Dr. Mayer’s Contributions to Psychotherapy

Dr. Mayer’s interest in integrating the body and mind in psychotherapy led him to be the first  San Francisco East Bay Area training coordinator for Dr. Eugene Gendlin’s “focusing” process; he continued in being a Focusing Training coordinator for ten years from 1978-1988. Focusing is a bodymind healing method, which won many psychotherapy awards. Dr Mayer added to Gendlin’s process a Taoist breathing method called microcosmic orbit breathing and symbolic process methods including his mythic journey process (Mayer, 1982). These became part of the therapeutic approach that Dr Mayer developed called Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy (Mayer, 2007).

Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy can be defined as follows: “In order to help a
patient face the challenges of everyday life, a therapist must be able to weave
together psychological theories and healing methods that fit the unique person
and moment. Practicing the art of psychotherapy also requires transcending
methodologies in order to meet a person in that place of raw humanness where
contact is made with the deep source of one’s being. In this spirit, Bodymind
Healing Psychotherapy draws from traditional forms of psychotherapy, energy
psychology, Qigong and other traditions of postural initiation, bodymind and symbolic process approaches to healing, hypnosis, psychoneuroimmunological research, and ancient sacred wisdom traditions.”

The book Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy: Ancient Pathways to Modern Health (Mayer, 2004b). Drawing from 30 years of training in Tai Chi and Qigong with some of the most respected masters of these traditions, this book shows how to integrate the essence of these practices into psychotherapy and into our healthcare without ever doing a Tai Chi/Qigong movement, and without mentioning a word about Qigong. Using case illustrations from his work in an integrated medical clinic the book shows how ancient and modern, East and West, psychotherapy and mind-body medicine cam be amalgamated to make a stronger integrative medicine. Theory, research, and case illustrations are blended to show how bodymind healing methods can help alleviate hypertension, chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, trauma., and other common issues plaguing the modern world. This book, endorsed by major leaders in mind-body healthcare makes significant contributions to the field of psychotherapy, behavioral healthcare, Qigong, and energy psychology.

What creates change in psychotherapy? All psychological theories have their hypotheses regarding what creates psychotherapeutic change, and so does Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy (BMHP). In general, psychodynamic therapists emphasize the insight gained from going back to one’s families of origin, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapists emphasize changes in beliefs and behavior, humanistic/existential psychotherapists emphasize choice, Jungians emphasize the role of symbolic process, and Dr. Eugene Gendlin emphasizes the energy shift that is experienced in the body and new meaning that emerges at key moments of change in psychotherapy. BMHP draws from all of these traditions and uses a mandala of psychotherapies. In addition to this integrative perspective, BMHP draws from certain traditions stemming from the ground of ancient sacred wisdom traditions. From these traditions there are three interrelated concepts woven together throughout his books Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy, and Energy Psychology book: (1) transforming your life stance, (2) shape-shifting, and (3) repairing and cultivating your primordial Self. Dr Mayer’s philosophy is that psychological issues and bodily disease are divina afflictios (divine afflictions) giving us opportunities for psycho-spiritual growth, soul-making, and finding the source of healing.

Just as Dr. Gendlin’s research attempted to extract the essence of what made therapy work to empower the process of change for people, Dr Mayer discovered these three interrelated concepts from his thirty years of practice of psychotherapy, Qigong, and ancient sacred wisdom traditions that seemed to capture the essence of what created energetic change for people:

Transforming Your Life Stance: Change needs to be embodied change, thus the use of the concept “transforming your life stance.” This is one of the quintessential elements of Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy (BMHP). Influenced by the traditions of Standing Meditation Qigong and postural initiation (Goodman, 1990; Gore, 1995; Mayer, 2004b, 2004c) as well as the recent advances showing the importance of the body in the role of psychological healing (van der Kolk, 1994, 2002), BMHP places the literal/physical and symbolic elements of transforming one’s life stance at the hub of the wheel of its theory of change. Another way to speak of changing our life stance is to use the practices and metaphors of shape-shifting.

Shape-shifting: Dr Mayer (2004b, 2007, 2009a) introduced to the literature of the field the theory that one of the earliest roots of psychotherapy involved traditions of shape-shifting that used transfiguring metaphors and practices to enhance the process of psychological transformation, loosen up fixated life patterns, and help to change a person’s life stance. Virtually all age-old cultures have myths of shape-shifting of human beings into forms that have an ability to heal and transform their souls. The two volumes of The Tao of Bodymind Healing (Mayer, 2004b, 2007) unfolded this perspective and took readers on a journey to the age-old traditions of our trans-temporal compatriots. There, Dr Mayer drew on the teachings of cross-cultural mythologies and shamanism, the first holistic healing center of the Western World (the temple of Asclepius), the Kabbalah, as well as the traditions of postural initiation in Native America, Greece, India, and China (Goodman, 1990; Tomio, 1994; Mayer 2004b). In Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy (BMHP), Dr Mayer specifically applied the age-old metaphors of shape-shifting to help those in modern psychotherapy to increase vitality, add depth, promote healing, and discover the multifaceted form of our “true selves.”

Repairing and Cultivating Your Vital, Primordial Self: In colloquial usage we, as modern people, sense that when we talk about ourselves we are usually speaking of the culturally embedded modern selves that we are, with our personal histories. We perhaps owe it to the Jungians to recognize that there exists a deeper self, a Self of the collective unconscious-and when one gets in touch with that Self, a deep layer of healing may emerge.

Literary critics adopted the term “primordial” from Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious composed of archetypal symbols. Encyclopedia Britannica Online says that a primordial image is a character, or pattern of circumstances that recurs throughout literature and thought consistently enough to be considered universal. Such primordial images and archetypal symbols include the snake, whale, eagle, and vulture. An archetypal theme is the passage from innocence to experience; archetypal characters include the blood brother, rebel, and wise grandparent. Dr. Jung defined an archetype as an “energy potential.” But long before Jung used the term primordial, in the Western mystery tradition, both Christian gnosticism (Matthews & Matthews, 1986) and the Jewish Kabbalah (Hoffman, 1981) described the importance of activating the energies of the “primordial human,” called Adam Kadmon. In gnosticism, activating Adam Kadmon was an important part of “realizing the macrocosmic signatures within man the microcosm” (Matthews & Matthews, 1986, p. 146.) The Kabbalah states that “in the form of Adam Kadmon (the primordial human) the powers of the divine Sefirot also flow within each of us” (as cited in Hoffman, 1981, p. 55). The Sefirot are the Jewish archetypes of creation and symbolize the ten archetypal spheres of the tree of life, such as the paired opposites of strength and compassion.

However, we do not need to look at the cultivation of the primordial Self as something esoteric. In psychotherapists’ everyday practices, the activation of the primordial Self is a common marker of psychological growth. For example, Dr Mayer describes working with a woman who had a very demeaning husband. She had been trained in her Middle Eastern family always to defer to men. After three sessions of working on this issue and practicing how to appropriately express her feelings to her husband, she came into our fourth session with happy tears. She reported that she finally spoke up to her husband about how she wanted a change to take place in their relationship regarding his demeaning communication. She found the Self she was before acculturation … a Self who felt free to express her primordial need to be respected as a person, regardless of what her culture taught about the subservient role of women. Surprisingly to her, he received her comments well and agreed to work on this. In the East the concept of the primordial Self can be seen in the Buddhist idea of “finding the face of yourself before you were born”; that is, before the conditioning of life covered over your essential nature. In Taoism cultivating the primordial energies of the universe was viewed as an essential part of developing the whole person. In China, Taoist adepts spoke of a primordial Qi (yuanqi) that becomes separated into two essential souls and makes up the living person: the hun, or spirit soul of celestial origin, and the po, or material soul that belongs to earth. At times various animal forms of movements were suggested to develop the initiate’s primordial chi, and it was said that for those following these movements “the hundred diseases will not arise.” (Kohn, 2001 as cited in Mayer, 2007 p.303),

The importance of incorporating animal movements in developing the primordial Self was captured well by Laurens van der Post after he spent time with the Kalahari Bushman. He said that, “We cannot recreate the original wilderness man . . . But we can recover him because he exists in us. He is the foundation in spirit or psyche on which we build, and we are not complete until we have recovered him.” (Van der Post, & Taylor 1986, p56)

As Dr Mayer uses the term vital, primordial Self, it includes a double meaning. First, it is important to be with our primordial Selves at key moments in our lives. Secondly, the term vital is used to connote aliveness and a fullness of energy. This is an essential concept in psychology, not only for depressed patients but also for anyone who wishes to live a life filled with meaning and purpose. We all hope that psychotherapy will help us access our vital reservoir of energy at those times when we are blocked because of an old psychological complex or a difficult life situation. Whether those blocks are from fear of rejection or inhibitions in being true to ourselves, summoning forth our coping skills requires us to draw from a place deeper than our entrenched, reactive patterns. How to do this is “the grail quest” of everyday life, the quest to bring liquid flow back to a depleted land. In Dr Mayer’s work he laments that psychology has yet to draw from these age-old traditions that specialize in the cultivation of vital energy and that have been a part of our ancestral, cross-cultural lineage as human beings for thousands of years.

Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy has made a number of contributions to the field of psychotherapy:

Mythic Journey Process: Building upon the mythic processes of Sam Keen, (1989) and Carl Jung’s active imagination process, Dr Mayer’s mythic journey process (Mayer, 1982, 1993, 2007, 2009a) added a somatic dimension to psycho-mythological inner work. The MJP is a symbolic process tool that has a person transpose a life problem into a story set in ancient time in order to work through that issue. To ground the mythic dimension, the MJP uses Gendlin’s Focusing so that the storyteller continually refers back to the felt sense of the body. It has been used by therapists, by lay people as a self-growth tool, and it is a central component of Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy. Dr Mayer uses it as a method in his workshops for relationship issues (Mayer, 1993), and to help people in his private practice and workshops with psychological and somatic issues. The Mythic Journey Process was included in many of Dr Mayer’s written works (Mayer, 1982, 1993, 2007, 2009a).

Full Spectrum Approach to Symbolic Processes: Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy brings a full spectrum approach to symbolic process inner work which integrates the somatic and imaginal dimensions (Mayer 2007, 2009a), thus adding to imaginal psychotherapy. Some components of this symbolic process approach are a somatically oriented mythic journey process, and an integral approach combining Qigong and symbolic process methods.

The transcendent/transmuting dialectic: There has long been a split between psychotherapy and spiritual traditions. Modern psychologists have long been trained that by using spiritually transcendent methods, the transmutation of psychological complexes will not occur but will be bypassed and then reappear the next time an associated trigger touches off the complex. It is the viewpoint of BMHP that dichotomizing between transcendent and transmuting needs of the patient in psychotherapy is a function of the Western dualistic mind. Such dichotomization does not do justice to the holistic spirit of healing in the deepest sense of the “perennial philosophy” (Huxley, 1970); nor, as Dr. Mayer argues, does it meet the healing needs of an integrative psychology. In order to resolve this false dichotomy Dr Mayer introduces in Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy (Mayer 2007, 2009a) a theoretical framework and practices for integrating transcendent and transmuting dimensions of psychological and spiritual healing. . Dr Mayer’s work in this regard is part of an emerging movement of integrating meditative and spiritual methods into psychotherapy (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006; Wilbur, 1980).

Bodymind Healing Qigong DVD (2000, Bodymind Healing Publications.) is used by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Medical Director, The Trauma Center, Boston University School of Medicine in the training of trauma therapists.

Tai Chi Qigong and Psychotherapy: From his training in Tai Chi and Qigong for 30 years with some of the most respected Tai Chi and Qigong Masters such as Master Fong Ha (Ha,1996), Dr. Mayer (1996, 1997a, 2004b, 2007) pioneered the integration of Qigong and psychotherapy, and was the first person to train doctoral psychology students in this integration. The first phase of Dr. Mayer’s work was integrating Qigong movements into psychotherapy as a behavioral healthcare tool for such issues as hypertension, chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and trauma. The next phase of his work is the integral phase (Walsh, 2006; Wilber 2000) where Qigong is integrated into psychotherapy without ever using a Qigong movement and without ever mentioning a word about Qigong. Since the greatest Qigong, according to Dr Mayer’s viewpoint involves cultivating the energy of life by practicing living a life cleared of psychological encumbrances which block the rivers of our chi, on this pathway one can extract out the essence of what creates transformation from Qigong as a Self-cultivation practice (Mayer, 2007, 2009a). For example, with no reference to Qigong, in a psychotherapy session a practitioner can introduce breathing methods (such as Qigong’s microcosmic orbit breathing), teach acu-point self touch, and increase somatic awareness of the movements/postures that a person expresses at the moment of “felt shift: (Gendlin, 1978) which then serve as post-hypnotic anchors (these movements and postures are oftentimes the same as practiced by Tai Chi/Qigong practitioners).

The internal process of psychological change, as Gendlin (1978) rightly pointed out, has energy activation (Qigong) as an inextricable part of it, as a patient’s energetic “felt shift” emerges along with a patient’s discovering new meaning. Also symbolic process methods, such as his Mythic Journey Process (Mayer, 1994) and River of Life Process (Mayer 2007, 2009a), create an internal energy (Jung, Vol. VIII, p. 211-215) that helps a person find a meaningful life path, and helps patients to find a new life stance (Goodman, 1990, Mayer, 2004b). Thus one can cultivate “the spirit and soul” (Hillman, 1975) of Qigong (Mayer, 2004b, 2007).

As related to Energy Psychology, this expands the field of energy psychology to include both internal and external methods of energetic change. For example, some of the methods of generating internal energetic change of psychological complexes come from using the image/somatic dialectic (Mayer, 2007, 2009a, 2009b), symbolic process inner work, “focusing” (Gendlin, 1978), and internal Qigong (nei gung). Externally oriented energetic techniques involve such techniques as tapping, eye movements (Shapiro, 1995), acu-point self touch, and externally oriented Qigong movements.

The River of Life Process: Dr Mayer derived the River of Life method from microcosmic orbit breathing, a Taoist breathing method first brought to the West by Richard Wilhelm (1931). Dr Mayer’s River of Life method (Mayer, 1982, 1996, 2007, 2009a) adds a visualization of water to microcosmic orbit breathing. As a person is breathing in he or she imagines energy or a river traveling up the governing vessel and on the exhalation one imagines a river traveling down the conception vessel to the belly (tan tien). This method induces a trance state that in Taoist terms opens the practitioner to experience “the sea of elixir” (Wilhelm, 1963). This transcendent state is used to help facilitate the practitioner release stress, mind-body energy blockages, and blocked life issues within the context of psychotherapy and behavioral healthcare. In addition, Dr. Mayer (1982) added a transmuting dimension to the River of Life by having a person “focus” (Gendlin, 1978) on a blockage that emerges in the river of their felt experience of flowing down the river. Then in the Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy method the person uses various methods (such as cognitive restructuring, psychodynamic methods, self soothing) to transmute the life issues and energy blockages involved.

The Somatic Dimension of Self Soothing: With regards to the important psychodynamic method of self soothing (Kohut, 1971), Dr Mayer (1997, 2007) added a somatic component. While saying self-soothing phrases a patient holds or touches a point in the center of the heart chakra, (Conception Vessel 17) to open the somatic dimension of compassion, love and self acceptance.

Energy Psychology: Self- Healing Practices for Bodymind Health (North Atlantic/ Random House, 2009a). The new field of energy psychology is a controversial new addition to psychotherapeutic traditions. Research is beginning to accumulate to validate its efficacy in dealing with trauma (Feinstein 2008a) and other psychological issues (Feinstein 2008b, 2012). Dr Mayer’s approach in his book, Energy Psychology expands the field of energy psychology from the well known energy psychology methods such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques by presenting an integral, comprehensive approach (Mayer, 2009b) to healing that combines leading-edge Western bodymind psychological methods with a broad system of ancient, sacred traditions. Incorporating his integral approach called Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy, the book Energy Psychology draws on Chinese medicine approaches, including Qigong and acupressure self-touch; kabalistic processes; methods drawn from ancient traditions of meditation and postural initiation (Goodman, 1990; Tomio, 1994). Dr Mayer’s adds to the field of energy psychology several processes for inducing and anchoring internally generated energy such as Dr Gendlin’s, “focusing” method, psycho-mythological storytelling techniques that involve somatic and symbolic process methods from depth psychology, and naturally arising somatic movements that occur at a moment of “felt shift.(Gendlin, 1978).”
Dr Mayer has presented his somatic, transpersonal, integral approach to psychotherapy at many professional organizations and conferences. His workshops on bodymind healing have been presented nationally and internationally. For example, Dr Mayer’s trainings have been presented between 2005-2009 at world-renowned Esalen Institute where mind/body, psychological/spiritual approaches to developing human potential are taught (Murphy, 1992; Kripal, 2007).


Mayer, M.  (1982). The mythic journey process. The Focusing Folio, 2(2).
Mayer, M.  (1984). The mystery of personal identity. San Diego, CA: ACS Publications.
Mayer, M. (1993). Trials of the heart: Healing the wounds of intimacy. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
Mayer, M. (1996). Qigong and behavioral medicine: An integrated approach to chronic pain. Qi: The Journal of Eastern Health and Fitness, 6(4), 20-31.
Mayer, M.  (1997a). Psychotherapy and Qigong: Partners in healing anxiety. Berkeley, CA: The Psychotherapy & Healing Center.
Mayer, M.  (1997b). Combining behavioral healthcare and Qigong with one chronic hypertensive adult. Mt. Diablo Hospital-Health Medicine Forum. Unpublished study.(Video available from Health Medicine Forum, Walnut Creek, CA, www.alterna-tivehealth.com).
Mayer, M.  (1999). Qigong and hypertension: A critique of research. Journal ofAlter-native and Complementary Medicine, 5(4), 371-382. (Peer-reviewed).
Mayer, M. (2000). Bodymind healing Qigong(DVD). Orinda, CA: Bodymind Healing Center.
Mayer, M.  (2001a). Find your hidden reservoir of healing energy: A guided meditation forcancer (Audio cassette). Orinda, CA: Bodymind Healing Publications.
Mayer, M.  (2001b). Find your hidden reservoir of healing energy: A guided meditation for chronic disease (Audio cassette). Orinda, CA: Bodymind Healing Publications.
Mayer, M.  (2003). Qigong clinical studies. In W. B. Jonas (Ed.), Healing, intention, and energy medicine (pp. 121-137). England: Churchill Livingston. (Peer-reviewed).
Mayer, M. (2004a). Qigong: Ancient path to modern health (DVD of keynote address to National Qigong Association). Orinda, CA: Bodymind Healing Publications.
Mayer, M. (2004b). Secrets to living younger longer: The self-healing path of Qigong, standing meditation and Tai Chi. Orinda, CA: Bodymind Healing Publications.
Mayer, M.  (2004c). What do you stand for? The Journal of Qigong in America, Vol. 1, Summer.
Mayer, M. (2004d). Walking meditation: Yi Chuan Qigong. The Empty Vessel: A Journal of Comtemporary Taoism, Summer.
Mayer, M.  (2005). Qigong: An age-old foundation of energy psychology. The Energy Field, Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology, Vol. 6, (4), Winter.
Mayer, M. (2007). Bodymind healing psychotherapy: Ancient pathways to modern health.Orinda, CA: Bodymind Healing Publications.
Mayer, M. (2009a). Energy psychology: Self-healing practices for bodymind health, North Atlantic/Random House, 2009.)
Mayer, M. (2009b, Winter) Bodymind Healing in Psychotherapy: Towards an integral, comprehensive energy psychology, The Energy Field: The International; Energy Psychology News and Articles, p13. Article available free online: Click link.
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Feinstein, D. (2008). Energy psychology in disaster relief. Traumatology. 14(1), 124–137.

Feinstein, D. (2008). Energy psychology: A review of the preliminary evidence.
Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 45(2), 199–213.

Gendlin, E. (1978). Focusing. New York: Bantam Books.

Goodman, F. D. (1990). Where spirits ride the wind: Trance journeys and other ecstatic experiences.

Gore, B.,(1995). Ecstatic Body Postures, Santa Fe, N.M: Bear and Co.

Jung, C. G. (1960). The structure and dynamics of the psyche (Bollingen Series XX). Princeton,
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Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to
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Keen, S. (1989). Your mythic journey: Finding meaning in yuour life through writing and storytelling. Tarcher.

Kohn, L. (2001).Daoism and Chinese Culture, Cambridge, MA:Three Pines Press.

Kohut, H. (1977). The restoration of the self. New York: International Universities Press.

Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self. New York: International Press.

Kripal, J. (2007). Esalen: America and the religion of no religion. University of Chicago Press.

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Murphy, M. (1992). The future of the body. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.

Tomio, N. (1994). The Bodhisattva warriors. New York: Samuel Weiser.

van der Kolk, B. A. (1994). The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology
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van der Kolk, B. A. (2002). Beyond the talking cure: Somatic experience and subcortical
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van der Kolk, B. A., et. al. (1996). Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience
on mind, body, and society. New York: Guilford Press.

Van der Post, L, and Jane Taylor., (1986). Testament to the bushmen. New York: Penguin.

Walsh, R., & Shapiro, S. (2006, April). The meeting of meditative disciplines and Western psychology. American Psychologist, 61(3), 227–239.

Wilbur, K. (2000). The eye of the spirit: An integral vision for a world gong slightly mad (Vol. 7). The collected works of Ken Wilber. Boston: Shambhala.

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