Otto Fenichel & Wilhelm Reich: history of a friendship

Otto Fenichel & Wilhelm Reich:
The father and the hidden uncle of
body psychotherapy*
*A CHAPTER IN: Michel Heller, 2008, Les
psychothérapies corporelles. Louvain: De Boeck.
English version to be published by Norton publishers.
• Even if I summarize the data, the Reich-Fenichel
relationship yields so much crucial information
that I may not have time to tell you all I would
want to.
• Instead of rushing you through more data than
you can take, I will put my power point
presentation on my website, next week, so that
you can look at the information at a leisurely
• I thank Johannes Reichmayr for some of the facts
on Otto Fenichel contained in this presentation.
• My website:
• 1897: Birth of Otto
Fenichel in Vienna,
capital of the AustroHungarian Empire
• 1897: Birth of
Wilhelm Reich in
Galicia, which was
the part of Austrian
• 1915: Otto Fenichel
enters the Faculty of
medicine in Vienna
• 1915: Wilhelm Reich
is enrolled in the
Austrian army
• 1916: Otto Fenichel joins
Jewish Marxist youth
movement, who are fighting
for a new way of dealing
with sexual politics and
• Otto Fenichel follows Freud’s
• 1919-1921: Otto Fenichel
creates the Seminar on
sexology in the medical
• 1918: Wilhelm Reich enters
the Faculty of medicine in
Vienna. He is an emigrant
from the periphery of the
• 1919-1921: Wilhelm Reich
becomes a student in Otto
Fenichel’s seminar on
sexology in the medical
What Wilhelm Reich discovered in
Otto Fenichel’s sexual seminar:
Youth movements and sexual revolution
A humanist form of Marxism
The psychoanalysis of Ferenczi
EABP Congress, Vienna 2010
- Vienna is now the capital of the Austrian Republic. It
remains one of the capitals of German culture (e.g. It is
still the center of classical psychoanalysis, as Freud is in
- The German empire becomes the Weimar republic. It
now becomes the only important German speaking
country. Berlin is gradually becoming the capital of
German culture. (e.g. The Berlin Institute of
Psychoanalysis, directed by Karl Abraham, is becoming
the center of new psychoanalytic developments)
- Otto Fenichel and Wilhelm Reich become members of the
psychoanalytic Association, and the group of Marxist
psychoanalysts, directed by Paul Federn.
-They have their first patients.
-They both follow a psychoanalysis with Paul Federn. Reich only
receives a short treatment (a few months). Reich also has a short
treatment with Isodor Isaak Sadger.
- Fenichel introduces Annie Pink to Wilhelm Reich. She begins a
psychoanalysis with Reich. She then becomes Annie Reich. They
will have two children together: Eva (1924) and Lore (1928). Annie
Reich also became a member of Marxist psychoanalysts. Her
friendship with Fenichel lasted until his death.
The Communism of Fenichel and Reich
• Otto Fenichel belonged to
the Austrian more socialist
form of Marxism, close to
Kautsky’s branch of
communism, which
remained close to Marx’s
notion that communism
should influence historical
processes through
democratic procedures.
• Wilhelm Reich belonged
to the soviet Leninist
branch of communism,
which believed that
communists should take
power through a
Among Marxist psychoanalysts, the socialist branch was
dominant. Reich wanted to convert them to his point of
1922-1923: Berlin, I
- Fenichel asked Reich to direct the sexual seminar and
left for Berlin.
- There, Karl Abraham and his colleague had created a
Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute of psychoanalysis. After
the war, Vienna was only the capital of psychoanalysis
because Freud lived there… a bit like Washington is the
capital of the USA. The New York of psychoanalysis had
moved to Berlin. This where the new development were
forged. This is where psychoanalysts developed the
implications of Freud’s Second Topography (Id, Ego &
Super-Ego) and the dynamics of transference.
1922-1923: Berlin, II
- The institute offers the first serious training for psychoanalysis.
It requires an in depth psychoanalysis and regular supervision.
In Vienna this was not proposed because Freud did not want to
be the therapist of all his colleagues. He wanted collegial
relationships. In Berlin there was enough eminent
psychoanalysts to carry out such a training program.
- Abraham also created a psychoanalytic clinic for people who
needed support from psychoanalysts but who cannot afford a
classical psychoanalytic cure. Each person who wanted to
become a psychoanalyst had to follow one patient for one year
without pay, or support the clinic by paying 4% of what he
earned in his private practice. By working at the clinic a young
psychoanalyst could have practical supervised experience.
1922-1923: Berlin, III
Most of the famous psychoanalysts of that
generation are there. For example: Erich Fromm,
Karen Horney, Edith Jacobson from Germany,
Melanie Klein et Helene Deutsch from Austria,
Edward et James Glover from England, Sándor
Radó et Franz Alexander from Hungary, Nic Waal
et Ola Raknes from Norway, and Trygve Braatøy
from the USA.
Most of you have read at least one of these
Fenichel and Gindlerian gymnastics (1925-1940), I
In Berlin, Otto Fenichel fell in love with Clare
Nathansohn. She soon became Clare Fenichel. They gave
birth to a daughter called Hanna. This Hanna is not the
same Hanna who became Fenichel’s second wife, in
The reason why we need to include this marriage in our
discussion is that Clare Fenichel was also a teacher in
gymnastics, trained by Elsa Gindler, who was presented
to you this morning by Ulf Geuter.
Fenichel and Gindlerian gymnastics (1925-1940), II
- Otto Fenichel followed Elsa Gindler’s school,
where he discovered body work. There he got rid
of his migraines which nobody, including his
psychotherapists, could cure.
- As we shall see in Johannes Reichmayr’s
presentation, Fenichel began to imagine that one
could use gymnastics and psychoanalysis as
complementary modes of intervention for certain
Fenichel and Gindlerian gymnastics (1925-1940),
To integrate gymnastics into psychoanalysis, Fenichel
developed the following formulation the relation
between Ego and motor functions imagined by Freud:
« The ego is first and foremost a body-ego, » says
Freud in The Ego and the Id, and he means by this
that the distinction between ego-and non-ego is
first learned by the infant in the discovery of its
body in such a way that in its world of ideas its
own body begins to be set off from the rest of the
environment. (Otto Fenichel 1938, The drive to
amass wealth: 97)
Fenichel and Gindlerian gymnastics (1925-1940), IV
- He developed a model in which the libido coordinated
the mental, physiological and body dimensions. In this
model all these dimensions continuously influenced
each other.
- What psychoanalysts called resistances structured the
following dimensions: Ways of thinking, instinctual
dynamics, muscular tone (hypertone and hypotone),
breathing, metabolism, and the texture of the skin.
- Each of these dimensions allowed the therapist to
contact specific dimensions of emotional and
psychological dynamics.
Fenichel and Gindlerian gymnastics (1925-1940), V
- Otto and Clare Fenichel organized seminars in the
psychoanalytic institute, on psychoanalysis,
gymnastics and breathing.
- In 1928 Fenichel published an article on organ
Libidinization, in which he described how gymnastics
and psychoanalysis could be used as complementary
modes of intervention to explore the dynamics of the
emotions and of the mind. For him body and mind
function in clearly differentiated ways, that
nevertheless interact with each other within the
Fenichel and Gindlerian gymnastics (1925-1940), VI
- Because body and mind do not function in the same
way, they need to be approached through different
methods. This was at least the vision Otto fenichel
and Elsa Gindler, who never tried to combine their
methods with a single process, but who sometimes
recommended to a patient that he could follow both
forms of treatment in parallel.
- Here is an example:
Fenichel and Gindlerian gymnastics (1925-1940), VII
A patient reported that her gymnastics teacher
continually called her attention to the intensity with
which she kept her neck and throat musculature in a
constant spastic tension. Attempts to loosen this tension
only increased it. The analysis showed that as a child the
patient saw a pigeon’s head being torn off and the
headless pigeon still moving its wings a few times. This
experience lent her castration complex a lasting form:
she had an unconscious fear of being behaded, and this
fear also manifested itself in numerous other symptoms,
modes of behavior, and directions of interest. (Otto
Fenichel, Organ Libidinization, I: 133)
Fenichel and Gindlerian gymnastics (1925-1940), VIII
In this example it is the gymnastic teacher who
isolates a body phenomenon that should be explored by
the psychoanalyst. The psychoanalyst discovers what
unconscious situation is related to that body
phenomenon. He also discovers that transference
prevented the gymnastic teacher from being efficient.
The patient identified herself with the pigeon and the
gymnastic teacher to the force that cut the pigeon’s
In other cases, as with Fenichel’s headaches, it is the
gymnastic teacher that holds the relevant handle to
explore a symptom, not the psychoanalyst.
• It is probably in the context of these discussions
that Berliner analysts became interested in
psychosomatics. The most famous of these was
Franz Alexander, who later, in the USA, like
Fenichel, also integrated Cannon’s organismic
model of homeostasis.
• This is the nest in which Reich developed in own
form of integration of body and mind dynamics in
the organism. The theme of body and
psychoanalysis was a hot issue for several
members of the Berlin Institute. Reich brought
many creative issues into this discussion.
Reich in Vienna (1920-1930), I
In Vienna Reich developed the following themes:
1. The libido generates stasis when it cannot express
itself through orgasm. It will then generate neurosis
as described in Freud’s model. Orgasm is a basic
reference model of how all the dimensions of two
organisms can interact with each other in a
constructive and synergic way.
2. Reich participates in the creation of a Viennese clinic
which more or less worked like the Berlin clinic. There
he studied the sexual behavior of people.
3. He directed a training seminar where supervision of
young psychoanalysts was used to improve their
technique. It is in this context that he created his first
model of Character Analysis.
Reich in Vienna (1920-1930), II: Organismic approach
- Reich became interested in the biological concept of
the organism, on the organism as an individual
organism capable of self regulation while it interacted
with is environment. This notion was fashionable in
many intellectual circles in these days.
- This individual system has its own particular biological
or life energy, which forces biological organisms to
evolve and look for increasingly efficient and
functional modes of functioning.
- For the moment he does not know what to do with
this interest.
Reich in Vienna (1920-1930), III: psychoanalytic
Character Analysis
- The psychoanalytic Character Analysis focused on
behavior and non verbal communication to contact the
emotions that are associated to representations in the
- When I use the term body, I used it in its most restricted
sense, referring to posture and muscular tone, as in
Gindler’s gymnastics. This type of body work does not
yet exist in Reich’s thinking, except, sometimes, when he
speaks of sexual behavior and physiological arousal.
Reich in Berlin (1930-1933): The discovery of Fenichel’s
In 1930, the Reich’s move to Berlin. There they are
welcomed by the Fenichel’s. Reich is presented to every
one not only as a close collaborator of Freud, but as Otto
Fenichel’s best friend.
- Annie and Eva Reich follow courses of Gindlerian
gymnastic with Clare Fenichel. They seem to love it and
speak of it to Wilhelm Reich. Annie and Eva Reich (6 years
old) are thus those who introduced body work to Reich.
- Wilhelm Reich falls in love with Elsa Lindenberg. She is
a ballet dancer who was trained by, among others,
Rudolph Laban, who is still very influential in dance
therapy and a reference in studies of nonverbal
Reich in Berlin (1930-1933): The discovery of Fenichel’s
body, II
- It is during this period that Reich slowly but
surely begins to include interventions on the
body, using message and breathing techniques,
during his sessions. It is therefore, once again
clearly under the influence of Fenichel that
Reich began to combine body work within the
same sessions.
Reich in Berlin (1930-1933): The discovery of Fenichel’s
body, II
- We thus have two forms of psychoanalytical
body psychotherapy by 1933:
- 1. The Fenichel-Gindler way of associating a body
work that is sensitive to the mind (Gindler’s
gymnastics) and an approach of the mind that is
sensitive to body dynamics (Fenichel’s approach).
- 2. The Reichian method which includes highly
simplistic body techniques in a psychoanalytic
The crisis : 1933 – 1935, I
- History now intrudes it what was a smooth
story, with the following events:
- Reich is also an important member of the
German Communist Party and of the
communist youths. He is also involved in his
sexual revolution project, in which he wants to
include new sexual politics, based on
institutional and political reforms- Hitler is elected, promoting war on
Communism and Jews alike.
The crisis : 1933 – 1935, II
- For political reasons he is simultaneously, within a
year, thrown out of :
1. Fascist Germany, because he is a communist and a Jew.
2. The communist party because in The Mass Psychology of
Fascism Reich criticizes the communist party in ways that are
incompatible with the rising Stalinism.
3. The German Association of Psychoanalysis, who wants to be
able to survive in Nazi Germany. Technically Reich could have
been recognized as a psychoanalyst again by enlisting in the
Norwegian psychoanalytic association. This solution was
supported by Otto Fenichel.
The crisis : Reich abandons psychotherapy and creates
organismic therapy
- When Adler, Jung and Lacan where kicked out of the
International Psychoanalytic Association, they
developed their kind of psychoanalysis, without being
able to really compete with the popularity of Freud’s
- Reich did not want to finish his career as an ersatz
psychoanalyst. He remembered his old pasion for
organismic theories, and decided to create a new
form of therapy which focused on the global
regulation systems of the organism.
The crisis : Reich abandons psychotherapy and creates
organismic therapy
- Reich turned his back on psychotherapy and
communism, leaving these domains to psychoanalysts
such as Otto Fenichel and Annie Reich.
- It is in this context that he created Vegetotherapy, and
ways of studying the energy of life that had fascinated
him during his youth.
- At the same time Reich’s seems to be so deeply
wounded that he becomes bitter and hostile with all
those that had been his friends. These worried for his
mental equilibrium. It was the case for Otto Fenichel
and Annie Reich.
Vegetotherapy: I
- Henceforth, the psychological and body dimensions
only interested him as ways of influencing the global
regulation systems of the body. He had no intention of
creating a body psychotherapy, for two reasons:
1. He agreed with Fenichel and Gindler that one cannot not
work simultaneously on dimensions such as the mind and the
body, which follow completely different procedures.
2. He was interested on the mechanisms that coordinate and
structure the mind and the body.
- What interested Reich was to heal the organism by
working on the mechanisms that generate thoughts,
behavior and body dynamics. Such work would allow
him to cure whatever occurred in these dimensions.
1935 : Fenichel’s Theory of psychoanalytic technique
- When Fenichel wrote this article, he still believed that
one could openly discuss with Wilhelm Reich on his
- This discussion summarizes points that have recently
been taken up by many body psychotherapist (E.G.,
Peter Levine, Pat Ogden, etc.). Fenichel clearly saw
what was problematic in Reich’s approaches. What he
did not realize, is that Reich did not bother to remain
compatible with notions that characterize
psychotherapy in general.
- This discussion only takes into considerations issues
related to psychotherapy, and does not take into
consideration Reich’s argumentation on energy.
1935 : Fenichel’s Theory of psychoanalytic
technique: Fenichel agrees with Reich General
- Fenichel still believes that Wilhelm Reich is
one of the best psychoanalyst alive.
- Fenichel agrees with Reich’s general
proposition, that body dynamics and
psychological dynamics are dimensions of
the organism.
- Fenichel agrees with Reich’s that the
vegetative dimension of the organism plays
a crucial role in affect regulation.
1935 : Fenichel’s Theory of psychoanalytic
technique: Fenichel disagrees with some
aspects of Reich’s therapeutic techniques, I
In the Vegetotherapy model, Reich proposes an
analysis of the organisms in 7 segments. Fenichel
is not convinced that the human organism has an
organization that is as well organized as Reich’s
theory on the organism.
For Fenichel, Reich’s general conception has
already been accepted by many. He can therefore
leave simplifications aside, an include more
complexity in his thinking. Fenichel’s approach to
the body is, for example, better informed (through
Gindler) than what Reich is willing to learn.
1935 : Fenichel’s Theory of psychoanalytic
technique: Fenichel disagrees with some
aspects of Reich’s therapeutic techniques, II
It seems to Fenichel that Reich believes that a
defense system should be attacked, and that
patients should learn to live without one.
For Fenichel, the defense system is the regulation
of the mind. Wanting to destroy the defense
system of a patient is as stupid as wanting to
destroy is physiological immune system. He thus
finds Reich recent way of working intrusive and
If Reich could change this, it would enhance his
technique, without requiring any change of Reich’s
general theory.
1935 : Fenichel’s Theory of psychoanalytic
technique: Fenichel disagrees with some
aspects of Reich’s therapeutic techniques, III
The article contains several such critics which still
remain valid today. They are integrated in several
schools of body psychotherapy, as they were
passed on by some of Fenichel’s pupils, like Trygve
Braatøy in Oslo, and Laura Perls in Esalen
(California). Those that use this analysis today
usually do not know that these ideas initially came
from Fenichel, yet his writings prove that this is
the case.
Reich took this discussion as a personal insult and
as a proof that Fenichel wanted to destroy him;
while Fenichel just wanted to engage in a
discussion on psychotherapeutic technique with
some one he loved and admired.
1935 : Fenichel goes to Prague, Reich turns to
In 1935 Fenichels group of Marxist
psychoanalysts, which includes Annie Reich, meet
in Prague. Their aim is to save their friend and
colleague Edith Jacobson, who was imprisoned by
the Nazi Germans. Edith Jacobson is also an
acquaintance of Reich. Fenichel & Co. manage to
save Edith Jacobson. They than went to America.
Reich has mean while become such an angry,
bitter and hostile person, that the only thing he
can think of is his ambitions. He doses not seem
to have the least interest for what happens to
Edith Jacobson. Only he is the victim of historical
1935 : Fenichel goes to Prague, Reich turns to
-All Reich can say about this episode is that
all the Norwegian colleagues loved his new
proposals, and found Fenichel boring. That
Fenichel had used Edith Jacobson as a
pretext, so as not show that he had been
defeated by Reich.
- He now presents Fenichel as somebody who
became a Marxist thanks to Reich, and whose
theory is mainly based on Reich’s ideas (Oslo,
16.12.1934). From then on Fenichel was
presented by Reich as an ancient student who
had become a Judas.
Fenichel dies in 1945, I
• In Los Angeles, where he lived, Fenichel
published The psychoanalytic Theory of
neurosis, which is his testament. In it he shows
that his interest for organismic processes is
only one chapter, but an important chapter.
This article states all the issues which, even
today, body psychotherapists should be aware
of when they work with the body in the spirit
of a psychodynamic body psychotherapy.
Fenichel dies in 1945, II
• He shows that one needs psychoanalytic work for
the psyche and refined body work for the body.
For him, Reich’s approach has become
dangerous, because it lacks respect for defense
systems and the chore self. This model is
relatively close to today’s models of body
psychotherapy inspired by the neurosciences.
• Meanwhile Reich has advanced in his orgonomy,
and now regularly combines body and
psychological work in a global organismic model.
1945 : Reich on Fenichel’s death
That man died of his structural cowardice, I cannot judge whether
my publication of his misdeed which appeared in April 1945 gave
him a push. In his book he plagiarized absolutely everything from
me and since he was aware of this it must have been a terrible
ordeal for him. Wilhelm Reich (1999). American Odyssey: Letters &
Journals, 1940-1947. Edited by Mary Boyd Higgins. : 335. New York:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Chapter 16 in Character Analysis.
1945 : Reich on Fenichel’s death
These are Reich’s final comments on Fenichel:
That man died of his structural cowardice, I cannot judge
weather my publication of his misdeed which appeared
in April 1945 gave him a push. In his book he plagiarized
absolutely everything from me and since he was aware of
this it must have been a terrible ordeal for him.
Wilhelm Reich (1999). American Odyssey: Letters & Journals, 19401947. Edited by Mary Boyd Higgins. : 335. New York: Farrar, Straus
and Giroux.
• Reich is the roc around which an organismic vision of
psychotherapy could be built.
• When pupils of Reich (e.g., Alexander Lowen) decided that
orgonomy was not a psychotherapy, they created a body
psychotherapy inspired by orgonomy. To achieve this aim
they began by integrating Ferenczi’s and Fenichel’s analysis
to construct the psychotherapeutic dimension of what is
now known as body psychotherapy.
• Finally, if I look at today’s discussion on body
psychotherapy, I have the impression that Fenichel is the
source of a river that changed as it found ways of flowing
around the reichian rock.
• E.g.; Alexander Lowen (1958) : The language of the body
Modes of intervention in body
• Gindler
: Body + Psy = organismic
• Fenichel : Psy + Body = organismic
• Reich
: Psy -> Organism <- Body
Recommended bibliography
• Fenichel, O. (1928). The collected papers of Otto Fenichel,
I. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
• Fenichel, O. (1945a). The psychoanalytic Theory of
neurosis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996.
• Jacoby, R., The Repression of Psychoanalysis
• Makari, G. (2008). Revolution in mind. The creation of
psychoanalysis. New York: Harper.
• Reich, W. (1999). American Odyssey. Letters and journals,
1940-1947. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
• Present synthesis: Michel Heller, 2008, Les
psychothérapies corporelles. Louvain: De
Boeck. To be published in English by Norton

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