November 30, 2009

Therapy as Wellness & Beyond

As an orgone therapist, some patients come to my office seeking help for the kinds of complaints they would bring to a traditional psychiatrist. These include the gamut of emotional problems, such as anxiety, depression and bi-polar disorder. However, with time these initial complaints are resolved and patients often elect to continue with therapy to feel even better. They remain because they now have a sense of what it’s like to feel really good and, in a way, it becomes a bit like an addiction--they want to feel better and better.

Others come for therapy not because they are experiencing any pressing emotional problem but because they are either in training to become orgone therapists (therapy is part of training) or because they've heard about orgone therapy and want to experience its benefits.

The concept of wellness has become a familiar one today. Most who exercise, practice yoga, meditate, enjoy massage and explore alternative modalities do so because they are seeking ever-better states of feeling, not because they are unwell. They want not only to feel better, but to feel more. With his creation of orgone therapy, Wilhelm Reich was far in advance of his time as he developed not only a method of treating emotional disorders but a natural wellness therapy that can be used to "treat" those who are healthy.

A reason I was drawn to orgone therapy for myself so many years ago is I have always been inclined to actively participate in my health. I have always wanted to feel as good as possible. This propensity also has led me to explore and use many other natural health approaches over the years. I will be writing a little about this here.

My father was a pharmacist and I grew up over our drugstore in Philadelphia. In those days the role of physicians and pharmacists overlapped quite a bit. Pharmacists were often called “doc” and were regularly asked for medical advice, and those who came in for help became our “patients.” Our neighborhood people came in with a wide range of complaints and conditions. My father and then I, while still a high school student, recommended treatments. They included cough syrups, tinctures, powders, poultices, ointments, mustard and belladonna plasters, liniments and other remedies. Some products required compounding and others were sold as prepared “patent medicines.” Humphrey’s Homeopathic Remedy # 1 (for teething) and tincture of arnica (for bruises) were popular and effective. Multivitamins in capsule form or as a tonic were frequently recommended and those who took them regularly usually said they felt better.

Often it appeared the patient did as well with our treatment as with the physician’s. Keep in mind that in those days there were not many effective medications available. When they were used, the drug interactions so common today did not exist, as these are the result of poly-pharmacy, the giving of multiple medications at the same time. This wasn’t regular practice then.

Our patients often reported back what was effective and what wasn’t, and in this way I came to learn what worked. This early experience gave me respect for what might now be called alternative medicine. It also gave me an appreciation the value of not doing much a good deal of the time, and waiting for time and nature’s healing powers to overcome illness.

I went on to study pharmacy, which prepared me well for medicine, better I thought than the regular pre-med liberal arts programs. The courses were all science based and included mathematics; medication calculations; biochemistry; inorganic, organic and physical chemistry; physiology; pharmacology and pharmacognosy. This last is the study of medicinal drugs obtained from plants and other natural sources. Thus my background of growing up in a drugstore and becoming a pharmacist before entering medical school helped point me in the direction of prevention and natural healing.

I began taking a multivitamin about fifty-five years ago and have added, over the years, ever more supplements. I now have an extensive supplement regimen. Much of what I have incorporated is backed by published studies, many conducted in Europe. Given the nature of medical practice here in the States and the profit motive of the pharmaceutical industry, there isn’t the incentive to fund studies of natural remedies that cannot gain FDA approval. So the studies just don’t happen. Some of my regimen has been recommended by my European colleagues and patients, as they are aware of methods of treatment and supplements hardly known here in the United States. Thanks to those through the years who have offered their knowledge and advice!

My usual procedure before adding something new is to wait until I see follow-up research studies. This way I can see if the effectiveness is confirmed and if there are reports of drug interactions or adverse side effects. I now take many pills as well as some powder formulations each day. I also take some anti-aging agents. And there is never a time I look forward to swallowing them! (A carbonated drink out of a bottle will help those with difficulty getting down more than one pill at a time.) Taking so many pills everyday is a discipline, and an expensive one at that.

With all I've taken over the years, it’s reasonable to ask: How do you know your regimen is doing anything? My answer is I don’t. Even if I live well beyond my genetically programmed lifespan, without the illnesses and disabilities that come with aging, I still won’t know. As a case study of one, I will never know which, if any, supplements have been valuable and which have not, or even how they might be interacting. Also, there’s no control for whatever else I do (or don’t) that might account for my overall health.

I do know I continue to feel fine at seventy and appear (so far!) to be in all-around good health, free of arthritis or even any of the aches and pains that many of similar age experience. However, my health has not always been perfect. Medical issues have cropped up from time to time, and for the most part I have addressed them naturally and with success. Heart disease runs in my family and I experienced angina in my forties. This is when I really began to investigate and take supplements. It is decades later, and I am without evidence of heart disease. Without pharmaceutical medications, I have normalized my blood pressure, brought all my blood chemistries (including cholesterol) into normal range and improved kidney function. My vision and hearing are as good as, or even better than, in my youth. I also see an internal medicine physician and other specialists regularly for examination and testing and would never hesitate to undergo traditional treatments. 

Patients sometimes ask me what supplements they should take. There is no one-size-fits-all program so I work with them to help them develop the right plan. As a pharmacist and their psychiatrist, I am in a good position make recommendations, and I do. However, I always remind my patients that traditional medical evaluations and tests should be performed and I ask that reports of those studies be sent to me.

My knowledge of supplements is the product of probably thousands of hours of research over many years. To detail the specifics of what I take, and why, is far too comprehensive a subject for today. Also, what I take is based on my unique biochemistry and health goals and therefore it would be unwise of me to recommend it to anyone in a general sense. However, if there is an interest in what I have to say about supplements, I will write again on this topic with more detail.

There are many sources I turn to in order to learn about supplements. Those interested in doing their own research may wish to consult one source I visit regularly that publishes abstracts of worldwide scientific studies. It is located at:

November 19, 2009


The holidays are here and the TV and stores are starting to bombard us with images of happy, pajama-clad families, sipping cocoa by crackling fireplaces. While this can be a happy time, many are apprehensive about, or even dread, this season.
Several factors can lead to stress and upset. Too often, what we are really feeling is out of sync with what we think, and are told, we should be feeling. This disconnect can lead to disappointment, sadness or even depression.
One situation I encounter in my practice is adult children who feel less than positive about returning home for obligatory holiday events. Reich coined the term “familitis” to describe destructive behavior within families. This is a good opportunity to look at one aspect of this concept in the context of this all too common situation. 
Young children need structure and direction as they grow and learn to become functional members of society. Parents telling their children how they ought behave necessarily occurs in every family. But also, in virtually every family, there is to varying degrees unnecessary or improper control exerted over children's behavior. This unjustified control is always rationalized by the parent as being for the good of the child. However, unconscious motivations are at work. 
Overly anxious parents, because of their own fearfulness, may attempt to restrain their children's natural behavior. Because they can’t tolerate and manage their anxiety, they stop the behavior that’s making them nervous. Other parents simply cannot stand natural, lively behavior. It stirs up in them their own long-repressed feelings. In an attempt to manage these feelings, they exert control over their children and tell them how they must think and act.
Children, who are powerless because of their age and lack of experience, are at the mercy of parents who tell them how they must be. Children have a keen sense of unfair, irrational control and unjustified punishment. When this occurs, they feel frustrated and then angry. If this is a way of life at home the anger turns to hatred. The child is justifiably afraid to stand up to those who rule over him. Rage sometimes bursts through as tantrums and acting out, but mostly it lies buried and turns to chronic resentment.
Children grow up, move out, and finally break free from a life of fear lived under dictatorship. They and their siblings are often scattered around the globe, each thousands of miles away from their parents and each other. This physical distance is not always an accident! Then come the holidays where children, parents and grandparents are brought together under one roof and the stage is set for re-activation of childhood feelings. The daughter who always felt ignored, or the son who always felt criticized, are apt to feel that way again. Strong and deeply held emotions, much of them out of conscious awareness, become the source of discord, arguments and confusion. How did what was supposed to be a happy holiday visit turn, yet again, into a nightmare?
Familitis (an inflammation or disease of the family) is one form of what Reich called the “emotional plague.” The emotional plague is a complex topic that I look forward to addressing fully in time. The expression has been used too often to describe every kind of neurotic behavior when, in actuality, the term refers to a very specific form of social behavior with specific criteria. For now, I will say that the emotional plague is always suspect when an individual who is in a position of authority is attempting to control the behavior of others. For this reason, the family is one place where the emotional plague often occurs.
For those apprehensive about rejoining their families during the holidays, I have a few thoughts to offer for your consideration. First, consider staying at a local hotel instead of your parents’ home. Time away will give you a breather from them and allow you to maintain the feeling that you are independent. Don’t feel guilty about offending mom and dad, although they may well do their best to make you feel you are inconsiderate, citing that they see you so infrequently, etc. If this happens, don’t let it weaken your resolve. Simply saying something like, “I just feel I need my own space to be comfortable,” might work fine. No matter what, don’t give in. Do what you need to to take care of yourself and refuse to be coerced. Keep visits short and manageable. Build in time to enjoy your vacation by yourself or with your kids, away from the folks —perhaps visit a local area of interest, get a massage or go shopping.
Finally, anticipate before your visit that situations will arise to re-activate old, negative feelings. Plan to use these situations as a time to practice keeping your cool by remaining non-defensive and non-reactive. Decide in advance that when your parents begin telling you what you should do, that you will say, something like, “You may be right” or “You have a point there, I’ll have to think about it.” Do this knowing full well that you will do as you see fit. Remember, you are an adult and there is nothing your parents can do to you!
Those of you who do not have to face these situations are truly fortunate—and far too rare. If you are in this lucky position you have much to be thankful for during this holiday season.

November 13, 2009

Seeing Morton Herskowitz

I first met Morton Herskowitz, D.O. in 1962. I was a first year medical student and he was my instructor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathy (now the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine). He taught the introductory course in psychiatry. The course wasn’t about orgonomy or Reich. I was taken with how clear and solid Dr. Herskowitz was. How everything he said, in so many areas, was right-on. I remember he spoke out against circumcision, something that was remarkable for a medical school instructor in 1962.

Back then, I was reading the core of psychiatry, people like Freud, Jung and Adler. I didn’t know much about Reich. I had heard he was crazy. Then I found out that Dr. Herskowitz was a “Reichian” from upperclassmen. Since I connected with so much of what he was saying, I felt there could well be something to Reich’s work. So I decided to go see Dr. Herskowitz for orgone therapy. I was immediately taken with him as a therapist and with the effects of the treatment. After my first session, I knew then and there that I would become a medical orgone therapist.

It was very good to see Dr. Herskowitz this past Saturday at the fall conference of The Institute for Orgonomic Science, the non-profit group he leads. Thank you to the many following my blog who joined me there. The conference was well attended. By my estimate, there were about a hundred people there. Many were grateful patients or those working in the field of orgonomy in some way. I met and connected with a number of new people, some who had travelled to the conference from as far away as Boston and California.

For me, the highlight of the conference was Dr. Herskowitz speaking about Reich. He gave a brief overview of Reich’s biography and made a number of insightful observations. For example, he remarked that Reich was tutored as a child, and that this one-on-one kind of education is really the very best kind, because it has the capacity to be very much driven by the interests of the child. If the child asks a question, the tutor answers it, and if he doesn’t know the answer, the tutor finds out and comes back the next day and tells the child.

Dr. Herskowitz also spoke about how the gossip about Reich has been a continuation of the first malicious and utterly false article that was written about him in The New Republic in 1947. He said further that, to this day, people only mention a few things when they speak of Reich: that he was born in 1897, that he trained with Freud, that he was a paranoid schizophrenic, and that he died in prison. Virtually no one reads Reich!

Dr. Herskowitz said he never felt in any way that Reich was crazy, but that even if someone has emotional problems this does not negate their discoveries or genius. He mentioned that Issac Newton was a believer in astrology, but this had nothing to do with his discovery of the basic laws of physics. I myself think of the inventor and mechanical engineer, Nikola Tesla, a remarkable genius who was extremely paranoid and died in poverty and alone.

Of course, much more was said by Dr. Herskowitz and the others who spoke at the conference, which was videotaped. At some point in the future, it will be available for purchase. I was honored to have Dr. Herskowitz sign my copy of his book Emotional Armoring: An Introduction to Psychiatric Orgone Therapy, and to have my picture taken with him.

November 6, 2009

Reich's "Followers" and Political Stance

A visitor to The Wilhelm Reich Center recently asked this question: Are all of Reich’s followers politically conservative? The word “followers” has an implication of slavish acquiescence and/or of belonging to a well-defined group. While there are groups devoted to Reich’s work, most people with an interest in him do not belong to any formal organization. That aside, the question posed is interesting and understandable, since some people have written extensively about their interpretation of Reich’s concepts, and maintain what might well be described as a conservative position.

I have known many over the years with differing degrees of interest in Reich and have found them to represent a spectrum of political beliefs. Reich addressed so many different topics—from his concept of orgone energy, to the therapy he pioneered, to the study of mass psychology, and more. Different aspects of his work tend to attract different kinds of people, and for different reasons.

Reich wrote extensively about armored man’s willingness to give up his independence and self-determination and depend on the government or political dictators to tell him what to do and how to live his life. This kind of thinking tends to engage those who consider themselves conservative. Others, who might be called “liberal-minded,” tend to be open to untraditional approaches and new ways of thinking. These individuals may be interested in alternative medicine/therapies, “New Age” ideas and the mind-body connection. The fact that Reich’s thinking tends to “jive” with those of divergent beliefs and interests demonstrates that his core ideas are broader than, and outside the domain of, the politics of left and right.

In addition, Reich drives away those on the left and right of the political spectrum. Those on the left tend not to have an intuitive sense of the biologic energy, and therefore may not connect with his energetic concepts while those on the right DO tend to have that sense, but mystify it and instead may embrace religion. There is much more to say along these lines, but I will save it for another time when it can be addressed in a more complete way.

What did Reich believe? Looking at the totality of his views, I would not describe him as a liberal or conservative but instead as a clear and functional thinker. He was FOR humanity. Period. He was for infants (opposed circumcision), for mother/infant contact, for women, for contraception, for adolescents and felt they should have privacy for sex. He was for the masses, and for decent food and living conditions. He was for the environment. He opposed race-hatred and political extremism of all kinds. In Listen, Little Man! he wrote, of himself: “I am not a Red or a Black or a White or a Yellow. I am not a Christian or a Jew or a Mohammedan, a Mormon, Polygamist, Homosexual, Anarchist or Boxer.” He said, “I want children and adolescents to experience their bodily happiness in love and to enjoy it without danger.” In a discussion with students entitled “The Pharmaceutical Industry and Medical Practice” (1953), available on CD, he spoke out against big business.

Reich wrote and worked during a time of pervasive conservatism. The Sexual Revolution was published for the first time in 1945. (It appeared decades later in the United States in English translation.) In Reich’s time, his ideas would have seemed extremely “liberal” and one could categorize them as such even today.

Reich died in 1957, and shortly before had charged his student Elsworth F. Baker, M.D. with the task of carrying the work in orgonomy forward. Baker, who was about five years younger than Reich and lived until 1985, had the opportunity to live through a very different period in history. Baker was doing his work in orgonomy during the turbulent 1960s and therefore applied Reich’s concepts to a different set of historical realities. There was widespread drug use, sex for its own sake without genuine feelings of love, rioting at Universities and in the streets, and longing for the vague and idealistic notion of “peace.” Many hippie-types were drawn to Reich’s ideas. Conservatism rises up against liberalism and vice-versa. I think Baker, who was my mentor, wanted those who worked in orgonomy to be balanced, as he wanted the world to be, but chose those around him for their conservatism, knowing that liberalism was the danger to be offset at that time.

Reich addressed political radicalism of all kinds, and there is room today for a discussion of politics in light of his thinking. However, it is my belief that other aspects of orgonomy are more important than “politics” and deserve to be the primary focus of attention, specifically the understanding of armor, its prevention in newborns and young children, and its effective treatment in adults. Both Reich and Baker felt armoring was the root cause of all human misery, including destructive politics.

I believe those working in the field of orgonomy can only do so effectively if they, like Reich, avoid political extremism and operate outside the politics of left and right. For this reason, I do not believe there should be a political litmus test for those working/training/studying in orgonomy—so long as those who undertake this work are, for the most part, moderate in their thinking. Those with more liberal views and interests can counter balance those with more conservative ones, and vice-versa.

It is important to distinguish between Reich’s original ideas and the thoughts (and beliefs) of others who have undertook to expand on them. There is no Reich to tell us whether we are on track with the direction we are taking in continuing the work of orgonomy in his name. I urge those new to Reich, and even those very familiar with him, to go back as I do, again and again, to primary source material—what he wrote—to gain the clearest and best understanding of his ideas. Reich wrote extensively and with great clarity of mind and expression. In a future post, I will offer suggestions as to reading materials, for those who are interested.

As an aside, I am planning to attend the conference this Saturday (tomorrow) at the Philadelphia Ethical Society where Dr. Morton Herskowitz will be speaking. (I have posted the specifics on the right side of this page.) I hope those who are following this blog and local to Philadelphia will also attend the event, and I look forward to seeing those of you there who do. Dr. Herskowitz, who is now in his nineties, is the last remaining medical orgone therapist to have trained with Wilhelm Reich. His comments and insights will no doubt prove interesting.

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.