An Explanation of the Development of My Somatic Psychotherapeutic Work (1994)

Eva Reich asked me to write a chapter for a book about her work that was being prepared in Germany. I wrote to the editor in order to make contact and to give her an idea of my work and what kind of article I could write. I expected her to respond to my letter and give me perimeters to begin working on a piece for her book. To my surprise she accepted my entire letter as the chapter for the book! It was translated into German and is in Lebensenergie durch Sanfte Bioenergetik. The authors are listed as Eva Reich and Eszter Zornanszky. The publisher is Kosel-Verlag GmbH & Co. 1997.

Here is the original letter in English.

22 May 1994

Dear Eszter,

IMG_0347.jpgEva Reich has suggested that I write to you and offer a contribution to the publication you have in progress related to her work in Gentle Bioenergetics.

I am very interested in doing so, but since I have not spoken to you, I don’t really know the mode of writing you are interested in or exactly what you want. (Eva just tells me that it should be about 6 pages.) So I shall just start writing and hopefully you will be able to use it as it comes herein or there will be time enough for you to return it to me with specific requests for changes or editing. I am enclosing, also, my curriculum vitae so that you may know better who I am:

In the late l960’s, after returning from three years in Asia, (one half of that time spent studing and living in a Zen Buddhist monastery,) I attended the beginnings of the training workshops with Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos that eventually formed into the Bioenergetics Institute. I knew my way was to work with body/mind/spirit integration, but after investigating Bioenergetics that way of working seemed “too rough” for me and sometimes perhaps insensitive to me. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but for my feelings there was some sensitivity and connection for which I was still looking.

At that same time I also began to study with Charlotte Selver the work of Sensory Awareness as it comes from the tradition of Elsa Gindler, and also Grandmaster Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s form of T’ai Chi Ch’uan – both are sensitive, gentle ways of working. I am now certified to teach in both of these practices, and lead workshops and classes in each internationally.

After being trained and certified in the 1970’s as a “Reichian Therapist,” I worked with a reasonable amount of success and gratification. In my private practice, working with clients I was evolving into my own way of working, which was (I like to think) sensitive and contactful.

When I met Eva Reich in 1984, her way of working seemed closer to my work and how I had come to understand what Wilhelm Reich was really saying. I was also especially thrilled to learn from Eva that her father was influenced by Gindlerís work through Elsa Lindenberg and Claire Fenichel. Both objectively, studying with her, and personally working with her in a few sessions, I could resonate with Eva’s work more than any of the “Reichians”, neo-Reichians, or Orgonomists I had studied with and been in therapy with. I attended Eva’s workshops as often as was possible for me, and I am eternally grateful for the kind support I have received from her for the gentler, deeper directions I was taking.

As my work evolved from the trademark “huffing and puffing/kicking/ releasing” of the typical “Reichian Therapy” form of working that I was originally taught, so did what I called it. I realized that I was not doing what people would expect and has become known as hard core “Reichian Therapy” and I wanted to name it more clearly what it was, so for years I called it a “Reichian-based Awareness Therapy.” I really did want to honor Reich in my describing what I do, because I – we all – owe him such a great debt, and he is overlooked and ignored so much of the time.

In fact it seemed to some that my work was a combination of perhaps vipassana meditation (which was really the sensory awareness work) and energetic release. In 1982, I gave a workshop in Japan for the Centre for Bio-Energy with exactly that title: Sensory Awareness and Reichian Release.

I do not choose to use Eva’s term “Gentle Bioenergetics” because Lowen’s Bioenergetics is so well known, and I think the possibility of association is too great. Over the years of working in this mode, I now have come to call my work “Somatic Reclaiming,” for that is a large part of what happens. But perhaps it would be best for me to depict an unusual opportunity I have had working with a client to help describe what I hope to say:

In this brief writeup I will describe my way of working rather than do a traditional assessment of the case, hoping to explain more my transformation and the work, rather than the details from the client’s side.

Because of my background in Buddhism and meditation I sometimes receive referrals from various meditation centers in my area.

At the end of 1979, Tom, a 31-year old male came to see me. He presented a history of severe tension and acute pain, especially in the upper parts of his body, a great deal of nervous twitching and strong spasms which interfered with his meditation practice, and obesssional mentality which absorbed much of his life. He stated he “enjoyed sex very much, but at the same time…didn’t feel a great release.” He would masterbate every night if he didn’t sleep with someone. The masterbation was closely tied into a rich fantasy life. Most of his romantic relationships lasted about three months and then would end. And so with almost everything in his life, he was not able to sustain interest in much of anything, not any sort of work, activities, etc.

Tom was fairly sophisticated in substance abuse. He drank and smoked a lot and used various drugs – uppers at times, and sleeping drugs when he wanted, and marijuana, etc. at partys.

To deal with his physical pain he had tried some Rolfing (Structural Integration) eight years previously and had just attempted accupuncture the week before he came to see me.

He was presenting his physical pain as the major issue, but it was also obvious that his life was not satisfactorily functional. He lived in a sort of limbo and discontent and could not make decisions or take actions on his own. In fact there was an on-again-off-again relationship with a woman about which he was very ambivalent, not being able to commit to it or to really cut it off. He would disappear from his regular life at times, without any warning, and then also without notice, would reappear when he felt he could engage again. Overall there was unclarity, discontent, no satisfaction nor direction or much consistency in his life.

We began to work regularly, in the general Reichian mode in which I had been trained. The pattern of work was, to put it simply: breathe deeply, and kick and hit to build up a charge, release the charge through movements, sounds and emotions, and then allow relaxation. Admitedly I was always one of the more gentle Reichian therapists, trying to work with the person as personally and as sensitively as I possibly could within this framework as I was taught, as well as going in actively and deeply when appropriate.

We concentrated on Tom’s breathing and worked with his segment blocks, beginning with his eyes. I would physically work with his muscular armor. We also addressed his character armor – we worked on his substance abuse and inability to sustain activities and feelings – and to this system I added, at the end of our sessions, the cranial/sacral work that I had also been taught.

As Tom became to breathe more fully and deeply, his chest began to move and soften, his throat began to open from the sounds he made and his muscles became more pliable and flexible . Sometimes tears and crying came. Memories would come and we could understand some of his patterns and how to work with them.

It was gratifying work for both of us. As Tom’s armor began to open up so did various aspects of his life. He made a committment to his relationship and began living with his girlfriend. He made better connections with other members of his family. His physical pains changed, they lessened, he understood them differently and saw new ways to work with them, but they were still there.

I was glad to be able to assist Tom as much as I could, but there were areas that I eventually was aware I could not reach. Finally I felt that we had come to a plateau and the way we were working was not enabling us to go further. It was frustrating for me: I could appreciate the good work that had been done, and I felt there was further to go, but there were delicate points I was missing, some aspects with which I was not able to make contact. Certainly there were parts of both his psyche and soma that I was not able to reach deeply enough to work with.

In 1983, on good terms, we terminated the therapy. Shortly after Tom married his girlfriend and they had a child. I heard nothing else.

In December of 1991, Tom called and asked to work with me again. After being married for two years and a separation of a couple years he had settled into his marital relationship. He loved his daughter massively, related to her and his family well, and was learning a lot. He said the drug abuse “just petered away,” and that three years prior he had joined Alcoholics Annonymous. He was also doing some writing. Life was good for him and he felt and wanted to be successful. He had begun meditating again and was still experiencing the spasms and physical tensions left over from before. He desired to work further on them. I told him that I would want to work differently than we had done previously, and he was willing to work in any mode I suggested.

We began weekly sessions again. Sometimes the sessions began with focusing on Tom’s breath, but this time he did not have to breathe especially heavily or do anything in particular. More generally Tom would come into my office and after a brief verbal catching up I would put my hands on one of his areas of tension and stay with him as fully as I could. I very simply made gentle, as-full-as-possible, contact with one of his areas of contraction. The area would move or not, or would give an inclination of wanting to move and how, and I would go with it or stay still as it directed. I would be able to “stay with” this energetic process until it was complete. I did not attack his armor, I did not devise exercises for him to do. I just stayed with him as completely as was possible for me.

In the beginnings of this stage of our working the spasms could be clearly perceived, and I could relatively easily feel the releases and resolutions that evolved. Reich’s methods that I had used in our previous time of working of

moving the eyes to help open the ocular block and making sounds to help release the throat block, etc. combined with what I was doing very well and were easily incorporated. As we continued to work and many of the obvious muscular spasms were resolved, the work became more subtle and more glorious.

What we discovered was very exciting for each of us. It seemed that I was meeting Tom at a pulsatory level and could work with those pulsations -some were stymied and almost non-existent and some were fiercely defensive and over reacting. When I could meet him and stay with him, incomplete energetic patterns were able to be satisfied and completed and over-acting ones resolved and released. Sometimes it felt like riding an energetic wave. I could go with it and feel the release and resolution when it naturally came about.

It was wonderful and gratifying for both of us. It felt as if “knots were being untied” (Tom’s words) and movements, actions, even situations could be fulfilled and carried to completion. By my simple touch and staying with it, I could help Tom come into contact, acknowledge, and work with what was happening, and he could come to what he called his “authentic reactions.”

Tom felt feelings “unimaginably deep and sweet” and recollections – some of them memories and some of them energetic – were experienced and integrated. He began to speak about a heretofore unknown “bodily confidence” and connection and was eventually able to admit experiencing pleasure and an ability of being able to “sustain feelings” that he had previously escaped or refused to allow or even admit.

We are both awed by the depth and intensity of the material that has opened up. This does NOT mean that infantile or even in utero material had not arisen in our first stage of working. It had, but that the quality of the experiences and the capacity for resolutions are now very different. Emotions and sensations that we worked so hard to access in the earlier work come flowing freely now, at just the right time. He is clearly opening up layer by layer.

Now there are some sessions when I don’t even touch Tom. Rather I direct his attention to an area, or his breathing does, and he is able to “stay with it.” He feels what he calls “energy dams” and if he can stay in the moment and not disassociate as the energy builds up, it starts to release and he can ride the “whole body wave.”

Whereas in our previous time of working Tom said he experienced his chest as having a “steel plate” in it, albeit eventually softening and moving, it has begun to feel more to him like an “ice berg floating off,” and it is now getting softer and more movable and pliable, and allowing fullness of feelings much more comprehensive that before.

Many memories and understandings have come to Tom, with clear perceptions of how to live his life well and also how to negotiate and integrate the ghosts of the past.

Tom still experiences some pain and tension when he sits meditation. He is softening slowly but surely. He also speaks about “a clarity” within it all for which he is grateful and from which he can learn, and an ability to experience a depth of emotions that is moving and gratifying. Last week he reported that, all of his years of meditation notwithstanding, for the very first time he has had the magnificent experience of sitting quietly and peacefully. “I no longer need to adjust for the outside, I can handle the intensity of my inner being.”

A recent development is Tomís decision to return to college to acquire certification that will enable him to be a school teacher. A wonderful example of his life now being substantial and meaningfull enough so that he can direct himself towards giving more to others also.

We continue to work and I learn, and am reafirmed constantly that simple contact is the most powerful, that gentle touching can be allowed in much deeper than any challenge or attack which naturally, of necessity, must be defended against.

I learned that clearly in my own personal therapy when, after many years of trying to accommodate and benefit from the stronger work of various practitioners, I was able to let down “my guard” only when I really felt I was not in danger of any parts of me being accousted before I was really ready. (This experience, for myself, came not in a Reichian-related session, but in a Rosen Method session. I have since studied and become certified in this work also. The “Rosen touch” has had great influence in changing the way I work.)

Granted, the work Tom and I did during our first period of working together laid the groundwork for what we are able to do now. I don’t work this way with everyone, but am able to do so now with quite a few of my clients.

With work that is too aggressive, or even wrongly timed, the patient may be re-traumatized, or at least stymied, rather than be helped, our good intentions notwithstanding.

An experience last week in my class “The Psychology of Wilhelm Reich” at the graduate school in which I teach is right to this point: The students had finished studying THE FUNCTION OF THE ORGASM, we were half way through CHARACTER ANALYSIS, and they asked for demonstrations of the work. Two weeks previously I had done a brief demonstration on a young man in the class and this time I chose a young woman with whom to work. After the class observed and discussed her structure she lay down and began to move her eyes around and took a few full breaths. She was quite responsive. She quickly began feeling the energy – vibrating, and her body undulating in the beautiful orgasmic reflex. I had asked her if she had ever done any work like this before and she said she had not. She was responding so fully and so easily that I took careful precautions to not let her get too far along. In contrast to the “wonderful energy” she was experiencing, she could also feel the holdings in her neck and shoulders and we worked a bit with that.

After the demonstration session was over she commented how unique that was for her. She said she was in a six-month training program with a group that did energetic work in a more agressive way, and that she “worked so hard” to realize some affect, to have some vibrations or some response, but in all these months she had none. I asked her why she had not told me about that work and she replied that she did not know that teaching was related to this, they seemed so different to her. (I do know of the extremely popular training she spoke about, and it is one example of a very aggressive application of Reich’s work, without giving credit to Reich or taking precautions.) She kept exclaiming about all the months she has been working with this other group with no response, and the difference of how natural and easy and wonderful this experience with me was for her.

Another example of how important it is that we meet our clients right where they are and work with them at their correct pace!

I am grateful and relieved to have come into contact with the gentle aspect of this somatic psychotherapeutic method. With the connection and support of Eva Reich and my other studies, as mentioned above, I have been able to find and develop the way of working that is right for me and the clients who come and want to work in this mode.

I hope you will find these cases interesting and useful to you in your project of publishing a book and information about Eva’s work. I consider that she makes a very important (and rare) contribution to this field of work. She follows her father in the work of giving a great deal of respect and credence to the organic and promoting the organism’s wholistic, natural sense of healing. One might say she is giving voice and action to the feminine aspects of healing in a predominantely masculine-minded field. Sometimes it may even seem too simple. But nature is on our side, and it surely can be seen in Eva’s work.

I would also be interested in any comments you, or any one else there, may have. Thank you.

Very sincerely,

Judyth O. Weaver, Ph.D.

cc: Eva Reich, M.D.