The American College of Orgonomy would love for people to know it exists. Orgonomy, an approach to psychiatry originally described by Austrian physician Wilhelm Reich in the 1930s, has a long and at times controversial history. More recently it has found a limited following in the Princeton area, where the ACO has been based since 1986.
Expanding the college’s reach is a main goal going forward, says Dr. Peter Crist, the ACO’s president. Part of that outreach takes the form of free public lectures, the next of which takes place Saturday, February 1, at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts. The topic: “Right from the Start: Pregnancy, Birth, and Emotions.” Past talks have included “Personal Relationships in the Digital Age,” “Difficult People: Using Gut Feelings as a Guide in Relationships,” and “The Emotional Power of Music.”
All of these talks fall under the umbrella of social orgonomy, which, Crist explains, is “the realm of addressing interactions between people.” Medical orgonomy, on the other hand, targets the individual. It addresses a person’s “problems in terms of expressing themselves emotionally or living in a satisfying way with their emotions.”
The ACO offers training in both areas, Crist explains. To study medical orgonomy one first completes medical school and traditional residency in psychiatry, followed by several years of instruction on the theory and practice of medical orgonomy specifically and regular continuing education seminars. Training in social orgonomy is available to social workers, family therapists, and the like.
The study and practice of orgonomy today is still rooted in the work of Wilhelm Reich. Reich, a student of Sigmund Freud, postulated the existence of a previously undefined form of energy, which he called “orgone” or “life energy.” Orgonomy, then, is the study of orgone energy.
“If there were a one-sentence description,” Crist says, “it’s to help people function with their emotions in a more satisfying way.”
“Emotions result from perception of energy movement in the body,” he explains. “If we’re happy, it’s moving out. If we’re sad or afraid, it’s contractive. Emotions are literally the result of energy moving in the body.”
“Reich understood that one of the basic principles of life energy is that it moves spontaneously,” Crist continues. “So every other approach is looking at how do you get somebody moving, how do you get them feeling something, whereas our approach is, ‘things are going to move if you get out of the way.”
That is not to say that people should let their emotions run wild. “You can’t help what you feel,” Crist says. Emotions are controlled by a person’s autonomic nervous system. “But you can help what you do with what you feel. Actions are voluntary.”
“The broader thing is these principles about how people handle their emotions,” he says. “The way people block their emotions is really what determines their character. How people handle their character will affect how they handle their relations.” An important principle for orgonomists is contact, which, Crist says, is the integration of excitation and perception. Self-perception, or the ability to accurately perceive the energy stirred up in oneself, is critical for the individual. Contact also has implications for emotional relationships between people. “If someone’s not listening to someone else even though they’re all excited, they’re not making contact,” Crist explains.
“One of our important functions is education,” says Crist. “We’re living in an anti-emotional age. People look at emotions as pathological, or we don’t want to deal with them, and we tend to medicate or meditate them away.”
In practice, this means that the principles of medical orgonomy can be applied to individuals of all ages suffering from mental ailments as well as certain physical diseases, such as high blood pressure or asthma, that have more of an emotional component.
“It’s very hard to describe what happens in the therapy in a general way because it is quite individual from person to person,” Crist notes, so each case is approached differently. But, he adds, “because it’s not dependent just on verbal communication, because we’re working on how emotions are held in the body, we can work on pre-verbal children.”
Crist’s youngest patient was a 13-month-old. “The parents were in therapy with one of my colleagues, and they knew their daughter was in trouble when she started hitting herself in the head and saying ‘no.’” It turns out, Crist says, that “she needed to cry but was holding it all in.” Gently holding her jaw open helped her let it all out, and also accelerated her speech development, which had been delayed.
“Because of my work with children I very quickly realized that I couldn’t work with children without working with their parents,” he adds. That resulted in a sideline of work as a business consultant, in which the principles of social orgonomy are applied to improving relationships in the workplace.
In his capacity as a business consultant and medical orgonomist, Crist gave a talk last winter titled “Are You Satisfied With Your Work Life?” and offered several steps for finding an ideal career path (U.S. 1, January 30, 2013). Among them:
Identify your nature, which is inborn. Are you a natural leader or do you prefer to follow others? Do you prefer lots of person-to-person contact, or are you more comfortable behind the scenes.
Then, find work that fits your nature. Someone who is outgoing and enthusiastic might be well suited for a career in sales, for example.
Finally, find satisfaction outside of your day job. While finding a day job that you love is the ideal, it is not always possible. Do something outside of work that brings you satisfaction.
Crist is also a medical orgonomist in private practice in Ringoes. As a child, Crist moved around and ended up in Oregon, where his father retired as a family life and sociology professor from Lewis and Clark College. His mother worked as a secretary and led student groups with Lewis and Clark College and on American Friends Service Committee Projects.
After stints at Lewis and Clark, where he first encountered orgonomy, and San Fernando Valley State, Crist ultimately earned a bachelor’s in zoology from UCLA where he later also completed medical school. He went on to a medical residency at St. Vincent’s in New York, which he completed at Sepulveda VA Hospital in California. He returned to New Jersey for a psychiatry residency at and Rutgers Medical School and stayed in New Jersey, where he has lived ever since.
In 1984 Crist became a member of the American College of Orgonomy, which since its founding by Dr. Elsworth Baker in 1968 had been based in New York City. Baker was a student of Wilhelm Reich, who came to the U.S. in 1939 to escape the Nazis. Reich’s work met with some negative press in the U.S., and he was imprisoned in 1956 after violating an injunction by the Food and Drug Administration to stop the shipment of his orgone accumulators and literature. Reich ultimately died in prison, but he tasked Baker with carrying on the science of orgonomy.
Baker served as the ACO’s president from its founding until his death in 1986. That same year the ACO relocated to the Princeton area, where it acquired a property just north of Kingston at 4419 Route 27. That property is currently undergoing major improvements, fueled by donations from the ACO’s supporters — doctors as well as those who have benefited from therapy — and volunteer labor.
“We’ve raised about half of the $260,000 we need for the major improvements of parking and septic and all that, so we won’t be able to do all of it until we’ve raised the money,” Crist says. “If we succeed in growing then we’d like to build a new building. Our 20 to 30-year grand plan would be to need and afford a new building.”
A key to this growth will be attracting new doctors to orgonomy, and informing potential patients that this form of therapy exists.
The ACO is a one-of-a-kind organization, and since doctors have to return regularly for continuing education seminars, “most of the medical orgonomists are in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York,” Crist says. Some are further afield: one is based in Connecticut, one comes in from Oregon, and a few are based in Europe, including Greek doctor Theodota Chasapi, who will speak at the February 1 event.
“The founder of the whole approach was a controversial figure,” Crist explains, “so during his lifetime there wasn’t any problem with people being known because he kind of stirred up controversy. We need to find ways to inform the public that we even exist.”
One such opportunity will be at the upcoming lecture. Everyone, including expectant new parents, will learn about pregnancy, the mother-fetus relationship, and family.
“Orgonomy is the natural science of life energy,” says psychiatrist Susan Marcel, D.O., who is co-presenting with Theodota Chasapi, M.D. “The event is for anyone interested in improving the life of infants and children, including those who are expecting. We will also focus on the importance of relationships during and after pregnancy and how they impact the emotional health of a child.”
Marcel and Chasapi are both clinical associates of the American College of Orgonomy, among other credentials. The lecture will discuss how important it is to consider emotional health starting with conception. According to Chasapi, traumatic experiences that start in the womb and early after birth, while often lost in memory, remain locked deep within the physical structure of the body and affect us throughout our lives. She also emphasizes the critical attachment that forms between mother and child 90 minutes after birth, an extension of the early love relationship that begins in the womb.
Marcel treats pregnant women who talk about their struggles and then helps them discover ways to unblock the natural connection with an unborn child, a partner, a doctor or a midwife — anyone close to the mother.
“We work to find ways to avoid chronic stress and to handle any fears in a healthy way,” Marcel adds. “We want to help the baby come into the world in a warm loving environment, without fear.”
Notes Chasapi: “The need to live in a family is a basic, biological need, and a key way to express love. The mother’s environment greatly influences her emotional health and, by extension, the health of her unborn baby. This means the relationships with the family, caregivers, and others all factor into how the mother feels.”
“The make-up of women and how they handle emotions, impacts the unborn baby,” says Marcel. “If a woman feels cut off, anxious, or depressed, sometimes she doesn’t know where that’s coming from. We help her work through her feelings to release her anger, sadness, or anxiety so that it can be expressed in a healthier way.”
Admission is free, though donations are appreciated. The suggested donation for an adult (non-student) is $45. Reservations are recommended: call 732-821-1144, or register online at www.orgonomy.org.
American College of Orgonomy, Box 490, Princeton. 732-821-1144. www.orgonomy.org.
Right from the Start: Pregnancy, Birth, and Emotions, American College of Orgonomy, Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Saturday February 1, 4 to 6 p.m. Free, but $45 suggested donation. Register.
ACO Movie Night & Open Discussion, ACO Campus, Princeton. Saturday, February 22, 7 p.m. Screening of “Juno” followed by discussion with Drs. Peter Crist and Susan Marcel. Refreshments will be served. Admission is free. Donations are welcome.
Conversations with an Orgonomist, ACO Campus, Princeton. Sunday, March 16, 1 to 3 p.m. Dr. Susan Marcel leads an in-depth group discussion on pregnancy, birth, and emotions topic. Register. $75.
Are You Satisfied with Your Work Relationships?, Social Orgonomy Presentation Series, Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Saturday, April 5. A discussion with Dr. Peter Crist.
ACO Movie Night & Open Discussion, ACO Campus, Princeton. Saturday, April 26. Charlie Chaplin silent classic, “Modern Times” followed by discussion led by Drs. Philip Heller and Susan Marcel.
Meet the Orgonomists Series, ACO Campus, Princeton. Sunday, May 18. Small group discussion with Dr. Peter Crist on improving work relationships.
For more information or to make a reservation for any event, call 732-821-1144 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.