Friday, February 20, 2004

Group Therapy: February 20, 2004


Hey, buddy. What’s up today? Now that we’re such close friends, do you mind if I call you Bri? What do your friends call you? By the way, who’s Andrew. I heard you say you’re meeting Andrew at 5:00 PM. Is Andrew an FOB -- “Friend of Brian?” I guess I’ll be meeting all your friends pretty soon.

I’ve settled on a goal for my group therapy. It’s to be friends with you. I’ve decided to make my goal simple and manageable. Nothing complex. Not all people have an ability to deal with complexity and contradiction. Complexity seems to discombobulate the folks in my group. Really, do goals really matter in this group? Whatever my goal, what can these people help me with—really? My regular therapist at GW never asked me about goals. Last session, I pointed out that we never discussed goals. Her response: “Do you want to discuss goals?” I said, “no.” That was that. So much for goals.

All this has put me in a depressed mood. Yea. I’m blue today. It’s my blue period.

One of my old psychiatrists, who I saw back in 1978, once said to me: “It’s a good sign you’re depressed. If anybody lived like you, and said he wasn’t depressed, I’d be worried.”

That was I. Jay Oberman, D.O. He was a forensic psychiatrist. He used to spend a lot of time testifying in court. He was medical director of the Northwest Institute of Psychiatry outside Philadelphia. He was recommended to me by Neil Sagot, Esq., one of the leading attorneys in Philadelphia. I saw Dr. Oberman from about June 1978 to spring 1979. (The Old Buccaneer used to work at Sagot’s law firm. So did I, for that matter).

Oberman passed away recently. Stomach cancer. I remember when I was seeing him he said his father was suffering from colon cancer, I think.

Oberman underwent psychoanalytic training with Theodor Reik, a lay analyst who had undergone a training analysis with Freud himself. So there’s actually a direct connection between me and Freud. Freud analyzed Reik, Reik analyzed Oberman, Oberman worked with me. You don’t mess with somebody who can trace his lineage directly from Freud.

Anyway, Oberman was a blunt-speaking guy. He said he thought I didn’t even need to see a psychiatrist. He said: “You’re not suffering from anything that a psychiatrist can help you with. Your problem is you need friends.” Right. Twenty-six years later I’m still struggling with that issue. How do you make friends? Basically, as these letters attest, I’ve given up. I’ve retreated to my fantasy world where I have the friend I always wanted: namely, a fat-ass Irish Catholic librarian who likes to fuck.

How’s that for bluntness? That was another thing about Oberman. He had a mouth on him you wouldn’t believe. Every other word out of that guy was “fuck.” Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

I’ve reported things he said to me to other mental health people, and they’re incredulous. Jay D. Amsterdam, M.D. (University of Pennsylvania), one of the country’s leading psychopharmacologists, told me in the fall of 1978 he thought Oberman sounded like a “prick” based on the things I told Amsterdam.

Oberman used to tell me that I needed to connect with somebody. Emotionally and sexually. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman.” Basically, his prescription was: “You need to get laid.” I can’t remember if he actually said that. But it sounds like something he would have said.

What he did tell me once was really strange. He told me that I needed to find a girl who would give me a blow job. Yes. He used the technical term. Blow job. I wonder if Oberman ever treated President Clinton?

The bizarre thing was the time Oberman started going into the linguistic technicalities of the term “blow job.” (You gotta show Vernon Jordan this letter. President Clinton will laugh his head off). Oberman said: “You know, they call it a ‘blow job.’ But that’s a misnomer. It’s really not blowing, its actually sucking.” Even now, I’m chuckling as I’m setting this down.

Be that as it may.

What I don’t get about group therapy is how a group of mental patients—who themselves have been unemployed for years—can offer anything meaningful to me. I just don’t get it. Both group members are intelligent, articulate people—but they must have some kind of serious psychological problems.

It reminds me of an anecdote I read in a biography of the playwright George S. Kaufman. Kaufman was appearing on a radio talk show with the novelist (or “novelist”) Jacqueline Susann (remember Valley of the Dolls?). Before the show he was chatting with Susann who was talking about a topic that she considered herself expert in: namely, science fiction. Kaufman just stared at Suzann in silence, and Susann remarked: “George, you like you don’t believe a word I’m telling you.” “Oh Jacqueline, I believe you,” Kaufman said. “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t. After all, in 1929 I took advice about the stock market from the Marx Brothers so I see no reason why I shouldn’t learn about science fiction from you.”

That’s about the way I feel about group therapy. It’s like taking advice on life’s problems from the Marx Brothers.

Here’s something that really baffles me. At my last group session, one of the group members got really bent out of shape by my description of my sexual identity. You know, the whole “Rupert/Gerald” crap. My lack of interest in an emotional relationship with a woman. And my desire for a close friendship with a male.

The group member said that was just too incredible to believe. I mentioned that issue in one of my previous letters. His very words were “I know of very few eunuchs in this world.” (By the way, isn’t that strong language? “Eunuchs?” Well, Debra—isn’t that a little strong? You had nothing to say about that strong language, did you, Debra?)
So the group member said: “You must have dated when you were in high school.” (Guess again.) “You must have gone to your high school prom.” (Guess again, big boy.) The comments got cut short when another group member said: “That’s none of your business. His past sexual history is none of your business.”

My point is, right off the top of my head I can cite four different articles that discuss the issue of sexual asceticism—articles that offer pertinent insights into my problems. The group member who said basically that I was full of crap about my sexuality just didn’t know what he was talking about. I kept thinking of that line from Hamlet: “There’s more to heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.”

Here’s a list of the four articles:

J. Moussaieff Masson, “The Psychology of the Ascetic.” The Journal of Asian Studies. Masson discuses the issue of sexual asceticism.

Anna Freud, “On Adolescence.” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. Anna Freud (who knew something about sexlessness herself) devotes a section in the paper to the topic of the sexually-ascetic adolescent.

Joseph Fernando, “The Exceptions.” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. (1997?). The author says about a patient: “She seemed to live in two different worlds: one in which sexuality hardly existed, and one in which it was all too frighteningly present.” A curious and telling irony: At the session on Tuesday February 17th, I was summoned to appear early by Debra and Nicole. They admonished me not to talk about sex in such graphic terms as I had done at my first session. Later, in that very session on the 17th, a group member alludes to my claiming to be a sexual “eunuch.” It’s as if Fernando’s description of a person torn between sexual extremes found some kind of expression in the group session.

Then there’s the paper by Drew Westen, Ph.D. and Jennifer Harnden-Fischer titled “Personality Profiles in Eating Disorders: Rethinking the Distinction Between Axis I and Axis II.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(4) April 2001. The authors state: “Clinically [some anorexic] patients tend to be just as constricted in their sexual lives as they are with food, denying themselves pleasure, avoiding sexual relationships, feeling too ashamed or guilty to indicate to their partners what feels good, and so forth” (page 560).

Dr. Westen is at the Psychology Department at Emory University in Atlanta. He used to teach at Ellen’s alma mater—Boston University. Current email:
You might want to ask Dr. Westen how a guilt-ridden person can get anything therapeutic out of group therapy with Harpo, Chico, and Groucho, et al.

Clearly, guilt plays an important role in sexual asceticism or abstinence. What do the Marx brothers say about that? There are more eunuchs in the world than are dreamt of in your little black book, Horatio.

Check you out later, buddy. Maybe you, me and Andrew can go to lunch sometime. What do you say, Brian?

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