My experience as a paedophile, cured by NHS psychoanalysis 

Words by Jack Dawson, December 2016   

My motive for writing this piece is to give hope to people who are suffering with paedophilia.

I myself was a paedophile – a paedophile who never abused a child, either directly or indirectly, through the use of child abuse pornography. I loathe the way that our rulers, the media, and our public institutions demonise paedophiles and ignore your needs for help, your efforts to avoid abusing, and your yearnings for treatments which will free you of this curse.

I was lucky – I was referred by my GP, in 1972, to the NHS Portman Clinic in London, assessed and then treated free of charge by psychoanalytic psychotherapy, with once a week sessions over three years. I even had my train and tube fares paid, for I was a student and low paid worker. By the end of 1975 I had achieved 100% cure of my paedophilia, and my life was transformed. I no longer had to avoid being in the presence of children in case I unwittingly showed my sexual interest in young boys by some eye movement or turn of my head . I no longer had to watch every conversation or social occasion in case, by some slip of the tongue, I revealed that sexual interest, or my fear and inadequacy in the presence of attractive young women.

I will tell you my story, briefly, then I will describe how my treatment and cure worked, and suggest what you can do. Lastly, I will suggest that we all – your allies – must work towards providing more curative treatment resources for paedophiles, as part of a strategy for ridding the world of all paedophilia and all child sexual abuse.

My Story

I was raised with my siblings in a loving, secure, lower-middle class family, and my mother was a very caring mum. I was a rather sensitive, shy boy who was a bit of a handful sometimes. There was some intermittent low-level conflict between my parents, and, when it happened, I always sided with my mother, because I saw myself as ‘mummy’s boy’.  Our mum usually presided over bath times and made sure we washed and dried ourselves properly. When I was ‘choirboy age’, perhaps less than eight to more than ten, my mum had the habit of drying me on her knee and then playing with my genitals, pulling my scrotum over my penis and then letting it pop out – that kind of thing. She did this often. I never had an erection and never considered these ‘fiddlings’ by her to be sexual. My memory is that she was being curious and playful. I never thought of her feelings as sexual, though of course they may have been.

However, those small but regular ‘interferings’ really did damage. They were, of course, powerfully sexual occasions for me, despite my total blocking – denial – of that fact. My massive repression of my sexual responses to her ‘fiddling’ had huge consequences for my psychic development. Incest in whatever form has huge consequences for the child victim. I did not develop sexual feelings for girls, but instead became sexually fixated on young boys of the same age at which she had interfered with me. I became fixated on repeating in fantasy the sexual behaviour of my mother towards me.

So massive was my psychic effort to repress the horrifying fact that I had repeatedly been in a sexual act with my mother that I developed awful sadistic fantasies, and acted them out masochistically against myself. My fantasies were of castrating or circumcising (symbolic castration) young boys. My masochism was in cutting and piercing my own genitalia. At one point I feared that my genitals had become gangrenous and I had trouble repressing the blood loss – all in secret. That, I think, was the single worst two days of my paedophiliac youth. My psychic fantasies of castration were a massive attempt to cut away the fact that I had had adult sexual feelings for my mother, and was thus in sexual competition with my father, with whom I already felt myself to be at war, in some way. It was the Oedipus story all over again.

I had no real friends during those years. My feelings towards women were of fear and disgust at their bodies. My whole attitude was one of denial of my perverse sexuality, or of any sexuality. I put massive psychic effort into convincing myself that I was innocent of all adult sexual feelings – a child, a Peter Pan. I did not discover masturbation until I was 17, nor did I attempt to view pornography, and, in any case, I did not imagine that such a thing as child pornography existed. I yearned to be normal, like my brother and other youths.

I went away to university at 18, which provided me with partial independence from the ‘stuck’ relationships I had within my family. I gained a good group of friends, some of whom I still have, became an active socialist, and grew my hair halfway down my back. I lost my virginity, though my lover realised how unsuitable I was as a boyfriend, with my nervous shyness and limited, semi-sexual responses.

When I was nearly 21, I overheard my ‘best friend’ telling my other housemates and best friends that he thought I was a paedophile. I listened from another room to their talk and laughter. I put on my coat and walked across town to the home of the leader of my small socialist group, who was not a friend, but whom I admired and trusted. When I sat down I burst into tears and told him who I really was. Together we worked out what to do. He contacted the Richmond Fellowship to get me a referral. I went to the university Health Centre GP. He was a young, relaxed, cheerful man who smiled and scoffed at my fears that paedophilia was not curable, telling me he would refer me to a clinic which dealt with problems such as mine. Within a few weeks I received a letter inviting me to attend an assessment for treatment at the NHS Portman Clinic in Hampstead, London. In the second half of 1972 (only a month or so after my assessment) I started once a week psychoanalysis there. By the end of 1975 I was cured. I have never since had a paedophilic fantasy.

Since then my life has been on an upward trend, sometimes bumpy, sometimes with downward dips, sometimes in the doldrums, but always with an underlying upwards lift. I have been with the woman I love for 13 years and am part of her warm family, with lots of step-grandchildren. I am proud of my achievements, which are small but real.

The NHS and the Portman Clinic salvaged my life and gave me this gift of many years of happiness.

My treatment and cure

Dr Glasser, my therapist, and the Clinical Director of the Portman, told me at my assessment interview that the treatment would consist of me ‘free associating’ – talking about whatever came into my head. He made an analogy with boats anchored on a tidal river. With the incoming tide a boat appears to float a bit upstream. With the outgoing tide the boat appears to float a bit downstream. By watching the boat swing between these changing positions over time, therefore, an observer can work out where the anchor is hidden below. Thus, my seemingly random talking could reveal to us the underlying – subconscious – patterns of my mind. He also advised me not to read any psychiatric literature for the duration of my treatment, so as to concentrate and avoid creating diversions.

The weekly sessions with Dr Glasser entailed me lying down on the couch in his consulting room and talking, with only occasional comments and interpretations from him. The underlying causes of my paedophilia in my past family relationships were uncovered and explained by Dr Glasser within a few months. His suggested explanations were a surprise to me, and made complete sense. They gave me a new confidence and self-respect, but they did not change my attraction to young boys, at that stage. I did much crying in those sessions – over and over again, session after session, through the years. At first, I was surprised by my crying and told Dr Glasser of my puzzlement. He suggested that I was crying in pity for my past boyhood self, in the same way as one cries in pity when one sees or reads of someone else in distress. There was nothing negative in this pity for my past self. Such things now seem so self-evident to me, but they were all a surprise, back then.

Incidentally, Dr Glasser never used the term ‘abuse’ to describe my mum’s behaviour.  His stance was simply to explain, not to blame. It was not until some 10 years after my cure that I ever heard anyone describe my childhood experience as one of abuse. It happened when I was telling my story to a woman friend. I was shocked when she said to me: “your mother abused you.” I think that, technically speaking, my friend was right, but I also think that the word ‘abuse’, in this case, does not best describe what happened. My mother made an important mistake. Shecrossed a crucial boundary, but I don’t think she knew she was crossing it, and I am 100% certain that she would have been mortified if I had accused her of being an abuser. Such mistakes can have huge consequences. We all face that reality in our lives. We can all, therefore, forgive ourselves and others.

Things did change for me over the years of treatment. I stopped neglecting my studies and worked hard to gain my university degree. In the second year of my treatment I met an attractive young woman on a working holiday and started seeing her. I was glad she did not press me for sex (for she was a traditionalist Christian) and I strongly avoided pressing her for it, though we did much kissing and stroking. I quickly broke with her, for I still felt my old inadequacy and my horror at adult sexual exchange. Later, I got close to another sexually active woman, but could not respond to her sexually when the opportunity came. That was humiliating.

During the third year of treatment I felt more and more that I was ‘stuck’. I understood why I was like I was, but the final loss of my paedophilia did not happen, and I could not see how it would go. The problem was that I hadn’t grasped that I must work for that. Explanation was not enough. Dr Glasser broke this stalemate by challenging my inactivity and suggesting that we set a date for the treatment to end that I could work towards (the end of 1975). In that last six months I focussed completely on challenging myself to be in normal social situations with women and seeking out sexual opportunities with them. It worked.

By the time my treatment ended I realised that my paedophilia had disappeared and my sexual interest had been fully transferred to women. That change, when it came, was dramatic. I had a job in an office with several attractive women and I had, up till that point, been bashful and intimidated by their sexual banter and liveliness. I suddenly found that I could cope with – and enjoy – all that normal fun. The women were as surprised as I was, and I overheard them remarking on the sudden change in me. That was nice. I was still naive and very shy and frightened of sex with women, but the deal was done. It took me a while to be ready for full sex, just as it does with any normal adolescent, but I met and went out for some months with a woman who did not press me or want full sex (for she had just left a long relationship and didn’t want to dive into another) and we had a lot of fun.

As for my paedophilia, I now found that I could enjoy the company of children. I no longer had to fearfully retreat from them in case I revealed my old sexual feelings to myself and those around me. All those paedophiliac feelings vanished like frost when the warm rays of the sun at daybreak first shine upon it. Children are a delight, and I am so very glad to have them in my life in the way any normal adult can.

The options for cure that paedophiles now have

The NHS Portman Clinic still exists and still treats paedophiles with in-depth psychoanalytic psychotherapy. It also treats many other sexually deviant people and those who have been violent. Its criteria for accepting a patient, however, are now narrower than they were, as a result of cuts to NHS spending and an increase in demand for its services. This increase in demand is fuelled both by the huge increase in internet pornography and the equally huge exposure of the extent of child sexual abuse. The Portman now only accepts referrals of people who have committed offences. That is a major change from my time there. If I was a youngster now, I would not be accepted for treatment at the Portman, because I did not abuse children.

There are, of course, huge numbers of people who have succumbed to temptation and the belief in the ‘lesser evil’, and committed abuse byusing on-line pornography, as well as all those who have directly abused children.

If you are one of those people, and you are sick of your behaviour and keen to change, then I strongly urge you to seek a referral to the Portman. They will assess you and be looking for you to show an interest in exploring the roots of your sexual damage and offending, as well asa lively wish to be rid of that behaviour and thinking. If you abuse alcohol or drugs, then that will be a problem in getting accepted for treatment, for your attention needs to be unclouded.

The Portman’s criteria for success in treatment are also narrower than they were in my time. They now judge success by whether the patient is able to control his or her offending and securely manage their behaviour so that they do not re-offend. Given the intrinsic curative potential of the treatment they still do achieve real cures, but they do not judge their success by such cures.

It is a tragedy that the Portman has had to narrow its criteria for treatment and success in these ways, and non-offending paedophiles should not simply accept their exclusion. In my case, for instance, paedophilia was not just confined to fantasy. I repeatedly self-harmed genitally, and may have put my own life in danger by my mutilations. Would a history of self-harm, perhaps, tip the balance in favour of acceptance for treatment?

For non-offending paedophiles there are private psychoanalytic practitioners who will accept paedophiles for treatment and have appropriate expertise. There are not many, but they do exist. Two years ago I made contact with a woman who shared a somewhat similar developmental history to me, though what she suffered as a child was far worse. She had been repeatedly abused by multiple abusers, from inside and outside her family, both in her infancy and through her childhood. To her great horror, she discovered in early adulthood that she could be strongly sexually attracted to infants of the age at which she was herself first abused. It took all her strength to resist the temptation to abuse, and she succeeded. She found herself a private psychotherapist whom she trusted, and is now cured of her past paedophiliac desires and has much love and achievement in her life.

The specialist psychoanalytic literature has good examples of deeply disturbed paedophiles (again, far worse than I was) who responded over time to caring psychoanalysis and managed to rid their lives of their old damage. For those at the worst end of the paedophile spectrum this process takes long years and full psychoanalysis, with several sessions a week. If the patient sticks at it, they can succeed.

Of course, such treatment requires time and money, and most of us do not have that. It is our job – as your allies – to work to make sure that in the future this will change.

Ridding the world of paedophilia and child sexual abuse

Over 40 years ago, when I was at the Portman, we lived in a time of hope. I wanted to see (and still want to see) the example of their treatments reproduced until every town across the country has such a clinic. Everyone, child, woman and man, who needs them, deserves the chance to be assessed for the proven treatments which are capable of curing so much sexual distress. Though this expansion did not then happen, it still must, and still can. The world can again turn away from the darkness.

It may seem that the demonisation that is directed at paedophiles, irrespective of whether they have offended, is undefeatable, and it is not surprising that many people are so angry at the child abuse which has afflicted so many of us. Yet there is an abundance of good people who realise that many paedophiles were themselves the victims of child sexual abuse, and that other paedophiles will likely have suffered other forms of childhood trauma and abuse. Paedophiles are a sub-set of those many adults damaged in childhood by abuse and adult mistakes.

It is clear that most victims of child sexual abuse are as starved of in-depth psychotherapeutic treatments as paedophiles. We live in a time when the rhetoric of government, state, and media anger at child abuse is demonstrably hollow. It is not matched by widespread resources made available for the support of all those affected.

There is room for us all to make the argument that we need these potentially curative resources to be universally available. There is room for the argument that the healing of paedophiles brings nearer the day when the horror of all child abuse is a thing of the past. There is room for the argument that all childhood psychic damage that can be healed should be healed…and paedophilia can be healed.