A Dangerous Daughter and Psycho-Analysis
One of the catalysts for my new novel, A Dangerous Daughter, was the discovery that an academic had unearthed a letter, which she rightly suspected was about me. It was written in 1957 by the analyst who saved my life, Dr Ivy Bennett, I agreed to be interviewed for the academic’s thesis on psychoanalysis:
Interview with Christine Brett Vickers, LaTrobe University, September 2019
In 1954/5 I was referred to Ivy Bennett by a child psychologist in Newcastle, after hospitalisation and ECT hadn’t worked. The psychologist also thought (wrongly) that I might be better off away from my parents, who were themselves becoming distressed. It was shocking for me, an ill child, to be abandoned by my parents and two sisters, who I loved very much, and to be exiled on the other side of the continent to live with little-known relatives, who took me in for my parents’ sake. I believe I deteriorated further in Perth, and almost died when my organs began to fail. The miracle was that I didn’t die, and that finding Ivy Bennett was what saved me.
Do you recall your first impressions of her? How often did you meet?
I believe we met several times a week for two and a half years. My first impression was that here was someone who might be able to help me. I trusted her immediately. She had a calm, dignified bearing and spoke with a soft warm voice. She was tall and attractive, with stylish auburn hair and an imposing figure. To my fourteeen year old eyes, she seemed very mature, but was probably only in her late twenties or early thirties. She was kind, and spoke with great intelligence. At last I felt that here I would not be judged, and that she might understand me, when I didn’t understand myself.
Can you tell me about the location, and the room and the setting. Did she have a couch? Or Face to face?
I believe Dr Bennett practiced from home. The room itself was peaceful and dimly lit. It had elegant furniture: the couch against one wall, with Ivy’s large chair behind it. I lay on the couch, and she sat directly behind my head, classic Freudian style. I remember a framed print of a da Vinci painting, thought by some to be his self-portrait . It was called ‘Portrait of an Old Man’. I can still see every detail vividly, as I spent many hours staring at that painting on the wall opposite me. Dr Bennett explained the painting to me when I eventually asked.That painting appears in my book, ‘A Dangerous Daughter’, as does Ivy with the nom de plume of Dr Elisabeth de Berg. There were of course bookshelves and many books there and elsewhere in the room. I feel Ivy Bennett contributed to my education with her wisdom and insights. I had left school at fourteen because of my illness, and only resumed my education at age seventeen, when I’d sufficiently recovered. I believe I was still seeing Dr Bennett at that time, but possibly less frequently.
You said in an email that after you had a second bout of anorexia, that your memories and experience of treatment with Ivy sustained you. I am interested in knowing more about this.
My second bout of anorexia nervosa was less severe than the first, probably because I had Ivy Bennett’s words and insights to sustain me. She used to call me ‘My brave girl’, the only person in the world to acknowledge that I was battling an insidious illness. My family, both immediate and extended, continued to blame me for the illness. I believe even Ivy’s internalised voice and support was not strong enough to withstand the constant criticisms and lack of understanding I found back in NSW.
- A Dangerous Daughter will be published in 2021. It is a fictional representation of my own struggle and survival from anorexia nervosa.