Categorized | Psychiatric Illness

Beyond Conventional Psychotherapy

Article by Morton Herskowitz D.O.

Beyond Conventional Psychotherapy

Repressed emotions have physical signatures. With anxiety we pull in our chests.  Tight necks signal stubbornness.  Raised shoulders imply fear.  Dulled eyes imply an inability to cope, etc.  Wilhelm Reich recognized that these somatic tensions functioned as emotional armoring; they kept repressed emotions at bay.  They are the physical representations of character.

His therapy, designed to unveil repression through work on the armoring, has enabled psychotherapy to accomplish more than symptom amelioration. If, as some have stated, “character is destiny,” there is a therapy with the potential to permit a freer flow of energy in the patient, to alter destiny.

Wilhelm Reich, the creator of psychiatric orgone therapy, was an important contributor to early psychoanalysis. Though his acumen was acknowledged, his activities were embarrassing to some members of the psychoanalytic community.   He thought that the discoveries of psychoanalysis had a wider application than the treatment couch.  Consequently, long before it became fashionable, he established community clinics where human sexuality was discussed. He spoke of methods of birth control, the use of prophylactics and other subjects forbidden in a sex-negative society.

Despite these “illicit meanderings” his creativity as a therapist was valued by the larger psychoanalytic community. His largest contribution to psychoanalysis was the addition of Character Analysis to the analytic armamentarium. With the aid of this tool the therapeutic results of analysis were highly augmented – to this day.

His next step, considering therapy in terms of the flow of energy in the body, wnet beyond the pale. from this point rumors of quackery, if not insanity, erupted. Along with the psychiatric community there was another source of attack. In his earlier years Reich had been a communist sympathetic to the Soviet Union. When he visited the country, at the invitation of the government, he was dismayed at what he saw and encountered. Upon his return, in his book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, he described the Soviet Government as Red Fascism and immediately became a communist public enemy.  communist agents and ploys int he U.S. campaigned to destroy Reich through their contacts in government.

The end point marked the public burning of all the books he had written (probably the only time this has been done by the U.S. government) and his incarceration in prison for defying an injunction. He defied the injunction because he said it was based on materials that were a series of lies. In fact, the legal complaint (which Reich consistently admitted that he disobeyed)  was prepared sloppily because the preparers regarded Reich as a simple quack. Consequently rumors were sufficient data; facts needn’t be checked.  For example, the complaint stated that Reich claimed to cure cancer. In Reich’s book, The Cancer Biopathy, every treated patient whose tumors decreased in size was reported to have died of hepatic or renal failure.

In consequence of these events Reich’s reputation has languished in this country. The well-read, educated lay public has a clearer picture of Reich than the psychiatric community, which is still largely misinformed, trading on rumor.   Today the situation is improved. All of Reich’s books have been reprinted, and are available. In those instances in which law schools have conducted mock-trial repetitions of Reich’s trial, he has been vindicated.

In conventional psychiatric circles emotions are viewed as psychological phenomena mediated  by chemical processes in the brain. The great novelists have always described emotion in terms of their somatic manifestations.  Thus, the sudden in draw breath of the anxious character, the rigid neck in stubbornness, the raised shoulders in fear, the hard jaw, the tight belly in fear and rage, the tight-assness in character rigidity, etc.

In our everyday interpersonal relationships we all react instinctively to these somatic manifestations of emotions.  We withdraw from the dulled eyes and are brightened by lively contactful eyes. We make judgments about grown women with high -pitched little girl voices.  We are attracted by bodies that move with flow and grace.  bodies reveal messages independent of the overt emotional expressions  we convey with our speech.  We respond differently to the individual who restricts his breathing than we do to the one who breathes openly and freely.

Wilhelm Reich, an early psychoanalyst in Freud’s circle, enlarged the methodology of psychoanalysis with the with the publication of Character Analysis. To the use of dream interpretation, slips of the tongue, automatic writing, and the other usual accouterments of psychoanalytic methodology, Reich added the study of character.  This increased the therapeutic usefulness of the analytic method to this day.

Working on character, it became obvious that character was not only manifested in behavior, but in specific bodily tensions which he called character armoring. Armoring is the way the body conducts emotional repression. We dissociate by armoring our eyes.  We withhold anger and sadness by restricting our breathing, armoring our chests.  Armoring is revealed in eyes that are glazed or expressionless, in a monotone voice, in a   slack body. It is a dynamic event and it entails a consumption of energy. It contains us physically, emotionally, and ideationally. It is a cocoon to which we gradually become accustomed.

Reich viewed all living systems, from amoebas to us, as pulsating.  in the mammal there are many individual pulses encompassed within the overall pulse of energetic charge and energetic discharge.  There is the heart’s pulse, the lung’s pulse, the brain’s pulse, the peristaltic pulse, etc.  Armoring changes the pulsation from one’s being alive to all aspects of existence to, in the worst cases, living at the level of mere existence.

The heavily armored individual fears expansion and pleasure makes him anxious.  Armoring blocks the flow of natural impulses and bends them to new purposes. As light is bent when it passes through water or glass, armoring bends impulses that emanate from our core and point them in another direction. For example, the child whose natural aggressive energy cannot be tolerated by his parents, and is punished for it, turns that healthy aggression into hatred, trickiness and sneakiness, and other negative behaviors that Reich called manifestations of secondary layer of character.

The secondary layer, the distorted natural impulses, is concealed by the level of behaviors that meet society- the superficial layer.  Here we find compliance, politeness, the phony smiles, rigidity and hosts of other cover-ups.  Thus, in therapy, we define personality  not in terms of ego and superego, but in aspects of core impulses and secondary and superficial layers of character.  We deal in unraveling the patient’s structure in the opposite direction from which it was formed.  We proceed from the revelations of the superficial behaviors to the underlying secondary layer impulses and (hopefully) to the natural core.

In the introduction to all of Reich’s books there is always the “mantra,” Love, work, and knowledge are the wellsprings of our life. They should also govern it.

There is an energetic flow in all living organisms.  It has been called chi, prana, elan vitale, etc.  Reich called it orgone energy.  Consequently the psychiatric use of Reich’s model is referred to as psychiatric orgone therapy.

The thesis of therapy is that emotional armoring blocks the free-flow of energy in the body.  Armoring serves as the substrate of physical and emotional symptoms. It binds its subjects into performance that is pre-determined and stereotyped; it confines behavior.  To perform its repressive function it consumes energy. most of us are entrapped to a greater or lesser extent.

Although the resolution of armoring is the essential goal of therapy, it is not the therapist’s exclusive purpose.  We stand on more shoulders than Freud’s and Reich’s. We employ psychopharmacology when it is useful, behavioral techniques when they are indicated, family therapy, and whatever means current research indicates that is useful to our patients. Just as current osteopathic practice possesses a unique therapeutic means that is largely unknown to allopathic practitioners, it avails itself of all useful modern medical knowledge.

This post was written by:

- who has written 16 posts on The Journal of Psychiatric Orgone Therapy.

Dr. Morton Herskowitz lives in Philadelphia, USA. He is an osteopath and practices Orgone Therapy that was developed by Wilhelm Reich. He was the last therapist trained by Wilhelm Reich personally. He was the president of the Institute Orgonomic Science and author of the book “Emotional Armor – an introduction to psychiatric Orgone therapy.

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