New age bullies

Rebecca Hardy:

Last week my osteopath lambasted me for my bad posture. “You should always be sitting like this!’’ he bawled. This got me thinking. Do too many alternative therapists nowadays treat us like whipping dogs? Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem per se with complementary medicine. However, there are some practitioners who use the therapist’s room as a platform for ritual humiliation. I like to call them new age bullies.

Take my mum. Despite eating healthily, which generally controls it, she nevertheless suffers from high blood pressure. So she went to a naturopath. “It’s all down to bad diet,” he sniffed. I’m no doctor, but what about genetics? But no, this man had an axe to grind: if you don’t live the perfect life, then what do you expect? These new age bullies operate in a variety of ways. The first is to stretch the notion of personal responsibility to masochistic levels: if something bad happens, it’s your fault. It’s either your karma, stored up over lifetimes waiting like some dreaded bogeyman to catch you out, or it’s a manifestation of your unconscious. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this kind of thinking can be destructive. No one could imagine that someone whose son had died from Aids would be told they had “attracted it”, yet I know one grieving woman who was told precisely that.

The second trick is to pour scorn on your life. Several years ago I experienced this kind of “therapy” when I visited an “aura healer” to treat my back. She spent the session rubbishing my friends. Ironically, many therapists’ success is attributed to their “bedside manner” — which can be touchy-feely in the same way that, say, being mauled by a rottweiler is. I am reliably informed that somewhere in north London there is a male yoga teacher who corrects ladies’ downward dogs by yanking them up inappropriately. And I could only listen in horror to a friend’s account of her encounter with a psychic healer. She went expecting Mother Teresa and found instead an aggressive man. Without asking what was wrong, he told her to remove her top, rammed his hand against her ribs, and then pretended to plunge in some scissors, bruising her sides. It hurt, she says.