Come Here: A Man Overcomes the Tragic Aftermath of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Dr. Richard Berendzen, (co-authored with Laura Palmer) Villard Books, New York, 1993, $21.00

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

This book recounts the story of Richard Berendzen who got derailed on his fast track academic career, first as a professor of astronomy and later as a young president of American University in Washington D. C. It was during this later position that he began to make a series of sexually explicit telephone calls to child-care centers in the Washington area. After the calls had been traced to his office, Berendzen's professional and private world began tumbling down.

Why would a university president take such risks when he had so much to lose? That he does adequately answer that question I am not at all certain. He claimed that the calls made were for informational purposes only but did admit that they were bizarre. He acknowledged that on one level he understood what he was doing, but on another did not realize the full implications of his actions.

His early childhood was not happy, but his real nightmare began at age 8 when his mother, from her bedroom summoned him with the words, ``Come Here.'' At her urgings he removed his clothing and then joined her and his father in bed. That occasion had been the only time the sexual abuse occurred with both parents, but the abuse was to continue with his mother alone for the next three years. As a result of the charges against him, Dr. Berendzen was forced to resign his position as university president and immediately became a patient at the Sexual Disorders Clinic at John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore.

The most interesting part of Come Here was his recounting of the psychotherapy received at the hospital. If I did not know better, I would think that the author had begun individual and group primal therapy. At their first meeting his psychiatrist told him: ``Let your feelings come naturally. Stop trying to control them.'' The therapist asked him to talk about his first sexual experience. This request was followed by a period of long silence. The question was repeated with a resultant ``piercing wail.'' Berendzen writes that he kept crying and gagging as he was pushed again and again into his repressed feelings. ``The tears returned and I gagged again,'' he recounted. He was urged to continue: ``Talk to us about that Richard. Tell us what you felt'' and ``Stop intellectualizing. Just let go.''

This recounting has all of the characteristics of the breaking down of defenses which occurs in primal therapy. The author does describe his sobbings as primal but the word is used only in its' more traditional sense. He writes how he tried unsuccessfully to defend against his various therapists' incessant probings: ``The crying and choking returned, as if I were saying it for the first time.'' And yet after 3 days, the author did not have any insights as to why he made those telephone calls, or if he did, he did not recount them in his book. Perhaps, he did gain insight into why he made those telephone calls, but he might have felt they were too personal to explain. This was obviously the reason why he did not detail the nature of the sexual acts with his mother. Anyhow, I believe that if he would have had primal connections during therapy, the resultant insights would have been revealed to his readers and the therapy descriptions would have been much longer and more detailed. Additional therapy consisted of a truth serum interview, art therapy and writing his mother a letter (not to be posted) as though he were an eleven year old. Primal patients would be familiar with these feeling triggering procedures with the exception of the sodium pentothal interview.

While hospitalized, news of his resignation and legal charges filed against him became public knowledge. As a result of this pressure, Berendzen went into a clinical depression. After the depression lifted he realized that love and concern from friends and family had been of no avail and that for him, hope had been the essential element which enabled him to begin the journey back to health. He also wrote that prayer and a giving up and resigning himself to God's will was a source of much comfort.

It was reassuring to read that a form of deep feeling therapy is being used at one of our country's leading psychiatric clinics. Even though the therapy techniques the author described had many of the hallmarks of primal therapy, the deep feelings, as least as recounted in this book, did not seem to go deep enough to be called primal therapy. This limitation is to be expected if the therapist himself has not had primal therapy, since it is difficult (and perhaps scary!) to lead a patient to primal feelings if the therapist has not explored them himself.

After reading this book, I have become more optimistic that, in time, perhaps the long awaited primal revolution in the treatment of mental illness might actually begin. Hopefully, deep feeling therapies as recounted in this book will spread to other clinics and perhaps those feeling therapies which begin with the patient seated might end with the patient on the floor and go further, deeper and longer into true primal connections.

Richard Berendzen, with the enthusiastic support of the majority of the student body, returned to American University as a Professor of Physics.