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ellen H. Weiland LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker   (Retired)


Mental Health Practice and Consultation

Other Writings . . .

> The Pleasure Re-Connection
The Redball of Fire
On "Entering the Silence"


The use of ecstatic trance in the treatment of a
sexual abuse survivor.
by ellenHelga Weiland

Rhea walked through the door, pale green in color, stiff again, general body and face muscles almost frozen. This was her weekly therapy session. She had come directly from the cemetery where she and her siblings had buried their father.

There had been little notice about his impending death, and only one month to come to terms, if not peace with the man who had taught her much of what she knew about sex. What she recalled was painful and traumatic.

In response to this crisis she had reclaimed her body armor, and sat defended and heavily guarded on my office couch, seemingly determined to deny her own animating force.

Tightly perched on the corner of that couch, legs up, knees enfolded by her arms, she sat staring straight through me, out through the window and beyond. We remain silent.

There were no tears, no visible emotions, no show of pain, no shock. There was no expression of any kind, only an uncanny and uncomfortable stillness, the kind of silence which foretells an intra-psychic storm.

I had anticipated this moment. Before she arrived I feared losing her to this sudden turn of events.

I recalled when I met Rhea in 1987. She was a nun, an elementary school teacher, daughter, sister and friend to many. She was 27 years old and in the midst of a severe depression, exhibiting some suicidal ideation with one mild effort to act out destructive images. Her mother had died two years earlier.

Rhea suffered from recurrent night terrors including imagery from the dark side in which she was a child sacrifice, dismembered, heart torn out and consumed by hooded robed, faceless male figures in a subterranean cave.

During the three years following her two psychiatric hospitalizations, she had worked long and hard to dissolve some of her defensive armor, to improve her self image, to deal with her spontaneous abreaction of historical trauma, to learn to manage her own imaginal as well as emotional world, to increase her flow and expression of creative energies, to organize her internal world and create a self-caretaking system which was kinder, more gentle, more present to her, than was that of her original internalization. She worked also to develop trust towards herself and her external world.

Rhea had continued outpatient treatment in my private practice. She also met with her pre-hospital therapist.

She proved to be an interesting client and eager student who was highly motivated to learn and apply new understandings of psychophysical/ psycho/spiritual skills which included what I call "energy management." [ 1 ] During the last session, prior to her fathers death and funeral, she had told me "My family wants me to tell him I love him. I don't feel love for him. How can I love a man who abused me. How can I tell him that lie, and sell myself cheap? How can I make believe it never happened? Don't they understand? They don't know what he did to me."

Pale green and silent she now again sat as I assessed and defined the moment. "Pissed, are you, that he died before you could get clear of him?" She barely shook her head, affirmatively. "You are mourning not only his death, but the loss of parts of yourself at his hands. You are mourning the loss of a potential relationship with a father, that never materialized." She kept shaking her head "yes."

On a whim I flippantly told her I thought she had at least three major choices as to what to do at this moment. Freezing her body/mind system, while it was an option, was not my primary recommendation.

The second and most obvious, though not necessarily the most productive choice, I told her, was to further lose herself, in what seemed like, the now unreconcilable traumatic memories of early sexual, mental, and physical abuses, suffered at the hands of her alcoholic father, her dysfunctional mother and siblings as well as other sexual abusers.

The third choice, less obvious I admitted, and often not offered, was for her to shift her focus and energies into experiencing pleasure right here and now.

I recalled Plato's theory of the relations between trance and music as represented by Gilbert Rouget, [2 Music and Trance] "People who are psycho-logically somewhat fragile, and who as the result of god's anger suffer from divine madness, cure themselves by practicing ritual trance, which is triggered by a musical motto and takes the form of a dance; music and dance, by the effect of their movement, re integrate the sick person into the general movement of the cosmos..."

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A bit shocked at my suggestion, Rhea glared at me and almost fell into my eyes. "Pleasure? I can have pleasure?" she seriously asked. "Well, yes, I think you can. Your father is dead. He has crossed the threshold into the next realm and his physical form is buried. What's done is done. You can and will have many memories, feelings and thoughts with which to contend, regarding both his life and death, as well as the failure of your father/daughter relationship. You have all the time in your life to resolve them. Where is it written that you need to work through all that right now? Fragmenting and dissociating, while under this strain, are not the only choices you have!"

I don't know what I was thinking, or if I was thinking. My own words sounded so callous to me. Yet as is so often the case in my work, my intuition was exploding in multicolor bursts of fireworks which were impossible to ignore. Talking about grief and the death of a parent seemed the wrong thing to do at this time while Rhea was mourning a loss of a self who was really sitting on the couch waiting to be reclaimed.

"Lets try pleasure," Rhea said tentatively, adjusting her physical position just a little.

My socialization at the Jane Addams School of Social Work led me to asking, "How often are sexual abuse survivors invited to experience ecstatic trance rather than 'talk about the problem' in the therapeutic setting?" "How can we even effectively talk about inducing plesure when the client has dissociated and fragmented under maltreatment?" [ 3 ] The healing that Plato and Rouget suggest takes place in the experience, not in the talking. In indigenous cultures, ecstatic trance occurs during celebrations, and is a normal part of their frequent religious rituals. (Eliade, 1984). Our Western culture offers precious little opportunity to enter ecstasy. A dear friend reminded me that "our ecstasy is the roar of the people at Big Games."

How then does one transmute pain into pleasure without at least a little modeling, a good deal of permission, and the opportunity? How, when or where does one learn to allow free expression of creative energies when one has been trained to suppress and deny life's animating force? How does one activate pleasure and an ecstatic state while in the proximity of other humans, when personal history has proven that to be dangerous undertaking?

As therapist, when does one, allow such exploration and experience while maintaining the highest moral standards and a sense of personal and professional integrity?

When will we, the mental health profession, collectively begin to address these questions and promote a change in the morphic resonance [4 A New Science of Life] of what is therapeutically possible? I questioned, "What if Rhea distorts my actions and merges this experience with old memories of sexual abuses?" I am aware of the professional dangers for the well meaning therapist who approaches such delicate psychic re balancing.

I resolved to think further on these questions after I followed through on this exploration with Rhea. This moment called for action, no further rhetoric.

I knew my intention to be clear: I planned to offer her a healing opportunity to regain some vital parts of herself and to activate her pleasure mechanism, rather than support her fragmentation and unconscious, imaginal entry into the coffin along with her now deceased father. I had to take a chance on this radical intervention and therefore created an on the spot ritual to induce an ecstatic trance.

Ecstasy and pleasure, for me, are no longer only rational concepts. Ecstasy is a state in which the whole being, including multiple brain factions, come into a harmonious resonance or brain wave synchronization.

This coherent brain functioning appears to allow a free flow of, and greater access to a higher intelligence or consciousness. At its height one can engage a mystical experience, or as I like to think of it, one can "go home to sit in the lap of God/the Source/Daddy," if you will.

Such a highly pleasurable and healing experience can be prompted by activating the physical senses. A synesthesia, [5 The Possible Human] or crossing and mixing of stimuli between the senses, appears to facilitate an energetic flooding of the brain. This flooding activates associations within our storage well of images. The inner senses are called into play and multiply these associations. One journeys through the levels of the psyche, from the sensory to the psychological/historical, then into the place of story/myth. As one is actively engaged in mythic imagery, one may suddenly, spon-taneously or by willing it, be transported into the integrative level of the psyche. This is the place of union where one may experience rapture/ecstasy. [6 The Possible Human] During the ecstatic state one seems to melt into the overriding/common cons-ciousness or Soul, God, the Source or Unity, whatever name one wishes to attribute to the Organizing Intelligence.

Ecstasy can be seen as the gift of the journey through one's extended reality and a meeting with "the Beloved of the soul. [7 The Search for the Beloved]" It offers the opportunity for healing, for re-sourcing, re-cognizing, for re-plenishing, and of a re-membering who one truly is, as well as finding one's place within the universal scheme of things. Rhea certainly needed a journey to the Source. She needed to be re-cognized. I breathed deeply, slowly and deliberately inducing a shift of consciousness within myself, first to an alpha state and then a deeper brain wave rhythm.

I firmly believe that modeling a deliberate flow through consciousness facilitates the clients loosening up and becoming dynamic rather than stagnant.

I encouraged Rhea to sit back, to close her eyes and relax. I gave her a blanket with which to cover herself since altered states at times induce a lower body temperature. I paced her breathing as she released into a light trance.

I sharpened my own brain focus as I walked mindfully [8 Psychophysical Reeducation Course # 1] across the room to light a stick of Tibetan incense which quickly scented the office. I played meditative music [9 Trance Tape] softly in the background as I used sound equipment to amplify, soften and manipulate my voice in a trance deepening technique. I used the following imagery to guide her journey: "And sitting back very comfortably now, as your breathe slowly and deeply, following you breath all the way in and all the way out. You are inhaling as though you had nostrils in the soles of your feet, and exhaling as though out of the top of your head, breathing gently now, and deeply now.

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And closing your eyes now as you instruct your muscles to lengthen and relax, lengthen and relax. Telling your joints to loosen and relax, to loosen and relax, breathing gently and deeply now.

You feel warm, comfortable and at ease, relaxed now, safe. You feel safe. You sense no danger in this room as you become more and more aware of your body now, and your presence in your body and in this room.

Take this time now to develop you body image, sensing first your skeletal parts, and tendons, then adding muscles, flesh, skin, hair and details, adding your circulatory parts and neurological elements.

Bringing your attention now to sensing your feet, your toes, arches, heels, your ankles, shins, calves, your entire lower legs.

Adding to your body image your knees, bringing your consciousness as completely as possible to your knees.

Now adding your thighs.

Note your torso as that sacred vault which holds your heart, your lungs, digestive tract including esophagus, stomach, intestines, appendix if it is still there, or space where it used to be. Image all of the organs in your torso, being certain to include your excretory and regenerative organs.

Sense now your shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, hands, fingers in the greatest detail possible, adding those images to your developing body image.

Focus upon your head, the vault for not only many sensory organs, but also for your very precious brain. That organ system which acts as the connection between your mind and body. Sense how the cervical spine acts as a bridge between your lower spine and your skull and brain system.

Be as aware and sensitive as you can be of that connection, feeling the spine all the way from the coccyx up into the skull and brain.

Pay very close attention to that spine and brain area. Notice whether you experience a very subtle flow of electro-magnetic energy which carries the sensory stimuli from your primary receptors into your brain system and returns a directive response to all your body parts.

And as you feel that current, enjoy its warm and tingling flow, allowing yourself to move your body and spine to facilitate that flow of those life sustaining impulses of your electro-magnetic energies.

Sense now the rich green, indigo and gold velvet scent of Tibet encircling you, carrying you on its swirlings to the heavens, the soft, gentle waves of sound of this meditative music reinforcing and strengthening your journey, as you are listening to my voice now. Relaxing, and at ease now. Safe now.

You are embraced and held, carried by the taste of Tibet and its rich rainbow of the gentle rhythms, seeing the vibrant green indigo and gold of the smoke's melody, feeling the tingling of the music upon your very skin, remembering back, remembering a time when you felt so safe, so relaxed, so held.

Breathing, slowly and deeply now, as you image in great detail your pleasurable memories, your safety, and nurturing love, as you recall the details of that experience.

Where are you? What season is it? Is it raining, snowing, or is the sun shining? Who is present with you? What clothes or distinguishing jewelry are they wearing? What is the color of their hair and eyes? Do they wear perfumes or oils? Can you feel their presence? Describe for yourself the feeling. What are they saying to you? Are you answering them? Remembering whatever you can as you re-experience this pleasurable moment.

And letting go of the memories now, continuing to breathe gently and deeply, being fully aware of you physical body as you recline there on the couch, relaxing and releasing any possible remaining tensions.

With your eyes now, please focus on your brain space. Just look around inside of your head at your brain space. Notice that small cushion of space between your skull and your brain, a safeguard that protects the delicate tissues of your brain system. Notice too the convolutions of your neo-cortex, your new brain. Just allow yourself to slide along its ridges and folds.

Now travel along that bridge which lies between your left and right hemisphere, the corpus collosum. Experience the support of that healthy and strong connecting bridge between your left and right hemispheres.

Allow yourself to sink into the center of your brain, and notice a shift in its structure. As you observe carefully you will find your mid brain with the pituitary and pineal gland. It is said the pineal gland is responsible for our most ancient vision. Explore this part of your brain. Allow such vision to rise.

Allow your self to travel through your mid brain, the seat of your emotions, of pleasure, of sexuality, of calling again those primary visions from the lens of your inner eye.

Slide down into your Reptilian complex. Notice that healthy primitive brain always ready to serve your survival needs. Sense how quietly it rests as you feel safe and at ease now.

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[10 Spiral Assention] (I changed the music to invite a deepening of the trance state.)

Now with your eyes make beautiful, perfectly round, horizontal circles inside your head. Circle first clockwise then counterclockwise.

Now circle diagonally from the upper left side of your brain space to the lower right side of your head, and up the back of your head, and diagonally down the front again.

Now circle diagonally from the upper right side of your head to the lower left side of your head, tracing as beautiful circles as you able to make.

Now again circling horizontally. Circling round and round and beginning now to spiral inward, slowly and gently spiraling inward until you reach a still point at the center of your brain space.

And hold your focus there at that center. Should you lose your focus, begin again to circle as widely inside of your head as you are able, spiraling in slowly, then, slowly, easily, spiraling into the center into your still point.

*And now spiraling up and up and out now, out of the center of your crown, up, up through the ceiling of this room, this house, community, state, country, atmosphere, beyond our moon, beyond the planets of our solar system, beyond our galaxy, out to the far reaches of the universe, through that black hole into yet another universe.

And spiraling back now, returning from that distant universe, through the outer galaxies, through our Milky Way, into our solar system, past our planets, past our moon, through Earth's atmosphere, the country, state, community, house, ceiling of this room and through your own crown, into the very center of your brain space, into your still point.** [ 11 ] (Repeat from * to ** several times as needed.) I watched Rhea's frozen pose melt. Her feet settled down to the floor. The tension of the blanket slacked as her legs relaxed. Her arms lay easily at her sides. She looked more grounded. Her entire body seemed to lengthen, and flow into an ease of movement. Her face re-formed and opened as does a flower in spring. Her mouth hinted a smile. Her color changed to a pink flush as her body began to undulate in subtle, serpent like movements. Her eyelids fluttered, indicating an altered state of consciousness.

What was going on before me seemed sexual. I questioned, "What am I doing in this room?" and answered, "I am allowing this person to release into the source. Orchestrating creative (including sexual) energies from the physical plane to the higher centers is a part of such releasing."

She seemed far removed from her daily cultural trance, and from the pain of family and personal crisis with which she entered the office.

As I saw her blissful state and gently undulating, almost copulatory movements, I again questioned, "What am I doing in the room?" This was my first effort to use an ecstatic trance in a private therapy session. I had given her permission to be spontaneous. Now my own capacity to be present for this level of ecstatic freedom within and around a client was challenged. That challenge will be the focus of another work.

The hour passed more quickly than I expected. I decided to ignore the time, and allowed Rhea to return from her blissful journey at her own pace.

Wide eyed, smiling, pink flushed she returned and said in a low, deep, full voice. "Hmmmm! Pleasure! Yes. I'll take pleasure." She verbally sketched her experience as a coming into union with god.

From that day to this, Rhea never abreacted sexual abuse scenes again. She stopped spontaneous regressions into helpless, child states. She is developing and exercising her adult functions, both in her personal and professional life. She is learning to manage her extended, symbolic reality. She has come to terms with her own sexuality and is currently dating a young man. She has graduated from client/therapist relationships, and no longer lives the "I am broken, will you fix me?" theme. Rhea and I engage in a transformational relationship wherein we challenge one anothers unfolding.

"Education should, but does not, teach us to make effective use of our bodies and our minds. We are not taught the inter relatedness of movement, sensing, thinking, and feeling functions, or how mind and body interact to determine what we are and what we can do. We are not even taught how to use our bodies efficiently so as to avoid damage to the organism. Nor are we given any inkling of the true range of our human potentials, much less how to use them productively.

By suppressing many of our potentials, we develop the personality (and doubtless the brain also) in an imbalanced way. Adequate awareness of the body and of body-mind interactions is basic self-knowledge, and until these defects are remedied, education will always fail--fundamentally. Whatever is learned and taught by individuals who are thus handicapped by basic self-ignorance cannot be learned or taught as well as it might be." [12 Listening to the Body] This trance experience marked a dramatic turn in Rhea's therapeutic process, and an equally remarkable turn in my own therapeutic approach. Before our eyes, and for our scrutiny, were issues we both could not ignore. What exactly had gone on in therapy? What if I had failed to offer the choice to enter ecstasy? How much longer would Rhea have used well learned and rehearsed behavioral responses to activate again and again archaic, painfully abusive, and traumatic, memories.

In my efforts to be empathic and understanding, did I inadvertently teach how to reinforce painful memories and experiences for Rhea, and is that the case in most therapeutic modalities used by therapists?

Do we well intentioned, empathic therapists exercise and re-exercise the clients pain to the point of its perfection. Is it possible that that is why most therapeutic modalities have poor long term success rates?

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"Studies of psychotherapy initiated by Hans Eysenck in England after the Second World War often show that people who undergo psychotherapy, especially psychoanalysis, if they are chosen at random from many seeking it, do not benefit more than those who are denied it. Several more recent studies indicate that some forms of psychotherapy make some people better, others worse, with only a shade more showing improvement rather than decline. This evidence of a lack of empirical success on the part of psychoanalysis often comes as a surprise to the public at large, and to those culturally influenced by psychiatroid mentation, since "cures" are much discussed and dramatized, failures less so." [13 Mind Field] If I as therapist attend pain, does the client's creative process manufacture and assure continued painful experiences in order to maintain a seemingly supportive relationship? It appears that if I attend pain by focusing upon it during the therapy hour, then the client will follow my lead. My ever growing experience in the use of ecstatic trance as well as my use of traditional interventions, indicates that clients often present whatever I attend and support. [ 14 ] "Simulations of reality, whether realistic or not, can also trigger emotions that in turn affect the brain's pleasure centers. We can become conditioned to distort our simulations of reality in ways that make us feel good. Since apparent unpleasant feelings often have a hidden secondary gain of feeling good underneath, as was discovered in studies of psycho pathology, simulations of reality that seem to make us suffer may have a hidden payoff, " [15 Waking Up] I have watched many clients come lost and disoriented in the confusion of their darkness, their chaos, and noted how they rely on information from, and experience with me to learn how to organize and enter their own brightness. It is a great joy to work with such folk and watch them unfold.

I find, however, that there are any number of people who arrive in dark chaos, who insist on staying in the darkness, and who work diligently to invite the therapist and others to join them in that place.

"Energy flows where attention goes." [16 Lecture at Human Capacities Progam] As I continue to attend a client's expression of pain and trauma, he or she appears to open their bottomless pit of seething troubles. It is as though we are playing a game of feeling good about relating, while we are subliminally interacting on the subject of pain.

In the case of Rhea, given the opportunity and the challenge, she quickly shifter her orientation from one of re-experiencing archaic trauma to pursuing pleasurable and creative endeavors. Her focus in therapy became, "What skills and disciplines do I need to learn so that I can get my show on the road? Can you teach me? What will happen to our relationship, our meetings if I am no longer "sick" or acting as a "needy client?"

I ask myself and pose the question to you the reader, whether our well intended therapy process, as traditionally learned, may have developed into the western cultural ritual? Does such ritual offer a thera- peutically intimate relationship by focusing on the uncovering and sustaining of painful experiences? Is that one major way to achieve intimacy in our culture? Is it perhaps time to review and revitalize our therapy ritual?

I think that there is a time and place for exploring traumatic history. I do not advocate discounting and burying such events, and their resulting wounds. I know that many clients lack the awareness of "when it is enough, and when to shift out of the pain." Such clients may need to have their experience orchestrated, again only by guides of high integrity.

I think that our ultimate focus in therapy must be directed towards the "education of the client." Such education must impart to him/her the how to's of "making effective use of his/her body, mind, and extended energy system, and to teach the inter relatedness of the moving, sensing, thinking and feeling functions."

The body is a hedonistic being. I have every reason to think that at conception it holds, for all of us, a pleasure seeking organization. If by chance of our gestation, birth, and upbringing we forget our basic ecstatic nature, then it is vital that a therapy process allows us the experience to recall and remember who we truly are, rather than sustain the misconception of the unalteralble perpetuity of our acquired pain orientation.

The ancient Greeks who were an initiatic culture, defined "therepeia" as the journey of the soul. We define therapy as"the treatment of disease or disorders, as by some remedial, rehabilitating, or curative pro- cess." [17 Random House Dictionary of the English Language] A "therapon" was one skilled at being high witness to the journey of the soul. We define a therapist as "a person trained in the use of psychological methods for helping patients overcome psychological problems." [18 Random House Dictionary of the English Language] Rhea arrived for session with an issue we both could have defined as a psychological problem. By token of my choice of intervention, we allowed the experience to evolved as a transformative challenge for her soul. Certainly this session with Rhea was "therapeic" rather than "therapy." I was not only a therapist using my skills to help her with a psychological problem. I was high witness to her souls transforming journey, to her ecstasy.


1) I routinely teach an awareness of one's extended reality, including the workings of the chakra system and the subtle energy bodies. The Possible Human: A Course in Enhancing your Physical, Mental, and Creative Abilities, Jean Houston, J.P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles, CA, 1982.

3) When I ask these questions, I think about how often such an opportunity is made available by therapists of character and a strong sense of integrity, who place no additional sexual demands on the client.

11) This trance is based on the teachings of Jean Houston and Robert E. Masters.

14) I must say that not all persons are ready to relinquish their pain, regardless of their discomfort. Pain is often an old friend to which we have become attached. It takes time to be willing to give up that attachment.