«Therapy with Leon Redler - a story of disillusionment Why I kept seeing him I 'saw' Leon Redler on and off over a period of about ten years. One of ...»
Therapy with Leon Redler - a story of disillusionment
Why I kept seeing him
I 'saw' Leon Redler on and off over a period of about ten years. One of the puzzling questions for me is how
Leon Redler managed to exert such a strong hold on me; essentially how could I have been so taken in by
him as to persist in my belief that he was a wise and cogent person who "knew best" despite no resolution to
my one stated problem which I "brought to therapy"?
Looking back I notice that I never or hardly questioned him. On the few occasions that I did he was readily able to throw off my criticisms. For example, he was able to persuade me to have "family therapy", something which I had never asked for or intended and which when he first suggested it I strongly refused.
Essentially though his hold over me is shown by the fact that I 'saw' him over a period of about 10 years on and off, spending a substantial part of a low income on the sessions, and yet got absolutely nowhere in terms of the one question which I first asked him about. This was in fact a quite normal question for a capable young man; “what should I do with my life”? After those 10 years I was trapped for a further 3 'seeing' his acolyte, a therapist in 'supervision' with him, whom he had "highly recommended" to me.
(Therapy borrows its clothing from several fields in an attempt to present itself as professional and in line with normal Western standards. For example a junior therapist may be "in supervision" with a more senior therapist; in this instance the garb is borrowed from academia).
My perception at that time was that he was a very experienced, wise man, a rare authority on psychological and existential problems. Where did I get this from? There are a number of factors; his association with R.
D. Laing the sixties psychiatrist, the fact that he was a doctor and his manner in the sessions.
I had heard of Leon Redler as someone who was an associate of R. D. Laing. This was at the time when, having dropped out of University, I was reading a great deal and was enamoured by some of the work of R.
D. Laing. In fact the one book that made a great impression on me was The Divided Self, and that (I see with hindsight) more for its excellent writing style than for its content. Already at that time I had felt that his subsequent books such as The Politics of Experience or The Facts of Life were more empty gesturing than anything else. Nonetheless when I heard that a friend had made the acquaintance of someone who had been close to this iconic figure and offered to give me his address I was interested. I was young, impressionable and desperate for intellectual companions or guides; precisely what I had hoped for but found totally absent in my theology course at Oxford University which I had dropped out of. The writings of R. D. Laing had resonated with me; he seemed interested in theology, in literature and in humanity. He seemed someone in authority yet who knew the flaws of authority. I feltpossibly that he and by some kind of extension (rather naively perhaps) his trainee also would be someone who would 'understand' me. My primary motivation was to seek intellectual companionship I think. I had one problem that was at the forefront of my mind at that time; I did not know "what to do with my life". (I also had some relatively minor sexual hang-ups which I certainly did not feel a need to 'consult' anyone about but since I was 'seeing' a psychoanalyst I thought might be of interest to him!).
I wrote to Leon Redler asking if he would see me for free on the grounds that I had very interesting problems. I didn't really want to become a paying patient of a psychotherapist but I was interested in meeting someone from this circle. Redler replied that if it was “just for interest value” he “would pass” but if I wanted a “professional consultation” for a fee he would see me. Of course, the actual fee (which turned out to be £30.00 for a 50 minute session) was not mentioned. As a young man it was of course unbearable to feel that I was being “passed over” not to mention the implication that I had wasted the great man's time.
With hindsight the letter appears quite artfully written. It wasn't manipulative but was quite selective in what it said and what it didn't. He diminished those aspects which might have put me off taking it any further, for example mentioning a specific fee. He accepted what I told him but did not respond, in fact, passing over it, "if it is just for interest value", leaving me feeling that I had told him something quite private about myself but to which I had had no response. In fact, though there is no way I could have known this at the time, this is exactly the basic pattern of how psycho-analysts gain a hold over their patients, as analysed by Richard Webster in his book Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis.  Having told the analyst their private details the patient cannot leave until they have heard a response and this is never forthcoming.
And so I went to see him. In the first “session” I started to give him some biographical information. I expected that I would give him this, as one gives a doctor an account of the symptoms or the pain, and he would respond with some kind of recommendation. He cut me off, with a gesture. I didn't “have” to tell him all this though I could if I wanted it. I swallowed the hook. This was a key moment. I had expected a “normal” dialog. I would tell him something and he would respond. In this move he excused himself from responding. (David Reed in his book Anna talks about Redler not responding ). From now on I was just talking. I had fallen into the mode of producing a non-reciprocal monologue to which he was obliged to listen, but not respond. This can go on for ever. How easily did I become a patient! How little he had to do!
Later, at the right time, he was able to deepen the effect by asking me if I minded if he took notes. The psychiatrist sitting in his formal office chair, the patient in the other (comfy) chair, the patient talking his monologue, the psychiatrist taking notes in his role, also non-reciprocal, of surveillance of the patient's 'inner' life. The patient is objectified. It becomes not the authentic meeting spoken about by R. D. Laing but a formal rite of doctor and patient, a pseudo-clinical situation. As Foucault comments, in psychoanalysis the non-reciprocal role of surveillance which psychoanalysis took from the asylum is now balanced by another non-reciprocal relationship, that of the patient talking his endless monologue.  In passing R. D. Laing charged around £60.00 for an authentic meeting in the late eighties. I had not intended to become a patient of a psychotherapist but I was now in a position of a patient 'in therapy' looking at a 'course of treatment' lasting (in his words) 3 to 5 years. Some time into the therapy I raised my original question again, "what shall I do with my life?". Redler responded that I was 'out of touch' with myself and needed to 'get in touch with myself' and then this would be resolved. In reality of course many young people do not know what to do with their lives. The normal solution is to try various things which you think might be congenial until something sticks. This is a process of engagement with the 'external world'. It is free. Therapy with its disengagement from the external world looks for answers in the psyche of the victim/patient and in the 'therapeutic relationship'. A normal state in a young man is re-written as an illness which needs therapeutic intervention.
I was impressed by Leon Redler's being a medical doctor, Dr. Leon Redler. I was brought up in a typically bourgeois way to trust medical doctors absolutely; in my bourgeoisie family milieu the person of the Doctor had considerable authority. If a doctor said 'swallow this pill' I would swallow it. At best I might say "really", but if he said yes that would be the extent of my refusal.
Brought up to accept the authority of a Doctor I trusted Dr Leon Redler. His business cards and headed stationery said he was Dr Leon Redler but offered a qualification "New York state licensed physician". It occurs to me that if Dr Redler is not registered to practice medicine in the United Kingdom this little sentence would be a necessary qualification to avoid a charge that he was misrepresenting himself. The GMC has no record of a Leon Redler or a L Redler as having been registered with them since 1960, so, unless he is registered under a different name he is not registered to practice medicine in the United Kingdom and never has been. His cards could say 'licensed in the state of New York, USA', which would make it clear. The phrasing "New York state licensed physician" distracts the reader from the fact that this is a qualification, a caveat, and presents it as something positive. In other words it is spun. (Registered doctors are expected to put their GMC number on their stationery). It is interesting that on the web site of the Philadelphia Association, the charity set up by R. D. Laing and others to care for 'schizophrenics' which now operates as a conventional school of psychotherapy and which includes amongst its members Dr Redler, Dr Leon Redler is not represented as a Doctor but simply as Leon Redler. The extent to which Leon Redler's Dr title is applicable to his therapy practice seems to be in some doubt if it is on his own headed stationery but not on the web site of his 'professional' body. The biographical information on this web site and in an online Curriculum Vitae states that Leon Redler "undertook a post-graduate training in paediatrics and psychiatry in the USA". This appears to leave an ambiguity as to whether or not this training was completed and whether Leon Redler is qualified, even in the USA, to practise as a psychiatrist.
Leon Redler tells a story of how during his period of psychiatric training he was subject to a formal disciplinary procedure for speaking with a patient outside of his remit, and how this formed the background to his coming to the UK to undertake his 'apprenticeship' with R. D. Laing. There is an irony here: the story is told perhaps to illustrate a comradeship with patients, but Leon Redler engages in the standard psychoanalytic practice of entirely non-reciprocal relations. In assessing psychoanalysis Foucault writes: "He [Freud] focussed upon this single presence - concealed behind the patient and above him, in an absence that is also a total presence - all the powers that had been distributed in the collective existence of the asylum; he transformed this into an absolute Observation, a pure and circumspect Silence, a Judge who punishes and rewards in a judgement that does not even condescend to language; he made it the Mirror in which madness, in an almost motionless movement, clings to and casts off itself." Leon Redler nowadays calls his practice 'Just listening' (a sort of pun on 'Just') which seems to encapsulate the sense of Silence and Judgement which Foucault refers to quite accurately. As we have mentioned above Foucault shows how psychoanalysis took the non-reciprocal relationship of surveillance from the asylum and balanced it with another non-reciprocal relationship, that of the patient giving his endless monologue. There is no solidarity in this relationship.
It was critical to my willingness to believe in Dr Redler, to believe that he was a "thaumaturge" (Foucault again) who had magical powers and a wondrous kind of esoteric knowledge, that he was a medical doctor.
Here was someone who could operate in the realm of the soul with the same objective precision as someone who operated in the scientific field of bodily ailments. I would have been much more ready to doubt and question an unqualified psychotherapist than a medical doctor. When occasionally I raised doubts I allowed myself to be silenced by Dr Redler in a way that I think I would not have done with a psychotherapist who did not brandish the title Dr on his headed stationery. However, as we have seen there is some doubt as to what exactly 'Dr' may mean here and to what extent in anyone's eyes but his own it endorses his therapy practice.
How did he keep me for so long? I 'saw' him for an initial period of some years. During this period I lived for 9 months in a 'Therapeutic Community Household' run by the Philadelphia Association,  which was recommended to me by Leon Redler. Then I moved to another town. For a while I did not see him; then I wrote to him with a complaint about the 'Therapeutic Community Household'. It was managed by another Philadelphia Association therapist who, in my view belittled the residents. In some ways I thought he had behaved simply wrongly; for example, without my permission he had gone behind my back and (though he had no statutory authority at all) spoken with the local authority about my financial circumstances, which was an invasion of my privacy if nothing else. I expected Leon Redler, as a senior member of the Philadelphia Association to be concerned. After a lengthy period Redler wrote back explaining that he had been very busy. He found, he said, my letter hard to read, though it was 'important'. He invited me to come in an read it to him in a session. I did this. (In passing; I had been over the letter and deliberately re-written words which might not have been legible; I must have anticipated his response, which came nonetheless despite my precautions, and which like a yo-yo I nonetheless succumbed to). This cost me another £30.00.
Needless to say nothing happened. Leon Redler took no responsibility. He in fact made no response at all to my complaint. He had managed to turn my complaint into part of the 'therapy' and to collect a fee at the same time. In taking so long to reply and explaining that he was busy, despite the fact that I was a paying client, his main business, we see the underlying attitude to patients prevalent in psychoanalysis, an attitude which the writer Jeffrey Masson exposes in Freud in his work on Ferenczi's diaries; Freud apparently referred to patients as "riff-raff".  Taking so long to reply to a patient and using the excuse that you are busy when seeing 'patients' is your main line clearly does treat the patient as "riff-raff".