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SHEN Physio-Emotional Release Therapy

by Eilís Ward(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 20 - May 1997

SHEN® is an acronym for ‘Specific Human Emotional Nexus’, a relatively recent therapeutic approach to holistic well-being which has been developed and clinically tested by Californian scientist Richard Pavek. Following a powerful experience of releasing emotional trauma through the use of hands-on healing, he has immersed himself since 1977 in finding the key to making this a predictable outcome rather than a random chance event.

In a recent work[1], Daniel Goleman defines emotion thus: “I take emotion to refer to a feeling and its distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and range of propensities to act. There are hundreds of emotions along with their blends, variations, mutations and nuances. Indeed, there are many more subtleties of emotion than we have words for...”

Emotional release

Like many others, Richard Pavek was keenly aware that our emotions are far more significant in determining health than has been acknowledged in medical texts. He knew that emotions impacted the body, affecting physiological function. Finding no adequate explanation of how this came about, he started to observe and hypothesise.

He noticed that, if emotions are feelings, they do not all feel the same. Anger feels different to love, love feels different to sadness, and shame feels different to all of these. So body experience or somatic effect appeared to be specific to each emotion. Body regions also appeared specific. We feel sadness in the heart; anger, anxiety and fear in the solar plexus; guilt and shame in the guts and the ‘pucker factor’, terror at the anus.

This realisation highlighted the relationship between physical disorders, the sites where they occur in the body and emotions associated with them. For example, long-term grief and heart disorders. Anger, the stomach and eating disorders.

Somehow, the emotions were controlling the body. But how?

Having established that emotions feel different and distinct from each other, he was aware that some feel good whilst others feel bad. Emotions can be categorised as painful or pleasurable. Those which are pleasurable feel expansive, enjoyable and are fully experienced. But painful emotions are a different story. They are contractive. We stifle pain. The body reacts to any pain by contracting – whether physically or emotionally induced. This automatic response he called the Auto-Contractile pain response. Also, the specific region experiencing emotion will tense around the contraction. This results in reduced blood perfusion and less oxygen, fewer nutrients and antibodies reaching the organs, characterised by the skin being very pale. Expansive emotion produces an opposite effect with the skin appearing pink.

These principles allow better understanding of why patterned undesirable behaviour is so difficult to discard. Trapped emotional pain starts to build into a complex web or layering which affects our perception of reality. It has become part of who we are and like a filter on a camera lens, we experience the world through it. Additionally, we frequently use anger to avoid feeling our painful emotions. Grief, fear, powerlessness and shame hurt, so we insulate ourselves and coat them with anger. As long as the pain remains, we cannot give up the anger. Based on these principles, Richard developed his techniques for releasing trapped emotional trauma.

SHEN® techniques involve gentle hands-on treatment, using the bio-field which permeates and surrounds the body to effect results. The Bio-field has been recognised and used for healing throughout history. The Chinese call it Qi, the Japanese call it Ki, the Indians Prana, the South Americans Gana.

During a SHEN® treatment, the recipient lies fully clothed on a massage table whilst the practitioner executes a series of planned hand placements. These relate to emotional holding patterns in the body. Feelings of warmth or tingling may be experienced as the qi flows through the body. Drifting into Alpha brainwaves or light sleep is common. Painful emotions, memories of forgotten events and images may surface. They are, however, experienced differently in this very relaxed state. Rather than being driven to act out the emotion, it is usually experienced as a strong feeling in a region of the body, which eventually dissipates. Practitioners apply the qi flowing from between their hands in arrangements congruent with the biofield for greatest effect, using principles of physics that apply to all moving fields in nature (electricity, magnetism, weather currents, etc.). The hands are usually in contact with the body but may also work from the surrounding biofield.

Typically, more than one session is needed for the trapped feelings of sadness, fear, anger, guilt and shame to be unlocked and allowed to dissipate. A series of treatment sessions usually results in clients reporting positive changes, such as feelings of increased self-esteem, lightness, clarity and improvement in relating to others, whilst noting a decrease or disappearance in anxiety, panic attacks and phobias. Physical symptoms related to psychosomatic or physio-emotional dysfunction, frequently improve or clear up completely.

SHEN® is extremely useful in helping people release grief, to recover from drug and alcohol addictions, and to deal with physical, mental and sexual abuse. It assists in promoting recovery from physio-emotional conditions such as eating disorders, migraine, emotional depression, panic attacks, compulsive behaviour, irritable bowel and pre-menstrual syndrome, post-traumatic stress, recurring nightmares, etc.
SHEN® Therapists work towards the release and resolution of troubling emotional states with the aim of promoting empowerment. We all carry around some emotional baggage which interferes with our positive health. SHEN® can lighten the load.

STRESS is the end result of long-term PHYSICAL TENSION.
STRESS is the end result of long-term PHYSICAL TENSION.
Stress is often depicted as a mental/ physical/ emotional state. Stress is easier to understand when we realize that stress is the result of working under tension, which is the result of long-term contractions at emotional and/or pysical pain sites. Example: Worry=Fear=Pain=Contraction=Tension=STRESS

Case Studies

Client – Mrs P.

Presented with monthly episodes of migraine and feelings of intense vulnerability about entering a sexual relationship again. She was attracted to the therapy because she had become ‘numb’ to her feelings.
She reported emotional abuse and victimisation in a previous relationship and related her fear of sex to a near death experience during childbirth 12 years previously.
During first session, client experienced release of tears followed by deep relaxation. Reported having lots of fleeting images from childhood. During her subsequent SHEN® series, she reported feeling more ‘real’, with fewer cramps and and no migraine pain on menstruation. She became aware that her fear of intimacy with men came from believing they would reject her if she showed her true self. After four sessions, client entered a new relationship and reported all forms of communication, including sex, were going well. She was happy and felt no need to continue treatments at this time.

Client – Mr W:

New to complementary treatments, but decided to ‘give it a go’ after having a panic attack at work. Additionally, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome was causing him sufficient pain in his right arm to disrupt his sleep pattern.
Stress had been building since the death of his father some months previously. Extra pressure from his newly dependent mother and from work were contributing to this.
Client found it hard to relax but eventually became quite hypnogogic. Released some tears whilst I worked at his heart.
Client phoned to say he felt more relaxed than he had for a long time, falling asleep in his armchair on returning home. Reported his Carpal Tunnel pain to be virtually gone with just twinges in his right shoulder and middle two fingers. He had returned to work and did not feel the need for further sessions at this time.

Client – Ms. F:

Came for a SHEN® series because her life was dominated by Irritable Bowel Syndrome. She was frequently exhausted, suffered regular episodes of toxic liver shock and felt controlled by her dysfunctional body.
Client had a history of Anorexia and Dysmenorrhoea, breast tumour and mastectomy, and an awareness of driving herself too hard.
Client had several sessions where images and flashbacks to childhood memories occurred. On other occasions, she saw colours or fell asleep.
Client reported some improvement with her digestive system. Also felt she had shifted in her ability to let go of perfectionism in small ways. She was feeling less angry and more conscious of the need to be kind to herself.

Client – Mr S:

Was feeling stuck, depressed and lacking in motivation. He had requested counselling from his GP and decided to try a SHEN® series while he waited for this.
Client recalled an isolated childhood without a father to emulate. He felt this pattern of loss and isolation had repeated many times throughout his life in broken relationships.
During sessions, client reported feeling guilt and shame about his unresolved relationship with his mother, a lot of fear and the desire to stretch his body. Several times he fell into deep sleep. Also, he reported having wild, disturbing dreams, which gradually changed over the weeks and became more fun. By the fourth session he had stopped taking anti-depressants and had started to sort out his home. Subsequent sessions each brought improvements to self-esteem, goal setting and achievement. He felt a renewed desire to maintain a spiritual focus and felt lighter and less burdened.

Client – Ms. K:

Gave feedback at the end of her treatment sessions:
Less confused. Feelings are clear and defined. Bad feelings seem less vast. I used to feel they would swallow me up. Now I perceive them as non-finite and endurable. I feel less inferior when I talk to people. I’m so surprised with my new assertive behaviour. No two sessions were the same. It’s hard to describe how SHEN® works – but it does!

Further information

To obtain a list of certified practitioners in your area, contact: The SHEN® Therapy Centre (U.K.), 26 Inverleith Row, Edinburgh EH3 5QH, Scotland. Telephone 0131–478 7035. Information on training courses is also available.


1.    Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman. Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 1995.


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About Eilís Ward

Eilís Ward practices SHEN® as an intern in Bristol. She can be reached by telephone on 0117-908 3271.

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