Foreword to the Book: The Converted Left-Hander or The Knot in the Brain

How Individual Fates Turned Into Insight

A very personal introductory note

My friend Karl was always the best in grammar school. On top of that, he had a big heart and was good at sports. He was liked by everyone and all accepted readily that he would go far. Thus, nobody was envious of him when he started studying medicine at university and majored in surgery. Everybody knew that, thanks to his sharp memory, he would be able to master any other subject just as easily as he had once been able to quickly learn five languages on account of a bet.M

The proof of his all-round talent he already had given in his youth. For the duration of one summer, he dated the daughter of a watchmaker; during which time, he managed to take in so much knowledge from her father that, at the end of it, he was able to increase his pocket money by repairing and refurbishing watches and by buying up cheap bric-a-brac which he then turned into real, working antiques. All of this seemed to prove that Karl was destined to master the intricacies of surgery. And, true to form, he quickly made good on that promise. His assistant position at the university came as no great surprise then.

I met Karl some years later during a holiday in Spain. I was confused as to what he was doing there during the middle of the summer semester. He told me of his bad luck. The chief surgeon of the university hospital, a well-known surgeon, had traveled to a conference unexpectedly and Karl had filled in for him. During a somewhat difficult operation in which he was working with the chief surgeon’s team, a tendon in his right hand was injured upon being handed a surgical instrument.

The event causing this injury sounded almost like a comical anecdote. Karl’s superior was a left-hander and accordingly his whole surgical team was accustomed to that fact. Karl, however, was right-handed. The tension during the operation didn’t help matters much either and suddenly, a routine move, which turned out to be the wrong one for Karl, resulted in injury. As Karl was not able to operate with his left hand, he was out of the running and took time off.

And I again had the opportunity to admire his will-power and determination. He used his holiday time to hone his left-handed skills. With impressive determination, he trained practically all day. He only wrote with his left hand and he had even got hold of several textbooks that dealt with exercising the left hand. He was completely determined to increase the adeptness and precision of his left hand so that in future he would be able to operate using both hands. In essence, he thought he would have two right hands in the end.

When I met Karl later, he was still laughing at the shock he had felt when first trying to use his left hand for performing some complicated task. The result had been devastating. I myself have tried to do the same on my own and noticed that my left hand is practically useless when used in the main. As I wasn’t, however, as ambitious as Karl, I left it at that. We then didn’t see each other for a long time.

About eight years later I tried unsuccessfully to have a patient referred to a suitable spa that had, unfortunately, no spaces left. During my phone call, I suddenly became aware that the director of the spa was Karl and he must have suffered a tremendous loss in his professional standing. Something in his voice alerted my own professional curiosity to such a degree that I decided to accompany my patient to the spa personally. The undertone of Karl’s voice set off all sorts of alarm bells in me.

As we sat together, Karl exuded resignation and fear about his having a mysterious, progressively degenerative brain disorder which had apparently taken on psycho-pathological dimensions. Despite this fact, Karl tried to gloss over everything by forcing himself to be optimistic; at least, he was earning a lot of money there and was left in peace.

He then described to me how he had studied neurology intensively upon his return from Spain as he wanted to specialize in neurosurgery. He began preparing for his post-doctoral research even more intensively. And this was when, Karl, for the first time in his life, had to realize that he somehow couldn’t keep up. He likened himself to a motor that cut out several times at full throttle. His memory began to fail him and then, because of the stress he experienced as a result of remembering these ever increasing lapses of memory, a psychological “circulus vitiosus” was created. Then, his hands began to shake and as a consequence he was no longer able to make precise movements. His time of being a surgeon was over.

His whole world fell apart. Everything that he had doggedly relied upon since childhood was ruined. One night, only a lucky act of fate saved him from executing a carefully planned suicide.

A host of differing diagnoses were explored, from “Endogenous Psychosis” via Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, all without positive result. Karl took to drink and got into trouble with the dean of his college. Then his troubles began with his own wife. He solved both problems through the help of his father who got him the post of director at the spa. After his divorce, Karl was not yet willing to have a new relationship and as he himself said, he suffered from hypochondriacal fears and anxiety over the future. I was only too able to confirm this diagnosis and gave him some of the routine psychological advice for his future. I left Karl with a nagging feeling of powerlessness because I, too, had no explanation for his problems. Karl remained to me like a portent of unfathomable fate, one which I tried to ignore.

Later, after I was already looking back on a long, quite successful psychotherapeutical practice, a high-up ministerial civil servant was recommended to come to my office. He had already had five therapies which he had broken off as well as two suicide attempts behind him. Before him lay the prospect of a sudden termination of his career through either being posted into a dead-end position or his even being forced into early retirement. He described his fate to me with considerable resignation. It had all started with his being embroiled in a car accident. He was innocent but a child had been killed. Then, depression hit….

His wife left him and took the three children. Then, due to faulty advice, he lost all of his savings because of the bankruptcy of the investment company where he had placed his savings. Coming home from a visit abroad, he found his house had not only been burgled but burnt out. And he was then deemed to be under-insured.

Later, during a routine lecture before a European Community Committee, he suddenly lost his train of thought. His memory failed him. He began to stutter and stammer and, finally, he left the hall where he had been giving the lecture in a sudden panic. After that, his panic attacks came with frightening regularity. He even managed to forget his speech during relatively routine meetings and he was forced to read everything from his notes. This did not always work well, especially when questions had to be answered.

My check-up with the civil servant suddenly brought back memories of Karl and his lapses of memory. After the patient himself described how he became increasingly like a “Zombie”, he was tested for psychosis, Multiple Sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s – just like Karl and again without any positive results. I tried everything that was available to the neurologist, psychiatrist, and the psychotherapist in the way of diagnosis. I even explored his memories back to his earliest childhood; all to no avail.

One day, the patient looked at a poster on the wall that announced the latest exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci. I noticed how the mirror writing reproduced on the poster absolutely fascinated him and I told him that the highly gifted scientist and artist had written all of his records using mirror writing. Apparently, he had done this in order to guard against it being recognizable to all but some. My patient said, amused, that he, too, could write backwards. I suddenly remembered a presentation by a colleague who had also mentioned that mirror writing was one of the abilities that both left-handers and persons who have been converted demonstrate. My patient, however, flatly denied ever having been left-handed. I did not give up though and took him to Dr. Sattler and her computer tests which had once outted me as being hopelessly right-handed. The opposite happened to the patient. He tested as a true left-hander who had been converted to his right hand. Only then did he remember that formerly he had used his left hand far more for executing various tasks, especially for work requiring precision and strength. Even in kindergarten, he had started writing with his left hand but he had been “cured” of that quickly and successfully.

I began to study Dr. Sattler’s work intensively and, at the same time, I took up contact with numerous other psychotherapists. We looked for patients with similar symptoms who had had little or no success with varying therapeutic interventions. We entered their biographical data into the diagnostic computer to ascertain their handedness. To our great amazement, nearly all of the patients had once been left-handers who were later converted. Two patients had even been converted to their left hands after having suffered accidents to their right.

And suddenly I saw before me a foreign, alien, individualistic and lonely world where people who have been converted from left to right live and have to exist with the consequences that I felt hard to understand. All were in the final stages of their suffering.

The tragic life of Karl suddenly had an explanation and a reason. Through his attempts at converting himself and his Herculean efforts at training his left hand, Karl was confronted with all of the consequences of one who had been converted as a child. These effects, which any “normal” child who has suffered being converted is hit with, are, however, intensified for adults. Just like any childhood malady, it is all the harder to take when you are an adult.

The case was somewhat different with regard to the ministerial civil servant, but again it was completely clear. All of the additional strength and effort he had invested his whole life long to construct mnemonics in order to yield achievements commensurate with his intelligence were gone in an instant. His entire additional reserve of energy went towards carrying the exhausting emotional baggage and was suddenly lost. His car accident and its dire consequences played a crucial role in his psychological constitution.

Only with continual, increased concentration can a left-handed child who has been converted summon the additional energy that is needed. It is exactly this power, however, that is continually robbed through the emotional burden of the original trauma and is therefore missing. Then, with cognitive reactions, the construction of memory devices, and the rehearsal of complicated mental exercises, the left-hander’s mind simply gives way. The same law which applies to sleep disturbances and loss of virility applies here as well. In the end, the memory of one breakdown is enough to bring on another and so on and so forth.

Today, I am familiar with hundreds of similar examples. My colleagues have also been confronted with these cases which surely only reflect a fraction of the total human misery. I say only a fraction because only a minority of survivors actually go on to seek help in the form of psychotherapy.

Through our practice, we have come to recognize the potentially serious consequences the phenomena of converting handedness can have for those persons within our society who would seek equal opportunity within the selection processes of our performance-driven culture. In societies where advancement is dictated by successful performance during examinations presented, the possibilities for future attainment are restricted, from childhood on, for those persons whose handedness was at one time converted. However, no one even noticed what was going on until one scientist began her intensive research.

For me, the research of Dr. Sattler has increasingly proven to be a milestone. From the perspective of a psychotherapist who has been in the business for years now, Dr. Sattler’s work may one day be recognized for having identified one of the most important factors that defines personal existence. Her work, therefore, in my opinion, constitutes one of the most important bodies of scientific research of this century. The fascination of her research results comes especially from the relationship between theory and practice. This connection is consistently demonstrated through her continued research. The insight that one gains when confronting the true-to-life research of Dr. Sattler and her research team is simply stunning.

Where once before hundreds of complicated theories had run rampant, there now stands a clear, concise, common-sense, absolutely understandable Cause-and-Effect theory. In the end, one is left to wonder how we never noticed before. Why did no one put together the obvious pieces of cause and effect, action-reaction?

Dr. Sattler’s success is all the more astounding given the many different branches of science that had attacked this problem and even came at times very close to finding the solution. But no one before was able to put the individual pieces together to form a complete picture with all of its true dimensions. Of course, this is probably the case with any great scientific discovery.

In 1987, this discovery was deservedly honored by the International Neurophysiological Conference in Istanbul. Here, the German scientist, Dr. Sattler, was invited to give a personal presentation of her work…in English! After her speech, Dr. Sattler and her work were written about the world over. She made countless radio and television appearances. Her portfolio of press announcements alone is today over three and a half centimeters thick.

It has occurred to me that what we are dealing with here is a classic case where a problem can be completely eradicated through preventative measures. At the same time, we also have an extraordinary example of a cost-and-benefit issue. The earlier the intervention is introduced, the more successful it will be. This means that we must begin in kindergarten and primary schools. And this case for early prevention is exactly the thrust of Dr. Sattler’s work which is presented here, in this book, with the greatest of clarity.

Dr. Ivo-Kurt Cizek, Dipl.-Psych., M.A. (Soz.)

© Copyright: Dr. Ivo-Kurt Cizek, Dipl.-Psych., M.A. (Soz.)
Consulting and Information Center for Left-handers and Converted Left-handers
(Erste deutsche Beratungs- und Informationsstelle für Linkshänder und umgeschulte Linkshänder)
Sendlinger Str. 17, D – 80331 Munich (München), Germany / Europe, Tel./ Fax: +49 / 89 / 26 86 14, e-mail: