The Reichian Therapy process
Reichian therapy can refer to several schools of thought and therapeutic techniques whose common touchstone is their origins in the work of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957). Some examples are:
- Bioenergetic analysis, which combines psychological analysis, active work with the body and relational therapeutic work.
- Body psychotherapy, which addresses the body and the mind as a whole with emphasis on the reciprocal relationships within body and mind.
- Neo-Reichian massage, whose practitioners attempt to locate and dissolve body armoring (also called “holding patterns”).
- Vegetotherapy, a form of psychotherapy that involves the physical manifestations of emotions.
“It is clear that a prophylaxis of neuroses is out of the question unless it is prepared theoretically; in short, that the study of the dynamic and economic conditions of human structures is its most important prerequisite.” -Wilhelm Reich, MD
Every body psychotherapistcomes across clients for whom it is extremely difficult to put their problems and feelings into words. They can not, as it were, take a distance from themselves; can not look at themselves. It seems as if their complaints and problems have become part of their personality.
As a young clinician in the 1920s, the Hungarian-Austrian psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, a pupil of Sigmund Freud, was also confronted with this.Freudhad shown how unconscious behavioral and thought patterns stem from experiences from our past, especially our earliest youth. Freud developed the technique of “free association” that was meant to clarify these experiences. Given the shown validity of many of its elements, psychoanalysis did not work as well for many people as was initially thought. The problems of some people appeared to be associated with ways of resisting interpretations. And so the concept of character emerged.
It was Wilhelm Reich in particular who brilliantly extended the psychoanalytic focus on resistance to the more inclusive technique of “character analysis”. In 1925 he published a first study on this problem: The impulsive character(borderline personality in contemporary terms), followed in 1933 by the thick book Character Analysis, with which he gained respect and recognition in psychoanalytic circles up to the present day. For Reich body language became the center of his treatment. He noted that character patterns extended to the physical appearance and posture of a person. Reich managed to associate physical appearance and the non-verbal body language of people with their thoughts and attitudes, in other words with their character structure. If there was no progress, Reich had his clients move certain areas of their body that were stuck.Moving the tensions of the jaw for instance would also move the energy and the feelings. Often also a stream of memories would emerge and finally progress was made in the therapy. Reich discovered that the attitudes and thought patterns of the client function as an “armor” that simultaneously exists as chronic muscular spasms. Body and mind came together for Reich and character analysis opened the way to a psycho-corporal (bodymind) approach to disease and its prevention. Today we know – and this is confirmed by neuroscience – that a character structure is linked to developmental neuropsychological trauma. Injuries around the birth or first months and years of life will leave unavoidable physical and spiritual traces in the adult.
Traumatic experiences in every critical development phase will leave typical character traits in the personality and the body. He described this new body-oriented approach for psychoanalysis in the book The Function of the orgasm (Die function des Orgasmus) which appeared in 1927, followed in 1942 by a more comprehensive second edition. Reich’s view is that body posture and movement, and the ability to experience emotions are two sides of the same coin. Both body posture and emotional balance are partly determined by the tension of muscles (and now we know also of the connective tissues). Those who are chronically tense feel less or even nothing (other than possibly tension). The basic needs that are not fulfilled during childhood development are expressed in the therapeutic relationship. In the therapeutic context, the “transference phenomenon” is used in which, for example, the client projects an ideal father in the therapist, or rejects the rejecting mother, etc..
A therapeutic approach based on Reich’s insights provides an efficient treatment, thanks to a simultaneous focus on body, emotions and thoughts. After Reich, it were especially Alexander Lowen, MD and John Pierrakos, MD, two of Reich’s disciples, who furthered the concept of character in the context of personal change and development. From extensive natural and clinical observation, they created a character typology that included physical, psychological, family and social aspects. In the bio-energetic analytical tradition, a distinction is made between 5 dominant character structures (some go up to 9). Lowen once defined character in the following way:
… character structure is not a conglomeration of injuries and defenses which can be analyzed one by one, nor is it a series of scattered muscular tensions-a tense neck, a rigid jaw, contracted shoulders, etc.– which block the flow of excitation and feeling in the body. True, each tense muscle or muscle group is the result of traumatic experiences which block the expression of feeling. But the character structure is an organized system of defenses aimed to promote the survival and security of the individual. And these defenses are integrated and coordinated to promote the maximum security which the individual feels necessary and yet provide an opportunity for the individual to try to find some fulfillment in life. It was not built in a day but over a period of years–six to be exact–during which the child strove to find some positive meaning in its life. It is a walled city or a fortress depending on the degree of fear.’ It cannot be analyzed away, nor can it be demolished by force. It is part of the individual’s nature, second nature to be exact, and therefore beyond the will of the individual to change.(*Newsletter of The International Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis Volume 18, No 2)
Pierrakos’ and Lowen’s “bio-energetic character structures” are adopted today by many body-oriented therapists in their theory development. Character-analytical work, however, is not an easy undertaking. It should not be oversimplified.
The Institute for Bodymind Integration offers introductory modules in which the model of character analysis is treated both theoretically and practically. Insight is provided in Reichian Character Analysis as well as in the Lowen/Pierrakos, S. Johnson, PhD. (Author on several classic books on the subject) and J. Painter, PhD (founder of Bodymind Integration methods like Postural integration®, Energetic Integration® and Pelvic-Heart Integration®) supplements.
Dirk Marivoet, MSc, PT, PMT, ECP CCEP worked with first and second hand Reichians ( John Pierrakos, MD founder of Bio-energetic (character) Analysis (together with Alexander Lowen) and Core-Energetics, Chuck Kelley, Myron Sharaf, Eva Reich (1st Generation Reichians), Stanley Keleman, Stephen Johnson, Gerda Boyesen, Jack Painter (2nd Generation), etc.
Dirk is a member and general secretary of the International Council of PsychoCorporal Integration Trainers (ICPIT). Member of the BVP-ABP and of VVPMT. ECP certified psychotherapist and supervisor.