After Hours Dianeticians
Not long ago a friend of mine moved out of a ground-floor apartment in midtown Manhattan. When I heard of the vacancy I promptly volunteered the names of several people who might have been interested, only to be told that even the previous occupant was to have no voice in the future of her home. The management was determined to transform it into a doctor's office. Both she and I thought ill of this plan, and as I passed the building during the weeks that followed I was meanly pleased to see that a shingle hanging by the door ("Doctor's Office Available") was still there. Then one morning it was gone. In its place was a neat sign with the words, "Dianetics Consultants," in thin white script on a dark background.
The investigation on which the following report is based began at that moment. I thought, "Doctor indeed," and marched into the building. A well-built young man in his early twenties, with a crew cut and horn-rimmed glasses, answered my ring. "Good evening," he said instantly, "how are you?" I stepped back a pace and said that I'd like to talk to him if he wasn't busy.
"Of course," he replied. "Come in. I'll be with you in ten minutes. Make yourself comfortable." He vanished into what had been the bedroom, leaving me in a living room that had once been familiar. Now it had in one corner an office desk with a swivel chair behind it and a maple chair in front of it; in another corner, a straight chair; and nothing else in any direction across miles of empty floor. I sat down in the maple chair, studied the neat arrangement of pencils on the desk, and decided that having come this far I might as well see what a Dianetics Consultant had to say for himself.
He was back in ten minutes, precisely, with an older man who was carrying his hat. From their conversation I gathered that this was a first visit. The client left after making an appointment for the next week, and I was alone with the consultant.
"Now," he said brightly, sitting down opposite me, "what can I do for you? What's your name?"
I told him and added candidly that my interest in Dianetics was journalistic. I had only a vague idea what it was and I hadn't even read the book, "Dianetics," although I knew that it was a best-seller.
"If you really want to find out about Dianetics firsthand," he said, "you ought to go out to Elizabeth where Doctor Hubbard -- the author of the book and the man who discovered the whole thing, you know -- has a training school." Then, with considerably more eagerness, he added that he didn't mind if I hadn't read the book since consultants usually preferred to see people who hadn't.
Anyone who had read the book, it appeared, was capable of becoming a consultant himself and "auditing" other people, but many Dianeticians elected to go to the training school before they set up in business. This consultant had attended the five-weeks course in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but he was not yet "certified" because his own case had proved "a particularly tough one."
He had first heard of the Dianetics cure for mental and emotional problems, he said, in the magazine "Astounding Science Fiction," while he was studying for a Ph.D. in physics at Columbia. Then he read the book through "at least twelve times," took a leave of absence from Columbia, and crossed over the river Hudson into his new profession. He was still on leave, auditing eight hours a day (at a fee of $10 an hour), and he wasn't at all sure he'd ever go back to Columbia. In his own Dianetics sessions he'd managed to recall a period, very early in his life, when he heard his mother say firmly, "You mustn't take physics." This, as he now realized, referred to cathartics rather than the science to which he had perversely devoted so many years of his life.
"Look here," he suggested amiably, "instead of my explaining any more, how would you like to have a trial run?"
All right," I said, and following his instructions I took off may shoes and lay down on a studio couch in the living room.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
"Very comfortable," I replied.
"Not yet," I said.
His voice took on a note of authority. "Close your eyes," he commanded. "When I say 'Canceled,' any suggestions I have put in your mind will be gone. If at any time you don't like the proceedings, open your eyes and sit up and we'll stop. There is no hypnosis involved. You will always be in command of the situation. What do you like to do best?"
I had met the question before in parlor games, with notably poor results. While I was desperately trying to decide he hastily amended it to, "What outdoor sport do you like?"
I said swimming, and he asked me to describe the last time I could remember swimming and having a good time at it. As I was telling him he interrupted me periodically to ask if I could feel the water, taste it, see it, hear sounds around me, and so on, and he seemed gratified when I filled in the details. I was still swimming happily when he asked, "What is the first time in your life that you remember experiencing pain?"
I was reaching back into an awkward and frequently painful childhood when he snapped his fingers. "No," he said. "It must be spontaneous."
We went on to easier questions: how old I was, where I was, what the date was. He snapped his fingers again and repeated the earlier question. I had been cheating a little by thinking about it in the meantime and I came up with an incident when I was about five, involving my finger and a knife. He took me through the scene step by step, asking me to experience it again. But, in spite of boundless encouragement, I failed miserably to feel the knife cut my finger. We made at least a half dozen tries, interspersed with finger snappings and other questions. (Much later it occurred to me that perhaps when he asked me how old I was he hoped I would answer, "Five," but I remained persistently in the present.)
Eventually he turned to the most recent time I could remember feeling great pain or grief, and I did much better. Even so we had to go through the episode three times and I had a feeling I was letting him down by not producing visible signs of emotion. "Feel it," he kept saying. "Feel it down there in your stomach."
"All right," I said at last. "I feel it." But he didn't seem satisfied.
"Canceled," he said loudly. "You can sit up now."
He told me my "somic," visual, and audial memories were excellent and that I was a case he'd like to handle. He added that I would be an unusually easy one to audit. My trial run, he continued, hadn't been exactly like the customary first session since we had skipped the long preliminary interview that would have given him pertinent facts and clues.
We chatted for a minute and he explained that Dianetics went all the way back to the period before birth. Most people, after a time, found themselves able to recall scenes and conversations between their parents and others in the months before they were born -- scenes that had great bearing on their present difficulties. Many also re-experienced birth itself. When I said I didn't think I cared to, he smiled tolerantly.
We had just begun
to go into what the consultant thought about psychiatry (for which he
had a certain respect as an earlier "artistic" approach to what
Dianetics was coping with "scientifically") when I heard the
bell ring in the next room and realized my time was up. We parted on friendly
terms, though I am still bitterly at war with the real-estate interests
who recognized his credentials. Somehow I feel I got more out of the cocktail
parties that used to be held in the same rooms. Occasionally you even
heard people covering the same territory.