Saturday, 18 April 2009

Dietary Discipline, Harassment Therapy & Sexual Reorientation – A Reader’s Account Revisited (Part 2)

Coming under the general banner of 'Truth Stranger than Fiction' here is the second part of a reader's personal account in which she answers a series of questions that I posed – so I guess that makes it an interview, of sorts (Illustration represents the form of punishment baths eluded to in the writer's previous accounts). (Click here to read part one) ... (click here to read the correspondent's original letter).

Dietary Discipline and Sexual Aversion Therapy – An account: Part Two

Eventually, some time after being committed, I learned that I had been classified as a 'predatory lesbian' - or is it 'aggressive lesbian'? I forget the exact phrase that my therapist used - but it meant a lesbian who recruited and perverted innocent young straight girls into lesbianism. It certainly didn't properly describe me, but the label, and the fears behind it, explained why society was anxious to cure me, or failing that, put me in a place where I could not pervert the greater masses of young womanhood.

It wasn't until recently that I began to understand how this mis-diagnosis might have occurred. They had asked me who initiated the kiss and I had refused to say. If they had also asked Caroline and she had lied then my silence may have been seen as the next best thing to a confession. Goose cooked." But back to your questions (in italics - Garth):

"Particularly interesting to me (and I think, the readers out there) was all the disciplinary procedures and petty rules you mentioned regarding food chewing and swallowing etc - as regards the nurse/therapist using touch to either cheek or the chin to control the patient. presumably overtime this would have a conditioning effect on the subject. As regards the latter I would be most interested to learn whether spoken orders were given to accompany the signals, or perhaps they were initially but were no longer required after some time?"

"From my own experience, and from observing others, we were given initial instructions on what we must do, but after that verbal communication was kept to a minimum, and, if required, would usually result in demerits. Now, admittedly, the nurses were more lenient with the 'regular' patients on the ward who were generally less able, and in some cases, very much less able, to follow instructions. But the 'deviants' on the ward were expected to understand and obey after being instructed one time. Interestingly, some of the bibs incorporated a kind of hood that would go over the patient's head, but left the mouth uncovered - and these bibs had instructions printed on them in the appropriate places to assist the nurses in remembering the correct instructions. However they were rarely used - perhaps because the nurses needed no such reminder or perhaps more likely because they liked to be able see our faces as we ate - ensuring that we kept our expressions impassive and our eyes downcast - looking at the 'food' yet to be eaten. Showing any form of distaste or emotion during our 'meals' was a serious infraction.

The nurses, on the other hand, usually wore surgical masks while they were feeding us, and I have often wondered whether this somehow reduced the food's unpleasant odour or whether it was just one more way in which they reduced communication - you cannot see the nurse's facial expression when she is wearing a surgical mask. Not that we were allowed to look at the nurses directly anyway, but . . .

Additionally we were required to always breathe through our noses instead of our mouths. This was especially true while we were eating - something we found irksome because the smell was often quite unpleasant and it smelt even worse when we used our noses."

"The use of the metronome I found very interesting; in my mind's eye I can see a line of girls all chewing in unison to the tick-tock rhythm - perhaps glassy eyed?"

"I never saw this happen though I think it's something they might have implemented if there had been enough nurses to feed us all at the same time. Of course if they had allowed us to feed ourselves then it might have been practicable - and maybe they could have implemented it for those not on a strict feeding regimen - i.e. those that did feed themselves. As it was, feeding for those of us on a feeding regimen tended to be staggered, with just one or two of us being fed at a time. But speaking of the metronome - I wish that it had been used all the time because it was hard to keep the proper rhythm without it. Firstly we had to maintain a constant rhythm throughout and secondly the rhythm had to be the same as the standard set by the metronome - something hard to remember after a week or two. But thirdly you had to hope that the nurse was also correctly assessing your rhythm - something I am quite sure they didn't always do, resulting in undeserved demerits. And eating demerits could result in a more strict eating regimen and/or less desirable foodstuffs. My biggest problem was eating in a smooth manner - and remembering to count at the same time. Since the required rhythm was a bit slower than my normal manner of eating I tended to close may jaw, pause, open my jaw and then pause again. This was considered unsatisfactory - the required movement was more fluid - close your jaw slowly, open your jaw slowly. No pauses, just a slow and fluid motion - but something that I had the greatest trouble perfecting. But as they say, practice makes perfect - eventually.

If we were lucky we were allowed to drink from a straw - but the nurses also had contraptions that could be fastened in our mouths and drained water (or other liquids) into us from a small overhead feed. They also had syringe-like instruments that could flood us with large quantities of liquid up squirted directly up our noses - another very unpleasant procedure that ensured that we tried to please the nurses who were already agitated by the tedium of feeding us.

"As far as you are able to recall; was hypnosis in any form of the used?"

"No - not that I ever saw, though other girls may have been hypnotised during their therapy sessions. But I have no way to know. Of course it's possible that I was hypnotised and have no memory of it, but I have no reason to think so. Do you have reason to think that it might have been a normal procedure - and what might it do?" What do you think, reader's? Garth.

"In terms of lesbianism was aversion therapy of any form used? On the other hand, considering the manipulated results and dubious diagnosis was any possibility of an experimental use of 'negative' therapy being given? Here I am drawing a parallel with the so-called 'monster study' that I've talked about in the blog and in which (in the 1930s) speech deficits were deliberately induced using a mixture of suggestion and constant reinforcement by therapists and teachers (a potentially useful tool for overcoming stubborn argumentative resistance in the initial stages of a strict disciplinary regime)."

"Yes. The use of aversion therapy to change my sexual orientation was the central point of the program. At the time it was talked about as if it were an established procedure, but in retrospect I see that it was probably still quite experimental and we might well have been guinea pigs as much as patients.

Although I have always had a general understanding of the objectives and methods used in aversive conditioning programs, such as the one I was involved in, I have only taken an active interest in researching it since finding your blog. Basically the idea is that our behaviour can be changed by the use of aversives (unpleasant stimuli). In contrast to the monster study, as I understand it, the aversives are physical and not at all dependent upon human interaction. Thus, aversives, such as electric shocks and drugs to induce nausea are applied in the presence of the 'bad' behaviour. There was no positive reinforcement in my program, though I do have some vague recollection that some (probably more recent) sexual orientation programs have included positive reinforcement by including pictures of 'appropriate' sexual relations, presumably without the unpleasant stimuli.

There were two main aversives that I remember. Electric shocks and drugs to induce nausea, Electric shocks and the nausea inducing drugs seem to feature heavily in the literature and I also remember hearing about the use of rotting placenta as an unpleasant odour - not in my study, but another, so it sounds as if there was some variation in the aversives used. I imagine that the particular aversive is not as important as that it be 'unpleasant', and presumably the more unpleasant the better.

I have read a number of papers that talk about the use of aversives for correction of sexual deviance and they all talk as if the electric shock is little more than an annoyance, but I can vouch for the fact that, at least in my case, the shocks were sufficiently strong to cause extreme pain and caused me to pass out on many occasions. The shocks were usually applied to my inner thighs, but other places were used too. Sometimes they were applied through the measurement instrument inserted in my vagina. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that applying shocks directly to the vagina is going to distort the 'response' of that organ - just another example of rank stupidity - or something. The nausea inducing drugs were not used so often - probably because I was kept gagged through most of these sessions and vomiting would have been dangerous. In fact, I was usually 'fasted' and forced to vomit up any stomach contents prior to each aversion session to avoid any possibility of vomiting.

There is one more thing that I wanted to clarify because I think I may have been guilty of somewhat misleading you. But I was still too embarrassed to be totally honest. To wit, there was slightly more to the initial calibration of my baseline than I let on. Very briefly, there was some intervention on the part of the staff. Specifically, Nurse ******* (one of the few names I remember), a very young and, I admit, extremely attractive nurse was tasked with bringing me to orgasm while I watched the slide-show of lesbian activity. Judging by her uniform I think she was still a student nurse. My introduction was very gradual and respectful, and it wasn't until what must have been our 10th session or so that I had my first orgasm. Then, over the course of another 10 sessions or so, with the continued 'assistance' of Nurse Aston, it seems that my baseline was established. She was quite 'proper' about it, and there was never anything as overt as taking clothes off. However she did put her tongue in my ear - very charmingly I might add, kiss me on the lips and use her fingers quite dexterously. I think it is probably safe to say that I developed an enormous crush on 'my' nurse and she, I'm sure, did everything she could to encourage my slavish adoration. I imagined her to be my friend (after all, I had no others) - and I'm sure she encouraged that thought too, though looking back there was little or no practical demonstration of it besides kindness. My adoration wasn't even diminished when I became aware of her giving the signal to begin the terrible electric shocks that always followed my orgasm - even during these baseline sessions. I imagine, that while they were anxious to measure my baseline, they were also anxious not to make the experience entirely pleasurable - or some such mixed up thinking. After all, I was there to be cured of lesbianism, not turned into one (but I have my doubts about that - Garth) - so they no doubt had to be a little careful.

After that she disappeared from my life for a while, which, I remember, upset me a great deal. I remember crying a good deal over it. When she returned into my life, many months later, now apparently a fully fledged nurse, my heart was fit to burst, but she quickly broke it into a trillion pieces. Her manner was incredibly cold and uncaring - and she made it clear that she despised me for my 'perversion', making it abundantly clear by words and actions, over and over again, that I had been an absolute fool and that she had [ cared for me not one jot]. Indeed she made it quite apparent that she had always despised me and that what she had done previously had 'made her sick.' That episode did more than anything to break me.

Today I wonder how much of it was deliberate. I can quite believe that my therapist decided to break my heart by assigning 'my' nurse to perform the operation. But I can't quite bring myself to believe that they had that eventual smashing of my heart in mind when they first assigned Nurse ***** to help me with my baseline. But a part of me wonders whether that might have been the plan all along. To cause me fall in love with her and then break my heart. If that is what happened then my therapist must have been the coldest and cruellest person on this earth.

My brief research shows that the broad category of 'behaviour therapy' is a large, varied, and interesting wilderness. For instance I was just taking another quick look to see if I could see a connection between 'my' program and the broader field of behaviour therapy when I came across an article about J.B. Watson who found that he could create phobias in children. Not very much like 'my' program, but indicative of the weirdness typical to the field."
(The deliberate creation of phobias is one of the themes explored in volume 1 of INSTITUTIONALISED, as a method of control and to underline the imposition of a regime of strict discipline. After all, presented with a childish and humiliating school uniform and the guidance of the cane or strap and the alternative option of the open street door and the road beyond, a young lady afflicted with a particularly debilitating form of agoraphobia might well find her choice limited...or as I like to think of it in the context of the institutional environment – a prison within a prison, if you will - Garth) be continued.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After seeing the picture of the continuous flow tubs I thought that I would add an excerpt from a book that describes their use. The tubs were just one form of hydrotherapy and were most popular before the widespread use of psychotropic drugs. Lauded as 'therapeutic' their main function was to 'quiet' patients and in practice they were most often used to restrain and punish uncooperative patients.

Continuous flow tubs are named for the continuous flow of fresh water that enters the tub at the foot-end--the excess water exits through the overflow pipe at the other end of the tub. The water temperature could range from close to ice cold (as with Frances Farmer below), to tepid. When used as a form of punishment they were most often cold. Where warmer water was prescribed the appropriate temperature was achieved by the sophisticated water mixing valves incorporated into the tubs. If you click on the picture to make it larger you can see that one of the nurses is using a thermometer to check the water temperature.

Patients could be kept in tepid baths for weeks at a time, but cold baths were, by necessity, of much shorter duration.

Frances Farmer's description is notable for her description of: how she is restrained while in the tub, how she is gagged while in the tub, how cold the water is (ice-cold), how long the course of treatment lasts (24 days), and how long she is kept in the tub each time (10 hours on the first occasion and more than three hours on each subsequent occasion).

Will There Really Be a Morning?
An Autobiography by FRANCES FARMER (1972)

Chapter 1

FOR EIGHT YEARS I was an inmate in a state asylum for the insane. During those years I passed through such unbearable terror that I deteriorated into a wild, frightened creature intent only on survival. . . .

I was chained in padded cells, strapped into straitjackets, and half drowned in ice baths. . . .

From the moment I was placed under my mother's legal control, I was shoved headlong into a deep abyss from which there was no escape. It was only a short time before she had me committed to the state hospital near our home in Seattle, where I remained for three months and was then released as "completely cured." Unfortunately, I did not know enough to have her guardianship set aside, and I was chained to a woman who, perhaps subconsciously, seemed determined to destroy my life. The asylum released me into her custody, and for the next seven years her power and control was unlimited. . . .

Chapter 10

. . . Three days after my consultation with Dr. Conway, two orderlies fastened a belt, with built-in handcuffs, around my waist and manacled my wrists. Leg irons with about a foot of chain circled my ankles.

I offered no resistance.

Taking short, hopping steps I was led through a large door, and as I heard it clang noisily behind me, I knew that I had pressured my way into a nightmare. My new leaf had been too late in turning. . . .

The ward bristled with attendants. This was the area of shock. Electric shock. Insulin shock. Hydrotherapy. Experimental medication. Women who had not been able to adjust were brought here for treatment. And I was petrified. . . .

The trustee pointed to an unmade cot, telling me to remember which one was mine, then steered me through the ward into a small room fitted with three bathtubs.

Women were in two of them, their heads sticking out from the canvas sheets stretched tightly over the tubs. Their bathing caps made their heads look like skulls.

One woman was screaming, her voice hoarse. Her eyes popped and blazed, seeing nothing as she thrashed under the canvas. She kept screaming for someone named Arnold, then would sink into babbling.

The other woman was motionless. Absolutely still. Her head draped to one side, and her eyes were half open. I wondered if she might be dead.

Then I heard the water rushing into the tubs, and I instinctively drew back.

"You ain't goin' nowhere," the trustee said. "So just settle down and take your clothes off. Don't make it hard on yourself, babe, cause I'll knock the hell out of you if you try anything. Now strip."

She gave me a shove, for good measure, that slapped me against the wall, "Strip," she ordered. "Shoes and all."

I quietly obeyed. I was determined to keep my resolution, regardless of what might happen.

She tossed me a bathing cap and two large wads of cotton. "Stuff this in your ears and make sure you plug 'em up tight. Then put on the cap."

My own violence was my strength, and without a show of rage, I felt vulnerable, frightened. At the same time I was fascinated with my ability to obey with such meekness.

Before I could organize myself, the trustee had taken down three canvas straps from a hook on the wall and had looped one around my chest, pinning my arms against my sides until my breath was cut short. The second was buckled around my thighs, and the third around my ankles.

She left the room as I tottered to keep my balance. I tried to hop after her but tumbled headlong. My chin cracked against the floor and I felt a sharp pain as my teeth sliced my lower lip. I lay there screaming, flopping, trying to maneuver myself into a sitting position, but, tied as I was, I was unable to do little more than rock back and forth on my stomach.

The trustee returned with a student nurse and another attendant, who pulled me to my feet and stood behind me while the nurse checked my bindings, easing the one around my chest. I was still screaming and gabbling, spitting blood from my mouth, but the wound was ignored. They picked me up, one by the ankles, the other by the shoulders and dropped me into the empty tub, bruising my spine.

They pulled the heavy canvas sheet up to my neck, and while one tightened the neck drawstring, the other took a long dirty rope and looped it under the lip of the tub, gathering the canvas into the lasso. She tugged and pulled while the other one stretched the sheet across the tub. The rope was wound around and around until it made a tight band that kept the canvas secure.

The first crash of icy water hit my ankles and slipped rapidly up my legs. I began to shake from the shock of it, screaming and thrashing my body under the sheet, but the more I struggled, the more I realized that I was helplessly restricted in a frozen hell.

I began to gnaw on my lip, flinching from the pain of my teeth digging into the wound but praying that it would take my mind off the freezing water that burned my body like acid.

The three of them stayed there until they were satisfied that the water pressure was adjusted to the drain and would not overflow the tub, then the student went to the woman who lay in semiconsciousness. She pulled open one eye, studied it briefly, then the three of them left. I was still screaming when the door slammed the rest of the world away.

Hydro was a violent and crushing method of shock treatment, even though it was intended to relax the patient. What it really did was assault the body and horrify the mind until both withered with exhaustion.

I lay there in the glacier grip until my mind had gone blank. I felt it slipping from me, but I tried to keep it active by thinking of addresses, phone numbers, nursery rhymes. I counted forward and backward. I became confused. I recited the alphabet, but everything was jumbled. I struggled, and screamed, and froze. Then, like the incoherent woman calling for Arnold, I slid out of awareness and tumbled into a gibbering, scrambled maze.

I do not remember the other two women being taken from the tubs. And when they finally came for me, I was past audible speech or functional movement. I remember being lifted onto a cart, and then the straps fell off. The cap was pulled from my head, and my ears were unplugged. Somewhere, I heard a voice, but it was like a resounding echo.

"My God," it said. "She's nearly chewed off her lip. She'll have to be gagged next time."

A dry blanket was wrapped around me and I felt the seasick motion of the cart as I was wheeled back into the ward area. It was night, but the veneer of sleep was thin and the patients tossed and rustled like dry leaves.

"We'd better take her to the station and try to fix up her mouth," another voice said. "Damn, but somebody will sure catch hell for this. She's in a mess."

"What's wrong with me?" I tried to say, but the words came out thick and unfamiliar.

"Don't try to talk, honey. You're going to be all right."

The movement of the cart rattling along was making me sick to my stomach, but then it stopped and turned, then stopped again.

"What's her name?"

"Wait till I look it up, for heaven's sake."

I could hear with sharp awareness, but when I tried to open my eyes, I could not move my lids.

"It's Anderson. Frances Anderson."

"Who's her doctor?"

"Conway. Wouldn't you know?"

"Well, he'll play hell blaming us for this one. See what time she went to hydro."


"What's wrong?"

"She went in at three thirty."

"Good God, that's ten hours."

"What are we going to do about her mouth?"

"What can we do until Conway checks her? Wipe it off, I guess."

"If she's been in water ten hours, we'd better rub her down first."

Hands, from far off, hardly seemed to touch me, but then inch by inch they moved closer until my flesh became sensitized. I heard a deep groan roll from my throat and I tried to speak.

"Don't move your mouth, honey, if you can help it. We're going to put a compress on it until the doctor gets here."

I felt a warm, moist cloth being laid across my lips, but its soft pressure bore down like a slab of lead, and I tried to lift my hands to take it away, but they were frozen in place. I wanted to see the voices and forced my eyes open, but only a dull blur colored my vision. I groaned again, low, like a hunted animal, and slowly moved my head from side to side. The cart once more squeaked and rattled its way back into the ward, then stopped.

"Lift her easy. She's almost out and she'll sleep straight through."

I was laid on a cot and a blanket was pulled under my chin. A foreign hand soothed the hair out of my face and rested briefly on my forehead, then went away.

I was quiet and warm, and everything vanished as I entered a lifeless sleep.

Chapter 11

. . . For the next twenty-four days I was depersonalized in hydro. The physical pain, the spiritual injury, the mental torture mashed one day into another, until all thoughts hinged on either being in or out of the tub. Nothing else existed.

I have only vague recollections of Dr. Conway showing up, but after he left someone put a thick sick-tasting salve on my lips twice a day and a roll of gauze was stuffed into my mouth during each treatment. I remember very little about eating or walking or hearing or seeing, but I have nightmare recall of two personally humiliating experiences during those three weeks.

Soon after the treatments started, I began to menstruate . . .

Hydro was prescribed for a three-hour duration, but seldom did the treatments terminate on time, and the endless hours in the cold water attacked my bowels and bladder. Lying in the water, with my nerves and system violated, knowing that my blood and waste were mingling with it, offended and grieved my spirit beyond description. My femininity was mauled, my power to reason or struggle vanished. I simply existed in chilling confusion.

I was unnaturally calm at the end of three weeks, for I had been systematically deenergized. All personality was washed away and all that was left was a water-clogged robot. Each day I was led to the tub and undressed when I was told to. I stood like marble while the straps were tightened around my body, and I waited patiently while the cotton was stuffed in my ears and the cap pulled down over my head. I did not struggle when the gag was crushed into my mouth, and when I was put in the tub, I hardly flinched as the fluid hell claimed me.

I had been tamed.

After three weeks, when I was no longer physically or mentally able to function, I was left to a recuperative period. I was not required to do any ward work, but allowed to remain in bed and vegetate. It seemed a miracle, but inch by inch my strength returned, but my mind was slow and cloudy. It was difficult to think. It was almost impossible to remember.

During the later part of my treatment, I was mouth-fed by other patients. Women who had undergone shock and could hardly function themselves were given ward work. They cleaned toilets, fed other patients, or mopped up filth and vomit. They chattered constantly, without making sense, but I suppose they were confused at being able to think again. It mattered little whether their thoughts were in order or, for that matter, rational. The pertinent fact was the excitement and challenge of the mind returning.

Within a week, I became one of them. I carried food to other patients and fed them, personally disinterested in their limp conditions and untouched by their misery. They, like I, would survive it. I mopped floors. Changed foul sheets. Scrubbed toilets. Washed rags. Emptied bedpans, and tried to start myself thinking again.

I worked until I felt that most of my life had been spent in this ward. I could remember little else. I had been separated from the rest of the world and was immune to its problems. I was dull-minded, slow moving and uninvolved. I had been turned into a full-fledged inmate. . . .