The Use of the Chakras in Psychotherapy – An Introduction

by Shirley A Ward

‘As we explore the Chakras one by one, we see a healthy system implies much more than freedom from disease; vitality; ‘appropriate feelings’; appropriate thought processes; a willingness to embrace change in our lives; creative self expression; creative self responsibility; intuitive understanding; healthy spiritual relationships; to be full of light, life and wellbeing’.

                                                                  Rosalyn.L.Bruyere   DD

Introduction

The Chakras are the energy centres that make up the human energy field.  These energies in the body not yet recognised by many in the Western world who believe there is no scientific proof of its existence.  Certainly it would not be recognised by many working in traditional orthodox medicine, and those who have experienced it tend to be working now in their own therapeutic practices alongside one or two complementary therapies.

However, with the influx into Ireland over the past twenty years of Complementary Medicines and Therapies which base their whole model on the presence of a human energy field, it is time to ponder over a whole new way of ‘thinking’ and to ask what is happening in the field of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy.  I believe there is a place for the use of the Chakras in Psychotherapy and the understanding of energy healing, which in some intangible way is already what many psychotherapists are doing – and what many clients want in our new millennium.

A Personal Perspective

I was introduced to the whole concept of the Chakras in 1981 when Rosalyn Bruyere first came to Ireland to teach her workshops on healing.   I found the concept challenging, yet so simple to follow, and it gave me the insight and the answer to what I was looking for in my own healing, and also further integration of human understanding and the depth work with clients in my psychotherapeutic practice.

I had looked earlier for a concept that could help me integrate rhythms and patterns of people’s lives from conception to death, and I found answers in the concept of Fractal Patterns.  Now my excitement rose at the idea of being able to explore different levels of healing, not only psychologically, but in the whole sphere of body, mind, emotional and spiritual healing.   I developed a significant understanding of the chakras in my own life, which helped my own energy levels, not only in experiencing the depth or frequency in which a trauma had ‘gone in’, but how energy patterns were changed on re-experiencing a trauma, bringing it back into consciousness and  allowing it dissipate. It made so much sense in so many areas of human trauma.

During these years the work of Jean Houston influenced me greatly and her writings sang of the integration of life events and her concepts of sacred psychology.  In the fusing of secular psychology, psychotherapy and sacred psychology I found many answers.  The chakras brought an understanding of the spiritual dimension.  It was wonderful to recognise that it was not only the psychological level that I needed to work with  but by experiencing my life in the seven major energy areas I could expand and contract  in life according to the environment and situations I found myself in – and not continually be in contraction as is the script of the forceps delivered birth such as my own!

Never was it more clear to me, in retrospect, as a young novice in religious life I was ‘forced’ or expected to be spiritual, know how to pray – or have a healthy spiritual life (in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh chakras) when my basic needs for survival and relationships (in the first, second and third chakras ) were so ‘messed up’ in these three counselling chakras, as I call them, that I didn’t know whether I was standing on my head or my heels!  In my 20’s I was trying to be spiritual at a very deep level before I came to terms with being human.  I wonder how many more of us have found ourselves in this predicament.  Not grounding the energy field can turn us into what I would describe as ‘space cadets’ – and I leave you to visualise what this means!

Jean Houston (1996) wrote:-

In sacred psychology we take it for granted that our existential life is the largest part of our existence, while psyche is some anomalous misty stuff that we relegate to the basement.  In sacred psychology however, we discover that it is not psyche that exists in us, but we who exist in psyche, just as the larger life of psyche exists in the realm of God.”

Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy is not only looking at purely psychological problems of humanity.  It helps each person to alleviate problems at many levels. This is for each individual to maintain a strong energy system capable of meeting the challenges of a constantly changing planet and evolving consciousness.

The integration of understanding energy into psychotherapy introduces the transpersonal element.  In my own work as a trainer and psychotherapist, by introducing the use of chakras and understanding of the human energy field it has helped students and clients to find an equality of awareness, a humbling recognition of our humanness at all levels, in all dimensions, on many spheres.  It opens up a wonderful dimension on a fractal level of the magnificent creativity of our spirituality; and by this I am not speaking of religion.

As spiritual beings coming to terms with a physical body – the chakras appear to map the progress of personal consciousness from conception, the life of the embryo, to the higher stages of self-realisation and ultimate reunion with a Divine Source, whatever that might mean for individuals.

The Thoughts of Other Writers

In antiquity the words ‘Know Thyself’ written above the door of the temple in Delphi, Greece, had more than a decorative significance. John Rowan, in a presentation to the IAHIP AGM in March 1992 spoke of his translation of Ken Wilbers work and explained that we reach a more enlightened spiritual deepening within ourselves by experiencing various therapies evolving today.  The spiritual may be reached by knowing ourselves.

Chakras are part of Eastern Psychology and Philosophy, particularly introduced into the West through the tradition and practice of Yoga.   Ken Wilber in his essay ‘Are the Chakras Real? (1979) points out that awareness is not mandatory in the journey to liberation but physiological changes in the body associated with opening up the chakras in Kudalini Yoga can be viewed either as a cause or effect of changes in consciousness.

Rowan (1993) states that Jung never really understood or embraced Yoga and refused to talk about the top two chakras. Rowan (1993 page 100) also writes of the human potential to access levels of consciousness, and although deliberately changing some of  the traditional naming of parts to fit a transpersonal model – he acknowledges that this is not far from the chakra system in yoga.

For psychotherapists still trying to make sense of peoples problems through ‘ordinary psychology the understanding of chakras may be very difficult.  This also applies to those living in a social context which is unsympathetic to a change in thinking. Clients do move into the transpersonal area and psychotherapists in the western world need knowledge of the chakra system in order to understand cultural differences. Also to assist their clients in what might become spiritual emergencies according to Stan Grof ( 1989 and 1990) particularly when personal transformation becomes a crisis.

A Changing Way of Thinking

Traditionally, most of us when thinking of the mind, immediately think of the brain. Over the years, science has begun to postulate that the mind is not in the brain. Penfield (1976) wrote that thought and memory seem to exist throughout the body; Reich (1948) believed memory was being logged primarily within the body’s fascia or connective tissues. In this respect Bruyere (1989) believes thought can also be described as a form of energy. Rupert Sheldrake in Chamberlain (1990) favours the hypothesis that brains are like tuning devices, and the storage of memory is outside the brain and body.

Western society for many hundreds of years lost touch with the principles, harmony and unity known and expressed by many ancient cultures.  The concept that we are all energy, pain is blocked energy and the mind is in the energy field around and through the body, and may or may not be controlled by the brain –  has been literally unthinkable!

The Chakra system is at least a 5,000 year old way to integrate body, mind, emotions and spirit.  If the mind is in the energy field, and the Chakra system is the human energy field – there is a valid reason for psychotherapists to study and understand it.

From antiquity there have been various descriptions of the field of energy which emanates from the physical body.  This luminous radiation was called an aura by the ancients.  They knew a person’s aura was a reflection of the soul – also reflecting much of the person’s physical being. They also knew that these subtle energy fields generated that auric light.

Antiquity is filled with descriptions of spinning wheels of colour, subtle bodies of light within a denser larger human body.  To a person who can see the auric field the chakras appear as little cyclones or whirling vortexes of energy.  The words aura and auric light may send warning bells to some – because it rings of clairvoyance, spiritualism and matters that traditional Christians have been conditioned not to be involved with.   This mind set needs to be worked through and a changing way of thinking experienced, as the chakras can be utilised in psychotherapy in a most acceptable way.

Scientific Proof

We know that all living matter radiates energy.  Isaac Newton alluded to electromagnetic light as early as 1759.   In the last twenty five years science is confirming the existence of the human energy field and the subtle energies generated from it.   In seven years of research at UCLA Dr Valerie Hunt was able to discuss the nature of Newton’s electromagnetic light, which is called an electromagnetic field by todays scientists.  The results of this study in 1979 called the Rolf Study, Bruyere (1989) in which Dr Hunt and Rosalyn Bruyere worked together  not only provided evidence that chakra energies or frequencies exist but they are connected in a very real way to our sensations, feelings and thoughts.

Nelson (1994) states that this highly thought of chakra system is a cornerstone of modern medicine and psychiatry in most oriental countries and is taught as a ‘hardscience’ in many Asian medical schools.

Like so many aspects of ‘new technology’ today, chakras are beyond our perception but we know they are there!  For example evidence of energy waves are scientifically proven through the waves from one mobile phone to another; also from a computer thousands of miles away your computer can receive an email that has travelled in a way that is unseen by our human eyes, Tubridy (2003). This is the same as your energy field.  They are there – spinning wheels, discs of light, holders of information; spinning wheels of energy spinning in clockwise direction on the front of the body, and anticlockwise on the back.  Each chakra a centre of activity dictating a particular attitude towards reality; transmitting, receiving, processing and integrating energy on an amplitude or frequency through every cell or fibre of your body.  Impulses of energy carrying the information to transmit instructions for it to grow new cells, replicate, heal and continue all bodily functions, many of which we are not consciously aware of.

Wilber (1980), and this is now twenty five years ago, stated that the chakras are part of Eastern psychology but emphasized that it is generally agreed by Eastern and Western psychology alike that the lowest levels of development involve simple biological functions and processes. This means that the lowest levels involve somatic processes, instincts, simple sensations and perceptions and emotional-sexual impulses.

The Chakras – the Human Computer Discs!

When working with the chakras mostly it revolves round the nature and function of seven primary chakras.  There are actually over one hundred chakras in the body, found at each joint and also where every place a bone and nerve exists.

Each chakras has a personality with positive lessons and negative distortions.  When, during human development the chakras have been distorted, these are the centres to work with in psychotherapy depending on the trauma and problems presented.

In my own practice over the years I have worked on the premise that the mind is in he energy field – and therefore recall of past events are not only in the body cells which renew themselves frequently, but in the energy field.   Unless the key is found and healing takes place, negative life patterns continue to be present in newly formed cells.   This really does put a ‘new light’ onto how we all function.  In some cases the amplitude or frequency at which a trauma occurred needs to be reached during psychotherapy to allow a DC (Direct Current) Shift to happen.  This is particularly noticeable when a client is in shock – and this could be life long shock relating to childhood trauma, birth trauma or even before birth.  At this point it is important to realise that understanding and integrating the chakra system into psychotherapy is not to present an ‘other worldly’ discipline borrowed from the cultures of the East, but an integration or blending of concepts from East and West.

The Three Lower Chakras.

The three lower chakras are the counselling chakras.  They lie over a major part of the excretory organs, from where clients need to excrete negativity from their lives.  The first three chakras relate to the physical, emotional and intellectual aspects of life. These three chakras are the ones that psychotherapists are dealing with, consciously or unconsciously with clients, for changing life patterns, and possibly before any transpersonal work is reached.

Physical illness often accompanies many of the psychological problems that clients present.   Also when the physical body itself begins to go out of balance it sends signals that are not as easy to ignore as the psychological ones.  In society today anaesthetising the psychological symptoms is prevalent – alcohol use drowns the sorrows and distresses of a life; prescribed drugs and others, numb out the negative emotions; smoking ‘fogs up’ the energy field.  Smokers may well not like their own energy field but may not be aware of this factor when coming into therapy.  Work in these lower chakras is vital, as so many illnesses, diseases and depression have their roots in the lower energies.

The psychotherapist is aware of these factors but speaking of the damage that can be done to the mind of the client, may help a client to begin a physical activity that will stimulate the neurotransmitters and begin to help clear the energy field of ‘smog’ and gently help the memories, feelings, words and events to be remembered.

The First Chakra

The red energy of the first, physical chakra, is where people need to take their power, understand and feel their sexual drive and energy.  It is the source of everything we sense about physical reality, is known as the physical body and is the centre of our vitality. It contains our own sense of ourselves. All survival needs and self- preservation instincts are related to this centre.  If there is an imbalance in this physical chakra it can put all the energies of the other chakras out of balance, so it is of vital importance to balance this chakra.   The age of the chakra is four years old, and at this age the child understands self to be separate from others.  The one thing in life that is yours, and belongs to no-one else, is your body.

It is possible to tell the personality of a person and from out of which chakra they may be living their lives.  Many famous men and women throughout history could be called ‘first chakra orientated’.  They may have been famous or infamous for their qualities of dominance, power, conquest, ambition and a driving force to express vitality and prove their virility. Rameses the Great, Pharoah of Egypt, Builder of Egypt, father of 144 children and builder of statues and temples of Egypt appeared to view all life from a physical perspective.

Once a psychotherapist understands the chakras it is a useful ‘tool’ to understand from which chakra their clients are living their lives out of.  It obviously is not healthy to be living out of only one chakra. When adults have been sexually abused as children their energy field remains small and narrow, with very little light.  Adults to the victim appear large and overwhelming.  Often the adult remains in the frightened energy field of the abused child, at the age they were abused.  It is a task of the therapist to help the client claim back their energy field in order to prevent further abuse taking place as an adult.  The client needs help not only with the psychological problems but with enlarging and developing their energy field to become protected.

The Second Chakra

The second chakra is orange in colour, is the emotional body where all feelings are processed. It is located over the intestines as well as part of the body’s immune system.  It can be a place of great distress, often where depression, seen sometimes as frozen anger, which has not been helped to melt.  Health wise we need to know how we feel or don’t feel about ourselves.  This is the area where men and women experience many health problems.  The personality of this chakra is about seven years of age – getting along with each other, sharing well and wanting others to feel as they do!  It is in this chakra that we take in the feelings of others – for example if you walk into a room where someone is very depressed you can take in the feeling of depression into this chakra and literally wonder what has hit you.  It explains why we sometimes feel more exhausted with some clients more than others.

The Third Chakra

The third chakra is yellow and is the mental body or intellect.  It has the personality of the twelve year old.  Located over the stomach and below the v in the rib cage, it is here that thoughts, opinions and judgements are controlled.   Organs here are the spleen, stomach, pancreas, liver, gall bladder, adrenals and kidneys.  They control digestion – similarly these organs can be called upon to digest data that comes to them.  Often the incoming data cannot be assimilated or absorbed and can lead to stomach problems and ulcers.  Children assimilating so much at school often have ‘tummy aches’ probably caused by the amount of information coming to them from teachers. Students taking exams often feel sick and can’t digest or absorb all the information required for exam questions.  It is also a place where people ‘think’ about their feelings.

The Fourth Chakra

Symbolically this fourth, green chakra represents transformation of energy from the lower three chakras to a more compassionate place within ourselves.  The chakra  is located in the centre of the chest and is about eighteen years of age in development.  This is an age where we consider others before ourselves.  Although called the heart chakra, the organ most associated with it is the thymus.  Conflict can internalise physical and emotional problems in this area. It may also be an area of great freedom when some of the ‘rubbish’ of the lower three chakras is cleared.

The Fifth Chakra

The fifth, blue chakra is located over the throat.  If difficulty of expressing oneself is experienced, it is this chakra that is affected and often causes throat problems.  The age associated with this chakra is between twentyeight and thirty five.  It is associated with the thyroid, which controls growth and metabolism in the human body and is controlled by speech and expression.

The Sixth Chakra

The sixth, indigo or violet chakra situated in the centre of the forehead is often termed the third eye.  Being on par with the brain or nervous system it appears to be the centre of insight, intuition, awareness, sensitivity and perception.  The age of this chakra personality is somewhere between fortyfive and fifty.  It helps to clear many problems and gives clarity on how to improve one’s life.  It helps each person to find more meaningful ways of living their lives, and clears blocks,which may have hampered them through major life difficulties. This chakra is the body which holds our individual future and is also our access to understanding that future.   It is the realm of light, influencing all that light enables us to see.  It allows us to see the light.

The Seventh Chakra

The white, seventh chakra is the ketheric body, (Kether in Hebrew simply means crown) and is located above the head.  It influences the areas of consciousness known as spirit.  It is the place of emergence with God, or Oneness or All.  Perhaps some of the medieval painters saw auras and painted the halo above the heads of saints!  But we all have a halo – maybe some are rustier than others but they are there too!

The Prime Directive

When applying the symbology of the chakras with their personalities, lessons and distortions as taught by Bruyere (1989),  a different way of thinking is applicable to psychotherapy – in which the body, mind, emotions and spirit are seen as whole person healing. The changes of consciousness and awareness in each of the chakras is vital to understanding how our bodies, emotions, mind and spirit inter-relate.

We have talked about each chakra having a personality which can assist us in finding solutions to whatever problems we have but the chakras also have a particular attitude towards reality – like the Prime Directive in Star Trek!  Each has a PURPOSE, A MIND OF ITS OWN – AND IT IS GOING SOMEWHERE.   These are:-

The First Chakra                    JUST IS

The Second Chakra               JUST FEELS

The Third Chakra                  JUST THINKS AND HAS OPINIONS

The Fourth Chakra                IS A COMPASSIONATE BEING

The Fifth Chakra                    JUST RESPONDS

The Sixth Chakra                   AS INSIGHTS

The Seventh Chakra              RELEASES AND LETS GO

Understanding this system helps therapist and client to understand the process that is taking place, at whatever level.  As this is only an introduction to the use of the chakras in psychotherapy I leave the reader to access the feasibility and practicalities of studying it and incorporating it into their own own lives and practice.  This is only the tip of the iceberg in understanding humanity.

Daniel Perret (2005) when discussing a psychoenergetic approach to psychotherapy writes:-

‘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’

Conclusion

We may all be walking rainbows, and not know it!  The concept goes deeply into the human psyche, literally – as the biblical idea of the rainbow leaves us in awe of ancient understanding.

The colours of our own energy field are produced by our physical, emotional and mental well being alongside our heart felt feelings, self expression, perception, intuition, insight and spirituality.  They govern the music we listen to, the music we compose, the colours of the clothes we wear, the environment we live in, the need for a country walk or holiday.  The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow may stand metaphorically for many other aspects of human life.

I believe the inclusion of such a wonderful system is only adding to the richness of humanity.  A new definition of vocabulary and understanding creates a new agenda in the future of psychotherapy.  This is already happening in the marriage of Eastern and Western cultures adding a wealth of richness to our world, not only for us now, but for the future of our children’s children.

Shirley Ward is an experienced psychotherapist, healer, supervisor and trainer living and working in Amethyst, Killaloe, County Clare. She is a founder member of IAHIP and is currently on the Governing Body.

References

Bruyere, R .L (1989)  Wheels of Light edited by Jeanne Farrens. Fireside Books.   Simon and Schuster.  New York.

Chamberlain, D. The Expanding Boundaries of Memory (1990) Article in APPPAH Journal Vol 4 (3)

Grof, S and C  (1989)   Spiritual Emergency.  When Personal transformation becomes a crisis.  Tarcher, Los Angeles.

Grof, S and C (1990)   The Stormy Search for the Self   Tarcher/Perigree USA

Judith, A (1996) Eastern Body, Western Mind. Psychology and the Chakra System.  Celestial Arts. USA.

Linnell, M. Relating to the Chakras. (1990)  Self and Society  Vol 21  No 6

January 1990.

Nelson, J E. (1994) Healing the Split; Integrating Spirit into our understanding of the mentally ill.  University State of New York.

Penfield. W  (1976) The Mystery of the Mind   Princeton University Press.

Perret,D. (2005) The Five Elements in Therapy- A Psychoenergetic Approach to Psychotherapy and Music Therapy.  Article in Inside Out, Vol 46 Summer 2005.

Reich W  (1948)  The Discovery of the Orgone. Vol 1  New York Orgone Institute Press USA

Rowan. J and Dryden W. (1988) Integrative Therapy in Britain. Chapter 11 Transpersonal Psychotherapy by Ian Gordon Brown and Barbara Somers.

Rowan. J. (1993) The Transpersonal  Psychotherapy and Counselling. Routledge.

Tubridy, A.  (2003) When Panic Attacks New Leaf   Gill and Macmillan

Vaughan. F  (1986) The Inward Arc  Healing and Wholeness in Psychology and Spirituality.  New Science Library. Shambala.

White. R  (1993) Working with your Chakras)  Piatkus

Wilber. K  (1980) The Atman Project. A Transpersonal View of Human Development. A Quest Book.

Wilber, K (1979) Essay Are the Chakras Real?  In White, J. (ed) (1979) Kundlini, Evolution and Enlightenment. New York. Doubleday/Anchor.

Woodman. M and Dickson, E. (1997)  Dancing in the Flames  Gill and Macmillan.

Audiotape

Bruyere, R L.   (1990) Chakra Healing   Pd by Audio Renaissance Tapes LA

(see www.rosalynlbruyere.org)