healthcare, mental health, musings

Death of a head shrinker…

A few days ago, I read an article in The New York Times about new drugs that can help treat obesity and perhaps “end the stigma” of being overweight. I’m old enough to have seen a lot of so-called magic bullet obesity drugs on the market. I remember in the late 90s, there was Meridia, which used to be advertised on TV all the time. This ad showed pleasingly plump women in loud prints, breezily lumbering along with smiles on their faces… The ads promised that the drug would help fat people control their appetites and lose weight. Then it was voluntarily withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2010, because it was shown to increase risk of heart attacks and strokes.

I remember this ad so well…

In the 1990s, there was also the Fen-Phen combo of drugs, which was said to be very effective in helping people lose weight. Bill says his ex wife took that combination for awhile. Apparently, she was very upset when it was taken off the market. I remember that combination of Fenfluramine and Phentermine was removed because it supposedly caused heart valve problems as well as high blood pressure. Ex, indeed, reportedly had issues with her heart, other than the fact that it’s so small. She had to have surgery at some point.

And then there was the drug my former psychiatrist gave me. For some reason, my former shrink felt besides the antidepressants I definitely needed, I should also take Topamax to help me lose weight. Topamax is a drug that is used for stopping seizures, curing migraines, and treating bipolar disorder. My shrink didn’t give it to me for those purposes, though. He prescribed it because one of the side effects of Topamax is decreased appetite. He felt I was too fat, and Topamax would help me lose weight.

Granted, I wanted to lose weight… and I was tired of hearing him harp on my body when I went to see him for prescription refills. So I tried Topamax for awhile. I often got the third degree from pharmacists, since I was also taking Wellbutrin, which is said to cause seizures in some people (but not me). Pharmacists would become alarmed at the drug combination and question me, and I would have to tell them that I wasn’t taking Topamax because I have seizures. It was embarrassing.

The Topamax did kill my appetite, which Bill didn’t like, because I didn’t want to cook or eat dinner. It also made carbonated beverages taste terrible, which wasn’t a bad thing, since I was addicted to Diet Pepsi at the time. But even with health insurance, the drugs were expensive, especially since I was also taking name brand Wellbutrin (the generic version didn’t yet exist). I also didn’t lose a lot of weight, much to the psychiatrist’s dismay. He wondered if I had a slow thyroid.

I remember feeling really horrible about his comments. At the time I was seeing him, I had actually lost a lot of weight because I was waiting tables and didn’t have time to eat or sit down. The pounds came off pretty easily and most people thought I looked pretty good. However, I was constantly sick during that time, partly because I was fresh from the Peace Corps and kept getting skin infections and also because I was run down because I was always working. I developed a distinct disdain for that shrink because even though I suffered greatly from body image issues, eating disorder issues, anxiety and depression, this guy kept harassing me about my figure… even after I was happily married to Bill, who didn’t care that I wasn’t skinny.

I was reminded of this shrink the other day, as i read the article in The New York Times the “new” magic bullet drugs that could help people shed pounds and the scorn and harassment that comes from being overweight. I shared the article on Facebook and my former therapist, who is now a friend, commented that the article is interesting. I wrote that I thought his “friend”, the psychiatrist, should see it. My former therapist wrote, “Yes, but he’s dead.”

I hadn’t known the former head shrinker had died. I went looking for his obituary, and lo and behold, there it was. He actually died two years ago. I had no idea. Several people had left kind comments about his memory. If I’m honest, I could see how they came to their conclusions about him. On the surface, the former head shrinker was “nice” enough. I remember thinking he had kind of a gentle, steady air about him. But he also really pissed me off on a regular basis by calling me “kid” when I was a grown and married woman, making comments that were belittling, and giving me a hard time about not being thin when I already had terrible issues with self esteem. I got the impression that he had a personal bias. I also didn’t like it when he acted in a paternalistic way. He was very much an old school kind of doctor who treated me like a child. It wasn’t very helpful at a time when I was trying to launch.

Fortunately, I only went to see that doctor for medication. I saw my therapist, a younger, hipper, and more empathetic guy, for psychotherapy. I will give the head shrinker credit, too. He was a competent psychiatrist in that he found the right drug for me. Wellbutrin changed and maybe even saved my life. Within just a few days of taking it, I felt like a completely different person. After taking it for several years and then getting off the drug, I still haven’t gone back to the awful way I used to feel every day… the way that was normal for me, but made other people think I was legitimately crazy. People used to ask me if I was bipolar all the time. They don’t anymore, although I don’t spend much time around other people anymore.

In 2007, before we moved to Germany the first time, I requested my records from the shrinks. I needed them because the Army required all of my medical records so I could be evaluated for the EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program). This was supposedly a must before they would send us to Germany, but as it turned out, the National Guard (Bill’s official employer– he was a full time “federalized” Guardsman) didn’t give a fuck about my EFMP status the way the regular Army would have. I was forced to join the EFMP, but it turned out that I could have skipped the whole process and the National Guard wouldn’t have been the wiser. It would have been nice if I had known that, since the whole EFMP screening process was traumatic for me on many levels. I won’t get into that now, though. I think I reposted about my experience with the whole EFMP business. Thank God Bill is retired.

Unwisely enough, I read the notes my shrinks wrote about me. My cool therapist wrote positive, affirming notes. The dead head shrinker wrote things that upset me… like, for instance, I had a “garish” appearance. I was a bit taken aback by that. People have described me in a lot of ways, but never “garish”. That implies that I looked tacky, gaudy, or like a clown. And I didn’t see what my choices in makeup and clothing had to do with my mental well-being. Isn’t it better if someone with depression isn’t wearing black? He also made comments about my weight in his notes… and on more than one occasion, seemed a bit frustrated that his chemical cures weren’t slimming me down. I know very well that I’m not a thin person… but he made it sound like I was just disgustingly obese. When I was seeing him regularly, I wore a size 14 or 16… which is pretty average among American women, even if it’s not ideal in terms of most women’s most attractive body size.

It was a little strange reading about this man’s death. I mean, I know it had to happen… he was old enough, although he was several years younger than my father was when he died. I noticed the obituary didn’t mention a wife. I remember he was married when I saw him. I’d heard she was his third wife, and she had been about my age, while the shrink was old enough to be my dad. He’d had a young daughter back in the late 90s, which would mean she’s a young adult now. He also had four other children. I remember thinking that I hoped his youngest daughter didn’t have weight issues when she was growing up. I had a feeling he would ride her about them. And I guess, just based on his obituary, that his wife was no longer married to him when he passed a couple of years ago. He was a tall, somewhat handsome man, and he didn’t have a weight problem. But that didn’t stop him from having problems of his own.

I don’t like seeing doctors. I haven’t seen one since 2010, when Bill made me go because we thought my gallbladder might need to come out. It turned out it wasn’t bad enough to be yanked. One of the reasons I don’t like seeing doctors is because of that shrink… as well as the horrible OB-GYN who did my very first (of only two) gynecological exams. She physically and mentally hurt me so bad and shamed me so much that I became a bit phobic of medical people, even though I have a background in healthcare. Now I don’t go to doctors unless I’m about to die.

But maybe I shouldn’t blame these doctors for turning me off of their services so much… They’re only human, right? I’m sure they had my best interests in mind when they fat shamed me. The OB-GYN wrongly predicted I would get very fat in Armenia. I actually lost a lot of weight there. I did gain it back, but then I came home and waited tables and lost even more weight. And then I gained it back when I quit waiting tables… which was a good move for my overall health– especially my mental health– even if I didn’t have as pretty a package for people to look at. I’m glad to hear about the new drugs that might help people lose weight. I think it’s a good thing to think of obesity as a medical problem rather than a character flaw. However, this is not the first time I’ve heard about drugs that can help with weight loss… and so many of them turn out to be harmful.

Well… one more week to go before Bill is home. I continue to try to keep the faith. Last night, I was thinking about places I might like to visit when we’re finally able to travel again. Funnily enough, I’m planning based on whichever place is the least likely to give me a hard time rather than where I’d really like to spend time. One of the many luxuries of living in Germany is that there are plenty of places to see, and a lot of them are not so hard to drive to. Last night, I was thinking about visiting Krakow, Poland. It’s about a 9 hour drive from where we live. Maybe we can go there this year… after my second vaccine next month.

Also… I guess I’ve now arrived. Yesterday, I was made aware of someone having made a cloned account from my Facebook profile. It had one of my photos from last year, a cover photo using a picture I took in Rothenburg in 2018, and claimed I was a Mexican living in Nashville. I reported the profile, but Facebook naturally says they can’t do anything about it because it “doesn’t violate standards”. Meanwhile, they can give me bullshit warnings because they claim one of my comments was racist hate speech when it was really a criticism of a racist game being pitched on Facebook. They really need to get some real people evaluating these reports again. Facebook sucks, and is becoming more of a joke by the day. Anyway, I left several more complaints, along with a profane comment on the cloned profile. I doubt it will amount to anything. I changed my passwords, just in case.

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healthcare, LDS, mental health, Military, religion, true crime

Sweeping stuff under the rug leads to years of abuse…

Thanks to my regular reader, commenter, and friend Alexis, I have fallen down yet another true crime rabbit hole. Yesterday, I reposted a review of the now out-of-print book Doc, by true crime author Jack Olsen. I found out about Doc from the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard, a place where I’ve “hung out” online for years. I know from hanging out on RfM that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is no stranger to controversy. It’s also had its share of perverts among its ranks, some of whom have committed crimes that were, unfortunately, “swept under the rug”.

The story of Doc is about a non-Mormon physician named John Story who worked in Lovell, Wyoming, a heavily Mormon populated town. Story took advantage of the local mores and religious customs on Lovell as he perpetrated sex crimes on his female patients, many of whom were faithful members of the LDS church.

Alexis, who shares my interest in Mormonism, alerted me to a similar story about the late LaVar Withers, a Mormon physician from Rexburg, Idaho who similarly abused his patients. Rexburg, Idaho, like Lovell, Wyoming, is a town that is chock full of LDS church members. And, just as Dr. John Story took advantage of his patients, many of whom were sexually inexperienced and very vulnerable, Dr. LaVar Withers also took advantage of his patients. According to the Los Angeles Times, Withers was forced to give up his medical license in 1996 when someone finally spoke up about his unconventional examinations. He had been “practicing medicine” by giving his female patients inappropriate breast and vagina exams for over thirty years. Yes, people talked about it in town, but no one ever officially reported him to the police until the 1990s. He victimized women, but he also victimized young girls, under the guise of giving them “care”. LaVar Withers died in 2005.

Before I go any further, I want to state that I’m not specifically trying to pick on the Mormons. Having heard and read so much about disgraced Dr. Larry Nassar’s sex crimes against hundreds of female athletes, I know that this is a problem that doesn’t just affect members of the LDS church. However, I think it’s true that highly restrictive religions or other groups that emphasize sexual purity, virginity, patriarchy, and taking care of issues “internally” can lead to a lot of innocent people being abused by people with authority. Although gymnastics is not a religion, per se, it is a discipline that requires a lot of obedience. Gymnasts are taught to do what they’re told. Female gymnasts, in particular, are vulnerable because they’re usually children who are not yet ready to stand up to adults, particularly ones in authority like coaches and doctors. In that sense, women who are devout members of patriarchal religions, like Mormonism, may also be vulnerable to abuse by male church leaders or physicians.

Because my husband was a victim of domestic violence in his first marriage, as well as a former convert member of the LDS church, I am more aware of the cases affecting Mormons. I do know, however, that this is an issue that transcends a lot of communities– particularly those that are “closed” somehow. I would say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with its somewhat secretive (they say “sacred) rituals, patriarchal authority systems, and emphasis on “callings”, may make some members more ripe for the picking by abusive people with authority, like Dr. John Story and Dr. LaVar Withers. Story was not LDS, but he served a heavily Mormon population. And his patients, particularly the females, were trained to trust and obey people like him.

Also consider that the LDS church does not have a professional clergy. The church is led by high ranking males who tend to be pillars of the community somehow, not necessarily people with training in religion or counseling. A man with a white collar career, say a doctor, professor, lawyer, or dentist, is likely to climb the highest echelons of church hierarchy. A lowly woman, especially one who doesn’t have a career, was not likely to be believed when she complains about someone like LaVar Withers, who was a popular and well-known physician and a pillar of the community.

But there were complaints– in fact, the earliest one dated from the mid 1960s. A woman named Carol Hannah visited Dr. Withers because she was having trouble shaking a bad cold. Somehow, her complaint about her cold turned into a very intimate breast and vagina exam. When she reported him to the police, they laughed at her and accused her of “misunderstanding” what he was doing. She was dismissed and her complaints were completely ignored. Other women who complained over the years were also ignored, and none of them were willing to sign their complaints against him, anyway. It was too shameful and scandalous for them.

In 1992, a parent wrote to the Madison Memorial Hospital’s then executive director, Keith Steiner, about how Withers had examined, without a nurse present, her daughter’s breast and pelvic area after she went to the emergency room having been hit in the head by a volleyball. Instead of thoroughly investigating the issue, Mr. Steiner wrote back that he had received an “absolute denial” of the allegations from Dr. Withers. Steiner added  “I will say that I have not had any indication of this type of behavior from the doctor. He is greatly respected in our community.”

In the L.A. Times article about LaVar Withers, journalist Barry Siegel writes about what happened when a female church member confronted her bishop about Dr. LaVar Withers’ unconventional medical exams. The woman, Tee Andrew, was a convert to the church. She was highly respected and married to an accountant. Because her regular doctor had retired, she visited Dr. Withers, complaining of a severe migraine. She had heard stories about him, but figured he wouldn’t try anything with her, because her husband was in the room. And yet, even though Andrew’s husband was present, Dr. Withers still managed to feel up Tee Andrew’s breasts. He did so with a straight face, as if this was a perfectly normal and natural part of an exam for a migraine headache.

Tee Andrew then called the Idaho Board of Medicine, which reported that Dr. Withers had never been sanctioned by them. That was because there had never been any formal allegations against Dr. Withers, even though many people had informally complained. When Andrew called her former physician, Dr. Jud Miller, he said that he’d heard of “some problems”, but thought Withers had stopped. Then he advised Andrew to contact LaVar Williams’ “stake president”– that is the church leader above his bishop. Note that Miller didn’t tell his former patient to call the police or speak to the licensing authorities. She was told to keep this within the church. So she called LaVar Withers’ stake president, Farrell Young, a dentist who was the great great grandson of Brigham Young himself. According to the Los Angeles Times:

“I’m not going to mince words,” Andrew began. Then she told her story, and offered to take a polygraph test. According to Andrew, Young mainly expressed his sorrow and appreciation for her call, right up until she told him she meant to notify the police.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that now,” Young responded. “I’d appreciate you letting me take care of things from my end.”

In an interview months later with the Idaho Statesman newspaper, Young didn’t dispute this account. Yes, he agreed, he “may have said do not go to the police immediately,” because Mormon doctrine stresses forgiveness. “When people have a hurt, they should leave it alone. Put it away and look for the good.”

Sure enough… Andrew waited a month for action from Farrell Young against LaVar Withers. None ever came. He never contacted her with an update about the situation. So Tee Andrew finally went to the police and made her complaint. Then she started talking to other women in the community. Sure enough, the stories came pouring out. And that was what finally led to LaVar Withers’ resignation from medicine. However, he managed to leave the profession with a cheery news article, his reputation– temporarily– intact.

Again– these specific incidents have to do with the LDS church, mainly because that church was a specific interest of mine for a long time. It’s less so now, since Bill’s daughters are grown. But it’s not just the Mormons who have these issues with sweeping crimes under the rug and handling them “internally”. As anyone who has followed the Duggar family over the years knows, the Mormons do not corner the market on abusing women. Back in 2015, the entire planet was made aware of Josh Duggar’s propensity toward molesting women. It came out that Josh had sexually abused four of his sisters and a babysitter. And instead of reporting the issue to the police and having Josh deal with legal consequences, his parents chose to sweep the issue under the rug. Instead of getting counseling for their son, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar made him shave his head and sent him away to do hard labor for a family friend.

Years later, it came out that not only did Josh molest his sisters and a babysitter, he also cheated on his wife, Anna. Sadly, instead of divorcing Josh and taking their children away from him, Anna has stood by her man and had more children with him. Although we have not heard more reports about his misdeeds with women, I would not be surprised if the abuse continues. I’m all for letting people redeem themselves, but I don’t think the way religious groups handle these kinds of issues is particularly effective. Sweeping things under the rug doesn’t solve anything. There have to be real consequences and a commitment to contrition and restitution. Unfortunately, proven abusers, particularly those who get away with the behavior for many years, don’t tend to change their ways.

LaVar Withers was eventually sentenced to 30 days in jail on a misdemeanor battery charge against his patients. That is a ridiculously light sentence, especially given that Withers had complaints against him going back over 30 years. The LDS church also disciplined him by taking his “temple recommend” and placing him on probation. However, the whole thing was handled privately. It seems that restrictive religions tend to want to come up with their own discipline against members who violate the law. And those practices can lead to more abuse of the innocent.

Restrictive religions can also help create predators and allow them to flourish, even among non members. I reposted my articles about Heath J. Sommer, a Mormon psychotherapist who convinced female patients in the military that having sex with him would be therapeutic. After reading about Sommer, I started getting LDS vibes. I looked him up, and sure enough, he was a church member. And he no doubt used his church affiliation to make himself seem more trustworthy and humane as he told some of his clients that they should be giving him blow jobs as part of their therapy. I don’t know what Sommer’s specific issues are. I kind of wonder if maybe he has a problem with women in power, and that’s why he worked with females in the military. One of his victims was an Air Force colonel. Many people felt she should have known better, but she trusted him and expected that he would be competent. In some ways, the military can be as bad as strict religions in covering up and perpetuating abuse.

Many people will give religious people the benefit of the doubt, especially when the churchgoer is a man with multiple academic degrees and a successful career. Another example of this is Dr. Martin MacNeill, a Mormon doctor, lawyer, and bishop who murdered his wife after she’d had plastic surgery. People trusted Dr. MacNeill because of his lofty career and church status. But if anyone had taken the time to look beneath Dr. MacNeill’s “respectable” surface, they might have seen that he wasn’t as good a person as he seemed to be.

Anyway… I could write about this subject all day. It’s probably time I closed this particular post. But I will probably revisit this topic soon, because I think it’s an important one. I think our culture, especially, hates confrontation. Too many of us are willing to let things slide and sweep egregiously bad behavior under the rug. We blame ourselves when people do wrong. We look back on what we said and did for any indication that something bad that happened was our fault. This happens a lot with women, especially, and if you’re a part of a strict patriarchal group, such as a religion, the military, or even a sport like women’s gymnastics, it can be all too easy to surrender common sense and self-respect.

It can be so easy to let a fear of humiliation and shame scare us into keeping silent. It’s happened to me. Fighting back is hard, and sometimes it leads to disaster. I’m writing about this to encourage my readers to speak up rather than sweep up. Don’t let abusive people get away with their bad behavior. The longer they do it, the more emboldened they become. And if you don’t do your part to stop them, you become part of the problem and even a bit complicit when the next person suffers.

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LDS, mental health, psychology, religion, true crime

Repost: Heath J. Sommer… author, psychologist, rapist… Mormon…

Here’s a repost of my December 2018 follow up article about Heath J. Sommer with more information I uncovered. Again, I am reposting this because I may write about another doctor who abused patients.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a rant about comments on a news article I read.  The Air Force Times had printed a piece about former Air Force psychologist Heath J. Sommer (also known as Heath Jacob Lind), who was just found guilty of six felony sexual assault charges.  Sommer had been working at Travis Air Force Base, treating women who had been sexually assaulted and were looking for help getting over their traumas.  The psychologist’s prescribed treatment of the sexual assault victims was what he called “exposure therapy“, which is, in fact, a legitimate approach to healing people with trauma and helping them move past anxieties.  However, Sommer’s brand of treatment also included having his female patients have sex with him.  In one case, he even told a client that if she didn’t submit to his “therapeutic intervention”, she would likely commit suicide within a year.

I read some of the comments left by readers of the Army Times, which had also disseminated the Air Force Times article.  Sommer’s actions were disgusting enough, but there were also people commenting on how “dumb” the victims were to fall for Sommer’s assertion that they needed to have sexual contact with him in order to get over their traumas related to sexual assault.  Although I’ve been around military folks my whole life and am used to some of the callous attitudes some servicemembers have, I must admit that sometimes I get really tired of some of the ignorance perpetuated by certain people in the military population.  The military culture is imbrued with macho bullshit, and sometimes people in the culture don’t think beyond the obvious.

Anyway, once I ranted about dumb comments from Army Times readers, I decided I wanted to know more about this Heath Sommer character.  After a couple of Google sessions, I quickly learned that Sommer, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, also fancies himself an author of “mental health” thrillers.  He’s written several books, which are all for sale on Amazon.com.  In fact, I found a blog post about Sommer’s writing that is somewhat revelatory.  He offers his thoughts on terror, along with the interesting opening line “Horror is worse when it has pigtails.”  Interestingly enough, one person who commented on that post wrote that Sommer doesn’t include graphic sex scenes or gore in his books.  And yet, as a psychologist, he was quite graphic when he victimized his female clients.  One woman was asked to perform fellatio on Sommer twice.  He even complimented her on her technique.

Most of the rest of the information about Sommer, at least in the first results, was related to the crimes he has now been convicted of committing.  I decided to hit Facebook to see what else I could learn.  Sure enough, he has a page.  At first blush, it’s innocuous enough.  But then I noticed a picture of Sommer with a huge passel of children.  I had read that he is a father and a husband… and, by the looks of his Facebook, it appears that he has at least nine kids.  But the large family is not really what set off my “Modar”.  It was his shorts.

I noticed that Sommer and his children were all wearing shorts that came at least to the knee.  The only people I know of who regularly wear those kinds of shorts are people of the LDS persuasion.  This is not to say that I necessarily believe Sommer’s religion has anything to do with his criminal actions.  In fact, when I first saw pictures of him online, it didn’t occur to me that he was religious at all.  In his mug shots, he appears kind of scruffy, with unkempt hair cut in an unattractive bowl style, a double chin, and facial hair.  It’s not exactly the Mormon look.  In other photos, he looks very different.  He’s clean shaven and has a neat haircut, though remains a little creepy looking.  I still wouldn’t have recognized him at first blush.  In fact, after looking at his author page and comparing it to his mug shot, I even wondered if the two photos were of the same person.

I did some more digging.  I found connections to the church via his Facebook friends, as well as his academic credentials.  Two of his three degrees come from Idaho State University, and he also has ties to Pocatello, which is a very Mormon area.  And then, I found Sommer listed on a Wiki page about LDS authors.  Even with all of those ties, I still wondered if the psychologist and the author were the same people, since Sommer’s booking photo looks so different than other pictures I’ve seen.  But the name “Heath Sommer” isn’t like “John Smith” or “Tom Brown”.  It’s a somewhat unusual name.  What are the odds that there are two Heath Sommers who are (or were) practicing clinical psychologists in California, both having lived in Idaho?

I write this knowing that some people might accuse me of bigotry for noting that this convicted sex offender is also a long shorts wearing member of the “one true church”.  Just to be clear, once again– I don’t think that Sommer’s religion necessarily has any bearing on his criminal activity.  He could have been just as creepy as a Catholic or a Jew… or as an atheist, for that matter.  On the other hand, religion can play a part in damaging a person’s psyche.  I have hung out on Recovery from Mormonism long enough to see the damage that the church can wreak on some people.  There’s a big emphasis on looking and living the right way.  In fact, the emphasis on appearance is pervasive enough that never Mormons like me can often spot them at ten paces.

The LDS church is very patriarchal and definitely shapes the attitudes of its members.  There’s also a strong emphasis on sexuality and remaining “clean” and “chaste”.  For example, while homosexuals can be church members, they are expected not to act on their same sex attraction.  Members are expected to refrain from masturbation and are asked questions by church leaders about their sexual habits.  From what I’ve read so far, it doesn’t appear that Sommer victimized any of his non Air Force affiliated patients.  But it could be that none of them have stepped forward yet.  According to news reports, Sommer’s victims were all female Air Force officers.  In fact, one victim was a colonel, which is a pretty high rank.  It makes me wonder if he had issues with powerful women in leadership positions.  Now that I think about it, the church also has issues with women in powerful positions.

Also… I notice that when the news is good, some news outlets in heavily Mormon populated areas indicate whether or not a person in the story is LDS.  Take, for instance, this article about two LDS men who were in a church meeting when they saved two girls’ lives after their car overturned in a canal and became submerged.  The Facebook comments that followed the article are all about how the paper mentioned the Good Samaritans’ religion.  Some people thought it was wrong, while others had no issue with it.  A long argument ensued.  Meanwhile, the newspaper is getting more readers as more folks weigh in on the controversy.  When the news is bad, people would rather the news outlets not mention the religion.  And yet, religion does shape attitudes, opinions, and lifestyle choices.  So… I don’t know.  Maybe Sommer would have been a molester regardless.  Maybe not.  But I did find it interesting, if only because I now pick up on the clues without even thinking about it much.

I feel very sorry for the victims, but I also feel sorry for Sommer’s family.  Especially his children.

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mental health, Military, psychology, true crime

Repost: It’s never the client’s fault when a therapist commits sexual abuse…

Yesterday, I reposted my review of Doc, a book about a Wyoming doctor who sexually abused his patients. My friend Alexis, who was a loyal reader and commenter for years until her own career in medicine kicked up, commented about another doctor– this one in Idaho– who molested patients. I was reminded of Dr. Heath J. Sommer, who was in the news in December 2018 and early 2019 for convincing his patients that having sex with him was “therapy”. Because I might write more about the case Alexis brought to my attention, I am reposting my two posts about the Sommer case, as/is.

Alright then.  Now I have a topic I need to discuss.

This morning, I read an article from the Air Force Times about a lowlife “psychologist” named Heath Sommer, who was working at Travis Air Force Base.  Sommer was convicted of six sexual assault charges, which included one count of rape.  He is now sitting in jail, awaiting his sentencing, scheduled to be handed down on January 25th.  According to the Air Force Times, he could be sentenced to a maximum of eleven years and eight months.

Three of Sommer’s clients, all of whom were female Air Force officers, came forward during the trial to tell their stories.  They had gone to Sommer seeking help with trauma caused by sexual assault and other ordeals.  Sommer’s brand of “help” was more sexual assault.  He used his position to manipulate the women, abuse their trust, and re-victimize them by telling them his assault was part of their “therapy”.

A somewhat longer article about this case explains in more detail the nature of Sommer’s “therapy sessions”.  In one case, a colonel was convinced to meet Sommer at his home, where he had her repeatedly describe the sexual assault she experienced in Afghanistan.  The Afghans had served her partially cooked goat meat before assaulting her, so Sommer had her put dirt in her mouth and eat meat from leftover Chinese food.  Then he told her that she needed a “positive” and “loving” sexual experience, which he was prepared to provide.  Over the course of two months, this woman had sex with Sommer nine times.

Now…  I suppose it’s easy to wonder what made this colonel think what she was getting was “therapy”.  Indeed, I read the comments for this article, which was an Air Force Times piece, but was also shared by the Army Times.  The comments I read on the Air Force Times article are, so far, appropriately empathetic to the victims.  I can’t say I was surprised to read several less empathetic comments from Army Times readers.

The first comment I encountered questioning the victim was this…

I’m confused as to why the victims went along with this “therapy”

It was followed by this comment…

I was asking myself the same thing, especially since one of the victims is a colonel. But then again you never know what their state of mind is having been assaulted before. I feel that they must be evaluated to determine if they can continue serving in the military; after all, they were manipulated by him. I’m not so sure I would trust them with sensitive information.

That’s right.  Colonels are supposed to know better, right?  In case it’s not obvious, that’s sarcasm.  It doesn’t matter that the victim was a colonel.  She went to Sommer looking for help.  He was supposedly a qualified psychologist.  He violated his position of trust and took advantage of her.  He broke the law and disregarded his code of professional ethics.  Sommer is completely to blame for this.

Reading on, I encountered this comment.

Hey everybody! The faceless edgelord is here to virtue signal…. Please make sure to give him your undivided attention and adulation….God knows what this country needs is more habitually triggered, SJW, liberals with savior complexes. Where would we be if we didnt have them constantly lecturing us in every related and unrelated comment thread about the plight of (insert alleged victim group).

Um… maybe if there weren’t so many ignorant, offensive, obnoxious comments from people who have their heads so firmly lodged in their assholes, the social justice warriors wouldn’t feel the need to set them straight.  It’s clear that this person didn’t listen to enough lectures from smart people when he was growing up; therefore, he is in need of some schooling from the more evolved.

OMG..who would believe that sexual assalt was a treatment for sexual assalt????

Sadly, it’s not just the men who have their heads in their asses.  This comment was left by a spelling challenged woman.  Granted… I suppose it does seem crazy that sexual intercourse would be offered as therapy for sexual assault.  However, many people are conditioned to trust healthcare providers.  That’s why it’s so very important for healthcare providers to be ethical.

Why do people think so many gymnasts submitted to Larry Nassar’s “therapeutic” efforts for so long?  It’s because he was a doctor, and people in authority were telling the gymnasts that he was an expert.  They wanted to make the Olympic team.  Nassar was “nice” to them and convinced them that his brand of therapy was real.  They liked and trusted him, so he was able to victimize hundreds of them.  No, the gymnasts weren’t “dumb”.  They were abused.  Same thing goes for Heath Sommer’s victims.

I would imagine the situation Nassar’s victims were in is similar for people in the military, who must regularly see doctors and other healthcare professionals.  Often, the providers people in the military see are not necessarily of their choosing.  Obviously, Sommer was hired to work with the military population.  His victims believed he was qualified and they trusted him to help them.  They did not approach him for sex; he convinced them that sex was what they needed in order to get well.

Moreover, there is such a thing as a “sexual surrogate“, which are people who legitimately have sex with their clients as a form of therapy.  Sexual surrogates are not “romantic”; the point of it is to help clients get past sexual hangups.  There’s even a documentary about this, which I have seen (it used to be available on Netflix).  Although it sounds a little like prostitution, if you watch the documentary, you see that it’s a very clinical process that truly has helped some people.  I’m not saying Sommer’s victims thought of him in a “sexual surrogate” role, but I do think it’s plausible that he had convinced them that what he was doing was “therapeutic”.

A trailer for the documentary, The Story of a Sex Surrogate.

This man should burn in hell for sure but at the same time, how did he get away with having sex with the woman 9 times. She came to his house for 8 of those times. Another woman gave him oral sex?!?! Seriouslly!!! Who else read the article? I feel like I’m missing some important information. I don’t understand how a woman can be forced to drive over and have sex with you 8 times after doing it once in the office. I understand he may have been manipulative but still….

Here’s another comment from someone who thinks the victims should have known better.  If you’re mentally healthy and haven’t been sexually traumatized, I can imagine that it seems “stupid” that a client could be convinced that Sommer’s brand of therapy was legit.  But again… consider that the victims were traumatized and vulnerable, and they trusted their therapist.  He violated their trust.  It’s 100% his fault, and he belongs in prison.

As a psychologist, Sommer has more knowledge of the human psyche than most laypeople do.  He had a professional role and was hired to perform that role by people who should have been able to judge his qualifications.  I would certainly expect he had a valid license to practice, which would have been granted to him by other professionals who, one would hope, knew what they were doing.  I don’t know anything about Sommer, but as someone with a master’s degree in social work, I do know something about this subject myself.  From day one in my accredited MSW program, it was impressed upon us that we had a code of ethics that we must adhere to and that the client’s needs came first.  Sommer is a psychologist, but I would expect that he was bound by similar ethics.

More of the same…

This guy deserves to be beat to death, but at the same time, how dumb are you to fall for therapy that requires you to have sex with the therapist under the guise of “exposure therapy”? I mean c’mon, you’ve got to be pretty dumb to fall for that…

Logically I can see your point. But I think those females were so hurt and traumatized that once they fully trusted him, they truly thought he was there to help them. The human mind is complex and I think when someone’s mind gets screwed up from terrible things the mind can really get wacky

I get that, but you can Google anything. If something doesn’t sound right, I.E. “having sex with your therapist and calling it exposure therapy” you can look it up. At what point do you not ask yourself, does this seem right?

…that’s very true. He could have taken advantage of their vulnerability and maybe those females could have ended up developing feelings for him because of that.

These women weren’t “dumb”.  They got help from the wrong person, who took advantage of his position and their trust.  It is not their fault that he victimized them.  In fact, they are to be commended for coming forward so that Sommer was taken out of service.  Moronic, ignorant attitudes like the ones displayed in the comment sections on Facebook can prevent people from seeking a legal remedy when they are victimized.  When people don’t come forward, lowlife scumbags like Heath Sommer are allowed to continue committing crimes, damaging innocent people, and ruining lives.  So please don’t blame the victims.  It’s not their fault at all.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Doc, a horrifying story of a doctor who sexually abused his patients…

This review originally appeared on Epinions.com on September 11, 2011. I am reposting it as/is.

This review deals with the subject of rape.  If you are squeamish about such things, please skip this review.

I have a problem trusting doctors, especially gynecologists.  My issues stem from the very first pelvic exam I ever endured.  The woman who performed this very intimate procedure traumatized me by being way too rough and physically hurting me.  At the time, I was too inexperienced and shocked to say anything to the doctor about the violation, although I know she could tell that I was very upset.  She treated me with condescension and disrespect.  Consequently, to this day over sixteen years later, I still fear most doctors.  Perhaps for that reason, I should not have read Jack Olsen’s 1990 book, Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell.  As it turns out, my curiosity trumped my squeamishness and I did read the book, which I first heard about on Recovery from Mormonism, a Web site for former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Doc was of interest to members of exmormon.org because it’s about the crimes a trusted family doctor committed against some of the women of Lovell, Wyoming, a town heavily populated by Mormons.

Dr. John Story… trusted family doctor and rapist

For over twenty-five years, Dr. John Story practiced family medicine in Lovell, Wyoming.  Though he was a strange and egotistical man, he was a much loved and trusted practitioner.  A staunch Baptist, Dr. John Story knew the Bible and appeared to live by conservative Christian ideals.  He came to Lovell in 1958 because the town badly needed a doctor.  Many of Dr. Story’s patients were female members of the LDS church.  He delivered cradle to grave medical care for all of Lovell’s citizens and did everything from delivering babies to looking after elderly patients. 

Although Dr. Story appeared to be the very picture of propriety, he had a few quirks.  For one thing, he was biased against people of Mexican and German descent.  He held them in contempt, along with those who were indigent or received welfare.  For another thing, he took issue with Mormon doctrine, which he considered false.  He would banter with his LDS patients about religion and appeared to be tolerant of their differences, but deep down, Dr. Story hated Mormons.  Thirdly, Dr. Story seemed to be overly eager to give pelvic exams to certain patients, particularly those who fell into certain groups that he didn’t respect.  A woman might show up at his office, presenting with a sore throat.  She might have tonsilitis, but Dr. Story would somehow convince her that she was overdue for a pelvic exam.  And then he would deliver what seemed to be an overly thorough and painful exam with his penis instead of gynecological instruments.  Only she wouldn’t necessarily understand that she had just been raped by her trusted doctor.

Why did he do it?

On page 319 of Doc, investigators took stock of all of the women who had made claims that Dr. Story had raped them.  At that time, they had interviewed two dozen victims and had the names of several more.  Of the two dozen victims, four were Hispanic Catholics, one was a Lutheran of German heritage, and the rest were Mormons.  One of the investigators surmised that the numbers made sense if one remembers that rape is a crime of hatred, violence, and rage.  Rape is not about sex or passion. 

Dr. Story had openly disparaged Mexicans, whom he’d often referred to as “those people”.  He felt that Mormon doctrine was “satanic” and was enraged by what he considered their blasphemous beliefs.  And for some reason, he had always had a chip on his shoulder about Germans, referring to them as “those damn Germans!” to one of his nurses.

How did he get away with raping women for twenty-five years? 

It’s hard to believe that a woman who is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol could be raped, yet unsure of what happened.  Most women who have ever had sex with a man know what a penis feels like.  At the very least, a woman should be able to tell the difference between hard flesh and hard metal or plastic.  In order to understand how this might happen, one has to consider that Lovell, Wyoming is a very insular community that is home to many Mormons, a religious group that forbids premarital sex and masturbation.  Many of the women who accepted Dr. Story’s services had never been sexually active or had only been intimate with their husbands.  Quite a few of the women were apparently very unsophisticated about sexual matters.  They trusted their doctor implicitly; he had been faithfully serving the people of Lovell for so many years.  Many of the women were not entirely sure about what had actually happened; they only suspected they had been raped.  Moreover, Dr. Story typically delivered his exams without a nurse present. 

Dr. Story’s crimes against the women of Lovell came to an end when a small group of courageous LDS women finally decided to bring him to justice.  A couple of the women had even had children that they suspected might have been fathered by the family doctor.  But Dr. Story had many supporters in Lovell and the brave women who came forward to put a stop to Dr. Story’s abuse suffered backlash.  This case, which was finally tried in the mid 1980s, divided the tiny town like no other.

My thoughts 

I hesitated before I started reading this book, mainly because I find the whole topic of gynecology to be creepy and unsettling.  The idea that a family physician could be so brazenly violating so many women makes me very uncomfortable.  It was shocking and infuriating to read about some of the things Dr. Story did to his patients.  Nevertheless, as horrifying as this story was to me, it was also fascinating.  Dr. John Story is, in my mind, the very picture of a sociopath who believes he is above the law.  Even in prison, he demanded deference and held everybody to standards that he did not himself observe. 

The late Jack Olsen spins this complicated tale masterfully.  His words are engrossing and fascinating, as if they were written for a thriller instead of true crime.  There are no pictures in this book, but I had no trouble picturing the people involved.  Olsen assigns inflections to his dialogue, turning the subjects into characters.  His writing is very engaging; I could tell that he was heavily invested in doing this story justice.

Potential negatives

Doc is now out of print.  There are plenty of used copies available on Amazon.com.  This book might be somewhat offensive to members of the LDS church.  Olsen does not present the faith in the most flattering light.  I didn’t think he went out of his way to be disrespectful, but he does occasionally quote people who have negative opinions about Mormonism.  Doc is also a very complicated story that takes time and effort to read. 

Overall   

While I can’t say Doc makes me eager to get over my gyno-phobia, I do think it’s a fascinating story.  The subject matter is grotesque and distasteful, but it’s also amazing, mainly because Dr. John Story was able to get away with his crimes for so very long and so many people were willing to support him, even though he was accused of such ghastly crimes.  It’s often said the truth is stranger than fiction… when it comes to the story of the women of Lovell, Wyoming and Dr. John Story, I definitely have to agree.

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