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Kleptomania, a Case Discussion

In 2007 a middle age woman came to see me.  She told me that she was feeling very tense, never could relax, she said she never felt happy.  She was feeling as if her head was exploding.  The bright point of her life was her young daughter.  She was well educated, nice and kind and compassionate towards her.  She was proud of her daughter and said that she was very supportive and appreciative of her.

She was an immigrant and came to the United States at age 18 years old.  Among other things she told me she said when she arrived to the United States, she was greeted by her brother and was living with her brother and brother’s wife.  She did not feel welcomed there by her sister in-law.  Her sister in-law was unhappy by her presence at their home and by different ways implied that she wished her to leave.  Under that circumstance she was introduced to a man by a relative.  She said that by the coaxing and encouragement of her relatives and pressure by different family members in spite of her reluctance and doubts she married him. Her marriage was significantly influenced by her desire to leave her brother’s home as soon as she could.  She described her marriage as an unhappy one and stated that her husband was unpredictable and was demanding, harsh, rude and insulting toward her and toward her parents and relatives.  She was feeling sad and angry with him and guilty because she could not make her parents happy as she wished to.  She felt helpless, alone and could not invite them to their home and make them proud of her.  She said she stayed in this marriage for the sake of her daughter.  She said that in front of her relatives and friends she often had to find excuses to justify her husband’s behavior.  Later on husband had a nervous breakdown and was unable to work.  This was another burden for her.  She now not only was trying to find an excuse to justify her husband’s behavior but also had to try to make up stories to pretend as if her husband was working to avoid relatives gossip.  She did not want to subject herself to the gossip of family and friends.  She herself, however, continued her school and progressed and found a job and eventually became an office manager and was earning a good salary.  She was supporting the home both financially and in other aspects of house affairs.

After giving this information to me, she then with some hesitation and trepidation said that she in order to relieve her tension and anxiety, leaves her home and goes shopping.  She said shopping gave her some relief.  Later in the session I found out that she had episodes of shoplifting as well and she felt deeply embarrassed and ashamed of this behavior.  She said that she picks up things that she often does not need.  Later on I found out that because of these habits she also had been arrested several times.  She was ordered by the Court to seek psychological treatment.  She also had attended certain classes and programs, recommended by the Court for this behavior.  She said that she was given fines and ordered to perform community service as punishment in lieu of detention and was ordered psychiatric treatment in the past for which she sought treatment and received suggestions and medications.  She had followed all these therapeutic suggestions but now she was again in trouble. I found out that now she again was under prosecution for shop lifting for the fourth time.  She was dreading the prospect of imprisonment but the possibility of imprisonment was high because of previous similar offenses.  She was a respectful woman, an office manager with a responsible job supervising many financial transactions and was respected in her community and in her church.  When she saw me in the first session, she already had an attorney.  In subsequent sessions I learned that she changed her attorney and eventually found an attorney and later on found another attorney and she was hoping that with consultation and retaining two attorneys she would have better chances to avoid imprisonment.  She was referred by the attorneys to see a psychologist who was familiar with court proceedings and necessary reports in such matters.  She paid a heavy price to her lawyers and psychologist for reports.

Her mental status examination during the initial visit was unremarkable for any thought disorder.  She was a middle aged woman properly and neatly dressed, age appropriately groomed and initially came across friendly and pleasant.  As the interview progressed she started to show some anxiety and had episodes of crying spells.  She wanted to know why in spite of her awareness of wrongness of stealing and legal consequences of it she was still unable to resist her impulse and had to face the embarrassment and dangers of such a behavior.

Before discussing the treatment and outcome of it in this particular patient, let us review some of the contemporary definitions, concepts and descriptions of this condition, which is called kleptomania.

Kleptomania in the diagnostic and statistical manual of psychiatry DSM IV is defined under the category of impulse control disorder.  Under the diagnostic features, the DSM IV defines kleptomania as follows:

“The essential feature of kleptomania is the recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal items even though the items are not needed for personal use or for the monitory value.  The individual experiences rising subjective sense of tension before the act and feels pleasure gratification or relief in committing the act.  The stealing is not committed to express anger or vengeance, is not done in response to a delusion or hallucination and is not better accounted for by conduct disorder, manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder.  The objects are stolen despite the fact that they are typically of little value to the individual who could have afforded to pay for them and often gives them away or discards them.  Occasionally the individual may hold the stolen objects or surreptitiously return them.  Although individuals with this disorder will generally avoid stealing when immediate arrest is probable, they usually do not preplan the act or fully take into account the chance of apprehension.  The stealing is done without assistance from or collaboration with others.  The individuals with kleptomania experience the impulse to steal as egodystonic and are aware that the act is wrong and senseless.  The person frequently fears apprehension and often feels depressed or guilty about the theft.  The disorder may cause legal, family, career and personal difficulties.  The kleptomania appears to be much more common in females.”

In the psychiatric text book 8th edition of Kaplan and Sandok, kleptomania is defined and described as; “The essential feature of kleptomania is a recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects not needed for personal use or for monitory value.  The objects taken are often given away and returned surreptitiously or kept hidden.  People with kleptomania usually have the money to pay for the objects they impulsively steal.  Like other impulse control disorders, kleptomania is characterized by mounting tension before the act, followed by gratification and easing of tension with or without guilt, remorse, or depression during the act.  The stealing is not planned and does not involve others.  Although the thefts do not occur when immediate arrest is probable, people with kleptomania do not always consider their chances of being apprehended, even though repeated arrest leads to pain and humiliation.  Those people may feel guilt and anxiety after the theft, but they do not feel anger or vengeance.  Furthermore, when the object stolen is the goal, the diagnosis is not kleptomania, in kleptomania the act of stealing is itself the goal.”

In psychiatry text books, the etiology of kleptomania, like many other psychiatric illnesses is described in a vague manner.  In the textbook of psychiatry it states:  “The symptoms of kleptomania tends to appear in times of significant stress, for example losses, separation and ending of important relationships.  Some psychoanalytic writers have stressed the expression of aggressive impulses in kleptomania, others have discerned libidinal aspects.  Those who focus on symbolism see meaning in the act itself, the objects stolen and the victim of the theft.  Kleptomania is often associated with other disturbances, such as mood disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and eating disorder.  It is frequently associated with bulimia nervosa, in some reports nearly 1/4 of patients with bulimia nervosa met the diagnostic criteria of kleptomania.”  Under the biological factors, the book states that brain disease and mental retardation have been associated with kleptomania, as they have with other disorders of impulse control.  Focal neurological aspects, cortical atrophy and enlarged lateral vesicles have been found in some patients.  Disturbances in monamine metabolism, particularly of seratonin have been postulated.

As one can see there is no meaningful description of the etiology of this illness in the textbooks of psychiatry and this is not only specific for kleptomania but many other psychiatric disorders.  This disorder is attributed to a wide variety of postulations.  However, this is not the case in Orgonomy and Reichian approach – We will discuss theories and treatment approach in Orgonomy later – for now I will return to describing the client who was suffering from kleptomania and inconsistencies in contemporary psychiatric theories.

The description of kleptomania in the DSM IV, as well as its description in psychiatric text books as the reader may recognize is vague.  In the DSM IV as well as in text books of psychiatry kleptomania is described as a recurrent failure to resist the impulse to steal items, even though the items are not needed for personal use or for monetary value.  The text book definition and description of it is also similar.  However, neither DSM IV nor psychiatric text books describe the origin of the impulse.  The text books and DSM IV descriptions do not say where and why this impulse appears in a person.  Science and scientific thinking dictates that every impulse must have an origin and must have energy attached to it.  Neither of these characteristics of an impulse has been dealt with in contemporary medicine, psychiatry or psychology.  The impulse is vaguely defined without description of its characteristics, qualities and its origin.  This shortcoming is not limited to the description of impulses in kleptomania, but it exists in all other psychiatric illnesses as well. Medicine, psychiatry and psychology have avoided dealing with energetic aspects of such impulses and source of its emergence.  From our point of view that is the reason why the pathologic process, the development of these illnesses are poorly understood and treatment of psychiatric illnesses has been hindered.  A recent article in the March 1st issue of New Yorker Magazine titled, “Head Case” by Lewis Menand pointed to disappointing results in psychiatric treatments, is an example of this hinderance.  A similar article titled, “The Assault on Freud” was also published in Time magazine November 29th, 1993 regarding disappointing results in psychoanalysis.  On the contrary, Orgonomy deals head on with the matters of impulse and energy.  Orgonomy considers these impulses, i.e.: impulse to steal as a secondary impulse or drive, the distortions of primary healthy impulses which is distorted because of armoring of the organism.  The theory which has been developed in Orgonomy is based on the experimental work of Dr. Reich and also based on clinical observations and treatment trials, which proves itself applicable in clinical work.  Our theoretical approach to these impulses is that the impulses originate from the core of the organism, which we regard to be autonomic ganglions in the center of the organism and propagates toward the periphery in a pulsetory manner.  As a consequence of persistent outer and environmental inhibitions against expression of natural primary impulses, sexual and aggressive impulses, mechanism of armoring sets in, which permanently prevents expressions of anger, rage, and sexual emotions.  The original healthy impulses then split and get distorted and manifest themselves with different neurotic and anti-social manifestations.  Schematically in Orgonomy this process is explained as the following schema (courtesy of the Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust):

Our treatment approach is based on these schemas.  Ideally the clinician who is conducting the treatment, will need to acquire the knowledge experience and skills of psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy as well as psychiatric orgone therapy. In restoring the orderly flow of the energy in the organism, to loosening up and removing the armoring and establishing the organismic capacity to express primary and undistorted drives, the clinician finds himself working as an electrical engineer restoring the proper energy flow in the human organism.  The ideal psychiatric orgone therapy treatment is considered complete when the armoring is resolved and orderly flow of energy is restored in the body.  In such a case patients become capable of expressing primary unadulterated and undistorted impulses as he or she wishes to.  Parallel with it, the patient develops sexual potency, potency to love and have genital embrace, be affectionate and in the final stages of treatment develop full orgastic potency.  The patients who achieve such a level of health as Dr. Reich has described, attains qualities of Jesus Christ, incapable of lying and incapable of harming.

However, achieving such a level of health is not always possible.  In fact psychiatrists and clinicians conducting psychiatric orgone therapy rarely are able to resolve the armor of a patient which is heavily ingrained throughout their lives to achieve full orgastic potency.  We often have to content ourselves with resolution of armor to a certain extent.  By some resolution of armoring, the patient senses relief and some normality is brought to their lives.

The treatment of this patient started and progressed based on principles of psychiatric orgone therapy, with recognition that stealing impulse was a distortion of patient’s ability to express her primary impulse of anger, rage and sexual drives.  The treatment of this patient lasted one year with an average of one session every week.  In this vignette I do not intend to explain step by step the treatment process, which has been described in this journal by Dr. Reich with annotation and in other Orgonomy literature by Dr. Reich as well as by Dr. Herskowitz.  I only will mention some cardinal points and developments that happened during this treatment process.

I began the treatment of this patient from the most superficial and conspicuous feature of the patient, her facial expression as is customary in psychiatric orgone therapy.  Her excessive politeness and apologetic and pleasant appearance was the surface manifestation.  This was a feature that had been with her since childhood, she all her life was trying to please others, trying to avoid any confrontation, but at the same time this apologetic and agreeable mask was the mask that was hiding her anger, rage and sadness.  As treatment progressed the patient recognized this attitude, events in her life that caused this attitude were expressed by the patient.  She recognized her fear of expressing anger, which started from the relation with her own parents and later on with her brother’s wife and then with her husband.  She gained insight on her inability to express anger.  By the techniques specific to psychiatric orgone therapy her excessive pleasantness, politeness and appeasing attitude was uncovered from her facial expression.  She became able to express her anger and frustration toward different people including her husband that she all along was fearful of.  Attaining this ability and insight surprisingly translated itself to actions in her life and at her home.  She became capable of speaking up against her husband, she even threatened her husband to throw him out and divorce him and to her own surprise, the husband complied and suddenly changed his attitude.  She gained power that she all along longed for.  She also dared to talk about the oppressive environment that she grew up in since her teenage years.  By her ability to express her anger and speaking up against her husband a significant change happened in her life.  She became more relaxed and more expressive.  During this time with the help of her attorneys she completed her legal obligations properly and became free of legal threats.  She also lost the impulse to steal or commit other transgressions, such as frequent traffic violations that she used to do.  Several months later she was invited by her relatives to return to her country of origin.  She accepted the invitation and went to visit her relative.  For a while she kept contact with me and as of the last I knew about her, her condition was stable and she did not have impulses to steal.  She, while in treatment, told me with horror that she was assigned to attend programs and saw many people who were attendees of those programs for numerous times without improvement, becoming revolving doors in institutions.

This is one example of thousands, who suffer from such illnesses but because of a poor understanding of the illness by present day psychiatry and psychology, they remain poorly treated, constantly struggling with their impulse, which continues to seek reappearance and ruins their potential to live, work and love.  Dr. Herskowitz, in a speech he gave in commemoration of the 50th year of Dr. Wilhelm Reich’s death in Rangely Maine said: “I lived long enough to know that life is too short to be wasted with sickness.”

As described earlier we consider the psychiatric orgone therapy complete when armoring is widely resolved and the patient develops orgastic potency.  In the case, which was described, although some resolution of armoring took place, but because of the patient’s departure to her country of origin and interruption of the treatment process , armoring was not adequately resolved.  In such cases there is always the danger of reemergence of unhealthy and pathologic impulses as a consequence of redevelopment of the armor.  Therefore, we cannot in confidence claim a successful completion of treatment in this case.  Nevertheless, considering the educational value and theoretical discussion of it, its presentation was judged to be worthy.

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Posted in Case StudiesComments (9)

Reich’s Point’s of Departure from Freud

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.

Character Analysis

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.

Orgasm Theory

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.

Muscular Armor

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

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.

Orgone Energy

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”
Wilhelm Reich

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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.

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