November 13, 2009
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.
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.