The Orpheus Program

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The Orpheus Program was developed a few years ago at the Anton Proksch Institute in Vienna, primarily for the treatment of addicts. It is not an alternative to existing therapies (medication, behavior therapy, etc.), but a supplement to give affected persons support and above all joy on their way to an autonomous, self-determined – i.e. addiction-free – life. Here the focus lies not on the shortcomings or problems of the affected persons, but on the experience of joy and new strength.

The basic idea of the Orpheus Program

The name of the Orpheus Program refers to the eponymous mythological Greek singer and poet. Legend has it that his song was so beautiful that even the appeal of the sirens’ songs paled by comparison.

The Orpheus Program follows a similar approach in the treatment of addicts: The effects of addictive substances are comparable to the songs of the sirens: They are stunningly beautiful and appealing – but ultimately deadly. The best way to escape the lure is to provide something even better and more attractive, so all of a sudden the sirens / addictive substances no longer seem that important.

What does that mean for the treatment of addicts?

By enriching life with beautiful and appealing things, a “reversal of values” is achieved – but this is not merely intellectually controlled, but also an emotional experience. People are in fact completely incapable of downgrading something that has a high emotional value for them for “rational reasons”. One can try, but it will not last. “Not ideas but emotions move the world”, write the two psychiatrists Michael Musalek and Brigitte Hobl: “Considerations and decisions that are not supported emotionally have no significant long-term impact on our daily life and experience.”

Precisely this is what is observed in addicts: They know about the dangers of drugs and all the related problems, nevertheless “the sirens” remain at the top of their emotional value scale. Musalek: “Emotional ‘down-grading’ is utterly impossible for us. The only option we have here is to increase the emotional value of other things so much that what was previously rated as high thereby loses importance and is pushed away from the top, in a manner of speaking.”

The basic strategy in the Orpheus Program is therefore to fill life with so much beauty that the drug loses its significance. Musalek: “For we are generally also quite incapable of relinquishing any of the three most important things in our lives in the long term – and possibly even forever, which is what we often demand not of our addicted patients. In contrast, virtually anybody can manage to forgo the twentieth-most import thing.” The Orpheus Program is such an indirect “down-grading program”, said the psychiatrist: Through emotional “up-grading” of other beautiful things, formerly emotionally highly rated drugs become less attractive.

What is a “beautiful life”?

The WHO defines health not as the absence of disease, but beyond that as a state of physical, mental, and social well-being. Well-being is, however, impossible without freedom – and it is precisely freedom that an addict lacks. Thus, the first step to a healthy life is to reclaim personal freedom. If this is additionally supported by the experience of joy, that is the ability to feel pleasure in life, it is called a “beautiful life”.

The objective of the Orpheus Program

Bringing addicts on the way to a “beautiful life” – that is the express goal of the Orpheus Program. However, what “beautiful” precisely means, is variable: What is beautiful for one person, does not automatically have to be so for others. However, the following applies as well: What one perceives as beautiful today, may no longer be so for him tomorrow – or vice versa. In addition, we can refine our capacity for experience, enabling us to experience beauty where we were still incapable to do so before.

Consequently: The therapeutic goals of the Orpheus Program vary individually. They are planned jointly by the therapist and patient, and may change again and again during the process.


In order to achieve the mutually set goals in practice, the Anton Proksch Institute has developed various modules for redesigning life. Here the therapist acts as a support and guide, not as a coach or a teacher.

Base module:  

  • Attention and mindfulness

The treatment program starts with attention and mindfulness modules. In these modules, it is not just about feeling, but also about physical perception of beauty. This is achieved by very simple stimulation situations, such as barefoot walking on a variety of grounds or the smell of fragrances from several vinaigrettes, etc. First, simply sensual perception is intended to be sharpened, because many sufferers do not possess the ability to experience sensations (anymore): In conditions of substantial insensitiveness (anesthesia), as it may occur e.g. in the context of depression, as well as under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a reduction of the sensory perception can be observed – or even a complete failure of the forms of perception.

The secondary modules are about finding one’s own life balance as part of a life considered beautiful:  

  • Body awareness
  • Nature experience
  • Creativity and art
  • Self-reflection
  • “Kosmopoesia” (shaping one’s own world)

As the final stage, the Orpheus Program provides “enjoyment modules”, in which each individual can develop his or her own way of enjoying and thus tap into a (power) source of beauty for his life.


Musalek Michael (2015), Behandlungsziel Schönes Leben – Das Orpheus Programm [Therapy goal A beautiful life - The Orpheus Program]. In: Existenzanalyse 2/2015


These articles might also interest you:

+ "Addiction-Like Working Behaviors" - from Prim. Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Musalek 
+ "Eating disorder" - Prim. Dr. Friedrich Riffer
+ "Alcohol at the workplace" - from Prim. Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Musalek 
+ "Alcohol Addiction" - from Prim. Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Musalek 
+ "Burnout as a process" - from Prim. Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Musalek






Prim. Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Musalek Anton Proksch Institut

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