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.


Ed Malek said...

I think that many people interested in Reich would automatically assume that since Reich was radical, this equates with liberalism. And this might have been true in Freud and Reich's time since psychoanalysis- with its unconscious motivations and sexual theories-was definitely disturbing to the patriarchal and authoritarian status quo of the period.

But Reich also warned of the red fascist menace as he had first-hand experience with the Soviet Union. I think that he feared liberalism more than conservatism, since the former is inherently more dishonest in its motivations. Thus Baker and Charles Konia (from the American College of Orgonomy) in their writings, make sure to highlight the dangers of modern-day liberalism (i.e., lack of differentiation of health from pathology due to being "stuck" in the brain, and with that, the ensuing approval of secondary impulses).

On a personal note, I once had the opportunity during the late 1980's to make a comment to an orgonomist (who was trained by Reich); I told him that President Gorbachov seems sincere in wanting to "democratize" communism, to which his curt reply was: "Do you really think you could trust a communist?" Well, history proved its own point.

As Baker has pointed out, the modern-liberal is really a cover for communism, and is far removed from a true liberal who seeks to help the less fortunate and works for social progress. This is why many modern people are drawn to liberalism--especially after hearing all of the dreadful atrocities of the previous black fascist movements (i.e., Nazism, KKK). Unfortunately, without an understanding of Reich's core vs. secondary impulses, these people are easily misguided by the destructiveness of modern-liberalism.

Dr. Schwartzman said...

Mr. Malek is right that being "radical" does not equate with being a "liberal." We have to be very specific when we use language. For example, speaking of himself, Reich said he was "radical," meaning that he went to the root of things. This is the first dictionary definition of "radical," used as an adjective. This is quite different than when "radical" is used as a noun to denote a person with fanatical or extreme views.

Jack Willis, MS, MA, DC said...

In my reading of nearly all of Reich, I find that he never outgrew his indoctrination into Communism. His functional thinking diagram is simply Hegle's thesis, anthithesis, synthesis turned upside down. He never reject the Engels (from Bachofen) idea of matriarchy. His advocacy of work democracy, based on Ilse's biography, turns out to be his name for old style European guild socialism (ref: von Mises, L. (1981/1936). Socialsim. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics [note this book has numerous editions in English by Yale University, Frarrar-Straus & Giroux, and others. It was first published in German in 1936]). While Reich did not like the Lenin/Stalin brand of Communism, he to the end was--following Marx, following numerous statists before Marx--a utopian, a position that he took from Marx (ref: Molnar, T. (1967). Utopia, the perennial heresy. New York: Sheed & Ward).

francesco zito said...

From six to 13 years i was growing in a religious college, so i was under the conservative education side. What remain in my memory was the sexual repression and the feeling of guilty and fear towards sexuality. In my town the political power was in the end of conservative people and , people develop in conservative emotional life. No sexual life before marriage and developing of mind pornography, with sublimation towards religion. This was the consevative sexual education. We can call sexual misery. I move towards more liberal town, Rome, and what i find? Occasional sex until consumistic sex, with some rare tentative of more healthy situation. Final result, consumistic liberal sex. So i believe, the social and political spectrum is a result of the pathological sexual life, in all the two realms. Conservative sexual repression push towards mystic sexuality, liberal sexual expression push towards consumistic sexuality. I think that Baker was correct to prefere in his time to see more danger in left sexual consume, this don't means that conservative is less dangerous. Now, like is true that in clinical observation is more difficult to break the armor in a liberal or a comunist, because they are more armored in the brain, is true that the conservative patient is less armored because function directly in the second layer of the armor . But one thing has to be clear: all two realms are pathologic. More what is happening actually, in italy , is the mixing of the two realms. If the left one time was the only defender of homosexuality, transexuality, pornography, actually many right politic party have homosexual organization and many right political man attend transexual, and many religious are attract towards omosexuality and pedophilia. I believe there is some fear to admit that, is passed the time to tell that is less dangerous the conservative emotional expression. Are left and right all two very dangerous. The question for dr. Schwuartzman is this: is correct again today to have Orgonomist or people interested in Orgonomy to remain balanced between these two position? When is time to go behind? I live in country and i've in front of me many trees, sometime i dream to have an ecological village for children, what will do with their road towards genitalty? We will give a balanced sexuality to don't go behind left and right emotional education? In my feeling is time to go behind the balance of the two phatological realms and find the courage to be "radical in the sense of Reich". Exist actually a place where children can develope until genitality? Will be a balanced emotional system to permit to childre to enjoy in health mode theyr bodies? I believe "no", to me appear clear one thing: to don't have fear... Orgonomy is behind left and right", is time to apply this innocent discover.

Dr. Schwartzman said...

As to Francesco Zito's remarks, those of us involved in introducing Reich’s ideas to others must be careful not to fall into the trap of “preaching the truth”-- when it cannot be heard. My position is to deal with each situation as it arises (and no two are ever the same) and to say only what others can hear. I like best to answer questions, if asked, rather than to assert myself as the “know it all authority.” I have no desire to convince anyone of anything -- especially because it can’t be done!

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.