October 22, 2012

Wilhelm Reich and Emotional Illness

In a recent post I wrote about “short-burst therapy,” an intensive treatment approach that can serve as an alternative to regularly spaced therapy sessions, saying it was especially suited for those living a long distance from a qualified orgone therapist. In this post I will discuss some of the reasons why more has not been written about this unique therapy, one that makes use of emotional release in the treatment of mental disorders. I will also begin a discussion of the principles that govern the practice of orgone therapy, starting with Reich’s concept of armor. 

In the past half century a fair amount has been written about Wilhelm Reich’s method of treating emotional disturbances. Many have recorded their thinking on the subject and therapists have written case histories that have appeared in various journals. Nevertheless, I feel much has been left out of the discussion. 

For me, in almost every therapy session, there is some aspect of the patient that’s revealed that proves valuable in their therapy. I am never bored and am frequently amazed, even after all these years, as I see Reich’s theories and approach to treating proved time and again. Each session confirms the effectiveness of orgone therapy, and almost any session could be written up for publication. 

Barriers to Publication

Those few of us who do this kind of work will understand my feeling, as their experiences must be the same. So why hasn’t more been written about this treatment? And why have some important elements crucial to its understanding been omitted in what has been published? There are many reasons for this, however a few are worth noting. 

First, as therapists, our focus is on seeing patients. Establishing contact with them and staying connected, from moment to moment, session after session, is our primary goal. Writing up a case history for a professional journal is seen as a secondary task, if the thought is entertained at all. Another reason more hasn’t been written is that many of the things that occur in therapy sessions do not lend themselves to being reported, let alone to be written up. They occur all the time, and while we may share them with colleagues in conference, or in one-on-one training with students, such valuable observations passed on in this way are not being documented for the future. 

Also, some orgone therapists have had concern when it comes to publicly expounding technique--the nuts and bolts of therapy. Their worry is that if too much of the actual methods are revealed to the lay audience, they will be latched onto and misused. Unfortunately this has happened, and there are a wide array of various “bodywork therapists” and “energy healers” who have taken it upon themselves to offer various therapies very loosely based on the treatment Reich employed. These have no meaningful ties whatsoever to psychiatric orgone therapy. 

While I do share concerns about the potential for information about Reich’s treatment approach to be misused, I am also aware that much of what I and others know has never been written down. In light of this I have been making an effort to record some of what I know, based on my forty years of experience. 

What is known of Reich’s therapeutic approach--in the true sense--comes down to us, almost exclusively, from two psychiatrists who were treated and trained by Reich. Both have written an authoritative book on orgone therapy. These important works are: Man in the Trap by Elsworth F. Baker, M.D. and Emotional Armoring: An Introduction to Psychiatric Orgone Therapy by Morton Herskowitz, D.O. These publications are especially valuable because Reich wrote almost nothing about the biophysical approach he developed long after he published Character Analysis. Even with these two excellent books, and with the contributions that have appeared in journals, there is more that can be said about the cause and prevention of emotional illness, as well as the practice of this treatment. 

Purpose of Therapy

The goal of treatment is to remove the root cause of emotional illness. This differs markedly from today’s traditional psychiatric approach, which is only about symptom management with various cognitive strategies or the use of medications. 

Because the principle governing orgone therapy is that emotional disturbances begin before speech develops, verbal therapies, while they can certainly be valuable, are necessarily limited in effectiveness. They can help to explore mental processes and solve some of life’s problems, but they can’t reach back to the very early traumatic events that laid the foundation for an individual’s present emotional state.

There is no question medications can be enormously valuable in the treatment of emotional disorders. They have helped alleviate suffering in untold millions--making their lives more tolerable. However medications can, at best, only relieve some symptoms associated with emotional illness, and none have ever effected a cure. What’s more the side effects are such that the trade off between benefit and drawback is a constant challenge to every patient taking these agents, as well as to their prescribing physician. Medications, like verbal therapies, are unable to strike at the source of mental disorders. 

Role of Armor 

The premise of orgone therapy is that “armor” develops in the body to repress the emotional and physical traumas that occurred in infancy and early childhood. Armor is the body’s way of keeping past painful events out of awareness. It is nothing less than the unconscious locked in the body. We know this is so because, as armor dissolves in the course of orgone therapy, long buried feelings and emotions spontaneously appear. Not infrequently these are accompanied by flashbacks to traumatic events that occurred soon after birth and in the first year or two of life. 

Armor can be defined as the chronic muscular spasms that develop as a defense against the breakthrough of repressed feelings and emotions. It develops throughout the body and, while it lodges primarily in muscles, it also appears in other areas, such as in the internal organs and in the brain itself. However, armor is not just a physical phenomenon. It is revealed in character as well--that is, how one presents themselves to the world. For example, character can show itself as an attitude, in mannerisms, and in posture. Physical and character armor are not separate entities, but rather two side of the same coin. Together, they can often indicate how a person adapted to traumatic events when very young, and much about how they are now as adults. 

Armor permeates the body, yet people are entirely unaware of its existence. They think their emotional problems exist solely because of heredity, events that can be recalled from when they were little, today’s society, and so on. But they never realize their unhappiness resides deep within them, and that their buried emotions determine how they now feel and function. 

In a sense armor is a valuable mechanism, and everyone should be thankful that it does its job so well. Given that the painful past remains alive in us, as it surely does, who would want to be constantly in contact with it? However, as everything has two sides, so it is with armoring. While it does blot out the past as best it can, it also deadens. Without it people would function naturally and be able to enjoy all life has to offer.

August 27, 2012

Emotional Illness: A Different Perspective

Today the treatment of emotional conditions is based upon the idea their cause lies largely in heredity, chemical imbalances and changes in the brain. From these premises, a variety of treatments have been advanced.

There are cognitive approaches, newer pharmaceutical medications, and most recently technology that allows the brain to examined and treated in various ways. Gene modification, now in the early stages of research, is also believed to hold promise.

My next series of articles will present a very different understanding of the cause of emotional illness and how it may be treated. Also addressed will be when disorders begin, and what might be done by way of prevention. Finally I will describe what occurs in the method of therapy I practice. I will give examples of typical interventions and discuss how patients respond. 

January 23, 2012

Reich's Great Gift: Health in 2012

Those of us involved in carrying on the work of Wilhelm Reich often discuss the significance of his contributions and question which of them will resonate most with those new to his work. Is it his discovery of the life energy and his attempt to place it on scientific footing? Is it his insight into the workings of humankind on the grand scale with his discovery and exposition of mass psychology? Or is it the unique therapy he developed with its ability to enable those who undertake it to lead more all-embracing and joyful lives, to have better relationships, to be better parents, and to take pleasure in their work?
Solid arguments can be made for any one of these three major contributions as being the most significant. The energy provides the basis for understanding life’s processes; mass psychology provides a means for understanding everything from the politics of the playground to the politics of nations; and orgone therapy is able to provide immeasurable benefit to individuals. 
Except for the interest of a handful of investigators across the globe, the scientific community remains either unaware of, or unconcerned with, Wilhelm Reich’s discovery of a universal energy, one which he explained flows through all living things and drives the cosmos. At least for now, Reich’s orgone energy remains a virtually unknown and yet untapped scientific resource, one that awaits recognition and acknowledgement so that it can be built upon for the betterment of humankind. 
I think it probable that Reich will never be credited with his discovery of the energy he called “orgone,” as this energy has already begun to be recognized by one branch of today’s scientific establishment--with never a mention of Reich. Just last year three astronomers were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for invalidating decades of accepted knowledge in the field of cosmology. They demonstrated that so called “dark energy” is causing our universe to expand at an ever-accelerating speed. Just as the connection between Reich’s work and current astrophysics waits to be made, so does the connection between the dark energy in the universe and the life energy that flows and pulsates within us.     
Reich’s understanding of mass psychology is of great import, and it has the potential to one day reform the structure of political and social institutions. Here too, as in the case of orgone energy, his sociopolitical work stands for future generations to “rediscover” and explore. 
It is not possible to predict which aspect of Reich’s vast body of work will eventually be rediscovered to open doors for tomorrow’s research. However, the reality is there is only one contribution he’s made that can improve YOUR life, right now, in a very real way--and that is therapy. 

To Our Health in 2012
Across the globe we rang in the new year with toasts to health. “Salud!” “L’chaim!” “Prost!” Many of us resolved to eat healthier, exercise, or take vitamins and other supplements. All of these resolutions, if put into action, are wonderful things to do. However, I’m always surprised by how few of the people I know--who are very knowledgable and enthusiastic about Reich’s discoveries--are actively engaged in orgone therapy. There are many “armchair” advocates of Reich, individuals who have “had some therapy” and declare they benefited greatly, but who stopped treatment somewhere along the way.
I hope to write more extensively about stopping therapy as there is much to say on the subject. Some people report having stopped because they felt “good enough.” They used therapy to get themselves through difficult times, and when they could again walk--or limp along--continuing treatment became no longer a priority. There are also often largely unrecognized factors responsible for the decision to dropout. Sometimes the relationship with the therapist grows stale, or therapy ceases to progress and prove beneficial, or resistances develop which are not properly overcome. (“Resistance” is the term for the forces within the patient, conscious and unconscious, that oppose the purpose of the therapy. It is something that almost always occurs to some degree in the course of treatment.) 
If you are reading this and are someone who has had some therapy in the past, or if you have never tried orgone therapy, consider giving yourself the gift of therapy, a unique treatment that doesn’t rely on medications. Reich’s mind-body method of treatment is not just for those who are experiencing significant emotional problems. It’s for anyone who wants to feel increasingly better, with more energy to do what they love--with greater clarity of mind and an increased feeling of inner calm. 
Barriers to Therapy
Of course there are real barriers to undertaking treatment, as well as “good,” well-rationalized excuses to put it off, or abandon the idea entirely. One real barrier is the difficulty in finding a traditional orgonomist, someone who was trained to practice the therapy as it was conceived by Reich. For this reason travel, sometimes long distances, may be required. Embarking on a course of this treatment requires a commitment of time and financial resources. It requires an emotional commitment as well, but it’s one that has a tremendous payoff. Barriers to therapy have always existed and therefore only those with a strong desire to feel better and lead a happier, healthier life get into therapy and stick with it. Individuals with this kind of motivation are my patients and I admire their courage and tenacity--and love them for it! It is enormously gratifying to see virtually every aspect of their lives improving. It is why I do the work that I do. I am honored to have second and now third generation patients, the children and grandchildren of individuals who embarked on a course of therapy with me more than 35 years ago.  
Short-Burst Therapy
I have long been an advocate of what I call “intermittent intensive orgone therapy,” a cumbersome sounding designation which is better termed “short-burst therapy.” With this approach the patient does not come for treatment on a weekly or every-other-week basis (the traditional model) but rather has a number of consecutive sessions with long intervals in between. Years ago, in the 1980s, I was asked to treat patients in Italy and then Germany, and would travel there regularly to Europe for that purpose, as well as to train orgone therapists. At first I was unsure about the effectiveness of seeing patients for a series of sessions only four or five times a year. However, what I discovered was that my short-burst therapy patients in Europe did as well, if not better, than the patients I saw back home on a very regular basis. 
On my long list of things to do is to update my article “Intermittent Intensive Orgone Therapy,” which was based on a lecture I presented in New York in 1986. In the years that have followed since the publication of that article, I have become even more convinced of the benefits of a spaced, intensive treatment approach, and today I have more evidence that confirms its effectiveness. 
Short-burst therapy has proven to work well for almost all patients, but it particularly fits the needs for those who wish to embark on a treatment program with an orgonomist not in their area. I have a number of such patients who see me for fifteen or twenty sessions over the course of a year. They combine a week of therapy with a vacation away from home and their daily routine. In the interim, between visits, we can address any important issues that might arise by telephone. Recently, thanks to the wonder of technology, I have also been using Skype’s video-calling service to hold sessions with some of my long-distance patients.
It is always distressing when I hear from people that they have stopped seeing their therapist before reaching their full potential for feeling well and leading a satisfying life. I don’t in any way find fault with these individuals. While some cannot tolerate the new feelings and emotions that come up during the process, I believe the vast majority of those who enter this therapy can be helped and would stick with it, if treated appropriately. I have often wondered how many individuals who have had some therapy could have not only led fuller lives for themselves, but also could have gone on to make a real contribution to the future of orgonomy, had treatment not disappointed them. If you are among those who made it a resolution in 2012 to live healthier, and if you are not currently in orgone therapy, consider jumping back in or trying it out. While legitimate barriers exist to embarking on a journey of therapy, they all can be overcome with a willing spirit. 
To your health in 2012! 
There are very few orgonomists worldwide, although there are hundreds, if not thousands, who call themselves “Reichians” or who practice some offshoot of the mind-body treatment Reich originated. If you are interested in traditional orgone therapy, you can contact me directly at (215) 862-9939 and I will try to recommend a therapist in your general area. 

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.