Reichian Therapist Morton Herskowitz Dies

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If you called Morton Herskowitz, you were going to get Morton Herskowitz on the phone.

He didn’t have a receptionist at the Center City psychiatry office where he practiced until he was 99, nor did he have a computer, a cell phone or an answering machine.

Herskowitz died Aug. 6 of pneumonia. He was 100.


Morton Herskowitz last Passover | Photo provided

He practiced Reichian therapy since 1952, the practice named for psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich. He studied with Reich for nine years, per a tribute from a former patient, Michael Gelb. Reich pioneered orgone therapy, which abides by the idea that stresses and traumas “stay locked in our muscles and viscera.”

“I worked with Mort for the better part of the next 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 in the tribute.

“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.”

To his daughter, Robin Heald, Herskowitz — who was married to Karen Tuttle, an acclaimed violist and music teacher — was an example of someone with a strong center.

“He was energetic but calm,” she added. “He was really kind of complex but kept things very simple, externally anyway. For example, in not having an answering machine, or computer, or receptionist. He was very hands-on in that way.”

He also had a magnetism about him, which Gelb would probably confirm.

Heald recalled going to her father’s grandniece’s Bat Mitzvah where he stationed himself on a stool outside of the reception and within minutes, people were flocking to him.

His nonjudgmental nature aided him in his psychiatry practice, particularly following Reich’s method.

“He liked making use of all his intuitions and helping — sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully,” she said, and “really having people have self-knowledge and just being their best selves, being true to themselves.”

The Strawberry Mansion native got his degree in psychiatry from Temple University in 1938, and later a medical degree from what is now the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1943.

He originally aspired to be a rabbi before finding himself more interested in his psychiatry studies. But Judaism was an integral part of his life. His grandfather was a Talmud teacher, and he went to Hebrew school like all the kids in his neighborhood.

For his Bar Mitzvah, he received one item: a catcher’s mitt that he loved.

“There’s no doubt that he identified as Jewish,” Heald said, “and that his whole outlook in terms of spirituality, in terms of just intellect, was really grounded in Judaism.”

His Jewish background also had a feline component: His cats all had Yiddish names, from Punim to Schatze.

One day she asked him what he would be if he was not a psychiatrist. A food enthusiast who always encouraged his daughter to expand her taste palate by trying different ethnic foods in the city, he answered that he would’ve run a Jewish deli.

“What I learned most from my father is to really take a step back when you’re confused, when you’re anxious, when you’re up in the air about something,” she said. “To know first of all, it’s OK not to know the answer to everything, to let things ride and to really trust your gut.”

In addition to his daughter, Herskowitz is survived by two grandchildren. 

mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740

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