INTERVIEW WITH DAN LOWE
I met Dan online when I posted a quote from Wilhelm Reich. Reich was one of the most important thinkers on the relation between the body and mind in Sigmund Freud’s circle before being kicked out for the controversy of his views. Dan has trained in integrative psychotherapy, with a strong Reichian component, and below is the interview I conducted with him around Reich, therapy, and magick.
Tell me a bit about yourself?
I'm 48, I've been working in education for the last 12 years. Two kids, live in a small flat in London with my partner. Tried to implement some Reichian ideas with my daughter - breastfeeding, bedsharing and constant carrying. At the very beginnings of launching my own private psychotherapy practice.
How did you first hear of Wilhelm Reich?
Basically, I first heard of Reich through I think reading Robert Anton Wilson. He mentioned The Mass Psychology of Fascism, as well as some of his therapy experiences. The mention of Mass Psychology intrigued me because I'd always been interested in politics, but it never seemed ... enough somehow? Always had a tendency towards the managerial or the superficial solution. Reich's connection of politics to mass emotional life seemed so on point. I later was able to write my University dissertation on Reich, when I had a class that studied Mass Psychology amongst other texts. Through this, I met Peter Jones as I was casting around for people to interview, who is a mine of information on all things Reichian (or "orgonomic" as it should be- you can tell if someone is really into Reich if they use this word).
Who is Wilhelm Reich to you?
He’s someone I think who said something really fundamental about life. You might not get really get this on first look at his writings (it;s easy to get distracted by the fascinating biographical details – and his legal troubles meant he never got to do that end of life retrospective summing up) but Reich is concerned with the basic simple processes of life as he saw them. He says that life is basically characterised by movement, specifically pulsation, and in the human realm, there’s lots of social forces at work that stifle this. And once you get this you can see it playing out in all sorts of fields. Not just in therapy, but in biological processes, in childbirth, childrearing, in education, even mapping out into areas such as metrology and physics. A Reichican methodology is always looking for free movment in all of these situations (he actually referred to this characteristic of looking for the energetic movement in any given situation as a common functioning principle, and developed his own method of scientific enquiry based on this). Most people tend to intuitively get his ideas about armoring straight away – they understand that their emotional lives are a bit constrained in some way, and we can feel there’s a connection between our emotion and our physicality, and I think that’s an example of how he speaks to life’s fundamentals.
One of my big influences in thinking about Reich has been my friend Peter Jones. Peter worked as a midwife, and used Reich’s concepts in and around birth and the early days of life. This again is such a vivid, human concern and that’s part of what Riech speaks directly to.
What happens in an orgone therapy session?
In an orgone therapy session - well, the kind of classical model, described by Reich, the therapist would try to raise the patient's energy level, mostly via breathing. The idea is that the increased in energy would stress the patient's armouring i.e. points where they're blocked and bring them to the therapist's attention. Therapist Nick Totton described this process as the riot police coming out when the citizens become unruly! You can think of it as the "armoured" structure clamping back down and trying to hold on. An easy way to relate to this might be to think of how conscious you become of your own tensions when stressed. The therapist would take note and work on this with a combination of physical and verbal therapeutic work. I don't think in practice a therapy session has to look like this at all but it's a useful guide. I used to work with my therapist 20-30m of talking and then a bodywork session where (perhaps) some of themes discussed earlier would be enacted physically. I tended to have familiar points of blockage (my stomach for one) which we had to work with again and again.
What does Reich mean by body armour and how is it released?
By "body armour" (or muscular armour) Reich means tensions in the body that are held out of awareness. Might be a stiff jaw, a tense, overloud voice, a tight stomach or other tensions that are less easily noticeable. These are the physical corollary to "character armour" which are taken to be "points of tension" or hangups in a person's character. Orgone therapy works on both with the goal of the restoration of the organism's free pulsation. Muscular armour can be seen as localised contractions that prevent this from happening. This is expressed in the diagram on the front of all of Reich's books. One arrow, the body's energy, splitting into psyche and soma. It's released via a combination of physical work - relaxation, massage, movement, enactment - and mental - the direction of attention, characterological work.
Does images/memory arise when body armour is released?
Yes, though it's not guaranteed. I've seen it happen and had it happen myself (though with me only on an emotional level - the emotion arose, but not a related memory).
What made you choose this therapy over another?
I was always interested in Reich, like I said, starting with my awareness of his fusion of psychoanalysis and politics. So it was just a fruiting of that interest which has been long term. An old mentor suggested I try some of the "self help" end of Reichian exercises, which I did, but that only took me so far. Then pretty much luck I think, finding someone talented who understood his work and lived in the same city as me.
Was Israel Regardie right to advocate that therapy needs to happen before a person begins magickal work?
I think that’s pretty solid advice. As far as I can judge, that position arose from seeing Crowley first hand and up close, and seeing both how capable he was, alongside being hugely damaged. Any process that might mitigate the effects of the latter while increasing positive benefits of the former seems very worthwhile to me.
Magick has been dominated by Crowley’s definition with minor variations, but I want ro escape definitions in this conversation, and ask, how do you understand magick on an experiential level?
Well first thing I’d say is that if we’re talking about Reich and psychoanalysis, that those disciplines would be quite hostile to the idea of magic. And I think maybe magicians and occultists could learn quite a lot from that. What fantasies – in the psychoanalytical sense – are bound up with one’s practice? What does it mean, to take on the identify of “a magician”? What does that enable? What does it conceal? All worthwhile questions I think.
I’d add that magic is I think a floating signifier that means so many different things to so many different people. On one level I think it’s about keeping a romantic vision alive in a materialist society. And a lot of it is just social theatre, in groupery, or straight up delusion and bullshit. But if you’re lucky, you might chance on a set of practices that has the potential to trigger some level of change or that allow you to build personal meaning in a way that’s new for you.
I’m a big fan of Spare’s The Book of Pleasure – there’s a great quote in that where he’s slagging off the ceremonial magicians “They have no magic to intensify the normal, the joy of a child or a happy person”. I think they’re pretty good goals.
How do you understand the relation between magick and therapy? Are they the same thing?
Um, well one thing I’d say is that some of the internal process might be similar but their social positioning is very different. Therapy has to appear respectable and ethical (actually, it has to *be* ethical), people are making their livings from it, have to justify themselves to professional bodies etc etc. Magical practitioners don’t have to deal with all this, they can stay disreputable if you like.
I think one of the biggest differences is actually the relational aspect. Lots of magical texts encourage solo practice (a spin off of marketing books I guess) and it’s easy when doing magic to isolate yourself ‘cos the prevailing culture has nothing to say about it. And that’s obviously quite a dangerous place to be. Therapy obviously has a built in relationality, from the off. You can’t do it on your own, and the role of therapist is to challenge blind spots, to ground you, to provide that warmth, contact and comfort that only another persona can bring. That’s why I think Eastern traditions have the idea of the guru – to encourage a social, relational aspect around these processes of change.
The body has been lost in much contemporary therapeutic and magickal discourse. Reich proposed that memories and traumas are trapped in the body causing restrictions and tensions which need to be released. How do you work with this?
Well, I'm kinda constrained at the moment because of where I practice (mostly in a voluntary setting) I can’t ethically practice orgone therapy – this isn’t what the organization I work for is about, nor is it what the clients are expecting. So I offer an integrative approach that draws on person-centred counselling but with an emphasis on the body. I’ve had good results using Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing (which rests of drawing attention to the body and allowing sensations and imagery to emerge). But I think the key thing is to establish a strong therapeutic relationship – the therapeutic alliance it’s often referred to as. Every client is different but if you’ve got that container where you can establish they’re liked and valued, I think you can do good work.
That same holds true when I work with clients in a more “Reichian” way – everyone is different, every armouring pattern is different, but I’d still try and establish a strong relationship. And then I’d work gently with the client to see what emerges. I would work actively with the breath more and with the eyes – the starting point of “classical” Reichian work is with what Reich calls the ocular segment. There’s a lot of similarities between Reichian work in this segment and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprogramming) which is very therapeutically “in vogue” at the moment - only Reich discovered the same processes nearly 100 years ago!
Wilhelm Reich’s therapy has often been a part of the psychedelic discourse. With the increasing legalisation of psychedelics in the USA [and hopefully the UK will follow], do you think this will change therapy and bring us back to Reich’s vision?
I haven’t seen much discourse that connects the two – would welcome some links or references? Reich died in 1957 so a while before a drugs culture and the ideas of drugs as tools for self-exploration took hold. So he has nothing to say about them, as far as I’m aware.
I think that the potentiality of psychedelics in therapy, and MDMA therapies are both really exciting. I’m supportive of both, particularly because of the efforts the researchers involved are taking to manage set and setting and establish a research base. Potentially great work though it’ll run into the social armoring that Reich describes – the emotional plague” - at some point as it moves towards the mainstream. I imagine the research is surviving at the moment because it’s quite marginal.
On a personal level, I'm not that interested in drugs. I think they can amp up my nervous system and I think you need to be relaxed to tune into the subtle processes at work in bodywork. Psychedelics are very strong medicine and getting into Reichian therapy showed me that there’s so much in the body that you can tap into just with attention and breath. You don’t always need the nuclear warhead, much as might be useful sometimes.
Do you work with dreams?
Absolutely. I've always had a meaningful dream life and my time in therapy was no exception. A recurring symbol was a dog which I took as the animal part of my self. I've rarely worked with them with clients though flor some reason - don't quite know why this should be. Probably because I tend to work more person-centred than psychoanalytically.
What projects are you working on next?
I'm currently mostly working on freeing myself from my current job so I can practice full time, which has been tough under current conditions! There’s a couple of Reichian-related writing projects ongoing. I’m also very interested in the Alexander Technique and am studying that – there's some almost direct lines of connection with Reich’s work as well as many points of difference. I did an “integrative” MA – where you look at how to “integrate” the different philosophical positions underlying therapies (if you can – if you can’t, at least you’re aware of it!) . I’m kinda applying the same process to Reich and FM Alexander’s work.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
One thing – if one is tempted to read Reich. And that’s that central to understanding Reich is to take his statements on orgone energy as absolutely real and valid, even if this is just seems like a thought experiment at first. This is where a lot of people fall down with Reich, they see it as the point he becomes delusional. But it’s fundamental to his work.