September 5, 2014

Exploring the Emotions Behind Genital Cutting

62 years ago, in 1952, Wilhelm Reich said, “Take that poor penis. Take a knife—right? And start cutting. And everybody says, “It doesn’t hurt.” Everybody says, “No, it doesn’t hurt.” Get it? That’s an excuse, of course, a subterfuge. They say that the sheaths of the nerve are not yet developed. Therefore, the sensation in the nerves is not yet developed. Therefore, the child doesn’t feel a thing. Now, that’s murder! Circumcision is one of the worst treatments of children. And what happens to them? You just look at them. They can’t talk to you. They just cry. What they do is shrink. They contract, get away into the inside, away from that ugly world.”
Reich lived from 1897 to 1957. He was an Austrian physician who was a pioneering psychoanalyst and considered one of Freud’s best students. However, over time, he became disappointed with the results that could be achieved with Freud’s method of free association. This prompted him to develop a very different framework for understanding people and emotions.
I am a board-certified psychiatrist and for more than 40 years have been using the unique and very effective treatment that Reich created. I also train psychologists and other psychiatrists to practice this therapy. It’s very different from any other treatment for emotional disorders that you may have heard of.  And even if you have heard of Wilhelm Reich, or have some knowledge of the therapy that he pioneered, his method of treatment is often misunderstood and, unfortunately, misrepresented. It makes use of a verbal interchange that’s different from other methods of psychotherapy. It seeks to make the patient aware of the particular manner in which they approach the world. Reich called it “character analysis.” The treatment also allows the release emotions, primarily sadness and anger, in a controlled way, in the safety of the therapist’s office.
Reich discovered that emotional traumas are not forgotten, even when they occur very early in life and remain out of conscious awareness. Physical pain is traumatic for everyone, but for an infant or young child, the shock to their system can be terrible. This is the reason why Reich, although Jewish, spoke out so vehemently against circumcision.
Just how it is that events from the distant past can be locked away somewhere in the body remains a mystery. Nevertheless, the traumas of childhood, if severe enough, are never forgotten. They stay stuck in us—in our “armor” as Reich called it—and exert their damaging effect throughout life. This fact, that the past is not forgotten, is virtually unknown. Early childhood traumas, not chemical imbalances, are the root cause of lifelong dissatisfaction and unhappiness, as well as many severe emotional disorders, including schizophrenia.
Now what is very interesting and remarkable (and in fact this still amazes me, as it did Reich) is, in the course of this therapy, patients may actually re-experience their earliest traumas. I have seen men re-live their circumcision, with all the pain and terror they suffered. In a few minutes I am going to play a clip of one of my patients speaking about his experience when he re-lived his circumcision during therapy. I had him filmed for this conference.  
But first, I am going to show you a clip of him on the therapy couch during the course of a typical session. This clip comes from a documentary film that was made some years ago. What you are going to see may be a bit shocking, but please know that Bob has always left every session much relieved and in fine shape.

As this clip showed, the past remains alive. Now as for circumcision, it is so extremely harmful because it occurs so early in life. The younger the child, the less are the defense mechanisms to deal with pain. As an adult, or even an older child, we have the sum of our intellect and our experiences to put shocking events in some context and perspective.
The next clip I am going to play shows Bob telling about re-living his circumcision. This was just filmed.

So now I want to turn to a different subject, and the topic of my talk, which is the unconscious cruelty that drives humans to circumcise newborns and children.
All of us here today understand that cutting the genitals of children is not just unnecessary—-but barbaric—-and there’s not a single, rational argument to support it. However, because there are so many sides to the issue, people can’t see circumcision for what it really is. They are confused because of the social and cultural factors, the demands of religion, the medical justifications—and so on. But I’d like to touch on one aspect that is almost never considered— the forces that drive people and institutions to support this practice.
Can any sense be made of what it is that impels people to brutally cut the genitals of defenseless newborns and young children, male and female alike? For the answer to this question I again look to the work of Wilhelm Reich. One of his most important contributions is his exposition of what he termed the “emotional plague.” It’s a very complex subject and I will try to do it a bit of justice in the next few minutes. But if any audience can grasp this concept, I think this one will.
Reich maintained that within our society, and in fact in all patriarchal societies, there are certain individuals that he called emotional plague characters. These people have very specific characteristics and ways of behaving. They are intelligent, extremely competent, aggressive, and endowed with a high energy level. And they are very good at getting themselves into positions of authority and power so they can tell others what to do for their own good.
Emotional plague characters, big and small, have existed throughout history. They are not just the Hitlers and Stalins, but also the petty tyrant school teachers who terrorizes the children in their class; the religious leaders, who mandate right and proper behavior; the supervisors everywhere that keep those under them in constant fear; the heads of organizations that put into effect policies that restrict personal freedom, and so on.
The emotional plague is not just confined to individuals but also becomes institutionalized. This can be seen in many of our law-making bodies that, more and more, dictate how we should live, again, for our own good.
The reasons behind this behavior are too complex to go into here, but what can be said is that plague characters, because of the particular way they were raised, are disturbed and very angry people. But they are unaware of their anger. They are not like the average neurotic who suffers quietly to themselves. In fact, they don’t suffer much at all because they act out their anger, which is unconscious, on the social scene. This is not something they choose to do. They are driven to act this way. And they really believe they are doing the right thing.
Seeing others who are lively, happy, and enjoying themselves creates in them not pleasure, as it would with a healthy person, but jealousy and resentment. These feelings are so intense that the only way they can stop them is by going out into the world and stopping people from having pleasure. This is what makes these individuals feel better.
What makes the emotional plague so effective, and so dangerous, is that their arguments are extremely well rationalized and always “partly right.” We can see with regard to circumcision how this “partly right” confuses: Maybe my boy should look like the other boys. Maybe, as a Jew, I should have my son circumcised. Maybe the doctors are right that my boy could get infections. It’s the partly right that confuses, and prevents us from seeing what’s right in front of our eyes.
Because the emotional plague hates pleasure in others, and seeks to stamp it out, children, who by their very nature are lively, happy people are a prime target. So is natural sexuality. Circumcision targets both children and natural sexuality.
So what can be done? Reich said the only way to combat the emotional plague is to expose it. This doesn’t mean pointing fingers and calling people “plague characters.” It means exposing the work of the plague to the truth. Consistently making people aware of the lies that allow this practice to continue.
Also, to keep our focus on educating the public and the upcoming generation of doctors and others who will re-shape existing policies. We have truth on our side, and the children of the future will be the beneficiaries of our efforts.

This lecture was presented at the 13th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights, held at the University of Colorado in Boulder on July 24-26, 2014. The conference provided a forum for discussion about the genital alteration of infants and children from religious, medical, human rights, and other perspectives. Speakers from around the world reported on the approaches they have taken, and the progress that has been made, for protecting male, female, and intersex children from medically unnecessary genital alteration.

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.