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In a Perfect World

By Pearce, Fran | The Humanist, May-June 1998 | Go to article overview

In a Perfect World


Pearce, Fran, The Humanist


A Sandbox Reverie: The small child wriggles into the spot she has meticulously scooped out of the sand and nestles into her favorite daydream. Hypnotized by the fine grains flowing through her fingers, over and over, she transports herself into her vision of a Perfect World.

A world where children are cherished as precious gifts. Where dedicated parents nurture them with constant reassurance that they are treasured, cared for, and protected. Consequently, the vision continues with these Perfect World children entering adulthood fully in tune I with their infinite value, their glorious being, their unique contribution--all of which would be passed on to their children. And to their children's children ... in a Perfect World.

Sadly, in our Real World, relatively few children are fortunate enough to experience this crucial right to well being. Many Real World babies grow up as best they can, struggling to survive parental neglect, indifference, mental and physical abuse, and sexual molestation. As they grow and stretch their limited resources in order to cope with the unbearable, it is not uncommon for part of the child's personality to form a splintered self. This wounded segment of the self, like a frightened rabbit, freezes, waiting for some future time when hopefully it will be soothed and reintegrated.

No, it's not a Perfect World and that's life. We accept it. We work, play, raise our families, and, at some point, those who need to and are ready, reach beyond their splintered boundaries to pursue personal harmony through psychotherapy. HMO permitting, we query our friends, our physician, perhaps even consult the phone book for a referral. Once we've made our choice, we cautiously approach the arena for self-examination and, ideally, healing.

It doesn't come easily. We're fragile. But after some time and struggle, we dare to trust our therapist. In kind, the therapist must be reverently respectful of the fact that he or she may well be the first person we've permitted ourselves to trust since childhood trauma destroyed that particular trait of innocence. Gradually we begin to surrender our secrets until we're wide open and where, in a Perfect World, we, with the guidance of our therapist, explore each piece clear through to the ultimate goal of release, cleansing, healing, and, at long last, good health.

In essence, psychotherapy is a noble profession dedicated to the healing of the spirit and the resurgence of hope for the hopeless. Unfortunately, in the Real World, not all therapists are noble people.

There exists between therapist and client a distinct and necessary power differential. How else could we release to scrutiny our neediness? Without someone "in charge" to provide boundaries, to assure a safety net, how would we dare unleash our long-suppressed fears and potentially overwhelming hurts? Without exception the therapist is morally, ethically, and legally bound to absolute professionalism and integrity as he or she creates the atmosphere through which we may first venture maskless, however timidly, into the Real World.

We commit ourselves to the therapist's realm, placing childlike faith in his or her expertise and compassion. If we are fortunate, all goes well. Perfect World therapists travel with us the road of mental health and life fulfillment to its phoenix--within the guidelines of human capabilities.

But, tragically, there are Real World men and women with a license to practice psychotherapy who elect to take a crashing detour off that road into a dead end of abuse. As in child abuse, this betrayal may assume many forms, including molestation.

According to Dr. Peter Rutter in his 1991 book Sex in the Forbidden Zone, research compiled by psychologist Jacqueline Bouhoutsos reveals that "studies requesting practicing therapists to report whether they have treated patients who had a sexual relationship with a previous therapist .

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