A Skeptical Scrutiny of the Works and Theories of WILHELM REICH

As related to

Character Analysis

By Roger M. Wilcox

Last modified 13-September-2003

Of Wilhelm Reich's vast multitude of theories, Character Analysis is perhaps the least controversial and the most widely accepted.  This is because it lies within the realm of psychiatry, where double-blind placebo trials of a therapeutic technique are next to impossible.

Reich formed the theories and techniques that eventually became known as character analysis through various papers and presentations starting in the mid-1920s, ultimately leading to his 1933 work Charakteranalyse.  The 1933 work was divided into two parts: "Part One, Technique," and "Part Two, Theory of Character Formation."  In 1945, this work was was finally translated into English under the title Character Analysis; however, by the time the 1945 translation was accomplished, Reich had added "Part Three: From Psychoanalysis to Orgone Biophysics," making the book almost twice as thick as it had been before.  In this new Part Three, he espoused his theories about how character analysis related to orgone energy.  I critique Reich's theories about orgone energy and orgone therapy elsewhere.  This critique of character analysis will focus entirely on Part One and Part Two of Character Analysis, which were translated intact from the original 1933 German edition and from which bioenergetic notions are absent.

Central to character analysis was the concept of "character resistance" (later re-named "character defense").  The "character," the sum-total of all the quirky things a person did which made him or her "special" or "unique", was no longer viewed as beneficial to the patient in therapy.  Instead, a patient's character was seen as his or her primary defense mechanism against the kinds of deeply personal changes that the therapist was trying to induce.  The precise type of character defenses a patient had were evident not so much in what the patient said, but in the little things the patient did — sitting up uncomfortably straight, fidgeting, staring out of the corners of his/her eyes, constantly smiling, speaking too softly or too loudly, etc..  Reich claimed that if he pointed these character quirks out to his patients, therapy would proceed more smoothly.

Reich was in the midst of a rather large psychiatric community while he was developing character analysis.  He did not concoct the notion out of whole cloth; character was something that was "in the air" in the 1920s.  Sandor Ferenczi, in his 1926 work Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis, claimed that the tensions and postural attitudes of patients were expressive of resistance, and that calling the patient's attention to them often yielded significant psychoanalytic progress.  This does not, however, diminish the contribution of Reich's character-analysis to the field of psychoanalysis, any more than the Lorentz equations should be seen as diminishing Einstein's discovery of special relativity — Reich was in the right place at the right time to "discover" character analysis, but were he not charismatic and confident and, yes, even brilliant, he would not have been the one to make the discovery.

It must also be kept in mind, however, that the whole field of psychoanalysis — on which character analysis is built — does not rest on the stable, solid ground it was once thought to.  Cecil Adams' regular column, The Straight Dope, carried an article in September 2003 describing why Sigmund Freud was unscientific, for example.

— Remainder of article yet to be written. —

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