The 24th Conference of the IIBA held in Toronto in May was a great time to meet old and new colleagues and friends, and to see the contributions of individual practitioners. As the son of Alexander Lowen, it is so gratifying to see my old friends retain their interest and commitment to the work of my father so many years later. Even more so, the interest showed by younger colleagues, many in Bioenergetic Training programs, is exciting and inspirational.
Unfortunately, the organization of the conference, and the vision and direction for the future as provided by the IIBA leadership was much less inspirational. Perhaps the most important statement in the final panel discussing the future of Bioenergetics was “We are not anti-Lowen,” as stated by the panel moderator.
I was glad to hear that, because the behavior of the IIBA has been distinctly anti-Lowen. As psychotherapists know, when words and behavior are not in alignment, conflict and/or neurosis is present and operating.
In the spirit and guise of “Reflecting back….,” Thursday and Friday evenings featured interviews with Vivian Guze, Scott Baum, and Bob Hilton. Although it has become normalized for so long now, making it less obvious, the hostility and contempt expressed for my father and his work, far out-weighed any expressed respect. I presume the organizers intended it to be “educational,” but to me it came across as entertainment; entertainment designed to put down my father as only a spokesman, who had not evolved as a “whole person,” and thereby could not provide the kind of therapy or techniques that “modern bioenergetics” now embodies. The techniques of the 1970s were described and characterized as primitive and a little ridiculous; although Bob could not contain his tears and affect those experiences produced.
Why is it presented this way? Ostensibly in the spirit of standing on Dad’s shoulders, as it should be; but they were not even just standing on his toes: they danced on his grave. For what purpose?.....in my admittedly biased view, it was intended to diminish the value and importance of the innovative work of my father, and to glorify themselves as having modified and corrected the many flaws in my father’s work, in effect saving Bioenergetics from Lowen.
For the health of the Bioenergetic community, it would be more appropriate to celebrate and further the indisputable value of the Lowen work.
After all, what has been accomplished in the past 20 years of “modern bioenergetics” in comparison to the prior 40 years under my father’s leadership? The vitality of the IIBA has been materially diminished intellectually and physically: in an effort to make Bioenergetics more palatable to status quo academia, any vestige of the strong bioenergetics work is gone, replaced by an intellectuality that makes it indistinguishable from any other psychotherapeutic group, and recognized by no one.
The lack of vitality is evidenced by substantial loss of IIBA membership over the past 20 years, especially in North America; the lack of published work; the continuing reduction of societies and students throughout North America; and the historically low attendance at this 24th IIBA Conference.
I invite the IIBA to post the original un-edited audio or transcripts of these interviews on their website or Facebook page, where anyone can see for themselves.
Aside from being deeply offensive to me personally, it is plainly damaging to Alexander Lowen’s professional reputation, and it is destructive for the health of the bioenergetics community.
In addition to this painful display of hostility towards their own thought leader and founder, the IIBA arranged to have thousands of books and hundreds of titles available to be sold at the conference. If you attended the conference, did you notice how many Lowen books were available?.....ZERO! While there were many copies of “Waking the Tiger” by Peter Levine, 90+% of which is a repeat of Bioenergetic concepts from decades earlier (Levine himself discounts and mis-characterizes Bioenergetics as merely “cathartic release”), there was not a single copy of any Lowen book available!
Being a Lowen, I am obviously more sensitive to these affronts, or oversights (to be more kindly), but it is difficult to characterize this behavior as anything other than anti-Lowen.
If it were only my own sensibility involved, or if this was only a one-time occurrence, I would not make these statements; it would simply be easier to not be involved. But my father’s work, as described in detail in his classic books, is too important, relevant and valuable to be overlooked.
In truth, this anti-Lowen behavior and rhetoric has been going on for so long, many in the IIBA consider it “normal.”
One glaring example (of many) I will cite, was the statement by the then future President of the IIBA, in the 2007 IIBA Conference in Sevilla, Spain. Garry Cockburn made the inexplicable statement “We must kill off Alexander Lowen.” Well Dad died in 2008, isn’t it time to get over the personal trauma at the root of irrational hostitlity? How can we encourage the use of Bioenergetics if the IIBA cannot stop denigrating, disparaging, and ignoring their Founder, despite the continuing relevance and value of his work? There is little that has been refuted, and there is still much fresh wisdom for today.
It seems the dis-respectful behavior functions to substitute and compensate for a lack of vision, direction, or meaningful development; while ensuring the dominance of the current leadership within the Bioenergetic community.
Dad has stood on the shoulders of Wilhelm Reich, who was motivated and excited by the work of Sigmund Freud. I believe that Bioenergetic therapists are the true heirs practicing the most effective form of Freud’s psychoanalysis that exists today. By focusing on the energetic processes of a person, and by utilizing the body directly to understand and resolve the unconscious conflicts and fears we all struggle with, Bioenergetic Analysis has always been and continues to be the most powerful form of psychotherapy available, period. As Dad had always done, we should be able to demonstrate it, not just talk about it.
One of Dad’s greatest fears was that “work with the body” would devolve into “talk about the body.” In this culture where mental activities, abstract thought, and the illusion of control dominate the life of the body and it’s fears, it is too easy to just talk about.
I believe that if public workshops were modeled on some of Dad’s books, like Narcissism, or Depression, or Joy, or Love and Orgasm (although we might want to title the workshop “The Energy of Love, the Energetics of Sex” for this more fearful 21st Century), there would be a highly positive response that would grow interest again. As much as things have changed, energetically they are much the same and worse. The need for this wisdom has never been greater.
Bioenergetic Analysis is not just another modality in the field of psychotherapy. Based on the giant work of Wilhelm Reich, it has great importance for how we live as individuals, societies, and as a part of this life-filled natural world; a world we humans have always un-sustainably exploited, damaged, and ignored, entirely for the illusory purpose of gratifying and fulfilling our damaged egos and characters. Understanding the nature of the mind-body split is the most important knowledge the Bioenergetic community has to offer the world. Outside of my Welcoming remarks, and Bob Lewis’ work with Cephalic Shock, the concept of the Mind-Body split was neither mentioned nor alluded to throughout the entire conference, to my knowledge.
Of course it is not only the understanding of the mind-body split we offer: highly effective therapy; characterology; energy and the energetic processes; diagnostic body reading; body techniques for accessing the unconscious; exploring trauma and integration; grounding (as more than just an intellectual concept) are just some of the unique and original methods that have yet to be integrated into our modern world, despite being developed 50 years ago. Just like the work of Wilhelm Reich, it may be old, but it is still new!
My intent here is not to fuel the existing fractures and conflicts within the Bioenergetic community, just the opposite. I do not wish to alienate anyone, only to point out dysfunctional behavior and attitudes that I believe have seriously retarded the acceptance, use, and growth of Bioenergetic Analysis.
For the health and survival of the Bioenergetic community, it is a time for change.