Bodywork and Sexuality

Paddy Logan uses Reich’s Character Structure Model when practising 
bodywork. Here he talks to Mavis Arnold and questions some perceptions
 often made about bodywork and sexuality.

The question may be asked, what does it mean to link bodywork with sex? I feel 
there is a perception of bodywork as intrinsically more intimate and therefore 
potentially more sexual, than other forms of therapeutic interaction. In one sense, 
it could be said to be true, in a set context of one person touching another. In the 
therapeutic sense, which is broader, it is essential to recognise bodywork in the
 context of the overall and specific themes evident in the client’s process, in the
 client’s experienced and observed process, and in the client/therapist relationship.
 Seen in this way there are perhaps two other considerations: the meaning of 
bodywork within the therapeutic relationship, and the intentional recognition of
 and inclusion of the body experience in the therapy process.

The importance of physical interaction and communication

Physical interaction and communication are always subtle and always present.
 They are often hidden strata from the outset. The meeting between client and 
therapist is not only a psychological or emotional/vibrational event. From the
 moment when the therapist and client meet, there is an on-going contextualising 
of the physical taking place within, and between, both of them. For example,
 observed and experienced eye contact, auditory sensing, physical shape and 
appearance, posture and movement, experienced presence of another. There is a
 network of somatic communication issuing and absorbed as a stream of interaction 
between both from the outset. This is important to recognise in the sense that the
 therapist is not encountering the psyche as expressing only from within the
 container of the head. Even in a fractured sense the person comes expressing as
 whole, not partitioned or condensed.

Relevance of naming the body

In the initial session, a therapist may describe to the client the form of therapeutic
 approaches and tools – including reference and attention to the body – which the 
client may call upon as becomes his/her experience of the process. In this there is 
an optional holding made available to the client of the possibility of including the
 body as focus at some future juncture. There is here a place for the therapist to 
respond to any questions or anxieties which the client may put out. The naming of
 the body as relevant by its very focus can bring the physical closer to awareness.

From the humanistic point of view, empathy and congruence can be organic in 
essence. Perhaps they always are. When I place my hand on my solar plexus and
 say to a client: “I feel nervous and uncertain here when you.. ” I am becoming
 more present. I do this by offering my own experienced sense of being present. If
 the mirroring is accurate, often a client will respond by initiating awareness of their
 own physical experience. The client can begin to risk his/her own presence being 

Bodywork and the integrity of the client

At times where there is clear and conscious somatic empathy, a deep and intimate 
meeting can be acknowledged and witnessed – without any touch at all. Increasing
 attention to the reality of the body allows the client to consider contracting on 
somatic/emotional layers of the work at his/her own pace. When I view bodywork
 as embedded in the integrity of the client, it places the emphasis on the context in
 which I engage from that approach. In the often long period of listening to and
 hearing the difficulties and struggles which led the client to seek therapy, there is 
primarily an engagement from the head. Any movements down from the head
 towards the physical/emotional layers are always resourced from within the 
autonomy of the client. It is never a therapist’s decision. The client holds control
 of internal surrender to the physical change. The therapist provides
 accompaniment and observational support. There are many simple, yet powerful,
 possibilities. An increase in the depth of breathing can soften and allow access and
 expression to feelings locked in a tense body state. The use of self-touch by the 
client can equally bring attention clearly to the physical. There are many ways in
 which this tactile presence can be supplied without actual physical contact. For 
example, in supporting a focus on the diaphragm, the therapist may place a small
 cushion between the hand and the body which still allows for movement and 
pressure to be present. The safety experienced by the client is pivotal at all times,
 and is checked constantly by the therapist during any form of physical work. Any
 form of specific bodywork can only occur through negotiation with the client’s 
understanding and choice, and is only effective within these margins. Thus body 
awareness and interaction cover a wide canvas within the therapy.

When does this become sexual

The question may now arise: when does this become sexual? Generally this seems
 to stem from a concern about a perceived opportunity for unprofessional behaviour
 as being inherent in a bodywork approach. This is a serious concern.

Looking at the dynamics of the therapeutic relationship, and the wide range of
 issues which a client may bring to it, requires the therapist to remain alert to the 
underlying agenda. Obviously, if there is evidence of any form of erotic
 transference, sexual abuse, uterine enmeshment etc. a therapist would be prudent
 and ethical in not engaging with the physical in any manner which might inflate
 this in the client. It is the responsibility of the therapist to maintain care of the 
client’s integrity in such an awareness. The onus is on the therapist to maintain
 ethical and humanistic standards, and to be available in a therapeutically
 responsible mode. This is true of any approach or integration of approaches. Many 
clients will work with psychological and/or emotional layers which are not active 
with sexual content, and which are physical in context and expression. The
 approach which a therapist uses is not necessarily of itself any more prone to sexual 
acting out or abuse than another. The physical act is always premeditated. The 
essence of any unprofessional action in this sense is more likely to be psychological than opportunistic. Bodywork of itself does not create abusive
 situations. It could possibly be argued that the potential for intimacy as perceived 
within bodywork, acts to highlight personal boundaries in ways which less obvious 
approaches within the therapy do not.

Subtle and surreptitious patterns to notice

Language and thought forms, for instance, can be highly active with sexual content
 and agenda. These can be present in subtle and surreptitious patterns enmeshed in
 the person’s means and capacity to be present. These types of charges can perhaps
 move around much more potently in the complexity of the head, than in the open 
ground of the physical. If I link an idea of sexuality, and perhaps more specifically 
the notion of sexual urges and/or desires coupled with touch to a perception of
 bodywork as opportunity for intimate touch, that is certainly a volatile
 combination. Yet bodywork and its effectiveness in practice, as I hope is indicated 
here, requires a high degree of presence and capacity for choice.

Use and importance of Reichian character structure model

I use the Reichian character structure model incorporated into a humanistic and
 psychodynamic style of being present. With this model it can be quite easy to get 
a sense of the core issues going on for the client. For example, observing 
armouring, complexion, blood flow to the body, body shape. Where weight is 
distributed, how limbs are arranged in terms of movement, elongation of the body,
 all come out of the map. Physical structure can indicate psychic difficulties. But
 even if I see perfectly well that the client could do a lot of work with legs or throat,
 for instance, I cannot interpret the client’s state of being. All I can do is to be aware
 of this as the relationship progresses, and the client becomes aware of their own
 physic manifestation of themselves, and its physical expression. This may happen 
through breathing. This discovery depends on that choices they make and at what 
level they engage. Autonomy in the head of the client is what matters. There is
 no point in foisting my insights, my instincts on the client.

Reich said that the basis for neurosis was organic. He understood that the body is
 as much a manifestation of the mind as it is a manifestation of the presence of the
 person. What he developed were theories which sought to uncover the
 manifestation of the neurosis and struggles which were happening in the body
. The link between who I am physically and psychically, and how I appear in the
 world in a physical sense, gives clear evidence in the body of how I arrive at my
 sense of who I am. Reich made fundamental discoveries about how the body creates and shapes itself. The body is a clear set of statements and if we can come
 to understand what this means, it is possible to recognise very quickly what core 
issues may arise for the client. Reich catagorised defence systems which form part 
of the character structure. The schozoid structure, for example, where trauma 
happened during or after birth so that the person struggles to find where it is safe
 to exist, will be indicated by a pale complexion, body very thin, shallow breathing 
open eyed trance like stare, among other visible signals.

I have found that the accuracy of the Reich map has been consistent. I place trust 
in it. My understanding of these structures is continually informed by the
 variations which clients bring to these issues. My intention is to look first at the 
immediate physical response of the client rather than at what is at the root of it.
 The client can then become educated by the physical experience of his/her own
 issues. It can open a whole new series of pathways.

Paddy Logan is a humanistic and integrative psychotherapist. He is a trainer and
 supervisor with a practice in Dublin.