The Case for Energy Psychology


The Case for Energy Psychology

Snake oil or therapeutic power tool?

By David Feinstein

November/December 2010


Newly appointed to the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins in 1970, I wasn't sure what to expect when the department chair called me into his office to discuss a special assignment. "I keep hearing about these 'new' therapies coming from the West Coast," he told me. "Are they just more California fluff or developments worth knowing about? Go find out." As a young therapist-researcher who was already pursuing personal improvement with the passion of someone convinced he needed a lot of it, I approached the assignment with the zeal of a young knight in search of the Holy Grail.

At the time, traditional psychoanalysis and behaviorism had been rapidly losing their "market share." More than 200 new brands of therapy were popping up on the workshop circuit, promoted in the alluring new language of "peak experiences," "personal growth," and "self-actualization." During the next seven months, I investigated 46 of these new therapies, studying their uneven research studies, conducting extensive telephone or in-person interviews with their primary proponents, and directly experiencing more than a dozen in weekend workshops or other formats. I focused on some of the brightest stars in the pop psychology firmament of the day—Transactional Analysis, Bioenergetics, Gestalt, breathwork, sensitivity training, Rolfing, Reevaluation Counseling, LSD-assisted psychotherapy, and even a memorable nude encounter group. Many of the approaches have now faded or disappeared, some…

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