Bioenergetic therapy is a modification of orthodox Reichian therapy. Reich (1942, 1949) contended that interruption of the life-energy flow through repression was aided by seven rings of “muscle armoring” and that this was the basis of neurosis. By manipulating these rings progressively from head to pelvis (orgone therapy) conscious awareness of painful vegetative sensations occurred, the energy flow was encouraged, and health brought about.
What to expect?
The actual technique consists, at the start, of assumption of a painful “stress position,” such as lying on the floor with the back arched so that support is maintained by the top of the head, the elbows, and the soles of the feet. Other exercises consist of kicking or hitting the couch. The “stress positions” assumed can actually cause the body to vibrate, and the discomfort may lead to yelling or screaming, which the therapist encourages.
How does it work?
A number of adaptations of Lowen’s technique have appeared, especially in the behavior therapy field. One innovation is to fuse bioenergetics with assertive training. An effort is made to elicit in various ways, as through facial, postural, verbal, and other expressive channels, patterns associated with emotion. Assertive behavior, along with expression of appropriate feelings, is in this way gradually shaped. Emotional release is stimulated by such games as rolling up a towel, with the therapist grasping one end and the patient the other. A tug of war then ensues, the patient being told the towel is his and that he must wrest it from the therapist, demanding “It is mine, give it to me,” and maintaining eye contact while the therapist resists and goads the patient on (Palmer, RD, 1971). Other “exercises” given the patient are punching a pillow violently in private, yelling such phrases as “you bitch,” “Damn you,” and the like. The therapist handles the patient’s reactions in the office, reassuring the patient, if necessary, not to be afraid, or forcibly insisting on the patient yelling louder. Some therapists encourage the use of obscenities to cut into the patient’s repressions. Some provide the patient with a tennis racket with which to hit the couch, while uttering such statements as “Bastard, I hate you.” Some encourage the patient to growl through bared teeth with jaw thrust forward, shaking fists at the therapist while maintaining eye contact. Some ask the patient to repeat angrily, “Yes, I am mean and ugly and nasty, and I will become more so if you don’t stop bothering me.” Bioenergetic assertive techniques have also been used with proper organization to release affectionate and sexual feelings.
When is it used?
The exercises open up an awareness in the patient of malfunctioning of breathing and other muscular operations that are presumably crippled by blockage of the energy flow. The loosening of the muscle armoring is believed to be the first step in personality reorganization.
Role of therapist:
The Lowenian emphasis (Lowen, 1958) in bioenergetics is also on muscular energy blockages, but rather than the therapist manipulating the muscles, as in orgone therapy, reliance is placed on the patient’s own muscle activity exercises and verbalization. The therapist here participates in the exercises given the patient by modeling an appropriate behavior and by role playing.