which may involve considerable pain and shame. As a therapist, my goal is to listen deeply and reflect back what might be hidden in these stories. At the same time, I think there comes a time to move beyond the story, a time when the story becomes limiting. Ultimately, my goal is to help clients respond in the present moment to what is happening in the present moment, unhampered by the past because the past has been shed, as a snake sheds its skin. Then the creative potentials of life truly become accessible.

The above article expresses the opinions of the author and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of other members of the Women’s Therapy Referral Service.