By Hilary S. Kayle
The coronavirus pandemic has left us living with tremendous uncertainty. How contagious is this virus? Will I fall ill? Will my loved ones? Can I be treated if I do? Will I die? Is it safe to have contact with my loved ones? Is it safe to leave my house? How long will this siege last? Will I lose my job? What will happen to our economy? To our society? To the world? That’s enough to put anyone in a panic.
Peter A. Crist, M.D., president of the American College of Orgonomy (ACO), a Princeton area non-profit, educational institution, says, “We are living in uncertain times and anxiety is a natural, emotional reaction to uncertainty. What matters is how we handle our anxiety. Some people tune out and don’t engage, like ostriches who stick their heads in the sand. Others jump to conclusions without adequately looking. In some people the anxiety builds, they lose perspective, and the anxiety tips into blind panic. We are in the midst of pandemic panic — panic about the coronavirus pandemic and a pandemic of panic itself.”
Dr. Crist adds, “It’s hard to find people with voices of reason walking the fine, but crucial line, between ostriches dismissing the significance of the coronavirus pandemic and those becoming panicky and hysterical about it. Ostriches don’t look and panickers can’t see. A healthy response in the face of uncertainty is to stand our anxiety and use our powers of observation and perception until we can see the best course to follow.
“At the ACO we teach a functional scientific method, which we can apply to own lives: perceive, perceive, perceive until a conclusion spontaneously comes to you. It’s essential to see the difference between conclusions and observations to be sure our conclusions are based in reality rather than coming from misperceptions driven by emotions and blind panic. We need factual observations on which to base decisions.”
Dr. Crist notes, “One of the difficult things with any epidemic, any pandemic, is that it’s not just a medical problem; it’s not just a problem of understanding the biology of this particular infectious agent; it’s also a social problem.”
The ACO offers a multidisciplinary, functional approach in training doctors and others to look at the big picture and integrate that with details within disparate fields that include medicine, sociology and biology. Dr. Crist points out, “The process of functional thinking, which allows thoughts to spontaneously come up that mirror an actual process in nature, and, as taught at the ACO, can apply to any discipline. This is in contrast to thinking mechanistically, as if nature and people function like machines or thinking mystically, as if nature is unknowable and happens by magic.
“At the ACO we teach a key functional principle that keeps us rooted in reality especially in social interactions: what matters is not what is said or the intentions behind it but the actual effect of what is said or done. All too often, with the best of intentions, people act on decisions that have disastrous effects.”
Dr. Crist says, “We desperately need functional thinking during the coronavirus pandemic. A good example happened recently at U.S. Customs points of entry for people returning from Europe. It made sense to try to identify and separate out potentially infected individuals from those who were not infected. But the way that policy was implemented did not take into account the sociology of how groups of people move in an airport. As a result, screening stations at multiple busy airports interrupted the natural flow of pedestrian traffic, creating huge lines and crowds of people congregated in close proximity, defeating the very purpose of the screening in the first place.”
Dr. Crist says, “A social orgonomic perspective helps us see that in a pandemic of panic, anxiety in one person triggers the latent anxiety in another, much as one startled bird can send the whole flock into flight. That’s a natural response that protects the birds both individually and as a group, as long as they keep their eyes open and their perceptions sharp to avoid flying into each other or crashing into a tree. What a contrast with what happens in human mass hysteria.
“Another mass emotional response often happens when people are frightened and vulnerable. Again, it all depends on how people handle their anxieties and fears. Most people suffer personally with them. But some people cannot tolerate their own anxiety and fear and manage their own feelings by controlling their environment and everyone in it in ways that end up destructive. We call this an emotional plague reaction. Because this is the person’s unconscious means to manage their own anxiety, they are usually unaware of their true motives and rationalize their destructive actions with plausible explanations such as that they are for the protection of others.
“The term emotional plague is apt because the destructive, controlling tendency in one person can trigger it in another who is trying to lessen their own anxiety by controlling what’s in their environment — much as the infectious nature of anxiety. The ACO education in social orgonomy underscores the importance of understanding and diagnosing the emotional plague in society.
“Many of the extreme measures presented with great certainty as essential to control the coronavirus pandemic have hallmarks of an emotional plague reaction, especially in the ways they have affected life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The reality is that without more definitive information about the biological, medical and sociological aspects of the pandemic we don’t know what’s truly necessary. It’s hard to resist the impulse to act on premature conclusions; we need to gain a clear-eyed understanding of what’s actually happening and avoid unintended consequences.
“Again, without thinking functionally and seeing the broader picture, the long term social effects of the medical quarantine may be more devastating than the pandemic itself — the cure worse than the disease. In medicine we are taught ‘first do no harm.’ We need to think medically about social interventions as well.”
It’s important to note that the ACO-trained medical orgonomists approach to anxiety differs from much of the psychiatric and psychological community. Dr. Crist says, “We see anxiety as a signal that a feeling or impulse is blocked rather than a pathological symptom that must be medicated or mediated away. Anxiety is what people experience when a feeling or impulse is excited but lacks a satisfying outlet. In individual therapy, we help people tolerate feeling their anxiety so that they can overcome their blocks and get through them to something more satisfying.”
Asked about general advice to help people deal with this difficult time, Dr. Crist says, “For individuals it all comes down to managing uncertainty and handling anxiety. Everyone is different, so each person needs to do whatever they’ve found that helps them. Basic, commonsense hygiene of hand washing is advisable with any viral infection as is maintaining physical distance from anyone suspected of being infected, both of which also serve to reduce uncertainty about spreading the virus. Exercise is valuable for most people to discharge energy. Without outlets, pent-up energy will fuel anxiety.
“Dr. Wilhelm Reich who first developed orgonomy said, ‘Love, work and knowledge are the wellsprings of our life. They should also govern it.’ We need to put our energy into contact with loved ones, productive work, and gaining genuine knowledge about ourselves and our social world. That will all help manage the panic. We are social animals. Now more than ever we need contact with others. I’ve never liked the term ‘social distancing.’ It’s a misnomer that confuses functional realms. To prevent viral contagion, we need physical distancing not social distancing. In fact, especially now, we need to practice social closeness with family, friends, and other loved ones in whatever forms we can find.”
As a precaution, the ACO has postponed all of its events through the end of April. Dr. Crist adds, “The office is functioning, and we are still taking calls for referrals to medical orgonomists. We unfortunately had to postpone a social orgonomy presentation and suspend our monthly case presentation series, which is free and open to the public for anyone to learn more about our approach to therapy. But we’ve turned a number of those presentations into podcasts, which are available at the ACO podcast series (adifferentkindofpsychiatry.blubrry.net). Our website and book store also have a trove of knowledge on all aspects of orgonomy (www.orgonomy.org).”