WILHELM REICH'S CHARACTER-ANALYTIC VEGETOTHERAPY
(Systematized by Federico Navarro)
In the 1920s and as a very young member of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society, Wilhelm Reich, became the director of the Seminar on Analytical Techniques of the Wiener Psychoanalytische Ambulatorium (the Viennese Psychoanalytic Outpatient Clinic).
Clinical activities at the Ambulatorium highlighted methodological shortcomings which Reich had to deal with. At that time, many analytical treatments presented so-called negative therapeutic reactions (failure of resolution and conclusion of training), ending up in chaos or in an associative stagnation or ‘stasis’, and this was deemed an inevitable risk. In his desire to overcome this difficulty, Reich undertook a coherent elaboration of latent negative transference united with a systematic analysis of both the patient’s resistances and subconscious material emerging from free association. Clinical observations deriving from this work led Reich to formulate his Character Analysis method, which he felt constituted a more adequate and effective treatment for the neuroses and psychoneuroses. The approach consists in the identification of certain character traits typical of a number of disorders, which were subsequently classified and listed. In clinical observation, such characteristics are always associated with the so-called corresponding ‘muscular rings of tension’ (i.e., ‘blocks’), which Reich identified as: ocular, oral, cervical, thoracic, diaphragmatic, abdominal and pelvic. The distribution of the rings of tension is typical for each character type. The concepts of ‘affective stagnation’ and ‘character armour’ assume fundamental importance, and the ideas put forward in the text entitled Character Analysis became a milestone of the analytical technique and a wealth of knowledge universally acclaimed within the field of depth psychology.
Through an elaboration of the Freudian concepts of libido and anxiety expressed in the theory of the ‘actual neuroses’ (sexual-stasis neuroses) - i.e. neuroses not originating in infantile conflict - Reich established the important paradigm of the antithesis and functional identity of libido and anxiety as qualitative psychic manifestations of the ‘vital movement’ and ‘energetic pulsation’ in the body. The antithetical functions Libido/Anxiety are correlated with the neurovegetative Sympathetic/Parasympathetic functions (functions of contraction and expansion), highlighting the physical/bodily anchoring of psychic inhibitions and emotional stases at the level of the neuro-muscular system.
The final form of Reich’s therapeutic methodology can be identified in Character Analysis Vegetotherapy, a term which emphasizes the importance of intervention at the level of the neurovegetative system together with the necessary process of character analysis as a fundamental psychotherapeutic modality (integrating action, emotion and verbalization), which adopts, as a diagnostic instrument, verbal, body-emotional and behavioural language. Although Perls’ Gestalt Therapy, Lowen’s Bioenergetic Therapy, Boadella’s Biosynthesis and Pierrakos’ Core Energetics may all be considered as original elaborations of Reich’s initial discovery, Federico Navarro was the founder of the famous schools of therapeutic body mediation which aimed at coherently adhering to Wilhelm Reich’s principles and school of thought. Federico Navarro’s theoretical model should thus be considered the most orthodox methodological approach and elaboration of the Reichian method, on the planes of both clinical intervention and prevention and at the theoretical-scientific and systematic methodological levels.
Over various decades, and in a number of European countries (including Italy), Brazil and Argentina, Prof. Navarro created a school of Orgone Therapy, which coherently built on the theories and work of Wilhelm Reich.
Following an initial psychoanalytical training with Levi Bianchini and a period of Jungian training with Aldo Carotenuto, in the 1970s Navarro began to study Character Analysis Vegetotherapy under the supervision of Ola Raknes, one of Reich’s followers and collaborators.
On completing the training process, Navarro accepted Raknes’ suggestion of working on a systematic categorization of the ‘actings’ (expressive neuromuscular movements) postulated in the theory underlying Vegetotherapy.
This was just the beginning, as together with the methodology of Vegetotherapy, Navarro re-elaborated, enriched and systemized the method of diagnosis and psychopathology, extending contemporary knowledge of characterological disorders and biopathic illnesses.
The scientific paradigm of Federico Navarro’s Orgone Therapy is centered on knowledge of the emotional function at the physical, psychic and energetic levels.
Federico Navarro was born in Naples on 16th June 1924.
After obtaining his degree in medicine and specialising in forensic medicine, also as a consequence of the poverty which had stricken his family in the early post-war years, he travelled to Australia as a ship’s doctor and shortly afterwards met Leboyer, who was then a physician working for the United Nations. On his return, he subsequently specialised in anatomopathology and began working as a researcher at the Cancer Institute in Naples. After leaving this post following the development of a contrasting stance with respect to the position of the director of the institute, he won a public competition calling for applications for a post of ‘alienist’ physician (i.e., a medical doctor dealing with psychiatric problems related to psychosis, retardation, delirium etc) in psychiatric prisons, for which the title of legal physician was sufficient, but – owing to Navarro’s desire to remain coherent – he decided to specialise in neuropsychiatry.