Sometimes my path leads me into areas where I feel exposed, uncomfortable, and without a lot of obvious support.

I depend in the end on the feel of the path beneath my feet and the knowledge that I am not the first to come this way, and likely not the last.

Procrustean Therapy

The incident described here took place more than ten years ago. While the technique reported by my client is now largely discredited, many of its key characteristics are still present in techniques used today, if anecdotal evidence from clients is worth anything.

Effectively, a client is being asked, on "expert" authority, to distrust the evidence of their own remembered experience, of their own feelings, in such a way as to replace them with an experience of being abused.

Typically in this new and strange world constructed by the therapist, where one's own experience and one's own impulses are not to be trusted, the therapist wields enormous power as a map maker, as an interpreter of events. If a camel is a horse put together by a committee, the agendas that structure some forms of psychotherapy produce results at least as strange to the onlooker.

A young woman came to see me on the recommendation of a common acquaintance, and she spoke of her experiences with a sexual abuse counsellor from an old-established and reputable agency. She had approached the counsellor in respect of an incident that had occurred, as best she could remember, just before she started school. She wondered whether it might have had any bearings on difficulties she was presently experiencing with her sexuality.

For reasons I am not clear about, and no more was she, the counsellor told her that the incident "must have been more recent than that". When my client was unable to recall any such incident, she was told that she must be "blocking" the experience, and the counsellor then helped her to "recall" it.

It took its place in a context in her life where it might plausibly have been found, and she was certain at the time she was counselled that it must indeed have taken place. This despite the total agreement among all her circle of friends and acquaintances that such an event had never occurred.

In the time since then, she had become just as certain that the events "recalled" were invented by her. She now felt somewhat confused and vulnerable in her relationships with the people who were part of that context. She was not the first or the last client to have told me a similar story.

I found myself telling her about Procrustes the bandit and his iron bed to which he strapped his victims. Those that were too long for the bed, he cut to size, and those that were too short, he stretched until they fitted. There were also a few who managed a comfortable night being near enough to the right size.

She began nodding, long slow nods that just kept on coming, and then for a while just looked sad. I sat with her. Finally she took a larger breath, and something seemed to resolve. I didn't say anything. I didn't really need to.

She maintained contact for a period during which, on her own initiative, she re-established contact with her past friends from a space in which she once more trusted her own judgement.