The corporal psychotherapies of Reich, Lowen and Gendlin
Body psychotherapy is a type of psychological intervention that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century and called for the importance of physical functioning in the emergence of neurosis and other disorders, as well as in global well-being.
In this article we will describe what this therapy consists of and what aspects unite and separate three of the main theorists of body psychotherapy : Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen and Eugene Gendlin.
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What is body psychotherapy?
The term "body psychotherapy" is used to refer to a set of interventions focused on the body . These types of treatments became popular in the 1960s and 1970s; later, they would be considered alternative and disreputable methods, although the interest in body therapy has grown again in the new century.
Unlike behaviorism, psychoanalysis and humanism, which dominated the field of psychotherapy at the time, body therapies do not focus on observable behavior or mental contents, but on the sensations experienced at the physical level . The organism itself is understood as the central aspect of human identity.
Within this framework, it is considered that bodily and psychological disorders, in particular neuroses, are a consequence of the accumulation of tension in different areas of the body, as well as the disconnection between mental life and organismic experience. However, the specific hypotheses vary according to the school to which we refer.
There are several branches in body psychotherapy; most of them of the theoretical models and the methods developed by concrete authors, some of which were highly charismatic and exerted an almost messianic influence on their followers. Three of the most influential therapists in body therapy They were Reich, Lowen and Gendlin.
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Wilhelm Reich: Character-analytic vegetoterapia
Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was trained as a psychoanalyst, although he ended up being expelled from this movement. It was a peculiar figure that attributed the neurosis to sexual repression and to socioeconomic inequalities, and a fervent advocate of the integration of Freudianism and Marxism and the sexual revolution. Many believed that he was mentally unstable.
Reich defended the existence of a "muscular memory" consisting of the physical record of childhood conflicts and traumas; these situations would generate defenses organized into seven rings of bodily tensions , associated with the chakras. He called the configuration of these defenses "caracteriológica structure", and his study "caracteroanalítica vegetoterapia".
The accumulation of tension is due, according to this author, to the repression of emotions in difficult situations in order to avoid the anxiety associated with their free expression. Reich's psychotherapy focused on the analysis of the interaction between muscular tension, bodily sensations, psychic traumas and character.
Reich postulated the existence of a biological-sexual energy called orgone to which he attributed physical and mental life, as well as atmospheric phenomena; in fact, this energy would be due to light radiated by the sun. The word "orgone" is derived from "organism" and "orgasm".
Since Reich related neurosis to sexual dissatisfaction, he also developed orgasm therapy. Through this intervention he intended to help the patient release accumulated sexual energy , which would decrease the accumulation of tension and allow the free circulation of orgone through the body.
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Alexander Lowen: Bioenergetic analysis
The bioenergetic analysis of Alexander Lowen (1910-2008) was influenced to a large extent by the work of Reich . Both authors shared hypotheses about the sexual origin of neurosis and about body experience as the core of human experience, although Lowen departed from the postulates of his teacher when he began to focus on orgone.
For Lowen, the human body constitutes an open system of energy organized according to two poles: the head and the genitals . Under normal conditions the energy flows freely and in a balanced way from one pole to another, but the accumulation of tension in different parts of the body can hinder this flow, generating characteristic alterations.
This author described five pathological personality types based on the main stress and blocking points, as well as the physical and psychological characteristics. His bioenergetic therapy, consisting of specific exercises for each character disorder, had the objective of restoring the balance between body and mind by releasing energy.
The five bioenergetic characters that Lowen described They are the following:
- Schizoid : people who have grown up in cold and hostile environments, whose thoughts are dissociated from emotional life and body experience.
- Oral : it is an egocentric and dependent or excessively independent personality, derived from the non-satisfaction of the infantile needs of affection.
- Masochistic : the excessive pressure of adults can hinder the search for pleasure, generating hostile and negative personalities with repressed aggressiveness.
- Psychopathic : these people deny their feelings and fear that others will take advantage of them, so they try to control and seduce others.
- Rigid : the rigid character is characterized by obstinacy, ambition, aggressiveness, interpersonal distancing, compulsive sexuality and denial of pleasure
Eugene Gendlin: Focusing
In addition to training as a psychotherapist under the tutelage of Carl Rogers, Eugene T. Gendlin (1926-2017) was a philosopher influenced by existentialism and phenomenology. Gendlin's focus of interest was creation of meanings and symbols from the body experience .
Gendlin called "experiencing" the ability of people to experience physical sensations. Through "experiencing" we can anchor ourselves to our body, while the symbolization of experience allows us to express it emotionally healthy.
Developing its main therapeutic tool, Focusing , with the aim of helping their patients connect with their physical sensations and with their life experiences. After processing them properly, the person would also be able to symbolize them correctly and attribute meaning to them.
According to Gendlin the Focusing, or "inner crucial act", consists of the following six steps:
- Clear a space: it consists fundamentally in relaxing physically and mentally, distancing yourself from worries.
- Select a problem: decide which personal concern will be worked on, feeling the associated emotions but not getting lost in them.
- Find a felt sensation : feel fully the global emotion that produces the selected problem.
- Find a handle: identify a symbol (a word, a phrase, an image ...) that accurately represents the problem.
- Resonate the handle: examine the relationship between the handle and the sensed sensation; if it's not perfect, find another handle.
- Ask questions: reflect on the felt sensation and wait for answers that are accompanied by changes in emotions.