Why Study Another Methodology?

Why study yet another methodology when the one you're already using seems fine? Or, if you're just starting out, how do you pick a training method amid all the competing claims out there that seemingly say they are the most effective, quickest, best, etc.?

Personally, I first chose a psychotherapy training based on interest, but also on the personality of the trainer. For me, this goes back to the UK equivalent of high school, where one must choose, at age fifteen, three subjects in which to major. My choice for two of them – Latin and Greek – was not for the inherent love of those subjects over others, but was due mainly because, out of all my teachers, I had the greatest resonance and respect for the head Classics master, Dr 'Wally' Cruikshank.

Thus, my first formal training in body- centered psychotherapy – as distinct from body-awareness based psychotherapy – was based on what I heard from a man I met in a ten-day course on sexual abuse held at Esalen. Since, at the time, I had not heard of Orgone Therapy or classical Reichian therapy, for me the choice seemed to be between the two founders of Bioenergetics: Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos. (Orgone was Reich's term for élan vital, prana, or life force. How he came across this energy is a story in itself.) I had greatly admired Lowen's books when I first experienced Bioenergetics in the early 80's. His writings were adjunctive to the profound awakening I experienced in neo-Reichian therapy. But my fellow Esalen workshop participant, a seasoned practitioner of somatic therapies, said, "Pierrakos has more heart." That clinched it for me.

Indeed, Pierrakos was a powerful presence. It was his capacity to resonate with another's being that seemed to lead to a therapeutic effect. He had two years of therapy with Reich, which, presumably at five times per week, Pierrakos said "demolished me." JP (as he was sometimes called) had a depth of vision, which not only enabled him to see energy flows and blockages, but also seemed to help him see the real person underneath his or her defenses. In one video demonstration he showed us, he asked the patient to move his lower jaw ever so slightly forward. On the audio you can hear John saying, "See: there is the man!" Such clarity of seeing combined with this force of truth, coupled with his determined heart, provided a strong bond within which people had the courage to open up. 

Yet Pierrakos and Lowen were largely self-taught. The functional unity between characteristic styles of relating and the somatic expression of the organism/patient was lost in a reductionist theory where types of structures were developed in a mechanistic way. 

Obvious primary ways of relating were ignored in favor of the diagnosis made on body types. This method is true up to a point: the body shape or posture can speak volumes about a person's history, but it is their actual functioning that is more important in treatment than such body shape considerations. For example, some students in the five-year Core Energetics program I attended were considered Schizoid structures whereas, in fact, their characteristic ways of relating were with plenty of free aggression and entitlement. Preventing such patients from taking over the session, dealing with their aggression, and attending to their narcissistic vulnerabilities would, in my view, be essential to the treatment plan.

The mechanistic failure of Bioenergetics was frankly attended to by Pierrakos, leading to his split from Lowen. He developed a more spiritually based therapy he later termed Core Energetics. The spiritual dimension came in the form of Eva Broch (later Pierrakos), who gave guided lectures on the human condition. From my perspective, this was the missing piece of Bioenergetics: the forgotten Character Analysis - since, if you read her lectures, you will discover many ways of focusing on one's character. The essential insight of the functional unity of body and character was only partially understood: the resulting method exhibited the mystical/mechanical split Reich talks about in his later writings. One fellow student observed to me one day, "I don't think Pierrakos is clear whether he's starting a psychotherapy or a religion."

So it was with considerable relief to discover, in one of my very first classical Reichian seminars, Dr. Richard Blasband stating, unequivocally, "The relationship between therapist and patient is primary [in terms of cure]." In other words, how the patient functioned interpersonally was not only diagnostic but also central to the treatment approach. Dr. Blasband was cofounder with Ellsworth Baker, MD, of the American College of Orgonomy, and went on to be its president. Baker was initially assigned this teaching function by Reich himself.

This appealed to my other tendency to try to get to the purest expression of something I could find - like trying to go as far upstream to the source as I could get. (In the 80's my therapeutic lineage could be traced from John Gladfelter, with whom I trained for six years, to his trainer Beukenkamp, to Alexander (who made inroads in the understanding of psychosomatics), to Freud. Similarly, it was not enough to seek a vision quest just any old way. Somehow I was introduced to a traditional Lakota medicine man, and went back to Pine Ridge almost annually for ten years for a traditional four-night hanblecya or visionquest.)

Now that I was closer to classical Reichian therapy principles, the process of diagnosing patients was at once more challenging (Dr Blasband once quipped, "It takes ten years to become proficient in diagnosis"), but now more alive. It was also a revelation to me to understand the functioning of brain armoring or brain lesions, which is so important now with the greater understanding in the neurobiology of attachment. More crucially, however, I found out how to work with these syndromes in each individual case. 

Whereas before, in prior somatic experiences and/or trainings, there was either too great an emphasis on conscious will, or, by contrast, the therapy would lose steam and become aimless, now the understanding of the functional identity between the patient's presenting style and how their body expresses its aliveness became a far more powerful and comprehensive avenue within which to address the patient's concerns. It is also, in my view, a method that forcefully respects the power of the patient's own immune system to combat the illness for which both patient and therapist have come together to heal. The resonant attunement to what is, both within the patient and in the patient's outer life, produces a spontaneous unfurling of the patient's blocks, resulting in increased aliveness and clarity, a better ability to cope with life's challenges, and a deeper appreciation for the real satisfactions and pleasures of life.

The Director of the Orgonomic Institute Of Northern California, Patricia Frisch PhD went further in elaborating Reich's original vision and working model. Dr Frisch saw a way to integrate the work of the Masterson group into character analytic work. James F T Masterson developed a unique and effective way of working with three main clusters of pre-oedipal disorders: schizoid, narcissistic, and borderline conditions. Today's clinicians face an enormously difficult challenge of working with patients who are increasingly disorganized and deeply split, compared to the mostly neurotic (or oedipal phase) patients of half a century ago.

All too often, in my experience, clinicians can go to the "juicy" material, such as family of origin trauma, or symptomatic relief such as weight-loss or body image problems, but the patient's overall functioning as understood in a structural, character-analytic approach is unclear or left out altogether. The danger of proceeding in this manner is that the patient's life falls apart and cannot sustain the changes made. The least damage is that the patient simply drops out of treatment.



It is my sincere hope that I may pass on some of the wisdom I have gleaned over the last three decades of learning - not to mention the typical formative 'internships' which most of us therapists have come through in childhood and adulthood.  Without these wounds, we would never have embarked on our own healing journeys, so that we might come to help others.