Morton Herskowitz, 100, of Philadelphia, a physician and psychiatrist who practiced Reichian therapy in Center City for 65 years, died Monday, Aug. 6., of pneumonia at his home.
Known as "Mort," Dr. Herskowitz was a self-styled practitioner. He never had a receptionist. He didn't own an answering machine, a computer, or a cell phone, said his daughter, Robin Heald.
"When his patients called, they got Mort on the phone," she said. "He would say, 'Call me between 10 minutes of and the hour.' He would answer even at 2 a.m."
Dr. Herskowitz didn't focus on analyzing and understanding emotional trauma. Instead, he followed the teaching of the psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, who lived from 1897 to 1957. Reich pioneered orgone therapy, in which stresses and traumas are believed to be locked in a patient's muscles and viscera, according to a summary by Michael J. Gelb in his 2017 book, The Art of Connection.
It is the task of the practitioner to help the patient unlock the "character armor" so that new energy can begin flowing and the patient can feel more alive and open to experience, wrote Gelb, a longtime patient of Dr. Herskowitz's.
"I worked with Mort for the better part of 20 years, during which time he helped me surface and fully experience the anxiety, fear, shame, and anger that I didn't even know I had," Gelb wrote.
"As I learned to breathe through the armoring, energy began moving through me in a new way, like water flowing through a fire hose when the kinks are removed. The leaves of the trees on his Philadelphia street corner always looked greener and the light outside always seemed brighter when I left his office."
Dr. Herskowitz, one of the last living disciples of Reich, trained with him starting in 1949 and began practicing Reichian therapy in 1952, his daughter said.
Her father was "open and nonjudgmental," Heald said.
Dr. Herskowitz was associated for many years with the American College of Orgonomy. In 1984, he became a member of the Institute for Orgonomic Science. He was recognized as a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychiatrists.
Widely published in medical journals, Dr. Herskowitz wrote a book, Emotional Armoring: An Introduction to Psychiatric Orgone Therapy, which was published in 1996 by LIT Verlag, a German academic publisher. A Greek translation is expected soon.
Born in Trenton in 1918, he was the son of Cecelia Krueger and Hari Herskovitz, immigrants from Lithuania and Hungary. The spelling of the family's last name was later changed to Herskowitz.
He grew up during the Great Depression, when his extended family lived together in Strawberry Mansion. His father sold apples on the street and signs that read, "God Bless Our Home."
Dr. Herskowitz had aspired to be a rabbi, but he decided instead to become a physician. He graduated from Simon Gratz High School in 1934.
He graduated from Temple University in 1938 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and earned a medical degree from what is now the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1943.
To pay his tuition at Temple, Dr. Herskowitz worked as a shoe salesman, and as a waiter in Atlantic City and the Catskills.
After serving a yearlong internship at Harbor Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., he opened a psychiatric practice in Philadelphia in 1944. Patients came from all over the world to be treated by him, his daughter said. He retired last fall at age 99.
He also taught for many years as a clinical professor of psychiatry at the osteopathic college and as an associate professor in neuropsychiatry at Metropolitan Hospital.
Dr. Herskowitz was married in 1957 to Karen Tuttle, a viola virtuoso and music teacher. Their daughter accompanied them on backpacking trips to remote parts of the world. He liked to document the trips by painting in watercolors.
He enjoyed classical music, tennis, the Phillies, the Eagles, Famous 4th Street Delicatessen, swimming in the ocean, cigars, and his pet cats, all of whom had Yiddish names. He liked to keep one present as he practiced, as an enhancement to therapy.
His wife died in 2010. In addition to his daughter, Dr. Herskowitz is survived by a grandson and granddaughter.