This section is from the book "Melting Armour: Some Notes On Self-Help Reichian Therapy", by William West. Also available from Amazon: Melting Armour: Some Notes On Self-Help Reichian Therapy.
The bare facts of Reich's own life indicates the wider implications of his therapy. For example his involvement with Marxism in the late 1920s and his establishment of SexPol with its clear demands for sex reform. In the 1930s he managed to get expelled from both the German Communist Party and from the International Psychoanalytic Association. A vicious newspaper campaign against him in Norway led to his settling in the USA. Here his work became subject to systematic harassment—ironically he was now no longer active politically—resulting in his imprisonment and death in prison in 1957. It is notable that the US authorities copied Nazi Germany in both banning and burning his books!
Reich and his therapy never stop with just the individual and his/her problems (though some Reichian influenced therapists do). Reich was always led to ask basic and searching questions like: - why is neurosis occurring on a mass scale? why do movements for change end up with reactionary, conservative leadership? what is the point of individual therapy when neurosis needs a society-wide solution? and so on.
These sorts of questions and Reich's answers to them crop up time and again in all his books, mixed in with his case studies, theories, etc. - he doesn't make artificial separations.
This is the unity of the orgone energy theory, the 'single red thread' that Reich said, ran through his work -'the theme of bio-energetic excitability and mobility of living substance.
It is all about how people use or misuse their energy.
It's one thing getting therapy and its then a whole other thing going out into the world, trying to form healthy life and sex positive relationships, and doing life positive work, avoiding and combatting bad energy sources—TVs, strip lighting, and above all nuclear power. To me Reichian therapy makes clear the link between the personal and political, and thereby its probably the most radical of all the therapies around. Though this is not to say it has no faults. There's a regrettably high amount of sexism among male Reichians and too many Reichian therapists follow Reich's lead in taking a negative view of homosexuality, and in so doing the creative and exciting links that could be made between Reichian ideas and feminism remain mostly unmade. (See my article 'Politics, Reich and Feminism' -see reading list.)
The ultimate aim of Reichian therapy is to bring about a state of genitality in the person receiving therapy. This concept produces a lot of confusion (not least the word itself) and discussion, but it is the direction Reichian therapy takes us towards. It is important to have some grasp of it, for there are particular conflicts that will be thrown up and viewed in a particular way in Reichian work. One point worth making is that a genital character does have armour or rather can armour where necessary, but this armouring is under the conscious control of the Ego and not unconscious as in neurotic characters.
"The genital character's ego also has an armour, but it is in control of the armour, not at its mercy. The armour is flexible enough to adapt itself to the most diverse experiences. The genital character can be joyous but angry when necessary.....
The flexibility and strength of his/ her armour are shown by the fact that in one case, s/he can open her/him-self to the world, just as intensely as, in another case, s/he can close her/himself to it. Her/his ability to give her/himself is mainly demonstrated in her/his sexual experience: in the sexual act with the loved object, the ego almost ceases to exist, with the exception of the function of perception. For the moment, the armour has been almost completely dissolved." - Reich, Character Analysis
I recommend a read of the chapter in "Character Analysis" entitled 'The Genital Character and the Neurotic Character'. Genital characters self-regulate themselves in relation to the world, and naturally seek cooperative, pleasurable, loving, working and living situations—a tall order in our present society but..............
Sexuality and Reich's view of it produces a lot of reactions and material (!) in people. Indeed we are touching on a basic drive, the energy of neurosis, the energy of the cosmos-orgone - according to Reich.
Reich was opposed to both a joyless compulsive moralistic fidelity to one's partner at all costs, and he equally opposed joyless permissiveness. In the "Function of the Orgasm" he suggests we look at the consequences of our actions and thereby reach a functional and individual decision based on sensitivity to our needs and to others (self-regulation), when considering a sexual relationship with someone.
I talk of an 'urge to merge', that is we want to lose ourselves in sexual union with another. This impulse is in itself amoral, but then we have our thoughts and feelings about this merger which colour and give tone to it. It seems that orgasmic relationships bring up a deeper level of feeling, that orgasm is itself a bonding process, whether we recognise this or not.
Reich thought gay relationships were necessarily neurotic. I am dubious of this having met some very healthy and joyous gay women and men. Regrettably this position is still adopted by many Reichians, including Baker who won't train any gay people. Reich also maintained that intercourse was energetically superior to other forms of lovemaking. Again I am dubious of this. It leads us into the whole realm of what unarmoured men and women would be like. Perhaps we could again adopt a functional attitude—'this way of loving satisfies me most at present.'
Reich has often been hailed by exponents of 'permissiveness' as their hero but this is misplaced as George Frankl shows in his excellent Reichian book 'The Failure of the Sexual Revolution'. He clearly shows how much of permissiveness is about secondary sexuality, with sadistic, brutal, dehumanising sexual expression.
To get a clearer view of Reich's ideas on Sexuality read 'Function of the Orgasm' and 'The Sexual Revolution'. I have written some notes on Sexuality, which are in my pamphlet 'Loving Contact', (see reading list).
Reichian therapy certainly produces changes in people's sexuality.
Generally it tends to make people more sexual, more eroticised, not always comfortable in our still largely sex negative world. This is in contrast to some therapies, e.g. Primal Therapy—Janov style—in which he recognises/ produces a reduction in sex drive. See Charles Kelley's 'Education in Feeling and Purpose' for a discussion of this issue. This increase in sexual expression in Reichian work comes about whether one consciously focusses on sexual issues or not.
(added into the second edition)
It is now 4 years since the first edition of 'Melting Armour' was produced and I have avoided totally changing the text to fit in with the changes in how I work as a therapist. This is because I am still assimilating these recent experiences and because there is still a need for a basic Reichian text like 'Melting Armour.'
For the past year I have been combining my Reichian practice with work as a Spiritual Healer. In fact this is not as surprising a development as it might first seem, particularly when you consider the cosmic aspect of Reich's orgone theory.
Indeed Reich's description of the genital character in orgasm compares in many ways with the healer in healing(!) viz loss of ego, openness to the cosmos and to the flow of energy in oneself and the cosmos. Healers have to channel cosmic energies into their clients, have to get their egos out of the way, have to be sensitive to the energy flow in themselves and in their clients.
It is now becoming clear that Reichian therapy or at least the PRTA/ Energy Stream version of it can act to open people up to their innate psychic abilities. This may reflect the times we are in, as more and more people seem to be growing in this spiritual dimension. Few Reichian writers apart from Israel Regardie, and a recent article by David Boadella in Energy and Character, seem to recognise this link, but as therapists we need to take this into account. Another example is John Pierrakos (who developed Bioenergetics with Alexander Lowen), who moved over into the healing side of things. It is worth recalling that Freud said that telepathic abilities in children largely disappear at the time of the Oedipal Conflict. Now when we return in therapy, as we do, time and again to this period, is it not likely that a more creative resolution of this conflict would liberate innate psychic abilities?
To me Orgone Energy and the energy I use in healing are similar if not identical energies. Healing clients report similar reactions to healing as do the users of orgone accumulators, viz tingling and other energy sensations, sensations of heat, relaxation with slower breathing, flushing of the skin, etc.
However, unlike Reichian therapy, healing does not focus mainly on emotions and sexuality. It is more concerned with the subtle energy bodies (auras) of the client and with the balance, level of activity, and harmony of the energy centres (chakras) in these auras. (Curiously Reich's segments more or less correspond with the main chakras.) The result is a more gentle way of working with life energy with little discharge.
I have this notion that Reichian Therapy, although it involves Bodywork or rather Mindbodywork, actually is working on the subtle energy bodies, and that the physical spots we massage are only for convenience, places where the energy body which interpenetrates the physical, is accessible. This could explain why the pathway for energy flow for Reichian therapy (and Acupuncture which uses many similar spots) is a mystery, because it is not in the physical body, but actually in the subtle bodies. It is clear that life energy is the key to Reichian work, and once we work with it it opens us up to form natural links with Alternative medicine and healing, since most Alternative medicine approaches are based on a life energy theory.
It is Reich's (re)discovery of life energy which makes his therapy so revolutionary and so cosmic in its totality, for through this energy we are truly one with all things, are affected by the All. We have this energy and through it this link with the All. If we use this energy we are healthy. If we misuse or block it, we become ill. It's as simple as that. Freud pointed the way to our unconscious, that infinite region inside us. We have the whole cosmos there inside us. That's why we are psychic. We know it all, we have the ALL inside us. Our physical bodies are the container for this infinity, this microcosmos, this mirror, this part of the macrocosmos.