Monday, February 05, 2007

“Analyze This” meets “The Secretary”

Choosing a therapist can often be a minefield. Finding a ‘good fit’ with a health professional becomes more difficult when it involves the workings of our mind and untangling the many psychological layers we form in our need to survive the world we inhabit. Let’s be honest – few people enjoy therapy. It is uncomfortable to disarm the protections we have adopted. A good therapy session is rarely about a pleasant chat and a cup of tea.

Despite professional regulation of psychologists in this country, it can be hard to find a ‘good’ one. Some of it is just personal, but despite all the checks and balances there are some individuals who really fall through the gaps.

Take the case of Perth psychologist, Bruce Beaton. With a little digging you can find evidence that he is well experienced and generally respected. Respected that is until, the case where he diagnosed a client as ‘suffering from’ BDSM. If this was a movie it would be “Analyze This” meets “The Secretary”.

According to the Australian, reporting on his current trial, a police sting uncovered the use of whips, coat hangers and orders via SMS, in his attempts to cure a young bulimic woman of her problems.

There can be little doubt that the extent of his ‘role playing’ over stepped professional boundaries and has no doubt damaged his vulnerable client further but what has really got his colleagues all of a twitter is to whether liking some bondage and discipline is a psychological condition or a lifestyle choice. The profession says emphatically it is all about lifestyle, there is no compulsion or illness underlying the desire to be restricted, beaten, controlled or finding pleasure in pain.

While I’ve known a number of men (and a few women) who get sexual enjoyment out of what others would perceive of pain when they are in the state of sexual arousal or get turned on by being submissive, I have also encountered the odd individual who’s ‘lifestyle choice’ enters the zone of pathology.

Take, for the sake of anonymity, “Gary”. Gazza, was a frequent caller to a telephone counselling service I partook in a long, long time ago. While women were warned it was common to get men calling purely to get their jollies off, Gazza was a little different. I’m guessing he was in his late 20’s at the time, educated by priests at a notorious catholic school and decidedly single. Gazza repeatedly needed to call to talk about the effect that corporeal punishment had had on his life. The brothers had often beaten him with a strap. The effect of this kind of outdated discipline had eroded the self esteem of what was likely to have been a very sensitive boy. As an adult he needed to relive the treatment, frequently. While Gazza could have been discounted as yet another sad-arse masturbator (of which there were many) who got off talking to young, relatively inexperienced women on a crisis line – unlike many of the other sexually excited callers what he exhibited was severe psychological damage. Gazza needed to ‘demonstrate’ the blows that he had repeatedly experienced at school. What part of his body the strap landed on, if we hadn’t managed to derail him from his call, he never described. Gazza was not sexually explicit, unlike the other blokes he never had an opening gambit of “what colour are your knickers”, he was never looking for stimulation from the person on the other end of the line. What Gazza needed was a witness. He needed someone to validate his pain that had been transmuted at some point into erotic pleasure. Sure I was young and only minimally trained in counselling. Our role was to listen and refer any people with real issues to appropriate professional services. But to this day I wont forget Gazza, or discount his affliction as one of choice.

What Bruce Beaton allegedly did was not professional, legal or ethical. But does a faulty treatment disprove a diagnosis?


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