John C. Pierrakos, MD
February 8, 1921 – February 1, 2001
John Pierrakos, MD developed the Core Energetics Evolutionary Process and is the founder of the Institute of Core Energetics. Core Energetics theory comes from the premise that emotional, mental and physical disturbances are symptoms of blocked energy due to an individual’s adaptive responses to environmental deficits or injuries in childhood.
John Pierrakos saw Core Energetics rooted in the rich legacies transmitted through the ages by philosophers, scientists and physicians who taught about the existence of a creative essence within us. His mission was to be a model of living as something much larger than the individual’s quest to differentiate and express him or herself. He, like Teilhard de Chardin, believed in the sacredness of life and that there was an evolutionary plan in every living organism. He believed that the ego and body are one and that the act of surrender to all of our feelings will ultimately lead us home, allowing the embodiment of spirit. He saw love as the most powerful force in the universe. We are love. Our purpose is to love and our character defenses are essentially blocks to loving.
Pierrakos was greatly inspired by Wilhelm Reich. He resonated with Reich’s character analysis positing that blocked energy shapes the body, creating life–denying patterns. Reich’s theories were based on energetic processes such as Armoring, Orgasm Reflex, and Charge & Discharge which he came to observe in his research. Reich contradicted Freud by saying that all impulses are inherently good and instead of curbing their expression they need to be encouraged to free a person from neurosis. He developed a therapy called Vegotherapy and treated his patients based on these principles.
John Pierrakos and Alexander Lowen were both students of Wilhelm Reich. They collaborated to build on Reich’s work, co-founding The Bioenergetics Institute in 1955. They introduced the concept of Grounding whereby a person is energetically connected to the earth, lending a sense of inner security. As a result, the ego now more rooted in the body, becomes more resilient, flexible, and able to surrender. While Reich worked with his patient’s breath while lying on a bed they saw the importance of a person’s upright position enabling a whole range of movements. The exercises they developed are designed to open the energy flow in the body, freeing blocked impulses as well as the consciousness of repressed memories and feelings.
John Pierrakos’ wife, Eva, became a significant influence in the way he saw the human being. His marriage and the philosophy of The Pathwork brought him the recognition that ultimately there is no separation between medicine, psychology and religion. He parted from Lowen to collaborate with his wife, and thanks to generous donations they opened “The Center for the New Man” in 1969, later renamed as “The Pathwork Center” in Phoenicia in upstate New York.
Pierrakos founded the Institute of Core Energetics in 1973 in New York City. He integrated The Pathwork concepts such as the Mask, Lower Self and Higher Self, the Idealized Self, and Life Task with Bioenergetic physical interventions which addressed the armoring in the body. He did not see Core Energetics as therapy but as an evolutionary process where the progress of the individual moves through stages leading to the unification of body, emotion, mind, will and spirit, and a deepening awareness of unity with all of life.
John outlined four stages of the work. He called them Evolutionary Stages, beginning with the penetration of the Mask by letting go of false ideals and adaptations we believed we needed to survive when we were young. This was followed by the confrontation and transformation of the Lower Self allowing for its purification and integration into the Higher Self. Inevitably this process leads us to embody our Core essence and fulfill our Life Task, the work we came here to do.
John Pierrakos completed his Life Task on February 1, 2011 a few days before his eightieth birthday and after a long journey teaching Core Energetics in the US, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Holland, Germany, Italy, and France. He remains the beloved teacher of many. He was a brilliant man with the courage to be transparent as a human being and a leader.
I was born in Greece on February 8, 1921. My birthplace, Neon Oitylon, is a small village on the Mediterranean with sandy beaches and steep mountains planted with olive groves. It was tranquil and beautiful but it was also a land of splits, a land of disunity. In the middle of the split was the issue of sexuality. Men defended the “honor” of their women by killing each other. We call it “machismo” and in Greece they call it “philotimo.” Growing up in that culture, I felt an ominous force over me; the Greek Orthodox church condemned sexuality—you had to sacrifice the flesh to elevate the spirit.
I was surrounded by women: my mother, three older sisters, cousins, and aunts. They were caring and loving but they met some of their needs through me and with that I became dependent on them. My father was absent, traveling in Europe on business. He came home every few months for several days. He was the patriarch, very serious and disciplined. He never played with me, never told me he loved me. I was afraid of him, afraid he would find out about my burgeoning interest in sex with some of the girls around me. My mother was just the opposite; she held me and expressed her love. She called me “effendi,” a Turkish word that means master. It was a common term of endearment for the first male child. She was uncultured but her love gave me security and, ultimately, the ability to freely express my love for a woman.
We moved to Athens when I was nine. It was a shock to go from village innocence to city life. There was no nature, no sea, no rocks to play on, no fields to roam. I felt imprisoned; I was so furious I would kick a tin can all the way to school. I played soccer with the same intensity—I would kick the ball from one goal all the way to the other. I had such fury and frustrated sexual energy that no one could stop me.
In 1939 Europe was preparing for war. My sister and her husband were living in New York City. She invited me to live with her—I was eighteen and she wanted to protect me. Soon after my arrival in New York, I enrolled in Columbia College. I took my entrance exams in French because I could barely speak English. When I heard that my cousins in Greece were fighting in the war, I volunteered to return but my request was never processed because by that time everything was in hopeless disarray.
At Columbia I had to study twice as much as everyone else to catch up on my English. And compared to my life in Greece, the freedom here was a shock. In 1944, while still in medical school, I was drafted into the Army and became an American citizen overnight!
After I finished school I decided to stay in New York (instead of returning to Greece) and study for my Ph.D. in psychiatry—nothing else offered me such a broad view of life.
I remember the first time I got excited about this work: I was fifteen, attending school in Athens, and I had read a magazine article about two men—Freud who had discovered the unconscious and Reich who had discovered “life energy.” Reich’s name meant nothing to me but my curiosity was piqued: What is this life energy?
Years later, in New York City, a friend asked, “Have you heard of Wilhelm Reich?” I said, “No.” She suggested I read . I read it and thought, “Wow, this is great stuff! This is an understanding of life at its source.” After I discussed it with her, she suggested I work with him. I said, “Who, me? Who am I to work with this genius?”
I finally summoned up my courage and called him; he took me as a patient. And he gave me hell! He ridiculed the moustache and tailor–made suits I favored in those days. When I told him I wanted to see orgone energy, he took me down to his basement laboratory and put me in the orgone accumulator. I saw strange things—spiral movements, rays and fog–like masses—I thought something was wrong with my eyes; I was disappointed. My scientific training in medical school hadn’t prepared me for an experience like that!
I kept working with him even though I felt overwhelmed by his authority, his big face, his powerful voice—like my father’s. I felt inferior; he provoked me to bring up my anger, my issues with male authority. In session he would have me wearing only shorts and lying on the couch. He’d say, “You’re not breathing!” Of course I wasn’t breathing—I was scared stiff. Then he would ask me about my sex life as he observed my body. Occasionally he would put his hand on an area of blockage, my abdomen or chest—and say, “”Breathe out fast!” Or he would have me move energy by kicking or by flailing my arms. He didn’t deal with my personality issues at that stage of our work; he was only concerned with moving my energy.
In the late Forties, Reich was perceived as a threat by the American Psychiatric Association and others. They pressured the Food and Drug Administration to arrest him for transporting orgone accumulators across state lines. Although I was now a member of Reich’s group and believed in the essence of his work, I saw that he and his followers were handling the matter poorly. I didn’t want to jeopardize my medical license for an insupportable cause so I decided to withdraw. It upset me deeply to leave at that time because Reich had played a crucial role in my life; he had the fire within—that’s where I connected with him. I was with him for two years before I realized he was the one I had read about in that Greek magazine when I was fifteen.
After several years as a staff psychiatrist at a New York hospital, I resigned and began a private practice in Greenwich Village where I was eventually joined by Alexander Lowen who I had met in Reich’s group. I was now married and had two daughters. For the next 12 years Lowen and I developed what came to be known as Bioenergetics. It was based on what we had learned about energy and character defenses in our work with Reich. It was very exciting to experiment with new techniques and concepts. We worked from the feet up and the head down, grounding the personality both energetically and mentally. But as time went on, I began to feel that something was missing in the work and in my life. My marriage was not going anywhere—it never blossomed into full flower so my wife and I separated and were later divorced.
Around 1964 a patient of mine gave me a transcript of a lecture given by Eva Broch, a spiritual channel who, since 1957, had been giving lectures (while in trance) on the spiritual aspects of personal growth: the connection of ego and universal consciousness; love, eros, and sexuality; unity and duality and related topics. She had created a community (The Pathwork of Self–Transformation) that studied and practiced these ideas. After reading her lecture I knew I had to meet her because she was transmitting elements that I felt were missing in my work.
At our first meeting her dark eyes sent soul beams right into mine; she was vibrantly beautiful, a magnificent being. We quickly discovered the complementary nature of our work and she started giving me guide sessions. These were not therapy—it was beyond that. Her guide would evaluate my creative efforts. Through her he talked about ways for me to integrate and personalize my struggle, my work. It was very exciting and, of course, we fell in love.
A few years later, Eva and I were married and around that time I left Bioenergetics to develop my work in a new direction. Those years with Eva were the happiest of my life. She was an artist and a dancer. One day I told her about the dance school I had gone to 20 years earlier to learn the tango. I was in a room, alone with a very attractive instructor and thinking about more than tango when suddenly a woman opened the door and said, “Is everything OK in here?” I said, “Yes, fine,” while under my breath I was saying, “Get lost!” Eva said, “That woman at the door was me. I was the director of that school!”
Our work brought us closer together; she awakened my interest in the spiritual dimension of consciousness. I brought to The Pathwork the dimension of energy—how it connects the body and the personality with the spiritual self. This integration led to a flowering of the work and we practiced it until Eva’s death in 1979. Our love was precious, the way we cared for each other. There was a deep connection, total surrender. She was my soul–mate, I was hers.
Out of all this—psychiatry, Reich, Bioenergetics, Eva’s guide, Pathwork—came Core Energetics.
The work with Eva caused me to shift the emphasis of my work from the defenses to the creative, the spiritual self. Now, because I have a deep respect and love for people, my interventions can cut through their defenses quickly and cleanly. I know in my heart what I’m doing and why. My ego is not in the work the way it was before. And I continue to work on my own issues about authority, freeing myself to be more daring.
I yearn to see Core Energetics blossom in many more ways in order to help unify the split between psychology, religion, science, and personal life. My work is to reach the depth of a person’s entity. To help that person open up, transform— move!
— Excerpt from the book Eros, Love and Sexuality by John C. Pierrakos copyright © 1997 by LifeRhythm, PO Box 806, Mendocino, CA 95460 www.LifeRhythm.com
Compiled by Sigmar Gerken
Dr. Pierrakos’ mission was to expand the scope of the psychotherapeutic concept from the traditional Freudian approach to one that embraces the whole personality and inherent spirituality of the individual.
He was dedicated to inspiring people in their lives and personal journeys, and to teaching and creating professional institutes worldwide for the training of health care professionals in the evolutionary approach of Core Energetics.
- M.D., Long Island College of Medicine (University of the State of New York, Downstate Medical School), New York, NY, 1947
- Internship, Downstate Medical School, Kings County Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY
- Three Years Post Graduate Training, Psychiatry, Downstate Medical School, 1948–1951
- Junior Staff Psychiatrist, Kings County Psychiatric Hospital, Brooklyn, NY 1947–1949
- Lt. Commander, US Navy, Assistant Director of Psychiatric Treatment Center, U.S. Naval Station, Portsmouth, VA, 1952–1954
- Private Psychiatric Practice, research and experimental work in energy and consciousness with applications to psychotherapy, New York, NY, 1954–1955
- Co-Founder, Bioenergetics and Bioenergetics Institute, in association with Alexander Lowen, M.D., New York, NY, 1955–1970
- Co-Founder, The Pathwork Center, Phoenicia, NY, in association with Eva Broch Pierrakos, founder of The Pathwork, a spiritual approach to holistic therapy and personal growth, 1969–Present
- Founder and Director, Institute of Core Energetics, 1973–2001
- Private Practice, Core Energetics, 1973–2001
Dr. Pierrakos is the author of many articles and two books:
- Core Energetics, Developing the Capacity to Love and Heal, LifeRhythm, Mendocino, California, 1973
- Eros, Love & Sexuality, The Forces That Unify Man and Woman, LifeRhythm, Mendocino, California, 1997