The origins of our approach
THE CENTRE FOR GENDER PSYCHOLOGY is the 'heart-brain child' of a husband and wife team, Helena Løvendal Sørensen and Nick Duffell, who run the courses with the assistance of experienced and highly regarded guest facilitators.
Despite their success at working with individuals and couples in crisis, as well as training counsellors and consulting to organisations, Helena and Nick found that their own relationship presented them with very complex and painful challenges. In consequence they frequently felt like frauds and failures.
Eventually, this led them to try to discover whether there was a key to the profound problems that intimacy seemed to present, which no one around them seemed to know of. After much struggling, searching, and studying with some of the best teachers of our time, they finally discovered what they saw as three key points.
The three key points:
We need a new understanding of gender and a new vision for partnership. A major part of the problem is the widespread misunderstanding about the difference between the sexes. Difference is not the same a equality, nor is it built on cultural gender roles, although these hugely affect how people think and feel about being men or women. It is rare today to have a sense of power and dignity in our own gender. Western psychology has failed to find models which honour and empower us in our differences, and we lack initiation into the wisdom of our own gender groups. We need to rediscover what it means to be a man or a woman, how to cooperate with the evolutionary opportunities now available to us and how to celebrate our difference in creative partnership.
Our gender identity plays a crucial rule in whom we choose for a partner, in the quality of realtionship we create, and how we express ourselves as relational beings. While promising love and fulfilling partnership, intimate relationships are amongst the most complex webs that we human beings can entangle ourselves in. They are in fact inter and intra-psychic crucibles that have a unique power to bring us to a terrifying edge in ourselves. This edge has the potential for becoming the most potent means for personal transformation available - not even psychotherapy takes a person so deeply into themself. But the journey frequently means facing conflict and disappointment on the route towards shared joy. In today's world people struggle to make lasting committed relationships, and tomorrow's world will suffer if we fail to solve this problem.
Sexual acts do not occur in isolation - they are how we express our our natures in relationship. Our culture deserves a new sexuality, freed from the inherited difficulties of thinking about sex and the hedonistic counter reation that has taken the place of repression. Sex is the foundation of the mystery of creation and can become the celebration of intimacy; but it is also the catalysing place where our relationship problems come out. While our culture remains obsessed with unrealistic bodily perfection and immature concepts, we suffer appalling ignorance about our sexuality. We thereby badly let down the young, who are in need of guidance and grounding in their sexual natures. Being sexually alive, however, has little to do with the right body shape, or the right partner. It is about one's self-concept, self-embodiment, and attitude to life; it rests on the ability to re-own and re-program the internalised messages and self-images derived from what we call The Imagemakers of the past.
The centre's purpose is to articulate a new and relevant psychology of gender, relationships and sexuality. This involves integrating the best of 100 years of Western psychology, with the social advances since Feminism, and what the disappearing indigenous cultures have to teach us.
We believe that life is both evolutionary and cyclical. Our modern tragedy is that, despite our increased wealth and progress, we humans are in dire poverty of spirit. Orthodox religion, the scientific and industrial revolutions and an ever-expanding materialism have cost us our connection to the Earth, to the Instinctual and thereby the knowing of our own souls and our innocent delight in each other.
Fortunately, one of the greatest discoveries of this century has been that of the Unconscious Mind. Psychology has been able to demonstrate the inter-dependency of inner and outer worlds, and has highlighted the healing potential in developing self-awareness. But with this knowledge comes responsibility, and, as James Hillman says, "we have had a hundred years of psychotherapy and the world is getting worse". The task now must be to use our knowledge so that we can live together in a new way. This includes cultivating the arts of relationship and intimacy, developing co-empowering ways to live with our differences, so that we evolve into beings with both an individual and global awareness and accountability.
Before we can fully embrace and celebrate our differences we must rediscover what it means to be a woman or a man in our own culture. We must understand the influences of the personal and cultural history from which we are hoping to emerge, and find what lessons are available from other, and in particular, pre-industrial cultures. Then women and men will have to learn to relate together like never before - and this starts at home. Partnership will neither evolve by being ‘nice' nor by being addicted to conflict. We will need to learn new ways of experiencing our bodies, engaging our sexuality, and being in community, with ritual and ceremony. Everything that we have to learn will probably involve a painful shaking of the foundations of who we believe ourselves to be, but may bring us back to ordinary and profound joy, and release our true potential. Or, to paraphrase TS Eliot, ‘to get back to where we started and know ourselves for the first time'.
THE CENTRE FOR GENDER PSYCHOLOGY was founded in order to develop and offer courses that make a real difference to the daily lives of men and women. With experienced colleagues, Nick and Helena offer same-gender and couple-workshops to explore the issues and present the context they are discovering. The workshops and trainings are places to find new approaches to relationship and gender, ways of being in community, embodying knowledge, developing a realistic sexual ground , and opening to the Mystery of life.
Sexual Grounding Therapy®
Developmental Psychologist and Neo-Reichian body-psychotherapist based in the Netherlands , Drs Willem Poppeliers, is the founder of Sexual Grounding Therapy®. This is a revolutionary new psychology of sexuality which can explain much of what goes wrong between men and women, and is extremely helpful in the field of parenting and education.
Human beings, he claims, have three principle energetic centres, the head, the heart and the genitals. In terms of sexuality and gender identity it is the latter two that chiefly concern us. Drawing on Reichian terminology, Poppeliers says that each gender has a different locus of charge in their heart and genitals. This affects the relationship between an individual's heart and genitals, as well as the interplay between the genders. The female is positively charged in the heart, and negatively in the genitals. The male has the opposite set-up. His genitals hold the positive charge, and his heart the negative. Each gender therefore has an initial tendency to be empty or undeveloped in their negative poles. The heart is the seat of love and emotion, and the genitals of sex and penetrative power. Men have a tendency to be less easy with love and emotion, and women with sex (without love) and power out in the world.
The primal energy of the Life Force is itself divided into Receptive Creative and Active Penetrative, and every human being is composed of elements of Male and Female, such as genetic material, from the father and mother. Both energies are inside each gender, and their difference is visibly expressed in the form of their genitals. Due to history and gender identity issues, people have complex relationships with these energies and therefore to their own sense of self. For example, a Father's Daughter type may have more penetrative energy available to her than receptive, and a ‘Soft' or New Man, might be more receptively than penetratively oriented.
Individuals have to learn to regulate and to balance these energies, and there are varying requirements for the changing phases of life. Ideally, children would have been taught by their parents, both directly and by example. But our sexual ignorance in our culture has usually precluded that. First, because for generations people have been unable to solve their Oedipal issues and regularly project adult sexuality onto innocent children. Secondly, because Western society has had such a taboo on the genitals that it has had the effect of rendering them chronically over-excited in the population at large, reason Poppeliers.
Therefore, in general, men and women have not achieved a balanced flow between their own heart and genitals. The results of this are all too evident in gender relations. Either a male is afraid of his positive charge and unable to stand firmly and be fully intimate and sexual, or he may use his over-stimulated genital charge to objectify the opposite sex. In the worst case he can rape her in her genitals. Such an act represents his inability to imagine being able to enter a woman in any other way. In other words, a rapist cannot conceive that he can gain access to a woman's heart, so he does not try. A woman who is unsure of her negative pole, her self worth, her standing in the world, her sexual drive, may similarly overuse her heart and her emotions, to abusive effect. Here the woman, hungry for the man's emotional openness and frustrated by her response, ‘rapes' him in his heart, overwhelming him with rage, emotionality, or seduction.
Nevertheless, the complementarities of the energetic flows predict that men and women can come together gracefully. Their centres are also complementary: the penis seeks the vagina, and both their hearts want to connect. Once men learn to inform their genital energy from a connected heart, and women bring their vaginal power and authority into their loving, marvellous things can occur. The two energies alchemise .
On an individual imaginative level, Poppeliers sees a resolution by having internalised a set of inner parents who are loving and sexual towards each other. The possibilities for alchemy by the harmonisation of these energies are available to us all. Achievement of this is the energetic counterpoint of the psycho-spiritual alchemy, the goal of individuation, which Carl Jung called The Inner Marriage. If each partner can develop a synthesis of male and female energies inside, with the streams running the right way, then they can have some mastery of the receptive and penetrative archetypal energies. They will not need to be in so much conflict in relationship, and the fun can begin.
Helena and Nick were qualified from the first International Training of Sexual Grounding Therapy®, and are Sexual Grounding Therapy® Practitioners, registered in the Netherlands . Their work is greatly influenced by this modality, and they have been introducing Sexual Grounding to the UK and Scandinavia .
Post-Jungian is a name for a group of therapists, poets, mythologists and story-tellers who have carried on the work started by C. G. Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist. Jung's major contribution to psychology was the discovery that people are influenced not solely by their own personal story but also by universal forces that express the human condition, and take the form of symbols and what he called Archetypes. The area of the psyche that contained these elements he called the Collective Unconscious, and he maintained that art, religion and the human imagination were its media of response. Jungian analysts have traditionally used dreams as the classic entry point between the conscious and unconscious worlds.
Since then, his followers have concentrated on several related areas. Joseph Campbell reviewed anthropology and archaeology in the light of mankind's relationship with the archetypal world. His work has been continued and elaborated by James Hillman, who has brought a scholarly mythologism and a politicised anti-expertism to the field. His neo-platonic Archetypal Psychology is particularly interested in the nature of soul, the underworld, the daemon and the process of en-soulment.
Poet/ mythologist Robert Bly and drummer/ storyteller Michael Mead have specialised in discovering how a man's psyche differs from that of a woman, and in working with their findings in large men's conferences. Marion Woodman and Clarissa Pinkola Estes, both Jungian analysts and collectors of stories, have a similar approach to the psychology of woman.
A different tack has been taken by Arnold Mindell. Arnie started exploring the connection between the body, dreams and a person's unconscious (or unidentified) processes. He developed a way of seeing and working which combined Jungian psychology with Systems Theory, Gestalt, Psychodrama, and Shamanism (see below), which he has called Process Oriented Psychology. His work has done much to release and empower the underdog within individuals and groups. A prolific author, he pioneered an excellent way of resolving conflict in groups, and now specialises in working with very large multinational groups, which he calls Worldwork.
The Industrial Revolution replaced much of our age-old wisdom and reverence for mystery with a new scientific and schismatic view of the world. It also began to destroy the sense of community in the Western world that had held all peoples since time began. To get back to the once-known knowledge of the psyche - body and spirit - we have therefore to investigate the belief systems and cultures of the pre-industrialised world. It is necessary to draw from sources which have as yet not been over-polluted by the west, and to abandon the Victorian way of thinking, which viewed such people as primitive. Is also important not to sentimentalise nor over-romanticise the indigenous world.
Tribal cultures and Shamanism became fashionable from the mid 80's, perhaps because they represent the polar opposite to modern urban life. But the lessons derived from them go way beyond the dictates of vogue. Shamanism, whose name is borrowed for the Siberian word for witch doctor or metaphysician, is a way of affecting and healing both conscious and unconscious elements of the world. In this way of thinking, distinctions such as inner and outer, heaven and earth, seen and unseen are transcended through the cultivation of altered states of consciousness and the practice of ritual and ceremony.
Shamanism holds that consciousness is a property of all beings in the universe, whether human, animal, vegetable or mineral, and all forms of life have the potential to heal and teach us, if accessed in the proper way. Its varied cosmology is based on a reverence for the earth, the support of the ancestors and the recognition of the different worlds which surround us. Shamanism was (and in a few places still is) practised in communities where the individual life was important for its particular contribution to the continuing story of the society, but where a communal lifestyle, whether nomadic or village-based, was taken for granted. Such people did not have to raise their children in isolated nuclear families.
Workshops and events organised by The Centre for Gender Psychology sometimes have components which are ritualistic and ceremonial. In particular, we attempt to cultivate a temporary village, where participants are more able to feel a sense of community which our culture has mainly lost. To balance the attractive and fashionable nature of the teachings of the indigenous peoples we at The Centre for Gender Psychology hold a grounded functional philosophy, best expressed by Native American Shaman, Beautiful Painted Arrow, when he said "Don't tell me about your visions if they don't grow corn"!
A good introduction to shamanism with lots of fun can be had through the events of Eagle's Wing Centre for Contemporary Shamanism , founded by Leo Rutherford.
Integral and Perennial Philosophy
The most interesting modern exponent of this body of thought spanning ancient and modern times, from Plotinus through Eckhart to Buber, is the philosopher and theologian Ken Wilber. A hands-on meditator and self-taught scholar, Wilber was a young prodigy, publishing his first ground breaking metaphysical book Spectrum of Consciousness when he was only 23. Since then he has written numerous books including the stunning Sex, Ecology and Spirituality and Boomeritis.
Wilber, who is based in Colorado and founded The Integral Centre, has successfully been able to integrate psychology, spirituality and metaphysics. Many consider him the leading authority on the paths of human consciousness. Recently, he has collaborated with activists and consultants Don Beck and Christopher Cowan from the South African National Values Centre to promote their theory of Spiral Dynamics, which charts the levels of consciousness currently operating in the world as a whole.
The Centre for Gender Psychology is greatly indebted to his writing - in particular to his full-spectrum approach and his revelation of the Pre-Trans Fallacy - and has developed his work to extend to sexual and relational dynamics.
Psychosynthesis was founded in 1911 by Roberto Assagioli in Italy. Assagioli, who died in 1974, thrived in the new humanism of the sixties. It was then that his major works were written and seemed to be in tune with the flavour of the era. As its name suggests, Psychosynthesis takes a synthetic and inclusive attitude to the psyche and life, in contrast to the Freudian analytic and often reductionist perspective. Psychosynthesis has made two principal contributions to the field of psychology and the practice of psychotherapy.
First, Assagioli realised that a complete understanding of the human being was not possible without including reference to what inspired him, what qualities were influencing his life, what his life purpose and spiritual nature might be. As shown in his famous ‘Egg Diagram', the part of the psyche which had previously been ignored was the Superconscious or Higher Unconscious , which had to do with qualities, meaning, purpose and values.
This area exerted a positive influence on a person and called him to balance his tendencies, awaken to unconscious processes and become aware of his compensated personality structure. Without knowledge of this area one's identifications remain too limited and a sickness called Repression of the Sublime can induce severe existential crisis. Too much exposure to the Superconscious without a life grounded in a well constructed ego can result in insanity, flight into fantasy, or Ken Wilber's Pre-Trans Fallacy, the projection of immature unresolved issues onto the divine (see below Integral and Perennial Philosophy) .
Secondly, Assagioli reckoned that there was a force that dominated the dynamic and motivational life of individuals and the universe, called The Will. This prime energy of life, though utterly crucial, was largely ignored by therapies that concentrated mainly on repression and insight, in other words, limiting the focus to consciousness. Psychosynthesis specialised in developing ways of working with the twin aspects of personhood, namely awareness and will, and the understanding of the process of change. It distinguishes between motivation and will, between survival-based ways of living and those which help an individual to fulfil his or her potential, purpose and destiny.
THE CENTRE FOR GENDER PSYCHOLOGY can provide customised Psychosynthesis courses on application.