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Who Do We Think We Are? Superegos or Genuine Carers? by Gunnel Minett

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Judging by emails and other writings from Breathworkers around the world, there seems to be a growing trend to highlight the healing they provide. Not just on a one-to-one basis, but also healing of whole countries. 

In a recent email from the president of IBF she writes: “Every year for the past 22 years, the GIC has travelled to various parts of the world, bringing with it a very special energy. Over the last years, it has become very clear to me that there is a higher purpose behind every GIC destination. The GIC has often been held in special places in need of particular healing or in places where the IBF community can be replenished and nurtured in its essence.. and often both. “ 
And in a recent book, Australian breathworker John Stamoulos makes it very clear that he sees himself chosen for very important  healing work and describes in detail how many people he has affected by his healing presence. On his website he gives this information about himself: “From the first experience of Breathwork, he was fully aware of its power to heal. It has been his life’s focus ever since”. These are just two examples of many of how breathworkers see themselves as having an important role in ‘healing the planet’. 

Nothing wrong with healing

Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting to heal. We all want to do that, from very early childhood throughout life. This urge to heal is so deeply rooted that it can be described as hardwired in our body/brain. Nor is it limited to the human species. There are many stories of people risking, or even sacrificing their own lives to save animals. The reason for this strong urge to heal is that it is closely linked with survival. Helping others, creating an environment of healing will ultimately benefit the healer as well as the people being healed. So for all of us, breathworkers included, whether we heal on a one-to-one basis, near and dear ones or the whole planet, the end result will be a better place for everyone. 

So what is healing? 

According to Wikipedia physiological healing:
“(literally meaning to make whole) is the process of the restoration of health to an unbalanced, diseased or damaged organism”
In psychiatry and psychology: “healing is the process by which neuroses and psychoses are resolved to the degree that the client is able to lead a normal or fulfilling existence without being overwhelmed by psychopathological phenomena. This process may involve psychotherapy, pharmaceutical treatment and increasingly traditional spiritual approaches. ”
Even if this is not the only definition, we have a shared idea of what healing involves. But do we also agree on the end result of healing? The result of physiological healing is easier to determine. Medicine is good at distinguishing the difference between healthy and damaged organisms. Psychological healing, on the other hand, poses more of a challenge. We are not as clear of how to determine when a person is ‘able to lead a normal or fulfilling existence’. Here we have to consider culture, religion, individual preferences etc that will make it difficult to set a norm for fulfilling existence or normality that will fit all. Not to mention who is to decide if a person is healed. The person being healed or the healer.

Challenge number one

There are many challenges when working as a healer. But one of the biggest is to differentiate between the healer’s own idea of what it means to heal and that of the person/people being heal. If we don’t share the idea of fulfilling existence to start with who is to say that a person is healed. And what if the healer is simply ‘healing’ him/herself by feeling good about the idea that they have healing powers or have been ‘chosen’ to heal others. Or if they are totally blinded by their perceived role as ‘healers’ to be able to objectively judge the actual results of their work. Again, reading about breathworkers, for many, this potential risk of misjudging their role does not seem to be a problem. They seem very clear that what they do is healing, and are even able to tell exactly how many they have managed to heal. Not even when the evidence is less than clear that the receiver of their work feels ‘healed’ does this seem to be a problem. The overriding factor seems to be that the healer is satisfied with the result. If it feels right for the healer it must be right for everyone else too.

Group attitudes

Although the recent email from the IBF president does not deal with healing, I’d like to use it to illustrate an attitude that is very common for breathworkers. She writes as regards the venue for the next Global Inspiration Conference: “For those of you who may be concerned regarding the choice of our venue, I will clarify a few things: When Marie Rose met the new management of the hotel last year in May, after looking at other alternatives, she KNEW this was the right place for us to go….”
This idea that one person just ‘KNOWS’ what is right for others is not limited to finding a location or other practical things. It is often used in the context of ‘KNOWING’ what is right for others is enough, in particular as regards their ‘healing process’. And of course, to some extent we know very well what is right for others, sometimes even better than for ourselves, since ‘the overall picture’ may be clearer from ‘the outside’. But this is one of the biggest challenges for any psychotherapist. To be able to see objectively what is best for others and not to confuse it with personal needs. It really demands good self knowledge and solid training for the therapist to distinguish between their own needs and that of their client. Unlike breathwork, in conventional therapy this is a well known problem that has a central role in the training to become a therapist.
For many breathworkers this kind of objectivity is not an acknowledged problem. Instead they seem to encourage each other to believe that they somehow, through their own breathwork sessions, have acquired extra skills so that they just ‘KNOW’ when they are right. In one lecture by a Russian breathworker to a group of Cambridge academics, he described how his breathwork school trained student to become ‘clairvoyant’ so that they would know exactly what the client’s problems were. One can only hope that this approach has not spread outside Russia, where this attitude to deciding for others may be more accepted given its totalitarian history.

Oh but it feels so right

Even if we all rely on intuition it should always be hand in hand with reality checks. In particular when intuition is used in the therapy room where the balance between client/therapist is often uneven. By definition almost, the therapist’s intuition will ‘override’ that of the client. After all the therapist is the one who (supposedly) has the knowledge of how to heal the client. Still, we should remind ourselves that a large part of psychopathology comes from parents who simply ‘KNOW’ what is best for their children, rather than self-aware enough to see that they need to separate their own needs so that they can pay attention to the child’s real needs. 

Not always so good

Throughout the history of breathwork, this attitude to ‘just KNOWING’ right from wrong and the tendency to impose this on clients (and fellow therapists), has had a very destructive impact. Not only has ‘just KNOWING’ been used as the ultimate way to judge if a trainee is qualified to work as a professional breathworker. Conveniently perhaps, this KNOWING has not required much need for a proper theoretical framework, or the often tedious work of constructing proper qualifications. 
This KNOWING has also caused endless conflicts within breathwork groups and kept breathwork firmly out of a fringe compared to other forms of psychotherapy. It has also contributed to the confusion around the whole healing process and created an image that it is the breath itself that holds a healing power. This in itself neatly removes responsibility away from the therapist. As long as they know the breathing technique they don’t have to worry about their own input in the breathing session. They are just there to witness the healing magic of the breath. But when just KNOWING overrides factual knowledge and recognition of a proper theoretical framework it leaves breathwork looking very much like a cult. A cult with a clear hierarchy to determine who is the most advanced ‘healer’. With initiation rituals rather than exams and a focus on ‘healing presence’ of advanced people rather than peer group gatherings. 

Who is who of breathwork?

Books by Orr/Ray or later breathworkers such as John Stamoulos very soon make it obvious that they regard themselves as having a higher level of ‘healing power’ than normal people. To channel ‘healing powers’ from some form of ‘ascended masters’ is a well known breathwork concept. It is hardly ever questioned or challenged in breathwork. People who question the authority of a breathworker with greater ‘healing power’ are often put in their place with ‘advice’ of what they ‘need to work with’ to overcome their confusion. Not always displaying the ‘loving and heart-centred’ attitude that breathworkers like to use to describe themselves and their work. Being one of those who do question, I have very angrily been called “mentally and spiritually retarded” by Leonard Orr for instance simply for questioning his so called ‘biggies theory’. 

Other ways of healing

The AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) approach to ‘healing’ has been a very successful way to help people with addiction problems back to a more ‘normal and fulfilling existence’. There is a reason why the various help groups include the word ‘anonymous’. With the AA approach fancy names and titles count for nothing. On the contrary everyone is simply a peer who can help by sharing their story and by being there for others on an equal basis as a fellow human being. Of course even in these groups many want to take on the role of ‘healer’. The difference here though is that when it happens it is seen as just another problem that this person needs to become aware of and refrain from. 
Perhaps the time has come to form a Healer Anonymous group. It would probably do breathwork the world of good. And for those who find it too hard to give up their healer status, let’s hope they decide to hold their next Global Inspiration Conference in Syria. If there is any place on this planet right now that is in desperate need of healing, Syria must be top of the list. 

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