By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
Thomas A. Wright
In the July 6 issue of the Houston Press, Bonnie Gangelhoff's article on psychotherapy gone astray, "Devilish Diagnosis," draws parallel to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's recent novel Of Love and Other Demons. The antagonist in Gangelhoff's article, Dr. Peterson, a therapist by training, seems determined to reveal traces of abuse and other impurities in her patients. Of course, she could detect no overt signs of abuse, yet she is determined to confirm her suspicions. It seems Peterson is trying to keep a step ahead of her patients so that any imprecise, incomprehensible and unreliable therapy becomes time-consuming and costly for the patient. On the whole, patients like Alison Roome become targets for this artifice and thus the tragic figure.
Similarly, in Of Love and Other Demons, it is the Church that is obsessed with the phenomenon of demon sleuthing in order to validate its absolute existence against the demon itself. In those times, exorcism was the nemesis of demonic possession, but it was no antidote and no defense against the vulnerability of its patient. In Marquez's book, the tragic figure is a beautiful 12-year-old girl whose true demon is not within her, but in the society that makes her go through this painstaking task of exorcism. Even though both accounts of extradition are epochs apart, there is something to be said about the complex nature of human beings and the evaluation of its symptoms.
Bonnie Gangelhoff is to be applauded for her thorough research and beautifully written account of people who have been traumatized and victimized by therapists who specialize in satanic ritual abuse.
One important point that Gangelhoff did not adequately cover is that Satanism is, in fact, a real phenomenon. Surveys of existing evidence have shown that there are two forms of contemporary Satanism: 1) Open, organized groups such as the Temple of Set and Church of Satan. Although their beliefs are repulsive to many, these groups are not involved in organized cultic crime and they pose no threat to the public; and 2) Small, transitory groups of self-proclaimed Satanists, usually composed of teenagers and young adults, who are often involved in crimes such as drug trafficking, murder and rape. Although these groups can be dangerous, the causal link between satanic worship and the crimes they commit is a tenuous one. These existing forms of Satanism are a far cry from the underground satanic ritual abuse conspiracy that some therapists continue to believe is real, despite evidence to the contrary.
It is all too easy to dismiss the current satanic ritual abuse phenomenon as stemming from the unfounded beliefs of a small group of therapists who "brainwash" their suggestible clients into similar delusions, as portrayed in Gangelhoff's article. In reality, it is more complex and must be viewed as part of a larger historical, economic, political and cultural environment in which pop psychology has become embedded in professional practice and victimization is worn as a badge of courage and rewarded by the media, self-help groups and mental health professionals alike. The media, replete with its tabloid talk shows and lack of critical evaluation of sensational claims, play a central role in the dissemination of myths about cults, satanic cults and ritual abuse. Kudos to the Houston Press for continued topnotch investigative journalism and to Gangelhoff for the courage to investigate and expose the damaging effects of satanic ritual abuse ideology masquerading as therapy.
Susan P. Robbins, DSW