MADMAN - John R. Suler, Ph.D. - copyright 1995

Chapter 12 - Cults


"Are there any questions?" Karmel looked around the room. No one moved. "Very well, we'll continue next week." He wrapped the bowl of his pipe against the ashtray as if it were a gavel. Court closed. As we left, he was still poking at his pipe, trying to dislodge those last bits of burnt tobacco. For a brief moment, I felt sorry for him. As soon as we reached a safe distance down the hallway, everyone started laughing. The graduate students, tagging along behind, joined in.

"I can't believe that happened."

"I thought I would burst out laughing."

"Do you think he saw my feet on his desk," I asked, hoping for some reality testing to quell my fears.

"I don't think so - he was too busy making his entrance."

"I want a copy of that picture."

"Me too. Maybe we should submit it to the newsletter."

"Great," I added. "Karmel would submit my head on a platter to the consortium directors."

"That's if you're lucky. If he really wants to be cruel, he'll make you take the neuropsychology seminar over again."

Everyone groaned.

"Anything but that!"

"Look! Over there! It's Dr. Finehardt and Dr. Rathus. We're supposed to talk to them."

"We are?"

"Yeah. We're supposed to ask them if we can go to that case seminar for psychoanalytic psychologists."

"Go ahead. You ask them.

"No way."

"I think Tom should do it."

"No thank you. I already got myself into hot water today."

"Exactly. You've got nothing to lose."

They ushered me down the hallway to where Finehardt and Rathus were standing. Embedded in my peer group, I felt fairly safe as we approached them. But when they all suddenly took one step back, leaving me alone to face the unknown, my heartbeat quickened. Finehardt and Rathus didn't seem to notice me standing at the edge of their orbit. Their conversation didn't miss a beat.

"... so he's over 120 hours into his analysis, in the middle of an intense transference, and the institute board tells him that they won't accept his analysis to graduate." A fire burned in Finehardt's eyes that matched her slick red hair and glowed in contrast to her conservative gray skirt and jacket. Rathus tugged at his trim beard as he listened intently.

"Why wouldn't they accept it?" he asked.

"They found out that his analyst's degree was in physiology, so they considered him a lay analyst."

"Physiology? Didn't the board know that from the very beginning? Didn't he tell them when he applied?"

"He did. He wrote it on his application to the institute, but apparently his handwriting was sloppy. They thought it said 'psychology.' I'm sure YOU know how it is with illegible handwriting."

Rathus straightened his neck, raised one eyebrow. The situation reminded me of an old joke: Two analysts pass each other in the hallway. One analyst says to the other, "Good morning." The second analyst thinks to himself, "I wonder what he meant by that?" I held back a chuckle. Somehow the changed expression in my face catapulted me from ground to figure - Finehardt and Rathus suddenly took notice of my presence. It caught me off guard.

"Um, excuse me. I'm Thomas Holden" (I briefly wondered whether I should have said "Dr."). "I'm an intern in the psychology consortium. The directors wondered whether we interns could attend your case seminar. They asked us to speak to you about it."

"Well, it's not really MY seminar," Finehardt said, "but, yes, one of the directors did mention that to me."

I paused because I wasn't sure what her 'yes' meant. Could we attend the seminar or not? She cocked her head and smiled, as if enjoying my predicament. She's the kind of person who attempts to appear polite, friendly - but you sense that beneath the benign facade hide some very sharp claws.

"Uh, so it's O.K. that we come to the seminar?"

"Unless the other members of the seminar have any objections. What do you think Dr. Rathus?"

"I don't believe anyone has objected. It's fine by me."

"How many interns are there?" Finehardt said, again flashing that bittersweet smile.

"Five of us all together." I pointed to my peers huddled together behind me.

"I count eight," she said sharply.

"Oh, three are graduate students."

"Do the consortium directors want all eight STUDENTS to come to the seminar?"

Her sarcastic emphasis on the word "students" made me feel defensive, and vaguely humiliated. I looked back at the graduate students for an answer, for some support. They just stared back, paralyzed, confused. Finally, one of them shrugged his shoulders.

"We don't know," I said as I turned back to face the tigress. She shifted her cold, incandescent eyes from the graduate students and focused them on me. I was sure she could burn holes into my face and could only imagine the sadistic horrors that twisted through her unconscious.

She looked at Rathus. "You know, I've been wondering about what happened to all the fully trained analysts who used to come to the seminar. I'm worried that the group is becoming more and more...diluted. Ed wasn't at the last two meetings, or Donald, and I haven't seen Lee in months. I worry that they're dissatisfied with the way the group is evolving."

Rathus seemed uncomfortable. He looked at me briefly, almost apologetically, but was drawn back to Finehardt, as if she had cast a spell over him. "I hadn't thought of that," Rathus said. "I know Lee is becoming more active in APA."

I found myself getting very angry. So what was the verdict? Was she going to honor me with a definite reply, or what? A hatred for this bitch welled up inside me.

"I have to go," she said to Rathus. "We should talk about this with the group - before it's too late." She threw me her sinister smile. "I guess I'll see you and all your... friends at the seminar."

"Wait, I'll walk out with you," Rathus called after her.

The interns and I trailed behind, easing into a slow pace to widen the gap between us and them.

"What was she saying about the seminar?"

"She was lamenting her dwindling narcissistic supplies," I said. The comment, of course, didn't make sense to them. Their thoughts were elsewhere.

"We're lucky we got in the seminar - but do you think they'll ask us to present cases?"

"Oh god! I hope not. It makes me panic just thinking about it."

"I don't know what to expect."

"No one expects the Spanish Inquisition," I added while checking my watch. "Gotta get back to the inpatient unit. See you next week."

This Dr. Noheart is a good example of what bugs me about some psychoanalysts - the preoccupation with status and credentials, a deeply ingrained elitism that spawns feelings of superiority and nose-thumbing. Are you a fully trained analyst from a first-rate institute? Did your personal analysis meet the international standards? Was your analyst analyzed by Freud (the ultimate medal) or by an analyst analyzed by an analyst who was analyzed by Freud (second best)? If you can link yourself, somehow, to Freud, then you get the stamp of approval. The funny thing is that Freud was never in analysis; he analyzed himself. So why do the rest of us have to go through a "full analysis" of three or four sessions a week for several years. What about less intensive therapy, say twice, or even just once a week? Not thorough or deep enough, they would say. Or what about people who all their lives were keenly introspective, who have worked hard on their own to understand themselves? What about people who were fortunate enough to have good parents, who are psychologically healthy, and, therefore, don't have too far to go in psychotherapy?

My supervisor Henry once applied to one of the oldtime, elite psychoanalytic institutes. Unfortunately, it was run by medical analysts who were not terribly fond of taking non-physicians into the fold, though they did make some exceptions for those candidates who bowed and scraped. Henry endured 15 hours of intense interviewing by the institute staff. They probed every aspect of his life - not just education and career, but also his family history, earliest childhood memories, sexual activities, fantasies, every facet of his neurosis he was capable of verbalizing. At one point he asked if he could use the bathroom, not because he had to go, but because he needed water. The analyst was waiting for him right outside the door when he reemerged. Henry knew what they were up to. They needed to determine if he was "analyzable." But he didn't expect such interrogations. At home, in the middle of the night, he woke up screaming from a nightmare about vampires chasing him. He paced the house until dawn, continually checking the locks on the doors and windows. It was a transitory paranoid reaction.

But he was hopeful about getting into the institute. The staff seemed to like him, they praised his research, they admired his motivation. Because the institute believed that psychologists, lacking medical training, should never practice psychoanalysis, he even agreed to sign a waver stating that he would only use his training for the purpose of doing research.

Three days after the last interview, he received a letter containing just one sentence, "The institute has decided not to accept your application."

Why was he turned down so curtly? ... Status and credentials. He didn't have any, or, at least, the right kind. It's a shame that everyone interested in psychoanalysis can't hang together. It's a shame that some people want to draw lines in the sand marking their territory and who is not "qualified" to enter it.

One of my professors in graduate school, a learning theorist who preferred the company of computers over people, once referred to psychoanalysis as a "cult." He claimed it was no different than any religious cult - rigid, narrow-minded, refusing to consider points of view other than the cherished belief system handed down from some charismatic figure. He contrasted it with his own beloved "science" that is opened minded, always questioning the facts, never blindly accepting anything without first subjecting it to an empirical test. Of course he believed all this not because he had studied psychoanalysis himself, but because his professors in graduate school told him so!

Which just goes to show you that science too can become a cult. People believe what they believe because other people of authority told them to believe it. Science has hypnotized us all into accepting its creed. It's a cult because it is founded on assumptions that have not and never will be absolutely proven - assumptions, nevertheless, in which the scientist places faith of a truly religious magnitude - a faith so blind and unquestioning that most scientists never give these assumptions a second thought. They do not consider the possibility that they have built their grand castles on shifting sand. Take, for example, the scientist's assumption that there is order, a coherent pattern of some kind in the universe; that there are an identifiable, finite number of causes resulting in an effect; and that the order of the universe can be discovered by science. Is this really the truth, or just a cult belief?

If I hold up a rock, then let go, it will fall to the floor with a thump. What caused that event to occur? Well, the obvious answer, according to the scientific-minded, is "gravity." Or one might say that the thumping sound was the result of vibrating air molecules. But is that really the complete explanation? Isn't there a much bigger WHY that must be answered? What if the rock had not existed? What geological events culminated in that particular rock? What if the floor never existed? What events led to that floor, to the building of which the floor is a part? And why did I lift the rock in the first place? What events led to my wanting to do this little demonstration, or to my very existence in the first place? Don't all of these of events, these infinite number of causes, intersect at one unique point in time and space, culminating in that rock falling to the floor with a thump? It happened for an infinite number of reasons. The whole universe made it happen. Everything in existence caused it to happen - which means there really is no "cause" at all. It happened just because it happened.

The mind works the same way. There is no cause and effect - just an endless array of processes wrapped around each other. Everything is multiply, endlessly determined. In his pioneering study of dreams, Freud concluded that a single dream, when probed to its deepest roots, expands outward into a universe of feelings, memories, and associations that has no boundaries. The dream is the tip of the infinite.

But the infinite is scary. Where do you hang your hat? We all need a cult of some kind to give us a simpler explanation, a place to locate ourselves - a sense of security. According to Freud, it's those very feelings of insecurity and helplessness in the face of the overpowering, unpredictable universe that drove humans to religion. And, for many of us, to science. We may all subscribe to different cults, but we all have in common the fact that we hate having the carpet pulled out from beneath us.

Of course, the big advantage of science over religion is that it gives us technology. Who can resist its treasures? Do you know anyone who would give up their car for a really good hymn?

to chapter 13



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