Vegetoterapia Caracteroanalítica


Xavier Serrano, Genovino Ferri, Marilena Komi



It is a term created by Wilhelm Reich in 1936 in Berlin that describes his way to practice psychoanalysis in having introduced important modifications, both in the setting as well as in the clinical tools. These will become the matrix of the so-called subsequently, “body-psychotherapies”.

Based on the psychodynamic theory, Characteranalytical Vegetotherapy introduces the body of the patient in the setting - the 3rd element- which assumes a diagnostic (language of the body) as well as a therapeutic value, through the activation of sensory organs and the motion of principal areas of the body. These, together with the analysis of the characterological traits, gives access to the psychic functions and provokes insights and corrective experiences, always within a psychotherapeutic setting and an appropriate therapeutic relationship.


Historical Context

Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) at the end his studies on neuropsychiatry in Vienna, became interested in sexology. He approached psychoanalysis fascinated by Sigmund Freud, thing that led him to channel his profession in that direction from a very young age (1920). He was also influenced by the ideas of the vitalist philosopher Henry Bergson, the theory of Carl Marx and several other cultural and scientific contributions of that time, the connection between emotions and the movement of the body (Elsa Gindler and Elsa Linderberg), the relaxation techniques of Jacobson and Shultz, as well as the recent medical investigations carried out by A.Muller and his team from the Leipzig University on the Autonomous (Vegetative) Nervous System. The latest investigation helped understand the influence of psychism and the affects, in many pathological disorders, laying the ground for the further development of psychosomatic medicine.

He took part in the so-called psychoanalytic “circle of Vienna” but after only few years he moved to Berlin driven by the political and social movements which were starting there, before the final predominance of Hitler and his party. These events put the psychoanalysts in a very delicate situation in which they felt uncomfortable about the radical political beliefs of Wilhelm Reich, leading to his expulsion from the newly created International Psychoanalytic Association (API).

Persecuted by the Nazis he was given shelter by a group of Norwegian psychoanalysts (Ola Raknes, Nic Waal etc.), he settled for a couple of years in Oslo (1936-1939) where he developed his own contribution to psychoanalysis which was later defined as the Character-analytical Vegetotherapy. This term was changed into “Character-analytical Orgontherapy” in the years he was staying in the United States, where he emigrated in 1939 when the war moved to Northern Europe. Nevertheless there are no significant differences between the two, in clinical practice.


Theoretical underpinnings

Differences with Psychoanalysis

The clinical aim is for the patient to recover the identity of his or her Ego which was stifled by psychic or somatic defense mechanisms established along with a childhood filled with deficiencies and repressions that limited his growing up process. For this reason it is necessary to recover the ability to feel pleasure and also to restore the energetic pulsation and to regulate the organism which is synonymous of psychosomatic health. To achieve all this one must reach the balance of the autonomous nervous system (vegetative) through the analysis and the restructuring of the character, defined as the “armour” of the Ego (mind-body functional identity ). In his work “The function of orgasm”, published in 1927, Reich writes:

“By relaxing the chronic character attitudes we manage to acquire reactions of the nervous vegetative system. At the same time we manage to liberate not only the character attitudes, but also the corresponding muscular attitudes. In this way, part of the work is taken from the psychical and characterological field to the immediate disassembling of the muscular armour”. And further:

“A neurosis is not only the expression of a disturbance in the psychic balance but , in a much deeper and justified sense, it is the expression of a chronic disturbance in the vegetative equilibrium and the natural mobility. The psychic structure is therefore simultaneously a determinate biophysical structure”

In the setting, influenced by Sandor Ferenczi, the psychotherapist adopts a more active role, by placing himself next to the patient instead of behind him, without abandoning his neutral position. Also he introduces in the analytical dynamic the importance of the spontaneous attitudes and some corporal aspects of the patient, like the way he is breathing or his muscular rigidities, being able to promptly intervene through some pressure or focused massage.

“Every time, it is surprising to see how the decomposition of a muscular contraction not only liberates vegetative energy, but also reproduces in the memory the situation in which the repression of the impulse took place. We may say that every muscular contraction contains the story and the meaning of its original creation” (Reich, ib)

“The muscular attitudes also assume another meaning in the character analytical therapy. They indeed give the possibility to avoid, if necessary, the complicated deviation through the psychic structures and to enter directly through the corporal attitude in the field of the impulsive aspects” (Reich, ib)

He conceived the therapeutic relation as a dynamic process as soon as he sensed that there are very different ways of organizing the defensive mechanisms, being a pioneer in the description of the “borderline” pathology (instinctual character, 1925), of the segmental ''armouring'' of the neurotic personality and of the perceptual-optical split of the psychotic . He gave great importance to the development of the negative transference as the first and necessary step to achieve a real positive transference.


Therapeutic process and tecniques

From his essay on masochism, in 1927, included later in “Character Analysis”, Reich begins the integration of Character Analysis with Vegetotherapy on a clinical level as well:

He initially facilitates the emergence of analytical material (insight) by pointing out ways of standing of the patient in the session (tone of voice,gestures such as crossing legs, looking away or blushing) as well as more permanent attitudes (compulsive, masochistic, phallic or hysterical).He also focused on the chronic muscular rigidities (neck, chest, pelvis) that influence body posture and its internal functioning, establishing a tendency to contraction and anxiety (predominance of the “sympathetic” part of the vegetative nervous system) with consequent bioenergetic and psychosomatic imbalance.

On specific occasions he stimulated the output of the voice, increased the depth of speaking, modified the way of looking, even sometimes suggesting silence, everything that provoked to the patient emotions related to -even unconscious- fear, sadness or anger. To which could be added more global involuntary experience, that arose with the progress of the therapeutic process, dismantling the defense mechanisms and the stratified and segmented stiffness of the ''armor'', such as “the reflex of orgasm”. (With this term we describe an involuntary slight movement of the whole body when a patient, lying on the couch,when he achieves the capacity to breath fully and relax the chronic muscular tensions).

He considered these as objective signs to the achievement of the clinical goals, underlining that the mobilitation of the defenses and the armor is something very delicate, as soon as they are part of the identity of the patient.

For that reason, consecutive carefull steps should be followed, and amongst others, a cefalocaudal (from head to feet) direction in relaxing the seven corporeal segments (functionally related areas) which he had described.

In VGT we usually talk about intervening from the first to the seventh segment of the body, that is from the eyes (ocular segment) to the pelvis (pelvic segment), bearing in mind that all segments are interrelated and partial interventions are not effective. At the same time it is necessary to integrate the emotional experience through an analytical elaboration of the transferential relationship.

Character Analytical Vegetotherapy, was specifically systematized and related with the seven corporeal levels by Ola Raknes and Federico Navarro.

Federico Navarro assembled the main techniques of Wilhelm Reich, which he named “actings”, and introduced new ones, setting up the way of using them (time, rhythm, direction), developing a clinical methodology.

Character Analytical Vegetotherapy acts on the Autonomous (Vegetative) nervous system after which it is named, on the muscular system, on the neuroendocrine system and on the energetic pulsation, which are the more direct expressions of emotional, affective and instinctive life. It tends to create euphtony and rebalancing of the above mentioned systems. It induces neurovegetative phenomena and emotions, which constitute messages-expressions of the language of the body, that are absolutely necessary for the reading of the personality aspects.

The verbalization of the sensations, of the emotions and of the free associations produced as well ,as the diagnosis of the object relations of the patient, represent the successive step of this methodology.

Especially the language of the body, which is the expression of the incisions of the object relations in the corresponding bodily areas (levels), is the most significant message to which one relates to, in the reichian setting. It must be clear that it accompanies all the other data of the “how” the person is expressing himself: from dreams to lapsuses, from symbols to metaphors, from imaginary life to liberating fantasies, from the type of thought to the characteriological trait that sustains it.

In the therapeutic praxis, takes place an investigation of the body in its psychic expressions through exercises (actings) specific for each one of the seven corporeal levels. These are practised by the client, progressively and specificly and they go through the experience of the psychoaffective evolution, and the emotional growing of the person. The ''actings'' reproduce ontogenetic natural movements that occur at the respective corporeal levels which prevail during the various evolutionary phases.

The actings are “the fractal elevators of internal time” and not only they bring back the intact ''how'' of the partial object relations in the way they were incised in the corporeal level of the Self at that time and phase, but they also provoke fundamental energy-emotional and psychodynamic insights. They therefore suggest the possibility of a new prototype of object relation in the present time.

An “acting” connects the “there and then” with the “here and now”, the depth with the surface, the unconscious with the conscious, the implicit memory with the explicit memory, informing, forming and reforming the mind. They increase cognition and feeling determining a higher intelligence of the mind.

During the performance of the “actings” of Vegetotherapy we give priority temporarily to the feeling instead to the thinking and therefore we respect the natural organization of the evolution of the human being.

An analytic therapeutic project always aims at giving to the person the capacity to manage their ‘’armour’’ (defensive mechanisms) and their characterological combination.


Characteranalytic Vegetotherapy today

Unlike Freud, Wilhelm Reich did not include in his writings the detailed description of his clinical approach. After his death, different interpretations of his theories appeared as well as many personalities claiming to be continuing his work and others that took partial aspects of his clinical approach, developing new techniques such as the Rolfing, biorespiration, the primal cry, etc.

Some decades ago the EABP (European Association for Body Psychotherapy), was founded, representing the various modalities that arose from Reich’s work, like

Bioenergetic analysis, Biosynthesis, the Biodynamic approach, Somatotherapy, etc. and Character-analytical Vegetotherapy itself.

The latest discipline continued its own development and evolution thanks to the contribution of collaborators and direct disciples of Reich such as Ola Raknes, who a few years before his death (1975), sponsored the creation of the first training Institute,the called “Scuola Europea Di Orgonoterapia” (S.E.Or.) whose president was his student and collaborator, the Italian neuropsychiatrist Federico Navarro (1924-2002)

His work in creating a system of clinical methology was completed with the contribution of his students and colleagues, such as Jean Loic Albina in France, Genovino Ferri in Italy (Italian School of Reichian analysis,S.I.A.R.) who has integrated Characteranalytic Vegetotherapy with the Analysis of the Character of the Relation, defining the setting ''a complex living system'',Markus Valimaki in Finland, Clorinda Lubrano in Greece, Bjorn Blummenthal in Norway and Xavier Serrano in Spain (Escuela Espanola de Terapia Reichiana (Es.Te.R.) who has created a structural diferencial diagnostic method (DIDE) which permits to apply this methodology according to the structure of the patient (neurotic-adaptive,border-line,psychotic-mimetic) as well as a focused and psychosocial method (Brief caracteranalytical psychotherapy)

Today there are training Institutes of Character-analytic Vegetotherapy in France, Norway, Finland, Italy, Greece, Spain, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. It has been recognized as a scientific modality by the European Association for Psychotherapy (EAP).



Cross references

Reich Wilhelm, Body Oriented Therapies:Overview, Orgonomy (Reichian Therapy), Object relations theory


Further readings

- Ferri, G. & Cimini, G. (2012). Psicopatologia e Carattere, L'Analisi Reichiana: psicoanalisi nel corpo ed il corpo in psicoanalisi. Italia: Alpes Editore.

- Navarro, F. (1989). La vegetoterapia caracteroanalítica. Revista Somathotherapies et Somatologie Strasbourg.

- Navarro, F. (1989). La Somatopsicodinámica. Valencia: Publicaciones Orgón.

- Navarro, F. (1991). Caratterologia postreichiana. Palermo: Nuova Ipsa Editore.

- Reich, W. (1972). Character analysis. Ed. The Wilhelm Reich Trust Fund. (original work published in 1933)

- Reich, W. (2007). The function of the orgasm. Farar,Straus &Giroux (original work published in 1927)

- Serrano, X. (2011). Profundizando en el diván reichiano. La Vegetoterapia en la psicoterapia caracteroanalítica. Madrid: Edit.Biblioteca Nueva.