August 22, 2010

Corporal Punishment in Schools

I received a note from a blog follower who read my recent post on exerting parental authority. She asked my views on the matter of corporal punishment in schools. This issue gained national attention this summer when congressional representative Carolyn McCarthy introduced in Congress the “Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act.” It seeks to ban corporal punishment in public and private schools that receive federal funding or services. 
My view is that corporal punishment in all schools should be banned. The role of schools is to educate children and to reinforce the good social behavior that children should be learning at home. Students unacceptable behavior in school, verbal or physical, should first, of course, be dealt with by counseling and other measures. All such actions should involve the parents. If this fails to bring about the necessary changes in behavior, schools should exert their authority with steps that escalate, including suspension and finally expulsion. 
It is the duty and responsibility of parents to control their children’s egregious behavior, not an organization acting in their stead. As I noted in my previous blog, Reich tells us that neurotic behavior forces authoritarian measures. When parents fail to exert such control, the burden shifts to school personnel putting them in the role of disciplinarian.  
If a minor has committed a criminal act, it should be addressed through the juvenile justice system. Terroristic threats, just as assaults, whether they are made by children or adults, in or out of school, are crimes and should be dealt with as such. 
Children in school who conduct themselves appropriately, as well their teachers, have the right to live without fear and be protected from verbal or physical assault. For this reason, educators should have recourse to send children to special schools if they will not, or cannot, control their behavior. 
As for the parents of a child who refuses all efforts at control, they must look to themselves to see what they did or did not do that has brought the situation to such a sorry state. Unfortunately, many children in the school system do not have parents who are capable of such insight. Children are not born a “bad seed.” They become disobedient because their upbringing was not what it should have been.  
Reich states in Children of the Future that “all disciplinary measures are due to helplessness and ignorance of how to proceed rationally.” (Emphasis in original.) Corporal punishment in schools, as well as at home, is yet another example of the consequences of armoring, which affects the individual, the family, and all institutions of society. So long as the focus remains on what to do as a result of improper parenting, we will forever be hacking at the branches rather than going to the root of the problem--man’s armored state.

August 5, 2010

Exercising Parental Authority

Raising children so they become healthy and well-adjusted adults should be as instinctive, and as uncomplicated and natural, as it is for any other creature in the animal world. However, we humans we have largely lost our inborn, intuitive faculties in almost all areas, the result of armoring* and the influences of society. Childrearing is a case in point. What we can learn from Wilhelm Reich regarding how to best raise children is enormous, as he has told us how we can prevent the formation of armor in infants and children. Equipped with this knowledge we can make our way out of the trap that has caused humankind so much unhappiness.
Every decent parent wants their child to grow up to lead a satisfying life, to be self-sufficient, and able to deal with the inevitable hardships they will encounter. When I was a member of the American College of Orgonomy, I addressed the question of when to exert parental authority with a short response to a Q&A that appeared in the Journal of Orgonomy. I am going to expand upon my thinking on the subject here, as all parents face this difficult question. 
Healthy childrearing requires that parents exercise their natural authority appropriately. For this to occur, they must be able to accurately gauge and appropriately respond to their child’s needs. In principle this is simple, but it can be most difficult to carry out. Children need the freedom to make their own choices, or they will not be able to function as self-sufficient, independent adults. However, children often behave neurotically and, when they do, control by the parent is warranted. Reich tells us, in “Children of the Future” that: “Neurotic behavior cannot be dealt with by means of self-regulation. It forces authoritarian measures.” (Italics in the original.)
There are many situations in which authoritarian action requiring strict obedience is necessary. Children raised without externally imposed limits suffer intense anxiety and will often act out in an attempt to bring about the control they unconsciously crave and require. Children raised by parents who take an overly authoritarian approach also suffer. They are apt to grow up with a variety of inhibitions and a great deal of pent up rage.
There is no end to the reasons why parents fail to appropriately exercise their authority. This is because parents, like everyone, behave largely based on their particular character structure and how they were raised. Parents may be full of repressed anger, and telling their children how they must conduct themselves and what to do serves to make them feel better. Parents may be too concerned with what others--neighbors, friends, their parents--think is appropriate conduct, and may control natural, high-spirited behavior they would otherwise rightly accept. The emotional plague may also be at work. It is always suspect when anyone in a position of authority tells someone what they should do. The important point here is that parents too often exert their authority inappropriately in the service of their neurosis. They are unaware their imposed control--or lack thereof--is unjustified and driven by unconscious factors.

Determining the best way to parent in any given situation is not only confounded by one’s own neurosis, and everyone is more or less neurotic, but also by the sickness and complexity of society. The well-intentioned ideas of “freedom” and “growing up naturally” must be tempered with the realities of functioning in the real world. For example, if we were living in a “state of nature,” it might be perfectly all right for children, as they grow up, to continue to eat with their hands. However, given the culture we live in, such behavior would be inappropriate. Children who are not required to observe accepted social conventions will have a difficult time in life. Navigating properly in society does not come naturally and children require direction from parents.
When exerting authority, consistency is important. Unpredictable behavior by parents makes for children who are always unsure of how to act. Such children never know what is expected or what will be the consequence of their actions. This sort of upbringing is an important factor that lays the foundation for children to grow up constantly worrying and unsure how to act.
It is not possible, and thankfully not necessary, for a parent to always behave perfectly toward their child. More important than perfect parenting is their overall relationship. If there is mutual love and respect, a parent’s inappropriate exertion of authority in any given instance may be inconsequential. It is also quite OK, and even very valuable, for parents to admit their mistakes to their children. For example, a parent might say, “I was wrong not to let you play on your friend’s jungle gym. The idea that you might fall made me nervous, so I stopped you.” Such honesty helps children realize they are not at fault and nobody, not even their parents, is perfect.
Clearly, psychiatric orgone therapy enables one to be a better parent. All of my patients with children have reported to me that their children are far happier, and better adjusted emotionally, than they were as kids, and they attribute this generational improvement to therapy. As armor is dissolved parents naturally, and without any effort on their part, come into better contact with their children. This helps them to instinctively “know” what to do in any given situation. Treatment decreases one’s anger and the need to control, as well as other emotions that drive neurotic behavior. Also, during therapy, discussing childrearing issues as they arise helps parents gain clarity and act more appropriately.
Raising children is one of life’s most important and difficult challenges. Bringing up children who are relatively untroubled and have the capacity to be independent and self-sufficient is not only important for their wellbeing, it also ensures the continuance of a free society, which depends upon adults being able to take care of themselves.
* Armor (or armoring): The chronic muscular spasms (muscular armor) and character attitudes (character armor) which an individual develops that act as a defense against the breakthrough of feelings and emotions. Muscular armor serves, principally, as a defense against anxiety, rage, and sexual excitation. Character armor is the sum total of all the character attitudes which an individual develops in an attempt to defend against anxiety. Character armor causes emotional rigidity, impaired contact with others, and a feeling of “deadness.” Muscular armor and character armor are functionally identical. They are two sides of the same coin.

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.