Radix InstituteThe Influence of Wilhelm Reich
ABOUT REICH AND RADIX: A MEMOIR1 - Part One - Charles R. Kelley
When David Barstow, the Editor of Pilgrimage, first suggested that I do this article, he asked me to write, not about the concepts and techniques of Radix, the system that I have developed, but rather to describe the way in which I arrived at my views and way of working. What was the process – A fragment of the personal journey? He felt what I believed would be secondary to how I came to believe it. 1 could refer readers who wished more information about the concepts and techniques involved in Radix work to my previous writings.
I was too busy at the time to do the article, but the suggested approach intrigued me and started a process of thought. My teacher, Wilhelm Reich, was a psychoanalyst and student of Freud. His work departed from the work of Freud because instead of focusing on the content, the meaning, the history of the associations of his patients, Reich began to pay special attention to the expression; not to what the patient was saying but how he was saying it. This inevitably brought him from dealing with the history, the background and interpretation of the material into what was happening here and now. Reich noted the process going on, what the body was doing, the breathing, how the patient held himself, what he did with his eyes. This led him to his first major discovery, the muscular armor, those chronic patterns of body tension through which feelings are blocked. Observing the muscular armor then carried him on to the second major finding in his life, the discovery of the life force which Reich came to call orgone energy.
Reich’s concept of the life force differed from the life force concept of predecessors because of the way he observed it and tied it to real natural processes. Reich went from Freud’s libido and the energy of the instincts to the pulsation of the body, charge and discharge, emotion and the action of the muscular armor in blocked emotion.
He saw all of these as natural processes expressing the life force. Reich’s life force was real, natural, of the body and so of nature and not of a spiritual world. The Reichian life force lacked the mystical and religious element with which many life force concepts have been associated. And again this was due to the fact that Reich’s focus was always on process rather than content, on expression rather than meaning, on what was going on in body and mind at the present moment of time rather than what went on in the past. Reich, like David Barstow, asked not why, but how, not the meaning but the process.
I didn’t believe in the existence of a life force that autumn in 1950 when I met Wilhelm Reich. I did believe in the muscular armor; that was true to my experience of my own body. As a university student I had read Reich’s books avidly. I was trained as a psychologist with a special interest in vision. During World War II I gained some “hard science” background in meteorology. The life force, even as Reich presented it, seemed too “far out” as a concept for me. Yet at Orgonon, as Reich called his property, in his observatory on top of that hill in the remote
1 In THE RADIX VOL. I: RADIX PERSONAL GROWTH WORK, 1992, pp. 303-327. First published in Chuck Kelley’s Radix Journal, Vol. III No. 1, 1982, and in Pilgrimage Vol. X No. 1. Part 3 of this series is titled “Radix Purpose Work.”
© Charles R. Kelley 1982, 1983, 1992 This paper is for the sole use of the recipient and may not be copied without written permission of the Trustee of Charles Kelley’s Estate.
Rangeley Lake region of Maine, Reich could speak to me of nothing but orgone energy and his work with the life force. He learned with interest that I had been a weather forecaster during World War II, and he brought me outside to show me his weather control apparatus. The apparatus was a kind of directional antenna consisting of several parallel metal tubes 12 or 15 feet long, leading through hollow flexible tubing down to a lake. “This is my most important invention,”Reich told me in September 1950, the occasion of our first meeting. With that he unsheathed his apparatus and pointed the tubes at a small group of cumulus clouds about three or four miles distant. After less than five minutes he sheathed the apparatus again and put it away. I watched the clouds the tubes had been pointed to. They seemed to be expanding. Reich said, “I’ve withdrawn the orgone energy from them; now they will dissipate.” I watched, fascinated, as the clouds lost their clear boundaries, disintegrated, evaporated into the air and disappeared from the sky. It was hard to believe my own eyes. Reich said, “We can destroy clouds in the same way that we eliminate symptoms in orgone therapy. We withdraw the orgone energy from the symptom and the symptom disappears. That’s just what I’ve done with those clouds. I’ve withdrawn their orgone energy and so the clouds have disappeared. It’s very simple.”
I was astonished by Reich’s demonstration, and still unbelieving. One short demonstration could not convince me of something so foreign to the way of thinking that I had developed in my years of scientific training and practice. I had to build and experiment with my own version of Reich’s apparatus, to use it over several years of time before my beliefs changed. I have written about my own weather experiments elsewhere (Kelley, 1961). Here I want to focus on how I was introduced to the life force concept and how I came to believe it myself.
The early fifties were a time of ferment in the Reichian movement. Reich was under heavy and continuing attack from the Food and Drug Administration of the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The orgonomists (who were all medical doctors trained by Reich) and some of their patients were being harassed by government agents asking them questions about orgone accumulators and the treatment of cancer. The orgone accumulator was the metal-lined box that patients were sometimes asked to sit in by their orgonomists to increase the orgone energy charge of their bodies. The use of the accumulator seemed to be the focus of the government’s interest in Reich’s work.
Though Reich lived and worked now on his property near Rangely, Maine, the center of the Reichian movement was still New York. It was in New York where most of the doctors that Reich had trained had their practices, and so it was there that most of us who were involved in Reichian therapy lived, took therapy, met with each other and talked about Reich’s work. We were a small group, thought kooky by most of our friends. The firm of applied scientists for which I worked considered my interest in Reich to be my particular eccentricity. Because I was bright and good at my job my colleagues tolerated my eccentricity, but certainly didn’t take it seriously.
Small groups of Reichians, many of us living in Greenwich Village, met and talked, shared experiences and supported each other in a world generally hostile to the beliefs that we had adopted in whole or in part. Almost all of us believed in Reich, his techniques of therapy, and the muscular armor. Some of us, myself included, had problems with the concept of the life force, but were interested, were considering it. We talked about it at length.
When I say we, I don’t mean an organized group. There were informal groups of people drawn together by the commonality of interest in Reich’s work. They were small groups at that. There were perhaps a dozen orgonomists active at the time, fifteen at most. Reich no longer practiced therapy himself. The Reichians I knew in Greenwich Village were in therapy with one or other of the orgonomists. The orgonomists were not themselves part of any group I took part in. It
was a creative intellectual group of people that I knew best. A central figure was Adam Margoshes, a columnist for the radical new Village newspaper, the Village Voice. Adam later worked as a psychology professor. He was in therapy first with Elsworth Baker and then with Michael Silvert, one of the doctors most heavily involved with the tragedy of Reich’s final years. Adam, together with his wife Virginia, ran a bookstore, the Phoenix, on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. One summer I took over and operated the bookshop while he and Virginia took a vacation in San Francisco. Adam was one of the most brilliant men I have known. We would often play monopoly and talk all night at the Margoshes’ flat on MacDougall Street. In addition to Adam and Virginia there might be Barbara Goldenberg, who is now Dr. Barbara Koopman, psychiatrist, orgonomist, Associate Editor of the Journal of Orgonomy (Barbara is now a colleague of Elsworth Baker, best known of the orgonomists); Peter Frank, a mathematician and life-long personal friend, one of the original trustees of the Radix Institute; and Eileen Walkenstein, a young physician training to be a psychiatrist, who aspired to become an orgonomist and who also was in therapy with Dr. Baker. There were others, some not as deeply involved in Reich’s work, of course.
Adam and Virginia, Barbara and Eileen all had orgone accumulators in their Greenwich Village apartments. We talked a lot about these accumulators. Did we really believe that orgone energy was accumulated inside them? What was it that they did to the atmosphere of a place? Rooms got heavy and unpleasant with doors and windows closed when there was an orgone accumulator inside. A person felt strange if he sat in an accumulator for long. What was it that went on? Was it a life force?
The others were interested in my experiments with Reich’s weather control apparatus. I went sometimes to the country to a lake in the Berkshires where I could use the apparatus, pointing it at cumulus clouds and observing the results. Yes it worked, I had to admit. The clouds I pointed the tubes at disappeared while others observed as controls did not. I didn’t understand it, but I was trying to understand. Talking all night with a sympathetic interested intelligent group of people was a good way to develop and refine my understanding, establish what I believed and what I remained skeptical of. There was no doubt that there was something to Reich’s concept of orgone energy. But what was the “something,” the reality that Reich had glimpsed “through a glass, darkly” that the rest of us were striving to see for ourselves?
Reich’s journal, the Orgone Energy Bulletin, which came out four times a year, had Reich’s latest work in it, and contributed to our search for understanding. The work was much broader scientifically than I had dreamed when I became involved in 1950. Reich was dealing, not just with a new technique of psychotherapy, not just with muscular armor, not just a way of working that finally brought mind and body together and established a bodily basis for work with the feelings. He was dealing with something much broader, so fundamental it reached the very root of existence. Yet it was difficult to conceptualize and grasp with clarity. Reich was dealing, in fact, with the creative process in nature; this was the conclusion that I was gradually forming.
How, then, did I come to believe in the existence of a life force? The process was gradual and many factors led to it. It was not merely that I experimented successfully with Reich’s apparatus and that I felt the effects of orgone accumulators when I used them. My own Reichian therapy contributed much to the gradual development and change in my system of beliefs in the fifties. It was like no psychotherapy I had ever experienced and I had tried traditional therapies. I had always been a person who remembered a great deal of my childhood. I could talk about it in therapy indefinitely. I would remember, intellectualize, report early experiences, some of them traumatic, but talking about them left me strangely unmoved emotionally. I never cried, I never
felt any deep feelings in talking about my experience. In Reichian work instead of talking I lay nude on a couch. Dr. William Thorburn, who was my Reichian therapist for many years, worked with my body and with my breathing with very few carefully chosen words. Gradually, patterns of muscular tension holding in my body released and then the emotions began to pour out. For example, after two years’ work with Dr. Thorburn, I cried deeply for the first time since the age of nine, twenty years before. And as my armor softened I was becoming freer and more open emotionally. These deep-seated changes confirmed like nothing else could have my confidence in Reich’s approach in his fundamental concepts. I became able to experience in my body the activities and processes expressing my own life force.
Gradually my belief system became reorganized about the concept of the life force. Conceptually it was Reich’s writing that played the central role. The most influential single book was ETHER, GOD AND DEVIL (Reich, 1949). It came out first as a volume of the Annals of the Orgone Institute, one of the publications burned by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in their action against Reich. It is the most influential single book in my whole scientific development. Interestingly enough, in ETHER, GOD AND DEVIL, Reich endeavors to talk, not about the content of his beliefs, but the process, not what he believed as much as how he came to believe as he did. He endeavors to “take us into his workshop,” and show us how his discoveries came about rather than what the discoveries are. Reich’s descriptions of his experience corresponded so well to my own when I dealt with the same things that I became more and more confident of his essential correctness.
In ETHER, GOD AND DEVIL, Reich describes how human knowledge is dominated by two primary unconscious intellectual forces: mechanism, which underlies most of science and technology, and mysticism, which underlies most religion and spiritual philosophy. Mechanism objectifies nature, striving to reduce everything to chemistry and physics. Mysticism subjectivises nature, striving to establish a primary reality of spirit. Mechanism treats men as machines and mysticism focuses on disembodied personalities. We are thus given a choice between a world of zombies without conscious control over what they do, or a world of spooks where what matters is the soul which is supposed to survive bodily death. These two mutually supporting intellectual tendencies arise from the character, the pattern of muscular armor in millions of human beings. From them have come the belief systems that have dominated the history of the human race. Together they have kept the human race from looking at the reality of the life force, the connecting link between mind and body which forms the basis of a unified view. I became able to understand mechanism and mysticism as a result of reading ETHER, GOD AND DEVIL (see Kelley, 1975).
When I read the injunction obtained by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration against Reich, it struck me like a thunderbolt. I couldn’t believe my own eyes. Reich had told us he didn’t care if they enjoined the use of orgone accumulators; it was mankind’s loss if they did, but there was nothing he could do about it. The complaint for injunction by the FDA questioned the existence, nature and properties of the life force. Such questions, Reich said, could never be decided in a court of law and one would be foolish to try. He refused to appear in court in response to the Food and Drug Administration’s complaint against him and they obtained this unbelievable injunction.
The injunction wasn’t only or even primarily an attack on orgone accumulators, although that was the excuse and the form of the complaint. The injunction ordered Reich’s scientific
publications burned and banned. There were only two or three hundred orgone accumulators in existence, and they had very little significance to people other than those who used them therapeutically. The tens of thousands of Reichian publications were something else. Those of us involved in Reich’s work considered them the most important publications in the world.
ABOUT REICH AND RADIX: A MEMOIR1 - Part One - continued - Charles R. Kelley
ETHER, GOD AND DEVIL as it appeared in the Annals of the Orgone Institute was ordered burned. The Orgone Energy Bulletin, with Reich’s important recent work on weather control, was ordered burned. The Journal of Sex Economy and Orgone Research, Reich’s first American journal, was probably the most awkwardly titled journal in American psychology, but it was full of excellent material, all of which was to be burned. Dozens of issues, tens of thousands of copies, were to be destroyed. Reich’s ten hard cover books weren’t ordered burned but were banned until references to orgone energy were deleted from them. Any reference to the existence of orgone energy was forbidden.
Many of the books and publications enjoined never once mentioned the orgone accumulator. Reich’s books dealt with the discovery, the nature and the properties of the life force, which Reich called “orgone energy.” To say that these books could only be used if all references to the existence of orgone energy were deleted made my hair stand on end. At that time I was so astounded, so indignant, so enraged, I was speechless.
A scene from the summer before up at Reich’s observatory in Orgonon came back to me. Reich had looked at me with deep concern. We had been talking about the Food and Drug Administration’s impending attack. I knew very little about what was going on although I had read the vicious article attacking Reich in the New Republic, (Brady, 1947) and I knew that the Food and Drug Administration had been investigating Reich since the article appeared. Reich said to me, “Can’t you make them stop? Can’t you make them leave me alone?” I didn’t know what they were doing, much less how to make them stop. The consequence of what they were doing was this injunction in my hands. Reich had asked for my help. I had not helped. How could I help now?
I went to Washington. I walked the halls of government bureaus. I spoke to the highest officials of the Food and Drug Administration. I discovered to my absolute horror that these officials knew exactly what they were doing in burning Reich’s writings. They were doing it consciously and deliberately. I thought bookburners were hideous people out of despotic nations and ugly old chapters of history. Here I met them face-to-face, and they were ordinary Washington bureaucrats, no different from a million others in the same city.
Reich’s small group of followers was galvanized into action. Letters were written. A letter went out to all Senators and members of Congress, and to other politicians. Scientific organizations were contacted as were civil liberties groups. Nobody really cared aside from the handful of devoted followers.
Reich didn’t believe the injunction. “In America they don’t burn books,” he told us. Reich had acquired a faith in American government. After his misfortunes in Europe at the hands of the fascist, communist and socialist organizations and the different climate he found in this country he had developed a naive faith in America and the American system.
Images from the years that followed come back. A large truck pulls up to the office of the Orgone Institute Press in New York City. Box after box of Reich’s publications are put on the truck, 6 tons according to Greenfield (1974). All copies of the Journal of Sex Economy, Annals of the Orgone Institute, Orgone Energy Bulletin, Core, monographs and other publications are loaded on the trucks under the supervision of Federal Agents. The truck is driven down to lower
Manhattan to the Gansavoort incinerator where, under the Agent’s watchful eyes, the boxes are thrown into the incinerator and burned.
I have a personal curiosity. How many copies of the issue of the Orgone Energy Bulletin that contains my article, “Causality and Freedom” go up in smoke? How many of the issues of Core containing the article I wrote on weather control? I feel a bitter pride in having my own work burned by the United States Government because Reich published it alongside his own.
I see an earlier scene, when Reich was arrested for contempt of court for failing to carry out the injunction, brought to criminal court to trial. He was supposed to carry out the provisions of the injunction. To ask that man to burn his life work, his publications, was like asking him to kill his own son.
Eventually it was done anyway and because he hadn’t cooperated Reich faced a federal judge, charged with contempt of court. The only issue the judge would consider was had he or had he not obeyed the injunction. What the injunction required of him didn’t matter. So Reich stood before the judge and was sentenced to two years in Federal prison for failing to burn his own writings. His conviction was appealed to every court, finally to the Supreme Court of the United States. The conviction stood; book burning in the U.S.A. was upheld!
Reich had said that going to prison would mean his death. He was right. Reich was imprisoned in March, 1957. He was found dead in his cell in Lewisberg Federal Penitentiary on the morning of November 3, 1957.
Those were for me years of heartbreak, defeat, and bitterness. I remember the publications and public statements from the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association who cooperated in the persecution of Reich by the Food and Drug Administration and applauded the outcome of their efforts. They were evidently pleased and proud to be accessories to the burning of Reich’s writings and his imprisonment. I remember my futile appeals to organization after organization before, during and after the event. I asked the American Association for the Advancement of Science, America’s major organization of professional scientists, to investigate the government’s burning of scientific writings on behalf of their members. They could not spare the effort. As a member of the organization, I wrote an article myself and submitted it for publication in their journal, Science. They could not spare the pages for it. I published the article myself (Kelley, 1961b) and asked that they review it in Science. They refused. As token to my diligent efforts, they printed a reference listing my article, buried in a bibliography. I received one inquiry from the listing. Like the bureaucrats and politicians of Washington and the official representatives of organized medicine and psychiatry, America’s major scientific organization was not interested in the burning of Reich’s scientific writings. And it certainly had no concern about the imprisonment of the scientist who wrote them, convicted of the heinous crime of refusing to cooperate in the incineration of his work.
I have no doubt that if Reich had been a recognized, orthodox, establishment physician and scientist instead of a lonely pioneer, the APA, AMA and AAAS would have rushed to his defense against even a mild threat to suppress his work. But recognized orthodox establishment types rarely require such defense. It is the lonely, unorthodox pioneer who so often needs and so seldom receives such protection.
So Reich’s writings were burned, Reich imprisoned, and his dead body carried from his cell in Lewisberg Penitentiary. The bureaucrats of the FDA triumphed. The great majority of the scientific writings that went into the Gansavoort incinerator have never been republished, although they include the last and most important of Reich’s published work, and the few available copies
are valued like rare jewels. I felt utterly crushed, impotent. Reich had asked for my help and I had tried, I had tried hard, for a long time in every way I could think of. The defeat was so painful it sometimes felt like more than I could bear.
The future will have to decide whether or not Wilhelm Reich was the greatest psychologist in history and the most important scientist of his time. Certainly he was these things to me at the time of his death. But now he was dead and there was absolutely no one to take his place. He did not seem to have a single colleague of real stature. He had written bitterly about the eagle who kept hatching eggs, thinking he would raise a small eagle, but discovering time after time that the eggs only produced little chickens that grew up into clucking hens. There was no individual and no organization to carry forward his work.
I had never seen myself as a person to carry on Reich’s work, important as it was. I was a junior person in the Reichian movement, neither a “true believer” or leader of others, but a student by nature. My problem was to find my own work, to discover how to do that work within the framework of belief that had been so changed as a consequence of my experience with Wilhelm Reich. It had been seven years since the fall I met Wilhelm Reich. Through him my belief system had been turned upside down. It would take me another seven years to establish my own identity.
At the time Reich died I was doing experiments with his weather control apparatus. In the following year, 1958, I bought a piece of property in Connecticut in the country by a stream. It was to serve as a home for my family and as a laboratory for continuing my experiments. I knew that Reich’s apparatus was powerful and dangerous in ways that I only partly understood. I knew also that having a stream flow through the property would help protect against the dangerous, stagnant concentrations of the life force which Reich had called dor, which so plagued his experiments in Maine, contaminating the area, making animals and people deathly ill. I felt I had enough understanding of dor that I would be able to deal with it in my own work. I was wrong.
The atmosphere in and around the house and the garage of my Connecticut property grew increasingly heavy, strange and oppressive with my experiments. Our pets became ill and lost their hair. My wife and our infant daughter suffered poorer and poorer health. I was away much of the time with my job, and so exposed less, but I was also affected. After hours of work with the weather apparatus I would be overcharged and unable to sleep. There was a feeling of headache, a vague nausea and a kind of swollen tightness. Then my heart began to pound. Medical examinations could find nothing wrong with any of us. Our symptoms corresponded to Reich’s descriptions of “dor sickness.”
The trees of the property began to be affected. They turned black and died from the top down in a way that exactly repeated what had happened at Reich’s property in Maine. The cause, Reich had said, was dor. A few months later rocks in the foundation wall in the cellar of our house began to turn black, again repeating a pattern of the effects of dor that happened to Reich in Maine and had been described by Reich in his scientific publications.
At the same time, weather control experiments with Reich’s apparatus had given me resoundingly positive results. I had succeeded in producing unpredicted rain in five out of five controlled experimental attempts. The evidential value of the experiments I had done seemed to me to be great and I wished to communicate my work to others. There was no medium for communication among Reichians. There were no conferences, no publications, no scientific
journals, not even a newsletter, nothing. When I suggested we organize such meetings I was met with resistance, jealousy, antagonism. I decided, quite reluctantly, to form my own organization.
The Radix Institute was founded in Connecticut in 1960 as the Interscience Research Institute. Several years later the name was changed to Radix. The Institute’s first publication was A NEW METHOD OF WEATHER CONTROL (Kelley, 1961a). In it, I described my weather experiments and the effects of the overcharged “dor” condition at the property in Connecticut including the sickness of my family, the dying of the trees, the blackening of the rocks. I launched a scientific journal that same year which I named The Creative Process. I had come to conceptualize the life force as the creative process in nature. I meant the term “creative” literally. I still consider my field of study to be that process by means of which the physical world and psychological experience come into being, i.e., are created in the most literal sense.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time but in those years I hadn’t achieved my intellectual independence from Reich. I wrote as a Reichian within the framework of his ideas. While I was struggling to develop my own ideas, my struggle had not yet succeeded. Looking back with the advantage of more than twenty years of perspective on the issue, I can see that my real independence from Reich came only as I came to differ from him in significant respects, when my own concepts solidified in their departure from his. The most important single step in my independence came when I made the decision to abandon most of Reich’s terminology and to develop and employ terminology of my own.
New terminology for the life force and its expressions freed my thought process in a way I had never expected for I had quit using Reich’s terminology for another reason. I had been subject to unremitting petty backbiting and jealousy from many of Reich’s disciples including those who considered themselves his official representatives. A primary motive in changing the terminology I used in my work was to disassociate myself from these people (see Kelley, 1965). I found that the use of new terms let me rethink basic questions about the life force and to clarify and consolidate my concept of it apart from Reich’s. This marked the end of my years as a student of Reich and the beginning of the work I have done in the years since through the Radix Institute. The properties I ascribe to the radix are different in certain important respects from the properties Reich ascribed to orgone energy, while in other important respects I agree with Reich entirely. Orgone energy and radix are distinct but similar life force concepts, the first being the predecessor and starting point in the development of the second.
The problems and difficulties, the upheavals in my life in the early 1960’s contributed to my finding myself and my own way of thinking and believing. I had not recovered from the defeat at the hands of the FDA. A twelve-year marriage that had produced two children was coming to an end. I ate and drank too much and did not get enough exercise, so became fifteen or twenty pounds overweight. I had become disillusioned with orgonomy, which had become a cult after Reich’s death. I left the East Coast where I had moved to become involved in the Reichian movement in 1950, and returned to California. I had grown up in California and considered it to be my home. I had lost all respect for Washington politicians and bureaucrats and for the medical and scientific establishment as a result of the experience of Reich’s persecution and death. My political views were undergoing a radical change away from Welfare State collectivism. The Institute I had formed for my work on the life force was not making it. Only my hard earned money and personal administration, research and writing kept it alive at all. The Institute’s scientific journal, The Creative Process, for which I had such hopes, never had more than two hundred subscribers. It cost me hundreds of dollars to publish each issue.
I had been successful in the job I held as a research psychologist, but the work did not satisfy me. I was the Chief Scientist and Director of a small research laboratory in the West Coast office of the applied science firm that had hired me originally when I went to New York. The work was enjoyable and well paid. It gave me the status and the privileges of the successful scientist. Yet the work itself lacked significance, at least to me. It made little real difference whether it was done or not. It was like doing puzzles and games, enjoyable but for the most part not truly important. All that I had learned from Reich and since the time of Reich were important, but I had been unable to put them together in a way that would let me earn a living through my Institute. I had wanted to use the weather control research and the work that I had done with Reich’s physical concepts to gain research funding. I felt that my weather control report would bring in federal research funds, but my grant proposal was denied even though the amount I had asked for was absurdly small. Congress had allocated $120,000,000 for weather control research and I had asked for $14,000 to test Reich’s apparatus. It was a good proposal. I was skilled in writing and presenting proposals. Still I was turned down.
My life seemed in a shambles personally and professionally. In 1965 I began to make the painful decisions necessary to get my life on track. I divorced my wife, suspended publication of The Creative Process, quit overeating and drinking, and formulated a rigorous program of diet and exercise to improve my health. I finished writing a book on applied psychology that had been dragging on for three or four years.
Intellectually I had become excited over the work of Ayn Rand. I met Nathaniel Branden, who became a personal friend. His philosophy and political ideas (he was a student and colleague of Rand) contributed to the development process that I was undergoing. I formed a relationship with my present wife Erica, the most important and satisfying personal relationship of my life. I began plans to launch a new career as a practitioner of my own form of Reichian work, giving up dreams of doing research on the creative process as a means of livelihood.
In 1966, while re-reading the book THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ATTENTION by T .A. Ribot, I suddenly realized that the muscular tensions underlying voluntary attention that were described by Ribot in the 1890’s were, in fact, Reich’s muscular armor. The function of the muscular tensions as described by Ribot, however, was not the blocking of feeling but the support of voluntary attention and voluntary movement, i.e., the human will. The link between the muscular armor and the will was a connection that I had been seeking for years. I had published repeatedly on the problem of the origin and function of the muscular armor in The Creative Process, but had never found the crucial link. Now I had discovered it. It was the most exciting and important intellectual discovery that I had made. But The Creative Process was defunct, and it would be another four years before I ventured again into publishing.
Still the insights came. Quite suddenly a whole host of perplexing and important scientific problems in psychology became clear. Why was it that man alone of all the animals had developed a muscular armor? Because man alone developed a will, and the armor was the mechanism of the will. What was the function of the muscular armor? To block and channel the flow of the life force as required for voluntary attention and voluntary activity, which is the way the will operates. Why was the muscular armor, the mechanism of the will, so terribly destructive, so damaging to health and to rationality? Because it was new (in an evolutionary sense) and partial and imperfect in its development. When an important and new evolutionary step is made, there often must be a long difficult period of adaptation when the old is being relinquished and the new is not yet perfected. Why was it that many of those individuals that I could see were highly armored were also people I considered interesting, attractive, admirable in their character structure, when Reichian theory
would predict the opposite? It was because these people had a high degree of will power, and often exhibited an unusual degree of self-discipline and ability to do difficult things, to control the direction of their lives. Ayn Rand was an admirer and champion of armored human beings.
The discovery of the nature and origin of the muscular armor was a major advance over the views of Reich. Reich had never understood the origin of the armor although he made it a subject of study for many years of his life. When I read Ribot’s little book I was sitting in my apartment in Santa Monica, California. The connection between the muscular armor and voluntary attention suddenly came to me. I literally felt like running through the streets shouting “Eureka!” It was the first important independent discovery I had made as a scientist dealing with the life force. I first published the discovery in 1970. The significance and ramifications of the finding are developed much more fully in The Radix Journal, 1980.
With the discovery of the origin and function of the muscular armor I established myself as an independent scientist studying the nature and properties of the life force. True, others did not understand the significance of my discovery. That I felt would come in time. Of much more practical import to me was that I had not established myself as a practitioner and so as yet had developed no means of livelihood that made use of my growing knowledge of the life force. In 1966 this gained a high priority in my life. I began working out the kind of practice I would create and how I would offer it. I knew that it would deal with the muscular armor and would resemble Reichian therapy but differ in fundamental ways just as my life force concept differed from that of Reich’s. I made four decisions about the practice I would offer:
1. Educational Model. I would work as an educator, not as a therapist, since the muscular armor was not a sickness but reflected an evolutionary development in progress.
2. Vision. The armoring of the eyes would be my starting point, and work with vision would be central to my practice as it had been throughout my education and professional life.
3. Group Work. I would work at least in part in groups.
4. Purpose. The human will and its relation to the armor meant that the development and use of the will would play a role in the practice. I would call this aspect of my practice purpose work.
These four decisions expressed the nature of the practice I wished to found. It was the start of Radix work as we do it today.
ABOUT REICH AND RADIX: A MEMOIR Part Two - Charles R. Kelley
The Educational Model
Reich’s work demonstrated that a multitude of problems of the human species can be traced to the muscular armor. This included severe disorders of function and serious physical diseases, from heart disease to cancer. It was natural enough that Reich, a physician, considered the armor itself to be a sickness. In the Reichian view the muscular armor was an endemic, virtually universal pathology. It predisposed its victims to other secondary diseases and disorders of function. This point of view shaped the Reichian movement.
As a matter of fact, a similar point of view affects psychotherapy generally, and for the same reasons. I want to focus here, however, on the effect of this medical model of the armor and problems stemming from the armor on the Reichian movement and on my own development.
There were several important corollaries to the medical view that muscular armor was an almost universal disease of the human race. For one, the professionals dealing with the armor had to be physicians, for only physicians were qualified to deal with curing the sick. This led Reich and Elsworth Baker, whom Reich appointed to do training, to cease training non-medical practitioners of Reichian therapy. Reich’s work was christened “medical orgone therapy” at this time. Previously Reich called his work “vegetotherapy.” (The term is less awkward in German, Reich’s language at the time he founded vegetotherapy.) There were lay therapists trained to do vegetotherapy. Then the medical model was reemphasized with the change in name and abolition of all lay practice. Those of us in therapy were reminded of our “sick person” status, and the authority of the orgonomist physician, who understood and was engaged by us to treat our illness.
Beyond this, dealing with the armor as a sickness affected every aspect of the work done. This included the characterology employed, the objectives of the work, and the attitudes and expectations important to those of us taking it.
Consider characterology. Reich’s characterology was an adaptation of Freud’s and, as with Freud, the character types served as diagnostic categories of illness. Some illnesses are more serious than others, but all are undesirable. Thus some character types were worse to belong to than others, but all were pejorative. No-one wanted to be an oral or an anal character type. To be a phallic type was a little better, but that was also sick. Of course, all types were sick, and all of us had to have some kind of illness; the model required it to explain why we needed therapy. And so we accepted that we were ill. “Neurotic” was the most general catchall label for our sickness. The various types or subcategories of neurosis or psychiatric classification defined our particular illness category. Reich had introduced modifications in these categories that adapted them better to his theories, but the principle of their use was the same. I didn’t understand at the time that mythical illness categories had been created to fit the medical model and justify the treatment. What Reich did was done generally in the field of psychotherapy, and I took it for granted.
And just as the medical model required that mythical illnesses be created for us to be cured of, it required that a mythical state of wellness be defined which served as a goal of the treatment. In the Reichian movement this state of wellness, and those ex-patients believed to have achieved it, occupied a special place. The well person in Reichian theory was the “genital character” who was supposed to have been stripped of armor and rendered orgastically potent as a result of successful Reichian therapy. I have written about the effect of this belief on Reichian movement in another context, and can do no better than to quote my earlier article here:
In 1950 I arrived in New York to enter Reichian therapy and to study Reich’s work. I found the Reichian movement to be structured hierarchically around Reich’s “‘genital character” concept. At the pinnacle was Reich, viewed almost as a God. His close associates and the therapists trained by him served as angels, for they were surely genital characters, freed of armor and neurosis by Reich himself. Those who had completed therapy successfully also had angel status, but somehow we saw very few of these. However, there were therapists in training and advanced students, — apprentice angels, and below them the mass of novitiates, patients like myself, the bottom of the hierarchy, although its financial base. — We were surely a cut above the balance of armored humanity, because we had seen the light, and had taken the necessary steps to put ourselves on the path toward an unarmored genital character structure.
And this hierarchy based on the mystique of the genital character persists to this day in the orthodox Reichian movement, predominantly among those who call themselves “medical orgone therapists” and their patients. Only a few of Reich’s therapists have had the courage to correct Reich’s concept of the “genital character.”
It is time that this be said in print. Reich’s concept of the unarmored genital character is a fiction, based on an unwarranted extrapolation of trends and tendencies he saw in his patients. Reich was not an unarmored genital character, nor are the doctors he trained, nor are patients concluding their Reichian therapy. There are no genital characters, not in the real world. The concept of the unarmored genital character has exactly the same kind of reality as the Scientology “clear,” or Janov’s “Post-Primal” who is completely devoid of defenses. It is time that these notions be recognized for what they are, mystical fictions. (Kelley, 1972)
Because of the medical model they have adopted, psychiatrists and psychologists like Reich and Janov have been forced to think in terms of unreal diseases and unreal cures. Thus we have the paradox of doctors who are not “well” by their own criteria endeavoring to “cure” “patients,” who are not genuinely sick. The super-well state of the “genital character” or “post-primal” has been invented to fit the medical model, to make it appear that a cure is really accomplished. The “cured” individual, the genital character or post-primal, is nothing more than the fictional outcome of the process of “therapy” applied to people who are not genuinely sick in the first place. (Ibid.)
The same publication goes on to state:
What is the problem here? Neo-Reichian techniques of deep emotional release, whether applied by Reich or Janov or others, are enormously powerful. When used in a directed way, they can and do bring about profound changes in personality and the body, and character and physique. Reich’s statement that the “whole being changes” is not an exaggeration; it happens, — not always, but often. I have seen it again and again. The voice drops, the body structure changes, the person becomes more open and expressive emotionally. What does not happen is that he becomes unarmored, free of his defenses, “cured.” He does not change into some new and different kind of human being that is “real” and “well” or a “genital character” instead of “unreal” and “neurotic” or armored. To allege that he does only establishes an unreal hope for the newcomer that must bring eventual disillusionment or worse, self-deception. Pity most those unfortunates who wear the mantle of “genital character” or “post-primal” or “clear,” and are thus forced to pretend, over the years of their lives, to a nonexistent state of being, superior to that of ordinary humans. (Ibid.)
Though I had been drawn into Reich’s belief system and his use of the medical model, I was able to free myself of it after I ceased using Reichian terminology, and particularly after I discovered the nature and origin of the armor. Since the armor was not a sickness, I understood that my work to change it would not be therapy.
In retrospect I realize that there were other influences that helped me to free myself from the medical model in the practice I was developing. I came into psychology as a result of reading Carl Rogers while in the Army near the end of World War II. His use of the term “client” instead of “patient” and his deep respect for the autonomy and growth potential of his clients was away from the medical and toward a growth or educational model of his work. Twenty years later
Thomas Szasz helped me clarify the medical psychiatric model intellectually. (Szasz, 1961) Perhaps the most important outside influence of all, however, was from a lady named Margaret Darst Corbett, who in 1946 and 1947 taught me about vision, its disturbances and their amelioration.
Mrs. Corbett was responsible for my recovery from severely defective eyesight through an approach that was consistently educational rather than therapeutic. She described herself as a teacher of eye education. Those coming to her were her students, — not patients or even clients. Her organization for training others to do the work was a school of education, in which she trained teachers. I trained with her and became one of her teachers before I embarked on my research career, and before I heard of Reich. When I created my own practice two decades later, it was Mrs. Corbett’s educational approach that I adopted.
1 Vision .
Aside from Reich himself, no one has influenced my professional life and work more profoundly than did Margaret Darst Corbett. The technical concepts and techniques of her work came from her teacher, Dr. William H. Bates. The strict educational model she insisted on in her practice served as the example I would follow in my own. Many of the techniques and ways of working that characterized my practice I learned from her. After completing her school and receiving her certificate, I practiced as a vision teacher while going to the University of Hawaii. From Hawaii I went on to study psychology and to obtain Masters and Doctors degrees, specializing in the psychology of vision, working under professors who were recognized experts in the field. None of them taught me the subject a fraction as deeply and well as Mrs. Corbett in her little unrecognized and unaccredited school for training “teachers of eye education.” Let me go back to the start of that story, and to what brought about my interest in vision.
Having to wear glasses for myopia (near sightedness) was a real blow to me as a child. I was a skinny boy of 9 when I was first required to wear them. I was precocious and aggressive intellectually but fearful and shy emotionally. I was tall for my age, and awkward and uncoordinated, especially in comparison with my classmates, who were usually a year or two older. I felt myself to be weak, unmasculine, a sissy, “out of it” with my peers. Glasses contributed greatly to my bad self-image. Only two decades later as a research psychologist did I discover how typical my pattern was for a myopic child, and that the myopia derives from the fearfulness and emotional withdrawal that precedes it and forms its base.
Not every nearsighted child has the determination I did to change myself, although many do. I pushed myself into athletics, and when I went into high school, into dancing classes, social events, and into dating. I became big, muscular, and more acceptable socially. Because of my intellectual aggressiveness, I was a leader of certain kinds of activities — manager of the debate team, president of the Young Unitarians. But what I felt to be the “real me” under the muscular and verbal front remained a thin-skinned, easily embarrassed boy, hating the metal-framed glasses I was supposed to always wear but didn’t, suffering agonies when a girl turned me down when asked for a date or even a dance. And this “real me,” I know now, formed the characterological base of my vision problem.
And my eyes got steadily worse. Once or twice a year I was sent to the ophthalmologist, and after duly peering through the pupils, expanded by drops, with his retinoscope, and running
1 This section includes material revised and updated from Kelley (1971). 13 of 20
me through his trial lenses, his “remedy” was always the same — stronger glasses. One year I wasn’t allowed to read or do close work, and spent my school hours in pottery, wood shop and the like. It did nothing to keep my eyes from getting worse. In high school and after, they only got worse a little slower.
When I got out of the army at 23, I was able to barely read the largest letter of the eye chart at 20 feet with my better eye. My acuity was 20/200 in the left eye, 20/400 in the right, which means that an eye chart letter had to be 10 times as high for me to see it with my better eye as for a normal-sighted person. Fortunately, glasses gave me 20/20 vision, but I hated them, and had found that using them tended to make my eyes worse.
It was then that I read Aldous Huxley’s book, THE ART OF SEEING, in which he described his experience with the Bates method, and the big improvements in vision near-sighted people had obtained through it. Ophthalmologists assured me it was quackery, and would do nothing for my myopia. I decided to check it out for myself. I contacted Mrs. Corbett, Huxley’s Bates teacher, and the leading exponent of the method after Bates’ death. Mrs. Corbett referred me to an instructor trained in her school, and I started Bates lessons, at first 3 times each week, 90 minutes each lesson, with a daily homework program. Later I was dropped to two, finally to once per week.
I worked diligently, and my vision responded. In six months, the eyes that had for a lifetime only gotten worse became able to read 20/20 chart letters unaided and without squinting or other tricks in virtually every lesson. These gains were temporary, but my basic test vision improved to 20/70 in the same period, with flashes of clear (20/20) vision at increasingly frequent intervals. By the end of two years I tested 20/40 under even unfavorable test conditions. I then passed my driving test without glasses, as I have done 8 or 10 times subsequently in four different states. I have lived my life for more than 35 years without glasses as a result of Corbett-Bates work. So much for the authoritative pronouncements of ophthalmology.
My vision has remained variable, and at times normal, but for the most part I have remained somewhat myopic. My optical correction to a consistent 20/20 reduced to -1.25 diopters in each eye, where originally it was -2.75 in my better and -3.25 in my worse eye. It is difficult to get a precise refractive error figure on me, as my refractive condition varies substantially, even under cycloplegia, the drops in the eyes used by doctors to paralyze accommodation and expand the pupils.
I became a Bates enthusiast during my first year, and enrolled in Mrs. Corbett’s teacher training program. After completing the course and qualifying as an instructor (which took a year of work), I practiced as a Bates teacher and worked for my undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Hawaii. For more than two years Bates teaching was my primary occupation and means of livelihood.
My students improved substantially when they worked at it. Improvement was usually gratifyingly quick at the start, but then slowed down. The factors that brought improvement were mostly psychological, and increasingly so as we worked. Bates’ simple drills for relaxing, sunning and mobilizing the eyes became more and more preparation and groundwork for the central problem in vision improvement, which was (as both Bates and Mrs. Corbett had taught) primarily psychological. I learned intuitively, by doing it, that when I could get my students’ confidence, when I could get them to relax emotionally, when I could get them to develop freedom from apprehension, from anger or suspicion, and from emotional pain, and when I could get them to imagine pleasant scenes, their vision “turned on.” Huxley spoke of “dynamic relaxation” as the
state that allows vision to “turn on.” What he (like Bates and Corbett) failed to emphasize sufficiently was the deep emotional roots of the tensions blocking this state of dynamic relaxation.
Because my understanding was intuitive and not yet conceptual, I struggled blindly for better techniques to bring vision to my students, The effort required with some students was prodigious. The nearsighted students (most of my students were nearsighted) were thin-skinned and vulnerable, and especially so when they opened up and their vision “turned on.” Working with them — especially those with higher degrees of myopia — required me to “walk tip-toed on egg shells.” When I could get my myopic students to laugh, get them to trust, get them to expand, their lessons went beautifully. Improvement from 20/100 to 20/20 or better during one lesson in my studio was not uncommon. In Corbett-Bates work, such temporary improvements in the studio presage and promote lasting changes. But let me lift an eyebrow wrong, let the slightest trace of impatience or irritation creep into my voice, and there went my student’s vision! It became a great strain to teach many of these students. When they called and cancelled a lesson, I felt such relief — even though I needed the money to pay my rent.
Had I understood fully why it was such a strain, I could have coped more effectively, but I was operating on feeling. Neither Bates nor Corbett provided an adequate conceptual base for me to understand what was going on. I did not then realize that no such base existed anywhere, and I kept reading and searching, struggling after knowledge that did not exist. I soon realized the need for research, and was drawn increasingly toward a career in research in the psychology of vision.
One of the most eminent psychologists specializing in vision at that time was Professor Samuel Renshaw of Ohio State. Dr. Renshaw was the architect of the U.S. Navy’s Aircraft Recognition Training Program of World War II. He was also the psychologist mainstay of the Optometric Extension Program, a radical, psychologically-oriented group of optometrists. After graduating from the University of Hawaii, I was accepted as a graduate student under Renshaw in the fall of 1949 and, after a college quarter, became a research assistant to him. I earned my master’s degree under his direction the following year. Renshaw made a great deal of use of tachistoscopic techniques. Words, numbers, or patterns were employed that the student tried to reproduce from a flash (tachistoscopic) exposure of a twentieth of a second or less. This tachistoscopic training not only improved the recognition of visual form but, Renshaw observed, sometimes decreased myopia among students.
Working for Renshaw, I developed a means for generating random visual patterns of any desired level of difficulty for use in tachistoscopic training. I also learned the thoroughness, discipline and patience required of a good experimentalist, and I acquired a great amount of knowledge about the psycho-physiology and the experimental psychology of visual perception. I became familiar with the optometric and medical as well as the psychological literature on vision. Nowhere was there anything that threw light on my experience with vision improvement via the Bates method, as Mrs. Corbett taught it. Psychology, optometry and ophthalmology did not even recognize that such improvements took place, much less investigate how and why. Everyone among the orthodox was caught up with the study of mechanisms, and the mechanism of vision is exceedingly intricate and interesting, but not of the greatest importance. No one was working with the emotional functions producing the visual problems afflicting a majority of the human race.
But Wilhelm Reich and his students were into the bodily basis of such emotional functions, and were employing powerful techniques of emotional release based on Reich’s discoveries. I went to New York to study Reich’s work and to go into therapy with a doctor he had trained. At the same time, I worked for my Ph.D. In New York I took my first professional job as an applied experimental psychologist, and enrolled as a doctoral student in the New School for Social
Research. I had no idea what I was getting into when I made my first appointment to see Reich in September, 1950.
My major professor at the New School was Dr. Hans Wallach, a fine experimental psychologist working in the area of visual perception. My doctoral dissertation under Dr. Wallach was entitled, Psychological Factors in Myopia. I investigated the medical and optometric theories of myopia, and I studied research on the nature and correlates of myopia, both in the physiological and psychological realm. I went back over the improvement in vision of myopic students I had taught as a Bates teacher, on whom I had kept careful records. Most significant, I did an experimental study on the use of psychological techniques derived from the Bates method to improve myopia. Using optical instruments from the former School of Optometry at Columbia University, and working in the Optometric Center of New York, I showed conclusively that:
1. Myopia is not a fixed optical condition, but a plastic and variable one.
2. Large temporary improvements in myopia could be produced by the techniques derived from Bates.
3. The improvements were not due to improved interpretation of blur, tears on the cornea, or to changes in shape of the lens (accommodation).
4. The changes were unaffected by cycloplegia (drops in the eyes).
There is a strong presumption from my data that the improvement in myopia of the experimental subjects was due to a change in the length of the eyeball as a result of action of the extrinsic muscles of the eye. Bates had said that myopia was due to contraction of these muscles. The implication of the study was also that permanent improvements in myopia should be possible using the techniques I had employed.
The study created a minor stir. It was awarded the Alumni prize as the finest dissertation of the University in the 1957-58 academic year. It was presented to the American Psychological Association, printed in a summary article in the Journal of the American Optometric Association, written up in Time magazine and the New York Times, recorded and broadcast over radio stations in New York and California. With that, interest died. Its effect on the vision professions has been nil.
Despite my vindication of Bates’ claims, techniques to change the underlying emotional factors in myopia and other visual disorders were still lacking. My dissertation provided no new methods of training, but only confirmed the effectiveness of some of those I had used as a Bates teacher. I could not, in my dissertation, go into the application to vision problems of the deep emotional release techniques of Wilhelm Reich. This was both because I was not ready, and because these techniques were too unorthodox and emotion-charged to be accepted then in even as open a university as the New School for Social Research.
What was needed was someone to put together Bates’ and Reich’s work in a new synthesis. I was the right person from the standpoint of knowledge, in fact the only person who could, but in 1958 I was not ready. It was the period after Reich’s death. I was changing, striving to integrate what had happened to me in Reichian therapy and in my life in those turbulent years.
By 1965 I had become quite a different person characterologically. The deep myopic fearfulness was gone. Still intellectually aggressive, I was more open and spontaneous emotionally, confident in personal relations.
16 of 20
And I was 20 years older. I had not only weathered the pain and hardship of Reich’s persecution and death, I had forged a successful career as an applied experimental psychologist. Not all of my research involved vision, but much of it did. Some of my projects were: a four-year longitudinal study of school-child vision; a research project on optical information-gathering on the Apollo mission; a series of studies of heads-up displays for naval aircraft; and what was at the time the most definitive study of motor vehicle rear vision that had been published. My vision improvement training skills had only been kept alive through the years by people who knew about my background and came to me privately with their own or their children’s vision problems.
In 1967 and 1968 I acted on the decision to become a full-time practitioner. With the help of my wife Erica, plans were formulated. Erica was to co-lead groups with me. The practice was to be a marriage of vision techniques, primarily Bates techniques that I had learned through Mrs. Corbett, and techniques for loosening the muscular armor adapted from Reich. The Reichian work would be modified by the knowledge that I developed after Reich’s death concerning the nature and function of the armor, and by the fact that we would do a major part of the work in groups.
In 1969 I wrote up techniques, obtained or built equipment, and built working space in our home. I practiced using techniques on acquaintances, but had no regular clients as yet. We launched the practice by recruiting a group of nearsighted volunteers for an experiment in vision improvement, using techniques from Reich, Bates, and others. There was no charge, but volunteers had to agree to stay for the three months of the experiment. They were to come to weekly 31⁄2-hour sessions, plus monthly all-day workshops. They were also to carry out 30 minutes of homework exercises each day.
I chose myopic (nearsighted) volunteers because I understood the dynamics of myopia. Most of my Bates students had been myopic, and both my masters and doctoral research involved work with myopes. It was also easy to get standardized objective measurements of visual acuity, and so to have good data as to the effectiveness of the experiment. The subjects were tested each week, using different visual acuity targets each time.
I knew from my experience as a Bates teacher how much improvement I could expect as a result of the use of Bates techniques. I told the volunteers at the outset that I thought it likely that they would each be able to improve a full line on the eye chart in 3 months. Each successive line on the charts I used contained targets of half the area of the target above it. My secret hope was that these students would improve substantially more than one line. Bates techniques are effective, but do not get students to deep emotional places. The mix of Reichian and Bates techniques that we used affected my volunteers profoundly, going to their very roots emotionally. I had every reason to believe that the Bates techniques would free local muscular armor in the eyes and improve visual function. This was how I had come to understand how and why they worked in my years as a Bates teacher and vision psychologist. With the deeper Reichian techniques I was reaching much deeper levels of armor. My fond hope was that the myopia of my subjects would therefore improve more rapidly, perhaps dramatically. I fantasized great improvements, perhaps even a total recovery or two of 20/20 vision among my myopic – mostly very myopic –volunteers.
Five of the six volunteers stayed with the experiment as they had agreed. The techniques, Bates and Reichian alike, went well. The heart of the sessions was the small group Intensive, characterized by work on the deep armor, and the spontaneous emotional discharge of fear, rage and pain. All who have taken Radix work know what is entailed, as the Intensive remains the heart of Radix work today.
Before and after the Intensive, there was a mix of interactive group exercises, including body movement and stress exercises, soft and assertive eye contact exercises. Then, of course, there were the Bates drills, such as sunning, palming and swings, that relax and mobilize the eyes, There were Corbett-Bates vision stretching drills that use progressively smaller or more distant targets, exercises and images that help the myopic eye to relax, mobilize, and focus awareness on targets just below threshold acuity. Such exercises, arranged in a closely-knit sequence built around the Intensive, comprised the experimental sessions.
At the final workshop, 3 months after our first meeting, the visual acuity of each subject was measured and the subjects were asked for a written evaluation of the experiment. Did they feel their eyes had improved aside from the objective test results? Were there changes in the area of emotional functioning and personal relations? If’ so, what was their significance in comparison to the changes in their vision?
The objective test data showed that our subjects had improved an average of two lines in their visual acuity. This means an average improvement equivalent to a change from e.g., 20/100 to 20/50. All of the subjects improved. I should have been happy with these results I suppose, but I was not. The group was pleased, and scientific colleagues were impressed, but I was somewhat disappointed. I had often seen changes of the same order of magnitude in 3 months time by well- motivated Bates students, without deep emotional techniques. I had improved that much myself in the first three months of Bates lessons, before I had even heard of Reich. And there were no extraordinary recoveries of sight, aside from the temporary clearing spells that are the usual results of properly taught Bates work.
One subject had reported an unusually long clearing spell, 3 days of perfect vision, after a powerful Intensive. That was the most dramatic improvement reported by the group. Such extended periods of clear vision had been reported to me on occasion in my days as a Bates teacher also. Twice they were reported to follow orgasm of unusual depth and power. In fact, such reports were one item leading me into Reich’s work as an avenue to vision improvement. Reich had reported that changes in the intensity and quality of the sexual experience are a usual result of extended work with his techniques. This claim is fully confirmed in my experience. But I had failed to produce the striking improvements in vision I had led myself to hope for.
I went over the written evaluations of my subjects carefully. We had them in for follow-up evaluations a few weeks later. An interesting fact had emerged from the evaluations. The subjects were highly pleased with what they received from the experiment. They were well satisfied with the improvement in vision, which was for most of them more than they had expected. All of them were either wearing weaker glasses, or had dispensed with glasses as a result of their work. They had volunteered for the study in order to improve their vision; that was the motive of every participant. — Yet not a single subject found their improved vision to be the most significant effect of the study. What was more important to them was not their better eyesight, but the emotional changes they went through. They reported being more comfortable with their feelings, more confident of themselves and better able to relate to others emotionally. Only one subject found the vision changes to be as important as the emotional changes and she reported the two as equally important. In her view, the vision changes couldn’t be separated from the emotional changes: they were different aspects of the same thing.
The message from the experiment seemed clear, once I let go of preconceptions. I should let go of vision improvement as the primary objective of my practice. There were two good reasons. Good Bates work was approximately as effective for bringing vision improvement as was my new program of work. Good Bates work was available from other people, and I did not wish to
practice Bates work as such. More important, however, was the fact that the new program did something more important than improve defective vision. The Intensive work in particular involved profound processes of change.
Thus the direction my practice would take was set. Instead of using Reichian feeling work to further the primary objective of vision improvement, the feeling work became the primary objective, and the vision techniques a principal avenue of approach to the feelings.
The change took time to get used to. Perhaps it should be explained as a middle-age identity problem. Who was I, professionally, in my work? For years I had earned my living by day in an established scientific firm and moonlighted nights and weekends with my true vocation, research on the life force inside and outside of the body. My self-image was the devoted scientist, his work too far ahead of its time to be recognized. After the upheavals in my life in 1965 and the discovery of the function of the armor in 1966, I had tried to forge a new identity. Although I couldn’t earn my living doing research on the life force, I was taking an important step closer. I was to pioneer a new approach to vision improvement, using the knowledge I’d gained in the years of study of Bates and Reich. My fund of knowledge and credentials for this role were unusual. — I don’t believe anyone had the background I did.
Then my new identity was shaken before I could assume it, and what was to replace it was far from clear.
The work I did with the volunteers in the experiment was dramatic, powerful, obviously significant. The process of doing the work was in itself compelling. It had a life of its own, to be contacted and from that contact, gently shaped and directed. I had a remarkable feel for the work process in dealing with the life force in the bodies of my volunteers. Twenty years of study combined with a dozen years on the Reichian couch were as responsible as whatever innate aptitude I possessed. Still, doing the work, however dramatic and powerful and effective it might be, could never alone satisfy me. I had to also understand clearly what I was doing. Reich’s own concepts were a solid foundation. Without the concepts of muscular armor and the life force, nothing about the work made sense. However, a foundation is not a building, and Reich’s work was not an adequate conceptual foundation for my own work. Reich had not understood the origin and function of the muscular armor. That was my discovery. That discovery would, of necessity, change the work I would do with the muscular armor. The educational model was an important step, but just the beginning.
The discovery of the muscular armor and of the life force led Reich from his roots in psychoanalysis to his mature work, which was so different from psychoanalysis. Thus my discovery would have to lead me from my roots in the work of Reich, (and to a larger extent, Bates) to my own mature work. The direction from one to the other would be defined by the interaction between concept and intuition that came with doing the work. I knew from the outset that purpose, will, self-direction and their relation to the armor would play a central part in it. What part, I could not at that time guess.
[Part Three of this series is entitled “Radix Purpose Work” (as of 1983); reprinted in THE RADIX VOL. I: RADIX PERSONAL GROWTH WORK, 1992, pp. 193-226]ReferencesBrady, M., “The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich.” New Republic. May 26, 1947. 19 of 20
Greenfield, J., WILHELM REICH VS. THE U.S.A. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1974.
Kelley, C. R., “What is the Matter with Man.” The Radix Journal. Vol. II, Nos. 1 & 2, Fall 1979/Winter 1980.
__________, ORGONOMY, BIOENERGETICS AND RADIX: The Reichian Movement Today, 1978.
__________, MYSTICISM AND MECHANISM, 1975.
__________, EDUCATION IN FEELING AND PURPOSE, 1970. Revised 1974.
__________, “Primal Scream and Genital Character: A Critique of Janov and Reich.” Printed as “Post-primal and Genital Character” in Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 12 No. 2, Fall, 1972.
__________, NEW TECHNIQUES IN VISION IMPROVEMENT, 1971.
__________, “Orgonomy Since the Death of Reich.” The Creative Process. Vol. V, July 1965.
__________, A NEW METHOD OF WEATHER CONTROL, 1961 a.
__________, THE ENDING OF WILHELM REICH’S RESEARCHES, 1961 b.
__________, “Psychological Factors in Myopia.” Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, The New School for Social Research, 1958.
Reich, Wilhelm, ETHER, GOD AND DEVIL. New York: Orgone Institute Press, 1949.
____________, THE FUNCTION OF THE ORGASM (The Discovery of the Orgone, Vol. I). New York: Orgone Institute Press, 1942.
Ribot, T. A., THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ATTENTION. New York: Marcell Rodd, 1946. (Originally published in French, 1890.)
Szasz, Thomas. THE MYTH OF MENTAL ILLNESS. New York: Hoeber-Harper, 1961.
Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology - An Overview of Reich's Work
In this chapter, we will discuss the work of Wilhelm Reich, the founder of somatic psychology and also body-oriented psychotherapy. He is the godfather of all current therapies that work with the emotional life of the body.
Wilhelm Reich was a member of the psychoanalytic inner circle in Vienna and led the technical training seminar for young analysts. In his therapeutic work, Reich gradually came to emphasize the importance of dealing with the physical manifestations of an individual’s character, especially the patterns of chronic muscle tension that he called body armor. He was also concerned with the role of society in creating instinctual—especially sexual—inhibitions in the individual.
Reich’s unique contributions to psychology include (1) his insistence on the unity of mind and body, (2) his inclusion of the body in psychotherapy, and (3) his concept of character armor. Reich was also a pioneer in sex education and hygiene, in the psychology of politics and social responsibility, and in the interfacing of psychology, biology, and physics. Reich was a courageous and stubborn innovator whose ideas were far ahead of the time.
Wilhelm Reich was born on March 24, 1897, in Galicia, a German-Ukrainian area in Austria. He was the son of a middle-class Jewish farmer, a jealous, authoritarian man who dominated his wife and children. The father provided no religious upbringing for his children and insisted that only German be spoken at home. Consequently, Wilhelm was isolated from both the local Ukrainian peasant children and the Yiddish-speaking Jewish children. He had one brother, three years his junior, who was both companion and competitor.
Reich idolized his mother. She committed suicide when he was 14 years old, apparently after Reich revealed to his father that she was having an affair with the boys’ tutor. Reich’s father was devastated by his wife’s death. He contracted pneumonia that developed into tuberculosis, and he died three years later. Reich’s brother also died of tuberculosis at the age of 26. Reich was severely affected by this series of family tragedies.
After his father’s death, Reich managed the family farm but continued his studies. In 1916, when war spread throughout his homeland, the family property was destroyed. Reich joined the Austrian army. He fought as an officer in Italy. In 1918, Reich entered medical school at the University of Vienna. Within a year he became a practicing member of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society. He received his medical degree in 1922, at the age of 25.
Reich was involved in politics as a student and subsequently sought to reconcile the theories of Freud and Marx. At the university Reich met a medical student, Annie Pink, who became his patient and later his first wife; she later became a psychoanalyst herself (Reich, 1990).
In 1922, when Freud established a psychoanalytic clinic in Vienna, Reich was his first clinical assistant and subsequently vice director. In 1924, Reich became the director of the Seminar for Psychoanalytic Therapy, the first training institute for psychoanalysts. Many young analysts came to him for personal analysis as well as for training. In 1927, as a result of his interest in social change, Reich reduced his individual treatments as he became more involved in political and social change activities. Freud encouraged him to do so (Mann & Hoffman, 1980).
Reich underwent personal analysis at different times with several different psychoanalysts, but for various reasons he broke off from each one. In 1927, Reich sought analysis with Freud, who refused to make an exception to his policy of not treating members of the psychoanalytic inner circle. At this time, Reich developed a serious conflict with Freud. It stemmed partly from Freud’s refusal to analyze Reich and partly from their theoretical differences. Freud was at odds with Reich’s uncompromising insistence that neurosis was rooted in sexual dissatisfaction. Reich developed tuberculosis at this time and spent several months recovering in a sanitarium in Switzerland.
When he returned to Vienna after his illness, Reich assumed his previous duties. He also became extremely active politically and, in 1928, joined the Communist Party. The following year Reich helped found the first sex hygiene clinics for workers, which provided free information on birth control, child rearing, and sex education.
In 1930 Reich moved to Berlin, mainly to enter into personal analysis with Sandor Rado, a leading psychoanalyst. He sought an analyst outside Vienna because Viennese psychoanalysts had grown uncomfortable with his political activities. In Berlin, Reich became more deeply involved in the communist-oriented hygiene movement. He traveled throughout Germany, lecturing and helping to establish hygiene centers.
Before long, as a result of his politics and his radical sex education programs, Reich was unpopular with both the psychoanalysts and the Communists. In 1933 Reich was expelled from the German Communist Party. Then, in 1934, he was expelled from the International Psychoanalytical Association.
After Hitler’s rise to power, Reich emigrated to Denmark in 1933. He separated from his wife when they left Berlin, because of personal, political, and professional differences. A year earlier, Reich had met Elsa Lindenberg, a ballet dancer and a member of his Communist Party cell. She joined Reich in Denmark, where they were married. His controversial theories led to his expulsion from Denmark and Sweden.
Within a period of six months, Reich had been expelled from his two major affiliations—the Communist Party and the psychoanalytic movement—and from three countries. It is not surprising that his subsequent writing is somewhat defensive and polemical. In Reich’s case, a certain amount of paranoia was not irrational or unjustified but represented a fairly realistic assessment of his situation.
Later in his career, Reich rejected communism and socialism, because he felt that both were committed to an ideology at the expense of human considerations. He came to think of himself more as an individualist and was deeply suspicious of politics and politicians.
In 1934 Reich and his wife, Elsa, moved to Oslo, Norway, where he lectured and conducted research in psychology and biology for over five years. After three years of relative quiet in Norway, Reich became the target of a vicious newspaper campaign that attacked his emphasis on the sexual basis of neurosis and his laboratory experiments with bioenergy. During this period of increasing isolation, Reich’s relations with Elsa worsened, and she finally separated from him.
In 1939 Reich was offered the position of associate professor of medical psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York. He packed up his laboratory and moved to the United States. In New York he met Ilse Ollendorf, a German refugee who became his laboratory assistant and later his third wife.
Reich founded the Orgone Institute to support research on orgone energy, or life energy. From his laboratory experimentation he concluded that a basic life energy is present in all living organisms and that this energy is the biological force that underlies Freud’s concept of libido. Reich began experimentation with orgone energy accumulators: boxes and other devices that, he claimed, store and concentrate orgone energy. Reich found that certain diseases resulting from disturbances of the “automatic apparatus” could be treated, with varying degrees of success, by restoring the individual’s normal orgone energy flow. Treatment could be accomplished through exposure to high concentrations of orgone energy in the accumulators. The targeted conditions included cancer, angina pectoris, asthma, hypertension, and epilepsy. Unfortunately, Reich was denied a complimentary American medical license and his patent application on the orgone accumulator was refused (Reich, 1999).
In 1954 the Food and Drug Administration obtained an injunction against the distribution and further use of the accumulators. According to the FDA, Reich’s claim that the orgone energy accumulators successfully treated disease was unfounded. The agency also enjoined the sale of most of Reich’s books and journals. Insisting that the courts were not competent to judge matters of scientific fact, Reich violated the injunction by continuing his research. He was eventually convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. The FDA burned his books and other publications, many of which were unrelated to the sale or manufacture of orgone accumulators. Reich died in 1957 of heart disease in federal prison.
There were two great influences on Reich’s professional work—psychoanalysis and Marxism. Reich built directly upon psychoanalytic theory and practice. In his exploration of effective therapeutic technique, Reich increasingly included working with the body in analysis. Freud’s concept of libido inspired Reich to investigate the role of biological energy in human functioning.
As a result of his interest in Marx and social activism, Reich established clinics for the public and attempted to reconcile the theories of Marx and Freud. However, Reich’s activism also alienated him from most of his psychoanalytic colleagues and impelled him to formulate his own theories.
Reich’s work is firmly rooted in psychoanalytic theory. His early contributions are based primarily on the concepts of character and character armor, which developed out of the psychoanalytic conception of the ego’s need to defend itself against instinctual forces. According to Reich, an individual’s character shows consistent, habitual patterns of defense. Reich came to associate these defenses with specific patterns of muscular armoring. In other words, each pattern of character defense has a corresponding pattern of physical gestures and postures. Reich emphasized in therapy the importance of loosening and dissolving muscular armoring, in addition to dealing analytically with psychological material. By so doing, the therapist could assist the process of psychoanalysis, as the client released emotions locked into muscular armoring forged in early childhood.
Reich’s later work with life energy, or orgone energy, is derived in great part from Freud’s conception of libido. Later psychoanalytic theorists have tended to deemphasize Freud’s concept; for Freud, however, especially in his early writings, libido was a real and potentially measurable psychic energy.
[Libido] possesses all the characteristics of quantity (though we have no means of measuring it), which is capable of increase, diminution, displacement, and discharge, and which is spread over the memory traces of ideas somewhat as an electric charge is spread over the surface of a body. (Freud in Rycroft, 1971, pp. 14–15)
Reich extended Freud’s libido theory to include all basic biological and psychological processes. To Reich, pleasure is a movement of energy from the core of the organism toward the periphery and the external world; anxiety is represented as a retraction of energy, or movement away from the external world. Reich eventually came to view therapy as a process in which energy is allowed to flow freely throughout the body, by systematically dissolving blocks of muscular armoring. These blocks, he believed, distort and destroy natural feeling and inhibit, in particular, sexual feelings and prevent complete and fulfilling orgasm. Reich, like Jung, moved through the layers of personality and personal unconscious to a wider and deeper level of functioning (Conger, 1988). Neither contribution was acceptable to Freud and his followers.
Reich’s attempt to reconcile two powerful systems of contemporary Western thought—the theories of Freud and of Marx—prompted him to write several books on this subject (Robinson, 1969). Reich argued that (1) psychoanalysis is a “materialistic science” in that it deals with real human needs and experiences; (2) psychoanalysis is based on a dialectical theme of psychic conflict and resolution; and (3) psychoanalysis is a revolutionary science in that it supplements Marx’s critique of bourgeois economics with a critique of bourgeois morality based on sexual repression.
In The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1970b), Reich provides an important analysis of the roots of ideology in the individual character, a topic he felt was insufficiently covered by Marx. Twenty years before research theory on the authoritarian personality became popular in social science, Reich discussed the relationship between the German predilection for authoritarianism and the character formation of children in the German lower-middle-class family.
Reich’s political interests sparked even greater controversy in psychoanalytical circles than did his theoretical innovations. In the tense political climate of Austria and Germany during the 1930s, Reich’s public political activities and his membership in the Communist Party created strain among his fellow analysts. Reich was asked to discontinue his political activities. When he refused, he was dropped from the German Psychoanalytic Association.
Reich’s major concepts of bioenergy, orgone energy, and the central role of human sexuality were all derived from Freud’s concept of libido. Reich added to psychoanalysis the notion of character as an integrated ego defense structure. He also introduced the concept of character armor, the physical aspect of character defenses.
In his work on muscular armoring, Reich discovered that the loosening of chronically rigid muscles often resulted in peculiar physical sensations—feelings of hot and cold, prickling, itching, and emotional arousal. He concluded that these sensations were the result of movements of freed biological energy, or bioenergy, which he was later to call orgone energy.
Reich also found that the mobilization and discharge of bioenergy are essential stages in the process of sexual arousal and orgasm. He called this the orgasm formula, a four-part process that he felt was characteristic of all living organisms (1973, originally published in 1942):
- Sexual organs fill with fluid—mechanical tension.
- Intense excitation results—bioenergetic charge.
- Sexual excitation is discharged in muscular contractions — /
- Physical relaxation follows—mechanical relaxation.
After physical contact, energy is built up in both bodies and finally released in the orgasm, which is essentially a phenomenon of bioenergy discharge. Full discharge is possible only for those who are relatively unarmored. Reich’s psychoanalytic colleagues equated male orgasm with ejaculation and could not understand his description of orgasm.
Reich gradually extended his investigation of patients’ physical functioning to laboratory research in physiology and biology and eventually to research in physics. He came to believe that the bioenergy in the organism is one aspect of a universal energy, present in all things. He coined the term orgone energy from organism and orgasm. He explained it in this way: “Cosmic orgone energy functions in the living organism as specific biological energy. As such, it governs the entire organism; it is expressed in the emotions as well as in the purely biophysical movement of the organs” (Reich, 1976, p. 393).
Reich’s extensive research on orgone energy and related topics has been ignored or dismissed by most critics and scientists. His findings contradict a number of established theories in physics and biology, and Reich’s work is certainly not without its experimental weaknesses. However, his research has not been disproved or even carefully reviewed and responsibly criticized by reputable scientific critics. As one psychologist who worked with Reich pointed out:
In the twenty-plus years since Reich announced the discovery of orgone energy, no good-faith repetition of any critical orgone energy experiment has ever been published refuting Reich’s results…. The fact is, despite (and partly because of) the ridicule, defamation, and attempts by the orthodox to “bury” Reich and orgonomy, there is no counter evidence to his experiments in any scientific publication, much less a systematic refutation of the volumes of scientific work which support his position. (Kelley, 1962, pp. 72–73, italics his)
Orgone energy has the following major properties (Kelley in Mann, 1973):
- Orgone energy is mass-free; it has no inertia or weight.
- It is present everywhere, although in differing concentrations, even in a vacuum.
- It is the medium for electromagnetic and gravitational activity, the substratum of most basic natural phenomena.
- Orgone energy is in constant motion.
- High concentrations of orgone energy attract orgone energy from less-
concentrated surroundings (which contradicts the law of entropy).
- Orgone energy forms units that become centers of creative activity. These units include cells, plants and animals, and also clouds, planets, stars, and galaxies.
Reich’s concern with sexuality formed a major theme that he pursued throughout his career. As a young medical student, Reich first visited Freud to seek his help in establishing a seminar on sexology in the medical school Reich attended (Higgens & Raphael, 1967). And in line with his political commitment, Reich helped the Communist Party sponsor sex hygiene clinics for the working class in Austria and Germany.
Reich’s ideas and his clinics were far ahead of their time. In the 1930s (around the time Margaret Sanger was imprisoned for advocating planned parenthood for married couples), Reich’s program for his clinics called for measures that were radical then and still controversial today (Boadella, 1973):
- Free distribution of contraceptives to everyone who wanted them; intensive birth control education.
- Complete legalization of abortion.
- Abolition of the legal distinction between the married and unmarried; freedom of divorce.
- Elimination of venereal disease and avoidance of sexual problems through
- Training of doctors, teachers, and others in all relevant matters of sexual
- Treatment of, rather than punishment for, sexual offenses.
Reich stressed the free expression of sexual and emotional feelings within a mature, loving relationship. He emphasized the essentially sexual nature of the energies with which he dealt, and he found that the pelvic area of his patients was the most blocked. For Reich, the goal of therapy was to free all the blocks in the body, to enable the patient to attain full capacity for orgasm, which he felt was blocked in most people.
Reich’s radical views concerning sexuality resulted in misunderstanding, distortion, and vicious (and unfounded) attacks on all areas of his work, as well as on him personally.
The concept of character was first discussed by Freud in 1908. Reich elaborated on this concept: he was the first analyst to treat patients by interpreting the nature and function of their character, not their symptoms.
According to Reich, character is composed of a person’s habitual attitudes and pattern of responses to various situations. It includes psychological attitudes and values, style of behavior (shyness, aggressiveness, and so forth), and physical attitudes (posture, habits of holding and moving the body). Reichian character analysis continues to be an important tool in psychotherapy (Josephs, 1995).
Reich felt that the character structure forms as a defense against the child’s anxiety over intense sexual feelings and the accompanying fear of punishment. The first defense is repression, which temporarily restrains the sexual impulses. As ego defenses become chronically active and automatic, they develop into stable character traits that combine to form the individual’s system of character armoring. Character armor includes all repressing defensive forces, which form a coherent pattern within the ego.
Character traits are not neurotic symptoms. The difference, according to Reich, lies in the fact that neurotic symptoms (such as irrational fears or phobias) are experienced as alien to the individual, as foreign elements in the psyche, whereas neurotic character traits (extreme orderliness or anxious shyness, for example) are experienced as integral parts of the personality. One may complain about being shy, but this shyness does not seem to be meaningless or pathological, as are neurotic symptoms. The character defenses are difficult to eradicate because they are well rationalized by the individual and experienced as part of the individual’s self-concept.
Reich continually attempted to make his patients more aware of their character traits. He frequently imitated their characteristic gestures (a nervous smile, for example) and postures, or had patients themselves repeat and exaggerate them. As patients ceased taking their character makeups for granted, their motivation to change was enhanced.
Freud used the term genital character to refer to the final level of psychosexual development. Reich applied the term to persons with orgastic potency: “Orgastic potency is the capacity to surrender to the flow of biological energy, free of any inhibitions; the capacity to discharge completely the dammed-up sexual excitation through involuntary, pleasurable convulsions of the body” (1973, p. 102). Reich found that as his patients relinquished their armoring and developed orgastic potency, many areas of neurotic functioning changed spontaneously. In place of rigid neurotic controls, individuals developed a capacity for self-regulation. Reich described self-
regulated individuals as naturally rather than compulsively moral. They act in response to their own inclinations and feelings rather than following external codes or demands prescribed by others.
Reich defined growth as the process of dissolving one’s psychological and physical armoring, gradually becoming a more free and open human being, capable of enjoying full and satisfying orgasm.
Muscular armoring, in Reich’s system, is divided into seven major segments, composed of muscles and organs with related expressive functions. These segments form a series of seven roughly horizontal rings, at right angles to the spine and torso. They are centered in the eyes, mouth, neck, chest, diaphragm, abdomen, and pelvis. Reich’s seven armor segments are closely related to the seven chakras of kundalini-yoga discussed in Chapter 16, although the fit is not a perfect one. It is interesting to note that Reich moves from the top down; the patient is finished once the pelvis, the most important armor segment, is opened and energized. In kundalini-yoga, the movement is from the base of the spine upward, and the yogi is “finished” once the thousand-petaled lotus of the brain, the most important chakra, is opened and energized. Boadella (1987) offers a more complete discussion of this relationship.
According to Reich, orgone energy naturally flows up and down the body, parallel to the spine. The rings of armor are formed at right angles to this flow and interrupt it. It is no accident, Reich points out, that in Western culture we have learned to say yes by moving our heads up and down, in the direction of energy flow in the body, whereas we say no by moving our heads from side to side, the direction of the armoring.
Armoring restricts the flow of energy and stops the free expression of emotion. What begins as a defense against overpowering anxiety becomes a physical and emotional straitjacket.
In armored human organisms, the orgone energy is bound in the chronic contraction of the muscles. The body orgone does not begin to flow freely as soon as the armor ring has been loosened…. As soon as the first armor blocks have been dissolved, the movement expressive of “surrender” appears more and more, along with the orgonotic currents and sensations. However, its full unfolding is hindered by those armor blocks that have not yet been dissolved. (Reich, 1976, pp. 411–412)
The primary goal of Reichian therapy is to dissolve the armor in each of the seven segments, beginning with the eyes and ending with the pelvis. Each segment is more or less an independent unit and must be dealt with separately. (See Figure 9.1.)
In Reich’s system, each character attitude has a corresponding physical attitude expressed in the body as muscular rigidity or muscular armoring. Reich became aware of this connection as a result of acute observation of his patients’ habitual postures and movements, combined with detailed analysis of their character structure. He examined in detail his patients’ posture and physical habits. Reich would have patients concentrate on particular sources of tensions to become more aware of them and to elicit the emotion that had been constrained in that part of the body. Only after the bottled-up emotion was expressed, he felt, could the chronic tension be fully abandoned.
Reich began to work directly on the muscular armoring in conjunction with his therapeutic sessions. He found that loosening the muscular armor freed libidinal energy and aided the process of psychoanalysis. Reich’s psychiatric approach was increasingly based on freeing the emotions (pleasure, rage, anxiety) through work with the body. The process, he discovered, led to the patient’s intense experiencing of the psychological material uncovered in analysis.
In the final analysis, I could not rid myself of the impression that somatic rigidity represents the most essential part in the process of repression. All our patients report that they went through periods in childhood in which, by means of certain practices … (holding the breath, tensing the abdominal muscular pressure, etc.), they learned to suppress their impulses of hate, anxiety, and love…. It never ceases to be surprising how the loosening of a muscular spasm not only releases the vegetative energy, but, over and above this, reproduces a memory of that situation in infancy in which the repression of the instinct occurred. (Reich, 1973, p. 300)
Reich found that chronic muscular tension blocks one of the three basic biological excitations: anxiety, anger, or sexual arousal. He concluded that the physical and psychological armor were essentially the same:
Character armorings were now seen to be functionally identical with muscular [hypertension]. The concept, “functional identity,” which I had to introduce means nothing more than that muscular attitudes and character attitudes have the same function in the psychic mechanism: they can replace one another and can be influenced by one another. Basically, they cannot be separated. They are identical in their function. (Reich, 1973, pp. 270–271)
Three major tools are used in dissolving the armor: (1) building up energy in the body through deep breathing; (2) directly attacking the chronically tense muscles (through pressure, pinching, and so on) to loosen them; and (3) maintaining the cooperation of the patient by dealing openly with whatever resistances or emotional restrictions arise. Reich used these tools in each of the seven armor segments.
Loosening the Armor Segments
- The eyes. The eyes are the infant’s main source of contact with the environment and, according to Reich, the first area to be traumatized, by the sight of cold, angry, or frightening expressions. Armoring of the eyes is conveyed by an immobility of the forehead and an “empty” expression of the eyes, which look out from behind a rigid mask. The armor is dissolved by having patients open their eyes wide, as if in fright, in order to mobilize the eyelids and forehead. Patients are encouraged to roll the eyes and look from side to side in order to force an emotional expression.
- The mouth. The oral segment includes the muscles of the chin, the throat, and the back of the head. The jaw may be very tight or unnaturally loose. The emotional expressions of crying, angry biting, yelling, sucking, and grimacing are all inhibited by tension in this area. The armor may be loosened by encouraging the patient to imitate crying, to make sounds that mobilize the lips, to bite, and to gag, and by direct work on the muscles involved.
- The neck. This segment includes the deep neck muscles and also the tongue. The armor functions mainly to hold back anger or crying. Direct pressure on the deep neck muscles is not possible, so screaming, yelling, and gagging are all important means for loosening this area.
- The chest. The chest segment includes the large chest muscles, the shoulder muscles, the muscles of the shoulder blades, the entire chest cage, and the hands and arms. Tension in this segment can inhibit laughter, rage, sadness, and longing. Inhibition of breathing, which is an important means of suppressing any emotion, occurs to a great extent in the chest. The armoring may be loosened through work with breathing, especially training in complete expiration. The arms and hands are used to hit, tear, choke, pound, and reach out with longing.
- The diaphragm. This segment includes the diaphragm, stomach, solar plexus, various internal organs, and muscles along the lower thoracic vertebrate. Armoring is expressed by a forward curvature of the spine so that when the patient is seated in a chair, there is considerable space between the patient’s lower back and the back of the chair. It is much harder to breathe out than to breathe in. The armoring mainly inhibits extreme rage. The first four segments must be relatively free before the diaphragm can be loosened through repeated work with breathing and with the gag reflex. (People with strong blocks in this segment find it virtually impossible to vomit.)
- The abdomen. The abdominal segment includes the large abdominal muscles and the muscles of the back. Tension in the lumbar muscles is related to fear of attack. Armoring in a person’s flanks produces ticklishness and is related to inhibition of spite. Dissolution of the armoring in this segment is relatively simple once the higher segments are open.
- The pelvis. This last segment comprises all the muscles of the pelvis and lower limbs. The stronger the armoring, the more the pelvis is pulled back and sticks out in the rear. The gluteal muscles are tight and painful; the pelvis is rigid, “dead,” and asexual. Pelvic armoring serves to inhibit anxiety and rage as well as pleasure. Because the anxiety and rage result from inhibitions of sexual pleasure, it is impossible to experience pleasure freely in this area until the anger has been released from the pelvic muscles. The armoring can be loosened by first mobilizing the pelvis and having the patient repeatedly kick with the feet and also strike, for example, a couch with his or her pelvis.
Reich found that as his patients developed the capacity for “full genital surrender,” their whole being and lifestyle changed.
The unification of the orgasm reflex also restores the sensations of depth and seriousness. The patients remember the time in their early childhood when the unity of their body sensation was not disturbed. Seized with emotion, they tell of the time as children when they felt at one with nature, with everything that surrounded them, of the time they felt “alive,” and how finally all this had been shattered and crushed by their education. (Reich, 1973, pp. 357–358)
These individuals began to feel that the rigid norms of society, which previously they had taken for granted, were alien and unnatural. Attitudes toward work also changed noticeably. Many who had performed their jobs mechanically as an economic necessity left their place of employment to seek new and vital work that fulfilled their inner needs. Often those who were interested in their vocation blossomed with fresh energy and ability.
Obstacles to Growth
Reich argued that there are two fundamental obstacles to maturation. One is the psychological and physical armoring that develops in each individual. The second problem is the social repression of sexual and other healthy biological impulses in the individual.
Armoring. Armoring is the major obstacle to growth, according to Reich.
The armored organism is incapable of breaking down its own armor. But it is equally incapable of expressing its elemental biological emotions. It is familiar with the sensation of tickling but has never experienced orgonotic pleasure. The armored individual cannot express a sigh of pleasure or consciously imitate it. When he tries to do so, the result is a groan, a suppressed, pent-up roar, or even an impulse to vomit. He is incapable of venting anger or of banging his fist in an imitation of anger. (Reich, 1976, p. 402)
Boadella (1987) has pointed out that almost everyone suffering from maladjustment lives as though in a permanent state of emergency. Only by changing this state of chronic tension can individuals approach their environment rationally and healthfully.
Sexual Repression. Another obstacle to growth is the social and cultural repression of the natural impulses and sexuality of the individual. Repression, Reich asserted, is the major source of neurosis and occurs during three principal phases of life: early infancy, puberty, and adulthood (Reich, 1973).
Infants and young children are confronted with an authoritarian, sex-suppressing family atmosphere. Reich reaffirms Freud’s observations concerning the negative effects of parental demands for early toilet training, self-restraint, and “good” behavior.
During puberty, young people are kept from attaining an active, open sexual life; masturbation is still prohibited by most parents. Even more important, our society generally makes it impossible for adolescents to obtain meaningful work. As a result of this unnatural lifestyle, it is especially difficult for adolescents to outgrow infantile attachments to their parents.
Reich felt that individuals who are brought up in an atmosphere that negates life and sex develop a fear of pleasure, represented in their muscular armoring. “This characterological armoring is the basis of isolation, indigence, craving for authority, fear of responsibility, mystic longing, sexual misery, and neurotically impotent rebelliousness, as well as pathological intolerance” (Reich, 1973, p. 7).
A teaching of living Life, taken over and distorted by armored man, will spell final disaster to the whole of mankind and its institutions…. By far the most likely result of the principle of “orgastic potency” will be a pernicious philosophy of 4-lettering all over the place everywhere. Like an arrow released from the restraining, tightly tensed spring, the search for quick, easy and deleterious genital pleasure will devastate the human community. (Reich, 1961, pp. 508–509)
Reich was not optimistic about the possible effects of his discoveries. He believed that most people, because of their strong armoring, would be unable to understand his theories and would distort his ideas.
In a sense, all Reich’s work is body-oriented. The body, he insisted, is an essential dynamic in all psychological functioning. For Reich, the body plays a critical role in storing and channeling bioenergy, which is the basis of human existence and experience.
Reich viewed mind and body as a unit. His work is a precursor to the field of holistic medicine. He also anticipated the interest in nonverbal communication that has developed in psychology, anthropology, and sociology.
As described earlier, Reich gradually moved from analytic practice, relying solely on language, to examination of both the physical and psychological aspects of character and character armor. At that point, he emphasized the dissolving of muscular armor to allow the free flow of orgone energy.
In Reich’s view, social relationships are determined by the individual’s character. Most individuals see the world through the filter of their armoring, which cuts them off both from their inner natures and from satisfying social relationships. Only genital characters, having loosened their rigid armoring, can react openly and honestly to others.
Nature and culture, instinct and morality, sexuality and achievement become incompatible as a result of the split in the human structure. The unity and congruity of culture and nature, work and love, morality and sexuality, longed for from time immemorial, will remain a dream as long as man continues to condemn the biological demand for natural (orgastic) sexual gratification. Genuine democracy and freedom founded on consciousness and responsibility are also doomed to remain an illusion until this demand is fulfilled. (Reich, 1973, p. 8)
Reich strongly believed in the ideals, enunciated by Marx, of “free organization, in which the free development of each becomes the basis of the free development of all” (Boadella, 1973, p. 212). Reich formulated the concept of work-democracy, a natural form of social organization in which people cooperate harmoniously to further their mutual needs and interests, and he sought to actualize these principles in the Orgone Institute.
Reich did not concern himself directly with the will, although he stressed the role of meaningful action in work and in family life.
You don’t have to do anything special or new. All you have to do is to continue what you are doing…. All you have to do is to continue what you have always done and always want to do: your work, to let your children grow up happily, to love your wife. (Reich in Boadella, 1973, p. 236)
Reich would agree with Freud that the sign of a mature human being is capacity for love and work.
Chronic tensions, according to Reich, block the energy flow that underlies powerful emotions. The armoring prevents the individual from experiencing strong emotions; it limits and distorts the expression of feeling. Emotions that are blocked are never eliminated, because they can’t be fully expressed. According to Reich, only by fully experiencing a blocked emotion can an individual become free of it.
Reich also noted that the frustration of pleasure often leads to anger and rage. These negative emotions must be dealt with in Reichian therapy before the positive feelings (which underlie the negative emotions) can be completely experienced.
The intellect, Reich believed, also operates as a defense mechanism. “The spoken word conceals the expressive language of the biological core. In many cases, the function of speech has deteriorated to such a degree that the words express nothing whatever and merely represent a continuous, hollow activity on the part of the musculature of the neck and the organs of speech” (1976, p. 398).
Reich opposed any separation of intellect, emotions, and body. He pointed out that the intellect, which is actually a biological function, may have an energetic charge as strong as any of the emotions. “The hegemony of the intellect not only puts an end to irrational sexuality but has as its precondition a regulated libido economy. Genital and intellectual primacy belong together” (1976, p. 203). According to Reich, full development of the intellect requires the achievement of true genitality.
For Reich, the self is the healthy, biological core of each individual. Most individuals are not in touch with the self; they are too armored and defended.
What was it that prevented a person from perceiving his own personality? After all, it is what he is. Gradually, I came to understand that it is the entire being that constitutes the compact, tenacious mass which obstructs all analytic efforts. The patient’s whole personality, his character, his individuality resisted analysis. (Reich, 1973, p. 148)
Contact with the self requires free movement of energy. It becomes possible only as the individual, dissolving his or her armor and becoming fully aware of the body and its sensations and needs, comes in contact with the core, the primary drives. Where blocks are present, energy flow and awareness are restricted, and self-perception is greatly diminished or distorted (Baker, 1967).
An eminent Reichian has written that:
the indispensable prerequisite for whatever methods the therapist uses to release the emotions held in the musculature is that he is in touch with his own sensations and able to empathise fully with the patient and to feel in his own body the effect of particular constrictions on the patient’s energies. (Boadella, 1973, p. 120)
Nic Waal, one of the foremost psychiatrists in Norway, wrote about her experiences in therapy with Reich:
I could stand being crushed by Reich because I liked truth. And, strangely enough, I was not crushed by it. All through this therapeutic attitude to me he had a loving voice, he sat beside me and made me look at him. He accepted me and crushed only my vanity and falseness. But I understood at that moment that true honesty and love both in a therapist and in parents is sometimes the courage to be seemingly cruel when it is necessary. It demands, however, a great deal of the therapist, his training and his diagnosis of the patient. (Boadella, 1973, p. 365)
Reich was well-known as a brilliant and tough-minded therapist. Even as an orthodox analyst, he was extremely honest, even brutally direct, with his patients.
Reich was the leading practitioner of somatic psychology and body-oriented therapy. In fact, only a small minority of psychologists have seriously concerned themselves with somatic psychology. However, the appreciation of physical habits and of tensions as diagnostic cues is steadily growing. Many therapists have been influenced by the work of Fritz Perls, who was in analysis with Reich and owes much to Reich’s theories.
Reich’s focus on muscular armoring and emotional release through body work has attracted less interest than it deserves. The encouragement of the expression of suppressed emotions, such as rage, fear, and aggression, is still a controversial issue in psychology.
One cogent criticism of Reich’s theories concerns his depiction of the genital character as an achievable ideal state. Kelley (1971) pointed out that Reich developed a system that seems to promise a cure-all. A successful treatment is supposed to leave the individual free of all armor, a “finished product” with no need for further growth or improvement.
The underlying concept is a medical model in which the patient comes to the doctor in order to be “cured.” This model pervades much of therapy, but it is given credibility by the assumption that the therapist is healthy (unarmored) and the patient is ill. Patients stay “one down” to the therapist; they are generally placed in a passive role, relying on the omnipotent, “perfected” healer for some sort of dramatic or magical cure. This model also places a tremendous strain on the therapist, who must always appear superior to patients and is permitted no mistakes or fallibility.
Learning to free ourselves from inappropriate blocks to feeling is only one aspect of our growth. Self-discipline and goal-directed behavior are also essential, and they require a certain amount of control over our emotions.
The blocks to feeling that Reich calls “the armor” …are a product of the capacity of man to control his feelings and behavior, and so to direct his life along a path he has chosen. One aspect of this is protection of the self from incapacitating emotions, a second the channeling of behavior towards goals. (Kelley, 1971, p. 9)
Thus, the individual never can or should become totally “unarmored.” Reich did not consider how to balance self-control and free expression as part of a continual process of growth.
With his emphasis on dissolving blocks to emotion, Reich tended to overestimate the role of armoring and resistance in the individual. He defined character almost solely in terms of armoring. “Character operates to produce almost constant resistance in psychoanalysis. For him [Reich] character is an armor formed through chronic ‘hardening’ of the ego. The meaning and purpose of this armor is protection from inner and outer dangers” (Sterba, 1976, p. 278). Yet character certainly consists of more than rigidity and defenses.
Reich’s theories concerning therapy and psychological growth are generally clear and straightforward, as are his therapeutic techniques (West, 1994). He has provided considerable clinical as well as experimental evidence for his work, although, to date, his ideas have been too controversial to gain widespread acceptance. Interest in Reich’s conception of the body is increasing, and the growth of body-oriented research is one of the more exciting possibilities in the future of psychology. Best (1999) has argued that Reich’s basic assumption that orgone energy is an erotic, holistic, healing resource might profitably be incorporated into modern clinical theory and practice. According to Fernald (2000), Reich’s work has influenced humanistic psychotherapy, including Rogers’s person-centered approach, which is based on the notion of organismic experience.
Other Approaches to Somatic Psychology
The body-oriented systems covered in this section are by no means the only ones available. Dozens of excellent systems work primarily with the body to improve psychological and physical functioning. The disciplines and techniques mentioned in this section are perhaps better known and more accessible than some others. They also have theoretical significance for somatic psychology.
Bioenergetics might be called neo-Reichian therapy. Founded by two of Reich’s students, Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos, it focuses on the role of the body in character analysis and in therapy. Lowen has used more easily acceptable terms than Reich—bioenergy for orgone energy, for example—and his work has generally met with less resistance than Reich’s. There are many more bioenergetic practitioners than Reichians in the United States.
Lowen (1989) has summarized the major changes introduced by bioenergetic analysis:
- Pleasure is emphasized more than sexuality, without denying the importance of sexuality.
- The concept of grounding is added to Reich’s original concepts. In traditional Reichian work, patients lie on a bed. In bioenergetic analysis, other positions are used, including an emphasis on standing and the role of the legs in supporting the individual when standing.
- Physical exercises are taught, and patients can practice many of them at home.
Bioenergetics includes Reichian breathing techniques and many of Reich’s emotional release techniques, such as allowing patients to cry, scream, and hit. Lowen also utilizes various exercises and stress postures in order to energize parts of the body that have been blocked. In these postures, stress is increased in chronically tense body parts until the tension becomes so great that the individual is forced to relax his or her armoring. These exercises include bending down to touch the floor, arching back with the fists at the base of the spine, and bending backward over a padded stool.
Lowen found that Reich’s approach to reducing armoring through muscular relaxation could be supplemented by the opposite process: encouraging patients to mobilize the feelings expressed by tense muscles. For example, encouraging a patient’s aggression also helps the individual to surrender to tender feelings. But if the focus is chiefly on letting go and “giving in,” therapy often results in feelings of sadness and anger exclusively. In order to avoid this outcome, Lowen found that the two approaches are best used alternately.
Bioenergetics can have a powerful spiritual or transpersonal dimension. John Pierrakos, the cofounder of bioenergetics, has made the transpersonal a central feature of his newer system of core energetics:
After many years of bioenergetics work, I came to feel that something was lacking. Though bioenergetics provided a beautiful clinical approach to resolving blocks, difficulties, and neurotic symptoms, it lacked a fundamental philosophy because it did not incorporate the spiritual nature of human beings. (1987, p. 276)
Lowen and his colleagues have continued to write influential and thoughtful books and articles (Cranmer, 1994; Keleman, 1976, 1979; Lowen, 1975, 1980, 1984, 1992; Pierrakos, 1976, 1987) and also to train many others in the techniques of bioenergetic analysis.
The Alexander Technique
The Alexander technique is designed to improve awareness of one’s habits of movement. Alexander students learn how they use their bodies improperly and inefficiently and how they can avoid doing so when active or at rest. By use, Alexander refers to our habits of holding and moving our bodies, habits that directly affect the way we function physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Alexander believed that a prerequisite for free and efficient movement is the lengthening of the spine. He did not mean a forced stretching but a gentle upward lengthening. Alexander students work primarily with the following formula: Let the neck be free to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen. The aim is not to engage in muscular activity; it is to allow the body to adjust automatically while the individual concentrates on repeating the formula and responding to the guiding touch of the teacher. The movements covered in the lesson are taken from common activities, and the student learns gradually to apply the Alexander principles. The balance between head and spine promotes the release of physical tensions, improved alignment, and better muscular coordination. On the other hand, interference with this relationship results in tension, misalignment of the body, and poor coordination.
The Alexander work has been especially popular with actors, dancers, and other performing artists. It has also been shown to be highly effective for people with physical disabilities and for individuals suffering from chronic physical illnesses. Alexander teachers have written several excellent books providing Alexander exercises and practices one can carry out by oneself (Dimon, 1998; MacDonald, 1998; MacDonnel, 2000).
The Feldenkrais Method
The Feldenkrais method is designed to help people recover the natural grace and freedom they enjoyed as children. Feldenkrais students work with patterns of muscular movement that enable them to find the most efficient way of moving, eliminating the muscular tension and inefficient habits they have learned over the years.
Moshe Feldenkrais received a doctorate in physics in France and worked as a physicist until 1944, when he was 40 years of age. He became deeply interested in judo and founded the first judo school in Europe, eventually developing his own judo system. Feldenkrais also worked with Alexander and studied yoga, Freud, and neurology. After World War II, he devoted himself to work with the body.
The Feldenkrais method uses a tremendous variety of exercises, which differ from lesson to lesson. The exercises generally begin with very small movements; they are gradually combined into larger patterns. The aim is to develop ease and freedom of movement in every part of the body.
Feldenkrais often quoted the Chinese proverb “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” Because his work focuses on understanding through doing, he calls his exercises “awareness through movement.”
For Feldenkrais, growth is the gradual acquisition of more effective action patterns. Rather than abandon old habits, the goal is to increase our repertoire; for example, when we begin to type, most of us use just two fingers. Then we learn touch-typing with ten fingers, a skill that takes time to develop. Touch-typing is easier and faster than the old two-finger method, and we come to prefer the new way.
If new habits are no longer useful or reliable (because of injury or other damage), old habits are available. Feldenkrais recommends gradual and natural change that does not threaten to destroy useful patterns.
Feldenkrais often said, “If you know what you are doing, you can do what you want.” The aim of his exercises is to get you to do what you want, to understand the easiest patterns of movement for you in each new situation.
Feldenkrais exercises work to reestablish efficient connections between the motor cortex and the musculature, connections that have been distorted by habits, tension, or trauma. According to Feldenkrais, increased awareness and flexibility can be achieved through balancing and quieting the motor cortex. The more active the cortex, the less we are aware of subtle changes. One of the fundamental principles of his work is based on Weber’s Law, which states that our sensitivity to change is proportional to our current level of stimulation. If you are carrying a piano, for example, you cannot feel a matchbook added to the load. But if you are carrying one match, the weight of a matchbook is immediately evident.
This explains why most people with bad posture are not aware that they do in fact have bad posture. By the same token, such people are unlikely to notice any worsening in their posture, because they use so much effort just to stand and walk. On the other hand, those with good posture are likely to improve. They are aware of subtle physical changes in themselves and can use this awareness for self-improvement. By balancing the motor cortex and by reducing the level of excitation, Feldenkrais found, we expand awareness and try new movement combinations that were not possible when the motor cortex and musculature were locked into old patterns.
Books by Feldenkrais teachers provide sophisticated and effective exercises for relieving pain, developing better posture, and experiencing a full range of movement (Alon, 1997; Shafarman, 1997; Wildman, 2000).
Structural Integration (Rolfing)
Structural integration is a system of reshaping and realigning body posture through deep and often painful stretching of the muscle fascia, connective tissue that supports and connects the muscle and skeletal systems, by direct manipulation. Structural integration is often called rolfing, after its founder, Ida Rolf. Rolf received a doctorate in biochemistry and physiology in 1920 and worked as an assistant in biochemistry at the Rockefeller Institute for 12 years. For over 40 years, she devoted herself to teaching and perfecting her system, until her death in 1979.
The aim of structural integration is to bring the body into better muscular balance, better alignment with gravity, and closer to an optimal posture so that, theoretically, a straight line can be drawn through the ear, shoulder, hip bone, knee, and ankle. This leads to balanced distribution of the weight of the major parts of the body—head, chest, pelvis, and legs—and also more graceful and efficient movement. When the body structure is aligned in its gravitational field, the individual functions more effectively and with less muscular effort.
Rolfing works primarily with the fascial system. Rolf (1977) discovered that psychological trauma or even minor physical injury may result in subtle but relatively permanent changes in the body. Bone or muscle tissue becomes displaced; thickening of connective tissue locks these changes into place. Misalignment will occur not only in the immediate area of an injury but also at distant points in the body out of compensation. For example, favoring a sore shoulder over time may affect the neck, the other shoulder, and the hips.
Work on some areas of the body may trigger memories or a deep emotional discharge. However, rolfing is aimed primarily at physical integration, and the psychological aspects of the process are not dealt with directly. Many individuals who have combined rolfing with some form of psychological therapy or other growth work have reported that rolfing helped to free their psychological and emotional blocks.
Sensory awareness work emphasizes relaxation and the concentration of our attention on immediate experience. It focuses on direct perception, on distinguishing sensations from the learned interpretations that overlay our experience. The simple act of sensing can provide astonishing and rich experience, from which we frequently cut ourselves off by living “in our heads.” It requires a receptivity and sense of awareness and of inner quiet, an ability just to let things happen, without force.
The system of sensory awareness is taught in the United States by Charlotte Selver, Charles Brooks, and their students.
The study of this work is our whole organismic functioning in the world we perceive, of which we are a part—our personal ecology: how we go about our activities, how we relate to people, to situations, to objects. We aim to discover what is natural in this functioning and what is conditioned: what is our nature, which evolution has designed to keep us in touch with the rest of the world, and what has become our “second nature,” as Charlotte likes to call it, which tends to keep us apart. (Brooks, 1974, p. 17)
Through sensory awareness, people are helped to get back in touch with their bodies and senses. Typically, children are in touch with their bodies and senses. As they grow up, however, they gradually lose this ability. The loss of awareness begins at an early age. Parents tend to react to children according to their own preferences rather than to what actually enhances the child’s functioning. Children are taught what things and activities are “good” for them—how long to sleep and what to eat—instead of how to judge for themselves from their own experience. “Good” children learn to come whenever mother calls, cutting off their natural rhythms and stopping activities immediately for the convenience of parents and teachers. After many such interruptions, the child’s innate sense of rhythm becomes confused, and so does any inner sense of the value of his or her experience.
Another problem is that of making efforts. So many parents urge their children to sit, stand, walk, and talk as early as possible, thereby forcing development. These children begin to feel that the future is pressing in on them; they learn striving instead of relaxed play. They learn to overdo. It begins with the parents’ unnatural use of baby talk, artificial gestures, and noises in relating with their infants. By their example, parents teach that even communication cannot be peaceful and simple, that so much more is needed. This attitude is carried out in many other areas as well.
Many exercises in sensory awareness involve the basic activities of lying, sitting, standing, and walking. These activities offer the best opportunity for discovering our attitudes in relation to the environment and for developing our conscious awareness. Sitting on a stool without padding or a back allows us to sense the support of the stool, the pull of gravity, and the inner-life processes that occur in relation to these and other forces. Standing also offers rich possibilities for sensing. Few people learn to stand comfortably as an end in itself; most of us approach standing as the starting point for other activity. Standing allows us to explore balancing and moving from familiar postures to new coordination and being.
The closer we come to such a state of greater balance in the head, the quieter we become, the more our head “clears,” the lighter and more potent we feel. Energy formerly bound is now more and more at our disposal. Pressure and hurry change into freedom for speed. We find ourselves being more one with the world where we formerly had to cross barriers. Thoughts and ideas “come” in lucidity instead of being produced…. Experiences can be allowed to be more fully received and to mature in us. (Selver & Brooks, 1966, p. 503)
Most sensory awareness exercises have an inward, meditative orientation. Selver and Brooks have pointed out that as inner quiet develops, unnecessary tension and activity diminish, and receptivity to inner and outer events is heightened; other changes occur simultaneously throughout the whole person.
The various body-oriented systems, which have developed independently in widely different parts of the globe, have much in common. They all advocate nondoing, learning to let the body operate naturally and smoothly. All favor relaxed instead of tense activity and teach the individual to reduce habitual tensions in the body. All of these systems treat mind and body as a single whole, an ongoing psychophysiological process in which change at any level will affect all other parts.
There are also some interesting differences between these systems. Each seems to specialize in a particular area of physical functioning. Reichian and bioenergetic therapies deal with emotionally charged blocks in the body, whereas rolfing works to restructure body misalignments brought about by physical injury or various other causes. The Alexander technique focuses on body use rather than structure. The Feldenkrais method also deals with use; however, Feldenkrais exercises include considerably more complex behavior patterns, in order to restore physical effectiveness and efficiency. Sensory awareness focuses on the senses, on touching and being touched, and on becoming more aware of the body and the surrounding world.
All of these systems teach students to be more relaxed and more “natural,” both at rest and during activity. They are all concerned with eliminating the unnecessary tensions that we carry around with us and with bringing us back to nondoing action. By such action, we allow the body to operate naturally and effectively rather than to strain, push, or overdo. These systems share a conviction that we need not learn something brand-new or develop new muscles. The most important thing is to unlearn the poor habits we have picked up as children and adults, and to return once again to the natural wisdom, coordination, and balance of the body. Each school of body work is based on the principle that somatic interventions produce changes in emotion and relationship. Each body therapy seeks to release the individual from psychophysical inhibitions and to restore full psychophysiological self-regulation (Moss & Shane, 1999).
These body-oriented systems support Reich’s fundamental ideas, that we need to develop natural, unarmored bodies in order to develop psychologically. We can reduce the distortions carried over from past trauma and the tension held from past anxiety in order to reach our full potentials as energetic, feeling, sensitive human beings.
The Theory Firsthand
Excerpt from Me and the Orgone
The following passages are taken from Orson Bean’s book Me and the Orgone, an account of the actor’s experiences in Reichian therapy with Dr. Elsworth Baker, a prominent Reichian therapist.
Dr. Baker sat down behind his desk and indicated the chair in front of it for me…. “Well,” he said, “take off your clothes and let’s have a look at you.” My eyes went glassy as I stood up and started to undress—”You can leave on your shorts and socks,” said Baker, to my relief. I laid my clothes on the chair against the wall in a neat pile, hoping to get a gold star. “Lie down on the bed,” said the doctor….
He began pinching the muscles in the soft part of my shoulders. I wanted to smash him in his sadistic face, put on my clothes and get the hell out of there. Instead I said, “Ow.” Then I said, “That hurts.” “It doesn’t sound as if it hurts,” he said.
“Well, it does,” I said, and managed an “Ooo, Ooo.”
“Now breathe in and out deeply,” he said and he placed the palm of one hand on my chest and pushed down hard on it with the other. The pain was substantial. “What if the bed breaks?” I thought. “What if my spine snaps or I suffocate?”
I breathed in and out for a while and then Baker found my ribs, and began probing and pressing…. He began to jab at my stomach, prodding here and there to find a tight little knotted muscle…. He moved downward, mercifully passing my jockey shorts, and began to pinch and prod the muscles of my inner thighs. At that point I realized that the shoulders and the ribs and the stomach hadn’t hurt at all. The pain was amazing, especially since it was an area I hadn’t thought would ever hurt….
“Turn over,” said Baker. I did and he started at my neck and worked downwards with an unerring instinct for every tight, sore muscle…. “Turn back over again,” said Dr. Baker and I did. “All right,” he said. “I want you to breathe in and out as deeply as you can and at the same time roll your eyes around without moving your head. Try to look at all four walls, one at a time, and move your eyeballs as far from side to side as possible.” I began to roll my eyes, feeling rather foolish but grateful that he was no longer tormenting my body. On and on my eyes rolled. “Keep breathing,” said Baker. I began to feel a strange pleasurable feeling in my eyes like the sweet fuzziness that happens when you smoke a good stick of pot. The fuzziness began to spread through my face and head and then down into my body. “All right,” said Baker. “Now I want you to continue breathing and do a bicycle kick on the bed with your legs.” I began to raise my legs and bring them down rhythmically, striking the bed with my calves. My thighs began to ache and I wondered when he would say that I had done it long enough, but he didn’t. On and on I went, until my legs were ready to drop off. Then, gradually, it didn’t hurt anymore and that same sweet fuzzy sensation of pleasure began to spread through my whole body, only much stronger. I now felt as if a rhythm had taken over my kicking which had nothing to do with any effort on my part. I felt transported and in the grip of something larger than me. I was breathing more deeply than I ever had before and I felt the sensation of each breath all the way down past my lungs and into my pelvis. Gradually, I felt myself lifted right out of Baker’s milk chocolate room and up into the spheres. I was beating to an astral rhythm. Finally, I knew it was time to stop….
The Wednesday morning after my first visit to Baker I woke up, after about five hours sleep, feeling exhilarated. My coffee tasted better than it ever had and even the garbage floating down the East River seemed to me to have a lightness and symmetry to it. The feeling lasted for the rest of the day. It was a sense of well-being and at-peace-with-the-world-ness. My body felt light and little ripples of pleasure rolled up and down my arms, legs, and torso. When I breathed, the sensation of movement continued down into the base of my torso and it felt good. I felt vaguely horny in a tender way and the thought of women in general filled me with love….
I was starting to unwind. The pleasurable ripples were lessening and a sense of anxiety was starting to take over. Brownish marks that would be black and blue by the next day began to appear on my body where Baker had pinched and gouged at me….
I got into bed, realized that I was cold and reached down to the foot of the bed for the extra blanket. Then it occurred to me that I was cold with fear. I tried to examine my feelings as I had learned to do in psychoanalysis. It was a different kind of dread than I had ever experienced before. I thought of a marionette show I had seen as a kid with skeleton puppets who danced to the music of the Danse macabre and then began to fly apart, with legs and arms and head coming off and ribs and pelvis coming apart. I felt like I too was starting to come apart. The anxiety was terrific and I was aware that I was involuntarily tightening up on my muscles to hold myself together. The wonderful joyous liberated feeling was going away and in its place was a sense of holding on for dear life. My armoring, if that’s what it was, seemed like an old friend now. People say, “I’d rather die in the electric chair than spend my life in prison,” but prisoners never say that. A life in chains is better than no life at all, except
I realized it was going to take all the courage I could muster to de-armor myself. I knew I would fight Dr. Baker every step of the way but I also remembered how I had felt for that thirty-six hours or so after my first treatment and I wanted it more than anything else in the world….
“What kind of week did you have?” asked Baker and I told him.
“Your reaction of clamping down after a period of pleasurable sensations was completely natural and to be expected,” he said. “You won’t always have those nice feelings but it’s important to remember what they were like so you can work towards them again. It will help you tolerate the fear you’ll feel as your armor breaks down.” …
“Yes,” he said. “It is frightening. You have a lot of anger to get out, a lot of hate and rage and then a lot of longing and a lot of love. Okay,” he said, “I’ll see you next time.”
And I got up and got dressed and left. (Bean, 1971, pp. 17–20, 29–31, 34–36)
Wilhelm Reich was the founder of somatic psychology and body-oriented psychotherapy, and the precursor of current therapies that work with the emotional life of the body.
Reich’s unique contributions to psychology are his insistence on the unity of the body and the mind, the inclusion of the body into the realm of psychotherapy, and his concept of character armor.
In psychoanalysis, Reich fostered the release of emotions locked into muscular armoring by working directly with the body as well with psychological material.
Character defenses differ from neurotic symptoms in that they are experienced as integral parts of the personality, whereas neurotic symptoms are experienced as foreign elements in the psyche, as meaningless or even pathological.
In Freud’s model, the final level of psychosexual development is termed genital character. Reich used this phrase to describe persons with orgastic potency. True genitality developed when his patients relinquished their armoring.
Muscular armoring is organized into seven major segments. Each segment is composed of muscles and organs with related expressive functions. The segments are centered in the eyes, mouth, neck, chest, diaphragm, abdomen, and pelvis, and form seven horizontal rings at right angles to the torso and spine.
To dissolve the armor, the Reichian therapist has the patient build up energy in the body through deep breathing, directly manipulates chronically tense muscles, and maintains both cooperation and communication with the patient throughout the therapeutic process.
Reich opposed any separation of emotions, intellect, and body. He suggested that the intellect is actually a biological function and may indeed have an energetic charge as strong as any of the emotions.
Bioenergetics could be termed neo-Reichian therapy. Founded by two of Reich’s students, Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos, it, too, focuses on the role of the body in therapy and in character analysis.
In bioenergetics, pleasure is emphasized as well as sexuality. Bioenergetics adds the concept of grounding, being anchored in one’s pelvis and legs.
Lowen encouraged patients to mobilize the feelings expressed by tense muscles; he also continued to use Reich’s technique of reducing armoring through muscular relaxation. Lowen found the approaches were best used alternately.
The Alexander technique is designed to improve awareness of the individual’s habits of movement. Integrated movement is emphasized, based on a balanced relationship between the head and the spine. Prerequisite for efficient and free movement is a gentle upward lengthening of the spine.
The aim of the Feldenkrais method is to develop freedom and ease of movement in every part of the body. It works with patterns of muscular movement to help the individual find the most efficient ways of moving and eliminate muscular tensions.
In the Feldenkrais exercises, students pay attention to the whole body rather than to the parts that seem to be most involved with a movement. The entire body, and the entire self, participates, as awareness broadens naturally. To move without trying, as if only the thought of moving is necessary, is the ideal.
Structural integration, also called rolfing, is a system of realigning and reshaping body posture through deep and often painful stretching of the muscle fascia by direct manipulation.
Sensory awareness exercises call for a meditative, inward orientation. Changes occur simultaneously as unnecessary activity and tension diminish, inner quiet develops, and receptivity to outer and inner events is heightened.
Armoring – A protective mechanism that stops the free expression of emotion and restricts the flow of energy. Armoring, which can be psychological and physical, is a major obstacle to growth.
Body armor – The patterns of chronic muscle tension that are the physical manifestations of an individual’s character armor.
Character armor – Habitual patterns of defense. Character armor forms from the ego defenses that have become chronically active and automatic, and it includes all the defensive forces that constitute a coherent pattern within the ego.
Orgastic potency – The capacity to surrender fully to the flow of biological energy and to discharge completely dammed-up sexual excitation.
Orgone energy – Basic energy present in all living organisms (based on Freud’s concept of libido) and an aspect of a universal, mass-free energy.
Weber’s Law – A fundamental principle in the work of Feldenkrais. It states that our sensitivity to change is proportional to our current level of stimulation. By quieting and balancing the motor cortex, we expand our awareness of subtle changes.
Baker, E. (1967). Man in the trap. New York: Avon Books.
Detailed discussion of Reichian therapy and theory by an eminent Reichian therapist.
Boadella, D. (1973). Wilhelm Reich: The evolution of his work. London: Vision.
The best secondary source on Reich; details the historical development of his theories.
Reich, W. (1961). Selected writings. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Noonday Press).
An excellent introduction to the full range of Reich’s thought. Includes chapters on therapy, orgone theory, and orgone research.
———. (1973). The function of the orgasm. New York: Touchstone.
Reich’s best book, it includes excellent material on
character analysis, bioenergy, genital character, and Reichian therapy.
———. (1976). Character analysis. New York: Pocket Books.
A classic work, this book represents Reich’s contributions to psychoanalysis; rewritten from the first edition to fit his later theoretical perspectives.
Keleman, S. (1971). Sexuality, self and survival. San Francisco: Lodestar Press.
A lively treatment of bioenergetics, including transcripts of work sessions, by a major practitioner.
Lowen, A. (1975). Bioenergetics. New York: Penguin Books.
The best introduction to Lowen’s writings on
Lowen, A., & Lowen, L. (1977). The way to vibrant health: A manual of bioenergetic exercises. New York: Harper & Row.
Superb do-it-yourself manual of bioenergetic exercises by Alexander and Leslie Lowen. Fully illustrated, with pictures of the couple.
Alexander, F. (1969). The resurrection of the body. New York: Dell (Delta Books).
A collection of Alexander’s writings. Rich but difficult material.
Barlow, W. (1973). The Alexander technique. New York: Knopf.
A clear discussion of the theory behind the technique,
with various case studies. Written by an eminent practitioner.
Feldenkrais, M. (1972). Awareness through movement. New York: Harper & Row.
Theoretical discussion plus a number of fascinating exercises.
———. (1977). The case of Nora: Body awareness as healing therapy. New York: Harper & Row.
A brilliant case study that provides insight into Feldenkrais’s work as a therapist.
———. (1985). The potent self. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
A posthumous collection of Feldenkrais’s writings on motivation, resistance, habit formation, wellness, and the development of full human potential.
Structural Integration (Rolfing)
Rolf, I. (1977). Rolfing: The integration of human structures. Santa Monica, CA: Dennis-Landman.
The major work on structural integration, written by the founder.
Schutz, W., & Turner, E. (1977). Body fantasy. New York: Harper & Row.
A detailed case study involving the creative integration of rolfing and psychotherapy.
Brooks, C. (1974). Sensory awareness. New York: Viking Press.
The only extensive study of this work. Excellent, clearly written, with many fine illustrative photos.
Reichian Theory and Practice
This site is dedicated to providing information on Wilhelm Reich’s work. It includes guides to Reichian publications and organizations, online articles on Reichian theory and practice, conference and workshop information, and links to other Reich-related Web sites.
Feldenkrais and Bioenergetics
This site includes information on a wide variety of approaches to somatic psychology, especially approaches to healing.
The Feldenkrais section includes the site for the Feldenkrais Guild for North America, which includes online Feldenkrais lessons and a guide to Feldenkrais practitioners.
The Bioenergetics section includes the site for the International Institute for Bioenergetics, which lists information on Bioenergetics theory, training,
research, publications, and a guide to Bioenergetics therapists.
Alon, R. (1996). Mindful spontaneity. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Baker, E. (1967). Man in the trap. New York: Macmillan.
Barlow, W. (1973). The Alexander technique. New York: Knopf.
Bean, O. (1971). Me and the orgone. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Berkowitz, L. (1973). The case for bottling up rage. Psychology Today, 7(2), 24–31.
Best, A. (1999). The holistic healing resource of erotic energy. Dissertation Abstracts, 55, 4455.
Boadella, D. (1973). Wilhelm Reich: The evolution of his work. London: Vision.
———. (1987). Lifestreams: An introduction to biosynthesis. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Brooks, C. (1974). Sensory awareness. New York: Viking Press.
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West, W. (1994). Post-Reichian therapy. In D. Jones (Ed.), Innovative therapy. Buckingham, England: Open University Press.
Wildman, F. (2000). Feldenkrais movement exercises. San Francisco, CA: Movement Studies Institute.><# Chapter 9Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><Reich, perhaps more consistently than anyone else, worked out the critical and revolutionary implications of psychoanalytic theory. (Robinson, 1969, p. 10)>
<Personal History #><[W]here and how is the patient to express his natural sexuality when it has been liberated from repression? Freud neither alluded to nor, as it later turned out, even tolerated this question. And, eventually, because he refused to deal with this central question, Freud himself created enormous difficulties by postulating a biological striving for suffering and death. (Reich, 1973, p. 152)
[T]he life process is identical with the sexual process—an experimentally proven fact…. In everything living, sexual vegetative energy is at work. (Reich, 1961, p. 55)
><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><You want a good genius, one with moderation and decorum, one without folly; in brief, a seemly, measured and adjusted genius, not an unruly, untamed [one]. (Reich in Mann & Hoffman, 1980, p. 19)
><Intellectual Antecedents #><[T]he patient must, through analysis, arrive at a regulated and gratifying genital life—if he is to be cured and permanently so. (Reich, 1976, p. 17)
Neuroses are the result of a stasis (damming-up) of sexual energy…. Everyday clinical experience leaves no doubt: the elimination of sexual stasis through orgastic discharge eliminates every neurotic manifestation. (Reich, 1961, p. 189)
Every social order produces in the masses of its members that structure which it needs to achieve its aims. (Reich, 1970b, p. 23)
><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><Every person who has succeeded in preserving a certain amount of naturalness knows this: those who are psychically ill need but one thing—complete and repeated genital gratification. (Reich, 1973, p. 96)
In an ultimate sense, in self-awareness and in the striving for the perfection of knowledge and full integration of one’s bio-functions, the cosmic orgone energy becomes aware of itself. (Reich, 1961, p. 52)
><Major Concepts #><Orgastic longing, which plays such a gigantic role in the life of animals, appears now [in humans] as an expression of this striving beyond oneself, as longing to reach out beyond the narrow sack of one’s own organism. (Reich, 1961, p. 355)
><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><The “how” … the form of the behavior and of the communications, was far more important than what the patient told the analyst. Words can lie. The expression never lies. (Reich, 1973, p. 171)
The patient’s behavior (manner, look, language, countenance, dress, handshake, etc.) not only is vastly underestimated in terms of its analytic importance but is usually completely overlooked. (Reich, 1976, p. 34)
A conflict which is fought out at a certain age always leaves behind a trace in the person’s character … revealed as a hardening of the character. (Reich, 1973, p. 145)
I say on the basis of ample clinical experience that only in a few cases in our civilization is the sexual act based on love. The intervening rage, hatred, sadistic emotions and contempt are part and parcel of the love life of modern man. (Reich in Rycroft, 1971, p. 81)><Dynamics #><
Early in his career, Reich stressed the importance of awareness of our habitual postures and styles of moving. Do not move or shift your posture as you continue to read this.
You are probably either sitting or lying down right now. Are you aware of how you are holding the book, of the way your fingers and your arms are taking the weight of the book? How are you sitting or lying? Is the weight of your body more on one side than the other? How are you holding your arms? Is there excess tension in your chest, shoulders, and forearms, or throughout your body?
Do you feel that you want to shift to a more comfortable position? Shift now, and notice the changes you are experiencing. How does this new position feel? How long do you think you held your former, less comfortable position?
Your habits of using your body are probably not as efficient or effective as they could be. Because of these habits and our lack of body awareness, we tend to sit and move in ways that are less than optimally comfortable or useful. It is not until we get back in touch with our own bodies that we can recognize this.
><It is solely our sensation of the natural process inside and outside ourselves, which holds the keys to the deep riddles of nature…. Sensation is the sieve through which all inner and outer stimuli are perceived; sensation is the connecting link between ego and outer world. (Reich, 1961, p. 275)
><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><It is possible to get out of a trap. However, in order to break out of a prison, one first must confess to being in a prison. The trap is man’s emotional structure, his character structure. There is little use in devising systems of thought about the nature of the trap if the only thing to do in order to get out of the trap is to know the trap and to find the exit. (Reich, 1961, p. 470)
><Figure 9.1 The Seven Segments of the Body. Source: Baker (1967), p. 71.><Dynamics #><The spasm of the musculature is the somatic side of the process of repression, and the basis of its continued preservation. (Reich, 1973, p. 302)
[The] armor could lie on the “surface” or in the “depth,” could be “as soft as a sponge” or “as hard as a rock.” Its function in every case was to protect the person against unpleasurable experiences. However, it also entailed a reduction in the organism’s capacity for pleasure. (Reich, 1973, p. 145)
><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><The capacity of the vegetative organism to participate in the tension-charge function in a unified and total way is undoubtedly the basic characteristic of psychic and vegetative health…. Disturbances of self-perception do not really disappear until the orgasm reflex has been fully developed into a unified whole. (Reich, 1973, p. 355)
It is a snake, thus a symbol of the phallus and simultaneously of the biological original movement, which persuades Eve to tempt Adam…. “Whoever eats of the tree of knowledge knows God and life, and that will be punished,” we are warned. The knowledge of the law of love leads to the knowledge of the law of life, and that of the law of life leads to knowledge of God. (Reich, 1961, p. 273)
Armor in Your Life
Read over the description of armoring in the text. Which is your most important armoring segment? How has this part of your body functioned in your life? How has your strong armoring affected your experience? (Be as specific as possible.) Has this armoring segment made you particularly vulnerable or, instead, particularly rigid and unfeeling?
><I found that people reacted with deep hatred to every disturbance of the neurotic balance of their armor. (Reich, 1973, p. 147)
It was only the mystics who—far removed from scientific insight—always kept in contact with the function of the living. Since, thus, the living became the domain of mysticism, serious natural science shrank from occupying itself with it. (Reich, 1961, pp. 197–198)
><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><The destructiveness which is bound up in the character is nothing but anger about frustration in general and denial of sexual gratification in particular. (Reich, 1973, p. 219)
The life process is inherently “rational.” It becomes distorted and grotesque when it is not allowed to develop freely. (Reich, 1973, p. 19)
><Structure #><You do not strive to make your heart beat or your legs move, and you do not, by the same token, “strive” for or seek truth. Truth is in you and works in you just as your heart or your eyes work, well or badly, according to the condition of your organism. (Reich, 1961, p. 496)
Intellectual activity can be structured and directed in such a way that it looks like a most cunningly operating apparatus whose purpose is precisely to avoid cognition, i.e., it looks like an activity directing one away from reality. In short, the intellect can operate in the two fundamental directions of the psychic apparatus: toward the world and away from the world. (Reich, 1976, p. 338)
><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><In penetrating to the deepest depth and the fullest extent of emotional integration of the Self, we not only experience and feel, we also learn to understand, if only dimly, the meaning and working of the cosmic orgone ocean of which we are a tiny part. (Reich, 1961, pp. 519–520)
><Evaluation #><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><Everybody is seeking aliveness, everybody wants to be more alive. What we don’t consider is that you have to learn to bear being more alive, to assimilate it, to permit an energetic charge to go through your body. (Keleman, 1971, p. 39)
It delights me to say that I am my body, with full understanding of what that really means. It allows me to identify with my total aliveness, without any need to split myself. (Keleman, 1971, p. 28)><Other Approaches to Somatic Psychology #><
Try these exercises. According to bioenergetic theory, they are designed to bring energy to parts of the body that are chronically tense.
Stand with legs about shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent; without straining, bend over to touch the floor. Let your body stay loose and your head hang down freely. Hold this posture for several minutes. You may find that your legs begin to shake or quiver, or you may notice other changes in your body. Keep breathing freely and naturally, and don’t try to make anything happen.
Slowly come up from this position, feeling your spine gradually come to a vertical position, vertebra by vertebra.
Next, try a position that will curve the spine the other way. Stand with feet apart and your knees pointing slightly out. Put your fists in the small of your back and bend backward (be very careful not to strain your back). Again, keep your neck relaxed and your head hanging back freely, and breathe freely.
Any muscle quivering that might accompany these two postures is an indication of the relaxing and energizing of armored parts of the body.
><[Alexander] established not only the beginnings of a far-reaching science of the apparently involuntary movements we call reflexes, but a technique of correction and self-control which forms a substantial addition to our very slender resources in personal education. (George Bernard Shaw in Jones, 1976, p. 52)
Mr. Alexander has demonstrated a new scientific principle with respect to the control of human behavior, as important as any principle which has ever been discovered in the domain of external nature. (John Dewey in Jones, 1976, p. 104)
><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><I read a lot of physiology and psychology and to my great astonishment I found that in regard to using the whole human being for action, there was ignorance, superstition, and absolute idiocy. There wasn’t a single book that dealt with how we function. (Feldenkrais, 1966, p. 115)
To learn we need time, attention, and discrimination; to discriminate we must sense. This means that in order to learn we must sharpen our powers of sensing, and if we try to do most things by sheer force we shall achieve precisely the opposite of what we need. (Feldenkrais, 1972, p. 58)
><Other Approaches to Somatic Psychology #><
Turning the Head
To get a general idea of how the Feldenkrais method operates, try this exercise.
Sit on the floor or in a chair and slowly turn your head to the right, without straining. Note how far your head will turn, and how far to the rear you can see. Turn your head back to the front.
Turn your head to the right again. Leave your head in place, and move your eyes to the right. See if your head can move farther to the right. Repeat this three to four times.
Turn your head to the right. Now move your shoulders to the right and see if you can turn your head farther to the rear. Repeat this three to four times.
Turn your head to the right. Now move your hips to the right and see if you can turn your head farther to the rear. Repeat this three to four times.
Finally, turn your head to the right, and, leaving your head in its right-turned position, move your eyes, shoulders, and hips to the right. How far can you see now?
Now turn your head to the left. How far can you see? Continuing with the left side, repeat each step of the exercise you did with the right side, but mentally only. Visualize the movement of your head and visualize your eyes to the left. Visualize each step three to four times. Then turn your head to the left and move your eyes, shoulders, and hips to the left. How far can you turn now? What do you think happened?
Your range of movement increased because you broke up old movement patterns. You improved by loosening up your brain rather than loosening up your muscles.
><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><In any attempt to create an integrated individual an obvious starting place is his physical body, if for no other reason than to examine the old premise that a man can project only that which is within…. In some way, as yet poorly defined, the physical body is actually the personality, rather than its expression. (Rolf, 1962, p. 6)
Man is an energy field, as the earth and its outward envelope of forces is an energy field. How well a man can exist and function depends on whether the field which is himself, his psychological and physical personality, is reinforced or disorganized by the field of gravity. (Rolf, 1962, p. 12)
><Other Approaches to Somatic Psychology #><
Do this exercise with a partner. Have your partner stand naturally, and observe his or her posture carefully. (Form-fitting clothing or a bathing suit will work best.)
Is one shoulder higher than the other? Is the head balanced on top of the neck, or is it held forward or backward? Is the chest caved in or stuck out? Is one hip higher than the other? Is the pelvis stuck out to the rear? Are the knees held directly over the feet? Are the feet straight, or the toes pointed either in or out?
Look at your partner from the front, sides, and back. Then have your partner walk slowly while you observe from all angles. Finally, you might want to have your partner stand against a straight, vertical line drawn on the wall (the line formed by a door will serve) to observe alignment more carefully.
Then discuss what you have observed. For example, what does your partner’s posture suggest about his or her armoring? Also, imitate your partner’s posture and walk in order to illustrate your points. When you have finished, switch roles.
This exercise is not intended as a critique of you or your partner. No one has perfect posture. Make your observations of each other in an objective and positive way, and receive them with the same attitude.
><The lily is not to be simply watered but must be gilded. (Selver & Brooks, 1966, p. 491)
><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><
Body Awareness, Lying Down
Try this exercise in body awareness.
Lie on the floor and relax. You may be aware of the floor pressing on part of your body, and you may feel free in some parts and constricted in others. One person may feel light, another heavy. One may become refreshed, another tired. Receive and accept any messages from inside or outside without evaluation or labeling. Do not try to rush your awareness; experiencing will come in its own time. It is not wrong to feel constricted or right to feel free. These categories are inappropriate, as this is an exercise in experiencing.
As tendencies to anticipate diminish, sensations generally become more rich and full. You may become aware of changes that happen by themselves. Tenseness may change to relaxation, and the floor may feel more comfortable. You may become conscious of changes in breathing.
><The Theory Firsthand #><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><Annotated Bibliography #><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology><References #><# Chapter 9 Wilhelm Reich and Somatic Psychology>