09 Oct Tantra Therapy, The Pitfalls & Benefits
Does Tantra Therapy work?
Tantra as a practice and tantric therapy such as tantric massage, Tantra coaching, Tantra bodywork and Tantra counseling can be a very powerful vehicle for therapeutic change and sexual trauma recovery and in fact is an essential ingredient in the therapeutic treatment model of sexual addictions along with The 12 step Program and abstinence from compulsive sexual behaviour. However very often it does not work and we will explore the pitfalls in this article.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our
lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not
nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy
—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.
Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will
we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brene Brown
Can Tantra be Healing, How?
With the latest research in neuroscience from leading neuroscientists such as Daniel Siegel, Bruce Perry and Jaak Panksepp showing us what is happening inside the brain of a patient suffering with sexual addiction or an adult victim of childhood sexual abuse, the groundbreaking work of clinical psychologists and psychoanalysts Richard Gartner, Patrick Carnes and Lawrence hedges who have spent over 30 years researching and working with sexual trauma and sexual addictions in their clinical practice and the astonishing findings for brain repair through neuroplasticity such as the leading edge work of Norman Doidge outlined in his book The Brain that Changes Itself, we now know the essential ingredients necessary for successful sexual addiction recovery and successful sexual trauma recovery both inside and outside the therapy room.
These mechanisms for recovery include successful development and maintenance of healthy relationships both inside and outside of therapy. There are a number of ways in which childhood sexual trauma both overt and covert trauma such as emotional incest impacts the interpersonal relationship of the adult abuse survivor. Firstly the adult survivor of childhood sexual trauma will have huge difficulty in acknowledging their own personal boundaries which can lead to continuous abusive relationships and an inability to say NO which sets up a continuous repetitive pattern of the original trauma either through affect or through reenactment. Secondly they will have huge difficulty in acknowledging, recognizing and honoring another person’s boundaries which again is a continuous repetitive pattern of the original trauma either through reenactment and/or projecting affect onto the other so that in an unconscious way the other experiences the dissociated feelings of the child experiencing the abuse. In Psychotherapy we call this behavioral phenomenon, Transference.
Transference – the ubiquitous behavioral phenomenon
Transference is ubiquitous in all relationships, successful therapy depends on the ability to both recognize and work with the transference as very often it is the way in which the sexual abuse of the past is communicated in the present when there are no words for the abuse or the affective state of the child before, during and after the abuse. We know that as human beings we have an entire biological apparatus which is dependent and designed for us to sustain and maintain healthy relationships, we also know that this apparatus is under developed in those who have experienced sexual trauma and healthy relationships can be the cost of this. Through the development of healthy relationships as an adult, these neurobiological effects can be completely reversed and new pathways in the brain developed to allow the adult survivor of sexual abuse to thrive in relationships. We see the role of therapy to do just this to build a healthy relationship over a period of time with the client through working with the transference, holding very strong boundaries and engaging in behaviour and attitude different to that of the original trauma, this is corrective action.
Adult clients of childhood sexual abuse both overt and covert abuse will be unconsciously driven to break boundaries, to collude in poor boundaries, to challenge boundaries, to test boundaries and to resist boundaries all in an unconscious way to reenact the original wound in order to heal. If we as therapists have poor boundaries and an inability to hold strong boundaries, recognize our own and other’s boundaries due to our own unresolved sexual trauma then the therapy becomes a reenactment without corrective action which is re-traumatizing, re-abusing, non therapeutic and redundant. This very often is the case with many forms of therapy including Tantra therapy. The re-abusing is symbolic as the most prevalent forms of sexual abuse both overt and covert is carried out by a parent or family member and therefore the client has been violated by the very person responsible for their safety, this sets up a very disorganized attachment imago which continues to be reenacted in adult relationships and therapeutic relationships, this reenactment and attachment imago can only be addressed and transformed where this transferential dynamic is recognized and worked with and boundaries are held very strong unlike the loose boundaries of the violating parent or family member in the original abuse.
Tantra can be set up to Fail!
Tantra therapy specifically is in many ways, set up to fail, and the ways in which it has the potential to heal sexual trauma like nothing else also are the same ways in which it makes it difficult to offer therapeutic change. In this I am referring to the boundaries within Tantra therapy, unlike most other psychotherapies the Tantra session is very different and usual boundaries of contact, ethics, and contractual therapeutic criteria is often absent. There is touch, where in other therapies it is forbidden and very taboo.
But the touch is not the problem. In fact touch is extremely powerful and in many pathologies touch is an extremely powerful healing modality as we are wired to receive touch, we are sensitive so that we can experience touch, if we do not experience touch in the first few months of life we die and research shows us that the population of people who are the most deprived of touch during their childhood and early adulthood are those who eventual engage in the most hideous crimes of humanity and those who end up on death row. Scientists and psychologists such as James Prescott, Alice miller and Gabor mate have demonstrated to us through a mass of research and clinical studies that touch deprivation in early childhood and adulthood can lead to psychopathologies such as the case with the Romanian orphans and many other similar case studies. Where the deprivation of touch leads to autism and other inter-relational disabilities, an inability to connect with others. Clinicians such as Lawrence Hedges, director of the Listening Perspectives Study Center and the founding director of the Newport Psychoanalytic Institute is an advocate of introducing touch into psychoanalytic therapy at specific junctures in therapy to create corrective action and therapeutic change.
Touch in the therapeutic setting can also be re-traumatizing. Many times in psychotherapy we may touch a client out of our need to soothe the client, or as an unconscious way to say to the client that the emotion you are displaying right now is uncomfortable for me please stop. Other times we might touch the client out of other needs we have to connect or to be liked or to comfort the client the way we were never comforted. All these ways of interacting come from our own unresolved trauma and our own unmet needs as therapists and offer no therapeutic value even if it feels comforting at the time for the client. On another level the client may feel dismissed, used and re-traumatized similar to an emotional incestuous relationship of the parent and child where the parent meets his/her needs through the child. This does not make the therapist a bad therapist or bad person but merely a participant in a therapeutic impasse, non-therapeutic reenactment and ineffective therapy.
In Tantra the touch is very much a large part of the therapy but still can be used in the very same way as described above but in an even more aggressive and persistent way particularly if the therapy involves a lot of touch. Touch should always always be mutual agreed upon at every stage of therapy, it is not enough to have agreed that touch is part of the therapy at the start of therapy, permission must be sought at all times during the session with the obvious exception of tantric massage.
“Our sadness is an energy we discharge in order to heal. …Sadness is painful. We try to avoid it.
Actually discharging sadness releases the energy involved in our emotional pain.
To hold it in is to freeze the pain within us. The therapeutic slogan is that grieving is the ‘healing feeling.’”
― John Bradshaw
So what touch is Therapeutic?
So what touch is therapeutic then, for touch to be therapeutic it needs to happen within a therapeutic relationship in which there are strongly held boundaries to facilitate the ubiquitous transference. As therapists we must continuously ask ourselves what is this touch about, is this to meet my own needs or is this an unconscious wish to shut down the emotional expression of the client. Is this touch erotic or romantic countertransference with the client? Is this touch an effort to control what is happening in the therapy? What am I getting from this touch, what does it mean to me, the more we ask these questions of ourselves as therapists, the actual need for touch within the therapeutic relationship shifts into a more connected, guided, vulnerable and emphatic interaction where touch is not actually needed to facilitate the here and now therapeutic interaction.
The times when touch can be profoundly healing is when a client is connected to a previously dissociated affective state and his/her natural response is to withdraw from connection, bringing the clients awareness to this response and encouraging the client to stay in contact in the here and now can be transformative thus changing the pattern of neuronal activity and creating a corrective action with new neuronal activity and a new set of beliefs such as “ when I am feeling sad it is possible to connect with another and be seen, heard and witnessed without being hurt and shamed” This therapeutic dyad can be amplified by touch in the form of the therapist placing some light touch on the client in a caring and supportive way with permission which is completely different to the experience of the original wound in the client.
In Tantra Counseling or Tantra bodywork sessions where there can be a much stronger emphasis on touch and requirement of touch from the therapist onto the client as part of the therapeutic interaction, the navigation between, is this touch appropriate or not, is this touch for me or the client and is this touch facilitating or hindering the healing process for the client can be a difficult and taxing journey of personal and professional development.
Body Armoring and Neuroception
Interpersonal Touch In some cases, simply touching another person can contribute to enhancing his or her embodied self-awareness, leading to a reduction of muscle tension and armoring, and an increase in parasympathetic relaxation. How does this happen? Touch stimulates receptors in the skin for pressure, pain, temperature, and movement and receptors in the muscles and tendons for stretch, fatigue, and pain. These receptors are linked directly into the neural networks for interception and body schema self-awareness. Because trauma originates in the body, there is clearly a place in the healing process for touch and bodywork. Bodywork helps trauma sufferers to heal because it can stimulate a healthy, safe discharge of trauma. Trauma discharge can manifest in sweating, laughing, sighing, yawning, crying, shaking, flushing, breathing and tingling—these are all symptoms of good release.
With the groundbreaking work of scientists like Wilhelm Reich who discovered and coined orgone energy and character analysis and Peter Levine who wrote the book waking the Tiger and healing trauma and who also set up somatic experiencing Institute, they both believed that when we experience trauma and can not share this experience with a supportive caring witness and process it in a healthy way, this trauma is then stored in our body, in the fibers of our being and it lays dormant in our body like a trapped muscle which disrupts the flow of life force energy and may even cut off completely the flow of energy in a particular part of the body such as many adults of childhood sexual abuse have stuck energy in the pelvis area as a direct result of the trauma and it is how the body remembers the traumatic event. Reich stated, “Armoring is the condition that results when energy is bound by muscular contraction and does not flow through the body”(Reich:1936). He saw that there existed character armoring which, he defined as “the sum total of typical character attitudes, which an individual develops as a blocking against their emotional excitations, resulting in rigidity in the body, and lack of emotional contact ”. He defined muscular armoring as “the sum total of muscular (chronic muscular spasms), which an individual develops as a block against the breakthrough of emotions and organ sensations, particularly anxiety, rage and sexual excitation,” (Reich:1936).
The overall effect of muscular armoring with character armoring created the individual. Alexander Lowen, who was an associate of Reich, best summed up this overall effect as “The character of the individual as it is manifested in his typical pattern of behaviour is also portrayed on the somatic level by the form and movement of the body. The body expression is the somatic view of the typical emotional expression, which is seen on the psychic level as character. Defenses show up in both dimensions, in the body as muscular armoring. ” (Lowen:1976). Specific touch and breathwork may need to be brought to the area of the armoring to release the character defense.
Body De-armoring is an important part of the therapeutic process and the Tantra therapy room can be a powerful space to explore this work. This is where touch is a very powerful healing modality, by placing light touch which may or may not be of an erotic and sexual nature in order to stimulate pleasure in the body with the goal of circulating sexual / life force energy around the entire body and releasing the muscular tension and the body armor.
In Tantra bodywork sessions the dormant energy held by the body armoring may be reawakened when a client, through what is called neuroception picks up in the immediate environment that there is a threat, this may be experienced as an interpretation of the therapist’s body language, tone of voice, and / or movements, actions and words which feels to the client similar to that of the environment in which the original trauma takes place. This is also referred to as the abused and abuser role-playing with sexually abused clients in psychodynamic therapy by Gartner, an expert in working with sexually abused men. When this happens it is important to hold a safe space for the client and ensure them that they are safe and they can safely release the trapped energy through breath, shaking, making sound or in whatever way the client feels drawn to, using touch at this time can be extremely re-traumatizing and if it was touch that has triggered this sympathetic nervous system activation it is important to whilst staying present with the client withdraw from the touch and validate the affective state of the client.
Stanislav Grof, founder of transpersonal psychology and developer of Holotropic breathwork believes that applying touch during a breathwork session can pull a client out of their process even if at the time we feel it is a helpful intervention at the particulancture of the session, he believes that even if the feedback from the client is positive and feels like our intuition to intervene with touch is a successful intervention we are dismissing the possibility that had we not intervened the client may have accessed deeper layers of the psyche and opened up greater possibility of healing and so our touch becomes an interference to healing rather than a facilitation of same.
“Where there had been only fearful emptiness or equally frightening grandiose fantasies,
an unexpected wealth of vitality is now discovered. This is not a homecoming,
since this home has never before existed. It is the creation of home.”
― Alice Miller
The Therapeutic Framework
Lack of Ethics, boundaries and contractual criteria with Tantra therapy and the therapeutic relationship including inside and outside of therapy sets up a collusion of poor boundaries, a blurring of the relationship required for successful transference to take place. In a way we the therapists need to be a blank canvas so that the client can project and transfer onto that which allows for important material to surface can then be worked with within the therapy. This is set up by the dynamic of therapy which is the client shares intimate details about him or her self and we as therapists listen but do not share information about ourselves, although self disclosure is often debated topic in psychotherapy, generally it is best to only disclose if by not doing so will disrupt the therapeutic relationship. When we as therapists are more personal with clients such as outside contact, emails, phone calls and all interactions outside of structure therapy, this can be in itself a reenactment just as during any abuse there is dissolution of the healthy relationship (adult/child, parent/child and Therapist/client).
If we as therapists have not worked on our own unresolved trauma and sexual trauma, and in many cases this trauma can be of a very covert nature but nevertheless leaves a blueprint in which is reenacted as an adult, this unresolved trauma must manifest itself into current life relationships including those of a therapeutic nature. This is not malicious on our part but in a way somewhat ignorant and irresponsible as John Bradshaw suggests, to be human is to have trauma and he suggests that we all have unresolved trauma and it is our duty as therapists, facilitators, counselors, tantric healers etc. to resolve our childhood trauma however insignificant we may feel it may be, it has an influence on how we behave as adults and how we form and maintain relationships including therapeutic relationships.
This responsibility is not determined on the name with which we put on the work we do and offer but it is a responsibility we need to take serious if we are holding any form of therapeutic space with a client with the goal of addressing or working with some form of psychopathology, somatic dysfunction, relationship and intimacy challenges and sexual trauma. If healing is to take place there must be present the mechanisms for transformation through corrective action which is change that can truly be measured through brain scans and change that is really obvious in the life of the client, the ability to engage in interpersonal relationships, the ability to be deeply intimate with oneself and others when before these concepts were very alien to the client. For this we need to hold strong boundaries in a caring, compassionate, non-judgmental space where we can invite welcome and work with the transference and countertransference enactments in the therapy room.
As Therapists we can also impose our own trauma onto the client and try resolve our trauma through the clients work in the therapeutic relationship. Particularly in Tantra and Bdsm work where it can be a way to bypass therapeutic change in exchange for a repeating and reenacting the original trauma.
When choosing a Tantra Therapist
When considering entering therapy of any kind including Tantra bodywork, massage and Tantra counseling, it is important to understand the ingredients necessary for the potential of successful treatment outcomes. Considering that much of the traumatic experiences, resulting attachment blueprint and characterology leading to specific behavioral, relational and /or somatic symptoms which brings the client to seek therapy in the first instance, remain in implicit memory, the unconscious and within a specific body armoring.
The ways in which to bring about positive change will include working with the armoring and making the unconscious conscious and this usually happens through transference and countertransference reenactments and remembering within the specific therapy. So it is very important for us to have a therapeutic framework to facilitate this ardent work and within the framework a negotiation of strong boundaries, which will help and encourage the transference remembering in the therapy. These boundaries within the therapeutic framework should outline specific fee structure, specific session times, specific session duration, therapist availability outside of session, what specifically the session will involve, what are the possible dangers of this style of therapy etc.,
In order for us as therapists to work in a healthy therapeutic way with a client it is essential that we are familiar with the concepts discussed above of transference / countertransference re-enactments and boundary setting whether its psychotherapy, somatic therapy and particularly if it’s a tantric massage, Tantra bodywork or Tantra counseling as it involves a much more intimate relationship between the therapist and client in a much shorter time period due to contact, touch and the nature of the work involved and so can bring about transference remembering very quickly which if gone unnoticed and colluded in can be extremely re-traumatizing to the client and damaging to both therapist and client.
It is therefore imperative for all of us as therapists, coaches, healers involved in any form of therapeutic relationship with a client to attend regular supervision which is a fantastic opportunity for personal and professional development and a platform to discuss and explore the transference and our countertransference which is ubiquitous in all therapeutic relationships including Tantra massage which is often excluded from this line of thinking yet the dynamic that is set up in Tantra massage therapy is a powerful catalyst for transference ,countertransference and boundary related challenges. If we as therapists or the client has unresolved sexual trauma it may manifest and most likely will manifest in such a space where opportune allows, such as an intimate space between therapist and client such as a Tantra session or Tantra massage. Again this acting out and manifestation of unresolved trauma is a natural, powerful and mostly unconscious phenomena, nevertheless our awareness is not brought to this it can have devastating consequences. This is the very nature of trauma.
It is a useful and rewarding endeavor to ask a therapist if and how often we engage in both supervision and personal development work, this may facilitate a good foundation of a therapeutic relationship and can assure the client that there is a certain commitment on the our part as therapists to explore our participation and resulting countertransference in the therapeutic relationship which will certainly help to create a more therapeutic space for both therapist and client. The person of the therapist is crucial, because the relationship with the therapist is the single most important component of the healing with a client. When a therapeutic relationship is healing, it’s because the therapist has integrity, is not exploitative, and is sensitive, empathic, consistent, and trustworthy. Assuming the therapist is well trained and experienced–it’s more important to consider whom the therapist is than what he does. It’s certainly vital that you put your life story together as best you can. But huge gaps may remain in your memory of your childhood betrayal. Even so, you’ll heal if you experience a different, more positive relationship with your therapist than you had with your molester and with others who enabled abuse to occur. If therapy goes well, you and your therapist together will create a bond that will change your ideas about what’s possible between two people. Throughout all this, your therapist should be able to establish and maintain a protected place for you to come and safely think and feel through things that have been out of your awareness or too scary to contemplate.
“There are more fake guides, teachers in the world than stars.
The real guide is the one who makes you see
your inner beauty, not the one
who wants to be admired and followed.”
– Shams Tabrizi
Vehicle of change – Corrective action
Correction action is the premise with which we engage in interpersonal relating with the client, which is different to that in which the client experienced as abusive in the original trauma. In this article abuse is defined as anything less than nurturing. When we experience abuse in childhood such as physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse we experience a violation of personal boundaries. These feelings of abuse and violations cannot be successfully processed due to their complex and overwhelming nature, these feelings are dissociated and repressed into unconscious awareness and stored in our bodies.
The only way to address these feelings as adult clients in therapy is to re-experience these dissociated affected states in the here and now but this time as an adult and within a safe environment within a therapeutic frame of compassion and strong boundaries which helps to set up conditions which can be portrayed as opposite to that of the environment in which the original trauma took place. We as therapists also need to portray that unlike before when the client was a child and felt alone and unable to communicate the trauma with a supportive care giver that now we can be the supportive care giver and witness the client in the pain of the abuse and completely welcome the clients pain in a compassionate non-judging validating way.
If the therapeutic framework has loose boundaries then rather than holding a different environment to that of the original trauma, the environment and relationship on an unconscious level feels similar to that of the original trauma and will block the client from successful therapeutic outcome. Even if it feels like on a conscious level that the client is doing well because they may be very comfortable in a space with poor boundaries as it is very familiar to the client. This is a common illusion in therapy. Eventually the client will drop out of therapy, possibly as a result of unsuccessfully working through of transference due to an inability to successfully communicate the unconscious discomfort in the therapeutic framework.
What is Covert sexual abuse?
Covert sexual abuse is also referred to as covert or emotional incest. This happens when a parent gets his/her needs met through the child, this dynamic may or may not include actual sexual molestation or intercourse but innate in the dynamic there is leek of sexual energy from parent to child into the space and relationship between parent and child, the child is seduced into becoming the surrogate husband or wife to the opposite sex parent in order to compensate for the physically or emotionally absent mother or father. As this is not a choice for the child it is extremely abusive for the child and extremely difficult to both recognize and work with later on as an adult. The child experiences this as a helplessness, as an overwhelming responsibility, a loss of autonomy, a loss of self as self is merged with the opposite sex parent in order to meet their needs and the child’s wish to do this is stimulated and encoded in the seduction from the parent. In this dynamic on a conscious level, the child feels special, significant, wanted, needed, important and so it’s a powerful cocktail meeting the human needs of the child but in an abusive way thus setting up an abusive imago that will be reenacted in adult relationships and will be transferred into the therapeutic relationship. An adult coming from a childhood of covert incest will share similar characteristics to those of adults of childhood sexual abuse and due to their attachment blueprint with the opposite sex parent will have a difficulty with acknowledging, recognizing, setting and asserting boundaries due to their overwhelming feeling of responsibility for the other’s emotional state including the therapist. For therapy to be successful with victims of childhood convert incest, it is important to maintain a sense of separateness with client due to the pattern of neuronal activity to merge with the other in an intimate relationship loosing oneself in an effort to please the other. Discussion of therapeutic framework and boundaries is extremely important. It is also important to resist the seduction of validation, idealization and admiration from the client within therapy. In the therapy room the transference will be a lot more seductive and subtle and therefore difficult to recognize, here it is extremely important to pay attention to the frame of the therapy and the countertransference information and affect.
Due to the covert and subtle nature of this dynamic clients who have a history of childhood convert incest will often be very unaware of their abusive attachment with their opposite sex parent and the resulting relational imago. These clients may appear very high functioning with little outwardly signs of any abuse history. However it is very important that we as therapists have an awareness of this kind of abusive relationship that is very prevalent in our society today. Given the awareness, attitude and positive regard we have for our clients who have suffered sexual abuse, covert incest is much more prevalent due to the culture of our family systems where generally there is at least one absent parent due to work, illness, addiction or an inability to connect emotionally which we refer to as proximal abandonment. Many people who become participants of tantric counseling, Tantra massage, bodywork and other modalities will come to such a place as a result of a set of symptoms such as sexual dysfunction, lack of intimacy, body shame, lack of libido and difficulties with orgasm, relationships, and sex etc., this symptomology is an expression of the previously dissociated sexual trauma in the form of overt sexual abuse and importantly convert incest. The client seeks out to resolve their dysfunctional relational imago through other relationships including the therapeutic relationship.
It is also important to note that very often it is adult survivors of covert incest that become therapists and healers, as it seems like a natural progression from healing the parent’s wounds and being ever present for their needs that a therapist can continue to do for their clients. This is unconscious but a powerful driver in how we work as therapists and healers.
Why do we Become Therapists?
It is our early life experiences that mostly influence the decisions we make as adults including what work we become interested in and motivated to become involved in.
Dr. Gabor Maté is a Hungarian-born Canadian physician who specializes in the study and treatment of addiction. Gabor says that there is no therapist who cannot identify with the client. With this statement he is suggesting that whether we are working with a client with an addiction or trauma or some form of psychopathology that on some level we can identify with it from a personal perspective from our own experience or from our experience with a family member. Even if it is not a direct identification of the actual symptomology it may be identification with the underline feelings of loneliness, isolation, oppression, rejection etc., to some degree many of us come from dysfunctional family systems with insecure attachments. Many of us may have experienced some form of actual abandonment or proximal abandonment as children. In a way our parents can never meet all our needs at all times.
Some of us come from addicted parents where we become the co addict and enmeshed in the emotionally unavailable relationship, later in life we have a great understanding of addiction and empathize with others struggling with addiction as a way to identify with our parents struggle, working with addicts may become a way that we can be close to our parents or a way to offer support to clients who mirror the child in ourselves who never had support. Some of us may have been caretakers to our parents and carried this burden into our adult lives becoming helping professionals. Time and time again we hear example after example of how an early childhood experience or experiences are directly responsible for the career path we choose in life. There is no other profession in which this idea is more significant than that of the helping profession. If we on perhaps very often an unconscious level choose this profession we are in as a vehicle of healing our own trauma and yet it is a profession responsible for holding a space for a vulnerable client to heal their childhood traumas then how do we strike the balance of this complex interchange and how can we make this a positive conscious and unconscious outcome?
As described in the paragraph about reenactments, we create an environment as adults including our work lives and interpersonal activity which will allow for all our unresolved trauma to become manifest and these environments are finely attuned to this manifestation of unresolved trauma and give perfect opportunity for this manifestation to take place in order to encourage the healing process. Being a therapist is a powerful platform for this reenactment to take place. However as therapists we can become very skilled in avoiding our own process work and the surfacing unresolved wounds of childhood in the pursuit of helping another, it can become a subtle form of control, when we are in control as a helping professional then we very often can avoid being venerable. If we accept these unconscious phenomena then what we are acknowledging is that much of our unresolved trauma is surfacing before, during and after sessions with our clients and as a direct result of the working material with the client and very possibility the representing challenges of the client and the transferential load of the interchange with the client. This can create a potentially dangerous and again re-traumatizing relationship. Again emphasizing the importance of doing our own process work as professionals in order to limit the amount of personal attachments to the transferential material and countertransference reactions. Without healing our own unresolved trauma it is impossible to help a client to heal their trauma.
“Everyone sees the Unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart,
and that depends upon how much he has polished it. Whoever has polished it more
sees more–more Unseen forms become manifest to him.”
The difference between Tantra Therapy and Sexual Freedom
Sexual freedom is extremely important and it involves freedom of choice and freedom from oppression, shame, guilt and judgments for all persons engaging in their sexual expression. If their expression impedes or imposes in any way on another person then this cannot be sexual freedom. This I feel is an important dictum as very often-sexual freedom is taken as freedom of sexual expression in all its shapes and colors without thought of anyone else. Perhaps this is non conscious sexual freedom expression but can be traumatizing for people to experience and re-traumatizing and very representative of an original sexual wound perhaps as a result of sexual oppression which gives rise to the desire for sexual freedom in the first place.
Sexual freedom may encourage and support ancient practices and lifestyle choices such as swinging (recreational sex with others), polyamorous (multiple lovers), and Bdsm (Bondage and Discipline, Sadism and Masochism), which are all very interesting topics in themselves. Tantra Therapy would not be so concerned about supporting, encouraging or discouraging such practices but would be more concerned with any underline dynamics and reenactments within those practices. Within these practices one can experience great sexual freedom and pleasure. However bringing consciousness to our sexual fantasies and expressions in Tantra therapy can unravel many reenactments that may have been guised as sexual freedoms and free sexual expressions but were actually facilitating a lack of a deeper freedom in ones own life. A freedom from the trauma of the past. Freedom that will allow for great positive change in our lives.
Whatever else can be said about our many and varied sexual proclivities, it is clear that they are derived from a past that is deeply embedded in our personalities and colors the ways that we choose to view and relate to our world on a daily basis. From the standpoint of clinical listening, it seems useful to consider most compulsions, perversions, addictions and fetishes as a search for body – mind states that were once deeply satisfying and that have become somehow lost in our adult lives. All our compulsions, addictions, perversions and fetishes symbolically mark important experiences of deep satisfaction or frustration in our earliest relationships.
Like symbols in dreams, our repetitive sexual fantasies and enactments stand as psychological representations of truly important parts of ourselves that deserve to be cherished, understood, and lived in the most fulfilling ways possible. Knowing about and respecting our personal symbols and representations and how they arise from our bodies and persist in our personalities, relationships, and sexuality is a vital part of self-realization of therapy.
But, simply surrendering to powerful compulsions, addictions and fetishes – Internet or not – does little more that to repeat the ways our first loves satisfied or frustrated us. The real problem with “acting out” is that it is living in past relationships rather than present ones. Finding others who share our fetishistic interests may do much to spice up our sexual encounters, to relieve our sense of isolation and shame, or to make us feel less deviant, but channeling our energies and investments toward ever more exciting, perverse and addictive fetishistic enactments leaves us progressively more removed from real relationships and from the frustrations and fulfillments offered by living life in the present in a real world of relating people.
Persistently living out repetitive sexual fantasies and enactments denies our human capacity to achieve growth and transformation through real and novel kinds of personal relationships in which a mutual investment in, understanding of, and caring for the emotional well being of the other is paramount. Whatever approach a therapist chooses, let us hope that it honors and calls for elucidation of the clients various personal meanings implicit in or represented by his particular sexual preferences, fetishes, fantasies and enactments. The psychotherapeutic balancing act is ideally carries on between recognizing the past loves and past love frustrations as represented in a person’s sexual preference and enactments and then encouraging participation in real, exciting, and novel relationships that have the power to generate many kinds of human inspiration, growth and transformation.
Trauma, repression and Reenactments
This psychological phenomenon is a much-talked about and argued subject particularly in psychoanalysis. Repression in its own right deserves an entire article in itself and so in this article I just touch on it. For the purpose of this article, Repression and dissociation are explained as adaptive protective defensive strategies. Repression is when we dissociate from feeling states as a child due to the difficult nature of the feelings and experiences and feel unable to process them due to the non supportive environment or indeed abusive environment in which the feelings arise from and within. These feelings are overwhelming for the child and become repressed which then resurface in adult relationships and experiences as reenactments.
A very significant case of repression in childhood and trauma reenactment in adulthood with devastating consequences is the atrocities carried out by Hitler. Alice Miller has presented convincing evidence that Hitler was physically and emotionally abused as a child. His father was, in every sense, a totalitarian dictator. Some historians conjecture that Hitler’s father was half-Jewish and illegitimate and acted out his rage on his children. Some believe that Hitler was reenacting his own childhood, using millions of innocent Jews as his scapegoats. But Hitler could never have done this alone. What seems beyond all human logic is the fact that one madman could corrupt an entire elitist nation like Germany. Erik Erikson has suggested that Hitler mobilized the dissociated rage of German adolescents. He was an adolescent gang leader who came as a brother and offered a matrix that institutionalized their rage. This rage was their unconscious response to their cruel upbringing and was neatly denied in the myth of the “master race.” The scapegoated Jews represented the victimized part of themselves as they identified with their aggressive totalitarian parent. This national “acting out” was the logical result of an authoritarian family life in which one or two persons, the parents, have all the power and can whip, scold, punish, humiliate, manipulate, abuse or neglect their children-all under the banner of parenting and pedagogy.
An understanding of this is crucial in working with the various and often-destructive expressions of trauma reenactments with a client both in therapy and in the client’s life, which is being explored in therapy. Another example of this from my own practice and that of fellow practitioners and clinicians is the client who regularly uses sexual partners or sex workers in promiscuous and often sadist and masochistic ways as a method of reenacting their original childhood sexual abuse. In this exchange they now have a sense of being in control, where as a child they feel completely out of control and helpless. When exploring sexual fantasies, sexual acting out or other non-nurturing sexual behaviour with a client, it is useful for us to explore the possibility of a parallel dynamic or feeling state from a previous relationship. These reenactments throughout our life are extremely myelinated experiences in our brain and form patterns of neuronal activity where we actually seek out these familiar representative people, situations and / or affective states until we bring awareness to this and break the patterns through new healthy relating building new neuronal networks. This can be the work of good therapy and of course good tantric experiences particularly intimacy work.
When we are abused in families, we learn to protect ourselves with ego defenses.
We repress our feelings; we deny what’s going on; we displace our rage onto our lovers, spouses or our friends;
we create illusions of love and connectedness; we idealize and minimize;
we dissociate so that we no longer feel anything at all; we turn numb.
– John Bradshaw
Tantra for Sexual Pleasure not Therapy
Is it possible to engage in Tantra for non-therapeutic reasons? It is absolutely true that we can provide sessions, workshops, groups and Tantra massage & bodywork for people who have an interest in Tantra, or in pursuit of education or even pleasure. It may feel that in these situations there is no need for a therapeutic framework. However this may be a dangerous assumption and one that can and certainly has resulted in situations where the client has left their Tantra therapist feeling that boundaries were too loose, boundaries were broken, that the therapist was getting needs met, that the therapist became emotionally involved with the clients process, that the therapist acted out countertransferential to erotic and romantic transference from the client and feeling re-traumatized that once again they have attracted unwanted attention, sexual advances or inappropriate relating.
If we are involved in Tantra as a therapist or a client there is a pretty good chance that at some point in our lives we realized that we were not living the life we wanted, we were blocked in some ways, we had shame around our sexuality, we could not have an intimate relationship or we were acting out sexually. At whatever stage of life we find ourselves with these realizations and whether we have acknowledged it or not, these are the symptoms of our early attachments as children to our caregivers and in particular the attachment or lack of attachment to our biological mother even in the prenatal environment. So if the very reason we are drawn to Tantra as a client or therapist is the very material that can actually resurface during our experiences with Tantra then it seems extremely important to bring our awareness to this fact and to bring more awareness to our trauma history as subtle as it may be particularly if we are the therapist. It is highly likely for our unresolved trauma history to resurface within therapy at some level and in fact will inform the very way we engage with our clients regardless of how professional we are. The very way in which the client approaches us as therapists and the therapy and engages with it will be influenced by the unresolved trauma.
To summarize this point whilst many Tantra therapists, coaches, educators provide treatments and sessions aimed at education and pleasure purposes and not for therapeutic purposes and many clients engage in Tantra bodywork sessions, Tantra workshops and Tantra massages for the purpose of pleasure and/ or with the intention of learning about Tantra. It is important as therapists that we are aware of our own unresolved trauma which will influence how we work and the unresolved trauma of the client which can be activated in the space and therefore it is always best to have therapeutic framework which can only enhance the experience for all involved. The Therapeutic framework will hold a space where the client feels cared for and safe, we as therapists feel safe in the knowledge that we are holding strong boundaries and that re-traumatization will not take place surely this is a necessary duty of care that all of us should have. The therapeutic frame will also allow us to refer a client on if we feel that what has surfaced within the session is beyond our ability or beyond the remit of the session. With therapeutic framework we can assure a certain standard of care, practice and education without the dangerous reenactments that arises from the ubiquitous transferential material from client’s unresolved trauma history. To develop a therapeutic framework within our practice we must be engaged in regular supervision work and regular personal and professional development to ensure we are processing our own trauma history.
“At that moment it seemed to him that time stood still and the soul of the world surged within him.
When he looked into her dark eyes and saw that her lips were poised between a laugh and silence,
he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke.
The language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love.
Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert.
Something that exerted the same force whenever two pairs of eyes met, as had theirs here at the well.
She smiled, and that was certainly an omen. The omen he had been awaiting without even knowing he was for all his life.
The omen he sought to find in his sheep and in his books. In the crystals and in the silence of the desert…
It was the pure language of the world. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless time.
What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life.
And that, with no need for words she recognized the same thing.
He was more certain of it, than of anything in the world. He had been told by his parents and grandparents
that he must fall in love and really know a person before becoming committed. But maybe people who
felt that way never learned the universal language. Because when you know that language,
its easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you. Whether its in the middle of the desert or in some great city.
And when two such people encounter each other, and their eyes meet, the past and the future become unimportant.
There is only that moment, and the incredible certainty that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only.
It is the hand that evokes love and makes a twin soul for every person in the world.
Without such love, one’s dreams would have no meaning.”
― Paulo Coelho