Before we begin building a shrine, let’s take a closer look.
Who is Dr. Paul Vereshack? Vereshack is a 60-something, Canadian, unlicensed physician and psychiatrist who, as a defense against charges of sexual misconduct, has written this book. Vereshack admits that he “experimented” beyond accepted standards, and has resigned his license to practice medicine (but somehow retains a private psychotherapy practice). Surprisingly, Vereshack is “not that interested in primal therapy itself at this time except insofar as it needs to be taught, as a consciousness-enhancing device for humanity’s evolution.”
Clearly, Vereshack has done several things well. First, he is generously sharing his book over the Internet, and says he’s willing to talk with readers who call him, and even to work with those who come to Toronto. He has honestly informed readers both that he failed to qualify for his certification in psychiatry and eventually resigned his medical license.
Vereshack has written very well at times about important matters, and has incorporated ideas and techniques from bioenergetics, focusing, gestalt, psychodrama, psychosynthesis, Rolfing, Rogerian counseling, transactional analysis, and Zen. He has correctly characterized depth therapy as a long and disciplined journey. Patients have been encouraged to proceed at their own rate, and attempts have been made to achieve a reasonable level of completion at the end of every session.But wait--there’s more.
In Part I of the book, Dr. Vereshack is a legal defendant on trial. Consider the following: “I ask her to let her fingers do as they wish. Slowly, over several sessions, she undoes the buttons and, even more slowly over many more sessions, places her lips against my nipple and begins to suck. She suckles at my breast, lying beside me with my shirt removed, for three years, her hands kneading and squeezing my arms and back.” Vereshack adds that later “she asks me if I will lie on top of her in a sexual position.” Still later: “After three years of suckling, she developed a compulsion to fondle my penis . . . Once again I decided to let her go ahead and do what she needed to do. In feeling my penis, and in this case feeling it respond to her touch through my clothing . . .”
Vereshack’s defense? This case demonstrates the principles of “regressive therapy,” the way to complete the unfinished traumas of childhood via the “search for congruence” and “body necessity.” The suckling was a “corrective learning experience.” The sexual positioning helped the patient realize that she had been trying to expel her mother from her body. And the fondling of Vereshack’s penis helped her to recall alleged sexual abuse by her father. This patient never cried, screamed or raged once in all her years of “therapy,” yet reportedly was healed. She was not among those pressing charges, but instead came to his legal defense.
Interesting case. But since this patient wasn’t pressing charges, why does Vereshack put himself at further risk by presenting a case that’s so provocative? Why offer admissions so legally incriminatory? He admits that holding, touching, and direct therapeutic nurture are experimental techniques that come with mistakes. “This area of experimentation, admits Vereshack, “is so dangerous and so easily misinterpreted that it should never be undertaken.” “I do not feel that I could ever risk using sexual touch again,” he notes, and finally concludes that “sexual touch from the therapist must be denied.” In the future he would have the patient touch a penis-like object or a male doll. “I was half my age and hadn’t yet lost my trust in my fellow man/woman.” Wow!
Dr. Aletha J. Solter (cf. Vereshack’s March 1998 column on the Primal Psychotherapy Page) has expressed clear discomfort with this case.The suckling seems to her to be “a compulsive attempt to meet an unmet childhood need that cannot possibly be met as an adult, rather than a regressive healing experience.” Concerning the fondling, she asks “is healing really occurring while feeling the therapist’s penis?” And regarding it all, Solter’s sage advice is that patients “benefit more from clear boundaries, and heal more quickly by learning that a loving, supportive relationship can exist without sexual contact.” Sexual impulses arising in therapy sessions should be felt and not acted on, and compulsive traumatic re-enactment is counter-therapeutic.
Vereshack may be right that therapists must use courage and intuition. And readers may be right if they balk when he admits that his own early needs were sexualized, and led to an endless pursuit of women (cf.Vereshack’s October 1998 column on the Primal Psychotherapy Page). We would be naive not to ponder the purity of motivation of any therapist who performs “tummy hugs” (bare abdomen-to-abdomen contact, carefully avoiding sexual movements of the pelvis) and “full body holding” (used during the last 15 minutes of all regressive therapy sessions).
Beyond this single case and the many issues surrounding it there is, of course, a broader danger. “It is doubtful to me,” notes Vereshack, “and to almost every patient and therapist with whom I have ever spoken, that depth therapy can be pursued without the presence of a depth therapist. ”And yet he has written and released a book that encourages people to attempt just that--and made it available over the Internet to anyone in the world.This in spite of his admission that regressive therapy is “not a safe option” for a percentage of people, and that “there is a real possibility that some people who try to use this book might end up needing the services of a psychiatrist or a local psychiatric institution.” These are grave consequences, and not to be taken lightly.
In sum, Vereshack has generously shared many ideas that are insightful, if not always new--that people act out unfelt feelings, that repression leads to distortions in cognition, that one must merge with and embrace pain in order to get rid of it, that therapists feel fear, and that patients deserve and require considerable respect. But as much as we would like to establish general laws of human experience and behavior, Vereshack’s Laws, Corollaries, Congruencies, Paradoxes, Purities, and Immaculate Processes are merely interesting assertions, nothing more. There are, however, some well-established principles in psychotherapy and in medicine, such as “first do no harm.” For all the good he may have done in his long and earnest career, Vereshack has apparently violated this principle, even while seeming to defend and glorify such actions.Every religion has magic and miracles, martyrs and saints. Primal therapy is a science when with discipline we study and learn about phenomena, and then objectively verify our observations and systematize our knowledge. But primal therapy becomes a religion when there is unquestioning ardor, commitment, conformity, devotion and faith to a person or a process, a doctrine or a declaration. Perhaps in his legal trials Vereshack seemed like a heretic or a martyr to his medical inquisitors. To most of the rest of us he is likely to remain the author of a provocative book, one that is alternately inspiring and incriminating, not an important historical figure.