When we are open, we experience pleasure, liveliness, and vitality. Many of us, however, find that our lives and relationships feel painfully constricted. We develop coping strategies early in life to ward off difficult, uncomfortable feelings. These defenses become habitual and can inhibit us from experiencing joyful, expansive feelings as well as pain. We become frozen and trapped in our defenses, and can become physically ill. These symptoms are cries for help from our wounded past, a past that may keep us from being fully available to the present. Our contracted self reveals itself in our character structure and body armor. To find our free, authentic self we must become conscious of our armoring - our self-distortions that turn us into unnatural adults that attack, cling, avoid, deny or pretend. Reichian therapy is an intensive, confrontational, personally demanding process for those who wish to profoundly change themselves and their life.
As we shed unnecessary layers of armor and facade we begin to discover our true, naturally sexual and spiritual natures.
What is Reichian / Orgonomic Therapy?
Reichian Therapy, developed by Wilhelm Reich, is a method for character transformation that recognizes the essential identity of the mind and body. Also known as Orgone Therapy, Orgonomic Therapy, and Bio-psychotherapy, Reichian Therapy recognizes how "armoring" against the free flow of life energy blocks full emotional expression. The Orgonomic therapist works with the principles of psychodynamic psychotherapy to reveal to the patient\client their character attitudes and their character armoring.
With a functionally deep understanding of the mind/body relationship, the Orgonomic Therapist simultaneously analyzes the patient's character ("Character Analysis") as it presents itself through the ways in which they walk, talk, hold themselves, etc., and the chronic muscular tensions that anchor and support this behavior. This is done through relationship-building verbal dialog, description, analysis, and the release of muscular tension through deep massage. Developed out of Wilhelm Reich's character-analytic technique, which views the mind and body as one functional unit, Reichian Therapy is the classical foundation of Somatic Psychology.
Therapy works on many levels: past, present and future; conscious and unconscious; physical, emotional, spiritual. Nonetheless, the primary goal at the physical level is to restore full natural respiration and the capacity to experience pleasurable sensations and the joy of life. Psychologically, the goal is to be able to love fully.
The ability to work at all these levels, and especially to go deeper, makes Reichian work unique and is a result of Wilhelm Reich’s comprehensive understanding of the human psyche and body.
Orgonomic therapeutic process facilitates:
- Self-awareness and deep insight
- Emotional and physical release, followed by an increased energy flow
- Changes in habitual, unhealthy defensive patterns
- Effective, lasting change
- Skilled, therapeutic dialog
- Authentic, supportive, actively engaged relationship with the therapist
- Character analysis: examine and change unproductive defense mechanisms
- Body work: massage and deep tissue muscular intervention
- Facilitation of deep feeling expression
- Breathing enhancement
- Dream analysis
Benefits of Orgnomic Therapy:
- Alleviate symptoms of depression
- Ease anxiety and panic
- Decrease stress-related symptoms
- Assistance with eating, sleep, and other disorders
- Reduce physical symptoms (headaches, nervous disorders, digestive problems, sexual dysfunction, autoimmune issues, etc.)
The Reichian Therapist locates painful constrictions and facilitates expansion. What makes Reichian Therapy uniquely powerful is that it includes body work to address the physical, somatic component - the physical expression of the mind's defenses. Dreams deepen the exploration because they provide direct access to the unconscious.
The Price of Constriction
The growing relationship with the therapist illuminates the protective stance we have in relation to others and ourselves. As we grow and survive adversity, we develop repetitive coping strategies to fend off difficult feelings. These strategies can alienate others, keep us from our true feelings, needs, and desires, and inhibit our ability to actualize who we really are. Our creativity and success in the world becomes minimized. Constricted respiration can be an additional sign of dysfunctional coping. Very few patients, indeed few people, breathe to full energetic capacity. One of the best ways to suppress painful emotions is to hold your breath. Infants and children spontaneously hold their breath in frightening situations. This happens to them many times each day in a dangerous environment. By adulthood, the chest is frozen in chronic breathlessness. Problems of depression, anxiety, phobias, insomnia, emptiness, loneliness, eating disorders, and addiction are defined and understood as reaction patterns to both present and past issues. These patterns have their roots in chronic character styles developed throughout a lifetime. As these behavior patterns are confronted, the character defenses are dislodged giving way to deeper issues and feelings.
Pleasure and Pulsing
Whether the global problem is one of love, of work, or of both, the common factor is lack of fulfillment and enjoyment in life. The rock song of the 70s wailed it well: "I can't get no satisfaction," (and the performers' lives seemed to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy). Reich saw the global problem as a disorder of pleasure.
What is pleasure? It's not so-called "cheap thrills," for they're not pleasurable after the fact. It's not just what "feels good," for such can ruin one's health and body (hepatitis, AIDS, cirrhosis, lung cancer, VD) as well as one's home and family (the casual affair, credit card binges, gambling).
For our purposes, pleasure can be defined as the natural, unfettered build-up and release of energy; full pleasure is pleasure experienced when making deep ("soul-to-soul") contact with another person; and mature pleasure is full pleasure governed by genitality and autonomy. Energy is not defined as a force alien to our natural selves or foreign to science, but is instead posited as an intervening variable to explain and communicate the sensations and feelings, sometimes very intense and "streaming," that occur in our bodies. It is in no sense connected to the mystical or the occult.
The build-up and release of energy seems to be the basis of the spontaneous, naturally-occurring movement that occurs in, and perhaps is a necessary condition of, all life. It is pulsation. Pulsation consists of an energy cycle in which mechanical tension leads to a bioelectric charge, a bioelectric discharge, and then mechanical relaxation, after which the cycle repeats.
This tension-charge-discharge-relaxation [TCDR] cycle can be demonstrated in unicellular organisms, as in the movements of amoebas, and in more complex organisms at all levels: the exchange of materials at the cellular level, the firings of nerve cells, the pulses in arteries, the peristaltic movements in the digestive system, the inspiration-expiration of breathing, the process of orgasm, daily (circadian) cycles, monthly cycles (menstruation), reproductive cycles (conception to birth), and perhaps even the cycle of life, itself.
Of course, no one fits any of these patterns exactly, and people have wide varieties and combinations of these and other patterns for differing times, circumstances, and stressors. Physiological conditions add their overlay to these patterns, as well. Being physically sick, having blood-sugar fluctuations, or experiencing pre-menstrual pressures (or lesser-known vague hormonal cycles in men) all distort the TCDR cycles.
The Concept of Armor
After years of living, we have diminished our capacity to feel to such an extent that we experience anxiety whenever the intensity of our feelings (our energy) starts to rise to a biologically normal level. In defending against this anxiety, we adjust our lives to feel only as much as we can tolerate, which often is just a mere fraction of the potential.
We defend against this anxiety by setting up resistances to the energy flow, and we do this by automatically tightening our muscles in specific patterns. This blocks or reduces the strong feelings to manageable proportions, and is known as muscular armor.
The prototype of this is the startle reaction, where we suck in our breath, hunch our shoulders, and become hyperalert as a reflex against a sudden noise or movement. A more recognizable block would be the "lump in the throat" one feels during a sad movie. Here, the throat muscles (pharyngeal constrictors) go into spasm as if to "choke down" the sadness that wants to come out. When the person cries fully, the tightness disappears.
Reich elaborated seven areas of armoring: the eyes, including the back of the neck; the jaw; the neck and throat; the chest; the diaphragm; the abdomen; and the pelvis. No two people have muscular armor in the exact same places for the same reasons, but there are patterns of armoring that seem to appear with certain traumas and conditions.
For example, people with ocular armoring ("eye blocks") often have headaches behind their eyes or in the back of their necks, and habitually block off visual contact with others. People with chronic jaw tension may grind their teeth (bruxism), and they have sweet smiles masking jaw muscles over-developed from "biting back" anger. The housewife at the beginning of this article had a strong throat block, as did also a man with a history of childhood oral-genital sexual abuse. A muscleman afraid of crying might develop a puffed-up chest, et cetera.
Character armor is an attitude or set of attitudes toward life that usually arises out of the muscular armor. The muscleman described just above might well have a puffed-up, inflated attitude about himself and thus relate to people through this defense, afraid to let his softness and vulnerability show. Contrariwise, a person with neck and chest armor in chronic contracted position may approach the world in a beaten-down, milquetoast way, protecting himself from experiencing his own rage.
Obvious cases like these, of course, are easy to identify. Usually, however, the muscular and character armoring patterns are subtle, and they can, and do, shift around during the course of therapy.
When we originally armor ourselves, we do so in idiosyncratic patterns that relate to our past histories. But the common factor is that everyone's TCDR cycle is distorted, and the result is usually a feeling of intense internal pressure, and perhaps even pain, accompanied by many of the standard psychological symptoms. Some people don't experience specific symptoms, but instead have a global feeling of being dissatisfied, or of having angst. And others have tightened up so much they cannot even feel; they have deadened themselves to their own distress.
The Process of Expansion
The Reichian Therapist usually starts body work by focusing on the eyes and respiration. The eyes (as an extension of the brain) help us to sustain contact with the world and ourselves. Almost everyone has some blocking in the eyes, and it is important that the eyes be reasonably unarmored for therapy to proceed. It is also important to dissolve blocks in respiration as breathing is essential in building and sustaining an energy level that will "push" emotions to the surface.
Reichian Therapy or Orgone Therapy, works from the head down toward the pelvis, leaving the latter for last. At the same time character analytic work is proceeding, peeling back layers of character attitudes that hide emotion, the layers of body armor are dissolved as well. The combined work results in spontaneous emotional release and provides the therapist with a deeper understanding of the character of the patient, yielding insight on "where to go" to deepen the therapy.
Reichian Therapy supports individuals, couples, and groups to experiment with their character and body structure in bold and profound ways that insist on change. Couples struggle as their character stances collide. Productive communication can become paralyzed. Reichian Therapy alters this stasis and teaches effective communication strategies so that the couple can maintain harmony and support the autonomy of the individuals. Group therapy is a process where participants can reveal their habitual, dysfunctional relationship patterns and learn different ways of being/behaving through the confrontation and support of other group members. Group is a very effective, fast, catalytic tool for change.
About Wilhelm Reich
Wilhelm Reich was born at the end of the 19th century in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His early life on a farm was filled with sexual openness and experimentation that would influence much of his later work. Reich fought in World War I, and then went to school in Vienna, studying Freud, and becoming a part of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association by the time he was 23. At 25 he set up his own private practice, and by his mid-30s he had developed a great deal of theories which would later underpin Reichian therapy.
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