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The foundational text of vegetotherapy is Wilhelm Reich's Psychischer Kontakt und vegetative Strömung (1935), later included in the enlarged edition of Reich's Character Analysis (1933, 1949). The practice grew out of Reich's extension of psychoanalysis to cover what he called character analysis, which involved alleviating a person's body armor and the character defences that maintained one in a state of neurosis.
Reich argued that “the feeling of the unity of all body sensations...[increases] with each new dissolution of an armor ring”, leading ultimately to a merger with the autonomic functions of the body. He considered that “orgone physics reduces the emotional functions of man even much further, to the forms of movement of molluscs and protozoa”; and after his claim to have thus discovered orgone or life energy, vegetotherapy was accordingly adapted and succeeded by "psychiatric orgone therapy".
Subsequently neo-Reichian therapists have adopted the body work of vegetotherapy in various form into their therapeutic practice.
The practice of vegetotherapy involves the analyst enabling the patient to physically simulate the bodily effects of strong emotions. The principal technique is to ask the patient to remove his or her outer clothing, lie down on a sheet-covered bed in the doctor's office, and breathe deeply and rhythmically. An additional technique is to palpate or tickle areas of muscular tension ("body armor"). This activity and stimulation eventually causes the patient to experience the simulated emotions, thus (theoretically) releasing emotions pent up inside both the body and the psyche (compare with Primal Therapy).
Screaming usually occurs, and vomiting can occur in some patients. The catharsis of emotive expression breaks down the cathexis of stored emotions. While experiencing a simulated emotional state, the patient may reflect on past experiences that may have caused that emotion, but where the emotion has not been fully resolved. These emotions are described as stored emotions, and in Reichian analysis are seen as manifesting in the body. Vegetotherapy relies on a theory of stored emotions, or affects, where emotions build tensions in the structure of the body. This tension can be seen in shallow or restricted breathing, posture, facial expression or muscular stress, particularly in the circular muscles, and low libido (good sexual functioning and unrestricted, natural breathing are seen as evidence of recovery).
Examples of vegetotherapy and interviews with analyst and patients who have undergone vegetotherapy can be seen in the film Room for Happiness, directed by Dick Young and approved by the American College of Orgonomy.
Otto Fenichel accepted that relaxation techniques such as Reich advocated could have a positive effect, but saw two potential problems: The first was the possibility of psychological splitting that prevented changes in the body from impacting on the mind. The second was the need for subsequent working through to integrate the abreacted material into the psyche.
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- Franz Alexander et al eds., Psychoanalytic Pioneers (1995) p. 436
- Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis (!976) p. 372-3
- Reich, p. 397
- Blasband, Richard (2012). "Working with the Body in Psychotherapy from a Reichian Viewpoint". The Orgonomic Institute of Northern California. Archived from the original on 17 June 2012.
- Tree Staunton, Body Psychotherapy (2002) p. 40
- Description of Orgone Therapy 1
- Description of Orgone Therapy 2
- Description of Orgone Therapy 3
- A patient's description of vegetotherapy
- Dr. Elsworth Baker on Orgonomy
- film Room for Happiness
- Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 249
- Fenichel, p. 562-3
Reich, Wilhelm: Psychic Contact and Vegetative Current. (Chap. xiv of Character Analysis, 1949 ff) Orig. in Reich's Zeitschrift für Politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie
- Vegetotherapy page from A Skeptical Scrutiny of the Works and Theories of Wilhelm Reich
- Reichian therapy