Author Topic: The genius of Wilhelm Reich  (Read 649 times)


  • Administrator
  • Jr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 72
    • View Profile
Re: The genius of Wilhelm Reich
« on: April 05, 2015, 10:16:54 am »
Reich became the assistant director of the Vienna clinic under Hitschmann in 1924 and worked there until his move to Berlin in 1930. He was only in his twenties when he began at the Ambulatorium, but Danto writes:

When Reich entered the [Ambulatorium's] conference room after a full day at the clinic, his relative youth vanished. He spread an electrifying energy all his own; his deep-set eyes, wavy hair and high forehead of the rebellious German intellectual barely tempered by the military mannerisms of a Prussian army official. Under his leadership the analysts developed not only path-breaking clinical protocols but also attended to the more mundane aspects of running a clinic.
Sharaf writes that working with labourers, farmers and students allowed Reich to move away from treating neurotic symptoms to observing chaotic lifestyles and anti-social personalities. Reich argued that neurotic symptoms such as obsessive-compulsive disorder were an unconscious attempt to gain control of a hostile environment, including poverty or childhood abuse. They were examples of what he called "character armour" (Charakterpanzer), repetitive patterns of behaviour, speech and body posture that served as defence mechanisms. Danto writes that Reich sought out patients at the Ambulatorium who had been diagnosed as psychopaths, believing that psychoanalysis could free them of their rage.

He opened six free sex-counselling clinics in Vienna, each one overseen by a physician, with three obstetricians and a lawyer on call, offering what he called Sex-Pol counselling for working-class patients. Sex-Pol stood for the German Society of Proletarian Sexual Politics. Danto writes that Reich offered a mixture of "psychoanalytic counseling, Marxist advice and contraceptives," and argued for a sexual permissiveness, including for young people and the unmarried, that unsettled other psychoanalysts and the political left. The clinics were immediately overcrowded by people seeking help. He also took to the streets in a mobile clinic, driving to local parks and out to the suburbs with other psychoanalysts and physicians. Reich would talk to the teenagers and men, while a gynaecologist would fit the women with contraceptive devices, and Lia Laszky, the woman Reich fell in love with at medical school, would speak to the children. They also distributed sex-education pamphlets door to door.

Reich joined the faculty of the Psychoanalytic Institute in Vienna in 1924, and became its director of training. According to Danto, he was well-regarded during this period for the weekly technical seminars he chaired at the Ambulatorium, where he gave papers on his emerging theory of character structure, arguing that psychoanalysis should be based on the examination of unconscious character traits, later known as ego defences. The seminars were attended, from 1927, by Fritz Perls, who went on to develop Gestalt therapy with his wife, Laura Perls.

Reich's first book, Der triebhafte Charakter: Eine psychoanalytische Studie zur Pathologie des Ich ("The Impulsive Character: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Pathology of the Self"), was published in 1925. It was a study of the anti-social personalities he had encountered in the Ambulatorium, and argued the need for a systematic theory of character. The book won him professional recognition, including from Freud, who in 1927 arranged for his appointment to the executive committee of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. The appointment was made over the objection of Paul Federn, who had been Reich's second analyst in 1922 and who, according to Sharaf, regarded Reich as a psychopath. Reich found the society dull and wrote that he behaved "like a shark in a pond of carps."

In 1929, Reich’s article “Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis“ was published in Unter dem Banner des Marxismus. Reich was one of the first writers to consider the connections between psychoanalysis and Marxism. In this text, he explores whether psychoanalysis is compatible with historical materialism, class struggle and proletarian revolution. He concludes that it is if dialectical materialism is applied to psychology. This was one of the central theoretical statements of his Marxist period that included the texts The Imposition of Sexual Morality (1932), The Sexual Struggle of Youth (1932), The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933), “What is Class Consciousness?” (1934) and The Sexual Revolution (1936).

Orgastic potency
Further information: Orgastic potency and The Function of The Orgasm

Reich lived for a time on Berggasse in Vienna, where Freud lived at no. 19.
Beginning in 1924 Reich published a series of papers on the idea of "orgastic potency," the ability to release the emotions from the muscles and lose the self in an uninhibited orgasm, an idea that Freud came to call Reich's "Steckenpferd" (hobby horse). Reich argued that psychic health and the ability to love depended on orgastic potency.He wrote: "It is not just to **** ... not the embrace in itself, not the intercourse. It is the real emotional experience of the loss of your ego, of your whole spiritual self." He argued that orgastic potency was the goal of character analysis.

Sharaf writes that, whereas Reich's work on character was well received by the psychoanalytic community, his work on orgastic potency was unpopular within psychoanalysis from the start and was later met with ridicule; he came to be known as the "prophet of the better orgasm," and the "founder of a genital utopia."

He published Die Funktion des Orgasmus (Function of the Orgasm) in 1927 and presented a copy of the manuscript to Freud on the latter's 70th birthday on 6 May 1926. Freud did not appear impressed. He replied "that thick?" when Reich handed it to him, and took two months to write a brief but positive letter in response, which Reich interpreted as a rejection. Freud's view was that the matter was more complicated than Reich suggested, and that there was no single cause of neurosis. He wrote in 1928 to another psychoanalyst, Dr. Lou Andreas-Salomé: "We have here a Dr. Reich, a worthy but impetuous young man, passionately devoted to his hobby-horse, who now salutes in the genital orgasm the antidote to every neurosis. Perhaps he might learn from your analysis of K. to feel some respect for the complicated nature of the psyche."

In 1929, he and his wife visited the Soviet Union on a lecture tour, leaving the two children in the care of the psychoanalyst Berta Bornstein. Sharaf writes that he returned even more convinced of the link between sexual and economic oppression, and of the need to integrate Marx and Freud.

From 1925 to 1933, Reich worked on the ideas that he published as Charakteranalyse: Technik und Grundlagen für studierende und praktizierende Analytiker (1933), revised and published in English in 1946 and 1949 as Character Analysis. Robert Corrington writes that the book, regarded as Reich's masterpiece, sought to move psychoanalysis away from the treatment of symptoms toward a reconfiguration of character structure.

For Reich, character structure was the result of social processes, in particular a reflection of castration and Oedipal anxieties playing themselves out within the nuclear family. Les Greenberg and Jeremy Safran write that Reich proposed a functional identity between the character, emotional blocks, and tension in the body, or what he called muscular or body armour. (He blamed Freud's jaw cancer on his character armouring (Charakterpanzer), rather than on his smoking: Freud's Judaism meant he was "biting down" impulses, rather than expressing them.) He argued that dissolving the muscular armour would bring back the memory of the childhood repression that had caused the blockage in the first place.

Verlag für Sexualpolitik
Reich and his wife moved to Berlin in 1930, where he set up clinics in working-class areas, taught sex education and published pamphlets. He joined the Communist Party of Germany, but grew impatient with them over their delay in publishing one of his pamphlets, Der Sexuelle Kampf der Jugend (published in English in 1972 as The Sexual Struggle of Youth). He set up his own publishing house in 1932, calling it Verlag für Sexualpolitik, and published the pamphlet himself. His subsequent involvement in a conference promoting adolescent sexuality caused the party to announce that it would no longer publish his material. In March 1933, Freud advised him that Reich's contract with the International Psychoanalytic Publishers to publish Character Analysis was cancelled; Sharaf writes that this was almost certainly because of Reich's stance on teenage sex.

A plaque on the house Reich lived in (1931–1933) at Schlangenbader Straße 87, Berlin-Wilmersdorf
He had several affairs during his marriage; the marriage ended in 1933 after he began a serious relationship in May 1932 with Elsa Lindenberg, a dancer and pupil of Elsa Gindler. He was living with Lindenberg in Germany when Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933. On March 2 that year, the Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter published an attack on Der Sexuelle Kampf der Jugend; Reich left with Lindenberg for Vienna the next day. They moved to Denmark, where Reich was excluded from the Danish Communist Party in November 1933, without ever having joined it, over his promotion of teenage sex and the publication that year of The Mass Psychology of Fascism, which they regarded as "counterrevolutionary." There were multiple complaints about his promotion of abortion, sex education and the attempted suicide of a teenage patient; Turner writes that when his visa expired, it was not renewed.

He tried to find support among psychoanalysts in the UK so that he could settle there, and was interviewed in London by Ernest Jones, Melanie Klein, Joan Riviere and James Strachey. They decided that he had been "insufficiently analysed" and had an unresolved hostility toward Freud. Anna Freud, Freud's daughter, whom Jones had contacted about Reich's desire to move to England, wrote in 1938: "There is a wall somewhere where he stops to understand the other person's point of view and flies off into a world of his own ... He is an unhappy person ... and I am afraid this will end in sickness."

He and Lindenberg moved instead to Malmö in Sweden, which Reich described as "better than a concentration camp," but he was placed under surveillance when police suspected that the hourly visits of patients to his hotel room meant he was running a brothel, with Lindenberg as the prostitute. The government declined to extend his visa, and the couple had to move briefly back to Denmark, Reich under an assumed name.

Further information: Vegetotherapy, Body psychotherapy and Neo-Reichian massage
From 1930 onwards, Reich began to treat patients outside the limits of psychoanalysis's restrictions. Because Reich felt that the movement of the diaphragm was critical to psychic health, he would sit opposite patients, rather than behind them as they lay on a couch (the traditional psychoanalyst's position), and began talking to them and answering their questions, instead of offering the stock, "Why do you ask?" analyst's response while he was strictly observing their breathing. He had noticed that after a successful course of psychoanalysis his patients would become more relaxed and hold their bodies differently, so he began to try to bring about that relaxation of the body using massage and other physical touches. He asked his male patients to undress down to their shorts, and sometimes entirely, and his female patients down to their underclothes, so he could see their breathing all the way to the pelvis, and began to massage chronically tense areas to loosen their 'body armor'. He would also ask them to simulate physically the effects of certain emotions in the hope of triggering them. He would exploit autonomic reactions such as the gag reflex, to stimulate the flow of energy throughout the body and overcome chronic tightness of specific muscle groups.

He first presented the principles of what he called character-analytic vegetotherapy in a paper called "Psychischer Kontakt und vegetative Strömung" (Psychological Contact and Vegetative Current") in August 1934 at the 13th International Congress of Psychoanalysis at Lucerne, Switzerland, and went on to develop the technique between 1935 and 1940. His second wife, Ilse Ollendorf, said it replaced the psychoanalytic approach of never touching a patient with "a physical attack by the therapist."

The approach undermined the psychoanalytic position of neutrality. Reich argued that the psychoanalytic taboos reinforced the neurotic taboos of the patient, and that he wanted his patients to see him as human. Reich believed that science and not culture should determine the methods of psychoanalysis, and that the goal was to make the patient better, not to win acclaim for having good manners. He would press his thumb or the palm of his hand hard (and painfully) on their jaws, necks, chests, backs, or thighs, aiming to dissolve their muscular, and thereby characterological, rigidity. He wrote that the massage aimed to retrieve the repressed memory of the childhood situation that had caused the repression; if the session worked, he would see waves of pleasure move through their bodies, which he called the "orgasm reflex." According to Sharaf, the twin goals of Reichian therapy were the attainment of this orgasm reflex during sessions and orgastic potency during intercourse. Reich briefly considered calling it "orgasmotherapy," but thought better of it.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2015, 07:36:06 am by truthaboutpois »