Oct 272015

Psychiatrists have a mixed reputation. Some, are damaged, wounded beings, teaching what they need to learn. Others are dangerous, causing irreparable harm, like Harry Bailey. Years ago, I read in Time that the president of the American Psychiatric Association had drugged and raped some of his patients.

One day, I read in the newspaper that my supervisor, during the time I was a practicing psychotherapist, a highly regarded and respected doyen of the psychiatric profession, had been deregistered. Charges of professional misconduct had been brought against him. A patient of this revered man had been the victim of childhood sexual abuse. This did not deter the psychiatrist from seducing the woman and having intercourse during his patient’s sessions. On someone’s advice, the woman had taken a recorder with her and taped one of the sessions. The therapist was heard to ask the patient after they had sex whether he could sit on her lap in all his nakedness.

It’s a very difficult profession, I discovered I was not suited to it. The therapist is constantly tested, harassed, having to respond to the endless clamour of those in need. When two people are alone together, great intimacy develops; an emotional bond occurs between them. Freud maintained this was a necessary part of the process—for the patient to develop a transference on the psychiatrist. Sometimes, something very dangerous and destructive happens—the countertransference. Not much is written about this process, it is uncharted territory, and yet it occurs, with disastrous consequences for the patient, and also for the therapist. There is the longing too. The world is full of unfulfilled longings. Everyone is steeped in longing.

The man in my novel is a deeply wounded person who is afraid to love. He’s always been with women he’s never loved. But he’s a human being—he first sees the woman he will fall in love with at a fund raiser ball, in the arms of another man. And it’s that 19th Century moment—the Romanticism of the poets, Shelley, Byron, Keats—what Goethe described as the profound affinity some people have for each other, ‘the mystery of attraction and the atoms which link people to each other.’  It is the same with her. She is totally enthralled, for the first time in her life. But with those feelings comes fear. We know how love ends—we have history telling us about the great loves—Romeo and Juliet, Heloise and Abelard, Tristan and Isolde. We know the pain we feel when a beloved animal companion dies. We swear we will never get another one—we never want to love and suffer again. ‘The greatest fear of all has nothing to do with hatred and aggressive acts. The greatest fear is of loving and being loved.’       

Andreas, the psychiatrist, tells Annabelle. ‘The moment a man loves a beautiful woman, he becomes the most wretched, Tolstoy said. I loved you so much, I thought you would destroy me.’