Since its development by Dr. Stanislav and Christina Grof at the Esalen Institute in California during the late 1970’s, and especially following the training and certification of the first of many Facilitator Training Groups in 1987, Holotropic Breathwork has been successfully experienced by tens of thousands of people in public weekend workshops, therapeutic settings, and weeklong retreats all over the world. Reports of its healing potential, from both breathers and facilitators, have been numerous across many conditions, and some research studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals.
Evoked Potentials in Holotropic Breathing, by L. I. Spivak, Yu. D. Kropotov, D. L. Spivak and A. V. Sevostyanov. /Human Physiology,/ Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 17-19, 1994. (This is an English translation of the original Russian.)
Holotropic Breathwork (HB), proposed by the American psychiatrist Stanislav Grof in 1984, is successfully used for treating neuroses (1-3). HB leads to a curative alteration of consciousness which activates the mechanisms of physiological recovery developed during evolution. Dr. Grof believes that the therapeutic effects of HB activate subconsciousness and provide the possibility for transformation of different emotional and psychosomatic symptoms into the altered state of consciousness. The literature on Holotropic Breathwork mainly describes the results of monitoring the dynamics of a patient’s consciousness. In this process neither physiological nor electro-physiological examination is conducted, as a rule. Moreover, physiological methods are sometimes considered to be non-informative as the matter concerns extremely fine alterations in the psyche, which are difficult to study objectively (1-2).The present study is designed to analyze the dynamics of brain evoked potentials (EP), which are correlated with an altered state of consciousness in neurotic patients during an HB session.
The Role of Hypocapnia in Inducing Altered States of Consciousness, by P. I. Terekhin. /Human Physiology/, Vol. 22, No. 6, pp. 730-735, 1996. (This is an English translation of the original Russian.)
External respiration function was tested (at the Russian People’s Friendship University, Moscow) during Holotropic Breathwork sessions in the course of psychotherapeutic treatment. Long-term voluntary hyperventilation was accompanied by respiratory phenomena with distinct periodicity and a stable level of hypocapnia throughout the whole treatment session. The role of hyperventilation and hypocapnia in the mechanisms inducing and maintaining altered states of consciousness is discussed.
Holotropic Breathwork: An Experiential Approach to Psychotherapy by Sara W. Holmes, Ph.D., Robin Morris, Pauline Rose Clance & R. Thompson Putney. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, Vol. 33(1), Spring 1996. pp. 114-120. 1996
ABSTRACT: The study investigated the relationship between the use of Holotropic Breathwork and therapeutic changes in levels of distress associated with self identified problems, death anxiety, self esteem, and sense of affiliation with others. Two groups of 24 subjects were compared using a repeated measures design. One group participated in a combination of experientially oriented psychotherapy plus six monthly sessions of Holotropic Breathwork (Breathwork Group), the second group participated only in experientially oriented psychotherapy (Therapy Group). Dependent measures were Templer’s Death Anxiety Scale, the Abasement and Affiliation subscales of the Personality Research Form-E, and a questionnaire regarding self-identified problems. The Breathwork Group showed significant reductions in death anxiety and increases in self-esteem compared to the Therapy Group. No significant differences were observed between groups on affiliation or self-identified problems. Results suggest that experiential approaches to psychotherapy may be useful in ameliorating some types of psychological problems.
A copy of the report of this study for personal reading can be purchased at the APA Journal Service for $11.95.
The Effect of Holotropic Breathwork on Personality (English version) by Denisa Binarova, Ceska a Slovenska Psychiatrie, (Czech and Slovak Psychiatry), 2003, VOL 99; PART 8, pages 410-414.
Following is an edited version of the Abstract from the English translation of the Study:
The paper investigates the effect of a single or repeated Holotropic Breathwork session on certain personality properties, attitudes, and values orientations. A total of 81 subjects participated in the research (36 Breathers, 34 Non-breathers, and 11 First-breathers). The Breathers group comprised individuals having participated in at least four Holotropic Breathwork sessions; subjects from the Non-breathers group were comparable based on the following criteria: gender, age, and education. The experimental subjects from the First-breathers group were initially tested prior to their first Holotropic Breathwork session and they were retested following the initial session (approximately three weeks later). The variables examined were measured by means of Crumbaugh and Maholick’s Purpose in Life (PIL) test; Harman, Fadiman, and Mogar’s test of attitudes and values (Value-Belief Q-Sort); and Shostrom’s Personal Orientation Dimensions (POD).
As for the First-breathers, a significant improvement in satisfaction of the need for purpose in life and significant reduction of rigidity and dogmatism were observed. The Breathers were found to be less rigid and dogmatic compared to the Non-breathers; they display a positive change in their attitude towards unusual comprehension of reality, they profess conventional values to a lesser extent, and they apply them in a more flexible manner. In addition, their approach towards reality is more appropriate, they are more able to enjoy the present moment, they are more autarchic and more independent of other people’s attitudes, they are more sensitive to their own feelings and needs, they are more spontaneous, they express higher self-esteem, and they show a better capacity to establish warm interpersonal relations. All of the above differences are significant statistically. The Breathers do not show a significantly better satisfaction of their need for purpose in life compared with the Non-breathers. Subjectively, all participants evaluated the experience from the Holotropic Breathwork session as contributing to better communication with people, to a deeper knowledge of the surrounding world, and to a higher acceptance of previously rejected opinions and thoughts.
A copy of the paper in the original language can be purchased through the British Library Direct service.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
In addition to research articles, there have been various peer-reviewed journal articles that address the healing potential of Holotropic Breathwork including:
Use of Hypnosis and Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness in Facilitating Significant Psychotherapeutic Change, by Linda Edwards, PhD, published in The Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis in 1999.
This is a general article about the healing potential of non-ordinary states in which Holotropic Breathwork’s approach is described. This article is also available from Dr. Edward’s site
Holotropic Breathwork: The Potential Role of a Prolonged, Voluntary Hyperventilation Procedure as an Adjunct to Psychotherapy, Joseph P. Rhinewine, Oliver J. Williams. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. September 1, 2007, 13(7): 771-776. doi:10.1089/acm.2006.6203.
Objective: This paper poses the question of whether Holotropic Breathwork (HB), a prolonged, voluntary hyperventilation procedure, might be useful in treatment of common psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depressive disorders.
Design: This is a hypothesis-posing paper pertaining to a potential novel treatment.
Summary: The neurophysiology and psychology of hyperventilation are reviewed, including findings demonstrating that hyperventilation leads to significant changes in central nervous system activity as measured by various technological means. Preliminary evidence suggesting efficacy for HB is reviewed. A tentative biopsychologic hypothesis is offered, suggesting a potential mechanism that may underlie putative therapeutic effects of HB.
Following are some ongoing research projects and reports of research related to Holotropic Breathwork:
HB Case Reports presented in South Africa; 11/08.
Tim Brewerton, MD, and co-authors presented at the International Society of Addiction Medicine 10th Annual Meeting in Cape Town, South Africa in November, 2008. The abstract accepted by ISAM was as follows:
Long-term Abstinence Following Holotropic Breathwork as Adjunctive Treatment of Substance Dependence
Timothy D. Brewerton, MD(1)
James Eyerman, MD(2)
Pamela Capetta, M.Ed.(3)
Michael C. Mithoefer, MD(1)
1 Medical University of South Carolina
2 University of California, San Francisco
3 Private Practice, Williamsburg, Virginia
“Many recovering addicts and clinicians stress the importance of spiritual issues in recovery, and 12-step programs such as AA are well-known approaches that embrace this philosophy. Holotropic Breathwork (HB) is another powerful, spiritually oriented approach to self-exploration and healing that integrates insights from modern consciousness research, anthropology, depth psychologies, transpersonal psychology, Eastern spiritual practices, and many mystical traditions. HB offers the addict many opportunities for enhancing addiction treatment, including entering non-ordinary states of consciousness to seek healing and wisdom via a natural, non-addictive method, a direct experience of one’s Higher Power, and for physical and emotional catharsis associated with stress and prior trauma. We report the successful use of HB in 4 cases in which complete abstinence was obtained and maintained for extended periods. These include: 1) 14 y/o WM with polysubstance abuse in residential treatment for 2 years when he began monthly HB sessions. He achieved abstinence for 2 years, had a brief relapse, then another year of abstinence when he was adopted; 2) 31 y/o WF with suicidal major depression in recovery from alcoholism and polysubstance abuse who after 2 HB sessions improved and achieved abstinence for 3+ years when she was lost to follow-up; 3) 49 y/o WM with recurrent major depression, PTSD, and marijuana abuse/dependence for 30 years. Despite multiple courses of psychotherapy and antidepressants his addiction continued unabated until he began HB. After 4 sessions he became abstinent for 6 months, then relapsed, but after 20 more sessions over 2 years he became completely abstinent and remained so for 5+ years; 4) 50 y/o WF with 29 years of alcoholism/polysubstance abuse, PTSD, and major depression began a series of 25 HB sessions over 5 years beginning 60 days after getting sober with AA. Nine years after beginning HB she remains abstinent from all substances.”
Dr. Brewerton is still seeking case reports like these that he will present in South Africa, as follows
Call for Case Reports, Tim Brewerton, M.D.
“In addition to being a certified Holotropic Breathwork facilitator, I am also a psychiatrist and clinical researcher with over 25 years of experience. I have agreed to join AHBI in the upcoming efforts to develop a strong research base that we believe will serve to integrate Holotropic Breathwork into the mainstream. As someone who has been involved in academic psychiatry/psychology for most of my career, I have a sense of what will be required in order for this shift to happen. Although Stan Grof has written many books, when one looks into the scientific literature using typical means, i.e., Medline, PsychLit, and CINAHL searches, there is virtually little or nothing. The time is ripe to change this situation.
“Although I am convinced, as most of you are who read this, of the immense healing value of Holotropic Breathwork, many clinical scientists and others who rely on empirically validated techniques are simply not going to listen until there is scientific data to support its usefulness. The fact is that Holotropic Breathwork has not been fully researched from a scientific point of view in order for it to be thought of as an empirically validated therapeutic option by mainstream psychiatry or psychology. Anecdotal reports strongly suggest its helpfulness for many individuals who have suffered from any number of psychiatric disorders, including alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, dissociation, and anxiety disorders such as PTSD, but these reports are mostly confined to Stan’s writings in books, which are not peer-reviewed.
“Along with Michael Mithoefer, M.D., and others who will be working with me on this project, I plan to begin adding Holotropic Breathwork to the armamentarium of available psychotherapeutic tools by publishing research about it in mainstream journals. The initial step in this plan is to publish case reports that describe significant improvements in certain psychiatric disorders following Holotropic Breathwork, in conjunction with standard psychiatric or psychological treatments.
“We are therefore asking all licensed mental health professionals to send us reports of cases that you yourself have treated and witnessed to have improved as a result of both traditional treatments (psychotherapy and/or pharmacotherapy) in conjunction with Holotropic Breathwork. We will need as much clinical information and history as possible (including diagnosis) in order to document each case, but of course, without any identifying information. Please send your cases, as well as your contact information, directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . We will document these cases using a standard format and submit them to an appropriate psychiatric journal. Anyone who submits cases that we use will be invited to be a coauthor on the paper. This strategy might then lead to other research projects that could eventually further substantiate the effectiveness of Holotropic Breathwork for various types of psychiatric disorders.
“Thanks for any assistance you can offer to this endeavor.”
Best wishes to you all,
Tim Brewerton, M.D.
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Medical University of South Carolina
Society of Applied Ethnopsychology and Cognitive Studies in Barcelona, Spain, Iker Puente
Iker Puente has concluded this study which forms his PhD work at the Society of Applied Ethnopsychology and Cognitive Studies in Barcelona, Spain. He analyzed 31 individuals in a Holotropic Breathwork group against 31 individuals in a control group, using three measures. With AHBI he is currently collecting and analyzing the data of a companion study conducted in October 2007 at the Omega Institute in New York State.
Birth Trauma and Beyond, Gregg Lahood and Judy Cottrell
Gregg Lahood, PhD, (an anthropologist of child-birth and consciousness) and Judy Cottrell (midwife and midwifery educator at New Zealand’s National Women’s Hospital), have designed a study entitled “Birth Trauma and Beyond” to thoroughly explore the transpersonal dimensions of women’s and men’s experience in child-birth. AHBI is working with Gregg and Judy in locating participants to describe ‘extraordinary’, ‘spiritual’ or ‘transpersonal’ experiences of consciousness during birth-giving. If you are interested in participating in this study, or would like to know more, please read the call for participation.
Intuitive Study with Holotropic Breathwork Mandalas, Rubye Cervelli
Rubye Cervelli, a fifth year Ph.D. student at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California, is looking for participants for her dissertation research. She is interested in hearing about your experience of Holotropic Breathwork and its subsequent mandala artwork. The main requirement is that an interview be held within two weeks of your participation in a six-day Grof Transpersonal Training (GTT) breathwork retreat. The following is her description of the research:
“My study uses Intuitive Inquiry, a qualitative, hermeneutic style research method to explore the nuances of your experience of Holotropic Breathwork and the mandala artwork. Participation involves 1) signing a consent form, 2) completing a demographics inventory, 3) doing an in-depth, taped telephone interview, 4) providing a copy of your mandala artwork from your GTT retreat and 5) reviewing the transcription of your interview. Altogether, participation will take about three hours. This research project is intended for broad publication, but confidentiality will be maintained through the use of pseudonyms. This study is not affiliated with GTT in any way. If you would like to participate in this study, please contact me at ruby at otterhollow.com or by telephone in the U.S. (650) 776-1002.”
Endorsement from Stan Grof for Rubye’s research:
“We have reached a stage when research on various aspects of holotropic breathwork will determine the role this work will play in psychiatry, psychology, and in the world. I strongly encourage participants in the training and in holotropic breathwork workshops in general to become part of this study.”
Stanislav Grof, M.D.