The left is up in arms about gay conversion therapy again. Jon Stewart had some particular fun with this. He compared conversion therapy to performing a Caesarean on “someone who isn’t pregnant.”
“You won’t find anything,” he said, “but you’ll still leave a scar.”
I’ve never seen what’s so strange about the idea of conversion therapy in the context of psychiatry. Therapists today tell us not to make judgments about ourselves, yet half of their job is deciding what activities are permissible for us to perform. Read the DSM and see how many times the word “negative” is used as an intrinsic value judgment on which to base a diagnosis.
The brilliant analogy that Stewart used on his program was followed by chuckles over a therapeutic activity that involved defecating in a jar and sniffing the jar when one has a sexual thought about someone of the same sex. Classic Clockwork Orange aversion therapy. He and the audience laughed at this technique as if it were some ludicrous, crazy idea that only right-wing ultraconservative Christian psychiatrist therapists would use to treat patients.
Well, yes and no.
I’ve been in psychiatric treatment twice—on the first occasion for a month and on the second for six. During both stays, at least one or more of the therapists who treated me had crosses hanging from their necks. And at least one therapy directly involved shit.
I’m not trying to make some bogus connection between Christians, psychiatrists and coprophiles, because it’s already there. Shrinks love shit. It’s all they can talk about some days. I probably never passed the oral stage, but most therapists tend to get stuck in the anal stage.
During at least one point in treatment, my middle-aged Catholic psychiatric therapist gave me an assignment that involved grabbing the edges of a green plastic garbage container in which another resident had disposed of gauze pads—things that got oily and brown in the middle. The lad had surgery in his sphincter, so these things usually had a fair mixture of red and brown in them.
Another resident had also routinely pissed in this thing, as the staff had recently found out, so it was a perfect candidate for use in our treatments. It didn’t matter if our phobias didn’t involve shit, blood, or urine; at least, not any more than it does a “normal person” (therapists love using this phrase). None of the therapists really ever cared what we were afraid of; in my case, it was anything having to do with my family or my parents’ house. If I tried to explain that I didn’t fear shit or blood or urine irrationally but would prefer not to have to stick my hands or face near or in it for more than a minute at a time, my therapist would tell me that I was “avoiding.”
“All right,” I’d say, “if it’s irrational to not enjoy spending time with others’ bodily fluids, why don’t you try it?”
This is where my therapist would employ her favorite catchphrase, “Why should I change my behavior for you?”
The obvious answer was, “because that’s exactly what I’m doing for you.” At this point you’d risk getting an even weirder assignment and maybe having to stay up for meals, which usually meant smaller meals, which usually meant losing weight, which usually meant more assignments.
Use of shit in treatment isn’t limited to psychiatry. Medical doctors have even cured diseases with feces, though not without the administrative help of the trusty psychiatrist to look over the experiments. In 1958, administrators at the Willowbrook State School, the Staten Island facility that closed in 1986 after living out an existence whose only probable use had been as fuel for television exposés, conducted experiments on patients that involved deliberately infecting them with hepatitis by fecal-to-oral content so that a blood-based gamma globulin solution could be used on them in an attempt to find a cure. The experiments were conducted by physicians and overseen by Willowbrook’s psychiatric staff with permission from the children’s parents and psychiatrists. The medical journal The Lancet and a Staten Island news station described the mode of infection as a “fecal milkshake.”
While times have changed since then (now psychiatric patients stay months as opposed to years, and they even make us wear clothes), the psychiatrist’s love of shit has not. It’s as old as Freud trying to explain that kids who were congratulated upon their first potty shit were more likely to be generous because they had been congratulated early on their ability to give, but also that children who weren’t congratulated could be the same way, as they would think, upon no fuss being made at their appropriation of toilet culture, that their shit was worthless and not worth giving away. Also, if one is congratulated on their shitting, they’ll begin to covet it and therefore become thrifty in later life, as they’ve been taught that their shit is precious. But then again, not being congratulated on shitting could cause one to become private about their shit, believing it’s not something to share, resulting in more thriftiness.
Today, most psychiatrists and behavioral therapists are keen to tell you that they actually don’t agree with most of what Freud said (either that, or they haven’t read him). Psychiatry has changed, they tell you, so there’s no longer any use for sexual archetypes or reading Greek tragedies. Yet somehow, they still share his obsession with shit. So don’t worry, conversion therapists. The left may want you to feel bad for trying to change someone else, but if you didn’t, you’d be out of both a job and of a reason to contact others’ feces.