To the editor:
My sincere appreciation to you for publishing, Tori Marlan for superb narrative writing, and Alan Jacobs for his keen insights expressed in the August 11 article “A Most Dangerous Method.” As a fellow in the American Psychological Association (APA) and as a licensed, but not practicing, clinical psychologist, I have witnessed the insidious and subtly intimidating methods practiced by those who promise and preach better and happier lives.
At annual APA meetings, I attended both formal and informal sessions on “new” methods of psychotherapy. I would estimate that about a third of these attracted groups that I would call cults, bound together by an undefined amalgam of witchcraft, secular theology, a sprinkle of others’ psychological theory, and a garnish of research–all under a humanistic banner and marketed as a breakthrough in treatment. The leaders and the brainwashed PhDs, like religious fanatics, could tolerate no dissent from the originators and leaders.
I often wonder how many lives, both personal and professional, these horrible people ruined. Yes, I agree with Mr. Jacobs that the etiology of subservience is common to the emergence of Nazism: quick solutions given by charismatic leaders who instill in the potential converts beliefs in their omnipotence that can be achieved only by deferring all value and action decisions and guidance–and their own wills–to their leaders.
Nearly 40 years ago, I was a Department of Defense project officer on a contract with the Psychometric Laboratory at the U. of Chicago. On one visit to the laboratory, I sneaked into a Bruno Bettelheim lecture, and I was horrified.
With his Germanic accent and sadistic demeanor, he resembled, to me at least, the second coming of Adolf Hitler. He constantly insulted his students (almost all of whom were women) and mocked other psychologists’ and psychiatrists’ theories and treatment recommendations for autistic children. His students’ reactions? Almost complete adoration and devotion.
The verbal whippings, they seemed to believe, were signs of his power and wisdom and love of both them and autistic children. These students were under his spell. I later was better able to understand how Charles Manson attracted his followers and made them his willing murderers and torturers. Similar to the segment of transactional analysis adherents described in the article? Absolutely.
As Tori Marlan and Alan Jacobs conclude, beware of those who defend their sadism on the grounds of bettering society and promoting truth.