Orgone Therapy is a therapeutic approach which addresses both the psychological and the physiological underpinnings of chronic emotional distress. It was developed by Wilhelm Reich, M.D. (1897-1957), based on his clinical and scientific investigations into the areas of character formation, sexual functioning, the biological basis of emotional expression and blockage, psychosomatic disorders, and the nature of life energy (which Reich termed “Orgone”).
Sigmund Freud had realized that as we grow up, we learn to cope with intolerable emotional distress by means of unconscious defense mechanisms. As a student of Freud’s, Wilhelm Reich elaborated on Freud’s mental defense mechanisms to include how the defenses were expressed in the body and behaviors. By pursuing this, Reich was the first western scientist to fully demonstrate that the mind and body were not separate, but one and the same, inseparably linked. Reich found that inhibited breathing, chronic muscular tensions, and fixed patterns of thinking and behavior were all reflections of the same defense mechanism. Reich termed the totality of these psychological and somatic coping mechanisms, “armoring”.
Orgone therapy works toward dissolving the armored blocks and freeing bound emotions, and in this manner reduces painful symptoms such as depression, confusion, anxiety, inappropriate rage and various self-defeating behaviors. At the same time, orgone therapy facilitates a deeper capacity to assertively reach for desired goals such as joyful work, deeply loving sexual expression, creative pleasures, as well as the capacity to feel deeply, think clearly, and see the world realistically.
The Nature of Armor:
Armoring is, at the time of origin, beneficial. By protecting us from overwhelmingly painful thoughts and emotions, armor temporarily allows us to continue to function. These reactions should be short lived in nature – deal with the threat and bring ourselves to safety, then drop the armor. However, if the adverse stimuli are severe enough, or continue for an extended period of time, the physical, emotional and psychological defenses become chronic. This is armoring – chronic patterns of inhibited breathing, inhibited emotions, muscular tensions, and fixed patterns of thinking and behaving.
Over time, armoring can become chronic or stuck, disrupting the free flow of our life energy, leading to our becoming trapped in patterns of living that are unfulfilling or even destructive. The result of these unresolved defenses is that we either feel or exhibit many symptoms of emotional distress. We become trapped in patterns of living that are not fulfilling when our organism becomes locked in armor. Armor can be a temporary pattern of defending oneself during emotionally distressing events; reactions and behaviors that were designed to keep us safe. But when armor is chronic, over time it limits our capacity to have flexibility in our emotions and behaviors, a tool needed to develop a full and satisfying life. Our life energy (orgone energy) gets stuck and as a result we feel stuck.
Saying that our life energy gets stuck in our organism is more then just a metaphor. Throughout his career Reich worked to demonstrate the existence of an energetic life force (orgone energy). Reich demonstrated how the inhibition of the flow and pulsation of life energy within our bodies gives rise to many somatic and psychological problems – a conceptualization somewhat similar (but not identical) to that which is the basis of many forms of non-western medicine. The physical or “somatic armor” can potentially include any body part; the eyes, musculature, skin, bones, cardiovascular system, endocrine, exocrine, respiratory, immune system, the nervous systems (including the brain), and all the visceral organs. Reich thought that armored organ systems were more likely to become diseased.
In order to literally get our ‘life’ back, we have to undo blockages to the flow of energy, blockages that occur when we have not been able to develop the capacity to fully feel, express, and modulate our emotions. According to Reich, emotions emerge from energetic movement. When energy is blocked, so are emotions. And when emotions are blocked, so is energy.
What occurs during therapy?
Orgone Therapy works to undo armor by systematically helping an individual to first recognize then lessen chronic armoring. Armoring is expressed in all aspects of one’s life: style of thinking, beliefs and attitudes, interpersonal behavior (the ‘character armor’); in posture, and in breathing style. The gradual elimination of armor is accomplished though several means, including talk therapy, physical interventions and the clients daily efforts to change how they live life.
Talk therapy consists of discussions regarding the client’s current and early life situations, and feelings that emerge in the interaction with the therapist. Aided by the use of imagery and role-playing, specific events in one’s life are examined in detail, so that the often subtle and unconscious interplay between thoughts, beliefs, behavior, emotions and physical symptoms can be uncovered and explored. Through such exploration, rigid and automatic patterns of thinking and behaving reveal their historical roots and how they deaden emotions and keep us wrapped in the illusion of safety. Bringing these patterns to light allows for old beliefs to be reevaluated in the present and for experimenting with new ways of thinking and behaving.
Physical interventions reduce armor by promoting increased contact with emotions and by reducing muscular tensions. These interventions include:
Helping the client breathe deeply and undo restrictions to full breathing. The breath is the engine that drives life. Anxiety and emotional holding always have at their base a restriction in breathing.
Helping the client to see and hear, be seen and heard, be emotionally expressive and receptive and think more clearly by mobilizing the eyes, ears and voice. Cutting off emotions always involves a dulling of sensory perceptions, especially the eyes. Vision, in every sense of the word, is critical to life, and the eyes are the key to vision
Helping the client to become aware of his or her muscular tensions and their relationship to blocked feelings and emotions. As a result of armoring we loose our ability to feel the connection between muscular holding patterns and underlying blocked emotions and feelings.
Suggesting various physical movements that increase awareness of emotions and/or aid in emotional expression. When we inhibit our movement we inhibit our capacity to feel and express our emotions.
Using physical touch to put pressure upon tight musculature in order to help release bound energy and emotions, and to promote energetic flow and relaxation.
Physical interventions, as those listed above, are primarily used while the client is laying down on a mattress, and often result in the evocation of very strong emotions and sensations, the experience of which is crucial to the process of change. In order to develop the capacity to fully feel, express, and modulate our emotions, buried feelings of pain, fear, anger, shame, grief, and longing must all come to the surface, be processed and integrated. Very often it is these repressed painful emotions that lead to chronic somatic conditions that don’t seem to entirely respond to conventional treatments. Locked on the other side of these painful emotions sit the emotions of deep pleasure, excitement, curiosity, and joy – emotions that become felt and accessible once again as the energy that is bound up in keeping painful emotions at bay gets released and can freely flow.
When one begins therapy the first few sessions typically focus on making a provisional assessment of the nature of one’s character and muscular armoring. This is done through discussions aimed at getting an overall history of the course of one’s life and the present and past emotional difficulties that brings the client to therapy, and through assessing the nature of one’s breathing and capacity for emotional feeling, expression and modulation. This is a collaborative process, where therapist and client discuss openly what has been discovered and form an initial plan for therapy. And, as the success of therapy often rides on the strength of the therapeutic relationship, the capacity for continued open collaboration between therapist and client remains a vital component of therapy from its inception to ending.
Over the course of therapy, depending on what is determined concerning the nature of one’s particular problems and armoring patterns, the amount of time spent in the therapy session doing work on either the somatic or the character armoring will vary. For some individuals, little direct work with the somatic armoring is needed. For some, much of therapy will be focused upon having the individual breathe and concentrate upon their sensations and emotions which arise as a result, while for others, work with both the physical and character armoring go hand in hand. In any case, the balance between somatic and character work for any individual will often vary during the course of therapy.
During the course of therapy it is vital to not only remove armor, to not only realize the ineffectiveness of one’s old world view, but to build a new one. One gradually builds a new reality that has room for deep true love, spontaneous laughter, creative thought, compassion and meaningful work. Therapy done in the office is only a small part of the process. What is most important is learning to apply what one learns in therapy to life, to all the thousand of decisions we make everyday. Therapy does not end as you walk out the therapist’s door, this is where it really starts.
What are the results of therapy?
Everyone experiences the process of therapy differently. The more intense the armor, the more dramatic the results, the more moderate the armor, the more subtle the results. Generally speaking, as therapy progresses one’s armoring becomes gradually softer and softer, long standing emotional pain is expressed and replaced by experiences of pleasure, of a sensation of energetic flowing and emotional aliveness. One’s breathing, which in the course of therapy becomes deeper, spontaneous and free, then becomes a source of pleasure, calmness and security. Concurrently, patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving, once characterized by rigidity, become more flexible and appropriate to one’s current situation. Chronic stress-based physical symptoms loose their incapacitating grip. Over time one can expect to experience “the moment” with deeper feelings, an increased capacity for sexual excitation and love, a greater self-awareness, self-esteem, and more access to healthy self-assertion. Overall the symptoms that brought one to therapy will diminish and one’s overall functioning in the world will be enhanced; life will be restored.
It is important to note that the process of change can be difficult and challenging. Orgone Therapy is a powerful tool for change and as such, it can be at times challenging, frustrating, intense or exhilarating. It is a means to become more alive and aware, but like all therapies it is not a guarantee of happiness. Some days are better than others and sometimes life is just plain hard. If life sends you suffering, you will likely also experience suffering with more awareness and intensity. Suffering tempts us to return to old habits of armoring. If on the other hand, you remember what you learned, (for example “Oh yeah, I’m holding my breath again”), you will likely be able to let go of that pain more quickly and move on, rather than hold onto it and tighten back up.