Ask Dr. Salvo
May 10, 1994
Hail Doctor Salvo,
Wisest of Sages, I come to you with a problem of both memories and categories. As do most people with problems, I must go around the world telling its circumstances, so let us press on.
The conundrum started simply enough at a local psychotherapy conference. Like most conferences it was so dull as to stifle the imagination and induce sleep. It was better than some but still sufficient to produce a mild hypnotic stupor, particularly in the second hour.
Although the subject was something else the discussants seemed bent on linking all their therapeutic problems with incest, childhood sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Every lecture dealt on these themes with one speaker outdoing another on the miraculous ways their own brand of treatment uncovered the unspeakable, cured it on the spot and extinguished the offending behaviors in distant third parties.
I sat listening for a while but soon it reminded me of all the wondrous ways people had been shrunk through the years. One thing led to another: I spent the morning dwelling on mesmerism, animal magnetism, Freud's pressing the forehead, Cayce's trances and Rank's orgone box.
Most of the time I reminisced on my favorite methodology. This is one of many recorded in the 1840's by the father of modern piscotherapy, Dr. H. Finn. Dr. Finn was a great traveler who observed and saved for posterity the esoteric psychotherapies found among the natives of the Mississippi River basin.
Finn was the first reporter of what is now known as mega group therapy. According to his notes Drs. King and Duke (or was it Earl?) cured an entire town of melancholy using this technique combined with advanced dance therapy and body paint therapy.
I was awakened just at the part where umbrage was taken at their delicate psychotherapeutic fee collection skills. There were murmurs of tar and feathers in the dream background as I placed my mental bookmark and dutifully filed out for lunch.
This in itself would have been difficult to stomach but for my good fortune of dining with four charming ladies of impeccable aptitude and wit. They were both beautiful and kind. Their only flaw was the fact they all insisted on rehashing the morning's lectures point by point. As I'd missed most of their earlier observations in my morning stupor I had little to contribute.
I would have rather changed the subject in time hallowed Mobile tradition but, realizing I was outnumbered, said nothing. Instead, I wisely sat stroking my chin as all good therapists do when they know little but wish to appear erudite. (As you know Salvo, I am, in the vernacular, "ate up with eruditeness"). I hummed softly to myself a wordless little song I'd learned at the feet of that master of hum therapy, Dr. W. Pooh.
I didn't doze off, but was fully and completely alert (as one must be when eating the obligatory green beans and sweet potatoes served at such repasts). And this is why I was so frightened at the upsurgence of memory threatening to overwhelm me. Memories from childhood came flooding back so strongly they nearly drowned me with their poignant emotion. Never again will I doubt the term "flashback." Dreams, even vivid ones I can deal with, but not post traumatic memories such as this.
One of the therapists was talking about the difficulty she was having dealing with a movie she'd seen about child molestation. She talked about how the abuser (or "perpetrator" in therapese) was the last person you would suspect (the butler, of course), and how we as therapists must always be alert. We must be ever vigilant to dig and probe at the memories lest a single stone be left unturned.
We all nodded and anther lady spoke, telling how in her perception we must convince our patients (I'm sorry Salvo, my typewriter can't spell the world "clients") to bring charges, no matter what the cost to ourselves or patients.
The third lady told a sordid story of how she herself had been molested at age three by her pet cocker spaniel. She'd neer remembered it until she was playing scrabble the night after a particularly difficult therapy case went to trial. She'd been so upset by the whole matter she'd divorced her husband and given him custody of their doberman (both of whom so resembled the spaniel she couldn't bring herself to forgive either one).
The fourth lady gave a long and rather disjointed explanation of why we could never trust men. Sisters have to protect each other et cetera. (At this point I wondered if she was astigmatic. Maybe she mistook me for a particularly estrogen-deficient Sister.) Finally she finished and burst into tears of righteous indignation.
-- Here our Editor omits two pages--
It happens that our editor from Tau Ceti, known as "E.T.," exercised his editorial privilege and Bobbitized your letter before it ever arrived at the question. Never mind; you have had medical students to lecture, and have had one get up and enunciate a question so long it passed through thesis, anti- thesis, and synthesis -- that is, it became a minilecture, not a question, and certainly could not be answered, though perhaps rebutted. For some extragalactic reason this reminds me of a parable:
An old professor was retiring, and having a farewell chat with the young professor succeeding him. He said, "Son, there will be times when you have surpassed yourself with a lecture so cogent, profound, inspiring and indisputable that you realize it is the best of your best. Surely it will elicit a response equivalent in appreciation and understanding. At the end of the lecture one student stands and asks a silly question. Cleave to him. He is the only one who was listening."
Now your questions are not silly, only a bit bizarre and often so elusive and allusive that Salvo must stretch his corpus callosum to accommodate the right and left aspects of the question, or synthesize the logical with the poetical sides.
Having dutifully performed said contortions, Salvo concludes Possum is asking a real question. It is: "What's all the fuss in therapy-land about childhood sex, perpetretors., calculators, and astrogators? "How did infantile sexual molestation become the big hit it already had been around 1900, only to be forgotten??? How did it become self evident that these repressed memories of sexual mistreatment would forever exert their baleful effects unless thoroughly exorcised by endless discussion, in groups and in dyads?
I suggest the question is related to the prevalence of frivolous lawsuits in this country, said epidemic being itself based upon the overpopulation and over crowding of lawyers needing work. It seems there are now five or six hundred types or schools of psychotherapy, none of which can claim to have all the answers. Most of their practitioners are well endowed with what it takes to sell snake oil, and their minds are untroubled by any hard knowledge of how the human personality and mind develops and firmation. Their plight resembles that of our lawyers. They have a solution to their difficulty as follows: When an Englishman can't be sure of the proper pronunciation of a new word, he pronounces it wrong, but loudly and with assurance. This is what the therapists in their thousands are doing: They know very little of the subject they profess, so they pick out some element long ago discredited and speak of it loudly and often. The public buys it, too, so it gets thicker, and deeper.
It is common experience that some of us recover from a traumatic experience by forgetting it (ditto with those who have had a psychotic break), while others recover better through repeated recall and a "talking out" catharsis of the event. The latest therapists who have the true wisdom on this issue might at least ask the patient: "Would you prefer to put all this behind you, if you can? Or do you prefer talking it out, getting it out of your system?"
The most pernicious side effect of the pseudo-certainty about sexual experience in childhood is the suggested "recall" of events allegedly having occurred at age one or two on up, at the hands of the parents, uncles, aunts, ministers, and butlers. Fortunately a healthy reaction against all this dangerous gullibility has set in, both in the courts and in the clinics.
Possum, I regret we did not have room for all of your question(s). Maybe next time--
P.S. I am not at all overlooking the merits of the alternative approach you recommend for the exorcism of fixed fish-stories, that is Dr. S. Clemens's psychopiscatorial psycho-drama and life-raft existential exegesis, both of which deserve a wider audience than you and me, wide as we are. I am taking it under consideration and will send you a note in the bottle. A Phillips blue bottle.....Salvo.
Dear Dr. Salvo,
Hank Shiver's attempts to think logically would be humorous coming from a child. Knowing he's an adult makes it more poignant than funny.
He starts off saying that we are "demanding that The Harbinger become an irrational tool of the religious community."
Then he quotes some statistics on the number of Catholic priests who have broken their vows of celibacy, as if that had anything to do with anything else he says.
I'll say it plainly, Dr. Salvo: All we are asking is a forum in which to exercise our rights of free speech. We write letters to the Harbinger, and the Harbinger is free to publish us or not. I do not know and cannot speak for the other Christians who write, but for myself I can heartily encourage you to NOT publish our letters unless you feel we have something valuable to say.
Sister Chastity (whose initials I suspect are A.C.S.) makes a somewhat better point, or at least a more coherent one.
It's true that religious practice is less easily avoided than horoscopes and palmistry, especially here in the south. I agree with her that a non-Christian should not have to bow for prayer at a public meeting. In meetings where people can reasonably be expected to represent a variety of beliefs, no single one should be practiced.
On the other hand, non-Christians ask us to be tolerant of their views, and I ask the same of them. We have to countenance the practice of legalized infanticide in the "women's clinics" she mentions. We are told that profane, misogynistic and violent gangsta rap is "free speech," but our opinions -- because they are based on religious belief -- are not worthy of a public hearing, as if opinions based on religious disbelief are more objective.
We are not forcing anyone to come into our churches. We are not forcing anyone to contribute financially to our endeavors. But we do have the right to express our beliefs, including the protest of abortion, and will continue to do so. I don't believe protest should extend to harassment or assault, but pro- lifers have every right to peacefully picket clinics.
We live in the only country on earth where a wide variety of races and cultures are attempting to live together peaceably. Because there is such a range of belief and practice here, it is inevitable that people of one creed will often encounter people of another, or of none.
To what extreme is the Sister suggesting we go? Should we require that no church display a cross on its property if it can be seen from the street? Should we require that no church use the words "God," "Jesus," "Christ," "Mary," "Cross," "Holy" or "Trinity" in its name?
The very idea of religious belief offends some people. Maybe we should abolish houses of worship of any faith altogether and require believers to meet secretly in private homes -- to avoid offending the atheists and deists, you understand.
As long as people are intent on being offended, we will continue to have conflicts. I am not offended when atheists write to you and express their opinions. Why should they be offended at mine? I'm all for letting the Muslims, Jews and anyone else worship in peace in their own way, and if someone prefers to not worship at all, that's fine by me too.
I'm not trying to force my views or standards on anyone, just express them in a public forum. My beliefs may put me in the minority among your readers, but I assure you I am...
P.S. I hope Ellen Gilchrist and Dancing Rabbit will write back because, although I can't speak for them, I don't recall them saying anything resembling what Hank accuses them of saying. And he has the gall to accuse ME of lying!
I admire the way you persist in your effort to enlighten Reverend Shiver and his pals, but feel sure it is hopeless." It recalls some verses:
"Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and saint, and heard great argument
About it and about, but evermore
Came out by that same door where in I went."
So, Q.R., while I praise your perseverance and sincerity, I feel like suggesting you (and other good correspondents) explore other subjects for debate. Even politics, perhaps, or something other than religion? Of course, I suspect a person is a democrat for reason as deeply unconscious as those determining his choice of spouse and vocation. Still, we need a little more leeway in these columns than we can have by too much preoccupation with religious questions. Rest assured the Harbinger will keep the forum open for religious views and issues, and Salvo will support such a stance. Meanwhile, I will not give space to Rev. Shiver & Co. until he sends in a letter about the odds in shooting craps. Plus the moral and ethical ground for never drawing to an inside straight.
P.S. I agree with most of your letter.
Is your research assistant, Tim, still among the living? I can't believe that spring has sprung till he verifies it.
Yes, I live and breathe, and I make observations. The spring peepers have been usurping the airwaves for 5-6 weeks. This called forth an ancient box turtle who visits our front yard every year. Then a couple of tree frogs took up residence on a door, a window, a window box. Lizards have awakened everywhere.
The dewberres came on in force, and have duly been converted to breakfast yogurts, fresh berry pies, and cobblers. Three weeks ago we picked some magnolia frescate out of a neighbor's yard. Blueberries are now ripe!
A trip to Dauphin Island shell mounds with the Bird Lady yielded up: Scarlet tanagers, prothonotary warblers, bobolinks, vireos, hummingbirds, rose breasted grosbeaks, et al. An owl bigger than myself has been feeding on the ground across the creek. A very attractive lady dachshund has moved in on our block. Thank the Lord -- this place was a social desert!
May 10, 1994