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 experienced.
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.