Wilhelm Reich posited what he called orgone energy that pervades the universe and saw it as the source of life, particularly as the source of sexual energy and tried to optimize it in people.
MEN OF IDEAS # 14 OTHER NOTABLE PSYCHOANALYSTS
(Wilhelm Reich, Fritz Perls, Karen Horney)
Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was an Austrian turned American psychoanalyst. He trained under Freud and worked within the umbrella of Freud’s sexual madness until he decided to take it one step further. He came up with a weird idea that there is an energy called orgone that suffices the universe and that this energy is responsible for creation and everything else.
In the immediate he believed that this energy increases people’s sexual potency. Thus, he built what he called orgone accumulators, a box that supposedly captures orgone and people were to stay inside it for a while and become charged with orgone energy and increase their sexual potency.
Apparently, the FDA tested the validity of this claim and like all psychoanalysis found it nonsocial and charged him with fraudulent practices and selling his useless boxes across states without the license to do so. He refused to respond to the charges against him saying that his orgone hypothesis is a scientific one and, as such, the courts cannot decide its validity, only science could. He was charged with contempt of court and eventually sentenced to jail for two years. He died in jail.
There are folks out there who still follow this man who believed in aliens, in UFOs and, indeed, claimed to have spent time with these non-existent extraterrestrial beings. Clearly, Reich was deluded and we need not waste our time on him.
In so far that he was useful to psychology it is his emphasis that body matters. In his one good book, Character Structure, he argued that the individual’s character is reflected in his body.
Neurotics, he believed, have rigid bodies (character amour) as a result of their rigidity and inflexible minds their bodies are also rigid and inflexible. This is so true. If one is peaceful and happy, ones body tends to be flexible, whereas if one is anxious and rigid ones body tends to be tense and rigid.
The individual’s character is reflected in his body. Reich was therefore useful in seeking ways to relax the body as well as the mind.
One of Reich’s disciples, Alexander Lowen, transformed his views into an acceptable body based psychotherapy called Bioenergetics, a system that sought ways to relax the human body, as well as the mind. Benson at Harvard taught systematic relaxation techniques.
These ideas are really not new, for Oriental religions, for thousands of years, taught people to relax their bodies and minds. Hinduism had Hatha yoga, Taoism had Tai Chi and Zen had Kung Fu, Karate and other systems of controlling energy movement in the body.
What shall we make of Reich? He was obsessed with sex and believed that repression of sex produced neurosis, so sex had to be unrepressed. He wanted people to have sex unabashedly. Indeed he even wanted children (adolescents) to have sex. He wanted to make contraceptive medications available to children and wanted abortion made easy. This man is a freak. Sex is not all that it is cracked up to be. Apparently, no one told this man that those who pursue spirituality reach a point where they do not identify with their bodies and do not find sex appealing. Let us just say that this man was a body and did not grow up. Like Freud, he was stuck at adolescent levels where much ado was made of sex.
Reich, Wilhelm. (1933) Character Analysis.
Reich, Wilhelm. (1942) The Bioelectrical Investigation of Sexuality and Anxiety.
Fritz Perls emphasized the individual enjoying his life as he sees it without limiting his enjoyment with neurotic preoccupation of what other people think of him.
Fredrick Salomon Perls (1893-1970) was a German turned American psychiatrist who trained under Freud. He fled Nazi Germany and at first settled in South Africa but eventually came to the USA. He developed what he called Gestalt Therapy. This is difficult to explain other than that it emphasized hedonism. Be here and now and do your own thing. Eat, enjoy yourself and do not feel guilty about it. You do not owe other people anything. Do not check your behavior with thinking about what other people would approve. If it feels good to you, as long as no one is hurt, go ahead and do it.
This man was a leader of what Governor Jerry Brown of California used to call the me generation and Christopher Larch called the narcissistic culture. These people existed only for themselves and saw other people as incidental to their lives.
Fritz Perls conducted sensitivity training sessions, encounter sessions, as Warner Erhard renamed them. The idea is to learn to be free of other people’s tyranny over you. You do not owe other people anything and they do not owe you anything. If you and others meet and can exchange goods and services fine, but if not, you go your separated ways. Do not feel bad about other peoples suffering (and they should not feel bad about your fate for what is good for the goose must be good for the gander…if you see Fritz body on the street, hit by a car, ignore it and do not stop to help him, for only him can help himself).
This man had an arrested emotional development and it is not necessary to call his approach a science. It is true that we have to overcome the guilt we feel from our desires to obtain other peoples approval but should we be uncaring about other peoples fate? Forget Perls, he was a passing adolescent fancy and not relevant in adult discourse.
Perls, Fritz. (1968) Gestalt Therapy Verbatim.
Karen Horney defined neurosis as rejection of the real self and pursuit of an idealized self that is an imaginary self that cannot be attained, and pursuit of which is rigid and inflexible and gives the neurotic anxiety from fear of not attaining it.
Karen Horney (1885-1952) was German psychoanalysts. I have written about this woman at many places and do not need to repeat myself here.
Her most important contribution to psychological discourse is the idea of real self, and false ideal self and their roles in mental health and mental illness.
The neurotic is pursuing the actualization of his concept of ideal self and since that is impossible of attainment is pursuing a chimera, yet he pursues it in an obsessive-compulsive manner hence must fail and become disappointed and depressed (as Horney was).
The mentally health person tries to actualize his real self, whatever that is.
Horney, Karen. (1950) Neurosis and Human Growth. New York: W. W. Norton.