The Third Table

03: Getting Started

Chapter  III


Entering the MOB by the Back Door

Entering the MOB by the Back Door

By the time I saw Dr. Ess White next, I’d thought a lot about the power of the panel presentation and instead of my own solo story was considering putting together a book that would include the stories of several staff, some residents of Stockbridge, like Alice from Alice’s restaurant, and several ex-patients from the 60’s. Like the movie Rashomon, maybe in this way we would get a more complete picture of what Riggs and the therapeutic process in the 1960’s was all about.

Dr. White and I spent half of our time talking about this new idea. He agreed to write his story in a personal manner even though talking about patients, particularly Bea, made him nervous. As he said, “Bea is dead and therefore we can talk about her, but still. . .” He didn’t want even to get close to crossing any lines that might be unethical. That boundary was important to him although apparently it wasn’t so important when it came to money. I decided not to dwell on the contradictions in his thinking and told him I’d already got several ex-patients involved and that the idea of a group book had been greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm. Jayne Mooney, who had been on the panel presentation, was in as was Alice Brock.

Ess said, “Why not interview Dr. Margaret Brenman? She’s still in Stockbridge and isn’t getting any younger. Also Joan Erikson, who is on the Cape. I’ll give you her address. Her contribution to the Activities Program at Riggs was invaluable.  And don’t forget Leo Garel, the art instructor.”

Julie Martino graciously allowed me to use the Riggs’s library and make copies of the articles and photos she had diligently saved about all sorts of Riggs events: Riggs personalities, lecture series, newspaper reviews of all the theater productions. Dr. Edelson, the head of the community meetings from 1964 to 1968, wrote a book that gave a daily account of what was happening in the Inn. Edelson had disguised the events and given us all pseudonyms, but it was easy to crack his code. We were off.

Complementing the public 75th anniversary of the Austen Riggs Center was an International Scientific Symposium organized for and by the staff to be held later in the fall. I asked Dr. White if I could attend and was surprised when he said that only people who had psychology degrees were permitted. He added, “That’s a Riggs rule, but didn’t you said you had a degree?”

“No, I told you my first husband had his degree.”

Ess White looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry but we just can’t let in any patient, or ex-patient for that matter, who might want to go. It would be too chaotic and where would we draw the line?”

I wasn’t about to let this go. Carol Gilligan was talking and I loved her work.  I knew she had had a special relationship with Erik Erikson, but how would that translate to the Riggs of today? So much of her work was supportive of the feminine experience and I didn’t see Riggs as embracing women in the same way.

I was skeptical about Riggs because of my unresolved issues about ex-patients raising money.  At the last alumni meeting Ess White had  lost his patience and asked hotly when we were going to finish talking about raising money and get busy doing it?  It was the first direct statement that showed me the discussion about ethics was over and probably always had been.  Riggs wanted action for a cause in which, to them, the end justified the means. Well, if they thought I could give money and help organize the patient panel presentation for the 75th anniversary, then Riggs could let me go to the grown-up version of that anniversary.

The fact that getting permission to go was so difficult was interesting. For one thing, Riggs’s attitude stood in sharp contrast to the way the Connecticut Association of Jungian Psychology worked. That organization was also invested in community, but Ray and the other therapists that formed the Connecticut Association, tapped into the strengths of “clients,” encouraging them to teach classes as well as take them. Not only was I teaching art, but several of my friends were teaching things that they were passionate about. We supported and felt supported by this vibrant community. No one retreated into shame because they were in therapy. There was a definite sense of play and adventure about the Jungian Association while, I was beginning to suspect, Riggs was now invested in a rigid, hierarchical, medical model. I wondered why I thought this. The reunion hardly looked like the product of an intractable medical model.  Some of this had to do with the way I perceived the Medical Director. Everyone was scurrying around to please him and he seemed hard to please. I picked up on some distrust in my conversations with Julie Martino. Over the years, she had become the great Riggs’s Mother figure, greeting doctors, visitors, patients and ex-patients with warmth and generosity. She behaved like a female Ess White — a feminine protector of the Riggs Tradition.  Although she was not someone who would ever say anything that might hurt Riggs or anyone connected to Riggs, I inferred some reservation about Ed Shapiro. I think it was Julie who told me that the present Medical Director was actually the CEO of Riggs. That was interesting! Then there was  Rita Kasky, the publicity lady at Riggs and the main liaison with the alumni and staff. She was not fond of Dr. Shapiro.  He was always looking over her shoulder, treating her with distrust and contempt – or so she thought. I certainly felt his presence behind Ess White and the fund-raising project. Watching staff walk down the MOB hall I saw a swagger that I  identified with Wall Street’s movers and shakers. The kind of “I’m above the law” swagger that you might expect to see from a group working under a CEO who first and foremost was interested in power.

A few months later when my old friend Beth and I were at Riggs getting our records, we stumbled into the copy room and found a list which looked like a statement of each current patient’s family financial statements. That  made our eyes bulge. A secretary walked in, saw what we had seen and whisked it away. Beth and I looked at each other in amazement. We felt a bit like detectives trying to solve a mystery:  had this been happening when we were there?  No. Dr. Robert Knight was a different sort of man and the 60’s were a time of great change and idealism and the 90’s were not.

Beth was supportive of the book and had many ideas of how we might structure it. Soon we were going back to get our medical records (thanks to Sylvia who came to the reunion with the forms we would need to get our records). The secretaries were also supportive and let us use the copy room to copy several of our reports. We talked endlessly about Riggs and about therapy. Beth had her doctorate and, unlike several of my friends, she was interested in the world of the unconscious. As we reconnected I  remembered why we had been such good friends while we were at Riggs: we both loved to think in psychological terms.

Both Beth and I thought that the experience of having to fight hard to be admitted to the symposium at Riggs was a result of staff ego and patriarchy. I sensed a two tier world where the staff guarded their territory from the patients, ex-patients, and general population. It was a relief to have Beth  keep me from slipping into assumptions that, as an ex-patient, my perceptions must be psychologically motivated. I  kept at it and finally Ess White got permission for me to go. The day of the symposium, Julie Martino, between her duties as  Riggs’s hostess, shared her impressions and time with me. I was a bit of an odd duck there, but not to Julie.

The international symposium was called “The Inner World in the Outer World” which I thought was a great title. I remembered that in the 60’s, when I was at Riggs, the patients represented the inner world and the doctors represented the outer world. Part of the patients’ job was to learn to interact with the outer world and learn how to live in it. I was surprised to hear at the symposium, however, the speakers referring to themselves as representative of the inner world while managed care and the insurance companies were the outer world. As I listened to the different lectures I was aware that these men (they were predominantly men) were worried that managed care was threatening the psychiatric world and strong measures had to be taken to protect the various institutions that still did psychiatric work. Of course I agreed that the whole medical system in our country was dreadful and  I knew that Riggs did a much better job than places where people were revolving in and out of short-term hospitalization. However, as I listened, I couldn’t help being aware that down the street in the Inn there were 40 patients who were not allowed to participate. Were they feared as being too needy or disruptive? The average attitude seemed to be,” We want to help these patients and protect psychoanalytic work, but at the same time we want the weirdos kept at the Inn and we want our jobs protected.” Only Carol Gilligan was aware and willing to talk directly with the patients. That was the only cross-fertilization between the professionals and the patients that I saw.

Carol Gilligan

Carol Gilligan

By the way, I thought Carol Gilligan’s speech Remembering Iphigenia: Voice and Resonance in the Talking Cure was fascinating. It has stayed with me for years and is still one of the most dramatic, clear tales of the way women sacrifice themselves to the patriarchy. If Iphigenia was to be sacrificed by her father, then she decided to do so as his daughter, with all the bravery and honor that befitted him — as his off-spring.  I’ve heard women describe their sacrifices this way all too often. Hearing Carol Gilligan was well worth the hassle of going to the symposium.

A month later I received the first installment of Dr. Ess White’s story which covered some of the history of the hospital. Like a child who thinks the world starts when they are born and that parents don’t have a life before that time, I realized I had little idea of Riggs’s historical perspective. The trick would be to present Dr. White’s story honestly while juxtaposing it with other stories so that they complemented each other. My own opinions and judgments needed to be contained.  Let Ess White talk for himself. In the meantime I started interviewing other staff: Margaret Brenman, Joan Erikson, Leo Garel, Shirley and Allen Cooley, and Jayne Mooney Brookes.  How was I going to marry those stories with the ones from the patients? My old friend, Turk, a fellow patient and life-long friend, signed on to help me edit the work and keep me from over-reacting. Although he lived in Seattle, we decided email would serve us just fine.


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