Wilhelm Reich’s treatment of emotional disorders
by Richard Schwartzman, MD
One of Wilhelm Reich’s most important and lasting contributions is a unique treatment for emotional disorders called psychiatric orgone therapy. It does not rely upon pharmaceutical medications, and individuals on these drugs who choose this treatment are almost always able to be entirely weaned off—even if they have been on significant amounts over long periods of time. It doesn’t use psychological approaches designed to make patients understand how past relationships and experiences have caused them to be the way they are. It also doesn’t employ methods that claim to change thinking and behavior, nor does it regard as true that genetic factors are to blame.
The Therapy and Its Goal
The therapy is based upon the fact that traumatic events from early childhood continue to influence thinking and behavior throughout life. These are never forgotten even though they cannot be remembered. The past lives on, locked away in the body in what Reich called “armor.” Armor serves two functions: to keep disturbing memories from childhood from re-surfacing and to prevent the individual from actually re-experiencing their buried emotions. But armor is a two-edged sword. It largely, but not entirely, prevents the breakthrough of the repressed past—and this is certainly a benefit. But at the same time it interferes with the ability to live a more satisfying life.
Psychiatric orgone therapy differs greatly from other treatments. One of the important ways that sets it apart is that it does not focus on symptoms. Symptoms are only the manifestations of emotional illness. The true cause of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and all other emotional conditions, are the repressed feelings and emotions that have become stuck in the body. For this reason attempting to get rid of symptoms without addressing their underlying cause can never bring lasting relief. Only the removal of armor, not symptoms, restores natural functioning, and as this occurs symptoms steadily decrease, regardless of how severe and how long they have been present.
Method of Treatment
The therapy makes use of a mind/body approach. As such it employs both a specific verbal method, called character analysis, and a body-oriented, physical technique. Character analysis requires skill and much experience on the part of the therapist. Unfortunately, the process is difficult to describe. This is because it largely focuses on the patient’s attitudes and their interactions with others, and no two people think and act alike. As patients come to recognize how they are seen by others and how they behave, especially under stress, their relationships and functioning automatically improve.
The body-oriented, physical approach allows the buried emotions from childhood to be released in the safety of the psychiatrist’s office. Thanks to Reich’s method of treatment the full range of emotions, which include sorrow, fear and rage, most usually arise spontaneously—without any urging or intervention on the part of the therapist.
To what extent an individual will improve with psychiatric orgone therapy depends upon three factors: the extent of their emotional illness, the skill of their therapist, and how determined they are to get well. Those considering this unique approach must be committed to reducing any psychotropic medications they may be taking—with a view to stopping entirely, if this is possible. And they must be open to experience, at least for a few sessions, a therapy that is so radically different from all others that it continues to be ignored by physicians and psychiatrists alike.
Orgone therapy can effectively treat a wide variety of emotional disorders. These include anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive and bipolar disorder, phobias, ADHD, PTSD and even schizophrenia.
The Psychiatric Orgone Therapist
Psychiatric orgone therapists, because they are medical doctors, are firmly grounded in all aspects of medicine. Their training and experience enables them to understand the physical body, which is necessary in conducting this, or any, body-oriented treatment. They not only hold a degree in medicine but their extensive post graduate training in psychiatry, and in some instances in child psychiatry, qualifies them to practice the treatment of emotional disorders. They have, themselves, had orgone therapy either with students of Wilhelm Reich or with their first generation descendants. This direct extension from Reich to the present sets these individuals apart.
In special circumstances physicians with at least one year of training in a psychiatric setting can become qualified to practice orgone therapy. Psychologists can practice character analysis but this verbal method, even without the body-oriented component, can produce physical symptoms. So even here collaboration with a physician must be available. Symptoms arising in the course of treatment are never considered to be “in the mind and only psychological.”
Psychiatric orgone therapy can only be understood as an interesting theory—until one experiences it firsthand. It is not for everyone, especially those wanting quick relief, but for very many it has dramatically changed their lives for the better.