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Wilhelm Reich Commentary: Introduction and First Major Point: The Psyche Is Vast

by Lenny Gibson, AHBI Board Member

Edited and posted by Alysson TrofferThe Inner Door Editor, InnerDoor (at)

This series contains the following posts:

Wilhelm Reich, Bodywork and Depth Psychology

     Early Career
     Later Career
     Therapeutic Method

Wilhelm Reich Commentary
     Introduction and First Major Point: The Psyche Is Vast
     Second Major Point: About Bodywork
     Third Major Point: About Energy
     Fourth Major Point: Group Process and Music

Wilhelm Reich, Bodywork and Depth Psychology

Reich’s influence is even more complex than his life. Turner addresses Reich’s life capably, but not so Reich’s influence, which ranges from psychology and psychoanalysis to social phenomena. Reich directly influenced psychology and psychoanalysis through books and training of analysts. His complex, culturally pervasive, indirect influence, however, is not easy to separate from other psychoanalytic influences on society. Furthermore, Reich deplored and eschewed responsibility for many of his indirect effects.

Freud’s early ideas about unconscious influence pervasively affected advertising and popular culture. His postulation of an inchoate it, the id, located aggressive impulses and primitive appetites, including sexual drives, in the deepest recesses of the unconscious. If the appetites are frustrated, the young Freud claimed, neurosis results. Later, Freud shifted to saying the drives need to be regulated. Reich, however, would not relinquish Freud’s original idea. He championed free sexuality and orgasm as crucial for psychic health.

Freud rejected Reich because of his emphasis on orgasm, but the genie was out of the bottle and lit up the way to sex as a central factor in American advertising. The current TV series Mad Men testifies to the role of sex and other primitive themes in advertisements, as well as in the advertising industry itself. Jumping on the psychoanalytic bandwagon, Alfred Kinsey led a parade of attention-getting behavioral and sociological sex studies.

Notable social attitudes developed that associated sexual freedom with personal and social liberation, suggesting a mingling of Reich’s influence and the general cultural effect of psychoanalytic themes.

Turner accurately identifies these themes, but he does so in a way that trivializes some of the phenomena he associates with them. For instance, women’s liberation is far more important than the fact that Edward Bernays hitchhiked cigarette smoking on it. Turner’s critique also denigrates the 1960s as a meaningless Reichian orgy, ripe for corporate co-optation.

Turner’s critique notwithstanding, his work is a valuable account of Reich’s successes that we can learn from and failures from which we can take caution. Reich’s insight that healing requires consideration of a person’s entire character, not just individual symptoms, and that character is both psychic and bodily are fundamental to the psychology of the future. His demonstration of the therapeutic power of intense breathing and bodywork combined is an important precursor of Holotropic Breathwork.

Turner’s work affords us occasion to consider four major points that are importantly relevant to holotropic theory and practice:

  1. The idea that repressed libido is the primary cause of neurosis severely limits understanding of the psyche.

  2. Therapist-initiated bodywork does not facilitate expression of the whole range of material that needs resolution. In addition, a therapist’s presumption of expertise can compromise the healing potential of bodywork.

  3. Reich wrongly conceived biopsychic energy in terms of materialist physics. The phenomena Reich attributed to orgone are immaterial but have reference to an objective process whose animation is spirit.

  4. Group process and music, in addition to breathing and bodywork, are very helpful for amplifying psychic openings.

We begin our consideration here and treat the remaining points in subsequent installments.

First Major Point: The Psyche Is Vast

While sexuality and its distortion by trauma powerfully affect human behavior, many other factors must be considered in order to understand human behavior in individuals, groups, and societies. Freudian psychoanalysis at its beginning focused on the individual person and the person’s post-natal, psycho-sexual development, culminating in genital organization at puberty. The Viennese and surrounding European cultural context provided substantial reinforcement for this perspective. Shrinking the perspective of psychoanalysis to such causes would be dangerously simplistic, but it is important to think about how the paradigm of European culture influenced what Grof calls the “cognicentric” (that is, discursive, intellectual) and ethnocentric orientation of psychoanalysis.

By late life, Freud himself had expanded psychoanalytic consideration to the large issue of civilization. His early follower Alfred Adler broached the importance of social issues in development. The societal significance of psychoanalytic ideas became greatly enlarged when they were co-opted by corporate American advertising and merchandising.

Carl Jung significantly conceptualized psychic function in terms of overarching anthropological and spiritual factors. Otto Rank introduced the psychic significance of birth trauma. Stanislav Grof has expanded Rank’s idea into an extensive characterization of perinatal dynamics. Grof has also provided a clinical account of how Jungian archetypes can become infused into the psyche during perinatal experience. Grof’s investigations have illuminated not only the function of the psyche in terms of the individual but also as a portal that opens out upon the vastness of history, culture, and the larger universe.

Lenny Gibson holds Ph.D.’s in both philosophy and clinical psychology, and practices both. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have conducted about 200 Holotropic Breathwork workshops, which they continue to offer monthly. As a long-term survivor of a near-death experience with throat cancer, Lenny facilitates monthly support groups. He raises vegetables, fruit, and beef cattle on his family homestead in Pawlet, Vermont; plays clarinet in local bands; and does planning for his town. He is a founding board member of the 40,000-patient Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region, a Federally Qualified Health Center. His email address is gib (at) His web site is available at

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