GLL – Body work, bioenergetics ( Nadeau)

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Nadeau, D. (1996): Embodying Feminist Popular Education in Global Restructuring (Chapter Two), in Gender in Popular Education: Methods for Empowerment, Cape Town: CACE Publications and Zed Books

Body work – Bioenergetics

Hi everyone,

I have noticed that Nadeau’s article has created an antagonized discussion. From there, we apparently have succeeded in establishing a broad dialogue on her contested views, enlarging it to a wider spectrum of issues.

I would like to go back to one of the central themes in Nadeau’s article, bodywork. I couldn’t agree more on the importance of body awareness, as it relates to the unity of body, mind and spirit. When we use the kind of bodywork advocated by Nadeau, however, we need to know exactly what we are doing and what we are dealing with. She suggests bioenergetics – as postulated by Wilhelm Reich – as a suitable approach to raising awareness. Although she recognizes that Reich was a psychotherapist, she fails to mention that the bioenergetics is known to most of us thanks to the work of Alexander Lowen, which makes me wonder how much she knows about bioenergetics. I am left with the impression that she is experimenting with any technique that can advance feminist empowerment only having minimal knowledge.

Bioenergetics is a form of therapy that is certainly used to unlock repressed emotions, including those derived from repression and oppression. This needs to be done under supervision of a competent expert, as the dynamics that may unfold may be cathartic but also violent. Doing unsupervised group bioenergetics may end up hurting more people than it really help. For all the above, I am sceptical about Nadeau’s idea that bioenergetics is a means to uncover issues of social injustice within a civil society movement, also because she does not explain how she would handle the unavoidable dynamics of “emotional release” that would eventually ensue. Finally, as someone has written in this forum, it remains to be seen whether the level of personal awareness gained through bioenergetics or any other kind of body work would lead to socially meaningful action and/or change. In Bioenergetics action takes the form of “violent release of anger” within the safe environment of the therapy. For obvious reasons, I would certainly not recommend transferring that experience of liberation to society. As for the transformative power of bioenergetics, my feeling is that this kind of therapy may help at some level, but does not depart from the assumption that interpersonal dynamics develop as a sequence of actions and re-actions to counteract outer pressure.  It is, like many other types of therapy, about adapting to hostile conditions, and certainly does not consider a circular, alchemic approach to conflict transformation.


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