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What is Reichian Therapy?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Reichian therapy is the name given to a type of therapy developed by Wilhem Reich, often also referred to as Orgone Therapy, Orgonomy Therapy, or Orgonomy. It is an alternative, holistic therapy, that has found increasing interest over the past few decades, and is one of the major alternative therapeutic modalities in the West.

Wilhelm Reich was born at the end of the 19th century in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His early life on a farm was filled with sexual openness and experimentation that would influence much of his later work. Reich fought in World War I, and then went to school in Vienna, studying Freud, and becoming a part of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association by the time he was 23. At 25 he set up his own private practice, and by his mid-30s he had developed a great deal of theories which would later underpin Reichian therapy.

This style of therapy basically holds that our capacity to experience joy and fully-realized lives is constricted by walls and armor we put up to protect us from the world. It looks at the attitudes patients use to close themselves off, and helps the patient analyze them and eventually break them down, in order to live more expressive, open lives.

Reichian therapy begins with some sort of character assessment. The therapist looks at everything from how the patient interacts with them, to how they hold themselves and move in the world, to begin to understand the mode in which the patient is operating. The therapist endeavors to build a genuine, trusting, and friendly relationship with the patient, supporting them and actively engaging them at every opportunity.

Therapy in the Reichian style is somewhat innovative in its integration of physical bodywork with psychological assessment. Deep tissue massage plays a large role in it, helping the patient to relax and open themselves more fully. Guided breathing exercises further help the patient of Reichian therapy relax and realize their expansive potential.

Reichian therapy also utilizes a number of traditional psychoanalytic approaches to find root causes of closure in patients. Dream analysis is used by a number of Reichian practitioners, as is a prolonged set of analysis sessions designed to uncover deeply hidden issues and walls.

Traditionally, Reichian therapy acted from the understanding that all neurosis grew out of sexual frustration and repressed sexuality. This was a very Freudian view, and one no doubt influenced largely Reich’s personal experiences. Many modern Reichian therapists, however, believe that while sexuality plays an important role in neuroses, other causes may also play a role. Usually this difference of opinion is acknowledged by referring to Orthodox and Neo-Reichian therapy. Orthodox practitioners continue to practice from the belief that sexuality is the root cause of neuroses. Neo-Reichian practitioners believe that other causes, such as abandonment or non-sexual physical abuse at an early age, may also cause neuroses later in life.

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Discussion Comments
By anon926198 — On Jan 16, 2014

Sympathy for some of the abusive practices described here.

To be succinct, iirc reichian therapy is based on the idea that traumas are stored in the body, and can be released by holding painful positions, like stretching, *not* being wounded or experiencing pain (and iirc imitating emotions was part of his earlier work), but like leaning backward to stretch out the neck, you can hit a point where you start to quake uncontrollably, which I find quite physically therapeutic.

I interpret this as sort of a remedial yoga for industrial persons who are physically crammed into positions to accommodate repetitive tasks.

Don't hurt yourself, and don't let other people hurt you.

By anon287592 — On Aug 26, 2012

A quick thought on a couple of the comments here. Some Reichian therapists are superb; many are good; a few are probably bad. Perhaps this pattern holds for many or most systems, approaches, and organizations, including therapeutic schools, religions and business enterprises.

By anon118483 — On Oct 14, 2010

As with all disciplines, there are the good and the bad. It seems the two comments reflect the misunderstanding and misuse of therapy as proposed by Wilhelm Reich. Training in this therapy requires knowledge and personal analysis so one can work with another human being effectively.

The description of Reich's therapy at WiseGeek is generally correct, except that they did not include any mention of a specific bioenergy-orgone-which unifies the psyche and soma.

By anon109592 — On Sep 08, 2010

I think reichian therapy is a fraud. in the 1970's I saw an orgone trained psychiatrist, for three years. all is did was strip to my underwear, lie on a bed and cry or scream for 45 minutes.

he never put anything together for me, and i was totally frustrated. when i lost my job, he told me i should be a water meter reader, because i was shy and avoided people, so this job would let me further go into my armoring! is this what reich wanted? if i understood more, i would have tried to have his license lifted. i left therapy and never wanted anything more to do with it. it's a fraud.

By anon63884 — On Feb 04, 2010

I was subjected, along with my older brother, from a very young age, to years of abuse at the hands of Reichian "Therapists". It was routine to strip down, be told to lie in a very precise way, and then the "therapist" would do things to me that caused great pain.

I was yelled at, degraded, humiliated. I remember one time when one of the "therapists" threatened to cut my penis off with scissors. I had no one to turn to, as it was my parents who took us there. It was terrifying.

I still can't believe that after all theses years, Wilhelm Reich and his Orgone nonsense still receive such sympathetic treatment from so many sources. He made outrages claims, such as the ability to cure cancer through "Orgone energy", controlling weather and doing battle with space aliens with his cloudbusters.

Please be more skeptical in dealing with the teachings, beliefs and practices of Wilhelm Reich.

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