No quick fix to disorder

PHOTO: No quick fix to disorder

UNDER the terms of his probation order, Low Ji Qing will have to undergo the Atypical Theft Offenders treatment programme conducted by We Care Community Services, a charity that treats people with addictions.

And unlike most other probation cases, in which offenders live at home while being supervised by their family members, Low will have to reside at a men's shelter instead.

In January, Low's family had decided against posting bond for him when his lawyer Josephus Tan asked the court to grant probation so that Low could continue to seek treatment at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

This was because he had re-offended while out on bail last November.

So District Judge Soh Tze Bien ordered Mr Tan to explore the possibility of placing his client in a halfway house, where he can receive treatment for his disorder.

Low's family had cut off all ties with him when he was again nabbed for theft in 1999. The court heard that Low discovered he was suffering from fetishism in 1996.

But he kept his disorder under wraps as he did not think that anyone would believe him or understand. He also defaulted on his follow-up sessions as he felt ashamed.

His family found out about his psychiatric condition only after they saw his IMH psychiatric report last year. They decided to give him one last chance and came forward to support him.

He started working as a sales and marketing executive at his sister's travel agency and lived in his elder brother's home.

Change of heart

Change of heart

Yesterday, the court heard that his family had had a change of heart. While they would not be able to house him, they agreed to support him by paying the fees of about $1,000 for his treatment programme.

One of his sisters also turned up in court to post a bond of $5,000 to ensure his good behaviour. She declined to be interviewed when approached.

The court heard that a jail term would be detrimental to Low's recovery.

Dr Todd Tomita, acting chief of IMH's department of general and forensic psychiatry, said in a psychiatric report: "While his fetishism behaviours would be contained in prison, he would not be able to have ongoing treatment in the community where the most appropriate treatment is available.

"While he can continue to take medications in prison, behavioural therapy for fetishism will probably be impossible."

Fetishism cases can be difficult to treat, said Dr Tommy Tan of Novena Psychiatry Clinic. Patients have to first get past the shame barrier and most seek treatment only after getting caught.

"Quite often, they don't tell anyone, not even their wives," said Dr Tan.

And for such a disorder, there are no magical quick fixes.

"It can be a life-long problem. Sometimes they get caught, come for treatment, then think they can cope and stop coming because they're embarrassed," he said.

That's when they can lapse again.

Treatment includes psychotherapy, or talk therapy, to uncover the underlying causes that lead the patient to associate sexual desire with a particular object.

"Something must have happened during his childhood that caused him to link the smell of women's wallets to sexual arousal," said Dr Tan.

Patients are also prescribed medication to reduce impulsive behaviour.

This article was first published in The New Paper.