October 22, 2016

Preserving or Improving on Wilhelm Reich's Work?


I was recently asked by a prospective student of orgone therapy if the Institute of Orgonomic Science (IOS) has as its mission to preserve Wilhelm Reich’s work or to build upon it. For those who are not aware, the IOS was founded in the early 1980s and I've been an honorary member of this organization for some years.


This is such an important issue for any organization dedicated to the study of Wilhelm Reich’s findings, and especially for those that train orgone therapists.


Orgonomy is the study of what Reich termed "orgone energy"—the life energy he scientifically proved to exist. He found it first in living things, then later in the atmosphere, and finally theorized that it extended through the cosmos. Reich felt his discovery of orgone energy was his principal finding and all his other work flowed from this.


An analogy can be made to Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, whose work led to the development of the laser, transistor, MRI, and so much more. Just as the field of quantum mechanics has grown and developed over time, and will continue to do so, its foundation, quantum theory, remains essentially unchanged.


Here is where the question of whether an organization is—or should be—preserving Reich's work or building upon it has relevancy. The theory governing the practice of orgone therapy needs no modification. The central element of treatment is the removal of the body’s chronic muscular contractions that Reich called “armor.” This process re-establishes the free flow of the body’s energy and moves patients forward to living a more natural, satisfying life.


Methods to make orgone therapy more effective are welcomed, and certainly needed, but they should only be in the service of advancing the therapy more quickly to its goal and end point as outlined by Reich.


There is a line between preserving and furthering Reich’s work—and distorting it. This is the challenge. It's been my experience that those groups that will preserve and further his findings have as their focus a rigorous study of the body of his work. This includes the scientific experiments that test the validity of his observations and his assertion that the effects of orgone energy are real and measurable.


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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.