Victor Bloom MD
The New York Times of September 3, 2000 contained a most interesting article about our former and late president, Richard Nixon. The headline said, "Most Presidents Had a Counselor. One Had a Shrink."
The journalist was Adam Clymer, who said, "The only president whose wild mood swings prompted his own secretary of defense to issue orders designed to block him if he called out the Marines for protection against impeachment is also the only president known to have been treated by a psychotherapist."
Both of these experiences are described in a book by Anthony Summers (Viking), entitled, "The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon." The book describes wife-beating and pill-popping, but these accusations are angrily disputed by Nixon's defenders. However, the story about the order by the secretary of defense and the visits by the psychiatrist have not been widely disputed.
Nixon's labile moods, impetuous language and unlawful behavior have become well documented history, as recent release of White House tapes have amply recorded. His elusive and self-serving behaviors about his complicity in the Watergate scandal are also well known. They constitute textbook examples of self-destructive behavior, typical of a person harboring unconscious guilt feelings. He made the mistake of telling the American public that the White House tapes would vindicate him. Instead they ultimately condemned him and he resigned in disgrace, rather than face impeachment hearings.
He spent the rest of his life trying to save his place in history as a wise elder stateman, and to many of his supporters, he succeeded. He will go down in history as the president who opened the door to China. The political climate at the time dictated that no Democratic president could get away with being 'soft' on communism, an attitude which survived as a legacy of McCarthyism.
Because of the stigma of mental illness, the psychiatrist's visits to the White House to see president Nixon were rare and in secret. Anecdotal accounts say that when he visited the president he used false destinations when he signed in. Nowadays such visits could not escape media scrutiny, and since psychiatric treatment and the question of mental illness would end a politician's plan to seek the presidency, the word, "therapy" is assiduously avoided. The more acceptable euphemism for psychotherapy is now called, "counselling."
The vice president's wife, Tipper, who has been praised by psychiatrists for openly discussing her depression and treatment, spoke of her 'counselling.' And when an article in 1993 described the family therapy received by the Gores after their son was struck by a car and nearly died, Gore's office complained that the article should not have said he had weekly visits from a "therapist," but from a "facilitator."
Interestingly, Nixon's psychiatrist is still alive, at age 102, living in Vermont. He wrote several books, most pertinent of which is "The Drive for Power," first published in 1974, which was the last year of Nixon's presidency, so it had to be written before, and probably during Nixon's term in office. The psychiatrist's name is Arnold A. Hutschnecker, a doctor who received his medical degree and psychiatric training in Germany, and who was a practicing psychoanalyst.
His writings display a keen interest in the role of psychiatry in politics and suggest a new field of interest called, "psycho-politics," in which psychiatric insights and experience are utilized in the process of choosing a president. Of course he could not detail a method which would deal with the incredible compexity of the election process and the actual prerequisites for determining mental adequacy and stability. And so the American voting public continues to do its evaluation of presidential candidates by the usual methods--- ideological belief and intuition. So far the American public has not done too badly.
I assume that Dr. Hutschnecker took his role quite seriously, and was worried about the mental stability of those in power. The history of World War II was well known as the mental illness of Hitler and Stalin became obvious. In his book, "The Drive for Power," he mentions the influence of childhood experiences which lead to healthy and unhealthy ambitions to gain power. In his book he quotes Albert Einstein, who said,
ITALICS<"The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything, except our thinking. Thus we are drifting towards a catastrophe beyond comparison. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.">ITALICS
President Nixon is to be commended for at least this one thing--- he chose a psychiatrist with a world view and a view toward the future, one who hoped that a deeper understanding of the depth and complexities of the human mind would lead to a change in our way of thinking, one that would choose conflict resolution rather than violence as a way of settling human disputes. Today we can only hope that our leaders, who have access to that nuclear button, will find ways to avert the nuclear catastrophe which still looms as a possibility.
Dr Bloom is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University School of Medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and on the editorial board of the Wayne County Medical Society. He welcomes comments at his email address--- firstname.lastname@example.org, and visits to his website--- www.factotem.com/vbloom.