Categorized | History

Wilhelm Reich and the History of Orgonomy

Article by Morton Herskowitz D.O.

Wilhelm Reich and the History of Orgonomy

In the fall of 2009, The Institute of Orgonomic Science (IOS), held a one-day seminar in Philadelphia.  In this seminar, Dr. Morton Herskowitz talked about Wilhelm Reich and the history of orgonomy.  We have posted the video of this seminar in our journal, however for those of you who may like to read Dr. Herskowitz’s lecture, we have prepared the transcription below.

I want to welcome you all, this is an extra kind of pleasure for me because about 50 years ago, Dr. Oller and I gave annual presentations on orgonomy for a period of about 5 years.  It’s a pleasure to be in this room and see at least partly a new generation as my audience. Today you’ll hear about some of the advances that Wilhelm Reich made to our civilization. Reich was a very special person; he had things in common with electromagnetic forces. He attracted and he repelled, and some of us who read Reich, as we were reading we said “yeah, yeah,” and others who read Reich or more often read articles about him, said, “this guy’s got to be stopped!” That alone makes for an interesting lecture.  The scientist Max Planck said it’s difficult for people with new ideas to get into the flow of conventional science. That the orthodox scientists have a special brand of cultural lag, and that they tend to reject what’s new.  To some extent he thought that it was a good thing, because most of the new ideas didn’t deserve a place in conventional science. So they should have been rejected.  The other ideas that eventually were accepted were accepted not because of their essential validity, but instead because the old guys died off and the younger scientists saw their value more clearly.  In our case, not only do the ideas themselves have to be examined, but all of the misinformation and enmity has to be dissolved before people can hear the argument clearly.

Wilhelm Reich was born in 1897.  He was a paranoid schizophrenic, a sex panderer, the head of sexual cult and he claimed to cure everything from the common cold to caner.  Those were the rumors. When I was in therapy with Reich, he lived in Forest Hills, and at that time he had a professorship at the New School for Social Research. He practiced on patients and taught students. One of my friends who was a respected member of the faculty at Jefferson Medical School, said to me, “Mort, what do other psychiatrists think of Reich?”  And I said, “They think he’s nuts.”  He said, “No, I mean the respectable ones, the academic ones.”  And I said, “Joe, do you know any of the psychiatrists on staff at Jefferson?” He said he knew a couple of them, and I said,  “Ask them.”

So he asked the first of his acquaintances who was a psychiatrist, “What do you think of Wilhelm Reich?”  And the psychiatrist answered, “He’s in a mental institution.”  And my friend said, “Are you sure?”  He said, “Yeah, I don’t know where but I know he’s in some institution.”  And he said “Well, I know someone who goes to therapy with Reich in Forest Hills.”  And he was amazed, because he knew Reich was in some mental institution.  And exactly the same thing happened with the second psychiatrist that he questioned.

Reich’s father was a prosperous farmer, they lived in Galicia which was then a part of Austria.  Reich was educated by tutors, which is ideally the way to be educated because the ideal tutor answers every question that the kid asks, and if he doesn’t know the answer, he goes home and looks it up and comes back with the answer the next day.  So the children who are tutored –at least by the old-fashioned tutors – have all of their questions answered, which keeps alive their feeling of inquiry and satisfaction and the pleasure of being educated. Unlike parents who say “Why?  Because I said so, that’s why!”  Or teachers who deprive them of the running around and the play that every kid needs and teach them what they want the kid to learn rather than what the kid wants to learn. Reich was fortunate in that respect.

In 1916, Reich was conscripted into the Austrian army and he rose to Lieutenant. In 1919, when he was a senior in medical school, he became interested in psychoanalysis. He was interviewed by Freud and invited to join the Vienna society of psychoanalysis. In 1924 to 1930, he was the head of the Vienna clinic for Vienna Seminar for psychoanalytic settings – which was the teaching arm of psychoanalysis in Vienna.  And in that capacity he taught many American psychiatrists who came over to be treated and to learn about psychoanalysis.

In 1928 he wrote his book, Character Analysis, and the story of how he came to character analysis is one that he wrote about.  Psychoanalysis at that time was the means of reaching the unconscious and it depended on techniques like free association, slips of the tongue, dream analysis.  It discovered a great deal about the unconscious, but as a tool for therapy it caused Freud to change, from claiming that discovering the truth in the unconscious would cure patients to sometimes it would cure patients. And Reich had a patient that he wrote about who was affable, pleasant, a comfortable patient to be treated. His problem was that he had sexual impotence, and Reich treated him for a period of three years.  At the end of which, having discovered the root of his impotence, which was that the patient had witnessed at a very young age sexual intercourse by his parents and was overwhelmed by it.  He was congratulated at the seminar for having achieved this psychoanalytic result, but the patient was absolutely unchanged symptomatically from the time that he had begun his therapy. Reich said to him, “I’m not helping you, and I think we should end our pathway here.”  The patient’s response was completely accepting, he didn’t say I paid you good money and this is where we end, or we should have ended it before if you knew you couldn’t help me.  He accepted it perfectly reasonably.  Reich went home and thought about this patient. He wondered why: Had I not helped him? What is it about him that made him unhelpable? And Reich thought about his passivity, his pleasant demeanor, of his total acceptance no matter what the hell happened. And he thought that’s where the pathology is.  It’s in the character – it’s not hidden somewhere in the unconscious. And from that point on he developed character analysis.  The character analysis is a big departure from the previous psychoanalytic methods, particularly, when, as he thought about it, he recognized that character is revealed in the body. That one’s stubbornness is recognized by a tight neck; that ones dulled eyes means that one is separated visually from the external world.  That a tight ass means that you are tight-assed. This was a total departure from previous analytic therapy. When he wrote Character Analysis, it was recognized as a milestone in psychoanalytic therapy.  But when he came to the next step, which was discovering how deeply it’s armored in one’s body, he was regarded as beyond the pale and there were rumors within the psychiatric community of him going off the deep end. That’s probably the first hint of calling Reich psychotic – the literature about his departure into the physical realm.  And that departure into the physical realm, which Reich called the process of armoring, lead to further advances in his thinking because he realized that somehow, the physical armoring impedes the width of experience of one’s life.  Everything that lives has a pulse; there are several pulses: the pulse of our heart, which is the representation of our cardiovascular system, there’s the pulse of our breathing, there’s the pulse of our gastrointestinal system, there’s the pulse of our central nervous system and our peripheral nervous system.  All of these parts of us pulse separately, everything that lives pulsates, and Reich recognized that the presence of armoring interfered with that pulsation, he thought in terms of an energetic flow through the body that is the essence of that pulse. And so he came to create a new paradigm totally distinct from the paradigm of psychoanalysis. He thought in terms of energy flow, the impedance of energy flow, and how the energy flow determines how one lives one’s life.  There are people who live their lives with a pulsation like this [hand gesture showing narrow, constricted pulsation], and people who live their lives with a pulsation like this [hand gesture showing wide pulsation].  That distinction between recognizing the flow of energy and the pulsatile nature of one’s life is what distinguishes psychiatric orgone therapy from every other pre-existing therapy. The idea of the physical armoring and its consequences labeled Reich as outside of the community and was the beginning of the hostility of the psychiatric community toward Reich.

Reich had caused some unease in the psychiatric community before that time. He thought that what was discovered in psychoanalysis gave insight that should be taken outside of the therapist’s treatment room.  At that time most analysts thought that psychoanalysis belongs with the patient on the couch – the therapist sitting behind the couch – and that was the extension of its utility. Reich said the insights we’ve gained in psychoanalysis should be brought to the community at large because that could be very helpful. And so he started a clinic for adolescence in which he talked about birth control, sexual hygiene, rearing of children. And these became popular, and he became a popular lecturer to the community and his clinics spread.

This caused unease in the psychiatric community because this was going beyond where the psychiatric community wanted to go.  Because of his popularity – which was growing – and because Reich was a political animal, he had first joined the Social Democratic party, became unhappy with it, and ultimately joined the Communist party. And the Soviets saw a use for Reich being a member of the party, and gaining popularity in the community. So in 1929, they invited him to tour the Soviet Union to visit schools, hospitals, wherever he wanted to go.  He toured for a number of months and came back totally dismayed by what he saw and wrote his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism, in which he referred to the Soviet Union as red fascism. This caused him to become one of the prime targets of Soviet hostility.  He had already made enemies in psychiatric community, and now he had a bigger enemy, the Soviet Union.  In the period between 1946 and 1947, there were articles written. The first was by Werthan, a prominent psychiatrist.  He wrote a review of The Mass Psychology of Fascism titled “Nuttier Than a Fruitcake.”  In that article Werthan called Reich a psycho-fascist, which is almost like one kid being called fascist and the kid arguing with him calling him a fascist.  Psycho-fascist is not in the DSM IV; is a category not yet recognized in the classification of psychiatric disorders, and from what I have learned is not in DSM V either, which is still not out.  Following Werthan’s article, Mildred Edie Brady wrote two articles, the first in Fortune called “The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy.”  A few months later she wrote practically the same article for The New Republic. Brady wrote that Reich was the head of a vice racket, a sexual cult, and that what he was espousing was a pornographic form using psychiatric principles of emotional yearning. I don’t know what the hell that means – that he was a case of paranoia and delirium and he promised to cure all diseases.  This article caused conversation in the media circles because there was such great material to write about.  For years thereafter newspapers and magazines published this same material over and over again.  None of it depended on anyone reading Reich; it all depended on Mildred Edie Brady’s article.  And Mildred Edie Brady had a nice relationship with the Food and Drug Administration. In the early days, the FDA had gone through some tough periods and Mildred Edie Brady wrote articles in defense of the FDA, so they owed her.  And the year that her articles were published, an investigator from the FDA came to see Reich in Maine and he mentioned that he had come to inspect the place because of the Brady article.  So there was no doubt about it.  From that point on, investigators from the FDA came periodically to Reich’s place in Rangley, Maine for inspections. And it wasn’t until about 10 years after the initial inspection that the FDA formulated a complaint presented to the government about Reich.  By the way, I forgot to say that Mildred Edie Brady also said that there should be a license prepared for people who were scientifically pestilent the way Reich was and that there had to be some new government agency to stop people like Reich.

Well, 10 years later, the FDA prepared a claim against Reich, including all the Brady material. There was no intent to investigate Reich’s side of the matter. The complaint claimed that Reich claimed he could cure all diseases; that he had invented a device the size of a telephone booth in which people sat and their libido was stimulated. Reich was presented with this complaint.  Despite Reich’s clear insights that no one had had before, there was another side of Reich, which was that he was naive, and it was amazing to hear some of his naiveté when one knew that he had discovered such critical and crucial new material.  So, with his naiveté, Reich would have had to go before the board and answer their complaint. Instead, he sent all of his books – a pile of his books, many of which were written before Orgone energy was ever thought of – and he said, read these books and you’ll see all of it is lies.  Obviously, the judge didn’t read all of the books, and so pretty quickly a judgment was issued against Reich which said that all the written matter containing instructions for the use of any orgone accumulator device, all documents, bulletins, pamphlets, journals and booklets but not limited to those, shall be destroyed.  And consequently, FDA agents came to orgonon, Reich’s place in Maine, chopped up all the accumulators, piled all of the written materials into trucks and delivered it to an incinerator in New York City where it was burned.

Now, I’m not sure of this, but I think that that was the only time in American History that the government has burned books. All of Reich’s literature was destroyed.  Then there was a trial held in Maine.  Before the trial, we the doctors tried to enter into the case, because Reich refused to have a lawyer. He wanted to defend his case himself.  He ultimately hired a lawyer not to plead his case in court but to consult on legal points in court. So he conducted his own defense, and it went like this: The prosecutor was a gentleman who had been Reich’s lawyer when he moved to Maine. He had done all the paperwork, and organizing the legal aspects of orgonomy.  So there was already a case –  it was a conflict that the prosecutor had been Reich’s lawyer.  At the trial the prosecutor would say, “Did you disobey this piece of the judgment against you?”  And Reich would say, “Yes I disobeyed it because […]”  Then the judge would say, “I don’t want to hear because we have only a very simple question: Did you or did you not disobey the injunction?”  And Reich would say “I did.” And over and over again it was the same procedure: the prosecutor would read another piece of the complaint, “Did you disobey this?” and Reich would say, “yes I did, because […]” And the judge would say, “I don’t want to hear that.”  So it was a very clear open and shut case in the eyes of the law. And Reich was sentenced to two years in prison. Those of us who knew Reich knew that putting Reich in prison was like putting an eagle in a cage.  We knew that it would be very, very great hardship for a man with Reich’s energy to be contained in a jail cell, and he died in jail, just a few days before he would have been released. He died of a heart attack.

The legacy that Reich leaves us, those of us who do psychiatric orgone therapy, is this: we know in our bones how superior our therapy is to conventional therapies.  We know that what we accomplish, if one thinks in terms of atoms and quantum theory, we make a leap into a depth that no other therapy makes, we change, in successful therapies.

We’re not a cure-all either.  We change the depth of ones life. We also take care of symptoms, but our goal is to widen the pulse of one’s life, and we usually succeed.  In regard to the scientific material, Reich was expelled from the German psychoanalytic society and invited to Norway by the Norwegian psychoanalytic society.  So he lived in Norway for several years, and he met the same fate that Reich usually met, which was that he gathered devotes and he gathered fierce enemies, and the Norwegian newspapers ran a series of articles.  In Norway, Reich lived very closely with Leon Trotsky, they were very close friends, and the Norwegian papers would have headlines about the two Jews who were seeking to destroy Norwegian culture.  In Norway, Reich began his biological experiments. Some of the top Norwegian scientists were fascinated by it, and most were repelled by it.  With regard to life science, I know that I never saw in biology laboratories in college, anything like what I saw in Reich’s student laboratory in Maine.

For orgonomy to eventually be acceptable for standard science, there will have to be double-blind studies of large numbers of people, and people who are not sympathetic to orgonomy will have to see these phenomena and decide fore themselves that it is valid, and there’s a difficulty because to have a study with large numbers of people, you need a large amount of money, which is hard to come by, so when this will happen is unknown. My guess is that it will happen, and that finally Reich will be invited to the larger society of Great Scientists, where we think he belongs, but that’s a matter for the future.

I want to end with something that is not directly pertinent to Reich but is tangential, which is the idea that we call somebody crazy, and thereby indicate that whatever they did is without value because it was done by a crazy person. There are many instances of people having serious emotional problems, I can think in music, Schulman apparently was psychotic at the end of his life, as were Mahler, Tchaikovsky; others went through very severe depressive episodes, but the fact is that it is not important. Reich often said, I don’t care what people think of me; the only thing that is important to me is what I do. And the fact that various composers have had serious emotional problems has no meaning at all when one listens to their music.  Isaac Newton – one of the greatest figures of all time in science – was a firm believer in astrology. What he produced is the only important issue, but I think that’s about enough for the history.

By the way, all of Reich’s books have been re-published and are available at the museum in Rangely, Maine.

I have a few interesting things to add. Mildred Edie Brady and Dr. Werthan were both members of the American-Russian Friendship society, which in subsequent years was revealed as a socially approved arm of the Soviet Union. At one point, Dr. Reich wrote to Einstein and indicated that he had things that he felt might be interesting to Einstein.  Reich was invited to visit, and had a four-and-a-half hour session with Einstein where he demonstrated some experiments he felt would arouse Einstein’s interest.  And Einstein said that he was interested and that he would investigate. The answer came back in subsequent weeks that Einstein’s colleague, a physicist named Leopold Infeld, had worked with this material. Infeld concluded, for example, the temperature differences Reich claimed occurred in the orgone accumulator versus those in a dummy box were due simply to convection currents. Heat rises, said Infeld, from the floor to the ceiling and the reason the temperature were higher at the top of the accumulator and above the accumulator was due to convection currents. Reich went back and at least to his own satisfaction, made new models and hung some of them in air so there wouldn’t be the floor to ceiling difference and wrote back to Einstein asking to come again with his improved models that didn’t have the problem of convection current and received no answer. Not that much long after Reich’s visit, it was found that Leopold Infeld was a card carrying communist and not too long after that he left Einstein to teach in Soviet-dominated Poland, at the University of Warsaw.  So there is this trail of Soviet agents who interfered at some point in the progress of Reich’s scientific efforts.

The second interesting incident occurred in forming the complaint: the FDA tried to reproduce Reich’s experiment with cancerous mice exposed to accumulator devices.  In Reich’s experiments what happened was that the tumors in the cancerous mice had shrunk, but ultimately all of the mice died.  Reich never claimed to cure anything, so that all of these instances of calling Reich a master of cure-alls is preposterous.

Now at the Jackson Laboratory where the FDA had the experiments reproduced, what happened was that the accumulator exposed mice died sooner than the unexposed mice, and it was a joke around the laboratory that if you wanted to see a mouse die sooner than the average mouse you just expose them to the accumulator. By chance, one of our trainees was working at the Jackson Memorial Laboratory that summer. And he observed that the room in which the experiment was conducted was adjacent to the room where radiation experiments were being conducted. And Reich had already discovered that radiation and orgone energy cause a big disruption in the atmosphere and should never be in close proximity.  When the student asked the man who had conducted the experiment if he aware that Reich had discovered this fact, the “scientist” said he didn’t bother to read Reich because he didn’t want to bias himself.  Now there are two things: you can bias yourself to the extent that you make sure you conduct the experiment the way it’s meant to be conducted; and secondly, the fact that the accumulator-exposed mice died sooner should have given somebody the idea that something is happening here. If nothing were happening, the mice would have died at the same as the unexposed mice.

If one proceeded with that kind of intelligence, penicillin would never have been discovered.   It was discovered because bugs died when they shouldn’t have. These are just two of the kind of things that happened in the scientific community during Reich’s lifetime.

I’ve been delighted with what I have seen with my patients, what I’ve been able to witness, and the children they have raised.  In Yiddish, there is a word, nachas, which means the glory you get from the good work you’ve done. And my nachas is continuous from patients that I’ve treated. This is kind of bragging, but I’ll indulge myself. I have five books dedicated to me by significant people, professors of philosophy at NYU and Columbia, Professors of History in UCLA, etc. And I’m sure that is unusual in a psychiatric practice. I have letters of thanks from loads of people and what they all say is that their lives have been considerably widened because of therapy. And that is my goal.

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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