It seems as though the British establishment is under a great deal of scrutiny at the moment. Whether it's bankers, the media or BBC celebrities, they're all under the spotlight. Indeed, Nick Cohen in yesterday's Observer penned an excellent article suggesting that the British are engaged in a 'strange rebellion' ... 'turning on their failed elite and scourging their institutions'. There certainly needed to be, post-Suez, a reduction in the deference we paid to politicians; but I suspect the amount of cynicism around at the moment is a double edged sword. Too much cynicism destroys the trust we have in our institutions and each other. Maybe it's already happened, with the BBC the last institution standing about to topple into the mire.
Our politicians are often in the firing line, but there is one area of policy where I'd hoped they might redeem themselves just a little - mental health. This year we had an excellent mental health debate in the House of Commons with several MPs speaking about their own experience of mental illness. Today the leader of the Labour Party will speak about the need to stop making light of mental illness: Ed Miliband: time to stop caricatures of mentally ill He will commit himself to changing the NHS constitution so that individuals living with mental illness have the same rights as those diagnosed with a physical illness. This is good news. Mr Milliband is calling for a change in our culture and a change in policy.
But there is a problem. Whilst the Government has announced extra spending on young people's mental health services, dementia research and just last week an extra £50 million for dementia care, the overall picture for mental health services is of cuts to budgets and services, with only one quarter of people living with mental illness getting the help they need. So whilst our politicians talk about support for mental health provision we might be excused for being a little sceptical, even cynical, if that talk is not accompanied (finally) by adequate funding. Fine gestures from our politicians are welcome but in the words of Walter Mondale,'Where's the beef?'
Tuesday, 23 October 2012
I've just watched the BBC's Panorama. It investigated the decision by the editor of Newsnight to shelve an investigation into sexual abuse allegations surrounding the late Jimmy Savile. It seems the decision to pull the report was made to protect Savile's name ahead of several tribute shows the BBC had planned to broadcast.
Over the years numerous BBC people had heard the rumours that Savile was a child molester, and some had witnessed Savile's inappropriate behaviour towards children, but few thought to say anything and Savile's abuse of children continued for decades.
The amount of distress Savile caused can never be calculated. The victims are to be measured by the hundred. They included children in hospital, patients in Broadmoor, children in care, and BBC visitors, invited by Savile to join the audience of Clunk Click, Top of the Pops or Jim'll Fix It.
Good God! The man was a legend, part of my childhood, Mr BBC, a children's TV presenter, and all the time he was using his celebrity, wealth, influence, charity work and contacts to groom and abuse children, silence his victims, and avoid detection and prosecution. Watching Savile now I see what commentators mean when they say he was 'hiding out in the open'. How did he get away with it?
We now live in a society where safeguarding children is a high priority, yet still there are cases, like Rochdale, where social services fail to intervene and where a blind eye is turned to the sexual abuse of children. But in the 1970s and '80s, when Savile was at the height of his fame and at the depth of his depravity, our society was not at all sensitive to the problem of childhood sexual abuse. Repeatedly interviewees on Panorama said that whilst they disapproved of his behaviour it never occurred to them to report Savile for molesting teenage girls.
I imagine that many rock stars and celebrities in the 1970s saw the sexual exploitation of young fans as an entitlement rather than a crime. Society as a whole gave no thought to what Savile was doing, preferring to see his heavily sexualised behaviour on TV as playful and harmless. That's why it's shocking to watch: because we now see what was always there but what we did not see before.
And now the inquiries and investigations begin, and as former Conservative Cabinet Minister, David Mellor said on the radio tonight, 'blood will have blood'. Let us see how this unfolds.
Monday, 15 October 2012
Last week I wrote a short review of Psychoanalysis: the Impossible Profession by Janet Malcolm. This week I finished reading another of Malcolm's books, In the Freud Archives. An enjoyable read, finished in a couple of sittings, though I appreciate the book may not have broad appeal. It's about two Freud researchers, Jeffrey Masson and Peter Swales, and their encounter with the psychoanalytic establishment in the USA. It's a fascinating tale and high-class gossip!
The first researcher we meet is Jeffrey Masson, a professor of Sanskrit and unsuccessful therapist, who seduces the eminent psychoanalyst and long-time secretary of the Freud Archive at the Library of Congress, Dr K. R. Eissler. Very quickly Masson is appointed as Eissler's replacement and tasked with editing a complete edition of Freud's letters to his friend Wilhelm Fleiss. An excellent job Masson does too!
But whilst working in the archive Masson looks for evidence supporting his view that Freud's initial understanding of the etiology of hysteria was correct, that his patients had indeed been sexually abused. He argues that Freud abandoned this 'seduction theory' because of the hostility of his fellow medical professionals. Wow! The whole basis of psychoanalysis, the Oedipus Complex and Freud's theory of childhood sexuality, questioned by the new keeper of Freud's archive. Masson published his views in a national newspaper and was subsequently removed from his post as secretary of the Freud archive. Masson promptly sued Eissler for $13 million, settling for $150,000.
Of course it's not the sequence of events that's interesting but rather the personalities involved. Masson comes across as confident and charming, but above all - due to his frankness during interviews - narcissistic. And for that unwanted portrait Masson sued the author of the book - an unsuccessful court case that lasted ten years. Eissler comes across as totally devoted to his beloved Freud, but naive and easily duped. I'm reminded of the priest played by Richard Burton in the 1978 film Absolution: a pious man whose rigid beliefs are no defence against the wickedness of a murderous boy he teaches.
Masson went on to write two incendiary books: a hatchet job called The Assault on Truth about Freud's abandonment of the seduction theory; and Against Therapy which is an attack on the unethical practice and power crazed therapists Masson finds in every field of psychotherapy.
Another researcher graces the pages of this book. Peter Swales is a complex man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Freud and the origins of psychoanalysis. He calls himself a 'guerilla historian of psychoanalysis'. He too won the confidence of Eissler, who arranged for the Freud archive to gift him $4000 to enable him to continue his research. What Swales comes up with is the closely argued theory that Freud had an affair with his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays, that she became pregnant and that Freud arranged for a termination. So here we are again, Dr Eissler using the Archive's money to fund research intended to harm the reputation of Freud and psychoanalysis.
So for those Freud anoraks out there I can highly recommend Janet Malcolm's book. Beautifully written, full of wry humour and a nice partner to her other volume, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession..
Sunday, 7 October 2012
I recently spotted a tweet from my Twitter pal @RuthNinaWelsh saying she'd just bought Janet Malcolm's book, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession. Before I knew it the very same book was in my Amazon basket, along with another by Malcolm, In the Freud Archives, my next big read. I've a weakness for pretty dust jackets and books about psychotherapy and with the help of Amazon I've been able to fill two rooms at my house and office. The Marsden Therapy library! It will certainly fill a large skip when I'm dead and gone.
Janet Malcolm's book fooled me a little. This latest edition was published in 2012, but the book was first published in 1981. Very dated then. It started as an article in The New Yorker, where Malcolm has been a contributor since 1963, and it's been expanded to 168 pages with detours into Freudian theory and practice.
At the heart of the book is an extended interview with psychoanalyst "Aaron Green", a 'forty-six-year-old psychoanalyst who practices in Manhattan in the East Nineties' (3). The book is fascinating when it describes the views and experiences of Green, this 'slight man, with a vivid, impatient, unsmiling face' (3).
To increase the word count (I suspect) the opinions of Green become departure points for fairly esoteric discussions of Freudian theory and technique (transference, analyzability) and the competing revisions of post-Freudians. In the face of all these revisions Green remains completely loyal to Freud's original conception of psychoanalysis, articulated for Green by his contemporary, Charles Brenner.
The first chapter of the book is something of a potted history of Freud's discoveries, but after that the book becomes much more interesting. The interview with Green casts light on the politics of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, the eccentricities of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, the manoeuvres and bids for power and status of America's leading analysts in the '70s and '80s. There are insights too - on therapy, on Freud and on human nature - so I'm looking forward to reading my other Malcolm purchase, In the Freud Archive, about Jeffrey Masson, who did us all a great service as the editor of the Freud-Fliess letters and then did a hatchet job on Freudian studies and the field of psychotherapy with his two books, The Assault on Truth and Against Therapy
Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, London, Granta. Available from Amazon
Monday, 1 October 2012
Meanwhile a letter from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) drops through the letter box at Marsden Towers. The first 'Statement of Ethical Practice' and one in which the BACP echo the views of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) stating that 'practices such as conversion or reparative therapies "have no medical indication and represent a severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons".' It goes on to say that 'the diversity of human sexualities is compatible with normal mental health and social adjustment' and concludes, 'BACP believes that socially inclusive, non-judgemental attitudes to people who identify across the diverse range of human sexualities will have positive consequences for those individuals, as well as for the wider society in which they live'.
These two developments are to be hugely welcomed - victories against the homophobia espoused by the religious right in the UK and America. Unable to accept that God might have created gay people along with everyone else, the religious right push the idea that being gay is a 'lifestyle choice' and inherently sinful or pathological. In my view being gay is as much a choice as being left handed or having red hair. You may know that left handed people were once also persecuted by the Church whilst people with red hair are in a minority and subject to insults from a society with thatches of plain black and mousy brown.
Can we extend the metaphor and liken gay conversion therapy to hair dye for people ashamed of their red hair? Keep applying the dye if you must, but deep down your hair is still red and will emerge and be restored to its former glory when you're more comfortable with yourself and your natural hair colour. It's so you!