The Body Psychotherapies Of Reich, Lowen And Gendlin

Body psychotherapy is a type of psychological intervention that emerged in the second half of the 20th century and claimed 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 them. the main theorists of body psychotherapy: Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen and Eugene Gendlin.

What is body psychotherapy?

The term “body psychotherapy” is used to refer to a set of body-focused interventions. These types of treatments became popular in the 1960s and 1970s; Later they would come to be considered alternative and not very respectable methods, although 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 on a 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, particularly 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 depending on the school we are referring to.

There are various branches in body psychotherapy; most of them from the theoretical models and methods developed by specific authors, some of whom 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: Characteroanalytic Vegetotherapy

Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) trained as a psychoanalyst, although he ended up being expelled from this movement. He was a peculiar figure who attributed the neurosis to sexual repression and socioeconomic inequalities, and a fervent advocate of the integration of Freudianism and Marxism and of the sexual revolution. Many believed he was mentally unstable.

Reich defended the existence of a “muscle memory” consisting of the physical record of childhood conflicts and traumas; These situations would generate defenses organized in seven rings of bodily tensions, associated with the chakras. He called the configuration of these defenses “characteriological structure,” and his study “characteroanalytic vegetotherapy.”

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 the 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 to release pent up sexual energywhich would reduce the buildup of tension and allow the free circulation of orgone through the body.

Alexander Lowen: Bioenergetic Analysis

The bioenergetic analysis of Alexander Lowen (1910-2008) He was greatly influenced by the work of Reich. Both authors shared hypotheses about the sexual origin of neurosis and about bodily experience as the core of human experience, although Lowen departed from the postulates of his teacher when he began to focus on orgone.

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For Lowen, the human body constitutes an open energy system organized according to two poles: the head and the genitals. Under normal conditions, energy flows freely and balanced from one pole to the other, but the accumulation of tension in different parts of the body can hinder this flow, generating character alterations.

This author described five types of pathological personality based on the main points of tension and blockage, as well as physical and psychological characteristics. His bioenergetic therapy, consisting of specific exercises for each character disorder, had the objective of restoring balance between body and mind by releasing energy.

The five bioenergetic characters that Lowen described are the following:

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 bodily 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 the experience allows us to express it in a healthy way on an emotional level.

Development its main therapeutic tool, Focusing, with the aim of helping patients connect with their physical sensations and life experiences. After processing them properly, the person would also be able to symbolize them correctly and attribute meaning to them.

According to Gendlin, Focusing, or “crucial internal act,” consists of the following six steps: