November 24, 2011

Reich and Marcuse

Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse were contemporaries and each sought to understand the workings of humankind as sociologists and political theorists. Both men were Jewish and were born a year apart in Eastern Europe: Reich in 1897 in a Galician village, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Marcuse in 1898 in Berlin. Both came from affluent families. Both served in the First World War--in 1916 Reich joined the Austrian Army and ultimately became a lieutenant at the Italian front. Also in 1916 Marcuse was drafted into the German Army but did not see combat. When Hitler came to power in the 1930s, both men fled Germany, Marcuse coming to the United States in 1934, and Reich in 1939. 
Wilhelm Reich, in his lab 1944.
Although very different in their interests, approach and the scope of their work, Reich and Marcuse each, in their own way, felt sex was a key to human liberation and both advocated non-repressive societies. The ideas of Reich and Marcuse were embraced by young radicals in the 1960s. Both men have been maligned, heralded as saviors, dismissed as insignificant, and--even recently--blamed for the decline in modern America*. They share the distinction of having their complex ideas reduced to simple axioms by those who do not have the desire or patience to really read them, and both are remembered, in large part, for their discussions of human sexuality.                
In my last post, I wrote of an upcoming lecture by David Brahinsky, Ph.D. titled The Relevance of Wilhelm Reich’s “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” to the Struggle Against Fascism, a Project Shared by Herbert Marcuse. The lecture was given at the 2011 conference of the International Marcuse Society. It is now my pleasure to publish this important document online, in its entirely. 
Herbert Marcuse
Marcuse was highly critical of Reich. In his preface to the 1998 edition of Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization, Douglas Kellner says, during a 1978 interview, that Marcuse stated he and others within his intellectual circle believed Reich “moved too fast from subjective conditions to objective conditions” and “vastly oversimplified” fascism in claiming that sexual repression created personalities that were susceptible to fascism, and in explaining that fascism succeeds by manipulating repressed personalities and providing sexual surrogates. Indeed, in Eros and Civilization Marcuse states: “Reich’s notion of sexual repression remains undifferentiated; he neglects this historical dynamic of the sex instincts and of their fusion with the destructive impulses....Consequently, sexual liberation per se becomes for Reich a panacea for individual and social ills.”  
For Marcuse, the value of Reich’s work lies only in his early writings in so far as they are an attempt, as he puts it, to develop the critical social theory implicit in Freud. Even so, Marcuse feels this effort falls short because of Reich’s “sweeping primitivism” which he says foreshadows “the wild and fantastic hobbies of Reich’s later years.” (See Eros and Civilization.)
Like so many others, Marcuse diminishes and then dismisses Reich. Also, like others, he refuses to even entertain Reich’s idea that there exists a biologic energy that determines how humans function. But Brahinsky sets the record straight in his important paper. He begins by explaining that Reich and Marcuse had the shared goal of attempting to understand the roots and functioning of fascism. He goes on to state, “neither Marcuse himself nor Marcuse scholars, as far as I can tell, have shown that they understand or appreciate the full measure of Reich’s contribution to this important project.” Brahinsky then explains in stepwise fashion the development of Reich’s key ideas, correctly refutes Marcuse’s assertion that Reich saw sexual liberation as a panacea, and effectively demonstrates the importance of Reich’s later scientific work, namely that biological factors determine social and political conditions.
In addition to being of interest to Reich and Marcuse scholars, The Relevance of Wilhelm Reich’s “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” to the Struggle Against Fascism, a Project Shared by Herbert Marcuse also serves as a splendid overview of Reich’s work. I consider it an excellent addition to today’s scholarship on Wilhelm Reich and the science of orgonomy.

*See Patrick J. Buchanan's New York Times bestseller "The Death of the West" (2002).

October 9, 2011

Lecture on Reich's Influence on Marcuse

David Brahinsky, Ph.D. will be presenting his paper The Relevance of Wilhelm Reich's ‘The Mass Psychology of Fascism’ to the Struggle Against Fascism, a Project Shared by Herbert Marcuse at the University of Pennsylvania on Saturday, October 29th. His lecture is part of the 2011 conference of The International Herbert Marcuse Society. 
David Brahinsky, Ph.D.
Dr. Brahinsky is a professor of Philosophy and Comparative Religion at Bucks County Community College and has had an interest in Reich’s work since the 1960’s. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from S.U.N.Y. Binghamton. 
Dr. Brahinsky told me the focus of his lecture will be twofold. “First to express the fact that Reich's later work (the discovery of orgone energy and all that this entails) has been casually dismissed and ignored by Marcuse and Marcuse students and followers; the second that this later work is central to understanding the significance of Reich's contribution to our understanding of Fascism and so how to overcome it. I do this by tracing the evolution of Reich's understanding from his early days with Freud and onwards,” he said.

Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979) was a German Jewish philosopher, sociologist and political theorist associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. His best known works are Eros and Civilization, One-Dimensional Man and The Aesthetic Dimension. 

Dr. Brahinsky’s lecture will be held at University of Pennsylvania’s Houston Hall, located at 3417 Spruce Street. The conference is open to all however advance reservations are required. The link to the conference is

July 22, 2011

The King’s Speech: A Portrayal of Childhood Trauma as a Cause of Stuttering

The King’s Speech, winner of four Academy Awards this year, including best film, impressed me for many reasons. It’s my kind of character-driven film, with a straightforward plot and no dizzying special effects or sex scenes thrown in to spice it up. The story line is simple: the plight of King George VI of Britain, a severe stutterer, and his struggle overcome his affliction.  
The King’s Speech is not the first film of this genre to win wide acclaim, or best picture. Rain Man (1988) did much to make the public aware of the plight of the autistic and A Beautiful Mind (2001) portrayed the painful struggle of a paranoid schizophrenic. A theme in all three films, one that resonates with audiences, is the suffering caused by disorders that defy medical understanding and the attempts we make to help those so afflicted.
The outcome of the film is fairly predictable. King George demonstrates remarkable determination and does get the best of his speech impediment. However, it’s how this was achieved that I found most interesting. Lionel Logue, an “unqualified” speech therapist with an unorthodox approach, proves successful where others have failed. The audience roots for the King to bring his stammer under control, and for Lionel to succeed in treating his difficult celebrity patient, but there is another important element that resonates with audiences. 
Viewers empathize with King George because they understand, at a deep level, that his stuttering is a physical disorder rooted in an abusive childhood. We learn that as a very young boy he suffered severe traumas. His nanny withheld food from him, and pinched him to make him cry before greeting his parents, so his parents would grow to dislike him. He was forced to wear iron leg braces several hours a day as a treatment for his bowlegs. Furthermore, as he was left handed, he was forced to use his right hand and punished when he used his left. 
Current View on Stuttering

Today, the prevailing theory on stuttering is that it has no link, whatsoever, to emotional or physical traumas experienced in early childhood. This view has been expressed by organizations such as the nonprofit Stuttering Foundation, which states: “Children and adults who stutter are no more likely to have psychological or emotional problems than children and adults who do not. There is no reason to believe that emotional trauma causes stuttering.” 
Thus, a major theme in the film, that King George’s stuttering was related to the trauma of having his handedness switched, and that Lionel Logue accepted this as a well-established fact, is considered by today’s medical establishment as pure fiction. Yet the audience of The King’s Speech immediately understands, and is willing to accept, that the King’s stuttering is related--in some way--to his traumatic childhood. They are also willing to accept that his stuttering can be helped by an unconventional therapy, one that takes into account an emotional component, along with the physical manifestations of the disorder. 
What the audience of The King’s Speech understands, at a gut-level, and what they are willing to accept as true, is correct in my experience. Stuttering does have an emotional basis. I have treated a number of individuals with speech impediments with psychiatric orgone therapy, including many stutterers. Almost all have shown significant improvement and the majority have had their voice completely restored. This is so despite an ever-increasing trend in medicine to discount clinical experience in favor of “evidence-based medicine.” Today, a therapy is considered acceptable only if it can be backed up with references that have been published. These must have appeared in peer-reviewed medical literature, supported by randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind studies that have yielded statistically valid outcomes. 
Now that genetic explanations are replacing external causative factors, with the body being viewed as nothing more than a complex machine, the continued mechanization of medicine is inevitable. Given the shift away from recognizing the value of a physician’s personal experience with patients, it is unfortunate that unorthodox treatments are unlikely to be explored, let alone ever accepted.

Wilhelm Reich, M.D.
How traumatic childhood events produce changes in the body is one of Wilhelm Reich’s pivotal discoveries. What he found is that specific areas of the body contract in an attempt to handle emotional shocks. These areas of holding, that he called armoring, all too often become chronic and remain for life--unless they are removed with therapy. Understanding the process by which armoring forms, and how it can be eliminated, allows sense to be made of the relationship between the mind and the body. Thanks to Reich’s discovery, this often mystified connection has been made comprehensible. 
Central to Reich’s theory is that the traumas of childhood remain locked away in the body as armoring. They are out of conscious awareness. The function of these bodily contractions is to prevent painful emotions associated with past events from reemerging into consciousness. Unfortunately, that there is an unconscious and that there are forces at work to keep it concealed, is not really much accepted. In spite of an enormous amount of evidence, most people still believe that if an event, or an emotion, cannot be consciously recalled, it cannot possibly have produced a lasting effect. This is not true. The emotional shocks and suffering of childhood are never truly forgotten. To quote William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
What we know from Reich is that stuttering is an affliction affecting two discrete areas, the jaw and throat, or as Reich called these areas, the oral and cervical segments. Both are associated with speech production. Reich explains in Children of the Future that: “Stammering and stuttering are direct expressions of armored jaw and throat muscles.” He goes on to say: “Later on, once the stuttering is established, shame, feelings of inferiority and apprehension are added and aggravate the symptoms, making it chronic. But the core is simple acute armoring of the muscle group which is used in speech. Thus the core of stammering and stuttering is of a physiological, bioenergetic nature; it has been brought about by an emotional upheaval and is maintained by emotional complications.”
As an orgone therapist, the method I employ in treating speech disfluencies differs markedly from traditional speech therapy. It is not possible to fully explain my method here, but I can say that it involves breathing, emotional release in a safe environment, and some direct work on armoring, principally in the jaw and neck. It is quite different (but also not entirely unlike) Lionel Logue’s technique! Indeed, I was amazed to see a film that introduced--and did it so well--some of the very methods orgone therapists employ to loosen jaw and throat armor. Logue had the King shake his head, loosen his tongue and jaw, move his shoulders, swing his arms about, and breathe deeply. He also encouraged him to shout out and curse.
The film’s most memorable scenes are those in which King George is releasing his pent-up emotions in Logue’s office, as part of the therapy. I believe these scenes are so striking not just because King George was acting in ways that are out of character for a monarch, but because people know, from their own experience, that emotional and physical release are cathartic. 
The King’s Speech has many elements that resonate with audiences. One that bears final note is that Logue, a speech therapist without official qualifications, practicing an unconventional therapy, is successful where accepted techniques have failed. His antiestablishment approach had the audience rooting for him to prevail even though the “experts” said he couldn’t. This aspect of the plot fits well with the public’s growing interest in alternative treatments such as acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, vitamins and other supplements, organic foods, and a host of natural approaches that continue to gain ground. 
I have written three case studies of patients with speech disorders treated with psychiatric orgone therapy. They are: Stuttering, A Case of Spastic Dysphonia, and Treatment of a Stuttering Child

January 24, 2011

The Cost of Censoring Wilhelm Reich

Dr. Schwartzman’s Note: 
The internet continues to amaze me with its power to both disseminate information and bring people with like interests together. In this guest post, blog follower Ed Malek shares his thoughts on why the failure of society to recognize one of Wilhelm Reich’s most important discoveries has helped keep humanity in chains. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Malek face to face. He lives on the West Coast, and were it not for Wilhelm Reich Today we might well have never established contact. Yet, he has been on board with my blog from the beginning, sharing his insightful comments along the way. I am confident that readers will enjoy the following post. 

                                                        BY ED MALEK 
While vacationing in France this summer, I witnessed an unusual display of mental disorder and pondered its implications from an orgonomic standpoint. I was strolling with my family through a charming town, when a woman approached us suddenly and started shouting into the air. Much to my surprise she then proceeded, with some force, to slap her face. I could see that she was embarrassed at what she had done and wished it did not happen; it was as if she had no choice in the matter. Later on I had the opportunity to pass by her again, and could see that she was still flustered and had an air of oppression—her face was red and she looked sheepishly around. Was she suffering from schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome or some other disorder, or was it an uncontrollable outburst due to life’s difficulties?
As an orgone therapist, I saw that her behavior had logic to it; in other words, it made sense from a bio-emotional standpoint. Wilhelm Reich proved the existence of a biological energy from the close study of his patients and scientifically through experimentation. He stated there is a lawful rhythm to an individual’s energy and found that virtually all his patients had a significant disturbance in their bioenergetic pulsation, while relatively healthy people did not. Those healthier were able to adequately charge and discharge their energy. Food, the air, and sun charge the body, while work, exercise, play, emotional expression, and orgasm discharge it.
Health, according to Reich, requires that there be a natural pulsatory charge and discharge, and it is this regular pulsation that sustains feelings of well-being. If a person cannot discharge their excess energy because of armoring (which represses feelings and emotions) they will feel stuck and frustrated and seek relief in some way from their unbearable tension. This is almost always done unconsciously and either has societal approval or not. Two socially acceptable ways of veiled release--that not too long ago were considered bizarre--are body piercing and extreme sports. Unacceptable ways include inappropriate emotional outbursts, lawlessness, and other behaviors that disrupt social functioning. What the French woman accomplished by her shouting and slapping was a discharge of her stuck emotional state. It was an unconscious act that occurred involuntarily. Would not it have been better if her rational self--her ego--took an active part in this discharge?
The question I would like to pose is why does this woman, and others in similar states of emotional distress, have to rely solely on unconscious signals from their body to take action, when such actions are inadequate to bring relief and can even be harmful? Why do troubled people resort to vomiting, or cutting themselves, seeking alleviation from their unbearable state? Unfortunately, virtually no one understands what underlies such behavior, and this includes the psychiatrists who should be at the forefront in comprehending emotions. The world is filled with unfortunate victims who are isolated and confused and could be helped tremendously were it not for society’s censorship and dismissal of Reich’s discoveries.
If it were common knowledge that at times of stress “blowing off steam” (in a safe and appropriate manner as occurs in orgone therapy) could be of such benefit, much human suffering could be alleviated. It is also possible that more serious mental, and even some physical, disorders might be prevented. If knowledge of Reich’s work was widely known, relatively healthy persons could use his discoveries to help them deal with the stresses that produce states of acute armoring.
Dr. Schwartzman defines armor as:
“The chronic (italics added) muscular spasms and character attitudes 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.”

Acute armoring, on the other hand, develops when present-day stresses produce disturbing biophysical reactions. The understanding of the function of this temporary form of armoring, and why it manifests as it does, could open the door to alleviation of much distress. Relief through appropriate intervention could be afforded to someone who, say because of abusive criticism, develops neck pain or a throat spasm. If Reich’s discovery of armoring were common knowledge, such an individual could seek a short-term course of treatment and not continue to suffer. They would be able to understand what was happening, and hopefully be better prepared next time so they could again, quickly, seek relief.
If Reich’s discovery of human armoring were common knowledge, there could be another approach, one that requires no intellectual understanding, or even a therapist. Reich’s finding that feelings and emotions are physically held in the body’s armor, and that they need to be released, has enormous potential and could benefit people everywhere--the billions of people who never heard of Wilhelm Reich, and even those who firmly believe any talk of a universal energy to be sheer nonsense.
People could self-treat. That is, they could give themselves very short “mini” treatment sessions that could reduce their tension and suffering. They could shout out, curse, make faces, spit, stamp on the floor, hit a bed (or the like), choke or bite a towel, give in to crying or express virtually anything else they were feeling. This, of course, would necessarily have to be done in a safe manner, to prevent loss of control and injury.
If people everywhere felt it not “wrong” to express what they were experiencing, especially rage or crying, and could feel uninhibited doing so, they could gain at least some measure of relief. Such brief discharges of pent-up emotions would have to take place in situations where there’s privacy. If such emotional release were widely practiced there would certainly be less need for psychotropic medication--people would be able to make themselves feel better.
Having said this, I want to make the point that educating the masses about the value of emotional release has its downside. Promulgating Reich’s teachings in a reckless manner would lead to harmful distortions, abuse, and widespread commercialism. Reich was very much aware of the dangers inherent in misusing his theories and discoveries, and I see this as a form of what he called “freedom peddling,” where the gospel of truth is spread without understanding all its ramifications
The censorship of just one of Reich’s monumental discoveries--his theory as to the formation and function of armoring--has diminished human potential by so much. One can only now pleasantly imagine how the world could be if just some of his other discoveries were seriously researched, especially by universities and nonprofit institutions. Weather could be modified and we would be closer to harnessing free energy from the atmosphere; and the cancer process would be better understood, and hopefully sooner controlled. The list could be multiplied by a hundred-fold since orgone energy is the creative force behind all that exists in the universe. We can only hope that over time Reich’s discoveries will be taken seriously and applied to help people everywhere.
Ed Malek is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Oakland California. He holds a master’s degree in counseling. You can visit him on the web at:

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.