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: http://www.edmalekorgonetherapy.com


Brian Forrest said...

Richard and Ed thanks for a very thought provoking article. Having experienced Reichian Therapy myself, I know how much physical, as well as mental, work goes into the de-armoring process. This process takes time and, for best and lasting results, shouldn't be rushed. My therapist, Mitch Singer in Seattle, told me most people wouldn't choose to tolerate the full therapy process, which includes the deep breathing and intervention by the therapist to loosen the body armor. This process would overwhelm them, it would be more than they could tolerate because their body and character armor had such a grip on them. The individual has to want to go through the full Reichian process. The irony is the very armor which is preventing them from experiencing a fuller life and freedom also prevents them from the willingness to understand and want to try the therapy.

rich schulman said...

Mr. Malek, Dr. Schwartzman,

I enjoyed your article.

Sean Haldane wrote a book called Emotional First Aid based on Dr. Reich's Therapy. Sean Haldane reports that it was Dr. Reich who first used the phrase "emotional first aid" to describe help he had given to his own young son who had been bottling up rage after being ill treated by some other children. Dr. Reich said that "teachers and parents should learn to do the same thing" and "one must have confidence and proper knowledge."
Though not a well known book I found the hands on info important.
Mr. Malek I agree, "People could self-treat" and this book is a worthwhile addition to that goal.
Richard Schulman

Gabriel said...

Dr. what is your opinion of dramatherapy? I have found that acting has helped me to discharge energy.

Also, as a hyperactive, labeled as 'ADD', I wonder, are hyperactives simply prone to building up more energy more quickly, thus beed to discharge more often?

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.