May 7, 2010

Tune In or Turn Off?

Increasingly, patients, family and friends have been expressing their dismay to me over what they are seeing and hearing on the news. It doesn’t matter what TV channel you watch, what Internet news source you scan, or what radio station you listen to. Every day brings more upsetting stories on all fronts--environmental, economic and political. The continuing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is on everyone’s mind and the recent attempted bombing in Times Square reminds us the menace of terrorism remains real. There is no end to bad news. 
It’s safe to say people are exposing themselves to more news than ever. The term “newsie,” once used to describe people working in the news industry, is now applied to constant news watchers, who have become a prime target audience for advertisers. There has been a continuing shift away from reading newspapers and toward viewing Internet news sources, which bring us the insanity of the world moment to moment and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. TV watching, with its popular news-only channels, continues to rise. According to the 2010 Media Industry Fact Sheet put out by The Nielsen Company, the average American spends 31.5 hours a week watching TV. 
People say they watch the news to “stay informed.” This pat explanation sounds good-- at first. But it begs the larger question of why many choose to watch so much news and in so doing allow themselves to become, and remain, upset with the insanities and tragedies of the world.  
There is nothing wrong with keeping abreast of current events. As my son-in-law correctly points out, it makes one able to communicate intelligently with one’s peers, it facilitates social interaction, and it makes one knowledgeable enough to vote for those who best represent their beliefs. However, in my view, there is scant journalistic reporting to be found. Much passed off as facts and information is quite biased, and is really “infotainment.” As I see it, unconscious emotional factors are largely responsible for why people elect to keep up with the news. 
News-watching can serve a number of neurotic functions. It can alleviate boredom in those whose love and work lives are unfulfilling, it can serve as a distraction from the pressures and hardships of daily life, and it can bring some measure of excitement into otherwise deadened lives. Some are actually addicted to the emotional rush they get from exposure to the media. 
The daily news will “hit home” for everyone. There are so many emotionally grabbing stories in a given day that individuals can connect with, and get worked up about. One person, because of their particular character or emotional state, may become caught up with politics, another with the environment, and another with efforts to help children following a disaster. Such an extensive range of reporting is done, in no small part, to bring in the largest audience. The larger the audience, the greater the revenue for those who sponsor these “shows.”
The reporting of tragic events has an adverse effect on people who react in accordance with their specific character types. The depressed, who are often self-absorbed and apathetic can use the news to be roused from their low spirits, or it may drive them deeper into despair, giving them seemingly justified reasons for their despondency. The bipolar individual can be moved to act with poor judgement when in a manic state. The distrustful and suspicious, and those with paranoid ideation, have their fearfulness heightened. The news-involved hysteric overreacts with drama and great emotion. Because they are chronically anxious, the death and disaster scenarios they expose themselves to leave them in a state of even greater anxiety. 
From an orgonomic perspective, watching tragedies of all kinds play out in the news is not so different than going to see a movie where upsetting events are portrayed. In both, one becomes excited, the orgone energy in the body starts moving, and one begins to feel. But while a movie can be dismissed as mere entertainment, because the news is real, it upsets us more and has the capacity to evoke strong and deeply held feelings, especially sadness, fear and rage. 
If we tell to others about what we think and feel in response to the news, these emotions are allowed a degree of expression. Talking to those we know, expressing our outrage, writing letters to the editor, firing off angry e-mails to congresspersons, chatting or commenting on the Internet--all serve the function of allowing us to discharge some of the emotions that have been stirred up by current social and political events. These emotions are not necessarily caused by news-watching. They are already within us and become stirred-up. 
Watching the news and venting about it is an often vain attempt for people to make themselves feel better. Of course, to the extent that one becomes active and actually does something, for example engaging in a rescue operation, the degree of discharge and relief can be significant. However, psychiatric orgone therapy is a far better way to express and release deep, negative emotions. I believe it is the only way to forever remove them. It is my experience that with therapy people tend to become less focused on the insanities of the world and more focused on living quiet, family-centered lives. 

There is a dear price to be paid for being “informed.” While we may wish to do something in response to what we see, quite often there is nothing we personally can do. Only you will choose whether to tune in to the news or to tune it out. But, if you are one that regularly tunes in, you might ask yourself why. If the answer comes back “to keep informed” then take it a step further and ask yourself to justify your way of thinking. If watching the news enables you to cast your vote, fine. If it enables you to act in some truly meaningful way, fine. If it enables you to better deal with life situations, for yourself and others, fine. However, if none of the above apply, and if you are routinely upset by what you see, hear and read, then you should consider that there are deeper, concealed motives at work determining why you choose to be made upset. If this is you, consider a two-week experiment. It might not be easy, as detoxing from any addiction is not a simple matter. Expose yourself to no TV, no radio, no newspapers, and no magazines that report on daily current events. Listen to music, go outdoors, read books and spend time with loved ones (but don’t discuss world events). You might feel calmer, less upset and less worried. See how you feel. You can always go back. 
I, for one, don’t make a special effort to follow the news beyond local weather, traffic and airline conditions. As a consequence, those I know are sometimes surprised to find I haven’t learned about this or that BIG story. One might say, “don’t put your head in the sand.” That’s fine for those who want to be constantly upset about things over which the have no control. I don’t. 
Wilhelm Reich lived through incredibly turbulent political and social times and yet, quite remarkably, wrote almost nothing about day-to-day politics or events. With a few exceptions, when one reads Reich, there is no indication of the time period in which he lived and wrote. This makes his writing timeless and shows how much emphasis he placed on the “news” of the day--virtually none!
As a final thought, many bloggers tie their posts to current events and I may do this on occasion. However, just because another major news story is taking place doesn’t mean that I am going to write about it. My failure to comment doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s important. The fact is my interests, and those of my readers, are broader than the news of the hour. Wilhelm Reich’s ideas have relevance beyond what particular world insanity is taking place at the moment. So I say to those beleaguered and upset by the day's news and politics, you need not fear coming here.


Claus Schlaberg, Germany said...

Dear Dr. Schwartzman, I agree concerning day-to-day-events. But there is a function watching, reading and hearing news serves: It distracts from many more important topics. People are bored by being reminded of topics which have been discussed 30 years ago - whether they are worth the discussion or not. In Germany in the late Seventies and early eighties hundred of thousands of people took part in demonstrations against nuclear power plants. These demonstations have been very effective - many plans of the nuclear industry could be stopped. Nowadays this is one topic among many you can choose to ignore. Information has become similar to a ware in a shop.

Dr. Schwartzman said...


You are quite right that the news serves to distract, as does virtually all watching of television, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, and so on. There is certainly nothing wrong with distraction as a way to stop the endless tapes that run in our head. When one becomes upset by what they choose to use as diversion, it can say quite a bit about them, and often what a patient chooses for their form of distraction can be of value in their therapy. What interests and excites can disclose much about an individual.

There is no question that the news is also extremely useful, and I am grateful so many have become pro-active and are a force in determining public policy. However, for those that are chronically upset by what they chose to expose themselves to, they might elect to give themselves a "newsbreak," in the literal sense of the word.

George said...

Bravo Dr. Schwartzman for bringing out some of the neurotic reasons people watch the news.
When I went back to medical school in the 1980s I was virtually cut off from current events. I did not own a TV or a radio and spent most of my time studying, exercising and scrambling to spend as much time as I could getting outdoors. Of course, it helped that I went to an off shore medical school my first two years and had no direct contact with what was happening state side.
I agree that watching TV news serves many vicarious needs and one could better spend their time engaged in other more enriching activities. Time to down grade the fascade and take a news break. Thanks!

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.