Reichian Therapy


Autonomic Nervous System:

Our bodies are regulated by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) controls our everyday activities. It is what allows us to operate in “normal” everyday mode. The Sympathetic Nervous System(SNS) controls our bodies when we are under stress and in danger. It is our “fight or flight” system. It is our defense mechanism. These two systems work together. Usually the PNS is active and in full control and then SNS is “on call”, waiting for the “code 3” to activate. So while one is dominate, the other is passive and these switch as needed. The ideal operating system would be for the PNS to dominate and the SNS be active only when needed. At these stress times, if the situation is acute, and quickly dealt with, the body responds as needed and returns to homeostasis. When this occurs, the muscles respond/react as needed, take care of the “emergency” and then return to normal operating mode.

Primary Process v Secondary Process:

Primary process is the process by which the body processes stimuli while still pre/non-verbal. This means the experience is registered by the body “outside” of the cognitive apparatus. It is mainly a somatic experience. As long as a child hasn’t learned to speak yet, there is no cognitive memory. Acquiring language means he is acquiring symbols and that means he now can start to have cognitive memory. And this is when Secondary Process begins.

When the stressor is chronic or so overwhelming and when our muscles respond to the emergency, they acquire a “pattern” appropriate to the stressor, i.e., the muscles retain additional contraction as well as some content of the stressor. It is at this point that the trauma impacts us at the cognitive, emotional and muscular level. It is at this point that one says “muscles have memory”. They do, but it is not cognitive memory. It is the same level of memory that a pre/non-verbal child would have memory, it is associated with the primary process. Secondary process occurs when the child starts to speak, acquire language and then he can start to have cognitive memory. This is why therapy regarding pre/non verbal abuse/traumas is only partially effective in talk therapy.

This is why is it so hard to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS). When trauma is so severe, it not only registers as cognitive memory, but also as somatic/muscle memory. Memory at a more primitive level cannot be accessed via cognitive dialogue. Muscle memory is primitive and pre/non verbal. It is the level at which experiences impact the body before the child can speak or when the trauma is so great that it overwhelms the persons ability to adequately process it.

This is where body work comes in. This technique can directly access the trauma at this more primitive/pre/non/verbal level. The person may not even be aware of trauma or content at this level resulting in didactic therapy getting in touch with only some of the trauma i.e., that which is available to the persons awareness. The styles used by the therapist in conjunction with body work will vary with the therapist. The muscles will respond to the body work in several ways. There can be only an energetic release with mild to strong full body shaking. The person can also have strong emotional reactions. And this combo can be “trapped” in the muscles.


Trauma is composed of two parts: the cognitive content and the energetic component. It is the energized trauma that keeps the trauma “alive” and active. That is the part that gets “triggered” in a person. It is present in the person and just waiting for the right stimuli to be released. We say he just got his issues “triggered off”, he has issues in his tissues.

The goal in all therapy is to “deactivate” the energy trapped in that traumatic experience. We do that via traditional didactic therapy as well as a body based therapy, i.e., Reichian Therapy, Primal Scream Therapy or any other cathartic process. And when that happens, the trauma is then a memory, but is not “energized”. It is not active.

Reichian Therapy is a body-based therapy. It is based on the premise that one cannot sustain a major or chronic emotional trauma without there being a body/physical reaction in response to that trauma. With the pairing of both the physical and emotional trauma/reaction, Wilhelm Reich, a contemporary of Freud, discovered that he could focus on the physical component and that would bring up the emotional component of the duo. Since most severe traumas impact the body, this therapy is excellent for physical and sexual abuse, depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as Temporomandibular Joint disorder (TMJ).

The physical symptoms or reactions of this pairing manifest as: contracted muscles, diminished/shallow breathing, loss/lack of energy, as well as chronic pain in these areas. They also harbor emotional and emotional issues which the subject may or may not be aware of. It is like old tapes being played over and over again, even though their value is no longer needed. At one time, that physical reaction might have been the appropriate response to some trauma, but it is now no longer needed, but they may still be present and active. It is like an “as if” situation; they are acting as if they are still being needed. The purpose of this type of therapy is to go back into the body and discover just where these holding/armourings are being held and dissolve, reduce, eliminate them, thereby also activating and eliminating the emotional component of that paired area.


The person lies on his/her back on a table while engaging in a strong and accelerated deep breathing while wearing loose clothing. This is being done while the therapist works on various parts of the body looking for and resolving those tight and armored areas. The sessions last about 1 hour. Sometimes several weeks are needed to get the process going.


Due to the hyperventilative style of breathing, one could experience light headedness, a buzzing in various parts of the body, a tingling or even strong contractures of the muscles. This is due to the excess oxygen being pumped into the body, but being restricted at certain points/parts of the body due to the muscle tightness/contraction. Breathing through these blocks helps to open up these blocks and free up the energy pattern/path which also at the same time corresponds to an emotional release. While there are various reactions to this therapy, the final goal is to achieve emotional release. The physical body will at the same time open up (clear of blocks). Doing this excessive style of breathing with an open person results in little if any reactions. The body is open which allows the energy to travel at will thus preventing any “dammed up” or “blocked” energy and its traditional reactions. This is an indication that the person is free from armoring and no longer needs this therapy.

I trained with Dr. Paul Bindrim in Hollywood CA. He taught the traditional breathing style, having been trained himself by Dr. Phil Curcuruto. I also trained with Mark Waldman who incorporated the various body interventions. Also, since I have been doing bodywork, incorporating deep muscle massage therapy, myofacial release and connective tissue massage, since 1980, this combination has led to my strong emphasis of hands-on-technique. While I don’t subscribe to all of Reichs theory, I feel his technique is very valid.

Free introductory explanation.

Major credit cards accepted.

Ronald Patzer, PhD

Clinical Psychology- Reichian Therapy


5220 Clark Av. #317

Lakewood, CA 90712