Saturday, February 13, 2021

Seduced Into Darkness

Persephone and Demeter

It was 1974. I was twelve years old and with my family at a non-denominational meeting of the charismatic renewal at the chapel of Hood College in Frederick, MD. It was a soft, humid summer night; I had been playing outside of the chapel with my siblings. I went inside to see what was going on. It was the part of the meeting where the worshipers began to "speak in tongues," which to me was a cacophony of singing and chanting in what I thought must be foreign languages. Some people were dancing, and swaying and singing with enthusiasm. I did not see my mother, and went in search of her. I found her alone in the hallway, staring out the window. 

"Are you okay, Mom?" I asked

"I am just asking God if this is right," she replied.

"If what's right?"

She motioned to the chapel. "That, in there. That wailing and moaning and dancing. It just does not seem right to me. It does not seem like the way to honor God." My mother was not yet Catholic but as an Episcopalian she loved the majestic high-church liturgy. My father, on the other hand, although brought up a Catholic, loved the informality of the charismatic renewal and was active in several prayer groups, both Catholic and non-Catholic.

 Six years after the event in the Hood College Chapel, I would be a student at Hood and would graduate in 1984 with a degree in Psychology. The entire time I was in college my parents were going through a long separation which would eventually end in divorce. It was a difficult time on many levels, but I tried to focus on my studies. Although I was a psych major, I received better grades in History and French, and began to seriously study the Romanovs and the Russian and French Revolutions. Meanwhile, because I was a psych major I still had to take the required courses.

In one of the psych classes, there was a girl named Carrie Tansey, a few years older than me, vivacious and friendly, generally a lovely person. Because Frederick was a small town in the early 80's and the Catholic community even smaller, people had an awareness of who other people were and who their families were. I knew that Carrie belonged to a large Catholic family; my father knew her parents through the charismatic movement. What I did not know is that at the same time I was struggling with so many things, Carrie was overwhelmed by a situation which would bring her to the brink of death. I had no idea until one day my father told me that Carrie had tried to commit suicide and that I had to pray for her. I did. Later there was a court case involving Carrie and her psychiatrist but I was away at grad school and did not see the Frederick newspapers which covered the case. Recently, I was glad to find that Carrie has a happy life, with a family and a thriving counseling practice in New Mexico. And she has written a book about the dark time she passed through in the 1980's, a memoir called Seduced into Darkness. I ordered the book.

From the book trailer

Seduced into Darkness: Transcending My Psychiatrist’s Sexual Abuse is a vivid and captivating story of hope for survivors of abuse as well as a case study in a skilled manipulator’s tragic exploitation of his professional power. This poignant memoir chronicles the traumatic psychological abduction and sexual exploitation of depressed college student Carrie Tansey at the hands of her psychiatrist, Dr. Anthony Romano–thirty-one years her senior. For three years, their secret “affair” was carefully calculated and controlled by Romano, as Carrie’s mental and emotional health continued to deteriorate, bringing her closer and closer to the edge. Their dual-relationship finally came to light when Carrie’s suicide attempts landed her in a world-renowned psychiatric hospital. Gradually, she began to reclaim her power, reported Romano to the state licensing board, successfully sued him for malpractice, and testified before the state legislature to bring awareness to such abuses. As Carrie tells her tale, it is a journey paralleling that of the mythical archetype Persephone, the naive innocent who was abducted into darkness, reemerged and regenerated herself, then fearlessly returned to the prison she had fled, this time to help free others. Today, Carrie Ishee is a widely respected art therapist and life coach as well as a teacher specializing in the issues of ethics, self-care, and boundaries for mental health professionals.

Seduced by Darkness by Carrie Tansey Ishee is a moving story, especially for me who came from the same town as the author, same school, etc. My initial reaction to the book was anger. The psychiatrist, Tony Romano, recommended to Carrie's parents by someone they trusted, in one sense violated not only Carrie but her entire family. The doctor blamed Carrie's family, and especially her parents, for her alleged psychological problems, and by doing so created a barrier between a daughter and the parents who loved her. Furthermore, one of the initial ways Tony seduced Carrie was to tell her that she was uncomfortable with her sexuality because of her Catholic upbringing. Predators like Tony often assume that if someone grew up in a devout Catholic home then they are uncomfortable with their sexuality. However, Tony is the one who had issues, which is why he had to prey on a vulnerable young woman in his care. 

There are three aspects of the case that I think set Carrie up for the manipulation by her therapist. First of all, the early 80's saw an overwhelming explosion of feminist ideology on college campuses. While I was a student there, Hood College was voted the #1 feminist college in America by US News and World Report. Part of feminism often included breaking away from old norms governing moral behavior. Any Catholic teachings governing sexual behavior were seen not only as backwards and anti-woman but as potentially pathological. Tony Romano focused on the Carrie's family's Catholic faith as being a sign of aberration and a cloaking of innate dysfunction in order to lure her into being his paramour.

 Next, Carrie relates how she was on acne medication throughout most of her college years. The side effects of the medication, depression and anxiety, were what caused her to seek professional help, not realizing they were drug-induced. There is so much we now know about diet and vitamins that could have helped Carrie away from the influence of the prescription. Basically, there was nothing wrong with her but the medication that so many teens were given to clear up their skin. Yet Dr. Romano convinced her to drop out of her senior year of college in order to focus on psychotherapy, which he then used to gain mastery of her soul and body.

I also wonder if Carrie's involvement in the charismatic movement, with its emotional and spiritual highs, sowed the seeds of disaster for her. Writing as someone who is currently a practicing Catholic, I believe that the charismatic movement can act like a drug for some individuals.  When people open themselves up to the spiritual world it can be like opening a Pandora's box. It is a spiritual high, but it does not last, and if people do not have solid spiritual direction, they can not handle it. For instance, I think that for my father the charismatic movement was a heady experience. He came to think that he did not need the sacraments, and eventually lost faith in the sacraments. He also came to think that since he was born again, nothing bad would ever happen to him. And when bad things did happen, he lost his faith; he cursed God. I shared my thoughts with Carrie as I was working on this review and she responded with the wise insights of a therapist of many years:

I completely agree about the addictive nature of spiritual highs cultivated by the charismatic prayer sessions or any other vehicle that creates a spiritual high. It can be a bypass and lead to a sense of inflation rather than grounded commitment to practices that deepens a connection to God in a real way...Spiritual bypass is a real thing and can prevent the personal growth that a true spiritual path demands.

Both St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross cautioned about souls placing too much emphasis on the charismatic gifts in the spiritual life. The saints enjoined the practice of virtue as well as prayer and self-denial for those seeking union with God.  And here we have the irony. The fervent Catholic family, the people whom Tony denigrated in order to have his way with Carrie, are the ones who saved her, along with the intervention of God. It was the big, unruly, patriarchal Irish Catholic family, their love for God, for each other and for Carrie, which triumphed, as well as her own courage to live, to heal and to thrive. And now, because she descended to Hades, she can rescue so many others.

A radio interview with the author, HERE.


 Available from Amazon:



Sansa said...

I would like to read that book.

elena maria vidal said...

I highly recommend it.

May said...

She seems like a lovely person.

elena maria vidal said...

She is and a good writer as well.