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Freud and Reich: Continuation or Commotion?

By Helder Vera. UDLA, 2002[1]

An Austriac psychoanalyst called Wilhelm Reich was considered in the 70´s as a revolutionary man by corporal therapists because the youth that made students movements wanted to fight for the sexual freedom and peace. Some of them used “Che” Guevara too as a standard of that revolution around the world.

In these last twenty years the panorama of the psychotherapies, dominated to date by the Freudian psychoanalysis and the verbal therapies more or less pretended, has become rich of new contributions. The 70´s were marked by the introduction of the body in the psychotherapeutic scene and, with it, the appearance of a variety of new therapies, now grouped under the name of “new therapies «.

With them a name returned to the public light: the one of Wilhelm Reich. Reich, the dissident of the psychoanalysis, was rejected by the political as much as the analytical institutions to whom he had given so much. However, he continued his commitment and made several investigations rich in promises for individual and for humanity. Adored or detested, Reich has become an irrefutable figure when we try to speak still more about active analytical methods and when we speak of the importance of the body in the analysis. Throughout those decades in which he experimented with dissolving the character formation, the armoring of the organism, the bioelectric reactions of the body to pleasure and anguish, the reflection of orgasm or the biophysics of the Orgon, people are hungry for the answer to his questions.

Consequently people are exploring his theories more than ever and discovering that practicing Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Therapy will overcome any repressed feelings and allow the pleasure of sexuality.

An overview about the life of Wilhelm Reich during his early years, focuses mainly for his clinic approaches. He was born on March 24, 1897 in Dobryzcynica, Austria, a small place in the eastern part Galicia. At the end of the First World War, he entered the University of Vienna to study law, but in short time shifted to the study of Medicine. Starting in 1920, he received contact to the psychoanalysis. In the same year, he got to know Sigmund Freud. Reich graduated from Medical school in July 1922 with distinction of excellent in all the pre-medical subjects. He also began postgraduate work in Neuro-Psychiatry at Neurological and Psychiatric University Clinic. Reich began his own private practice in psychoanalytic and psychiatric medicine and soon got the attention of Freud getting his real appreciation. “He was the First Clinical assistant to Freud’s Psychoanalytic Polyclinic in Vienna from its beginning in 1922-1928” says Dr. Ogg, Jamerling a writer for the Public Orgonomic Research Exchange(n.p.).

Through these years Reich was Director of the Seminar for Psychoanalytic Therapy at Psychoanalytic Polyclinic in Vienna from 1924 to 1930. He was a member of the faculty of Psychoanalytic Institute in Vienna from 1920 to 1934.

The stage focus on the clinic investigations was, when Reich started to see the body expressions, when talk for free association was not enough, so he decided to have intervention through the body of his patients to get to the roots of his neuroses of character, looking for the specific energetic blocks on it. I think that this way was the most important for Reich to start to connect the body-mind and the social context. This scientific work spans the period from the 1920’s through the 1950’s. Reich reveals, “I spend most of my life scientifically researching the basic truth that underlies the character make up of man and how it relates to my environment” (qtd. in Kelley n.p.). It may take years for the knowledge discovered by him to be accepted as it was for Galileo to have the world understand that everything did not revolve around the Earth in space.

“Orgonomy is the scientific study of the orgone (life energy) energy in living organisms, the earth, and the atmosphere as well as outer space” as defined by Dr. Charles Kelley (n.p.). Orgone energy is best described as a pre-atomic (mass-free) energy. Its natural flow is vital to a healthy individual as well as life on earth.

Throughout the ages human beings have been searching the world to describe exactly what is the “thing” that makes the being move on and be a survivor in his environment. Author Dr. Nick Totton found that Reich named it “Orgone”, which he made up (6).

The publications that Wilhelm Reich wrote are The Function of the Orgasm in 1927 and Character Analysis in 1933. Vegetative-therapy (Reichian therapy) was developed and created by Dr. Reich in the 1920’s to 1930’s and it is used in part by many of the current therapies practiced today such as gestalt therapy, bioenergetics,  and primal scream therapy to name a few. His study of neurosis was applied to the masses in his work The Mass Psychology of Fascism in 1933, People in Trouble in 1936 and also in his books titled The Invasion of Compulsory Sex in Morality” in 1931, «The Sexual Revolution” in 1935, The Murder of Christ in 1951 and Listen Little Man in 1948. His work continued in the area of The Bion Experiments in creation of life from inorganic matter. His work continued with further studies into orgone energy (also known as chi, prâna, and other eastern names). Reich performed several scientific experiments to prove the presence of orgone energy in The Cancer Biopathy in 1948, as well as the book Ether, God and Devil / Cosmic Superimposition in 1951. He created instruments to accumulate orgone energy (orgone accumulators which speeded up natural healing of the body). He experimented with the reaction of orgone energy with nuclear radiation in the book The Oranur Experiment in 1951 which demonstrated the significant health dangers of low level radiation. He also created instruments that could return self-regulation to weather (the cloud buster) writhing Contact with Space in 1957. He did research on the source of ufo’s energy, and discovered a motor force from orgone energy. However shouldn’t be forgotten most for his work for children.

The concept of “armoring”, are seven segments development by Reich, and thus function as blocks in the whole of our body. Reich shows us how almost all the time we have no idea about what are the reasons why a person can’t  not be self–assured, when each one of us would prefer to hide our real feelings (which are repressed by ourselves). The repression is like a self-armoring to defend us against all those things that make us feel very bad. The armor helps people to center their awareness shift downwards, into the “heartlands” of the body, says Totton (16). The seven segments include the following: ocular, oral, neck, thorax, diaphragm, abdomen and pelvic.

The ocular segment indicates repression of contact with the world through eyes, ears and thinking which covers up a deeper necessity. The oral segment, just as all emotions, needs to be expressed through the mouth. The mouth and jaw are clearly a key part of the vocalizing process: when they are armored they form a “lid” to the expressive channel, closing the voice off entirely. The neck segment may notice that when we are tired and tense these muscles become painful; many headaches originate here and slowly work their way up into our heads as we try to force ourselves to feel all right by stiffening the posture of our head and neck. Therefore, here can be the central cause of tension and contraction patterns throughout the body. The thoracic segment here includes the chest, shoulders and upper back, arms and hands, and between them make up the heart segment which must be open for us to express “big” feelings, strong, expansive emotions, coming out in full resonant voice and powerful gestures. The diaphragm segment is a big, dome-shaped muscle that runs right through the body at waist level, separating our upper and lower halves (with holes for the esophagus, veins and arteries, etc.). Above it are the heart and lungs; below, the stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, kidneys, and so on, which first tightens and freezes in unhappy babies, interrupting the spontaneous natural flow of breath. Thus this segment stores the intolerable primal terror which first made us cut off from our own energy; the sensation which, in a much diluted form, is familiar to most of us as “butterflies in the tummy”. The abdominal segment in the belly is a storehouse of unexpressed, unacknowledged feelings, images, ideas, desires and intentions. The very word “belly” is unspeakable to some people! Here are the “gut feelings”, the instinctive self, and the more we are armored higher up the body, the more these feelings are repressed. And finally the pelvic segment is an exceedingly important one. From the pelvis comes a whole other fundamental mode of relating to the world: our sexuality, which expresses itself in ways that cannot be readily turned into words. As Reich says, “it is not really possible to attach a rational label to the expressive movements of the pelvis. Sexuality expresses itself rather than anything else, and its involuntary, mysterious quality is very frightening to the ‘spastic I’”. (qtd. in Totton 31).

Reich has been incredibly misunderstood and maligned, and almost everything he has written has been misinterpreted. Particularly this is true of his sexual theories. The usual distortion is that he advocated “free” sexual expression –obey that impulse– amounting to a wild and frantic promiscuity ever seeking a mystical, ecstatic orgasm that is supposed to cure all neuroses and even physical illnesses. This could, presumably, be accomplished by sufficient practice and knowledge, and it would free everyone of his inhibitions and repressions. In order to achieve this end and, incidentally, to satisfy their own counter transference needs.

What are some of the differences between Freud and Reich? Freud believed that culture and instinct were antithetical and that the baby was born with both libidinal and destructive drives. He believed, thus, that the destructive drive legitimately required repression for an orderly society and that, in the last analysis, society was correct in imposing such restrictions – otherwise, there would be chaos. Reich believed that the baby was born without destructive drives and with only the primary -libidinal (love) drive, and that he was capable of regulating himself if allowed to function naturally. He believed that the destructive drives were a result of the repression of the libido, which then built up tension and pressure that could express themselves only forcefully and brutally. In this view, society is wrong in restricting the natural drives of the child, for it thus forces on him irrational and neurotic behavior.

To Freud, psychic energy –or the libido– was simply a working hypothesis. Reich believed it was a real energy that required adequate discharge in order for a person to avoid the buildup of tension. He, eventually, was able to demonstrate this energy experimentally. If repression occurred, this energy was held back in muscular contraction (the armor).

The recognition of orgastic potency was a crucial finding. Such potency signifies ability to discharge all the excess energy and thus maintain a stabilized energy level in the organism. This process of energy metabolism takes place in a four-beat rhythm of tension, charge, discharge, and relaxation, which Reich called in, “the orgasm formula” (213).

Drawing on many years of his clinical experience and the study of social attitudes, Reich briefly stated his theory, which he called sex economy, as follows:

Psychic health depends on orgastic potency, that is, on the capacity of enjoy the own sexuality and arousal in the natural sexual act. Its basis is the un-neurotic character attitude of capacity for love. Mental illness is a result of a disturbance in the natural capacity for love. In the case of orgastic impotence, from which a vast majority of humans are suffering, biological energy is dammed up, thus becoming the source of all kinds of irrational behavior. The cure of psychic disturbances requires recovering the natural capacity for love. It depends as much upon social as upon psychic conditions. This theory development by Reich, impulse it him to create Sex-pol movement, which was an interconnection between sexuality and politic, to capture the interests of masses, to help them with their sexual problems, and to render the sexual needs of normal love life relevant political issues within the framework of the larger revolutionary movement. Questions of sexual life and child upbringing aroused burning interest among the public, writes Sharaf, the author of Fury on Earth, a Biography of Wilhelm Reich (129).

The vital energies, under natural conditions, regulate themselves spontaneously, without compulsive duty or compulsive morality. The latter are a sure indication of the existence of antisocial tendencies. Antisocial behavior springs from secondary drives which owe their existence to the suppression of natural sexuality writes Dr. Guasch a theorist (47). Reich believed that we needed to develop a whole new concept of sexuality. He viewed the body as an energy system in a constant state of expansion and contraction or pulsation (seen most easily, in the pulse and respiration). In health, energy flows freely through the body. This energy is built up in the organism by the intake of food, fluid, and air. It is also absorbed directly through the skin. It is discharged by activity, excretion, emotional expression, the process of thinking, and by conversion into body heat, which radiates to the environment. Also it is used up in growth. In the usual course of events, more energy is built up than is discharged. If this were to continue, the organism would either have to grow continually or burst. To maintain a stable, economic energy level, excess energy must be discharged at more or less regular intervals. This economic discharging of energy is the function of the orgasm.

After Reich died in 1957, he still was a man unknown into the psychology, even in the psychoanalysis world. There exist a lot of hypothesizes about what caused the disruption between Freud and Reich, but I think that it happened because of political reactions. The Brazilian Dr. Wagner describes in his book, Feud-Reich: continuidade ou ruptura?, some psychoanalysts students say that Reich was not a psychoanalyst because he was a mad man and he broke the rules of psychoanalysis to give attention to the body to express all those blocked emotions (23). Maybe the orthodox psychoanalysis thought that about Reich, but what about the feelings of the persons who have been resolving their personal problems that know that just to talk about their problems is not enough to solve their own conflicts. I do not disagree with Psychoanalytic theory; I think that it is a complement to find a better function of ourselves and that is the only reason for all kinds of therapies.

Wilhelm Reich was the inspiration for many people in the psychology world. Obviously some of his colleagues developed some aspects that Reich can’t explain very well, such as Freud could not develop all the aspects about his theories in psychoanalysis. Example psychoanalyst Karen Horney developed her own theory about Self- Analysis, other psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung developed some mystique aspects on psychology forgotten by Freud, and Wilhelm Reich developed deeply the sexual theories that Freud gave to psychology.

Reich was the main inspiration for one of his followers Dr. Alexander Lowen who created “Bioenergetics Therapy” and had a relation with Reich as a teacher-student from 1940 till 1952 reveals Lowen (13). I believe that this relation was important to more psychotherapists not only to make a therapy on the body, I think that was the impulse to give more attention to what our body says, and how it expresses our repressed feelings.

The Character Structure has the same function on the body attitude as a cue to understand the problems of the personality and dysfunctions, says Dr. Alexander Lowen in his book Love and Orgasm (23). Central to character analysis was the concept of “character resistance» (later re-named “character defense»).  The “character” the sum-total of all the quirky things a person did which made him or her “special” or “unique”, was no longer viewed as beneficial to the patient in therapy. Instead, a patient’s character was seen as his or her primary “defense mechanism” against the kinds of deeply personal changes that the therapist was trying to induce.

Works Cited

  1. Guasch, Gérard. Wilhelm Reich, Énergie Vitale et Psychothérapie. Paris: Retz, 1998.
  2. Kelley, Charles R.  “What Is Orgone Energy?” July 1999.
  3. <>(5 Sept 2002).
  4. Lowen, Alexander. Bioenergetics. New York: Penguin, 1976.
  5. —. ­Love and Orgasm. New York: Collier, 1975.
  6. Ogg, “Orgone Therapy”,  PORE,April 1999. <> (5 Sept 2002).
  7. Reich, Wilhelm. La función del Orgasmo. México: Paidós, 1997.
  8. Sharaf, Myron. Fury On Earth. New York: Martin’s Press/Marek, 1983.
  9. Toton, Nick and Em Edmonson. Reichian Growth Work. New York: Prism Press, 1988.
  10. Wagner, Cláudio. Freud e Reich: continuidade ou rupture?. Brasil: Summus Editorial, 1996.

[1]Clinic Psychologue, Psychotherapist Reichian analyst. Biofunctionel and psychosomatic.

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