The Five Elements in Therapy – A psychoenergetic Approach to Psychotherapy and Music Therapy

by Daniel Perret

Metaphors such as the five elements earth, water, fire, air and space give us the means to integrate deeper and hidden aspects. I had the unique opportunity to study transpersonal psychology and the human energy fields in a scientific way for twenty years with the Irish born healer Robert Samuel Moore. He taught in Denmark from 1976-1999. One thing energy teaches us is that everything is connected. No energy field, no human being lives cut off or sheltered from outside influences. Studying energy brings an integrated understanding of the inside and the outside, the ‘above’ and the ‘below’, spirit and matter. It teaches us how different body parts link to specific emotions, feelings, memories, thought patterns and belief structures.

You do not need to see energy fields in order to work with them. We all link in to some aspects of energy. The deeper we work with someone, the more we need to be in contact with our feelings and our intuition, the more we invariably tune into non physical dimensions. We may never call it ‘energy’ and that does not matter.

We may not need to connect to the subtle energy anatomy of a person, but it helps to get an understanding of what the deeper aspects of a person are, what their purpose in life may be and what their innate strengths are. It may also help to understand what blockages are made of and what caused them. We can learn how physical pain may relate to a deeper cause like a strong emotion, corresponding thought patterns and beliefs, as well as a specific chain of events in one’s life, to subconscious memory structures located next to the physical blockage, etc. Studying energy takes time but is accessible for anyone. One thing we have got to get accustomed to when working with energy perception, is that everyone has individual ways of perceiving energy. Energy perception requires us to connect to our feelings and this requires that we are in touch with our emotions and thus our body. Studying energy therefore moves us forward on our own developmental path.

One way to tune into deeper aspects of a person is to watch how she expresses, how she moves and how her voice feels. The psychotherapist must not only trust the words but the ‘music’ in them. He must trust his own feelings and intuitions. As a musician and a music therapist, I discovered that free musical expression reflects all these inner dimensions – as do other forms of spontaneous creative expression such as body movement, dance, singing and painting. If these activities are done spontaneously, without the aim of producing anything commercial or otherwise ‘useful’, they give us a means to express innermost and true feelings in an uncensored way.

The metaphoric system of the five elements earth, water, fire, air and space has been part of our European culture and everyday language for millennia. The elements are what the world, nature and ourselves are made of and they connect us to ancient natural wisdom. Many words in our everyday language connect to the elements and often refer to those deeper aspects in us. A very useful way to link them with the zones of our body, emotions, feelings and thoughts comes to us from the Indian and Tibetan traditions. These traditions had the wisdom not to throw overboard the understanding of energy as we did when Christianity and western science developed.

Reich indicated body zones where blockages often form. These zones correspond quite accurately with the locations of the main energy centers of the body, also called chakras or ‘wheels of energy’. The chart brings all these levels together. The practical application makes full use of the metaphor of an element. Observing a particular element in nature, such as water, teaches us a lot about how the water-area in a human being operates.

I work as a music therapist in a hospital in central France with autistic, psychotic and disharmonic children between the ages of 3 and 13. These children often have insufficient contact with their lower body or their body in general. This implies that they do not have very good contact with their emotions. This in turn gives them little access to feelings which in turn greatly affects their thinking. These links have been confirmed by Antonio Damasio, the American brain specialist (Damasio, 1994). This constellation can be seen in the child’s movements. When the child plays a drum for instance, he uses steely, hard, robot like movements, sometimes with an extreme violence. These movements are not fluent. The child’s way of thinking often lacks fluency as well. We recall that anger and rhythm are related to the water area. Water moves in rhythms. Every brook or river would meander through a landscape if left to flow naturally. Studies show that these meandering movements help water to cleanse itself as well as the riverbeds.

Through dreams we can also pick up the symbolic level of disturbance in the water area where for instance steel structures can appear in water. This is a clear sign of strong interference of thoughts into the body’s natural instinctive intelligence. Some people with troubles in their psychic water area would be afraid of water or of swimming in deep water. In turn they are afraid of what is beneath the surface of the lake or sea. Symbolically this represents the subconscious.

 

earth

water

Fire

air

space

Quality of

the element

Solid

Liquid

heat, light, warmth

light, invisible, free, flexible

emptiness

Body zone

from feet to sacrum

From sacrum up to heat point, 3 fingers underneath navel

From heat point to lower end of sternum

chest

From upper end of sternum to eyebrows

Tendency

descending, adhesive

descending, gathering

Ascending, expanding, ripening

dispersing

dissolving

 

 

Symbol

Zodiac sign

Musical

characteristics

basic structure

e.g. tonality, pulse

lively rhythms

radiating,

dynamic loud/low

fluctuation,

melody, chords

silence, space,

not ‘busy’

Chakra

Root

Hara

solar plexus

Heart

Thyroid

Endocrine glands

Adrenals

ovaries, testicles

Pancreas

thymus

Thyroid

Location of chakra

sacrum, at back

5 finger below navel

stomach area

middle of sternum

Throat

Reich’s body

blockage zones

Buttocks

Belly

Diaphragm

Chest

Neck

Sense

Smell

Taste

sight

Touch

hearing

Emotion

Insecurity

Anger

Fear

depression

suppression

Feeling

Security

Calm

love, understanding

Joy, compassion

expression

Quality

stability, concentration

vitality, creativity

Transformation

of emotions

inspiration

essence,

emptiness

Level

Physical

etheric

astral.

mental

conscience

Relates to

The fundamental structures of our life : house, body, money, partnership, etc.

Subconscious memory in its impacts from the five senses : pictures, smells, sounds, etc.

Emotional impact from other people; emotional load of memory

Contact (or lack of) to the spiritual

 

The water area links us to the inner male/female balance, sexuality, creativity, vitality, anger or its opposite, ‘calmness’ and instinctive intelligence. Some musical instruments like certain drums and xylophones can help to bring our consciousness into the water area and restore its balance (Perret, 2005b). As with water the study of the other body zones and their respective elements bring a lot of insights into the way in which different aspects and levels in us are linked.

There is a lot of wisdom in how nature operates and how its elements work if left to function naturally. This leads us to reflect on how we have been treating these elements over the past centuries. Pollution for instance corresponds to a way of thinking, to a suppression of a natural element in us. We may perceive through the metaphor of the five elements, earth, water, fire, air and space, why the elements in nature have increasingly come out of harmony in the last few years and how this balance may be restored.

My way of working in psychotherapy with music, has lead me to observe what I call neuro-musical thresholds (Perret, 2005). They are hurdles in musical expression, that seem to correspond to an inner blockage or a neurological and psychological deficiency. Working on its outer expression brings about inner changes although this may take months to achieve. I have observed several thresholds concerning the water area of the body. Many children in our day clinic find it difficult to go beyond playing a regular beat, i.e. a normal pulsation. They don’t perceive what a rhythm is and of course they cannot dance. They act as if ‘colour blind’ to the phenomenon of rhythm. For eighteen months I worked with a boy who showed great enthusiasm for drumming encouraging him to overcome this blind spot in our music therapy sessions.

So many aspects of expression, whether musical or not link directly to inner phenomena. They can be best detected when the person is encouraged to express spontaneously through movement, voice or instrumental music. Some of these links have been researched by neuroscience. This is the case for instance with the sequential treatment of music and language (Platel et al, 1997). Both happen in the same part of the left brain. Sequential treatment determines what comes first and in what sequence the rest follows. This allows us to construct sentences with shared meaning. In music it conveys melodic or rhythmical cells, conveying also types of meaning. I worked for several months with a six year old boy who was learning correct sequences of 3-5 notes or beats. He had a very enthusiastic use of words, but I could not understand him because he used words in wild order. Having worked with him for several months on that issue, parallel with having fun in music and working on other issues, he finally managed to repeat sequences successfully. His parents, teacher and colleagues in our team all agreed that his language dramatically improved.

Note, psycho-energetic refers to the link between the energy dimension of a person and his psychological structure.

Daniel Perret teaches courses on psychoenergetic approaches to psychotherapy and music therapy in Ireland, France and Switzerland. Vallonperret@wanadoo.fr

References

Damasio, Antonio, (1994), Descarte’s Error, Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Putnam

Perret, Daniel, (2005), Roots of Musicality – Music Therapy and Personal Development, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Perret, Daniel, (2005b), Healing Sounds with the five Elements, Binkey Kok Publications, Havelte, NL

Platel, H. et al (1997), The structural components of music perception – A functional anatomical study, in Brain, Vol. 120, pp 229-243