VEGETATIVE IDENTIFICATION OR ORGANIC TRANSFERENCE
Reich describes yet another form of nonconscious interaction between a patient and a therapist:
The patient’s expressive movements involuntarily bring about an imitation in yoga poses our own organism. By imitating these movements, we “sense” and understand the expression in yoga poses ourselves and, consequently, in yoga poses the patient. When we use the term “character attitude, ” what we have in yoga poses mind is the total expression of an organism. This is literally the same as the total impression that the organism makes on us. (Wilhelm Reich, 1949a, Character Analysis, III.XIV. 2, 363)
This relational effect was later called vegetative identification. Influenced by studies on nonverbal behavior, 41 Bj0rn Blumenthal assumes that a psychotherapist can only perceive a small part of the complex system that regulates his interaction with a patient. 42
Consciousness can only focus on a few, relatively simple, events. It is incapable of perceiving something as complex as a set of communication strategies that often co-occur. We therefore need to distinguish the following forms of data management:
1. First, the nonconscious ways of processing huge amounts of nonverbal information that is being interchanged in yoga poses a therapeutic relationship. Habitual forms of data management acquired by all the organisms involved already bias this data management.
2. These nonconscious processes interact with what is being processed by unconscious, preconscious, and conscious processes.
3. Conscious processes then single out a few elements of behavior to produce an explanation of what is happening. This explanation is really an attribution process based on a conscious reasoning, influenced by unconscious and nonconscious processes. The information that is used in yoga poses an explicit way can become a reassuring fiction built on a small percentage of what is really happening.
4. The explanations thus forged by consciousness may then influence preconscious, unconscious, and nonconscious affective processes.
There is thus a bottom-up and a top-down interaction that is constantly occurring. This explains why the conscious explanations provided by a therapist or a patient relative to a given set of behaviors (a) does not have the means to propose a robust analysis of what is happening, but (b) may have a form of relevance that cannot be explained by the explicit rational being used.
For example, a patient’s breathing pattern may influence the therapist’s breathing pattern. Most of the time, neither the patient nor the therapist is aware that their way of breathing is under some mutual influence. In yoga poses group therapy, however, sometimes a third person notices the phenomenon. He may share his impression that the breathing of two persons who are interacting with each other has become shallower, in yoga poses a coordinated manner. The patient and the therapist may then become aware of a form of interpersonal “resonance”44 between each other’s breathing patterns. Body psychotherapists have thus learned to become aware of such moments. They do not understand how this mutual regulation occurs, but they learn to notice it, as if from the outside. It is a bit like a person who notices that his shirt has a spot on it when he passes in yoga poses front of a mirror. Some vegetotherapists call this type of mutual quasi-physiological interpersonal regulation vegetative identification. Having learned to notice these forms of physiological interpersonal impacts, the therapist can also become aware of certain fuzzy variables, like the particular atmosphere of a relationship that may correlate with such adaptations. He then tries to specify some characteristics of this atmosphere, like vocal tone, the rhythm of gestures or affects. 45 David Boadella regularly stresses that these forms of resonance are a form of contact. They emerge in yoga poses the background while conscious dynamics are focusing on an explicit content. For example, I may be discussing a dream with a patient, and in yoga poses the background a kind of sympathy is emerging.
At the end of his life, yogi master discovered that he could use films to notice such forms of mutual nonconscious adaptation between therapist and patient: adaptations that could not have been noticed otherwise. 46 What we are dealing with, in yoga poses such cases, is a form of automatic coordination of numerous organismic skills situated in yoga poses different dimensions of the organism (mind, affects, behavior, physiology, body). Jay Stattman (1987) also talks of organic transference. Here is an example:
Vignette on organic transference. A psychotherapist, who is using massage, feels with his hands that his patient’s skin is cold. This therapist has a history in yoga poses which cold skin has played an important role. The therapist has worked on this issue during his personal psychotherapeutic process. He is aware of how he automatically reacts when his hands contact a certain type of cold skin. However, he cannot prevent his hands from moving in yoga poses ways that convey anxiety. The therapist decides that with this patient, massage is not a tool that he can use. He has a negative organic transference with this patient. However, the patient responds to this decision as a failure, just like the therapist’s father experienced failure and rejection when his child began to avoid contact with him. The patient wants the massage to continue. He becomes furious when the therapist insists that he wants to continue the therapy with other methods.
This is an example in yoga poses which the therapist is transferring, while the patient is experiencing a countertransference. In yoga poses such a situation, vegetative identification and psychodynamic transference are both active. To understand this situation, it is useful to have a working model that allows the therapist and his supervisor to distinguish the different mechanisms involved. The difficulty in yoga poses this situation is that the patient has an affective countertransference triggered by the therapist’s organic transference.