October 15, 2009

Circumcision Debate

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics are now considering whether to recommend routine circumcision for all U.S. born male babies to help reduce the spread of HIV. This represents a major blow, and call to action, for all those who have been fighting on behalf of children everywhere to end this damaging practice.

Wilhelm Reich was among the first to speak against the cruelty of circumcision and we can rightly consider him the father of the anti-circumcision movement. In Children of the Future, a collection of his writings published together in 1983, Reich addresses the brutality, rationalization and consequences of the practice. "Take that poor penis. Take a knife--right? And start cutting. And everybody says, 'It doesn't hurt.' Everybody says, 'No, it doesn't hurt.' Get it? That's an excuse, of course, a subterfuge. They say the sheaths of the nerve are not yet developed. Therefore, the sensation in the nerves is not yet developed. Therefore the child doesn't feel a thing. Now, that's murder! Circumcision is one of the worst treatments of children. And what happens to them? You just look at them. They can't talk to you. They just cry. What they do is shrink. They contract, get away into the inside, away from that ugly world."

Today's debate over circumcision touches on so many issues--medical, legal, ethical, moral, social, religious, cultural and sexual. But awareness of the most important factor has been almost lost. This is what Reich understood: the lasting psychological and emotional consequences of circumcision. What should be THE primary consideration in deciding whether to circumcise is all but ignored.

Those of us who have patients in orgone therapy and have watched them relive their circumcisions, wide-eyed with terror and shrieking pitifully as they attempt to break loose from the straps holding their limbs down, have no doubt this earliest ordeal has remained alive, locked within them. We, and our patients, also know that their circumcision has had lasting effects because after it has been re-experienced there comes about a definite and lasting sense of relief and well-being.

We are indebted to Wilhelm Reich for his discovery of the armor that binds repressed feelings and emotions. We would not know the importance of the earliest days of life if he had not discovered the existence and function of armor. Unfortunately, making this truth known seems, at times, impossible. Only we therapists, and the patients who have relived their earliest suffering, know that infant misery remains locked within us and has lasting effects. Finally, what is most important, and considered preposterous, is that the earliest traumas cause the most damage. The most critical time in one's life are the first hours, days and weeks. This is the strongest reason not to circumcise. Of course, there are other important reasons for parents to forego the practice, such as the life-long reduction in sexual pleasure that is always a consequence.

One need only look at the tortured newborn's face to know circumcision is wrong and harmful. But why isn't this readily apparent to all? The reason is that most people are so cut off from their own feelings and deepest emotions that they have lost the ability to fully connect, empathetically, with children. It is this loss of contact with self and others that allows parents to so readily accept the recommendations of "authorities," be they medical, religious or social, who tell them circumcision is a good thing. The reasons and rationales for the practice are manifold and ever-changing. Yesterday, it was to prevent masturbation, today to prevent HIV, and tomorrow there will be some other "good reason."

The pain the newborn suffers when his sensitive foreskin is cut off and when the anesthesia (which may or may not be sufficient) wears off hardly enters into anyone's thinking. In the current debate about whether to recommend circumcision, how much thought is given to the suffering from pain and irritation that follows for days?

When an adult experiences pain, such as with an injury or surgical procedure, he has a fully developed ego and comprehends the circumstances. He knows the reason for his pain, understands that it is temporary and can speak about it. Because he can talk about his pain, and because physicians understand well how to manage pain in adults, they are able to provide adequate pain relief. The infant who experiences pain does not know its source, purpose or that it will end. He has no intellectual or ego defenses to help him cope with his pain. All he feels is terror and misery. Doctors know far less about treating pain in neonates and are afraid to do so because of greater risks and complications. So pain management for newborns is minimal, if provided at all. Of course, the newborn cannot help the doctor assess his pain with a verbal description. He cannot complain to those around him, as adults so often do, and feel better knowing his pain is being acknowledged and understood. All he can do is cry and then contract away.

Pain and suffering in the newborn isn't considered important because of the false belief that since physical and emotional traumas in infancy and early childhood are not "remembered," they do not have any lasting effects. This absurd idea has persisted through the ages, despite thousands of scientific studies showing that infant and childhood trauma do cause lifelong emotional and psychological damage.

I encourage those who are reading this and opposed to circumcision to stand up for newborn babies and sign Intact America's petition to stop the CDC from recommending the procedure as a routine health measure. It's easy to do at http://www.intactamerica.org/. Then return to this blog, acknowledge that you voted, and comment if you wish.


Yannis Gryparis said...

As a physician I face often situations in the medical world in which mechanistic medicine does or propagates something just in order to do anything. It seems that people, physicians, anyone feel impelled/forced to do/act anything, they can´t stay calm....waiting, watching how thigs (life itself) develop. More than this modern medicine has an atitude toward life and especially the human body like an engineer tuning up his bike or car. But in circumcision this goes beyond this level: as a surgon one must lock up his feelings and reduce sight (and contact) to the local anatomic situs, a "little piece of skin" that must be removed...
It reminds me of another "scientific" advice of a gynecologist to women who wanted to stop breastfeeding, i.e. to put vinegar on the nipple and let the child suck. It´s horrible!

Georganne Chapin said...

Intact America is hosting booths at the national conferences of the American Academy of Family Physicians (Oct. 14-17) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)(Oct. 17-19). We are also placing a large ad in the Washington Post, calling on the AAP to refuse to revise its current statement about circumcision, which says only that there is insufficient medical evidence to recommend it, but still allows that parents have the right to request circumcision for their children, and doctors have the right to operate unnecessarily on non-consenting babies.) We are asking physicians to say "no," when they area asked to circumcise babies. It is extremely common, and extremely distressing, to talk with doctors who say, "I don't like it; my own son is not circumcised; but if the parents want it, I do it because if I didn't, the parent would take the child to another doctor." We believe that it is everybody's responsibility to stop the forced circumcision of children.
Georganne Chapin, Intact America

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.