» From the Masturbation Department
“Dr. Abelsohn, a general practitioner who was experienced only in much less intense marital and family counselling, has abjectly admitted to being far from the best therapist [for a woman with borderline personality disorder]… Because he found himself concentrating on each immediate crisis at hand, and the woman presented him with new ones almost daily, Dr. Abelsohn lost his ability to see or understand that there was a telling pattern unfolding in their sessions and that, in some significant regards, the patient was dictating what would happen in his office. As a result, he has admitted, he agreed first to give her ‘supportive’ hugs at the end of sessions, then ‘cradling’ hugs where he would put his arms around her as they sat on the floor, then to allow her to direct his hand to touch various ostensibly soiled or abused parts of her body. Ultimately, on six occasions, he yielded to her insistent demands that she be allowed to masturbate on the floor of his office. The picture he has painted of this strange scene – she lying down and stimulating herself while he sat miserably beside her, looking over and past her to the window, knowing in his heart it was inappropriate but unable to put a stop to it, and the two of them discussing afterwards how in her words the process had been helpful in erasing previous painful sexual experiences for her – was oddly compelling.” – The Globe and Mail (Canada)
If you have ever had to deal with a mentally unhealthy individual, you know how difficult the situation can become. Precisely because the person is unhealthy, he or she can make insane demands on you, and can be so insistent on those demands that eventually you start to feel as though they threaten your own sanity as well. You start to feel harrassed, invaded, controlled, threatened, and consequently you might give in to certain demands just to buy a little respite from the onslaught of insanity.
In a way, this is a normal dynamic – but what happens when the demands are of a sexual nature and the “you” in this story is a health-care provider sworn to abide by certain standards of conduct? How much aggression can a doctor withstand before his professional propriety cracks and reveals his own personality, naked and raw, struggling in self-defense like an animal?
This case unfolding in Canada represents a really fascinating example of the everyday psychopathology of the mental health-care worker. The doctor himself admits that he may not have been equal to the task of caring for this raging lunatic – and to describe her as “raging” is probably underestimating her. In addition to her daily crises, she took to stalking the doctor and his girlfriend. She claimed he was “perpetually erect” around her, which hardly seems likely since he suffers from a longstanding erectile dysfunction. Moreover, wanting to masturbate in his arms was certainly taking psychological “transference” a bit too far.
However, other doctors have probably coped with the same extreme behavior in disturbed patients, thus the question at issue in this case is this: Was the doctor simply unqualified to deal with her? Did his professional code of ethics weaken in the face of the understandable need to appease her rampaging demands? Or did he, as the prosecution alleges, encourage her autoerotic behavior? Did he derive some sexual titillation from her obsession, her exhibitionism, her onanism?
In most cases, you’d be inclined to take the cynical view and say yes – yes, he did get off on it. But given the unreliability of the patient here, given her aggressive behavior, and given that the doctor kept one hundred pages of notes detailing her disintegrating “therapy” – which would be self-incriminating were he really seducing her – people seem inclined to believe that he is innocent, or rather that all he is guilty of is professional incompetence. The jury is still out, but this looks like a case in which it is the patient who more or less raped the doctor.
To me, it would seem that it is easier for a professional to do this sort of thing than someone who is in a relationship with a demanding mentally ill person — he can simply refuse to see the patient if he feels it is going to a place he can’t control (or refer the patient to another provider). But then again, I don’t know the details of the doctor’s financial situation, or if it was a mandatory patient of some kind. ]