June 25, 2010

Announcing Guest Posting

This September will mark the one year anniversary of this blog, Wilhelm Reich Today. It has been more successful than I could have imagined and continues to build a worldwide following. It has also been a gratifying experience for me, and the feedback I’ve gotten from my readers demonstrates the positive feelings go both ways. 
As a consequence of this blog, many who knew little or nothing about Wilhelm Reich have visited and learned about the practical application of his work in the present day. Others who have been involved in orgonomy for many years are enjoying the blog. Friends, old and new, have contacted me to say hello and to tell me what they are doing in their lives as well as in the field of orgonomy. 
As Wilhelm Reich Today gears up for it’s second year, I’ve been considering ways to develop and enhance the blog. One big change that I’m making is the introduction of guest posting. This is a common feature of many blogs. The regular host (in this case, me) gets to take a step back and wear the hat of blog follower every so often, as others write the featured post.    
Opening the blog to other contributors, who will bring to it their own voices, perspectives, and areas of interest and expertise, will add a new dimension to Wilhelm Reich Today. Just as my posts are wide-ranging, guest writers will also present their thoughts on diverse subjects related to orgonomy. There is hardly any topic that can’t be brought into clearer focus by drawing on what Reich has given us. I will also be guest posting on other’s blogs from time to time. When I do, I’ll be sure to let you know when and where, so you can follow me there.
Stay tuned as Wilhelm Reich Today continues to grow and develop! 

June 14, 2010

Nurture Sidelined in Pursuit of Genetic Answers

Research any major health issue in some depth and you will likely find yourself immersed in the world of genetics. From diagnostic evaluation to the treatment of disease and development of therapies, genetics has permeated medical science. More than just health questions are being resolved with genetic investigation. For example, two new genome studies have demonstrated that Jewish people across the globe do belong to a distinct ethnicity with shared ancestry, putting to rest the assertion that Jews are a group of unrelated persons with the same religious beliefs. 
The value and potential of genetics should not be underestimated. Genetic engineering, which alters the structure and characteristics of genes directly in a laboratory, has been responsible for many important medical advances, including the creation of synthetic insulin and human growth hormone. Gene therapy, whereby genes are inserted into a person’s cells and tissues to treat disease, is in its infancy but is being used with some success. And DNA sequencing has allowed researchers to study the molecular structures associated with many human diseases. Notwithstanding, the pursuit of genetic solutions--especially in medicine--is not without cost. There are many moral, ethical, legal and privacy issues in play. Here I will discuss some social implications of genetic medicine from my approach as a psychiatric orgone therapist.  
We know from Wilhelm Reich that very much of who we become as adults, in terms of our physical health and overall sense of well-being, is a consequence of how we were raised as children. Reich understood that experiences, what can be referred to as “nurture” or “environment,” beginning as early as the prenatal period and extending into childhood, are of extreme importance. It is what happens to us that determines the location and extent of what Reich termed “armoring,” the chronic contractions in the body that block the free flow of our biologic energy. 
Reading Reich and understanding his theoretical framework is one thing, but when one treats patients using the therapy he developed, there can be no doubt that traumatic events occurring during the newborn period, infancy and childhood exert a profound, lifelong influence. Reich understood that even the prenatal period was influential, stating in Children of the Future that pelvic armoring in the mother impedes the full bioenergetic functioning of the fetus. 
With emphasis the world over now focused on gene research, my concern is that people are becoming increasingly less inclined to pay attention to and investigate “nurture,” the experiences of early life and their consequences. For example, a recent Stanford University study found some women are “genetically programmed” to have more success losing weight with certain diets. Whether diets can now be effectively tailored to one’s genetic make-up may or may not prove true. What I don’t see is any attention given to a main cause of obesity: the chronic anxiety that comes about as a result of stressful childhood experiences. 
Many overeat to feel less anxious. Those with this problem know just what I’m talking about! But why does eating relieve anxiety? What we know as orgone therapists is that excess fat accumulation in many ways serves the same function as muscular armor. Fat binds energy, and in so doing reduces anxiety. 
One way to reduce obesity in individuals who eat when anxious is with therapy. However, therapy is aways an after-the-fact solution. The problem of obesity could be addressed in large part by preventing anxiety through better childrearing practices. This is but one of countless examples of how “nurture” has been sidelined in favor of genetic explanations.
Then there is the almost daily procession of physical and emotional conditions that are being linked to genetic make-up. Brain aneurysms, heart disease, cancer, depression, anxiety, anger, criminal behavior, shyness and even gambling, along with a multitude of other conditions have all been claimed by researchers to be associated with specific genes. But how far will these cause and effect associations get us? After all, scientists know well that genes do not execute rigid, predetermined programs of development and that they are very responsive to the environment. So, as I see it, even if we completely understood the mechanisms of heredity, it would give us only half of the picture. 
I don’t believe the nature versus nurture question will be solved by gene research, nor do I see a future where our understanding of genetics will prevent and cure virtually all of human illnesses. Yet, with an unceasing focus on the discovery of the next “genetic breakthrough,” the public (influenced of course by the media) is adopting an ever-more rigid and mechanical mindset about human functioning.
The media often overstates the potential of reported research.The Social Issues Research Centre in Great Britain states the “media is often the primary source of science information and, as such, can have a profound impact on how the public views the risks and benefits of scientific advances.” Further it reports that “...because of this influential role, many commentators have been highly critical of the quality of media reporting, suggesting that reporting is ‘hyped,’ irresponsible, and hurtful to the public's understanding of important scientific issues.”
Distorted reporting is more than hurtful to understanding. It raises, unjustifiably, hope in those suffering with disease by implying that treatment of their condition will become available or, worse yet, is even just around the corner. The problem is not just with the media. There are even some in scientific circles who are saying that only funding and time stand in the way of unraveling the mystery of how to correct, and even prevent each and every physical and emotional problem. This overly optimistic attitude has become widespread and there is a growing, and incorrect, belief that genetic solutions will provide the magic cure-all. 
Tremendous improvement in emotional and even physical health is possible with properly conducted psychiatric orgone therapy. These improvements don’t come about with medications, and certainly not with gene therapy. Rather, it is the ability to empathically connect with patients and to slowly and systematically remove armor and allow the expression of emotions buried since childhood. That this is so speaks against the idea that genetics is the dominant factor determining one’s ability to function and lead a happy, healthy life.

I also want to talk about what I call “mechanical mysticism,” the distorted perception that results in a mistaken belief that absolute salvation is possible through science. People routinely associate mysticism with religion, spirituality or the occult, and view science as antithetical to such thinking. We know from Reich that mysticism is much broader. He tells us, in Ether, God and Devil that, “...mysticism comes about when real processes are distorted...and are not in harmony with what is objectively so.” He goes on to say, “...the mystic becomes stuck in the absolute.” 

In mechanical mysticism, the power and possibility of science (or the mechanical) assumes a godlike role. The belief in ultimate salvation at some future time, whether through the arrival of the messiah, or by genetic engineering, is fundamentally mystical. The mechanical mystic working in the world of genetics views genes in much the same way as the religious person views God. Both are seen as being a root cause of human functioning and in both there is placed all hope for human redemption. Thus the person “of religion” and the person “of science” are not, necessarily, so opposite in their thinking.
The popular attitude toward the power and possibility of genetics serve as an especially good example of mechanical mysticism in action. Given this perspective there is the belief that all illness can be prevented or cured through an understanding of genetics, and that ultimately the human race can be perfected--absolute salvation achieved--in this way. 
Mechanical mysticism has the capacity to lead us to the same dark places as religious mysticism. Hundreds of millions have died because of religious mysticism. The endless procession of holy wars throughout the ages stand as testimony to religious mysticism’s deadly potential. Few appreciate the Holocaust was also mystically rooted. 
Between 11 and 17 million people were murdered by Hitler in the name of improving the human species by eliminating those with undesirable genes. His method was by employing eugenics, the study and practice of selective breeding as applied to humans, with the aim of improving the species. It was widely popular in the early decades of the twentieth century, falling into disfavor only after the collapse of Hitler’s regime. Eugenics is an example of mechanical mysticism and it has, in many ways, the same goal as genetic engineering. 
Please remain calm! I am not comparing Hitler’s plan to create a superior race with the whole of modern-day genetic science. But there is an important parallel between genetic engineering and eugenics. Genetic engineering involves direct manipulation of an individual’s genes through molecular cloning and transformation in a lab. Eugenics employs the much less scientific practice of breeding to modify and “improve” the genes. Either way, eugenics and genetic engineering are the same in so far as both involve manipulating genes with the goal of “improvement.” When the underlying belief system is that, through genetic modification or through eugenics, one is going to ultimately “perfect” the human species you can be sure mechanical mysticism is at work.
Of course, the implication that mankind will perfect the human race through genetic science is unfounded. Heaven on earth won’t come by way of science any more than it will come by way of religion. Only preventing armoring, from conception onward, can slowly, generation by generation, bring about the changes in people that will make them happier and healthier. 
In the U.S. alone billions upon billions of dollars are being spent every year on genetic research, and the expenditures in both the public and private sectors continue to skyrocket. Here are a few recent examples. In March 2010, GenomeWeb News reported that the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute plans to spend $76 million over the next five years to study human genomic variation and genetic links to disease. Also in March, Florida lawmakers earmarked $50 million in state funds to entice Maine’s Jackson Laboratory, a genetic research company, to build a $710 million research and medical facility in their state. 
Imagine if even a small fraction of this money was used to research and understand the importance of the prenatal and early childhood period. Imagine what could be done to help parents and other caregivers improve the way children are raised. The benefit to all humanity would be enormous! Only time will tell if we will ever shift away from pure science and back toward simply raising healthy children.

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.