October 4, 2009

Anatomy Knowledge by Orgone Therapists in Perspective

I would like to thank Ed Malek for his recent comment, which I found insightful on many levels. Among other things, he addressed the need for non-physicians who endeavor to work on body armor to have a functional education of anatomy, not merely an academic one. I agree and would even go so far as to say that I do not believe thorough knowledge of anatomy is necessary. In truth, I doubt whether many physician orgone therapists working on areas of armor know the origin and insertion of the muscles they are pressing on, or even their anatomical position relevant to adjacent structures. These are the kind of mechanical facts that are typically memorized for the purpose of test-taking, but soon forgotten.

Anatomical dissection, in the training of physicians, certainly gives one an appreciation of the body’s construction, but there are countless body-workers worldwide who work with precision, bring about positive effects, and do not cause harm. I am sure very few have had the experience of a complete anatomy education or cadaver dissection.

One advantage physicians do have is they are comfortable touching and examining a patient. My training as an osteopathic physician has been a special plus in this regard, as medical physicians have not had the hands-on experience of manipulation that was integrated into my schooling. It is important to note that virtually all biophysical (or bio-psychiatric) work is confined to the head and neck (ocular, oral and cervical segments) and a sufficient knowledge of the structures in these areas (as well as a few other regions) would be adequate anatomy education for non-physicians.

While physical work on armoring requires some knowledge of anatomy, it also requires a therapist’s aptitude for working on the body, and a great deal of experience. I am aware that I may be understating all of what’s needed in this area of training, but I do so in order to de-emphasize this aspect of orgone therapy, one that I believe receives too much emphasis in such discussions.

The issue is not that a comprehensive knowledge of anatomy is needed, but rather when to work biophysically, where to work, and precisely how to work. As we know, no two people are identical, and I am sure I never worked in exactly the very same way, even on the same person. Individuals change week to week and every session brings about some reorganization. As this is so, what is said or done must be tailored to how an individual is at that moment.

What has received far too little attention in the discussion of orgone therapy is the breakdown of armor through character analysis. If I could only work biophysically or with a verbal approach (fortunately, I do not have to make this choice) I would certainly choose the latter. The right words, in the right tone, can produce emotional reactions that no amount of work on the body can—and the release of long buried feelings and emotions, and the relief that comes with their discharge, is frequently greater and longer lasting than can ever occur with just physical force applied armored areas.

A great deal must come together for any therapist to successfully treat patients with this powerful treatment, but I feel qualified students, be they physicians or not, can learn this skill and art. They need to be of good character, to want to be the best they can be, and to remain dedicated to Reich’s principles.

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Psychiatric Orgone Therapy

One of Wilhelm Reich’s most important and lasting contributions is a unique treatment for emotional disorders called psychiatric orgone therapy. Reich began as a psychoanalyst and was a member of Freud’s inner circle, but moved away from Freud’s method of free association when he developed a more effective verbal approach he called character analysis. Later he came to recognize the existence of a specific biologic energy in living organisms that he called “orgone,” which was coined from the word “organism.” With this discovery Reich was able to combine his verbal method with a technique that could normalize a person’s energy. The result was an entirely new approach to treating emotional disorders that he named orgone therapy.

Reich’s work with patients convinced him the disturbance in an individual’s energy state is caused by contractions in the body, especially in the musculature. He called these contractions “armor,” and established that they begin to develop in infancy as a way to block out emotionally painful events.

Past traumatic experiences are locked in the body--and they remain throughout life. How this happens is not fully understood, but there is no question that anxiety, anger and sadness, as well as the other upsetting feelings and emotions from childhood are not forgotten. Armor not only holds the disturbing past, causing it to remain alive but out of consciousness awareness, but it also affects how one feels and functions. Because living a natural healthy life depends upon whether a person’s energy flows freely or is blocked, the aim of psychiatric orgone therapy is to free up energy by breaking down armor. As these areas of holding dissolve, patients release their long buried feelings and emotions in the safety of the therapist’s office. They most usually surface spontaneously with the specific method Reich innovated, without the need of urging or any intervention on the part of the treating psychiatrist. However, occasionally, pressure needs to be applied to spastic muscles, or other techniques used to normalize the body. Because this treatment combines a verbal approach with a physical technique, it addresses both the mind and the body to bring about profound changes in how one thinks, feels and functions.

Today almost all people seeking treatment from a psychiatrist are given medications to reduce their symptoms. However, with psychiatric orgone therapy it is usual that patients, over time, find themselves able to wean themselves off medication and function without pharmacologic treatment. Reich’s therapy is unique in that it not only relieves distressing symptoms, but also does much more. It enables individuals to expand and feel pleasure, and better enjoy the many satisfactions life has to offer.

There are people who claim to practice some form of “Reichian” or “orgone” therapy, even though they have had no formal training in medicine or psychology. Often the techniques used by these self-proclaimed therapists have little or nothing to do with the very specific methods Reich developed and taught. The value of such therapies is questionable and may even harm those who get involved in them.

Qualified psychiatric orgone therapists have extensive training. They are physicians who have gone on to specialize in psychiatry and then in the very unique subspecialty of orgone therapy. They practice in much the same way as Reich did more than a half century ago. Ph.D. Psychologists who have had proper training can practice a form of orgone therapy safely and effectively. However, it is crucial they have supervision by a qualified psychiatric orgone therapist.