Dr. Herskowitz’s Lecture in Germany, Dec. 1993
DR. HERSKOWITZ: “Man is born free and everywhere, he is in chains. How did this change, come about? I do not know.” These are the opening lines of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s social contract. In the course of this lecture, I hope that you will find at least a partial answer to this question. The key is the process of armoring. It followed Reich’s emphasis on character analysis, and he came to recognize that character is represented in the body as well as in behavior, that emotional repression is simultaneously a somatic as well as a psychological event.
Great novelists have recognized this and have generally characterized character in the form of bodily terms: the individual who draws in his breath when events are overwhelming, the angry man who walks around with a tight jaw, and the stubborn person who has a stiff neck. These are all recognized by all of us, and all of us respond to them in our reactions to other individuals.
Armoring converts free laughter into a cackle or a twitter; it may cause a woman to speak in a little girl’s voice. It does not merely change a function by degree but also by time; it renders behavior more predictable, more stereotyped, armoring puts life in constraint. Armoring is most often revealed in muscular tension, but it is also revealed in eyes that are glazed, in excessive body contact, etc. It is a dynamic event, and it entails a consumption of energy. It constrains us physically, emotionally, and ideationally. It is a cocoon to which we gradually become accustomed.
Reich viewed all living systems as pulsating. In the mammal, there are many individual pulsations encompassed within the overall pulse of charge with energy, and discharge with energy. There is the heart’s pulse, the lung’s pulse, the gastrointestinal pulse, the brain’s pulse, and so forth. Armoring narrows the pulsation from aliveness to all aspects of existence to, in the worst case, living at a level of near existence. The heavily armored individual fears expansion and pleasure gives him anxiety. Armoring blocks the flow of natural impulses and bends them to new purposes, just as light is bent when it hits glass or water, so armoring bends impulses that come from our core and changes them into another direction. For example, the natural aggression of a child whose parents cannot tolerate that aggression and punish him for it turns, when he armors, that punishment into anger, hatred, sneakiness, or other manifestations which Reich called his secondary manifestations. And these are covered over, by what Reich called his superficial layer, that is, the layer that meets society. Therefore, his secondary layer might be covered over by compliance, politeness, by characterlogical rigidity, or other kinds of cover-ups. Thus the orgonomist uses the term personality not in terms of id, ego and super ego, but in terms of core impulses, secondary layer, and superficial layer. In our therapy, we treat patients going in the opposite direction – from how it was formed. We start with treating character as it’s revealed in the superficial layer. When we reveal that and uncover that, we get to the manifestations of the secondary layer and, if we can manage to unburden the individual of the secondary layer impulses, we finally arrive at the natural core.
I’m just going to give you some very brief anecdotes of what you might witness in our office. A patient whose history I have taken and whose complaints I have listened to for the first time, is put on the couch. I say to him, “I want you to breathe this way: Take a long full breath in and just let go, and just keep breathing that way.” So he lies on the couch and starts to breathe. He does this for maybe five minutes. Then he suddenly starts to laugh and he tries to stop his laughter, and he starts to laugh even more, and he says, “What the hell am I laughing at?” And as soon as he asks the question he bursts out laughing even more, and the whole rest of the hour is consumed with him laughing, trying to stop the laughter, bursting into laughter again, and then stopping it. At the end, he says, “What the hell was that? But I’ll tell you, I feel better.”
The second patient is a woman in a brief psychotic episode. She has been referred by one of our trainees in orgonomy who is a psychiatric resident in a local hospital. He has referred her to me because he knows that she is too much for him to handle.
Her story is that her husband was a physician who left suddenly with his secretary and all their money and left her with two children. She quickly went into a psychotic episode for the first time in her life. Interestingly, her twin sister has been psychotic all of her life.
She comes into my office, and she is very clearly disoriented and she keeps asking me, “Are you Dr. X?”, that is, the doctor who referred her. I say, “No, I am Dr. Herskowitz.” Every five minutes, she says, “Are you Dr. X?”, and I say, “No, I am Dr. Herskowitz.” Then she says, “Are you going to hurt me, or do something bad to me?” I reassure her, “No, I am not going to hurt you or do anything bad to you.” Then she asks, “Can I look into your mouth?”, and I reply, “OK.” I open my mouth and she examines my mouth. Then when she is reassured that I am not going to swallow her, we begin to work (she is lying supine on the couch).
I tell her to follow the flashlight and I move the flashlight in random movements in front of her eyes. At first she has difficulty following the light, but eventually she follows it. I tell her, “There are four objects: one object is this wall, that wall, that wall, and that wall behind you. Without moving your head, just move your eyes and try to see each of those objects. After she tried to do that exercise, I say, “Now just make your eyes soft and look into my eyes.” She does, and we do those three things: following the light, looking at objects in the room, and looking at me. And at the end of the hour, she takes my hand and says that was good.
Appearance of Armoring
Now what I have worked on in each of those patients is one segment of armoring. Reich said that there are seven segments of armoring. Each of these segments is capable of its own emotional function. For all practical purposes, several segments work together to express an emotion. For example, though the eye segment can express its own emotions, very often it works in conjunction with other segments. If one expresses anger, one not only looks angry, but clenches one’s jaw, punches one’s fist, etc. So very often in an emotional expression several segments are working simultaneously.
There are seven segments of armoring. They are the ocular, the oral, the cervical, the thoracic, the diaphragmatic, the abdominal, and the pelvic. These are the seven segments of armoring.
The Ocular segment: It is always involved in processes of psychosis and disassociative disorders. Now we have known for a long time that, for example, in schizophrenia, there is a problem in eye tracking. That’s a well known phenomenon, and in ordinary psychiatry, it’s considered one of the phenomenon in schizophrenia. In orgonomy, that fact is regarded as a central issue. The fact that the eyes are not in contact with the world to the extent that they are in normal people, we think is a factor in being able to distinguish reality from unreality. We work at great length with such people in establishing better eye contact with the world.
What one learns when one investigates how eyes are armored is sometimes surprising. For example, one patient reports that when she looks into a mirror, what she sees is her body outline. Another patient reports that when he is in a painful confrontation, he has learned to endure that confrontation by focusing on one point on the other person’s body and keeping his eyes fixed at that point. That way he is able to get through the confrontation. Another patient reports that she has no visual memory. When she looks at something and closes her eyes, she cannot remember what she has just seen. These are things that happen not only in psychotic people, but people who are walking around as if they are normal.
The Oral segment: We look for voice tone. We listen to people: are they talking in rhyme, are they barking, are their jaws tight, do they have a problem biting, do they have a problem sucking, are they talkative so that they cannot keep their mouths shut, can they cry fully, can they scream, can they yell fully, and finally, are they capable of gagging. Is there a problem in the throat and the oral segment that keeps them from maintaining a lively gag reflex.
The Cervical segment: Some people walk around with their shoulders held high and their neck held high as if they are watching for where the next blow will come from. “Where will the next danger come from?” They look like scarecrows in the field – this neck is always rigid and on the alert. And such people, if you ask them on the couch to just let their heads fall and let gravity take their head, it is impossible. They cannot let their heads simply fall because then God knows what danger might come! In the neck is also revealed stubbornness, haughtiness, trying to separate the head from the rest of the body, with a big, long separation here, and problems in the cervical area also involve problems in deep crying, shoving, yelling, etc.
The Chest segment: The chest is one of the most significant areas for armoring because of its participation in the function of respiration. The full expansion of breathing is involved in all armoring. In expressing anger we breathe heavy if we are really fully angry. If we are passionately loving, we go, ah, ah, ah. Contrariwise, in fear, we go, he, he, he, he, we pull our chest in, which is why people with acute anxiety so often complain of a lump in the chest or a weight on the chest. When we cry, we move our chest fully in sobbing. So we can see that in all of the emotional expression the free movement of the chest is involved. Contrariwise, when we want to inhibit any emotion, we hold our chests. This is why most of us walk around not breathing fully, because all of us are repressing something which we might feel fully if we let this go.
This helps me to understand the first patient that I described above because, when he is on the couch and for the first time lets his chest go, something arose from deeper in him which turned first into laughter. Almost invariably, if you just let that go on, that laughter turns into sobbing, but we didn’t have the time to do that in the first session. I didn’t want that to happen in the first session.
Also involved with the chest segment are the shoulders and the upper extremities, which is part of this segment. In the expression of the emotions that this segment is capable of, we have patients punch with all the anger they can muster on the couch. I have a baseball bat that they bang on the couch, and we distinguish between those people who punch like this (punching weakly) and people who punch like that (punching vigorously), because the second is like human beings should be capable of.
Another expression of the upper extremities is to be capable of feeling love, of being able to stretch out one’s arms longing for someone else, and longing for contact with the universe just to make connection.
The Diaphragmatic segment: The diaphragm is used in all expulsive acts. The diaphragmatic segment is what we work on mostly in the expression of gagging, for that’s where the gag reflex starts, with the contraction of the diaphragm. It’s used in and is obviously related to disgust which means to disparage what’s in here to get rid of it out there. The diaphragm and armoring of the diaphragm is geographically very close to the solar plexus. This is one of the most important plexus of the body. It is also very close to the heart, which is why when we feel emotions very deeply, we have a feeling in this area of our body and why we talk so much in terms of heart feeling, because this is a very important area for deep emotional feeling. Consequently, when we succeed in loosening the diaphragmatic area, patients often experience a flowing of energy into their abdomen and pelvis which they have not experienced before, and which most invariably they first experience for a very short time as pleasurable, and then experience as anxiety-provoking.
The Abdominal segment: This segment generally has much simpler emotional functions. The educator, A. S. Neill, who originated the Summerhill School, says that he used to divide his students into the tight bellies and the soft bellies. The tight bellies were the children who were scared, insecure, and the soft bellies were the children with more security who were able to move around more freely. I’ll tell you one fascinating anecdote about currents (sensations of vegetative streaming) into the abdominal area. One lady had succeeded in freeing her armoring through the diaphragmatic area and had experienced these pleasurable flows of energy in her abdomen. She came in to her session the next week and she said, “Do I have something to show you!” I said, “What?” So she opened her blouse, and there, halfway across her abdomen, starting halfway across, was a red rash. She said, “Do you see that? It says stop, it’s a red light.”
The Pelvic segment: When one begins to work on the pelvic armoring, what one invariably encounters is more anxiety than one had encountered up until that time throughout the whole rest of the therapy. This is because the pelvis is the place where there is the residue of all sex negativity, all the sexual repression. Everyone in our culture suffers from pelvic anxiety. In addition to the anxiety that is generated when one starts working on this segment, one also sees the secondary layer of manifestations in the pelvis which are rage and the contempt that the pelvis holds. It is not by chance that in practically all western cultures the expression, “Fuck you!” is the most hateful thing that one can say to somebody.
Treatment of Armoring
Now the dissolution of armoring, how is armoring dissolved. In psychiatric orgone therapy, we employ all conventional modalities. We do talking therapy, we analyze dreams, we use whatever knowledge we have gained from our psychiatric residency and psychiatric training. We employ all the intuition that we are capable of and all of the medical art that we are capable of. We try to be as creative as we can because dealing with armoring is a creative process, and every therapist has his own individual methods in addition to what we all do in common. What we look for in each segment is that the individual be capable of expressing every emotion of which a human being should be capable of expressing. We also examine to find out areas of hypersensitivity because they always reveal armoring. For example, if you go to touch somebody’s flank and they go like this (the patient jerks), you know that’s an armored area. People shouldn’t shrink when you go to touch here, or there, so that an area of hypersensitivity reveals the presence of armoring.
The Ocular segment: Now, in dissolving the armoring in the eyes, in addition to what I have already told you about following the light and looking at objects around the room, patients express every emotion that they can through their eyes. They express anger, they cry, they express fear, they express paranoia, looking out of the side of their eyes, and to some extent, they should even be capable of expressing some degree of psychosis. One of the exercises for people with Dissociative Disorder is that we tell them to let their eyes go off as they often do just naturally, and then to sharply refocus on our eyes to really make contact with our eyes. And again to let the eyes go off and sharply refocus, to learn how to bring themselves back from that state when they are not in this world. And you also give them exercises to do at home: when you are walking in the street, look at the people coming toward you, see if you can determine the texture of their clothing, all the color that you can distinguish and what they are wearing, what is the expression of their face when they walk past a shop window. Look at what is displayed in the window, then go back and check to see what you have missed. When you are riding in a bus, look at the expressions of your fellow passengers. What happens very typically is that people come in and they say, “I did what you said, I looked at those expressions and I never saw it before, everybody is either mad or sad.” So these are all things that people learn to do at home, working to make their eyes come more alive.
I had a very interesting experience with a schizoid patient. In the beginning of my practice in my treatment room, I had no natural light. It was artificially lit, and after a while, I was getting tired of that, so I knocked down an entire wall and put glass brick in the wall. About six months after I had put the glass brick in, a patient who had been coming every week said, “There is something different about this room.” I said, “No, there is not.” She said, “Yes, there is.”Â She said, “You didn’t used to have that,” pointing to the glass wall. Six months later.
The Oral segment: The oral segment usually involves some kind of facial expression. So if the patient is walking around with a blank facial expression, we imitate that facial expression to them. I have a mirror, I show them what they look like with that blank face. Or, if they have a constant smile, we have a session where I sit there smiling at them as they are smiling at me, or mirroring whatever constant, chronic emotion they may reveal. I try to imitate that and demonstrate what they are walking around with. We practice expressing anger by biting, I give them a sheet to bite on, and try to bite a hole in it, and they practice biting at home on towels. One lady who was practicing biting at home said as she was biting, “I had an image of biting my father’s finger and I know what that meant.” An interesting fact was that when she had that experience at home, she had always complained of a tightness in her throat. Having had that experience, and having integrated into her consciousness of knowing what the biting of her father’s finger image meant, her throat relaxed and she never had that complaint again.
I imitate their own voice. With the patients who whine, which is one of the things which drives me crazy, I will whine back to them and I can do it very well. An example of another very interesting patient, is a very big man who is Welsh. All Welshmen like to sing and he sings in a chorus. But he talks in a voice that you can hardly hear. I asked him to sing and he sings in that big voice with a big chest, but his speaking voice is almost inaudible. So we were working on his voice, and I said, “What do you think it means, the fact that I can hardly hear you speak?” He said, “I’ll tell you, if I walk into a bar and speak in this [big] voice, somebody can challenge me to a fight.” So he had learned that the small voice is safer to walk around with.
Then, as I have indicated before, when working on the neck, we do a lot of painful stimulation of the tight cervical muscles. We do this in order to elicit the anger that is behind the stubbornness, or to elicit the fear that is in these muscles. Sometimes, I put my hands around the throat of patients, who obviously walk around afraid of being choked to death.
The Thoracic segment: We work on breathing. Sometimes I have to help the patient to breathe by pressing on their chests in exhalation, by releasing the chest by tickling the intercostal muscles, by painful pressure on the intercostal muscles, by hitting and reaching with the upper extremities. Once again, we run into interesting phenomena. A female patient was unable to reach out and call “Mama.” Every time she tried to do it, she just burst into tears. I asked her, “Can you close your hand around my hand?” and she can’t. She can’t make that much contact. She can touch my hand but she cannot close her hand around my hand.
The Diaphragmatic segment: We work on gagging by having the patients swallow a glass of water and I place an emesis basin in front of them, and I say, “Now stick your finger down your throat, breathe deeply as you do it, and try to gag.” What happens to a lot of people is they put their finger down their throat and cough. It gets caught, because their gag reflex has been inhibited by a superficial cough reflex. The model for a gag reflex is a one-year-old infant in whom the milk goes down and the milk comes up. That kind of reflex is lost in many adults who are thereby unable to gag. If given Ipecac, maybe. He cannot gag and we sometimes spend hours just working on loosening his gag reflex, because when the gag reflex is released patients experience a great deal of emotional release, because very often for the first time the person is able to sob, or to scream, because holding that gag reflex is a lot of emotional repression in this area and in the diaphragmatic segment.
Then, also, I have patients do an exercise like Santa Claus, they go “Ho, Ho, Ho,” moving this segment which very often turns into involuntary laughter and then into sobbing.
The Abdominal segment: Work on the abdominal segment is generally a matter of either painful pressure on the abdomen or tender stroking of the abdomen, to let whatever is held there come through.
The Pelvic segment: To work on the pelvic segment, that’s generally an area at which we must spend a great deal of time because there is a great deal, as I have indicated, of anxiety in that area. One can precipitate a great deal of trouble if one approaches this segment too quickly or too precipitously. Now in working on the pelvic segment, one of the first places that we work is the thigh adductors. These are what Reich called the morality muscles, muscles that hold the legs together like this. So we apply painful pressures to the thigh adductors, and we also work on tightening and releasing the pelvic floor, and this helps to loosen the pelvic armoring.
Also working in this area, we do a lot of talking about sexual experiences from very early ages, sex-negative experiences with one’s parents, one’s neighbors, or one’s family. This is a period in therapy in which a great deal of guilt is released verbally, and in which a great deal of physical work is done orgonomically.
The Orgasm Reflex
If we succeed in loosening the armoring from head down to the pelvis, then there is the appearance of what Reich called the orgasm reflex. The orgasm reflex is an involuntary movement of the pelvic musculature, not only involved with sexual activity, but that is also evoked in periods of high emotional excitement. So it is not a purely a sexual phenomenon. For example, one of my patients who was an entertainer, a singer, was through to the pelvic segment in her therapy. She was a singer and she was giving one of the performances of her lifetime on the stage. She was really good, and the audience was really with her. She was in a period of very high emotional excitement and she said, “Suddenly my pelvis started to move and I couldn’t stop it.” That’s the orgasm reflex.
The orgasm reflex can sometimes appear in therapy and it may still take several years before the orgasm reflex becomes incorporated into one’s sex life, so it becomes a regular part of the sexual orgasm as well as just a phenomenon.
Reich said that the full orgastic discharge was the natural expression of energetic discharge in the human being. Energy can be discharged by thought processes and by physical work. He felt that the major, basic biological discharge mechanism was the discharge in sexual activity.
Now some generalities concerning therapy. Therapy is generally conducted once or twice a week, usually once a week, and in times of emergency, we see patients of course more frequently. In incidence of, for example, panic attacks we see the patient maybe daily for a period of time. All human emotions are elicited, or attempted to be elicited in the course of therapy, so that usually our offices are soundproofed to the extent that we can keep the neighbors from hearing what is going on. Despite the fact that all emotions are elicited, there is a clear distinction made to all patients that there must be no destructiveness, they must not attempt to destroy me, nor my office, that the expression of meanness is not in the service of their emotional development. On the side of the therapist, what we do is we probe painfully, we tickle, we stroke.
Because there is so much physical contact in orgonomy, it is made very clear to all of our trainees that there must be a categorical imperative: that there must be no hint of any kind of sexual process that passes between the therapist and the patient because the process itself is conducive to that kind of thing. In the United States, our therapists must have completed standard psychiatric training and all people who are certified in orgonomy must be certified in psychiatry.
We treat all ages of patients from infancy to old age. As an example of treatment in infancy: a patient brings in a four-month-old infant who has gradually stopped eating, stopped sleeping, and is crying all the time. I look at the baby, she is pale, she is whiny, she has a pinched face, her chest is held. I asked the mother what’s been going on at home.
The mother said she had worked full time as well as take care of the household duties before the infant was born. Now that the infant is born, she has all of her previous duties plus exclusive care of the infant. Her husband does not do a thing. I asked her if she hadn’t talked to her husband. It turns out she has kind of whined to him that she wishes he would contribute a little more, which had no effect.
So I say, “Take the infant in your arms,” which she does, and I say, “Now scream bloody murder.” So she starts screaming, and the infant opens its eyes, looks at her, and the infant starts screaming with her, so mother and baby are screaming together. Of course, the infant is no longer pale. Her cheeks are red now, her chest is moving, the mother’s chest is moving, and the mother goes home. She has the fight of her life with her husband and lays down the law to him. Afterwards, he contributes to the workload of taking care of the infant and the problem disappears.
A story about working with a child, this is one of the nicest child stories. The little girl is named Vicki. She has become increasingly phobic in recent months. She started out needing a light in her bedroom at night, then she needed the hallway light lit, then she needed the next room light lit, until the house has to be entirely lit at night now. And she is becoming increasingly agoraphobic.
Vicki comes into my office. She is a sweet, polite, bright, lovely little girl. I put her on the couch. Her chest is held, her neck is tight and she has a constant, sweet, Sunday School smile. So we smile at one another and that doesn’t affect her one bit. Then I press on her tight neck, and she keeps smiling. I say, “Doesn’t that hurt?”, and she says, “Yes, but I know you’re doing it for my benefit.” Now this goes on for about four or five weeks and my hands hurt from the pressure on her neck. She will do nothing but smile sweetly. About the fifth week, we are doing this, and suddenly, I have drapes hanging right by my couch which no longer hang there, Vicki ended the drapes. She pulled down the drapes, turns to me and says, “Drop dead, you rat.” There was a song at that time, “Id like to get you on a slow boat to China,” and she said, “Why don’t you take a long trip on a slow boat to China?” I got her to scream and cry, which she does readily. She sobs her heart out, and I hold her in my arm and the session ends. My office is next door to my treatment room and I am sitting behind my desk in my office when she walks around my desk where I am sitting, hugs me and says genuinely, “Thank you.”
Thereafter, gradually, we had talks. Her family was as funny as Vicki was. They were ultra, ultra liberals who, when their oldest daughter started going out with a black boy, the family went crazy, like falseness was the modus vivendi of that family.
The treatment of adolescents : Our general policy is to treat adolescents as little as possible, because it is regarded as a time of hormonal furor, and the adolescents have all they can do to handle what’s going on in their world without, let alone, entering into an intensive dynamic therapy. So what we try to do is handle the immediate problem as simply as possible, then send them back into their world again. If necessary, they can come back later on when they are over the furors of adolescence and when we can do more intensive work.
The treatment of the elderly: This is similar to the the treatment of the adolescent: One does not do intensive dynamic therapy with old people. We try to handle the immediate problem and send them out.
An example of that is the mother of a patient. She is a 78-year-old woman who has just been through major surgery come home from the hospital. She immediately took to her bed, and each day strayed less and less from her bed, until she refused to move from her bed. Her daughter was scared because she was just lying rigidly in her bed.
She managed to get her into my office, and I saw the old lady was barely breathing, her eyes were in a fixed stare, looking straight ahead of her, and she is practically immobile.
I gently push on her chest, trying to get her to start to breathe. Then I ask her to follow my finger, which she could not do at first, like her eyes are fixed. Gradually she is able to do this if I move my hands slowly and her eyes start to move a little bit, at first, passively. I move her extremities, her arms and her legs, and then she is able to move them a little bit, and she is able to walk out of the office a little easier than the rigid way that she walked in.
On the second visit, she is kind of relaxed, she walks in the way she did the first time. We do the work again on the eyes, the chest, and the extremities. Then we talk about her fear of death, because it’s clear to me that she is using a very primitive defense mechanism, as if to say, “If I appear immobilized, maybe the angel of death will not see me, and he’ll skip over me.” So, we talk about our fear of death which she admits to very freely.
That gives her a great deal of relief, at least exposed it. After about two or three sessions, she is moving about the house normally again, and that’s in general how we treat old people.
Psychiatric orgone therapy is not for all patients. There are some people who come to see me and I realize that they don’t have the wherewithal to do the work that is required in therapy, or their structures are too fragile to start to tinker with, and I refer them to colleagues who do only verbal therapy.
All of the standard psychiatric approaches toward patients are employed in psychiatric orgone therapy. I use antidepressants when necessary and I use neuroleptic drugs when necessary, and I do everything that I learned in my psychiatric training when treating a patient. The difference is that I think that I have a range of activities and weapons with which to deal with patients which many other psychotherapists do not have.
It’s very typical for our trainees in psychiatric orgone therapy, who are doing their residencies, to say to us, “I am so happy that I have a larger armamentarian than those people have.” Another interesting experience was a girl that I treated a long time ago. She was a lady in her 20’s, knew nothing about Freud, Reich, nobody. She didn’t know anything about psychiatry, her family physician referred her to me. I thought she would be a good candidate for therapy, so we did orgone therapy. She did very well, and many months later, she came in and said, ” Do you want to hear something?” I said, “What?” She said, “I have a girlfriend who went to a psychiatrist and all they do is talk.” And that’s the difference between what we do and what most other people are doing. From my point of view, what orgone therapy enables me to do is to reach into places with patients that no other therapy can allow me and give me that kind of entrance that psychiatric orgone therapy does.