Author Topic: Reichian Growth Work by Nick Totton  (Read 895 times)


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Re: Reichian Growth Work by Nick Totton
« Reply #30 on: April 15, 2015, 07:54:48 am »
fear is similar to that felt about the Moonies or the Rajneesh movement - the Svengali-like,mesmeric figure who controls our actions and perceptions.This is a highly rational fear in a society where a great deal of time and money is devoted tocontrolling people's actions and perceptions. Just as our culture is manipulative in the publicsphere, through advertising and propaganda, so in the private sphere people assert coercivepower aver each others' experience. This is especially brutal between parents and childrenwhere the child's reality can be forcibly invalidated and invaded, both physically andmentally. We don't even have to look at the sickening facts of extreme abuse, now revealed asfar more common than most people realised (and which we are increasingly meeting in ourwork); incest and torture are the logical extension of the powerless situation in which mostchildren find themselves in our culture.The intense vulnerability which therapy exposes will often bring up these sorts of childhoodfeelings and memories. It is all too easy for the therapist to push away her own distress bypushing around the client, instructing her in subtle or not-so-subtle ways what to think andfeel and remember. therapists can easily become addicted to the power thrust upon them by somany clients, who have themselves been brought up to 'need' an authority to obey: therapistscan actually start
in the positive transference they receive. Acting in this way isequally abusive, however nice it feels.There are some therapists, and some therapies, which tend to exploit their clients,emotionally, financially, or by imposing a social 'norm' upon the client's experience.Suspicions of exploitation, like any other conflicts of perception between the two peopleinvolved, need to be carefully and thoroughly examined,
any built-in assumption thatthe therapist is more likely to be 'right' than the client.It is the therapist's willingness to test out her own attitudes and feelings, and on occasion toown up to mistakes and confusions, which can above all make therapy a safe and non-abusivestructure. As we have tried to show in the last chapter, by working as therapists we are notsetting ourselves up as superior beings. People often describe the therapy relationship as'unequal'. We don't think this is right, we see it more as 'asymmetrical' - the roles of the twopeople are not the same, and their involvement is of different kinds. But the
of theparticipants can and must balance.This goal is on its own a radical and subversive one in a society which is constructed out of inequalities of power. Our work is very much concerned with the difference between 'power-over' and 'power-for'; with helping the client to feel this difference in her own marrow.Power-over is the juice upon which patriarchal culture runs - the assumption that if I amstrong, someone else must be weak, and vice versa. This is part of the myth of scarcity, whichsays that there isn't enough of anything, so we must all fight for our share of the inadequatecake.Scarcity is only a truth about the things our culture has created to be scarce: luxuries, ormoney itself. It isn't even a truth that food is scarce, only that it is unevenly distributed; and itisn't remotely true of breath, energy, love or power - in the sense of power-for-ourselves,strength and creativity, 'the force that through the green fuse drives the flower' as DylanThomas puts it.There is plenty of power for everyone!

But patriarchal society cannot allow this reality to be felt, otherwise no one would let theirpower apparently be taken away, no one would bow down to their 'betters', or work in aboring and useless job, or obey silly rules, or let other people control all the resources andactivities of society. Social oppression depends ultimately on
: we let it happen.Why do we consent to being disempowered in this way? Reich was one of the first people topoint out the vital role of family life in transmitting patriarchal ideas and ways of being. Weare made controllable by our
, which walls off so much of our energy, clarity,courage and initiative. While many people would see this as 'healthy discipline', we see it asan
education in disempowerment
. And this same armouring, by blocking our urge for lovingcontact so that it turns stagnant and vicious, sets up the conditions for people to be attractedby the violence, hatred and scapegoating of fascism and other extreme ideologies.

We can draw real parallels between different political ideologies and the different layers of the armoured personality. The liberal/democratic consensus, denying the reality of oppressionand exploitation. corresponds to the outer layer of false 'niceness' and 'civilisation'. Extremistideologies of the right and left, with all their talk of 'smashing', 'liquidating', 'seizing' and'fighting', correspond to the middle layer - the welter of hateful and distorted feelings createdthrough the frustration of our need for love and pleasure. Like all symptoms they have adouble nature, expressing both the sadistic rage of a suppressed individual and the compulsiveobedience instilled by the authoritarian parenting which suppresses them.And the healthy core? It corresponds to a way of life which exists so far only in our dreams,one which is not 'political' in the usual sense, because all power remains with the individualand the community, where people control their own lives and work, without needingneurotically to give that control away to 'specialists'. This is the social version of natural self-regulation within the individual.Of course, it is perfectly possible to 'struggle' and 'fight' for this sort of society by meanswhich are neurotic and distorted! Over and over again, in the public sphere, wonderful visionsof freedom and healing have resulted in totalitarian or chaotic societies. It seems pretty clearthat it is not possible for armoured characters like ourselves to create a healthy society: eitherwe end up giving our power away to another bunch of brutal authorities, or else we are unableto focus enough creative energy to get anything done at all!So is there any alternative to doomed attempts at pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps?Reichian therapy seeks to intervene at the other end of the process of political oppression: toexpose the precise distortions created in our individual energies, and to dissolve them so thatenergy can move freely again.Reichian therapy makes people less easy to control! They become at least partially immune tomanipulation through guilt, shame, anxiety and greed, because these secondary emotions havedissolved back into their primary sources: love, anger, grief, fear and joy. Energy is on themove, and will no longer fit into constricting and damaging containers: bad relationships, bad jobs, bad belief systems. Without any ideology being imposed from outside, the natural forcesof the human organism create change in the political situation of the individual; a process of re-empowermentHowever creative, this falling-away of a familiar context can be very painful for anindividual. Established support systems and friendships often become unsatisfying, no longerable to meet the need for new and different sorts of emotional feeding, Increasingly, we areseeing the need for support networks, ways in which people can validate and aid this sort of change in each other.But it would take a very long time to change the world through individual or group therapy.We must clearly recognise that therapy becomes a real need, or even a real option,
whenbasic needs for food, housing, security and so on have been met. In this sense, therapy doestend to be a middle class, privileged activity (though by no means ail our clients fall into thisgroup). Thus it is a good thing that, however messianic we become at times, this work is onlyone tributary of a much greater streaming of change and rebirth. What we see happening overand again is that people move from therapy with us into
areas of transformative activity;above all, they begin to change their own lives into an environment where they, and everyonearound them, can flower

Therapy also has a valuable input to make into other forms of working for change. It helpspeople to examine their
in taking on such tasks; helps them let go of thecompulsiveness about 'helping', the workaholism, the hidden authoritarianism or the oraldemandingness ('give us our rights!') which can blight so much radical work. Therapy insiststhat we can and must
ourselves; that pleasure and fun are just as much part of changingthe world.It can also suggest new structures and procedures for meetings, co-operatives and so on, basedon recognising and giving space to each person involved; paying attention to atmospheres andunspoken agendas rather than sweeping them under the carpet; creating opportunities forpersonal, face-to-face contact: giving control of work to the people who actually carry it out.Such structures both grow out of and help to nurture natural self-regulation and being-in-touch.Reichian therapy has a particular natural affinity for two issues of power: sexism and ecology.Reich was, again, one of the first people to raise issues that now come under the banner of 'ecology'; he perceived the spreading pollution and damage to nature in the early 1950s andlinked it directly with the blocking of natural impulses in human beings - only armoured anddistressed individuals would permit their environment to be poisoned. Therapy tends toliberate feelings of identification with the natural world, the sense of sacredness which mostof us lose in childhood, and which makes it impossible to tolerate the **** and torture of theearth.That image of **** brings us to the issue of sexism: the oppression of natural and spontaneousfeeling under patriarchy is tied up in many ways with gender and sex. As we have alreadysaid, the wholeness of our experience is split in two by the imposition of 'masculine' and'feminine' categories of behaviour, creating a permanent wound in both genders, butparticularly a structural oppression and devaluation of the female gender. It is no coincidencethat nature itself is associated with the female: most of us have deep-ingrained connectionsbetween 'female', 'natural', 'animal', 'dirty', 'sexual' and 'wrong'. These ideas are not remotelynatural themselves, but are the product of a society which glorifies an equally unnaturalconstellation of 'male', 'technological', 'human', 'clean', 'intellectual' and 'right'.Sexism is always a powerful presence in therapy because, perhaps more than any other formof social control and oppression, it affects our
experience. As we have already hinted,many forms of 'symptom' or 'illness' can be understood as a
against imposed realities- against abuse of one sort or another. As therapists we want to side not with the parental role,either the 'good' or the 'bad' parent, but with the confused and damaged child itself, and withits never-ending struggle for loving contact This can often mean retranslating the 'problem'with which the client arrives into the beginning of a 'solution'; this is especially true when the'problem' is about someone's inability to conform to sexist criteria of normality.The therapy session is a very unusual sort of space, very different in many ways from'ordinary life'. One big difference is that the focus of both people's attention is on theexperience of one of them - the client. In one sense this makes the client powerful, central. Inanother way, it means that the therapist is not exposing her own pain and vulnerability, so shecan
always clear and strong. We regularly draw attention to this as we are givingtherapy, and make it apparent - without using the client's time for our own needs - that we toofeel weak, confused, armoured, stuck in childhood patterns, and so on.

During the session, we are not
these things. We have made a contract to focus on theclient, knowing that we are able in most situations to keep a clear perspective on our ownmaterial when it surfaces. But we couldn't do this if we weren't getting support ourselves atother times, opportunities to panic, fall apart, act irrationally, be totally selfish. We have ourown moments, many moments, of vulnerability and unclarity in our lives.We don't try to fool any client about this; in a sense we want to draw their attention to it aspart of the human context of our interaction. We will, however, avoid any tendency to turn thespotlight on us during the session, just as with any other avoidance of the client's own feelingsand experiences, except when it becomes necessary for both people to spend time sorting outthe origins of our own responses to the clientWhat happens in therapy, although different, cannot be separated off from the rest of life;which is basically a good thing, since otherwise it could hardly affect the rest of life. Oneaspect of this is that we are almost invariably taking money from clients for the work we do.This is necessary in order for us to live; and it also creates innumerable opportunities for badpower relationships.For some clients, the financial relationship increases their sense of the therapist'spowerfulness. Not only are we seeing into their souls, we're also taking their cash! There is asense, though, in which by paying us the client is asserting her control: her choice, in thesituation - she is acting as our .employer'. This too can be turned into a messy game. We havelearnt from bitter experience not to take at face value the client who says (often in utter goodfaith) 'That was such a good session, let me pay you extra.' What happens a few weeks laterwhen the developing relationship brings up
with a session?In some ways it might be simpler and cleaner if money did not have to change hands. Wedon't really subscribe to the convenient notion that 'clients wouldn't value the work if theydidn't have to pay for it'. At the same time, though, we live in a world where money is a vitalelement of exchange and survival, and therapy is to do with recognising reality. Also, thereare certainly advantages in having a therapeutic relationship in which the state has no role of subsidy - and therefore of control. We have not yet resolved the tension between our need fora reasonable standard of living and our desire to work with people irrespective of their levelof income. Group therapy provides a very partial solution, and we certainly see it as necessaryto at least try to offer some cheap sessions.The issue of money is just one of the many ways in which our practice of Reichian therapy isconstantly struggling with contradictions around issues of power. Although we are looking forcontact with our clients, and not aiming to withhold ourselves, we still set up very definiteboundaries - of time, of disclosure - and some people find these very unsatisfactory. Althoughwe see our work as having a 'public', political dimension, we are still working in 'private' andprofessional structures; still involved much of the time with the need to generate income, toattract punters!These contradictions are not going to disappear; like so many other problems in life, we aregoing to have to live with them. It feels important to admit that they are there, yet in eachsituation still to work concretely to move away from 'power-over' and towards 'power-for'.

... What we're pressing after now was oncenearer and truer and attached to uswith infinite tenderness. Here all is distance,there it was breath. Compared with that first homethe second seems ambiguous and draughty.
 Rainer Maria Rilke, The Duino ElegiesIn some ways this chapter belongs straight after those on 'character', but we have left it untilnow to give you a rest from trying to absorb ways of looking at people! It's helpful as well tohave some idea of what goes on in therapy in order to grasp these strange experiences whichemerge from it. The ideas in this chapter are not part of 'mainstream' Reichian work, but verymuch a later development; however, they grow largely out of things that happen to peopleduring Reichian sessions.At the end of Chapter 6, we talked a little about 'regression' and 'progression', which arebound up with the fact that, at every point in life, we are internally busy reinterpreting
the present in terms of the past and the past in terms of the present
.This is such an important concept that we want to pause for a moment for you to absorb it.We reinterpret the present in terms of the past, and the past in terms of the presentWe reinterpret the present in terms of the past This is one of the central points that therapymakes: past experience of pain and vulnerability will dispose us to react defensively to newexperiences - to assume that they are 'just the same' as what happened in the past. The burntchild dreads the fire. The system of character analysis is a way of finding patterns in thisprocess, which happens not just in our minds but equally in our bodies, Not all of the past ispainful, of course - experiences of joy, nurturing and safely will dispose us to approach thepresent openly and bravely.We reinterpret the past in terms of the present. This is a more difficult but perhaps equallyimportant idea. New experiences can and do break through into our awareness and reactivate,'wake up', experiences from the past which seem to have a similar structure; difficultexperiences which until now we have managed to tolerate, or positive experiences which wehave discounted. We are constantly, unconsciously, re-writing our stories, re-summing ourlives. This goes on all through adulthood, but especially in the early years when ourcharacteristic approach to existence, the underlying bodymind beliefs, are still being formed.If we can hold these two ideas firmly in mind, then it helps us see why it is that very much the
character types we have described are seen by many therapists and psychoanalysts asbeing established in the first weeks or months of life, rather than in the first six or seven yearsas we have argued. In fact, some people derive all these character positions from whathappens during birth itself - or even in the womb before birth.One can make out a vivid, plausible case for each of these viewpoints, just as we feel we havemade out a good case for the crucial role of developmental phases up to about seven. If wefocus on birth, or on early breastfeeding relationships, or on the details of conception,implantation and gestation, we see the same patterns, the same choices, clearly delineated