Posted on 06 March 2010.
Following article transcribed from a lecture given by Dr Simonian at UCLA in 2009.
I want to tell you how I was introduced to Dr. Reich and how I came to know Dr. Wilhelm Reich. When I was in my second year of residency training, there were a lot of different psychiatric theories and psychoanalytic theories. There was a lot of confusion about these different approaches and students of psychiatry were generally lost in these theories. I accidentally came across a book in the library with the title of Reich speaks of Freud.
He knew what he was talking about, his ideas were precise, to the point, and clear. So I couldn’t free myself from him and I continued pursuing his theories and writings. I did it all alone because there were no teachings of Reich in any of the institutes or psychiatry residency programs. So I was all by myself, however I kept reading Reich and kept experiencing his theories on my own, until I discovered his museum. I started going to the museum every summer for conferences. At one of the summer conferences, I met Dr. Morton Herskowitz who was a student of Reich himself and he was and still is practicing Philadelphia. So I was driving from Boston, MA to Philadelphia, seeing him every 2 weeks or so. I progressed to the extent that I don’t think it is possible for me to practice psychiatry without Reichian Theories.
I wanted to give this lecture because I benefited tremendously from Dr. Reich’s teachings and treatment approaches both in my personal life and in my practice, and I think that we are obliged to share it with others when we ourselves benefit from something.
Reich vs Freud
Orgonomy, which is a body of knowledge that Dr. Reich has set forth, actually grew in the womb of Freud’s psychoanalysis. Dr. Reich was a student of Freud and was first a psychoanalyst himself, but later on they split from each other. Actually, in one of his books, The Function of the Orgasm, Reich describes his relationship with Freud. He says that he first saw Freud when he was a medical student. They were studying sexuality in medical school, and he approached Freud to get more information about sexuality. This is Reich’s description of Freud, “Freud was different, whereas the others played some kind of a role, he did not put on any airs. He spoke to me as a completely ordinary person. He had bright intelligent eyes, which did not seek to penetrate another persons eyes, but simply look at the world in an honest and truthful way. I had been apprehensive in going to him but I went away cheerful and happy. From that day on, I spent 14 years in intensive work in psychoanalysis. In the end I was severely disappointed in Freud, fortunately the disappointment did not lead to hatred and rejection . I am happy to have been his student for such a long time without having criticized him prematurely and with complete devotion to his cause.”
Freud’s major theories
- Libido theory (economic theory).
- Topographic theory (theory of consciousness and unconsciousness)
- Structural theory, (theory of Id, ego and superego).
To tell you how Reich’s theories evolved, I have to tell you about Freud’s theories first. Freud had proposed 3 major theories. The Libido theory was one of his initial theories. By observing children he realized that there is an innate energy in the child that initially is concentrated on the oral area, children put things in their mouth, suck things. Then later on as they grow in the second year, that energy moves to anal area, then around age 3 the energy gets concentrated on the genital area. The topographic theory is a theory of conscious and unconscious, and the structural theory is a theory of id ego and super ego.
Freud’s 2 types of neurosis
- Stasis neurosis or actual neurosis caused by disturbance in sexual life and damming up of sexual energy
- Psychoneurosis has an underlying core of stasis neurosis
He postulated that because of an unhealthy sexual life or abstinence, the libido energy gets blocked and damned up , accumulates and causes toxic reaction in the body which causes palpitations and hyperventilation. So he called it stasis neurosis. Counseling and helping the person not to be abstinent may improve the stasis neurosis.
However psychoneurosis is caused when a person has obsessional thoughts or phobias, and is a result of unconscious conflicts and needs psychoanalytic techniques for treatment. Nevertheless, psychoneurosis also has a core of stasis neurosis, an accumulation of damned up energy. Reich later on says if psychoneurosis had a core of stasis neurosis and stasis neurosis had a superstructure of psychoneurosis, then was there any need for differentiation of these two?
Freud’s Psychoanalytic Treatment
For the treatment of neurosis, Freud suggested that when the unconscious conflicts become conscious the neurosis should improve. When the unconscious roots of neurotic symptoms become conscious, the patient must improve, however later on he changed his statement and said “ the patient may improve”.
Freud’s Psychoanalytic Technique
Freud’s psychoanalytic technique was that the patient lays on the couch and is encouraged to free associate. The assumption is that by talking, one idea will bring another idea, like links of a chain, and eventually will get to the unconscious. The analyst helps and gives suggestions, and when the unconscious becomes conscious, the neurosis should improve and symptoms should improve.
Also, the interpretation of dreams was something that Freud suggested as a tool to get to the unconscious. Because dreams symbolically reflect unconscious conflict but needs interpretation. So these were types of therapeutic techniques that were suggested by Freud. However the treatment results have not been encouraging.
Freud discovered libido energy, childhood sexuality and presence of unconsciousness which promised treatment of neurosis
But his theory and technique did not always lead to improvement. He himself changed his statement later on and said, “when unconsciousness roots of the neurotic symptoms become conscious patient’s may improve” Perhaps these failures led to today’s abandonment in psychoanalysis
In the November 29th, 1993 Time Magazine, there was an article titled, “Is Freud Dead”? By the end of the article, the author concludes that “psychoanalysis and all of it’s off shoots, may in final analysis, turn out to be no more reliable than countless other pseudosciences that once offered unsubstantiated answers or false solace.”
Now this is a heavy word, because Freud’s discoveries are major discoveries. Freud is the one that discovered libido energy, childhood sexuality, and presence of unconscious which promised treatment for neurosis. However this was the result, that after several decades, Time Magazine’s article concluded that this is a pseudoscience that offers false solace or false hope.
These failures of psychoanalysis caused Reich to depart from Freud. His aim was to further psychoanalysis, to make it work better, and to refine it. That is what Reich was trying to do.
Reich moved from psychoanalysis to character analysis. In character analysis, the most importance was given to the way the patient talks versus what he says. Reich focuses on how the person is talking, he says words can lie, but expressions never lie.
Reich’s Major Theories
In the pursuit of furthering Freud’s achievements Reich proposed two major theories
- Orgasm theory
- Theory of armoring
These two theories developed concomitantly and parallel to each other, but later on they merged and became integrated with each other.
Reich realized that patients who were able to achieve sexual satisfaction visibly improved, and as long as this sexual potency and satisfaction persisted, the symptoms did not come back. He presented his findings of the patients he was treating, but he was rebuffed by psychoanalysts. Many psychoanalyst said that they have patients who are sexually very potent, but have neurotic symptoms. Reich says that until 1923, only erective potency and ejaculation were known without the inclusion of other aspect of sex economy.
In other words anyone who was able to have sex was considered to be sexually potent. He says that at that time he started to analyze this matter in detail and realized that there was a difference in what he was describing as orgastic and sexual potency and what the prevailing concept of sexual potency was.
In the book, Function of Orgasm, in explaining his orgasm theory, Reich says, “Until 1923 only ejaculation and erective potency were known without the inclusion of other aspects of sex economy and experiential components” Unfortunately the situation is not changed even today in contemporary medicine and psychiatry
Very little importance has been given to the matter of sexuality and orgastic potency in medicine. You can not find one medical book that deals with it, but it is well dealt with in the Reichian theories and Reich’s writings.
Erective and ejaculative potency are merely indispensable conditions for orgastic potency. But that alone is not enough.
What is Orgastic Potency?
The orgastic potency is the capacity to surrender to the flow of biological energy free of any inhibition and fantasies
It is the capacity to discharge completely the dammed up sexual excitation and energy through involuntary pleasurable convulsions.
I’ll give you an example. Once I was treating a patient who was very promiscuous, she was having a lot of sexual relations, she was also using substances and drugs, she had a very unhealthy and disturbed life. One day I asked her that when she has relations with men, does she have sexual satisfaction? She said no, I said how do you get sexual satisfaction. She said that “I get sexual satisfaction when I masturbate”. I said “then what is the fantasy of your masturbation”. She said “doctor, I don’t know why this is, I have to fantasize that a small child’s throat is slashed and blood is coming out to be able to have an orgasm”. So there are lots of strange fantasies which go with orgasm, but this is not a healthy sexual orgasm, this is not what Reich was talking about when speaking of orgasm. So these matters are not dealt in medicine, there are no books about it, they never talk about it, and they never analyze it. The reason is that I think even today, these matters are still taboo, and even in medicine people don’t want to deal with it. But people’s health is at stake here in these matters. That is why I think Reich is very important and should be studied much more deeply and thoroughly.
Orgasm theory encompasses concepts of:
- Expansion and contraction of living protoplasm and its psychological expression as pleasure and displeasure and its relation to autonomic nervous system.
- Sex economy, the metabolism of biological energy (orgone energy) in the organism.
- Pulsetory nature of living organism.
- Capacity of self regulation of living organism by regulating the energy metabolism.
- Formula of mechanical tension, charge, discharge and relaxation.
If you go to a doctor and ask what the difference is between someone who is capable of having an orgasm and someone who is not capable of having an orgasm, they don’t know. But there must be a difference, there must be some reason, it’s a physiological reaction, but they don’t give any significance to it.
Theory of Armoring
Armor is defined as total defensive apparatus of the organism consisting of the rigidities of the character and the chronic spasms of the musculature, which functions essentially as a defense against the break through of the emotions – primarily anxiety, rage and sexual excitation, sadness and fear.
Armoring happens in the process of the interaction of the child with environmental prohibitions in the process of the struggle of primary motives with outside inhibitions.
There is drive, and an inhibition that opposes that. A child pushes, asks for something, or wants something, and when comes to the inhibition, initially puts up a fight and protests, but then gradually submits to it.
A part of the drive disassociates, then it turns against itself, then that part itself acts as the inhibition force. This is the mechanism of why children become like their parents. I have many patients that ask me, “doctor, I hated what my father and my mother did, but I catch myself doing the same thing.” Why? Because of this mechanism. The person becomes armored and part of the outer qualities becomes ingrained in it and acts against itself and assumes the inhibition that the world was dictating.
Patients were armored against therapeutic suggestions and treatment in general. The character armor was the mechanism which was blocking the affect
However this character that the person shows has a somatic and psychical component, a muscular and physical component.
Theory of Armoring: Physical and Muscular Armoring
Somatic counterpart of the armor: Functionally identical with character armor but rooted in the physical realm. They cannot be separated.
Character armor functions in the realm of psychology, but it has physical and somatic components that acts in the realm of the body.
In 1933 Reich was treating a man who offered considerable resistance to uncovering his passive homosexual fantasies. This resistance was overtly expressed in an extremely stern and stiff attitude of his neck and throat. Reich says that constant attack on his defensive attitude and the stiffness of neck and throat caused him finally to yield. Although in an alarming way. For three days he became shaken by manifestations of vegetative autonomic shock. His skin was spotted and mottled. The pallor of his face changed from white to yellow and blue. He experienced violent pains in his neck and back of the head. His heartbeat was rapid and pounding, and he had diarrhea and felt tired, and seemed to have lost control. the musculature, the muscles that were stiff and contracted had the function of inhibiting. When the neck muscles relaxed, powerful impulses as if unleashed from a taut coil broke through. Biological sexual energy can be bound by chronic muscular tensions. Anger and anxiety can also be blocked by muscular tensions. So from here on, Reich realized that there was a physical component on the persons character attitude that was manifesting. These two armorings, one in the psychological realm and one in the physical realm, are functionally identical, they can not be separated from each other, they have identical function and they are interrelated with each other.
Muscular Armor is Defined As:
Total muscular and physical attitudes and chronic muscular spasms. Develops as a defense against breakthrough of organ sensations and emotions. In particular rage, sexual excitation, etc.
The inhibition of the primary impulses produces secondary impulses and anxiety.
This is a schematic manifestation of the human organism. Here is the center of the organism, this is the primary impulse, and when it hits the armor, it changes and changes it’s quality. It develops secondary impulses or neurotic symptoms and from here on it can change to anything, it can become a sadistic impulse, it can turn into unhealthy impulses. So from here on, this armor becomes the base of the pathology in the person and causes all sorts of sicknesses and behaviors such as passive-aggressive behavior.
Psychosomatic Identity & Antithesis
Now you see here how psychology, which is the patients character attitude, and somatic and physical condition are getting integrated with each other, one is attached to the other, they can not be separated. The man with a stern neck also had a defensive attitude. Defensive attitude is something in the psychological realm, while the stern neck is the muscular and physical realm. So you see how these two are related to each other. From here on, the concept of psychosomatic illnesses develops, but this is unique to orgonomy, you can not find this understanding in general medicine. That’s why they are helpless when it comes to psychosomatic illnesses.
In any medical or psychiatric book, in the section of psychosomatic illnesses, you will see that the author talks of how psyche and soma are related, and that there should be a psyche and soma unity, but if you keep going down a few paragraphs, you see that again that he is talking as if psyche is something here and soma is something there, in a duality type of manner, and they soon loose what they were talking about, the unity of psyche and soma. They don’t have the concept of unity, this is specific to orgonomy.
Integration of Orgasm Theory & Theory of Armoring
Disturbance of flow of bio-psycho-sexual energy (orgone energy) which causes disturbance in orgasm and happens mostly by the process of armoring.
The libido energy, that Reich later on called orgone energy, the disturbance of its flow, which also causes disturbance of orgasm, happens by the process of armoring. Armoring is one of the major reasons that the flow of energy becomes disturbed. So you see how these theories are getting integrated and fitting into each other, the theory of armoring and theory of orgasm.
In psychoanalysis, the model for the treatment of the patient is conscious and unconscious, and also id, ego, and super ego, which we talked about earlier. While in orgonomy, our model is core, middle layer, and outer layer. Outer layer is the way that the person presents. Middle layer is the different impulses that are conflicting with each other and then there is the core.
Pathogenesis of Armoring
Armoring disturbs and distorts the orderly flow of bio-sexual energy in the body. This becomes the pathogenic base for many emotional and physical illnesses. It also causes emotional plague
Armoring causes secondary drives that may present itself as sadistic and destructive impulses that harms society in general
From here on Reich’s theories gain significance in sociology
Reich called emotional plague the impulses that get distorted by armoring. Secondary motives that get distorted and become sadistic and destructive to society. From here on Reich’s theories transcend psychology, psychiatry and medicine, and it enter into social work and sociology.
The body of knowledge that was set forth by Dr. Wilhelm Reich is collectively called orgonomy. This is an extension of Freud’s libido theory
Psychiatric Orgone Therapy
Based on resolution of armor, re-establishment of orderly flow of energy and orgastic reflex. Its technique is different from psychoanalytic technique.
The treatment that is offered by Dr. Reich’s techniques are called psychiatric orgone therapy. This is based on the resolution of the armor, if the armor is the main pathologic entity that disturbs the flow of the energy , then our work in treating the patient should be in removing the armor. Resolution of armor is done in two ways. One is by character analysis, which is in the realm of psychology, and the other is by the resolution of muscular and physical armoring, analysis of the physical armoring and resolution of this armoring, which is in the realm of the body. This technique is different from psychoanalysis.
In the pursuit of identifying and quantifying this energy, Reich discovered its existence in all living organisms as well as in the atmosphere. He called it orgone energy. Why orgone energy? Because of its relationship to body organs and its relationship to the orgasm theory and organism.
Harvesting Orgone Energy
Reich tried to improve and strengthen the energetic state of his patients by accumulating and harvesting orgone energy from the atmosphere and making it available for his patients
He designed accumulators of orgone energy
“….The basic theory belonged to Freud, but I furthered it so much that he himself could not recognize it anymore”