Beating the habit: A brief look at ‘cane therapy’ as a treatment for addiction
In 2014, I was the resident psychologist on 12-episode television series called Forbidden made for the Discovery Channel. One of the strangest stories that the series reported on was ‘cane therapy’ for the ‘Twisted Treatments’ episode. Before I was interviewed for the story, I had to research the story and was also given some production notes as background material. According to the material I was provided with:
“Caning treatment was pioneered in Siberia by Dr Sergei Speransky a biologist from the Novosibirsk Institute of Medicine who together with Dr Marina Chuhrova released a research report in 2005 on whipping as a therapy. Dr Speransky and Dr Chukhrova developed the medical theory behind caning. Importantly Dr Chukhrova notes that, ‘It is not some warped sado-masochistic activity,’ but has a clear medical purpose. Apparently, there are some sound scientific principles behind these beatings. Namely the theory that pain activates the body’s immune system, causing it to perform much more effectively than under ‘normal circumstances.’ Dr Chukhrova taught [Dr. German Pilipenko] the theory as a student at university and controversially he has taken her theory and put it into practice, combining it with his own unique psychology treatment. 50-year old German Pilipenko has been caning people for nine years. In his spare time German enjoys the blissful serenity of mountain skiing in his local town. But in his professional life German has to bear the yelps, tears and groans of his patients – German canes and whips people for a living. German started to practice cane therapy in a medical clinic in 2004. Though the clinic no longer exists he’s continued the controversial practice as a private psychologist in a rented 14 square meter room in Novosibirsk’s Business Centre”.
Dr. Pilipenko is a psychotherapist and a hypnotist and claims that cane therapy can cure addictions (both chemical addictions such as alcohol and other drug addictions, and behavioural addictions such as sex addiction and work addiction), depression, phobias and neuroses. Along with Dr. Chukhrova, they have successfully treated over 1000 individuals (aged between 17 and 70 years) of their problems. The therapy appears to be arguably similar to primal therapy (which I briefly examined in a previous blog) and according to Pilipenko “can be used as a kind of anti-stress injection”. Via intense caning sessions Pilipenko not only draws physical pain from his clients but also their emotional reactions. It is the release of these emotions (as with primal therapy) is what he believes cures his patients of their addictions, stresses, depression, and anxieties. (If you are a journalist or an artist he offers the therapy free as a way of promoting his therapeutic practice). For the television programme, one of Dr. Pilipenko’s female clients (Anzhelika Alexeyev, a 22-year old, fifth-year medical student) was interviewed. The production notes I was given noted:
“Anzhelika is only at the beginning of her life, but she’s already experienced hardship and emotional difficulties. Receiving a beating from Dr Pilipenko has been her solution. She’s already visited him once but German believes there is more work to be done. [The programme will] follow Anzhelika through pain and tears as she returns for more caning. She also introduces her father to the treatment and we see her bring him for a session…Her first caning experience was at the start of [the] year…Anzhelika had been suffering stress after miraculously surviving a car crash. German’s advice was that ‘she really needed a lashing.’ She agreed. Initially at the start of the session Anzhelika wanted to leave. She suffered through the first beating in tears, though she persisted, knowing the pain was temporary. She believes the treatment has been successful in curing her trauma and stress related to the accident. In fact she is a big supporter of German’s caning and believes it helps to get rid of emotions that are deeply hidden, unacknowledged and out of control”.
Many newspaper reports have covered the ‘therapy’ over the last few years but nothing has been published on it in peer-reviewed scientific journals. According to one report on the Alternet news site:
“Practitioners Dr. German Pilipenko and Professor Marina Chukhrova say that their treatment is grounded in science: ‘We cane the patients on the buttocks with a clear and definite medical purpose’…The pair say that addicts suffer from a lack of endorphins, and that pain can stimulate the brain to release the feel-good chemicals, ‘making patients feel happier in their own skins.’ Mainstream doctors dismiss the practice, saying that exercise, acupuncture, massage, chocolate or sex are all better at stimulating endorphin secretion. Dr. Pilipenko admits, ‘we get a lot of skepticism…but so do all pioneers.’ The Siberian Times reports that ‘the reaction of most people is predictable: to snigger, scoff or make jokes loaded with sexual innuendo.’ And one recipient of the treatment, 41-year-old recovering alcoholic Yuri, says his girlfriend accused him of simply visiting a dominatrix. But he adds that although ‘the first strike was sickening…Somehow I got through all 30 lashes. The next day I got up with a stinging backside but no desire at all to touch the vodka in the fridge. The bottle has stayed there now for a year’.”
The Alternet story also interviewed another patient (Natasha, a 22-year-old recovering heroin addict with several months clean) who had been paying $100 for a two-hour session and claimed:
“I am the proof that this controversial treatment works, and I recommend it to anyone suffering from an addiction or depression. It hurts like crazy – but it’s given me back my life…With each lash, I scream and grip tight to the end of the surgical table. It’s a stinging pain, real agony, and my whole body jolts…I’m not a masochist. My parents never beat me or even slapped me, so this was my first real physical pain and it was truly shocking. If people think there’s anything sexual about it, then it’s nonsense.”
The article reported that Natasha had received 60 strokes of the cane per session (noting that drug addicts get double the number of lashes than alcoholics). Professor Chukhrova was then quoted as saying that extreme care is taken to ensure patient safety, and that:
“The beating is really the end of the treatment. We do a lot of psychological counseling first, and also use detox. It is only after all the counseling, and heart and pain resistance checks, that we start with the beating. [We use willow branches because they] are flexible and can’t be broken nor cause bleeding…If any patients get sexual pleasure from the beatings, we stop immediately…This is not what our treatment is about. If they’re looking for that, there are plenty of other places to go.”
According to Dr Pilipenko, the unusual combination of psychology and corporal-style punishment is designed to train patients in endurance, tolerance and resistance as ways of coping with stress. Pilipenko believes he provides his clients with the tools to deal with stress and problems in their lives. More specifically he claims that:
“Psychological stimulation is aimed to convince a patient that aggression, idleness and depression will cause problems in life…Usually a patient is prescribed three separate visits, before they can be cured but it might be necessary for anything up to 10 sessions, depending on the severity of the individual case”.
Dr. Pilipenko also claims that cane therapy that was practiced by monks in the Middle Ages. However, I also noted that following each caning, his clients receive both psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. This begs the question as to whether it is these additional forms of intervention that are key to therapeutic success rather than the caning in and of itself.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Alternet (2013). Weird science: Siberian psychologists caning patients “on the buttocks” in new addiction treatment. January 7. Located at: http://www.alternet.org/weird-science-siberian-psychologists-caning-patients-buttocks-new-addiction-treatment
Daily News (2014). Russian patients pay therapists to cane them in bizarre treatment. October 2. Located at: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/russian-patients-pay-therapists-cane-article-1.1960979
Siberian Times (2013). Beating the addiction out of you – literally. January 7. Located at: http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/features/beating-addiction-out-of-you-literally/
Stewart, W. (2013). How to beat your demons, literally: Siberian psychologists thrash patients with sticks to help them kick their addictions. Daily Mail, January 7. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2258395/How-beat-addictions-literally-Siberian-psychologists-thrash-patients-sticks-help-kick-habits.html
Posted on November 9, 2015, in Addiction, Case Studies, Compulsion, Drug use, Obsession, Pain, Psychiatry, Psychology and tagged Addiction, Addiction treatment, Alcohol addiction, Anti-stress treatment, Cane therapy, Controversial therapies, Depression treatment, Drug addiction, Painful treatments, Primal therapy, Psychological therapy, Stress treatment. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.