RechercherRecherche AgendaAgenda

Textes & documents


Psychothérapie psychocorporelle

au origines un certain Reich

par Philippe Grauer

Nous vous livrons en anglais — un peu d’exotisme que diable, d’autant que c’est plutôt alerte à lire, ce regard sur le psychocorporel et l’analyse clinique l’accompagnant qui inspirera l’enseignement au Cifpr de l’auteur. Sans aucun doute un de nos étudiants (appel à contribution) nous en donnera bientôt une traduction. Nul doute qu’en attendant cette publication conférera une aura internationale, pour tout dire un « standing », sinon understanding, à notre École, qui la rendra irrésistible. L’humour, la légèreté de ton et le décalé (en français dans le texte) qu’apporte ce véritable cosmopolite, comme on disait au XVIIIème siècle, qu’est Michael Randolph, sont les bienvenus dans nos colonnes (sauf que sur la Toile il n’y a plus de colonnes, comment dire alors : sur nos écrans ? plus de colonnes, pratiquement plus de cosmopolites, tout fout le camp).

Un mot sur la terminologie. Si l’on maintenait thérapie psychocorporelle, plus élégant en français, on n’y perdrait que le terme psycho, apocope usuel au demeurant, qui donne analyse pour psychanalyse, actuellement peut renvoyer à des pratiques n’ayant rien à voir avec les nôtres. Nous voici contraints de procéder avec la psychothérapie comme Bresson avec le vocable cinématographe, bruits de boîtes de conserve de Lancelot (bons à évoquer la cuirasse caractérielle) en moins.

Biography: Michael Randolph M.A. is Secretary General of the French Psychotherapy Union (Syndicat national des praticiens en psychothérapie relationnelle et psychanalyse) as well as editor of its journal ACTUAPSY. He is a vice president and member of the board European Association of Integrative Psychotherapy. Trained at the Denver Psychotherapy Center (1977 – 1979) in Primal Therapy and subsequently in neo-reichian body psychotherapy (Radix) at the Radix Institute in Ojai, California and in Munich, Germany (1981 – 1984), he has a private practice in Toulouse, France and runs both training and experiential workshops in London, Paris and Warsaw.


The problem of psychotherapy’s historic dis-embodiment. Wilhelm Reich and the development of psychotherapy centered round physical as well as psychological resistance. Enrootedness and Expression as two terms which illuminate the core of Body-Psychotherapy. Catharsis and the reichian therapy template tension — charge — discharge — relaxation. Some variants on a potential session plan as a way of grasping some of the particular issues body psychotherapy generates and tries to deal with. Organismic trajectories and the possibility of remoulding well-etched life patterns. Safety, in this context, and surrender (with clinical vignettes). Oceanic feelings and regression. Access to re-formulation. Holding and handling and how these Winicottian terms apply to Body Psychotherapy. Transference in a touching world, comparisons with psycho-dynamic models. Difficulties and traps associated with the notion of reading the body. D.H. Lawrence’s ethical position about the author’s reponsibilities extended to the psychotherapist’s position. The green fuse that drives the flower and the crucible of unexpected process in conclusion.


Michael Randolph

The rather clumsy apposition which gives rise to this title (no one would have thought of talking of head psychotherapy) came about substantially because of a sense that psychotherapy had become dis -embodied. The talking cure developed by Sigmund Freud was opening up a world in which the body was, to all intents and purposes, reduced to a battle-field between conflicting hallucinations. Human existence became by turns a hydraulic carousel with hidden pressure gauges (Freud), a cavern of ardent, obscure tracings of indeterminate origin (Jung), a relational prostheses exchange and mart (Ferenczi), or the form which deep language had to take to propagate itself (Lacan). At each turn, the dis-embodiment became more pronounced. Some therapists might ask what a sigh meant at that moment in a session, few would ask what it felt like.

Wilhelm Reich (the original young man in a hurry, already a trainer of psychoanalysts at 27!) who was obsessed his whole life with what shied at or blocked living experience, had become by 1928 psychoanalysis’ resident expert on resistance. He noticed that a particular young patient of aristocratic descent (an outmoded if tenacious distinction in imperially dismembered post-war Vienna) held his face in a disdainful rictus, emphasising a misplaced and anachronic haughtiness. He saw this, and the accompanying dismissive shoulder lift, as frozen body resistance, shadowing the man’s inability to allow himself into any real contact with the plebeian world, which unfortunately now also included himself. His facial expression and chronic shoulder holding had become his prison, what Reich was soon to call his armour.

This other dimension, the one likely to be overlooked and underseen by those who mainly listened, unveiled, thanks to Reich’s work, the mechanisms by which spontaneous response to life difficulties became, with time, frozen patterns of behaviour, thought, perception and physiological functioning.

Live and Move and Have your Being

One of the ways an un-disembodied psychotherapy might distinguish itself is not so much in the warm, human question which nowadays peppers psychotherapy sessions, How do you feel? » (when you say that.., when I talk to you.., when you think of..,) than, closer to the body psyc}hotherapy point, « How does the feeling feel? ». In other words, can you get deeper inside your subjective experience of yourself, as you breathe, as you move, summed up in the beautiful Jacobean biblical phrase, as you live and move and have your being?

Over the decades since the 1920’s the tree of body psychotherapy approaches has ramified, some methods talk of working with energetic processes, some focus on emotional discharge or outburst, others again interpret what is going on in terms of very early childhood even foetal experiences. Some would emphasise intra-organismic freeing from deep patterns of blocks, of armouring, others might be more structured around the stammer-step of lost and found contact in the therapeutic exchange, a strobe-like dance which progressively nurtures and heals the inner waif. Some approaches have fairly clear interventionist protocols, others are disarmingly sometimes dismayingly open-ended to the extent that a therapeutic warp and weft becomes all but impossible to discern.

What probably links almost all body-psychotherapy approaches can be resumed in two terms: enrootedness and expression. Whether based on the hysterical manifestations that first put Freud on the track of the latent (1897) or on the encounter with terrifying existential and narcissistic dead-ends, the problem of being anything from uprooted to rootless has traditionally been seen to have huge psychological and social significance. One of the underlying postulates of body psychotherapy is that your body is the root of your experience, as it is the filter through which that experience is apprehended. Feeling rooted in your own movements and awareness permits much which was twisted or stunted to straighten and grow. Lack of anywhere to feel rooted necessarily sunders the living from its matrix and drains it of sense or alignment. One might reasonably propose that enrootedness starts in the face, eyes, smell and warmth of the caretaker. As the individual becomes her own taker-care-of, the root into her own bodily experience is part of what allows her to create her own holding environment. An enhanced sensitivity to this link creates a mood of inner attunement, which fairly naturally extends to include a more rounded ability to attune to others, the root of social existence.

Expression, the other key term, is often understood to have a cathartic ring in the body-psychotherapy context. From the Primal Scream and other therapeutic meteors of the late nineteen sixties and seventies, often carriers of heavy unacknowledged debts to Reich and his disciple Alexander Lowen, the public has tended to associate intense emotional expression or discharge, to use Reich’s term, with what they think of as body-psychotherapy (Oh that’s the therapy where you scream and cry and throw tantrums!).

Let’s go back to the sigh: Alan sits at the centre of a group of five others, half-recumbent, his back propped up with cushions, wanting and not wanting to talk of his elder brother who died last month. He has a psychologically-aware way of talking about himself which irritates him and pushes him into ironic asides about being a novice griever. Every so often he stops, turns away from us a little and sighs. I take some cushions out from under his back so he’s lying a bit flatter. He can feel his chest move more now, and his hand creeps up there. He can look at the ceiling more easily too and leave us out of his picture. It’s not enough, however, and he has to cover his eyes with his other forearm. You can tell he can hear his own sighs now and is perhaps torn by fear of theatricality on one hand and the pathos of the sound of his own sadness. I gently put a hand on his shoulder and it seems to tilt the balance in favour of letting the sighs turn into sobs and the sobs into deep crying. After a couple of minutes, he sits up more and talks animatedly, vehemently at times, tenderly at others, sometimes to us, sometimes just to and with himself in the presence, as it acutely feels to us, of the boy, the teenager and the man his brother was, quite clearly holding him in his welcome as a way of bidding him farewell.

Yes, obviously, deep emotions can be intensely cathartic, or purgative of emotional stasis and its toxicity as the Ancient Greeks saw it. The question of whether emotional expression or emotional discharge as such is a liberating process, is a much more fraught issue. Reich developed a theoretical framework which he believed explained the underlying deep functioning of the life process in the organism. He called the therapeutic slope of this theory vegeto-therapy as a way of emphasising its depth and its aptitude for being generalised to all living processes. If this sounds quaint to modern ears used to fairly thick demarcation lines between the psychological and the biological it’s worth remembering that at the turn of the century and up to the beginnings of Watson’s behaviourist hegemony (from about 1928 on), at least in the States, the holy grail remained the search for all-encompassing bio-physical theories. Reich, for one, was determined not to disappoint an eagerly waiting world! His expressive template became tension — charge — discharge — relaxation. This was supposed to be the pattern by which all living structures from the amoeba upward recovered life alignment or the vitality which, progressively, insults to bio-physical integrity had robbed them of. The dichotomy stasis/chronicity as opposed to life-flow was thereby set up and remained the lynchpin of all his, often surprising and dramatic theoretical postulates until his death in 1957.

The question remains unanswered, however, about the pertinence of deep emotional expression as discharge. Do emotions have to be about something to have therapeutic relevance and effectiveness? Perhaps it makes more sense to turn this around and to advance the idea that all shibboleths or received truths in this area, either refusing the value of emotions qua emotions, or positing the inevitably liberating effects of all emotional expression, are likely both to fall into reductionist traps and to render intuitive, common sense responses unavailable to the therapist just when she’s most likely to need them.

A session plan

Let’s take the word plan in its original sense of a laying out flat, a naming of points, to render something of what the course of a body-psychotherapy session might include and might perhaps demonstrate. Plan over the centuries has developed an anticipatory and predictive connotation which is not inherent in the following development. As framework, I will take a group session or workshop where the participants are, in the main, unknown to me. We will explore later the potential difficulties associated with ongoing individual work in the Body Psychotherapy framework.

In the beginning is the contact, which is probably given more emphasis than in most psychotherapy modalities. It is under no circumstances a preliminary, a waiting for the real stuff to emerge. Content and form are indivisible, the what and the how are permanently interwoven. In this, Body-psychotherapy practice in many ways predates modern psycho-dynamic sensitivities where the position taken by the therapist and how that evolves over a session or indeed over the course of an entire therapy, is perceived as an intrinsic part of a process where the knowing is no longer the panoply of the therapist alone, the inner questioning no longer the monopoly of the other.

In this beginning phase, the client is quite often, in my style of work, standing opposite me. He may cast around inside himself to evaluate how he’s feeling. I may encourage this casting around, allowing its blending into a loosening up or pre-mobilisation of the body with a certain amount of shaking out and general movement. Some of this serves also to allow more focus on us whilst seeming to focus on him; the issue of distance very naturally arises in many cases combined with the question of a comfortable distance from each other (which we may never find) and the general exploration of what it’s like to be in this kind of inevitably expectant connection with someone else. The exploration of this register of contact — the link between two beings, two bodies, two intentions perhaps, with all the reverberations throughout present and past life that might be fraught with, may well become the matter of this session, where it starts out and ends up. Living snared in one’s imagination of what other peoples’ intentions towards us consist of is common and usually debilitating.

This phase of the session often draws some of these dynamics into the light: « You seem preoccupied » the therapist might say, « Yes, there’s no way I know how to be so honest about myself as Lynn has just been, when she talked about what she went through as a teenager. » « Do you feel that’s likely to eliminate you from being interesting to us or respected by us? » « Well, it’s a bit of a handicap! » « You smiled as you said that. » « Well, that’s the reason I came here, because I was feeling sort of emotionally handicapped, so I suppose I’m stuck with it. That’s what made me smile ». « Yes, those can be frightening presumptions. Why don’t you make some grimaces to loosen up those facial muscles a bit and while you’re at it try rolling your shoulders a bit. Everything tends to stiffen up when we feel even subtly threatened with exclusion. »

Many people live almost dissolved in an acidic solution of their own perception of others’ intentions, writhing quietly all their lives. Exploring both the weaving of these interpretations and the spatial configurations and body reactions that accompany this, often unceasing, mental activity can open up chapters of life story impregnated with chronic malaise. It may also, potentially, allow access to new positional possibilities, including symbolic relational ones, which the tension of fear associated with such dynamics had precluded up till now.

A therapy process which is in large part focused on tracking awareness as it lives and moves and has its being offers a rather different experience than therapies which mainly focus on the emergence of syntheses or the insightful renaming of patterns uncovered. Daniel Stern, talking of the infant’s experience uses the term vitality contours, of their being like the trajectory of a desire as it moves towards its immediate goal. Body psychotherapy typically concerns itself with organismic trajectories, both in so far as they delineate patterns whose sense and resonance may then be rendered explicit and also because the inhibitory quality of anti-expressive reflexes creates trajectory-starved or -strained lives, no impulses, or so few, ever moving to their goal. In this sense, body-psychotherapy patently offers an educational side which complements and is intertwined with its therapeutic potential. The question to the body, How are you doing that? is thus intertwined with the experience of doing something even subtly mould-breaking, something unexpected, something whose newness re-etches the habitual template. The echoes of this as far as re-learning is concerned are real and surprisingly durable too.

If the question of contact and distance remains one point of potential focus among many, if the person seems well enough rooted in present reality and some loosening and general body mobilisation is achieved, then his overall awareness probably is ready to leave some of its more peripheral anchors and shift into a logic of centering. This is equally to usher in a more potentially regressive phase of the session as I will have probably helped the person lie down on a mattress on the floor, propped him up a lot or a little according to my reading of the situation and his feed-back and encouraged the others to sit at a distance that won’t impinge on him invasively.

As the person becomes more potentially vulnerable, as the setting lends itself to a more regressive take on the present, issues touching on safety and trust come more strongly to the fore. Like me, many psychotherapists have never felt convinced by bald statements about safety or trust (you’re in a safe place.. it’s important that you let yourself trust your therapist) nor even on contracts designed to guarantee something of that nature (so we agree that if you stop feeling safe you’ll tell me) indispensable though the latter may be. It seems therapeutically essential to dare evoke mistrust as a way of shuffling towards a safe-enough space. If it doesn’t become safe-enough as we perceive it then that will no doubt end up being the focus of the session, because moving forward organismically without safety is what happens to the coyote in Roadrunner cartoons as he overruns the canyon edge.

He survives to let Tex Avery produce again. Our clients by contrast have a limited capacity to pick themselves up and start all over again. This phase of the session may be mainly physical, relayed by some gentle hand pressure on the belly as a way of mutually intimating levels of trust and mistrust, or it may be largely verbal. In contrast again to many other therapy modalities, body therapists do not necessarily see verbal understandings as the only credible anchors of an onward-moving therapy exchange.

Oceanic feelings, you say?

What might seem most natural and most pertinent in the course of this inward-directedness is to encourage a deepening of the experience into something where the whole body feels involved, where a large part of the self feels encapsulated in the sensorial and emotional process. The therapist may be fairly active here, encouraging small and larger movements to avoid stiffening and resistance against what Reich would call life flow. Breathing is, of course, at the centre both of what drives an easy rhythmicity and rocking in the trunk and pelvis and of what mobilises the nervous plexus whose feedback tells us of our emotional state.

Surrender to oneself can be the most exquisitely painful surrender known. The body and mind unceasingly beat the bounds of the organism’s inner working models or underlying game plan. Going beyond these boundaries, allowing them to dissolve somewhat, is so defended against precisely because nothing seems to guarantee this step will be followed by any kind of a recognisable reformulation.

« Where has the life drained away to in this sociable, playful woman whose fleshy face and arms appear now infallen, tinted with a queasy shade of pale? In what fibre of her living might she feel touched if I slide my hand palm up under the middle of her back? Is the tilting forward of her head a shift towards contact or the mark of an even deeper, more disconsolate misery? As colour slowly washes through her, it washes her back up onto the therapy mat in a high sunny group room in an erstwhile gear factory in east London, and one can almost hear the crackling of aliveness running from cell to cell as the falling body abruptly feels caught, held, accompanied, awaited anew. »

I wrote a few years ago after a workshop in London. Surrender obviously can induce the kind of oceanic feelings of universal openness that Freud famously told Reich (famous in reichian circles, that is) that he’d never experienced*. This peak experience in Maslow’s now strangely undervalued hierarchy brings the indescribable joy of lightness and flight to some. But, as the British poetess Stevie Smith, writing in the 1960’s, would no doubt have pointed out, one person’s flying is another person’s falling. Beyond the indisputable life-time echoes of such peak experiences, there is the powerful possibility of some real re-formulation that any such deep surrender, whether experienced as joy or even as terror, may well bring with it.

The handling

It’s clear from what I have been writing , that in Winnicottian terms, from his writings of the 1950’s and 1960’s body psychotherapy is, potently and often concretely, both a holding but perhaps more importantly a handling environment. The man I am working with seems to be making vaguely choking sounds as he exhales. His legs seem tense and stiff with.. something. I ask him to walk into the mattress, which he does tentatively to start with, then with a growing fury. I encourage him to spit out whatever words might be choking him.. The choking gets worse.. I suggest he just say You..! with each exhale, which soon becomes You bastard. You shit as his fists bunch up and he starts to hit down into the mat with growing power and rage. It culminates in a huge leonine yell of defiance, the outrage at humiliation bursting out at last. I massage his chest and shoulders, stiffened and reddened with blood coursing under the skin. As he softens, tears and laughter well up at the same time, vying with each other for five minutes before, gradually, words come about how his father always put him on some kind of an absurd pinnacle as another Mozart, making him play piano in front of bored neighbours and relatives, pretending to be overawed by his son’s prowess, almost asphixiating the son’s love of music. It was the professional musician that he had somehow managed to become talking to us at the end, talking about maybe re-dreaming his career and founding the sextet he’d never quite had the vitality and pride to get going in spite of the solid encouragement of well-known colleagues.

The interactive intensity of the handling environment was clearly seen as an essential part of the good-enough parent/child exchange by Donald Winnicott. In what way does it make sense to transpose any of this perspective into the psychotherapy setting? Isn’t it self-serving to want to construct credible developmental schemes for therapy by basing them on far-away childhood dynamics which aren’t such close parallels after all? As with an understanding of the phenomenon of transference, those who seek perfect play-backs of past dynamics are certain to be disappointed. Whatever else the post-modern world may have taught us, the fact that we continually reinvent our history is surely part of what we have to retain. Nonetheless the dynamics of our experiences have their overtones and undertones, and a complex music is formed out of even an approximate reliving of deep early experiences.

The underlying question in modern psychotherapy terms of examples such as the short clinical vignette above is: What can be authentic about such a re-experiencing when the therapist plays such a strongly interactive, sometimes suggestive role? Doesn’t this invalidate the credibility of what transpires? It may well be that there’s a fairly generalised bias in favour of what passes for a holding environment as good and appropriate and fostering authentic therapy results. A conviction that safety and the ubiquitous therapeutic alliance is the key to good therapy. I would be inclined to propose that this is something of an illusion and that a much more intense degree of interaction (handling) is always present than is generally acknowledged.

Clearly it’s an exaggeration to expect brain and psychic growth to be fostered by adult interactions in therapy in the same way that the caretaker-child link functions. It is equally true however that the handling environment was not mainly a potential seat of abuse but specifically what enabled us to unfold our genetic and social potential. The reverberations of this still allow an exquisite sensitivity to those dynamics which speak to us of access to change, those changes which counteract the toxicity of stasis and immobility. Body psychotherapy rather firmly puts these questions at the heart of our reasoning, most clearly because it has never really tried to appear anything but interventionist, appropriately interventionist it is to be hoped, but interventionist nonetheless.

So what do I mean by re-formulation? As the phase of surrender, which may or may not form a central part of our session, comes to a close, the client often re-establishes contact with the therapist, with other group members. This may be a bridge too far initially or the engagement may happen of its own accord. During this time, the mind will often condense and synthesise experiences from different times in life. Patterns may become evident that were previously obscured by unacknowledged emotional charge. Choices may become apparent where once the bounding walls seemed high and narrow. Life will re-group, re-formulate if given space and support and this may emerge from experiences which in contrast to the examples above are anything but dramatic: Julie just laid down and sighed and sighed some more and then some more again. After some time she timidly sat up and said, surprised, I’ve survived. I told her of a photo I’d seen of a wall in Berlin in May 1945, with chalked on it in big letters : Hello Helga, I’ve survived. What about you?

The idea that others could also live in such a logic of survival both shocked and touched her. The idea of not being the only person surreptitiously dressed in a survival suit caught her fancy and helped her laugh. As she did so a whole flood of examples of her survival tactics came to her mind. By being able both to own them and to find an implicit distance from them, something I would term reformulation got set in motion. At times, allowing clients to stay away from their own stereotyped terminology, to exist without recourse to the floss of words, may allow them gingerly to go where they never thought they could.

Transference in a touching world

One of the three or four keystones of modern psychotherapy consists in the existence, understanding and use of transference. How can body psychotherapy, with its collapsible boundaries, make use of transferential phenomena in the same way psychodynamic methods do? I would propose that transference, at its most therapeutically usable, is essentially a phenomenon of accretion, an accumulation of slight, difficult to formulate impressions that build up to an atmosphere redolent of prior relational dynamics. This requires both time and a certain distance between the actors involved in which such impressions can take root. The phenomenon of transference also carries the emotional charge in therapy from session to session. It is the substrate which ensures continuity, not at an intellectual but at a feeling level, just as the postulated aether of the 19th century was supposed to permit the propagation of light in space. The transference in body psychotherapy is more of a projective phenomenon, not easy to carry usably over from one session to the next, which is the heart of the usage the psycho-dynamic therapies make of it. It is probably true to say that body-psychotherapy exchanges the longer-term working through or elaboration of the positional subtleties real transference presents us with for the intensity and immediacy of the encounter with the other, and the self-in-the-other.

On the whole, I’m inclined to think that strongly body-centered psychotherapy is most at ease in a group setting. Individual body-psychotherapy is more often a verbal or Gestalt-type therapy modality with a much stronger commitment to bodily expression of emotions and to the permission of therapeutic touching and holding than would be normal elsewhere in psychotherapy. This framework, of course, is often particularly suitable for people with deep issues of abuse-generated shame, where body-psychotherapy offers a unique possibility to continually renegotiate space and boundaries. It is also conducive to helping some people break out of the misery of a language reflexively so far removed from visceral experience that they feel like extra-terrestrials.

The weakness of certain forms of individual body-psychotherapy, especially those centered around regular recourse to visceral massage, is that the individual sessions become islands of experience, essentially separate from one another. Because this is difficult to accept in long term therapy, a transferential warp and weft is invented to supply continuity, but the same transference is submitted to the bewildering shuttle of the therapist as impalpable target of projections on the one hand and regular masseur of the chest and belly on the other. What may well emerge from this is a subtle entente to protect the framework from criticism, thereby plunging the undertaking into a space where inauthenticity becomes a real, and for psychotherapy, mortal, danger.


A permanent source of friction in psychotherapy concerns the respective weighting given to interpretation on the one hand and insight on the other. To some extent this stand-off has lost intensity with the rise of a more relation-centered perception of the psychotherapeutic process. Strong interpretation remains alive and well, however, in certain schools of body-psychotherapy in the form of reading the body. From Lowen’s mixed bag of diagnoses, rigid – oral – psychopath -masochist – schizoid using both anatomic and psycho-dynamic designations to Stanley Keleman’s rigid – dense – swollen – collapsed, to Chuck Kelley’s anger-blocker — fear-blocker — pain-blocker, the body is fairly frequently used as a read-out for the discerning eye. So what might the body actually say to us and, equally if not more important, how might we use what we think we are seeing? Put in a nutshell, the interpretative faculty opens onto a striking dialectic around the issue of power. He who sees, and upgrades intelligent guesses into certainties, wields impressive power in the domain of psychotherapy.

The reichian target of unearthing chronic holding patterns which betray the underlying personality make-up, can leave an impressive amount of emotional scar-tissue when they are handled without modesty and without enough enquiry into the listener’s sensitivity. When Freud, Jung and Ferenczi went to America by liner in 1909, they interpreted each others’ dreams at breakfast, until Freud got fed up with it and stopped coming to breakfast!** The pro-active reichian tradition has sometimes fostered a « frank » tendency to present diagnoses as self-evident, without any counterweight, in the form of sensitivity to good timing for example, to offset this pathologising. Overweight participants are quickly labeled « swollen » in Keleman’s scheme of things with the pernicious sub-text that swollen also carries with it the sense of invasive and manipulative. Many essentially genetic anatomic manifestations are seen as the results of supposedly chronic psycho-energetic leanings.

We find at times a hankering for a sort of body-phrenology supposed to help us read out someone’s life experience and their ossified responses to it. The diagnosis is also of course carrier of a certain intervention plan, designed to unlock such deep patterns. I sometimes fear that constructing whole therapies around what are often no more than value judgements, can have the dramatic down-side of over-investing in or overidentifying with (and encouraging the client to do the same too) a symptom complex at the expense of something more surprising, more alive, and often also, of course, more implacably resistant to read-outs!

D.H.Lawrence, in one of his essays talked of writers who keep their thumb in the pan (a reference to the cheating of vendors with the hand-held weighing-scales of his childhood). He held that an author deeply attached to his creation does not treat his characters as so many objects to be manipulated to a predetermined end. His robust assertion of their underlying, indefinable right to a degree of independence is a reminder that life is not the domain of an omniscient cartographer with desired outcomes writ large in the margins, but something altogether more ungraspable and which, above all, doesn’t belong to the observer. Our clients’ (and our own) vitality is something therapy may enhance, but cannot appropriate.

It’s difficult to conclude without quoting Dylan Thomas. He talks of « the green fuse that drives the flower« , and it seems incongruous not to celebrate a certain idea of vitality which is at the heart of the reichian tradition and by extension of body psychotherapy in general. At a time when a sometimes laudable, but nonetheless massive effort of categorisation in the form of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual sits at the centre of our psychotherapy galaxy, it’s easy to forget that determinants like Henri Bergson’s élan vital were once seen as the root of human existence and, as Dylan Thomas’s phrase implies, what it was that linked all the different declensions of life.

All psychotherapy, no matter how structured through and through it may appear, brings us in touch with what is impalpable in human existence, along with all the rest we have the hubris to imagine we know how to name or to conjugate! Body psychotherapy has a real potential to open up living trajectories of feeling, awareness and experience that bring us in some kind of contact with the green fuse that drives, that lets us dip in the crucible of the unexpected process, the enabling fluid of that drawn-out transmutation called therapy.

* Quoted from Gustl Marloch, Keynote address at conference of European Association of Body Psychotherapy, 100th year Centenary of Reich’s birth, 1997, Travemünde, Germany

** Personal communication from Gérard Pirlot, Société psychanalytique de Paris, from readings in Freud/Jung correspondence and Freud/Ferenczi correspondence.


– Elsworth Baker, Man in the Trap, Collier Books, 1967

– Kurt Eissler, Reich speaks of Freud, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. New York, 1967

– Peter Fonagy and Mary Target, Psychanalytic Theories, Whurr Publishers. 2003

– Sigmund Freud/ Sandor Ferenczi, Correspondance, Vol.1 Calmann-Lévy, Paris

– André Green and Daniel Stern Research in Psychoanalysis: The Green/Stern debate on the relevance of Infant Research, Eds. Sandler, Sandler and Davies, Karnac books, London 2001

– Stanley Keleman, Emotional Anatomy, Center for Energetic Studies, Berkely, CA. 1985

– Alexander Lowen Bioenergetics. Bioenergetics Press. 1974

– Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. 1972

– Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm, Simon and Schuster. 1974

– Wilhelm Reich W. Reich, Early Writings, Vol 1, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. 1972

– Ed. Sandler, Michels, Fonagy, Changing Ideas in a Changing World. Karnac Books. 2000

– Alan Schore, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. Lawrence Earlbaum and Associates.1994

– Daniel Stern The interpersonal World of the Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology. New York, Basic Books. 1985

– Colin Wilson The Quest for Wilhelm Reich. Anchor Press/Doubleday. 1981

– D.W.Winicott, The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. ed. International Universities Press 1965

– D.W. Winicott, Babies and their Mothers. Free Association Books. 1988

Mis en ligne le 3 juillet 2007