Alexander Lowen’s Bioenergetic Therapy is one of the most influential bodily psychotherapies, perhaps surpassed only by the analytical character vegetotherapy of Wilhelm Reich, who was Lowen’s teacher.
In this article, we will describe what this therapy consists of, as well as what types of traits exist according to Lowen.
Biography of Alexander Lowen
Alexander Lowen (1910-2008) was born and raised in New York. His parents had emigrated from Russia to the United States. During his childhood and adolescence, which he described as lonely and stressful, he spent his free time playing sports and other physical activities. He later discovered yoga and Jacobson’s muscle relaxation as well.
Lowen obtained three doctorates throughout his life: one in science and business, another in law (both at City College, New York), and later one in medicine at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.
Between 1940 and 1952 was disciple of Wilhelm Reich, creator of Characteroanalítica vegetal therapy, The first body psychotherapy. Lowen practiced Reich’s methods until he began to work on his orgone theory, which many psychotherapy experts considered a real fraud.
It was then that he developed his own clinical contribution: bioenergetic analysis or bioenergetic therapy. In 1956, he founded the Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis with John Pierrakos and William Walling, also former students of the Reich. He continued to work as a psychotherapist until he suffered a heart attack in 2006, two years before his death.
Lowen believed that psychopathology arises from conflicts between the innate predispositions of human beings and their need to adapt to society. More precisely, he conceptualizes neurosis as a consequence of the accumulation of sexual energy, in a manner similar to the approaches advocated by Reich, his mentor.
According to Lowen, people we tend to minimize our bodily and emotional experience; on the contrary, we overestimate cognition and over-rationalize. However, the psychological and physical dimensions of the human experience are closely related, so one can cause alterations in the other.
In this context, bioenergetics can be defined as the study of the personality from the analysis of the energy processes of the human body. In particular, Lowen proposed that energy naturally be anchored in two poles – the head and the genitals – and flow freely between the two; alterations in this flow cause disturbances.
The therapeutic process
From the original hypotheses of Reich and his own Lowendesarrolló a therapeutic procedure he called bioenergetic analysis, Although it is known to a greater extent as “bioenergetic therapy”.
The goal of bioenergetic therapy is to help the client obtain satisfactory pleasure with all the basic functions of their body: motor skills, breathing, sexuality, emotions, feelings and self-expression. That is why it is necessary to release the accumulated tension, both physically and psychologically.
The process of bioenergetic therapy consists of three phases clearly differentiated:
- Be aware of bodily tensions and psychological issues.
- Emotional discharge: expression of feelings of frustration and muscle distension; defense mechanisms cease to be necessary.
- Release of energy associated with conflict; access to a full bodily and psychological experience.
Lowen described five types of character structure depending on the parts of the body in which the energy flow is obstructed. Areas of the body that this author has considered particularly relevant are the eyes, mouth, neck, shoulders, chest, diaphragm, and waist.
People with a schizoid character tend to separate their thoughts and emotions, as well as lose touch with reality and being rejected by others. Because they grew up in hostile environments, these people constantly experience fear.
According to Lowen, in these cases, the energy flow is blocked in the neck, shoulders and waist. The weight tends to be loaded on the outside of the feet and the build is generally slim.
Oral personality is characterized by childish attitudes derived from the lack of satisfaction of emotional needs during early development. these people they tend to be narcissistic and dependent on others, Or too independent.
The energy blockage occurs mainly in the shoulders and waist, so the limbs tend to be weak and less developed than normal. In addition, breathing is shallow.
In the case of the psychopathic character blockages would occur in the diaphragm and waist, Which prevents energy from flowing properly to the genital pole. These people block their feelings, including sexual ones, and tend to dominate, seduce, and deceive others, while fearing that others will similarly benefit.
Masochists tend to show one negative, submissive, uncertain and unasserted attitude, Already suppressing their intense feelings of hostility and aggression. This character structure is derived from excessive pressure exerted by adults during their young age which blocks the individuality and pleasure of the person.
On the physical level, the masochistic character manifests itself in energetic blockages in the neck, especially in the throat and waist. This increases the likelihood of feelings of anxiety. The body is generally stocky and short, according to bioenergy theorists.
This personality type is characterized by traits such as aggression, stubbornness, ambition, pride, and compulsive sexuality. Rigid people repress what they see as signs of weakness, such as crying, and they are afraid of emotional closeness with others. Of the five types, it is the least pathological due to good contact with reality.
In this case, tension builds up to some extent in all parts of the body; if the degree of tension concentration is relatively low, it can manifest itself in a vital and energetic attitude.