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Reich’s Understanding of Character and Body Expression

Reich discovered, through years of working with patients as well as methodical research, that “…the psychic structure is at the same time a biophysiological structure which represents a specific state indicative of the interplay of the person’s vegetative forces.” 1

What does this mean and how do we apply it to our lives?

In Orgonomic therapy we work to disrobe, if you will, the character — layer by layer. That means the therapist observes, points out, and explores with the client the way — the style that defines how the person engages within himself and the world. How do these character attitudes manifest and shape his total expression and are they effective or problematic? Our job as clinicians is to release our client from the severely limiting character traits that are defensive in nature, learned as a way to cope with early and later life challenges. Although the defenses ‘worked’ to some extent, they become liabilities with negative repercussions increasing with age if not altered.

For example, if a client habitually withdraws as a way to cope with life, that defense is unmasked and deeper feelings are released that have been bound in layers of armoring (the term Reich coined to describe character and biophysical defenses). Then the client learns a more effective and expansive way of relating by developing skill in self-expression rather than relying on retreat. Another example is if a client is emotionally controlling with outbursts of dramatic expression that dwarf the other; that habit is sheared away such that deeper feelings that drive the dramatic display are revealed and new ways of relating are instated. Harshness in style and tone is a sign of character and biophysical armor.

The next step in Orgonomy is to view the character as it manifests in the body; we can observe the bodily expression that runs parallel to the specific character structure. Our character style is embedded into our nervous system, organs, musculature and tissues and is observable. Holding back our aliveness is one function of body armor because we learned that our spontaneous expression was not invited nor tolerated. Or we were not taught the language of self-expression and/or we did not feel safe in our environment to become our true self.

When Reich refers to our vegetative forces, he is referencing all elements of our physiological functioning: from the movement of vegetative processes such as blood, and lymph flow, to the gelatinous substances circulating within our connective tissues, the superficial and deep fascia with its viscous ground substance fluids, to the pulsation of our autonomic nervous system, the cerebrospinal fluid, to the pulsation of our cells, to the movement of sensations from the top of our head to the tips of our toes, to the movement of ’energy‘, a real phenomenon that Reich discovered under the microscope.

As the Orgonomist works with a client, she understands that within the musculature and body expression are embedded memories and experiences. As Reich stated: “…every muscular rigidity contains the history and the meaning of its origin”. As we unlock tense muscles, spasms, the tenderness in the tissues, the pain held in the body, we capture a felt sense of our contemporary and historic psychic and biophysical pain. The mind and body are one.

Reich emphasized the importance of vegetative equilibrium and natural motility. This refers to reinstating natural balance and stability of the autonomic nervous system, which effects all organs, tissues and cells as well as restoring inherent freedom of movement from the cellular level of pulsation to the capacity of the body to stretch, move with grace, perceive and feel sensations, and express spontaneously. Healthy sexual function is part of this equation. 1

These are basic concepts of Orgnonomy. The profundity, when understood and applied, is life changing.


1Reich, W. (1973). The Function of the Orgasm. (pp.300-301). New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.


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