The therapeutic approach of Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), based on the dissipation of sexual tensions through the attainment of full orgasm.Reich was originally a member of the psychoanalytic movement, but between 1924 and 1934 developed an approach of his own which he termed character analysis. In essence, he held that many patients protect themselves with a “character armor,” a set of resistances which stand in the way of the analyst’s attempts to penetrate to unconscious levels of the personality. These resistances consist of such attitudes as overaggressiveness, cynicism, passivity, and ingratiating tendencies. As a preliminary step, they must be cleared away by making the patient aware of them and by tracing them to their sources. In this process Reich used every clue available, including the patient’s gestures, expressions, and posture as well as his actual utterances.Reich regarded the character armor as a defense erected by the patient against revealing his unconscious libid- inal (sexual) tendencies. When he felt that the patient’s “education for analysis” had been completed, and his resistances removed, he adopted the orthodox analytic approaches such as free association and dream analysis in order to help the patient work through the depressed infantile sexual material which he believed to be at the root of neurosis. It was at this point that Reich began to part company with the classical analytic theory. Though he ostensibly broke with Freud in 1932 over the concept of the death instinct, the basic reason was probably that he believed Freud did not go far enough in his emphasis on the libido. Freud had pointed out the importance of eliminating infantile sexual tendencies of an oral, anal, autoerotic nature, and of achieving mature, “genital” expression of sexuality as one indication of improved functioning. With Reich, however, the achievement of “full orgastic potency” became the only measure of psychological well-being.Reich based this theory on the idea that the orgasm is the emotional-energy regulator of the body, whose purpose is to dissipate sexual tensions. If it is not experienced, or if it is not equal in strength to the individual’s sexual tensions, his emotional energy will be expressed through nonsexual, neurotic channels. A neurotic may therefore experience orgasm, but it will not be strong enough to release his particular sexual tensions—that is, he does not achieve “full orgastic potency.”Reich held that the anti-sexual, puritanical mores of Western society have so inhibited man’s orgastic ability that only a few people are capable of full potency. It is therefore the task of psychoanalysis to revive the orgastic ability of mankind. In seeking to disseminate this doctrine, he formed “sex- political” units in the Socialist Party of Austria, and later in the German Communist Party. However, he was considered a corrupting influence and was expelled not only from these parties, but from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, as well as from the International Psychoanalytic Association. He then came to the United States and taught for a time at the New School for Social Research.Reich came to believe that the orgasm derives its power from a cosmic force which he termed orgone energy (1942). He advanced the theory that this energy emanates ultimately from the sun, and held that it not only pervades the atmosphere, giving the sky its bluish color, but can be found in all plants and animals. He even claimed to have found microscopic energy vesicles or “bions,” charged with this energy, on the skin surfaces during sexual excitement. And he maintained that this vital force had the power not only of producing orgasm but of killing rot germs and bringing about a cure for diseases ranging from the common cold to cancer.According to this theory, the primary function of orgone energy in psychiatric therapy is to restore the individual to full orgastic potency. For this purpose Reich designed an “orgone box,” or “orgone accumulator,” which, he believed, could capture the energy from the surrounding atmosphere and concentrate it on the sexual organs. The box resembles a telephone booth, but to attract the orgone energy it must be made of metal and lined with an organic material such as wood or fiber. The patient sits in the box for fifteen to forty-five minutes at a time and, according to Reich, frequently reports that he experiences hot, prickling sensations during the recharging process. The treatment can be speeded up by massaging the entire body, since this releases the orgone energy which has accumulated in the tissues and at the same time reduces muscular and emotional rigidities that prevent the orgasm reflex from functioning.The major objective of orgone therapy, or “character analytic vegetother- apy,” as he also called it, is to destroy the character armor with which the individual has surrounded himself as a result of his anxieties. If this is accomplished, he will be able to return to his proper biological functioning— that is, the achievement of full potency, which discharges present tensions and keeps others from developing. Needless to say, this theory finds little if any acceptance today, not only because of Reich’s fanciful concept of cosmic energy, but because it is a well-known fact that many highly disturbed individuals are capable of full orgastic potency.