For most, the word “psychiatrist” conjures up a doctor who prescribes medications for a biochemical mental disorder.
Dr. Peter A. Crist, president of the American College of Orgonomy (ACO) in Princeton, says his organization has a different perspective about mental and emotional health. “We train physicians in a form of therapy that integrates Freud’s talking cure with a new approach of understanding where people hold emotions in their body. This therapy enables people to tolerate anxiety, find a healthy outlet for their feelings, and live with the full intensity of emotions with little or no medication.”
A key difference between typical therapists and the ACO doctors is their training program in which physicians are trained to be keen observers of how their patients communicate. Notes Dr. Crist: “We’re focused on what we call ‘character’ — the underlying ways people handle their emotions. Our doctors are skilled in observing their patients — how they express themselves verbally or with body language. The three tools we may use to treat emotional problems include character analysis, addressing how a person breathes, and direct work on muscle tension. Our doctors learn how to observe and understand what’s happening emotionally with patients, far beyond words.”
Because of its non-verbal aspects, the therapy has great success with young children. The youngest patient Dr. Crist ever treated was a 13-month-old little girl. Her dad’s seizures required the mom to be the major breadwinner, but her absence distressed the little girl. “They brought their daughter to me after she stood at the top of the stairs hitting herself in the head saying, ‘No, no, no!’ The girl was anxious and clingy with her mother and once on the treatment couch, she clenched her jaws and closed her eyes. I got the girl’s attention by having her follow a penlight. Then I gently held her mouth open and she let loose crying — a huge voice of miserable sadness. After the first session, she started talking more than she ever had. To contain her misery, she’d held back everything.”
Another patient, in his mid-20s, diagnosed with ADHD as a child, took prescription drugs for years. After an episode of anxiety caused him to be hospitalized, he heard about Dr. Crist working physically with patients to improve perceptions. Says Dr. Crist: “We started working on his ability to literally look around the room and see things more clearly. After these exercises, he said, ‘Every time I do them I get the same feeling I got taking ADHD drugs. They focus me and calm me down but without the medications.”
This approach to therapy is based on the work of Dr. Wilhelm Reich, a student and colleague of Freud’s. Dr. Crist notes, “Reich said all of psychopathology can be boiled down to the fear of the spontaneous. Tolerating spontaneous emotions is what we’re about. The word ‘courage’ comes from the French word for ‘heart.’ It’s taken on the narrow meaning of living from one’s heart in the face of fear. I prefer its original meaning of living fully from our hearts with who we are as human beings. That’s what true courage is. At the ACO we’re are all about helping more people live from their hearts.”
For more information about the ACO’s therapy referral service and training programs, contact the American College of Orgonomy. Phone 732-821-1144; E-mail email@example.com; Website www.orgonomy.org.