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HOT TOPICS: Drug and Alcohol Treatment  Heroin

Siberian Psychologists Whip Addicts Clean

The bizarre beating "treatment" doesn't enjoy mainstream support—but some recipients swear by it.

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Natasha receives her "treatment."
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By Sarah Beller

01/07/13

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Siberian psychologists are taking a hardline approach to helping people with addiction: literally beating it out of them. The practitioners claim that lashing addicts on the buttocks with a willow cane can help those for whom more conventional methods have failed. 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—it is not some warped sado-masochistic activity," insists Professor Chukhrova. 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."  

Natasha, a 22-year-old recovering heroin addict with several months clean, says, "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." She receives 60 strokes of the cane per session (drug addicts get double the dose of alcoholics), at a cost of about $100. Her "therapy" is hardly for the faint-hearted: "With each lash," says Natasha, "I scream and grip tight to the end of the surgical table. It's a stinging pain, real agony, and my whole body jolts." But she also insists, "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." Professor Chukhrova stresses that care is taken to ensure clients' safety: "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." The doctor adds that the willow branches used are "flexible and can't be broken nor cause bleeding." And the practitioners are also at pains to deny any ulterior motives: "If any patients get sexual pleasure from the beatings, we stop immediately," says Professor Chukhrova. "This is not what our treatment is about. If they're looking for that, there are plenty of other places to go." 

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