What Happened On The Couch?

THE COMBINATION WAS IRRESISTIBLE: sex, psychiatry, Harvard and death. When the story broke two years ago, reporters crawled all over the lurid details of Dr. Margaret Bean-Bayog's relationship with her patient, Paul Lozano, and his subsequent suicide at 28. The headlines abated only after the Harvard psychiatrist gave up her medical license and settled a malpractice suit, filed by Lozano's family, for $1 million. But despite all the coverage, key questions were never answered. Did Bean-Bayog have an affair with her patient, a Mexican-American student at Harvard Medical School? (She denied it.) Why did Bean-Bayog write graphic sexual fantasies involving the two of them-and did she give them to Lozano? How useful-or damaging-was the unconventional treatment method Bean-Bayog chose? And did her treatment, which lasted four years, cause his suicide?

Last week the Bean-Bayog controversy roared back to life with the appearance of two new books on the case-each taking different sides, both written by reporters for The Boston Globe. Eileen McNamara, a writer for the Globe's Sunday magazine, used Lozano's family and friends as her prime sources in Breakdown (189 pages. Pocket. $22). She depicts Lozano as a working-class youth overwhelmed by Harvard and trapped in a bizarre form of therapy. Bean-Bayog gave him children's books, wrote affectionate notes signed "Love, Dr. B." and gave him flashcards with loving messages from "Mom." In conjunction with their heavily sexualized discussions, suggests McNamara, the treatment was devastating. Lozano deteriorated until he was driven to suicide.

Gary Chafetz, a freelancer who wrote about the case for the daily Globe, also interviewed Lozano's family but gave more credence to his 100 hours of exclusive interviews with Bean-Bayog in Obsession (365 pages. Crown. $25). In his view, her therapy was risky but it worked: she kept alive a chronically suicidal youth who killed himself 10 months after the treatment ended. Chafetz emphasizes that much of the "mom" paraphernalia was used only to help Lozano get through Bean-Bayog's vacation one winter. Chafetz's father, psychiatrist Morris Chafetz, coauthored the book.

Neither reporter has much good to say about the other. "Eileen's book is way off through omissions and mystifying errors of fact," says Gary Chafetz. According to McNamara, the much-touted exclusive interviews offer nothing new on Bean-Bayog. "I didn't need 100 hours with her to hear that she thinks she's the victim," she says.

Both books make extensive use of Bean-Bayog's therapy notes on Lozano nearly a thousand pages of scrawls and scribbles-along with 55 pages of her graphic sexual fantasies, all obtained from court records. The authors use the notes selectively emphasizing the bits that support their theories. Chafetz finds evidence that Lozano's regression to childhood was an existing habit, one that his family hated. And McNamara underscores a reference to "phenomenal sex" in one of Bean-Bayog's warm notes to Lozano. (Bean-Bayog said the phrase was meant to represent the feelings of one of Lozano's girlfriends.)

By far the most damning materials in the court record are Bean-Bayog's handwritten fantasies of sadomasochistic sex. Lozano told another psychiatrist that Bean-Bayog gave them to him; Bean-Bayog has said he stole them. But what's important, says McNamara, "is that the eroticized atmosphere of the therapy sessions ... went unchecked." If these were her fantasies, McNamara writes, Bean-Bayog should have sent Lozano to another therapist.

Chafetz accepts Bean-Bayog's explanation of how the pornographic scenes came to be written down. According to her, Lozano began "spewing out" sadomasochistic fantasies about her, which she recognized as "transference"-feelings about his mother he was projecting onto his psychiatrist. "It felt like he was vomiting out all this stuff," she told Chafetz. "One of the ways I stood it was that I wrote down my reaction-my countertransference feelings. I am extremely fluent and extremely verbal and it relieves my feelings enormously and I thought it was a great idea, but it was stupid."

No matter which side a reader takes, there's no question about who wrote the better book. McNamara's is clear and comprehensive, though plainly partisan. Chafetz made the mistake of placing himself front and center, first-person singular, as a tireless investigative reporter-a self-portrait that would have been more persuasive if the book were not so hopelessly incoherent. Small wonder the the best reporters on this paper," says editor Matt Storin. Boston Magazine, which named Chafetz the city's best investigative reporter in 1992, is excerpting "Obsession."

And Bean-Bayog? No other complaints were ever filed about her, and she still sees longtime patients (a license is not required to practice therapy). According to Chafetz, she has begun to regret those 100 hours of talking to him. She'd rather tell her story herself. In fact, Chafetz says she is planning a book and has signed up for a writing course-taught by a former Globe reporter.

What Happened On The Couch? | News