Ideology of Denial

Recently I was asked if my quote in this Herald article meant that I thought that ACC were deliberately looking for ways to decline claims, a contentious assertion to be sure. I don’t think that, and I said so. Such a crude and simplistic explanation clearly makes little sense. I harbour no ideas that the day to day workers in ACC have any cruel or malevolent intent, mostly I’m sure they are following orders and doing as much as they can within the limits imposed upon them. What interests me is what do the architects of this new aproach think to enable them to act in the ways they have over the last twelve months?

Denial is a concept therapists are intimately familiar with, and in many ways one of the more fascinating of defences. As a concept it is as old as humanity, and our capacity to utilise it is somewhat amazing, when you think about it. Smoking is always the most obvious example to me, and an illustration of it’s slipperiness. Smokers know it is bad for them, but momentarily forget, minimize or indulge in outright denial (it won’t happen to me.)

However denial also makes acts of atrocity possible, abusers employ denial and minimization to enable the crude satisfaction of their impulses. The abused must also utilise denial to not simply curl up and die, and often the confrontation of the painful reality of the impact of abuse does kill those unable to bear the pain, most often at their own hands. Denial can literally keep people alive.

When we track the history of the acceptance of the severity and the impact of sexual abuse throughout western history we see denial, at a societal level, operating as a defence for the culture as well. Freud’s initial thesis was that hysteria was caused by sexual abuse:

“I therefore put forward the thesis that at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurences of premature sexual experience, experiences which belong to the earliest years of childhood, but which can be reproduced through the work of psychoanalysis in spite of the intervening decades.” Freud, from the Aetiology of Hysteria; cited in Herman, 1992

This however was unpalatable to the conservative Viennese society he lived in and so he altered his theories and the course of western psychology with it.

Feminism and the rise of sexual equality sought and succeeded to tear down these walls of denial, and make clear the disturbingly high frequency of all forms of abuse of women and children and in doing so fought against the cultural tide of denial. In a way I guess patriarchy can be seen as a form of denial: denial of the power of gender politics and sexual inequality.

In backlash to these ideas and the threat they represented, a new wave of what I would call “abuse denial” arose largely represented by the invention of “False Memory Syndrome.”

This was a “phenomenon” whereby unscrupulous counsellors convinced people that the explanation of their symptoms was childhood sexual abuse that they simply “repressed” and through suggestion were able to re-call.

I can honestly say, I have never suggested to anyone that the explanation of their symptoms is sexual abuse, everyone I have treated has always been clear that they were abused. No suggestion required.

Furthermore I have never known anyone who practices in this way. I’m sure some misguided counsellors of the time may have, in the same way I’m sure that there are men (and women) accused of crimes that need defence against false claims of abuse and assault. But I’m also sure these situations are in a very small minority of cases and managed via appropriate legal processes of evidence, trial and appeal.

A recent edition of the New Scientist magazine discussed denial movements, such as climate change and holocaust deniers and defined that:

“It [denial] is the automatic gainsaying of a claim regardless of the evidence for it… ….Denailism is typically driven by ideology or religious belief, where the commitment to the belief takes precedence over the evidence.”

One can then claim scientific backing and empirical proof for one’s ideological beliefs. Opneness is exchanged for dogma: scientific curiosity for defensive certainty.

Fortunately trauma therapy has come a long way since the early nineties when the ideas of false memory syndrome and abuse deniers gained traction, but this recent pathway and the actions of ACC certainly has a feel of “here we go again.” One of the core problems I believe, is that the ideas of abuse deniers and the beauracratic aims of a financially motivated “insurance” agency are aligned: less claims means less expenditure, and to deny the impact of sexual abuse enables a clinical rationale for these financial motivations.

The “research” article I cited a while ago, that bore a striking resemblance to the new clinical pathway, is in my opinion is a clear example of dogma trumping curiosity, and of research which starts with an ideological basis. It’s lead author, Dr. Felicity Goodyear-Smith has an interesting background:

She was the GP for the Centrepoint Community from 1989 to 1994.

She is married to John Potter, son of Bert Potter, a convicted sexual offender from Centrepoint and leader of this movement on this website.
She has written a book titled “First do no Harm: The Sexual Abuse industry

She was publically removed from membership of the Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (DSAC) in part due to her repeadtedly acting as an expert witness for the defence in sexual abuse/ assault trials. See this article from the Sunday Star Times.

This expert witeness status was due to a piece of research which I find disturbing. In this paper she promotes the thesis that pre-pubescent children can contract gonorrhea without sexual contact. It has been dismissed by the court of appeal in this judgementand criticised in this article from the New Zealand lawyer magazine:

“ It would appear that Dr Goodyear-Smith’s surmise [about non-sexual transmission of ghonnereha] is based on something other than evidence.  Suffice it to say that doctors trained by DSAC, and paediatricians employed by Te Puaruruhau, practise on the basis of the evidence and not ideology.”

She currently works in an advisory role for ACC and has completed multiple research projects for ACC.

review of her written work points to a subtle but disturbing trend, a clear acknowledgement of the existence and incidence of sexual abuse and assault, along with a denial of the severity of the impact, and an implication that counsellors and therapists are to blame for the attribution of symptoms to childhood sexual abuse, and of widening and defining what is abuse.

I can’t help but formulate (I am a therapist after all) that it seems understandable that to be a health professional and married to a convicted paedophile, and having been involved in any capacity as a GP at the Centrepoint Commune, presumably seeing young girls who were “sexually active” at a disturbingly young age, would lead to a certain level of conflict.

See here for recent research project findings about the impact of life on Centrepoint…

Technically speaking minimization is of course a form of denial and in my opinion her research and writing is riddled with it.

While no clear evidence of a direct link between Dr. Goodyear-Smith and the new clinical pathway has yet come to light, I certainly hope that one person’s psychological conflict and defences against the painful reality of their life have not come to plague a nation that already struggles against the denial of the very real impact of the abuse of our children.  I also hope that the Clinical review panel are able to see and disseminate the ideology and dogma from the facts, and see that evidence based practices, not dogma based research will lead us from this current darkness back into the light.

The last word on denial goes to a survivor of the Centrepoint community cited in the above mentioned research:

“What’s really fascinating to me is how reasonable human beings, adults, can suddenly alter their thinking in a way that allows them to normalise abhorrent behaviour…why are people more comfortable doing nothing when they know something is so terribly wrong, than get uncomfortable stopping it.”

P.S. Thank you to all who provided me with information and links for this blog, you know who you are.  For more excellent writing on this issues see Luddite Journo’s blog and comment posts.


Leave a Comment

  • momochii May 23, 2011, 6:57 am

    Valuable info. Lucky me I found your site by accident, I bookmarked it.

TO BUY MY NEW BOOK "Shit Happens: Lessons for Dealing with Life's Ups and Downs"... CLICK HERE