The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice

Objective Investigations of Controversial and Unorthodox Claims in Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Social Work

WILHELM REICH AND ORGONE THERAPY

THE STORY OF ROBERT L. SPITZER’S PAPER, ‘AN EXAMINATION OF WILHELM REICH’S DEMONSTRATIONS OF ORGONE ENERGY’

Author:
Robert L. Spitzer, M.D. - New York State Psychiatric Institute

I recently moved to a new office at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. To my great surprise, in the process, I came upon a paper that I had written in 1953—some 52 years ago—and was certain I had lost. This paper is reproduced in full immediately following this brief introductory comment.

The story of the paper to follow begins in 1947, when I was 15 years old and a sophomore at a “progressive” high school, the Walden School, in New York City. I became fascinated by the sexually liberating comments of a substitute English teacher, Robert Kronemeyer. He explained to me privately that he was a psychotherapist, and if I wanted to be treated by him—to become emotionally and sexually liberated—I should, of course, ask my parents. I did and—no surprise—they said no. This did not stop me. Without telling them, I had once-a-week therapy with Kronemeyer, paying $5.00 a session.

Kronemeyer had been a patient and student of Wilhelm Reich. As a consequence, I read all of Reich’s books, believing all that I read, including his assertion that “orgone energy” could be concentrated in an “orgone accumulator” and was therapeutic for a wide variety of mental and physical disorders, including cancer. Several times, Dr. Oscar Tropp, a psychiatrist who had trained with Reich, allowed me to sit in the Orgone Accumulator in his Manhattan office.

My therapy with Kronemeyer lasted about two years and stopped when I gradually realized that I was not being helped. I began to question both Reichian therapy and his claims about the existence of “orgone energy.” In 1953, in my last year as a premedical student at Cornell University, I conducted a series of experiments to evaluate Reich’s claims about the existence of orgone energy. I wrote the paper, “An Examination of Wilhelm Reich’s Demonstration of Orgone Energy” (my first scientific paper), describing these experiments and the negative results.

I submitted the paper to the American Journal of Psychiatry, which rejected it. Soon thereafter, while still at Cornell, I was visited by someone from the Food and Drug Administration, who explained that the government was attempting to stop Reich from distributing orgone accumulators. He asked me if I would be willing to serve as an expert government witness against Reich. Apparently, the FDA had asked the American Psychiatric Association (APA) who they could recommend as an expert on Reich’s orgone theories. The APA suggested that the FDA contact a premedical student at Cornell (me) who had recently conducted some experiments on Reich’s theories of orgone energy.

In February 1954, the FDA filed a complaint for an injunction to prevent Reich and his associates from distributing Orgone Accumulators by interstate commerce on the grounds that they were not effective for treating or preventing various diseases, as Reich had claimed. Reich refused to appear in court and was jailed for contempt. As a consequence, I never was called as an expert witness.

A few minutes of searching on the World Wide Web for Wilhelm Reich and orgone energy reveals that many still believe in the reality of orgone energy and the therapeutic benefits of using an Orgone Accumulator.

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