Verbal Work

Verbal work is very important especially at the start of a session to establish the relationship, as a less intense form of intervention than massage, and also to focus on mental attitudes as they give themselves away in words and expression in the body. Its another way of maintaining contact with your client during a session, and it can be very useful to maintain a therapeutic dialogue with your client during a session (unless this blocks feelings) e.g. 'What are you carrying on these shoulders?' 'Are you angry with someone then?'

'What was that expression?' 'Can you feel that softness around your eyes?', etc. Verbal work also comes into its own when massage is blocked, e.g. when a spot is too painful to be worked on.

One technique I learnt from John Southgate which is useful at this point is to ask your client for a body image of the spot you were working on. Get them to describe the image in full -ie colour, shape, texture, etc., and ask them for any associations and share yours, drawing out what the image means to them. By so doing things will often start to move again. One client of mine had a fantasy of a breast in their mouth when I did deep jaw work on them. I got them to describe and then talk to this breast, and a whole new area of work emerged around not being satisfied and around wanting dependency and rejecting it, all relating to this primal breast. Consequent to this early feeding disturbance my client had a permanent sour expression on their face

Two further ideas introduced to me by John Southgate. One, listening for and commenting on movement of the peristalsis—those gurgling sounds in the stomach which are a give away, especially when your client is pretending to be calm—'the peristalsis does not lie'. This technique—Psycho-peristalsis—was pioneered by Gerde Boyessen of the Boyessen Centre for

Biodynamic Psychology. A second technique used by John is to ask your client for a dream that relates to the point you are working on. You ask for the first dream that comes to them, even if the connection is not clear. Then work on the dream with them as much as the body images, and interesting results will often flow. (It helps to find out what the symbols mean to them rather than making obvious Freudian or Jungian connections. It also helps to ask them how the dream felt.)


The way people hold their whole body and each segment or section of a segment will literally give away clues as to how they handle their world. Their size and shape come into it as well. Are they extra thin due to burning up a lot of nervous energy in anxiety, or are they over-fat due to overeating as a comfort, and as a means of holding feelings down, etc. Do they look about to spring out at you, to attack you before you attack them? Or are they cowering? Are their shoulders held up defensively, perhaps to protect a vulnerable neck, or are they pushed forward to avoid looking aggressive, or are they held back against expressing anger? Also -relative size, e.g. over or underdeveloped chest, top half of body more/less developed than the lower—i.e. where is the energy located?

Things to look for are—you feeling that there is something not right about that part of their body, and then to ask yourself and them what it is saying—"What's in this shoulder?", etc. It sometimes helps to imitate the position and see how it feels. Sometimes it gives you an idea as to the feeling involved.

Some therapists ask their clients to take off their clothes before therapy begins, and they make a reading of the posture and of how a person moves. I prefer to pick things up as I go along, working posture stuff out when I need the information. It is important to remember that we are all armoured and so posture work should not be a source of put down. Humour is a much better therapeutic approach, e.g. "Oh come on, you don't have to hold back like that, do you?" (said in mock horror).

People's everyday language will often give away posture and points of tension, e.g. 'He's a pain in the neck', 'That really put my back up' 'I can't face it' 'He's stiff necked' 'He won't give'—immobilised chest, etc.

Contact with John Southgate has increased my appreciation of the verbal side of Reichian work. I find the unconscious fascinating in what and how it expresses itself.

A note from Reich's Function of the Orgasm indicates how verbal and bodywork approaches can marry.

"(The) Freudian unconscious is actually tangible in the form of vegetative and bodily sensations". (P80 Reich's emphasis)

So we can see ongoing therapy as drawing out, exploring, and resolving the largely unconscious conflicts/ blocks so that one's energy is freed, and one's mind is freed from the dead weight" of past troubles.