The Wild Heart Expressive Arts Teacher Training Program begins in a little less than a month and as Tim and I are preparing and refining the curriculum it’s also making me think about some of the psychological, spiritual and philosophical roots and influences that inform what and how we teach.
Over the next week or so I want to share with you the various parts of my lineage in terms of how I approach this expressive arts work. And what you can learn from me by participating in this program.
I’ve been teaching the intuitive painting process for almost 28 years but I also had a career as a psychotherapist and bodyworker that began over 45 years ago. And I embarked on my quest to heal myself ( which is where all these quests ultimately begin) 51 years ago!
Which means I’ve been in this line of work related to healing and personal growth for a VERY long time.
It all began when I was nineteen years old and I was in my first year of college, struggling with depression. I had gone to therapy for a few sessions with a guy who sat behind a big wooden desk, taking notes on a yellow pad of paper, occasionally falling asleep and at the end of anything I shared would say to me something along the lines of: “Don’t worry. One day you’ll get married and have kids and then everything will be OK.”
It didn’t take me long to figure out that this “therapy” wasn’t going to really give me what I needed.
Around that time that I stumbled upon a book in the University Of Pittsburgh book store titled Depression And The Body by Alexander Lowen. Alexander Lowen had developed an approach to psychological and emotional healing called Bioenergetics which recognized that unconscious emotions could be blocked and held in the body as tension. And unless those tensions and emotions could be emancipated and deeply felt nothing would ever really change. The body would continue to hold onto any psychological patterns that a person was trying to transform , because on many levels our body IS the unconscious.
He taught people how to release those tense places of physical holding through various body positions and postures that were designed to help open up the breath, hips, pelvis, head and neck. He developed a technique to encourage his clients to get grounded by freeing up the energy in the legs. But he also encouraged emotional and energetic release through certain kinds of proscribed exercises, like making faces, and sounds. He was a big fan of helping folks release aggression and frustration though lying on their backs and kicking energetically on a mattress, encouraging their inner child to throw an actual tantrum.
I always think of him as the founding father of expressing anger through the 70’s encounter group technique of pounding pillows.
Reading this book felt like a total revelation and a way forward in terms of my emotional struggles. Needless to say, there weren’t too many bioenergetic therapists located in the working class town of Pittsburgh, PA. But I did find a couple who were offering weekend body based, encounter group type retreats at a healing retreat center in Mays Landing, New Jersey.
I attended a couple of those retreats and got my first taste of sitting in a circle with other folks being open and honest and emotionally vulnerable. And of course, I was hooked. Pretty much for life.
This experience of working with the body, releasing emotions and doing that in a supportive community environment left me hungry for more. And it catalyzed my decision to leave the provincial environment of the urban midwest and make my way to the alternative healing promised land of California.
Once I got to California I didn’t waste any time in pursuing my passion for not only healing old childhood wounds but also learning how to live life in a new and much more fulfilling way.
I immediately signed up for a 6 month training to become a massage therapist which continued my exploration of how the body is integral to the process of becoming more fully alive.
And not too long after that, I discovered a place called The Healing Ourselves Center, located in Berkeley California that offered classes, workshops and retreats using both Bioenergetics in a community group process setting but also utilized something called Reichian breathwork as one of their primary healing tools.
It turned out that Alexander Lowen was a student of a German psychoanalyst named Wilhelm Reich, who himself was a student of Freuds. And while Freud was trying to understand human psychology by exploring the mind, Reich was exploring the mysteries of the body and how our deepest emotions and traumas get stored as tightness and tension in our muscles, tissues and nervous system. This habitual tension and holding was something he called body armoring. And he developed a system for working directly with this armoring in order to heal psychological trauma and emotional issues, that included working with the breath.
So in many ways he is the father of the multitude of body therapies like Somatic Experiencing that are helping people heal from trauma today.
During my time at Healing Ourselves I not only engaged with these body based practices for my own personal healing but I also studied and trained to teach Bio-energetics and to become a Reichian breathworker.
I taught weekly Bioenergetics classes for years and had a private practice working with individuals and groups, guiding them through breathwork sessions and holding space for them as they navigated their way through body based tension, blockages and difficult emotions. And through that process helping them to open up into a greater experience of energy and aliveness.
As I continued on my personal and professional journey into the world of psychological and emotional healing I eventually developed skills as a psychotherapist, guiding people into the depth of their inner worlds using intuition, language and the psychotherapeutic relationship. But I always included my understanding of the role of the body in healing as I worked with people’s hearts and souls and minds.
Even as I branched out into facilitating therapy groups I would always begin our group process sessions with some kind of embodied expressive movement to help people connect with the present moment and with what was most real and alive in terms of their somatic experience.
That body based understanding of the human soul and psyche has been part of my work for almost half a century and I continued to carry that deep knowing and depth of experience into facilitating my expressive arts intuitive painting classes.
Utilizing these embodiment practices and combining them with intuitive painting is actually quite unique to how I do this work.
And is something that I will happily teach and share with you if you come into my Wild Heart Expressive Arts Teacher Training program!!!
So if this way of creating and healing sounds interesting and exciting to you consider joining us for the next round of the Wild Heart Expressive Arts Teacher Training Program Online.