My Personal Experiences with Orgone Therapy
By Roger M. Wilcox
Last modified 21-March-2006
How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the light bulb really has to want to change.
In 1974, as a young boy of 8, I was a light bulb who didn't want to change. To be sure, my young life wasn't a bed of roses. The local kids tended to pick on me a lot, even to the point of beating me up, and I took some of it out on my slightly-younger brother. I was becoming less sociable out of fear of my peers, and I was gaining weight. I had a vivid fantasy that I was a magical genie who had lost his powers at birth, and I would regain these powers if only I could enter "cartoonland" through an imaginary billboard in Minnesota. But I didn't perceive any of these things to be caused by some "internal" conflict or personal problem. That was when my parents told me they were going to take me and my slightly-younger brother to a "feelings doctor."
His name was Dr. Albert I. Duvall, M.D., a colleague of Wilhelm Reich when Reich was still alive. He was one of the more respected names within Dr. Elsworth F. Baker's American College of Orgonomy. And he was also a dried up, bitter old sadist.
I was always apprehensive about going to "doctors" as a kid. Often, this meant painful hypodermic needles getting stuck into my flesh. Duvall asked — no, told — me to get completely undressed and lie on a bed which he called a "couch" for some reason. He smoked quite a lot and had a hacking cough because of it. I was relieved — at first — when all this doctor did on my first visit was to briefly dig his thumbs into me or poke me in various places and ask if it hurt. Of course it hurt, and I told him so; it seemed obvious that it was supposed to hurt; but at least he didn't give me a shot.
On subsequent visits, though, he proved that shots weren't the only thing that a "doctor" could do to you that were painful. The little, probing jabs he'd given me in the first visit blossomed into excruciating thumb and finger pressure, applied to all the points on my body where it would hurt the most. I remembered how deeply he dug his thumb into the muscles right below my chin, rocking it back-and-forth the way one might twist the knife inside a wounded enemy, and I lamented that the human body was not equipped with a bone plate right below the chin to protect it from such abuse. I remember one session, in which I'd perhaps not been as compliant as Duvall would have liked me to be, where he told me, "Turn on your belly," and as I turned over he continued, "You're stubborn, aren't'cha? You're stubborn all the way to here!," whereupon he jabbed his thumbs or knuckles hard into the muscles in the small of my back and kept right on pressing as I screamed with pain. From that session onward, I fearfully yelped "Why?!" every time he told me to turn on my belly, because I knew what would come next.
Not every session involved pain. Sometimes there was just talk, and sticking out my tonuge or rolling my eyes and hitting and kicking, and breathing. Lots of breathing. Duvall gave me explicit instructions as to how I ought to breathe: exhale noisily, as though sighing, and don't "hold" my chest. I was afraid that if I breathed "wrong," Dr. Duvall would use that as an excuse to start poking me again, as he sometimes did. Each session became a nerve-wracking challenge for me to keep from getting hurt. Nothing else mattered. Do or have me do anything you want, Dr. Duvall, just don't hurt me!
My brother and I begged and pleaded with our parents not to make us go, but they were convinced it was for our own good. I suspect that if they knew the precise nature of everything Duvall did to my brother and I, they would have questioned the wisdom of their decision. It certainly wouldn't have passed the muster of Child Protective Services, whom I would have called if I'd known that option was available to me.
One time, when Duvall had been poking me in the belly and encouraging me to hit and kick the couch (He said, "What do you want to do?," which I'd discovered was Dr. Duvall-speak for "You'd better want to hit and kick right now or I'll hurt you some more"), I engaged his implied wishes with gusto, thrusting my legs upward toward the ceiling so that I could get a really good first-strike against the couch when I kicked downward. Unfortunately, in so doing, my foot accidentally struck Dr. Duvall in the face, knocking his glasses off. He was shocked and outraged, and I was shocked and terrified. I had not meant to do that. I told him it was an accident, but he didn't believe it. He slapped me across my own face (an action which, though it might sound reprehensible, was actually far less painful than the usual pokings and proddings he subjected me to), then told me to put my clothes on and never darken his doorway again. I was a little perturbed by this, but I complied — my parents might get angry with me, but at least I wouldn't have to go back to Dr. Duvall again.
Duvall must have been expecting me to plead with him to take me back. Because when I started putting my clothes back on to leave, he told me, "Oh no you don't! You're coming back, all right. Every week! Get your clothes back off and get back on that couch!" And when I complied with that order, he subjected me to the harshest, most exaggerated form of "therapy" I'd ever experienced. His usual sadistic pressure with his thumb and fingers became, I don't know, fifty times as intense and vigorous, fuelled by his vengeful rage, jumping from one vulnerable area of my body to another in a nightmarish mockery that even Reich would have been aghast to see. I pleaded with him that my kicking him in the face had been an accident, over and over, but it was no use. Finally, when I managed to gather my wits about me to think of a way out of this predicament, it occurred to me that I hadn't said I was sorry and that he might be waiting for me to say it. I hadn't thought of saying the words "I'm sorry" earlier, not because I didn't want to apologize — I would have done that and far more if I had known it would've quelled the Wrath of Duvall — but simply because I wasn't in the habit of using that phrase or being in situations where it was warranted. I'd always said "I didn't mean to" or "It was an accident" instead, and I'd thought those carried the weight of an apology in and of themselves. Dr. Duvall had obviously been raised to think differently, because when I finally thought to say, "Sorry about that," he backed off and said, "Yeah, it sure took you a long time to say you're sorry!"
Dr. Duvall was in the habit of unbuckling his belt every time he came in and sat down. This was supposed to reduce the constriction around his waist and thus allow the "feelings" to "flow" more freely. My dad liked that idea, and made my brother and I wear boxer shorts instead of briefs so that we wouldn't be wearing any constricting elastic bands. This strategy might have made sense, had boxers with snaps down the front been available. Unfortunately, snap-front boxers are very rare — most boxer shorts have elastic bands around the top just like briefs do. So, my brother and I got the worst of two worlds: we had to wear boxers, which in that decade were an embarrassment in the locker room, and we got our waistlines constricted anyway. (Worse, we weren't exactly in the habit of buying new clothes on a regular basis. The boxers my dad bought for my brother soon became too small as he grew, thus doubly defeating their original purpose of not constricting.) To this day I don't know of any evidence for short- or long-term ill effects being caused by wearing slightly constricting clothing, such as underpants with elastic bands, around the waist or hip regions.
Three other suggestions of Dr. Duvall's became household rules enforced by my parents:
1. We were to hit and kick on our own beds when we got angry,
2. we were to gag twice a day, and
3. I was to be put on a strict weight-loss diet of 1500 calories per day.
Rule number 1, hitting and kicking when angry, was merely an extension of what Duvall had us do in his office (without Duvall's Hands of Pain getting involved).
Rule number 2, regular gagging, brought me into conflict with my peers when I gagged in public, because my dad had told me that Dr. Duvall's recommendations were "good for me" and so I thought I was merely following a doctor's prescription, not doing something as socially unpopular as gagging actually was. I'm now also a bit worried that chronic gagging might be bad for me. I have not found any published evidence that regular gagging without vomiting is injurious to the digestive tract, the way regular gagging with vomiting is harmful to bulimics, but I have discovered that bulimics can get tears in the lining of their esophagus from the physical stress of vomiting alone. The fact that the muscular contractions of the gag reflex are part-and-parcel of the vomiting process may mean that gagging by itself might be physically stressful enough to cause esopahgeal tears too.
Rule number 3 resulted in a diet I did not want to be on, for reasons I did not care about, and thus I inevitably quit said diet as soon as an opportunity availed itself, afterwhich my belly grew quite fat out-of-proportion to the rest of my body, perhaps as an example of the old addage that "dieting makes you fat."
In a later session, Dr. Duvall brought in a medical DOR buster. It had eight slender hollow metal pipes sticking out of a small wooden box (6 to 12 inches on a side) that had been painted blue. Some of the paint had peeled or worn off, meaning that either the DOR buster itself or the box it was built out of was kind of old. A handle was attached to one side of the box, allowing Duvall to hold it with one hand, and a hose ran out of the back side of the box underneath the "couch." My parents later told me that the other end of the hose was submerged in a tank of water. Duvall told me, "You're going to feel a light breeze," and then proceeded to wave the hollow pipes over various parts of my body. I did, indeed feel a light, cool breeze coming from the pipes. My parents told me this wasn't a breeze flowing out from the pipes, it was a breeze flowing into the pipes, and was due to the pipes "sucking" out the bad feelings from my muscles. (A more likely explanation was that Duvall was "fanning" the pipes back and forth, possibly coupled with convection currents between the cold air inside the pipes and the warm air next to my skin.)
At the time, I was delighted he'd used this device on me. It meant he didn't have an opportunity to hurt me that week.
Unfortunately, the DOR buster did not come to my rescue for long. Dr. Duvall got headaches that week, and blamed them on the DOR collected by the DOR buster. (In retrospect, this seems rather odd; Duvall's office was lit by fluorescent lights, which orgonomists traditionally claim create oodles of DOR, yet Duvall never claimed that the fluorescent lights gave him headaches.) It was back to the old grind — and I do mean grind — of trying to fathom how I was supposed to be a "good" enough boy that he wouldn't hurt me. I can't help thinking that by the time I was 10 years old, some of this had begun to influence my behavior at school. I became the "perfect angel" of a student in 5th grade, doing everything our rather overbearing teacher wanted. I cried my eyes out the two times that year I had to take a bad note home to my parents. (My parents didn't punish me for these two minor transgressions, but that didn't matter. I was grieving these falls from grace.) I also wasn't terribly social, preferring to play-act my fantasy adventures alone rather than play with the other kids. With hindsight, I can see the analog in my behavior: "Anything, just don't hurt me."
Once in a while, Dr. Duvall had an apprentice named "Elizabeth" in the office with him, who would watch his technique or try her hand at pressing on me with her own fingers. I never did find out her last name. My only feeling about her was that she wasn't as threatening a presence as Duvall was.
Dr. Duvall occasionally used tools, presumably in an attempt to provoke a fear reaction. He had a pair of surgical scissors which had some ratchets on them, similar to the ones on surgical clamps which hold them in place so that they don't fall open. I don't know how common these are in the medical community or what normal usage they are put to, but I presume they are fairly common. He opened and closed these scissors in what I'm guessing he thought was a menacing manner, opening them and ratcheting them closed over and over. Finally, he bent over and attacked my pubic muscles with one hand, while holding the scissors very close to my penis with his other hand and saying either "Tear it off!" or "Cut it off!" I recoiled and screamed, of course — not from the threat of getting my penis cut off (I knew he had no intention of doing so), but because of the usual, excruciating pain of his fingers digging into me.
I recall another singular session — one in which I think I remember Elizabeth being present — in which Dr. Duvall had a syringe with a hypodermic needle. You may recall that, as many youngsters are, I was terrified of needles. He was toying with it, and I immediately got worried. "What are you gonna do?" I half-asked, half-pleaded, hoping he didn't intend to use it on me. "I'm just going to give you a simple injection," he replied. "Oh no!" I panicked. I watched him intently. The end of the needle looked like a hollow circle, as though it was more of a sharpened hollow shaft than a pointed rod. He was dipping this bizarre-looking needle tip in lotion that came out of a white plastic bottle marked Keri®. "Where do you want it?" he asked. Terrified, but resigned to my fate, I said, "In . . . in the arm," figuring that this would be far less painful than getting a needle stuck in one of my butt cheeks. "Would you rather I not give it to you?" he asked. "Yes!" I replied. "Okay, then," he answered, and put the needle in one of those needle disposal boxes that snips off the tip. "The law requires that I destroy them," he told me.
In retrospect, I now realize that the needle looked like a hollow circle because it had already been snipped off. I also now know that Keri® is a brand of moisturizing hand lotion. Dr. Duvall had no intention of sticking that "needle" into me. He was just trying to get my reaction to the threat of being stuck with a needle. Evidently, it worked. (Lorna Luft, one of Judy Garland's daughters, recently published an autobiography titled Me and My Shadows in which she describes having to go to a "Dr. Duvall" who threatened to stick her with a needle on practically every visit. Apparently, I wasn't the only one Duvall used this tactic on.)
On one occasion, I decided, before going into Dr. Duvall's office for my parentally-required weekly session, that I would try to stand up for myself. When the session started, I mustered what little gumption I had, and said, in a shaky voice, "If . . . if you try and hurt me again . . . I'll . . ." — my eyes filled with tears of fear — "I'll leave." I braced for his response, not daring to look Duvall in the face. After a couple seconds, he snapped back with words to the effect of, "Roger, your threats won't work!", and the session went on as usual. I never did work up the courage to actually leave. I sometimes wonder how different my life and my attitude would be now, if I had left. There were many times as an adult when I've been faced with abusive people, and in each of those cases, if I had even the slightest doubt as to whether I had a right to stand up for myself in those particular circumstances, I would back down — and then later, I would always seethe with frustration as to what I should have done or said, but hadn't given myself the chance to do or say. How much of this is simply due to a fear of getting hurt even more if I raise the hackles of my adversary? How many personal setbacks have I accepted as a given, simply because of this "appeasement policy"? But I have to remember, when dealing with the hienously complicated morass of events that shape any personality through childhood, that I was already afraid of getting hurt, and already had a rather low opinion of my ability to deal with others, over a year before I started going to Dr. Duvall. Duvall may simply have exacerbated something in me that was already there.
In Dr. Duvall's defense, I will say that when he painfully attacked my muscles, he would often say, "Let 'em go soft," and when I did in fact succeed in relaxing the muscle group under attack, his prodding no longer hurt. I'm sure that loose muscles don't hurt as much when poked as tight muscles do, but that may not have been the whole picture as to why the pain went away. He may have been pressing on my muscles less heavily when he discovered that they were no longer rigid. Plus, the endorphins may have kicked in by that point. I also feel that he might have been more easily able to get them to relax — if that was his real aim — by pressing on them gently and then slowly increasing the pressure, like one does in a deep-tissue massage. I suspect his desire to see my strong emotions outweighed any pretense he might have had about being gentle.
Eventually, Dr. Duvall had to go away for a few months to have open-heart surgery. I thoroughly enjoyed this vacation away from his iron grip, and even began to branch out socially and play with the other 6th graders. Whether this was due to the lack of Dr. Duvall or simply the approach of puberty, I don't know. When he came back, I had to put up with him again in a new office for another year or so, afterwhich he took ill again. This vacation lasted even longer than the first. The next news I received about Dr. Duvall was a note from the American College of Orgonomy which my dad showed me, saying when and where funeral services for Albert I. Duvall were to be held. I was 11 or 12 years old at the time. My brother was overjoyed. I'm sure he would've danced a jig on Dr. Duvall's grave, and I'm sure I would have joined him. But I regarded the news as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we would never have to go to Dr. Duvall again. On the other hand, now that my dad knew that he didn't have to wait around for Dr. Duvall's recovery any more, I figured he would now start looking for a new therapist to send us to.
Soon enough, my dad had scheduled a one-time appointment for me and my brother to see Dr. Elsworth F. Baker, founder of the American College of Orgonomy, in New York City. I was apprehensive about being in the same room with another therapist, for obvious reasons, but at the same time I was excited to fly on an airliner and see this "New York" place I'd heard so many things about. In Dr. Baker's office, I was surprised that he let me keep my underwear on. (Dr. Duvall had insisted that I be totally naked for every session.) He did some of Duvall's muscular armor attacks with his fingers, but without that sneering sense of contempt I often picked up when Duvall was doing it. He had me "scream," but at the time I thought a "scream" was a very high-pitched yell, like when the heroine screams in a Sci-Fi or Horror B movie, so I screamed at just about the highest pitch I could reach. (My brother later needled me for screaming like a girl.) I'm not sure to this day why it was that Dr. Baker felt it necessary for us to fly all the way out to New York City to have him examine us, since he intended to "assign" us to an American College of Orgonomy trained therapist in the Los Angeles area where we lived. Perhaps my dad sought out the opinion of "the best." Oh — and since we didn't stay in New York very long, the things I remember most about New York City were the steam coming out of the manhole covers in the cold morning air (Los Angeles does not have a subterranean steam system), and the fact that the walk/don't walk signals on the traffic lights were lit with red and green light bulbs behind the plastic, instead of neon.
Soon afterward, the American College of Orgonomy hooked my dad up with Dr. Carol Selma Stoll, and once again, my brother and I were back in regular therapy. Dr. Stoll was younger than Dr. Duvall, and as I thankfully discovered, less inclined to "attack the muscular armor" by poking and prodding. (She still did this, but with neither the frequency nor — mercifully — the duration that Dr. Duvall did.) However, she had been trained as a Doctor of Osteopathy and not as a conventional M.D., and this training apparently made her more susceptible to pseudoscience.
Dr. Stoll stated every theory she believed in with absolute certainty as to its correctness — almost as though it were an obvious fact. If I questioned the validity or evidence for her information, she would often turn it into an issue with my personality. For instance, once, our conversation drifted into a discussion of firearms. My dad had once told me that a "magnum" cartridge, such as a .357 magnum or a .44 magnum, was essentially the same as a regular cartridge of the same caliber with more gunpowder added to it. So, I said to Dr. Stoll that a .44 magnum was "just" a .44 with more powder. She assured me that no, it was entirely different. When I replied that, no, they were both the same bullet with a different amount of powder propelling them, she said, "Why do you feel this need to insist on things you're wrong about?" (I have since learned more about firearms, and have discovered that both of us were wrong. Had this altercation taken place nowadays, I probably would have looked for wepbages on firearms history and come back the next week armed with printouts. I would have admitted my mistakes, but I also would have vehemently pointed out those facts that I'd happened to get right. But I digress.)
Dr. Stoll also read a great deal into rather trivial preferences. I was a music composition major at UCLA from 1984-1988, so naturally, music came up as a topic sometimes when I was on the therapeutic couch. When I described a passage in a piece of music I was working on as building to a climax, and sang a little bit of the melody with great verve, she was gladdened that the piece didn't end with the musical climax but with a short "denoument" afterward. Not merely because she personally didn't like music that ended right at the climax point, but because she considered the progress of my music to its climax, and the denoument after the climax, to be an expression of my personal sexuality. A slow but inexorable build to a climax (orgasm) during sex, followed by a denoument afterward, was the "healthy" or at least non-dysfunctional way to have sex, and thus gave a good prognosis for the possibility of reaching orgastic potency (although she did not use this terminology at the time). Had my music not followed this healthy-sex model, and lacked a denoument after the climax, this would have indicated a sexual dysfunction. Or so Dr. Stoll's probable line of reasoning went. She also condemned Igor Stravinsky in his later life for "embracing atonality," not just because atonal music sounds awful, but because atonal music does not mimic the sexual model of building to a climax and then resolving in a denoument. Everything from my taste in music to, for all I know, my preference for pepperoni on my pizza, held deep psychological significance for Dr. Stoll — a significance that she could, and did, immediately jump to conclusions about with her usual unshakable confidence.
I suppose a therapist has to show confidence in order to get the patient to follow the therapist's lead. Confidence is one of the qualities that makes a good leader; your followers won't follow, and might desert you, if you seem unsure of yourself. And as history has proven time and again, even a bad decision is almost always better than no decision. I found Dr. Stoll's confidence reassuring. And so, to remain reassured, I came to believe many of her convictions about life, the universe, and everything, with the same absolute sureness with which she held them.
And one of the convictions she held was that orgone energy was very, very real.
But I should back up for a moment. I'd always been somewhat gullible to the claims of pseudoscience. With the exception of astrology, I must have "wanted to believe" in every pseudoscience under the sun at one time or another, from bigfoot to UFOs to life-after-death to psychic powers. Psychic powers particularly interested me, because if they existed it meant that I was harboring latent superpowers, and that I could unleash these powers onto the world if only I could tap into them. I even bought a book titled David St. Clair's Lessons in Instant ESP. I desperately wanted to have the power of telekinesis, with which I might wow the crowds and win the affections of beautiful women.
Then, in the summer of 1980, I went to Idyllwild music camp for 2 weeks. It was then and there than I kissed a girl for the very first time. But more importantly, I met a guy named Jim whose influence on my life, for better or for worse, I still feel to this day. Over the course of the next year, Jim revealed to me that he'd discovered a new state of mind which he called "Chronosynclastic Parapinibula" (a mis-remembered rendering of the term "Chronosynclastic Infundibula," which he'd read in Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan). When one was "In Chrono," so Jim claimed, one's powers of creativity and analysis were so dramatically heightened that one could easily deduce all the fundamental secrets of the universe, and almost as an afterthought, someone In Chrono also gained access to vast mental powers to bend the universe to ones will. He described how he'd stared at a fly on the wall for 15 minutes, resulting in the fly dying right before his eyes, how by staring at a suspended potted plant for some minutes he'd made it swing back and forth, and even how he'd wanted the top of a tall pine tree to bend and, the next day, it had become bent. Very few people in the world had what it took to enter Chrono, but, Jim assured me, I was one of those very few. Over a few days of listening to Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygene and discussing what he called "hypertheoretical astrophysics" (i.e. astrophysical theories about black holes and cosmology that were beyond theoretical in that there was no known way to verify them), I had supposedly gained access to this wonderful state of mind called Chrono and could eventually enter it in a heartbeat whenever I wished.
Needless to say, I never "mastered Chrono" to the point where I could move objects with my mind, despite my fervent desire to do so. But Jim kept my interest up by touting the potentially unlimited power of this superanalytical state of mind. I felt inferior to my peers in nearly all non-intellectual ways, and powerless in my own life, so I lapped up his sales pitches like manna from heaven.
Jim did have one crucial personality trait in common with me: he felt like he didn't really "belong," like he was out of place among the mere mortals who walked the Earth. I remember him telling me how he'd looked up at the moon and felt tears well up in his eyes, because "the moon is doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing," and he wasn't. He, like myself and most other people on the planet, had "fallen from grace," and not even his vaunted power of Chrono had (yet) allowed him to reclaim what he'd lost. He didn't put it into those words, of course; the garden-of-eden-like state that everybody is born with but that most of us eventually lose, he called a "straight line." The idea was that if you graphed all of a person's abilities — intellectual creativity, intellectual analysis, emotions, strength, stamina, etc. — on a horizontal graph, all of these abilities would be at exactly the same level with each other in a person who still retained the nature he was born with. They would form a straight horizontal line. At some point in most people's childhoods, however, something wrecks this natural order causing some abilities to become enhanced at the expense of others, and from then on the person can never again achieve true happiness. Their line is no longer straight. Jim thought he'd encountered someone who still retained this "straight line" through his late teens, by the name of Nick. He described Nick as childlike and simple and utterly confident, and of course the favorite with the ladies. He played the Nat King Cole song "Nature Boy" for me, and said that it was a perfect description of Nick, except for the part where Cole sang that he was "very wise"; Jim claimed that Cole didn't have the insight that we few Chrono-endowed people did to grasp what this wisdom really was. Jim even described how Nick seemed to be literally glowing in one high school yearbook picture (which was probably an accident of the photographic background, but that didn't deter Jim). I suspect that what Jim was seeing in Nick may have been the kind of confidence and charisma that people like Steve Jobs exude. Jim talked about the possibility of using Chrono to copy — or take — Nick's straight line for oneself.
So it was at this point, when I was a True Believer in Chrono, that Dr. Stoll first told me about orgone energy.
— Remainder of article yet to be written. —