|Dr. Bernstein performs an occipital condyle release to improve
craniosacral system mobility and release armoring in the neck,
shoulder, and upper back muscles.
Theory and Myofascial Release
How does Reichian theory and practice
intersect – or more
precisely - overlap with myofascial release and its applications?
In his book, Myofascial Release, the Hidden Search for Excellence,
John Barnes, PT, describes how
release physical therapy techniques can access submerged, repressed,
often totally blocked memories, including trauma and sexual abuse
are in brackets):
The body remembers everything that has ever
happened to it. When a person has experienced unpleasant situations
that overload the ability to cope, the body in an attempt to
protect [e.g., armor] itself from further harm, effects a dissociation
or amnesia of the event. Time does not heal emotional wounds;
it simply covers them up with an adaptive fascial layer, tightening
over time. These buried
[or repressed unconscious] memories in the fascial system [which
I will explain later in the paper] are uncovered during the "myofascial
unwinding process," reversing the amnesia or dissociation
that was not available to the person's consciousness. This
is called state dependent learning, memory, and behavior, a concept
that can be expanded to include "position
dependent" learning, memory, and behavior. This theory
states that when a particular state or position is attained,
all physiological responses, memories, and beliefs at that event
become conscious and can be re-experienced. This places the patient
in a state of awareness, allowing for a change of beliefs, emotions,
holding or bracing patterns that are responsible for perpetuating
myofascial restrictions and their resultant symptoms.
From this brief
excerpt, it's possible
to see how the theories of Reichian psychotherapy and myofascial
release physical therapy complement each other. How then do the
techniques reinforce each other in real practice and application?
Let's look at a typical therapy scenario for
Observing the Patient
An experienced Reichian psychotherapist
will develop a clear impression of the patient as soon the person
enters the room – even before
any words are spoken. The way patients walk, dress, hold their postures,
as well as manifest their attitudes reveals how individual live lives
and interact with others.
In Reichian psychotherapy, the patient is observed from two perspectives:
first, the therapist defines the symptoms, the patient's history, and
the observed behavior. These give the therapist an indication of the psychological
side of the patient's character. Second, the psychotherapist observes
how and where the patient manifests emotional repression in his physical
structure to determine where the patient's body is armored.
part of the Reichian process is where the elegance and refinement of myofascial
become such an improvement to the Reichian treatment process.
Let me show you how this works in my practice.
In the traditional Reichian techniques that I apply, the male patient wears
a pair of shorts. For women, a two-piece workout outfit will suffice. The
brief apparel allows me to see as much of their body as common modesty will
As I start working with the patient, I look for changes in skin color, skin
temperature, hair erection ("gooseflesh"), and the visual and
palpable signs of muscular tension. Before proceeding with a specific treatment,
the patient in the following ways:
- Their manner – Is the patient
at ease or uncomfortable? Is he or she upset, tightened, angry,
- Their body language – Do they
lie on the table or "couch" with
their legs crossed, spread open, separated with the toes turned in
- Their body signs – Are they pale?
Are their hands sweaty and cold? Are their pupils dilated?
- Their features – Is the patient's
face masked, serious, sad, embarrassed, or expectant? Does the
patient look as if he or she will break into a smile or tears?
- Are there any sharp lines of demarcation (flushed
face and neck, pale chest) or any sharp lines of temperature
change (warm abdomen, cold legs, etc.).
- Their level of tension – What
body areas are relaxed?
patient's body reveals an emotional state, this initial visual
assessment shows me more about patients and their condition than most
individuals could tell me in hours of discussion. As I continue to work
with the patient,
the signs that I listed above continue to provide me a stream of information
that guides both the choice and application of specific techniques. In
this way, Reichian psychotherapy is quite different from other therapies,
rely mainly on verbal exchange to produce their results.
|Release of the glenohumeral joint, a particular site of pain
and restriction for this patient with multiple sclerosis.
Myofascial Release Refines Reichian Therapy
Earlier in this paper I quoted John Barnes, an innovative myofascial
release physical therapist. Though he doesn't come from a Reichian
perspective, he has learned to distinguish the armored segments of the
body and has developed skilled applications which are extremely effective
in softening and diffusing muscular and physical armoring. In the process,
he has developed an understanding which closely mirrors the Reichian
principles discussed earlier (again, my comments appear in brackets below):
It's like when we get injured a
lot of times, it seems like an indelible imprint is made in our
entities when there's high emotional
content and somehow that gets locked into the tissue memory system.
I think what happens is that our need to survive and protect ourselves
gets shoved down, and we tend to disassociate from [the emotional
content], which is fine for a while as a coping mechanism, but the
problem is that because we were taught to mask symptoms or run from
our problems, the fascial systems slowly tend to tighten around those
[affected] areas and then create restrictions.**
(** Exclusive interview
with John Barnes: www.myofascialrelease.com)
When Barnes' numerous myofascial
techniques and approaches are applied, not only do the muscles
and fascia begin to release, but the unconscious repressed material
that is behind the muscular and fascial tension is also released, much
as it is in Reichian psychotherapy.
Of particular interest is that, in myofascial release, the memories
are actually relived positionally, that is to say that the patient
will often repeat physical actions relating directly to the original
trauma. For example, if a patient was abused as a child, he or she
may assume the physical posture of that abused child, cringing, cowering,
or dodging the blows received years earlier. This positional relief,
along with the associated emotional catharsis, produces a result
that is far more dramatic than that achieved with Reichian psychotherapy
Conclusion: Combining the Therapies Produces Deeper Healing
The two applications, used independently, are
extremely effective in bringing the patient a depth of healing that would
never be attained by simply analyzing
or verbalizing. Yet, when the two practices are combined, the results are
even more extraordinary, and through continued application of the combined
therapies, patients improve dramatically. When the old emotional material
is finally released the patient becomes "unstuck," experiences
a new openness and vulnerability, and is transformed. At this point of transformation,
the Reichian verbal and
analytic psychotherapy takes on a major role in the healing process. The
therapist, through experience and insight, helps the patient gain perspective,
and – thanks
to the myofascial release therapy – the depth of healing is much greater.
As patients begin to unwind, they begin to understand how their armoring
causes them to mix the past and the present, confusing their traumatic past
current life. Releasing their armoring allows them to see that their distorted
perspectives, created by early damage, skew their present day behaviors and
This point in the patient's therapy is exactly where the relationship
with a psychotherapist who is trustworthy and well-trained and who has personally
experienced these two therapies becomes key to helping the patient integrate
this new experience. Over a period of time, the process of living and sorting
out all of this information becomes integral to the healing process.
|The psoas muscle can hold a great deal of repressed emotions.
During a pause in this patient’s unwinding process, Dr. Bernstein
palpates the psoas muscle and releases it using strumming and sustained
Both Reichian psychotherapy and myofascial
release physical therapy are brilliant innovations that have led
to wonderful, therapeutic
results. I have discovered
the value of integrating these two schools of thought into an effective
practice in a way that had been undiscovered up until now. As a
result, the healing
tools that I now am using are greater together than either one of these
I am very grateful for the creative minds that have influenced Reichian-
Myofascial Release: Wilhelm Reich, John Barnes, and another great influence
on my life – my mentor, the late Dr. Gerald Frank. Without their knowledge
and the personal guidance of Dr. Frank, I would not have made these discoveries.
Testimonials follow author's bio.
Peter Bernstein, PhD
The Bernstein Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy
600 Seavey Road
Petaluma, California 94952
Note: Dr. Bernstein will provide more specific references and footnotes
Peter M Bernstein, PhD, DAPA, MFT, CMT, is a
licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in California
since 1974, working
with individuals, couples, families and children. He holds a doctorate
in clinical psychology, specializing in Reichian psychotherapy, from
the International College. He earned post-doctoral recognition and
Diplomate status from the American Psychotherapy Association. Dr. Bernstein
is the founder and director of the Bernstein Institute for Integrative
Psychotherapy in Petaluma, California. In his practice he uses an integrative
approach to psychotherapy and the treatment of emotional and physical
pain. His therapeutic approach incorporates a broad spectrum of services,
including a new modality he developed called Reichian-Myofascial Release
Therapy. As of 2006, Dr. Bernstein has completed over 350 hours of
training in myofascial release physical therapy. The Associated Bodywork
and Massage Professionals have certified him as a Body Therapist. Dr.
Bernstein is a clinical member of the American Association of Marriage
and Family Therapists and California Association of Marriage and Family
Therapists, a member of the American Group Psychotherapy Association,
the American Association of Christian Counselors, and the American
Academy of Pain Management.
website is www.bernsteininstitute.com.
Following are some of the testimonials from patients who were previously
treated with either Reichian psychotherapy or myofascial release work
alone, and what they have to say about their therapy experiences utilizing
the combination of both treatments:
I've been in Reichian psychotherapy
for many years. Though its benefits have made a substantial improvement
in the quality of my life, I was astounded at the profound additional
release from both physical and emotional pain I received after Dr.
Bernstein began combining myofascial release with Reichian techniques.
I have great praise for what myofascial release combined with Reichian psychotherapy
is doing for me. My emotional pain reflects itself in my body. I am feeling
physical relief while reaching deeper emotional level – consequently
healing even further.
I experienced Reichian-myofascial therapy after several years of Reichian psychotherapy
alone. With his new therapy, Dr. Bernstein helped me release a large amount
of emotional material that was holding back my progress. I have been able to
take significant steps toward emotional maturity as a result.
My therapy has changed dramatically. There are areas I don't think would
have been touched without the addition of Myofascial Release...When I just
let go, I'm amazed at the energy I feel afterward...it brings hope to the process
and the future.
Reichian-myofascial release therapy has profoundly changed my life. For 22
years, I have been struggling to remember and resolve the trauma in my past.
I felt an immediate difference after the very first Reichian-myofascial release
Dr. Bernstein's work has had a profound effect on all aspects of my life – marriage,
motherhood, health, spirituality, and creativity. The legacy of my biological
family was hopelessness, but through an inspired combination of training, wisdom,
and practical advice, Dr. Bernstein guided me to a new life.
-Writer / Mother of Three
As both a recipient of Reichian-myofascial
release therapy that Peter Bernstein shares, and now, as a practitioner
of the body work, I am very grateful for the benefits that it has
provided to me. This work can be very transformative. I like to refer
to the work as sort of a personal drain cleaner. When I first experienced
the work, I was about ready to call it quits. I have tried just about
every treatment available to lessen the personal pain that I
have carried in my body for years. Nothing had worked. With the work that Dr.
Bernstein does, I feel like my drains have been unclogged, and life is flowing
through me in a wonderfully healthy fashion. This does in no way imply that
my life is free from struggles, but I now have an awareness of the reality
of my problems and along with them new ways to view possible solutions.