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Monday, December 26, 2022

Physician Heal Thyself–The Weird Tale Of A Demented Psychiatrist And Torture On The Couch

Lottie Baum sat quietly by her patient lying somewhat uncomfortably on the couch.  This was his first visit to Dr. Baum, but his troubling emotional episodes had become debilitating, and he finally sought professional help.  

Dr. Baum specialized in family psychology, a specialty dealing with the particular traumas that resulted from family dysfunction.  She had plenty of business, for marriage being the perennially troubled institution it had always been, there was no shortage of clients.  If it hadn’t been for the advice, counsel, and treatment of Dr. Baum husbands and wives locked in contentious, often hateful marriages because of religion, tradition, or inertia might well have succumbed to their murderous thoughts.  It didn’t take much, Dr. Baum knew, for thoughts to turn into intentions and intentions into action; and she was a genius at pulling those mental strings.

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The offspring of bitter and resentful parents fared no better.  They were the innocent victims of couples who simply hung on too long, deferred divorce or separation under illusions of reconciliation, but only became more mutually destructive.  Dr. Baum’s agenda was always filled.

The patient on the couch, tentatively at first, answered the doctor’s questions, and immediately felt a relief.  He was getting years of frustration, anger, and hateful thoughts off his chest.  Slowly but progressively her questions became more pointed and honed in on what she considered were the issues at the heart of his problem. 

She was no Freudian and did not seek to probe his relationships with his mother or early childhood  traumas.  She knew from experience and a long professional history that marital problems were the result of marriage itself.  Edward Albee had erroneously concluded that marriage was the crucible of maturity - that the confines of an indissoluble marriage would bring out first the worst but eventually the best of human accommodation and resolve. In Dr. Baum's view such confines only exacerbated the loss of identity, the squelching of sexual desire, and the competition between naturally aggressive individuals.  It was surprising that there were not more troubled patients coming to see her.

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All well and good so far, but this particular psychiatrist, unbeknownst to her clients, was addled with her own hateful resentments, nasty, decades-long suspicions that colored the treatment of every poor soul who came to her thinking they would get an objective, medical opinion.

The old adage that it takes a crazy doctor to cure a crazy patient was untrue in Dr. Baum’s case.  Her active psychoses – her emotionally twisted, deeply seated resentment of her siblings had inhibited any kind of normal personal intimacies.  In fact after having disrupted what had been a particularly well-balanced, caring, and respectful family, she defensively assumed that the problem was with them, not with her.  She was fine, responsible, dutiful, and honorable.  It was they who were selfish, greedy, self-serving, and uncaring; so how could anyone be capable of love and respect?  

As her neurosis progressed into psychosis, diffidence turned virulent and then downright hostile.  Because of here venal, manipulative brother, not only was no man worthy of her, all men fell into the same, bloody category of chauvinistic ignorance.

No matter how much she considered lesbianism, she could never bring herself to sexual intimacy with another woman; and, thanks to her sisters’ emotional deafness and rivalry, she harbored the same vile hatred for women as she did for men.  

She found herself with no recourse and desperately looked for outlets for her thwarted family sentiments.  She finally found it in Laura Ashton, a childhood friend who had survived a wayward husband, a brutal slavishness to discipline and order, and a growing resentment of men.  

Laura, like most of Dr. Baum’s female patents could never manage to leave her husband.  In the best of times she still felt love for him; at the worst she felt herself subjugated and oppressed; but in the main she simply took her pound of flesh, a death by a thousand cuts, and continued her marriage of insult and injury without mortality.

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By the time that Lottie and Laura reconnected, they both had gone far around the bend; and what might have been a casual relationship was quickly annealed by their psychological despair.  Laura and her husband had started off well, children of the Sixties with few cares for whom marriage seemed right, but whose significant differences soon got in the way.  He was by nature an arrogant, dismissive man; and she a demanding, limited woman.  She was attracted to his insouciance and bad boy attitudes, and he found her a stabilizing emotional foundation after many very unstable episodes.

Soon the two women had become partners in crime, both dependent on the other not because of any serious affection, but for commiseration and mutual understanding.  Laura found Lottie’s personal insights magnetic – she was the first person who really understood her – and Dr. Baum saw in Laura the confirmation of all her personal and professional assumptions.  Men were shit, there was no other way to say it, but women of a certain age, crippled by social norms and expectations, found no way out.  Laura had become more and more bitter, angry, and injurious; and Lottie Baum had become more critical and less objectively caring for her male patients. 

Whenever a man showed up at her office and lay back on the couch, she began to take her own pound of flesh, honing in on his heretofore concealed vulnerabilities and digging at them until they were raw, unhealable wounds.  “It’s necessary” she said to one man reduced to tears by her painful probing, “if you want to get better”.  Of course by this time in her life and career she had lost any serious professional intent and was only out to humiliate and destroy.  Her patients were so naïve and her deception so canny and disguised that they put up with her abuse like masochists.

Laura had less luck.  Her Lady Macbeth attempts to unman her husband went unnoticed by him.  He, sensing her emotional dependence, her legacy of a dominant father, and her overweening sense of social propriety, simply paid no attention either to her entreaties or sallies, and went on tomcatting to his heart’s desire.  At first he tried to disguise his adulteries, then, when he realized that his wife had neither the gumption to confront him nor the will to leave him, he simply upped the adulterous ante.

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth', John Singer Sargent, 1889 | Tate

The more her husband’s indiscretions increased, the closer Laura got to Lottie Baum.  They became a cabal of two, a dyad of unhappy, futile emotionally dysfunctional women.  “I need you”, said Lottie to Laura; but she meant only as fodder for her practice.  Laura in her increasing frustration with herself and her husband was able to feed the psychiatrist with new twists and turns of a bad marriage. Lottie in turn  had no idea of the depth of resentment of women, how much they put up with, and how indifferent, callous, and ignorant their men were. 

For a while she treated women, but found them insipid and dithering; besides, there was no challenge in treating such complaisant fools.  The real challenge was the men – not curing them of course, but driving them further into guilt, shame, and emotional misery.  By late middle age she had become a true harridan, a scourge, and a very sick woman.

She was failing as a psychiatrist, finally outed by rumor and innuendo and then censured by the American Psychiatric Association; and flailing as woman.  She suddenly felt closed in by her demented friend, Laura, and reached out to distant relatives, cousins, and acquaintances to whom she turned when she found an opening for expression of her need but who left her on the curb when her friendship became an oppressive bother.

“I need to psychoanalyze myself”, she said one morning looking in the mirror at the grey, sagging, lined and puffy face which greeted her; but since she had never regarded her torturous treatments of patients, her dependency, or her twisted friendship with Laura as problems, there was nothing to psychoanalyze. So caught in the downward vortex of unadmitted psychoses, she lost contact with everyone. The APA pulled her membership, the State of Connecticut cancelled her license, Laura disappeared, and latched-on families were long a thing of the past.

So this particular psychiatrist did not cure herself or even try; but she had become so demented that her illness became a righteous experience.  She was right, always had been right, and always would be right, and so be it

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