V for Victory – Figuring out Chapter 12

I feel fairly calm and I hope to remain calm, but I can understand my anger over Jaeggi´s Chapter 12 again. Maybe I will be able to point out what enrages me about it this time, so at the risk of boring everybody to death, here I go again.

1) Jaeggi is constantly making excuses for abusive therapists* and

2) Jaeggi holds a skeptical stance towards the victims and refuses to take sides with them although

3) Jaeggi persistently claims that therapists are stronger than their patients.

Second Trilogy:

4) Jaeggi says that the power imbalance is at the root of therapy´s effectiveness and

5) Jaeggi describes a way in which that power imbalance is created which I consider deceptive and abusive but

6) Jaeggi seems to believe such a cure is entirely legitimate.

Okay. Let´s just go through these points one by one and as concisely as possible.

1) Excuse-making

I do believe I´ve mentioned examples for this before. Jaeggi says that any therapist who abuses his therapeutic tools (interpretations, confrontrations, diagnoses, prognoses…) in order to put the patient down / to win a power struggle must be extremely desperate. In another place she says therapists might use such means in order to avoid grave humiliations. All their self-esteem, after all, is tied to their position of power.

I do not believe these are good excuses (see point 3 and 6), but these excuses are contrary even to studies Jaeggi herself quotes! She admits that many narcissists are drawn to becoming therapists, and she quotes another scientist who says that especially narcissists might be tempted to abuse the means they have. So apparently a great many abusive therapists do not turn to abuse because the patient really attacks them so harshly, but because they cannot take criticism or failure! Upon the things Jaeggi lists which might prompt a therapist to narcissistically abuse his patients are: idealization towards the beginning, but only small or no successes in treatment; the public´s low opinion on psychotherapists; fear of being seen through.

A failed treatment as a grave humiliation? Seriously? Do I have to feel pity now?

2) Attitude towards the victims

*deep breath*

Alright. This book isn´t about victims of therapy abuse, but about therapists. So maybe I shouldn´t expect the victims´ perspective to be a huge part of the book. Jaeggi goes further than just leaving out this perspective, though. While she acknowledges that abuse in therapy exists and that certain forms of it are quite frequent, this somehow isn´t mirrored in the stance she holds towards the victims.

She starts out mentioning a few accounts by victims, among them Flowers on Granite. She also describes how they were received by the therapeutic community, that is: As neurotic complaints. Then she writes:

And indeed it is quite difficult to judge those cases. Like with a difficult marriage there´s always two perspectives to it and outsiders are often – and rightly so – unsure how to behave.

Dr. Jaeggi! I thought we were talking about abuse here. The equivalent to therapy abuse is not a difficult marriage, but a violent marriage, and for the sake of your clients I do hope that you would know how to behave in such a case! What you are doing here is quote accounts of therapeutic abuse and wonder aloud whether it really was  abuse.

It becomes particularly problematic in an asymmetric relationship, though; especially if the power the stronger party holds is psychological in nature. We easily tend to give all our sympathies to the “victim” in such cases and talk pitifully about his/her ordeal. Then again, in most cases the victim wasn´t just a passive object and suddenly the tables turn: It was the victim´s fault. For that reason it is unwise of therapists, of course, to agree with complaints and devaluations of their patient´s previous therapists. Always act with caution when somebody devalues everything that´s passed and idealizes the one who´s currently there.

If there is any logical connection between those four sentences, it has evaded me. I don´t know if Jaeggi is just trying to confuse the reader or if she is confused herself. That inconsistent style is characteristic for all of Chapter 12, and that in a book which was fairly well written up until then. I´m refusing to believe this is a coincidence.

What Jaeggi does in those first two sentences is describe two different attitudes towards abuse victims. This is not a neutral description, however. Once again, she seems either to be doubting that we are really talking about abuse, or she is wondering who abused who, or to what extent the victim “brought it upon him-/herself”. She actually has the nerve to put the word “victim” into quotation marks. Two paragraphs later she will talk about the “powerful one” (meaning the therapist) and how his self-esteem relies on his position of power. Taken together, those two passages actually imply a role-reversal: The patient is the villain while posing as a victim. Subtly, slyly she devalues taking sides with the victim or meeting the victim with sympathy.

Then follows the most depressing part of the entire chapter: She actively recommends that therapists do not take sides with the victims of therapy abuse. She recommends that therapists do not validate the perceptions and experiences of victims of therapy abuse.

Jaeggi makes no difference between complaints and devaluations, suggesting that all complaints about previous therapists serve to satisfy a neurotic need. Her next sentence reinforces that message. She basically likens complaints about a previous, possibly abusive therapist to the neurotic pattern of idealization and devaluation connected to Borderline PD, ignoring the fact that it is well possible to complain about someone without idealizing the person you are currently talking to. I would believe that victims of abusive therapists would be very hesitant about trusting a therapist again. This also shows a tendency by therapists to be suspicious about any strong affects and opinions. Dörte v. Drigalski actually describes that phenomenon as well in Flowers on Granite.

Regarding the suspicion towards “strong affects”: Jaeggi says that she asked victims of therapy abuse to write down their experiences, telling us:

We expected vicious, acrimonious reports. We didn´t get them. Nonetheless we were shocked as we read those rather moderate and unremarkable accounts.

Well, good thing she was shocked by the victims´ experiences even though they described them in a moderate fashion. I just doubt she was shocked “even though”. Judging by what she has written before, I don´t believe she would have been shocked if the victims really had been “vicious” and “acrimonious”. She would have regarded them as neurotic.

Her expectation shows how she viewed the victims before she actually encountered them. As bitter, hostile persons. As villains.

And what if she found my blog, which is bitter, vicious and acrimonious?

***

What Jaeggi does in this chapter is admit that abuse in therapy exists and that the therapeutic community reacts to this with the same means the therapists used against the victims before: Diagnosing them, pathologizing them, discounting their perception and their ability to correctly judge actions and statements by their therapists. And yet at the same time Jaeggi suggests that victims are not really victims, that their accounts should be taken with a grain of salt and that it always takes two to tango, which culminates in the recommendation that victims who complain about their previous therapists should not be validated. So quite obviously Jaeggi shows all of the attitudes she observes (and half-heartedly criticizes) in her collegues. I just wonder if she is aware of this or not.

The result of Jaeggi´s recommendations and the underlying general attitude towards victims of therapy abuse is that those victims Do. Not. Receive. Help. They basically have nowhere to turn. I guess therapy abuse can result in just as many mental health problems as any other abusive relationship. And who cures those victims?

3) The power structure

I already talked about this extensively, so I will try to keep it short. Jaeggi claims that therapists are more powerful than their patients. I second that as far as the weapon arsenal is concerned. Therapists have many ways to silence their patients and from what we´ve just heard their colleagues will happily assist them.

Now please look back to the excuses made under 1).

Given how powerful a position the therapist finds himself in, just how incredibly weak must he be as a person if he feels he has to abuse that power in order to maintain his position?! Again, am I supposed to pity him? Nod understandingly? Poor chap couldn´t help himself?

Jaeggi quotes a colleague of hers who said: “Think of the most narcissistic patient you have. He is still less of a narcissist than the therapists.”

Seems there´s something to it. I guess the more therapists are engulfed in their position of power the more vulnerable they become. I guess many of them might actually be overestimating their power; at least their power to heal the patient or influence his behavior and feelings in a controlled manner. Disappointment follows suit, and their idealized self-image is at peril.

I always had a bit of a bad feeling when Jaeggi kept on emphasizing how powerful the therapist is. It did not exactly serve the purpose of evoking understanding for abusive therapists, right? Also, it contradicted her claims that therapists become abusive when they feel powerless. It would seem, after all, that the patient doesn´t even have the power to make the therapist feel that bad.

I wonder if, maybe, her own self-esteem is tied to the idea of having power as well. Maybe it is a weapon, a protective shield or a pre-emptive strike, which comes in the guise of a neutral, even self-critical statement. While I do believe the power of therapists is a fact, particularly the power to do harm, throughout her book Jaeggi makes it sound as if she and other therapists have severe doubts about their power. So maybe this statement is a form of reassurance, or, given that the chapter deals with the wrongful use of power – a threat.

Time for the Second Trilogy.

4) How does therapy work?

Nobody doubts that – due to the asymmetrical nature of the relationship and the regressive needs of the patient – the therapist is more powerful than the patient. It is the source of his ability to help the patient. Without the patient putting himself into the hands of the therapist there are few chances to heal him.

You have to look at these sentences through a magnifying lense. Jaeggi does not, as one might expect, say that the therapist is more powerful than the patient because he can help him. She says that the therapist can help the patient because he is more powerful.

This turns around the logic of almost all other professional relationships. A normal doctor can help you because he has medical knowledge, he knows how to recognize illnesses and he knows what medicine you need to take. A car mechanic can repair your vehicle because he knows how cars work. Doctors and car mechanics do have power, but that power is just a side-effect. A side-effect of their visible ability to cure illnesses/repair cars. It is not the power exchange that removes your appendix. It is not the power exchange that repairs your car. It is the professional´s skills. You give him power over your unconscious body/your car because you know he has the skills to make things alright.

If I understand Jaeggi correctly, though, in a therapeutic relationship it is giving the therapist power that makes things alright. The power exchange is not a side-effect. It is the heart of the therapeutic process.

5) Gained by deception, maintained by abuse

Why do people give therapists power? Because they believe that the power exchange itself will cure them? No. My guess would be that they give therapists power because they believe therapists, like other professionals, have inherent skills which will serve to cure them. Jaeggi herself admits such beliefs exist, and she even points out that they might be indispensable for therapy to have any effect.

The power exchange that is so vital for therapy to work is based on the  impression that therapists, like doctors or car mechanics, have any specific skills unrelated to the power exchange itself; skills which people who aren´t therapists do not have. And for all Jaeggi tells us, this impression is false. The secret behind psychotherapy is the power exchange itself.

The therapist´s power and along with it the effectiveness of therapy relies on a mistaken idea of how therapy works and what therapists can do. It is like selling a placebo as a miraculous cure and justifying it with the patient feeling better.

In the country I live in, that placebo is paid for by the gouvernmental health insurance. It is said to be scientifically validated. All this fosters peoples´belief that there must be something about psychotherapy that goes beyond what we project onto it.

So psychotherapists gain the power to help people by exploiting the belief that they already have that power. And even if therapy should be effective, even if it should help the patient I believe that this is a form of deception. A kind of con. It contradicts our basic ideas of decency.

**

Now please remember everything we established in the First Trilogy. The narcissism found in therapists. Apparently many of them aren´t as neutral and abstinent as they pretend to be. They are emotionally invested into their roles, and into their power. A power already gained by dishonest means.

In order to maintain their dubious power they are willing to manipulate, gaslight, threaten and otherwise psychologically injure the patients who trusted them, as Jaeggi extensively demonstrated. Knowing just how illegitimately they gained the power which they so fiercely defend I can merely laugh about Jaeggi´s excuses.

Extreme professional despair?  – The professional despair of a conman.

Fear of exposure? – A very justified fear.

In the light of Jaeggi´s revelations I seriously wonder if psychotherapy is anything other than socially accepted narcissistic abuse.

6) A complete lack of consequences

What I say above sounds like a crackpot conspiracy theory. I myself have trouble believing it. And yet these are merely logical conclusions based on what Jaeggi herself tells us. Jaeggi paints a darker picture of psychotherapists and their profession than any of its critics. She confirms each vicious prejudice the public believes about shrinks. And yet she still believes that psychotherapy is a worthwhile, helpful pursuit. Maybe this non-chalance is the biggest punch in the stomach of all.

**

I don´t know if the approach, the attitudes, the system Jaeggi describes mirror the reality of everyday life psychotherapy. It certainly mirrors the approach, the attitude, the system I encountered. Jaeggi´s book, to me, is the final proof that my case is not an exception. Neither did I merely encounter a few rotten apples, nor was it actually my fault. It is the system that´s rotten, the ideology.

But what, then, of the positive experiences others had, I had?

I´m not a big fan of discounting experiences that don´t suit my theories. I don´t want to believe that others merely fell for the deception, leave alone that I did. I don´t want to feel like everything my coach told me was coldly calculated, I don´t want to feel like she was looking at me and my tears and my conflicts through the lens of condescension. The thought hurts, it ruins me, it makes me want to hide somewhere.

I guess, I hope that these different experiences are merely owed to the multitude of approaches and theories out there. That there are therapists who are truly strong, honest and good counsellors. Who truly respect their clients.

In a way, generalization is the abuser´s last weapon. If minimization, denial of the abuse fails, they shout: “But do you think anybody else would treat you any differently? Do you believe anybody out there would respect/love you more, have any genuine feelings for you? They are merely better at deceiving you! At least I am honest! Are you too cowardish for the truth? Do you prefer to be deceived?”

I will not discount others´ positive experiences with psychotherapy. But I have seen many times how people used their positive experiences in order to discount other peoples´ negative experiences, and I will not put up with that, either. The fact that some people made a good experience doesn´t mean they are better persons. They have no right to look at me condescendingly and regard me as a more difficult, less reliable person who has, tee-hee, a whole lot of unresolved issues. They have no right to analyze me and make assumptions about my hidden motives. They shouldn´t think I´m more stupid or less self-aware than they are. Respecting me means to hear what I´m saying instead of wondering why I´m saying it now, here, and the way I do. If what I say makes sense everybody can decide for themselves.

I´m not targeting anybody in particular with this. And please don´t be shy to tell me about good experiences or about what was good about them. Feel free to talk about bad or ambivalent experiences, too. I´m as prone to confirmation bias as every other human being, but I´m trying very hard to look at experiences bar of any agenda.

*Everything I write in this post mainly applies to analytically oriented / transference focused psychotherapy. I´m not talking about CBT here.

 

 

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One Response to “V for Victory – Figuring out Chapter 12”

  1. vicariousrising Says:

    Gah! This all just pisses me off. Kudos to you for going through all this. I mean that sincerely. I wish I had a greater moral fiber to fight against this shit. I think it’s likely true that a lot, if not the majority, if therapists are charged up by their power over their patients. And that is their fucking failure. The minute they think they are above the people they treat, that is when they fail at their job.

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