It is said of Freud, who was in the habit of sitting behind his patients when they took their analytic session, that he chose this position as he was embarrassed by too much direct eye-contact. There is no doubt that he listened with great receptivity, but he seemed unable to face his patients in the sense that I am using the term here.Facing is very much concerned with qualities of eye-contact. Reich was led to his discovery of muscular armour, the breathing blocks and the vegetative currents in the body by painstaking work in facing people with what he saw in them. At first his method was confrontational. He would point out the character defences, mimic the facial expressions, imitate the tone of voice and so on, until so much feeling was generated that muscle tone, breathing rhythm and emotional flow were all powerfully affected. Fritz Peris developed some of these character-analytic methods in his techniques of gestalt therapy, one of which puts a person on the ‘hot seat’ and faces them with their particular character attitudes and body configurations.Reich’s work, however, moved beyond this. He did much more than attack and confront the character defences that a person presented. He reached out to make contact with the buried life-expression and to encourage that to sparkle more strongly. A good illustration of this way of working is given in an account, by a therapist, who took personal therapy with
Reich and describes his experience. Reich had already worked in various ways on the emotional expression in his eyes and had released different levels of rage, longing and anxiety. However there was a particular quality of excitation in his eyes that Reich had glimpsed but not been able to draw through. The account goes on:
After a few weeks it came. During the session it suddenly appeared and hit the therapist (Reich) and he shouted excitedly and with satisfaction, ‘There it is!’Again the patient looked at him in quizzical, skeptical, eyes-and head-cocked way as if to say, ‘What! Are you off your nut again?’ But the therapist was not to be diverted and he kept pointing to the patient’s eyes and saying that there it was, until the patient began to feel it himself. A gleam, together with the shifting of the eyes and head, had brought up a new expression out of the depths into the eyes and this had caught the therapist’s eyes and being. It was a flirtatious, come-hither look, a sort of wink, with a raising of the eyelids, eyebrows and forehead and a moving of the eyeballs to one side, accompanied by a suggestive tilt of the head in the same direction. As the therapist continued to imitate this expression and the patient began to make better contact with it, the whole face participated in it, at first with blushing shame-facedness and then to the tune of a hearty laugh. The therapist had got to the patient’s secret and ‘understood!’. It was a meeting of minds and emotions. No words were necessary. The patient soon brought out the rest of the hidden impulses. He made ‘yoo-hoo’ calls and whistles. Then came the talking.With a significant smile, later with sobbing and quivering, he recalled his abortive attempts as an adolescent at flirting; his burning desire to attract girls in this - held back and repressed by his moral training and fear of discovery and punishment.1 This work on the facial expression opens up the patient’s
emotional life very deeply. He can surrender more freely to his feelings, and his sexual life and working life improve considerably. The account continues:
One day a ‘miracle’ happened. Suddenly the patient was startled and opened his eyes wide with astonishment. While he was looking at the therapist the latter’s face had suddenly become soft, and glowed with light.The patient soon realised that it was his own eyes that had opened up to orgone excitation and lumination and he was therefore able to ‘see’ better and thus to have his own orgone energy excitation contacted by the energy excitation of others . . . What this means for coming generations is stupendous, for there is no doubt that most people do not really ‘see’ because of their armouring. They miss the brightness of life - that is its orgonotic lumination and pulsation and, therefore, its poetry and music and beauty. The patient, at any rate, was definitely improved in his seeing, with a good deal of the fear and hate gone out of his eyes. He saw the world differently, as a good and pleasurable place to be in and as a future place of ‘heaven’ and not the ‘hell’ that it had been before.1 This breakthrough was not the result of ‘massage’ on the eyes (though that may be valuable), or of simply encouraging expressive movements with the eyes (though this is very important). It was the direct result of the exchange of looks between the two people in the room, a reaching out on the part of the therapist with his own aliveness to contact and excite into activity the aliveness buried in the person he was working with. Without this willingness to read the secret expression and to nurse it into life, any therapeutic encounter is gravely weakened. It is like blowing on the flame when the fire is nearly banked out with ash and trying to fan it into greater life.Searching out the secret can easily be misunderstood to mean demanding that someone bare one’s soul: ‘I insist that
you face me.’ It can become like the teacher who demands of the recalcitrant child that he look her in the eye. In general there are two extreme positions that people take up in regard to secrets; sometimes the therapist is over-eager to dig out the hidden aspects of the patient or client and tends to adopt the attitude, ‘Tell me your secrets and then I will know you trust me.’ The patient on the other hand may well feel the opposite view: ‘When I trust you I will tell you my secrets.’Alexander Lowen has given a powerful reminder of the importance of facing the person one is trying to help, in the case-history of a man called George.2 Lowen had been working with him by bio-energetic means for some two and a half years, yet he felt at a particular point in the therapy that, in spite of all the good analytic work and hard intensive work on the tensions, he was pretty well back where he started. Some crucial insight had been missed. Lowen describes how they had talked about the fear of death and then something occurred to him which explained the key to the client’s anxiety and his personality. Lowen looked at the patient as he was lying there and said:
George, I think you’ve given up - a long time ago. How long ago did you realise that you’d given up?Patient: When I was a very small baby, a very smallchild. I sensed it quite a long time ago.Dr Lowen: Then what was all that effort that followed that? Since you’d given up, why make the effort?Patient: It was not wanting to face the fact thatthere was this will to die and this struggle keeping myself from accepting that I did want to die. After it was over he realised that ‘You can do anything you want. You can analyse as much as you want. You can do as much physical work as you want. Nothing will fundament
ally change until that key has been turned and that door has been opened.’Lowen concludes that this central insight, the digging out of the secret death wish, is quite crucial.