Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D., B.C.S.A. is a noted psychotherapist, child/adolescent developmental specialist, and social activist. Dr. Edmunds is the founder of the International Center for Humane Psychiatry, a coalition of mental health professionals, psychiatric survivors and others dedicated to returning compassion and ethics to the field of emotional healing.
Dr. Edmunds completed his undergraduate studies in Religion and Sociology at the University of Florida. He completed a Master of Arts in Theology from the University of Scranton and completed post graduate study in Dispute Resolution at Nova Southeastern University. He received a Doctorate of Education in Community Counseling from the University of Sarasota. He is Professor of Comparative Religion and Existential Psychology for the European-American University.
International Center for Humane Psychiatry
I am greatly appreciative of the work and friendship of a number of colleagues who I am indebted to, among them: Clancy D. McKenzie, M.D.; John Breeding, Ph.D.; and Eddy Regnier, Ph.D.
I dedicate this work to the memory of my late grandmother, Rose J. Johnsen, a dedicated humanitarian, and to all the clients who have allowed me to share in their journey.
THE MEETING OF TWO PERSONS: WHAT THERAPY SHOULD BE
Exploring the Social, Familial, and Political Factors Leading to Emotional Distress
Presented at the 13th Annual Conference of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology, October 9, 2010, Syracuse, New York
The Importance of Experience 5
The Journey Through “Madness” 13
Life and Being Human 16
Stories of True Recovery 18
Impact of Trauma on Our Lives 28
Our Society 35
CHAPTER 1: THE IMPORTANCE OF EXPERIENCE
When a distressed person enters the realm of modern psychiatric practice they are first confronted with what Laing terms as the ‘psychiatric ceremonial’. In this process, the experience of the person is not considered. Rather, the psychiatrist sits in a place of judgment, he being considered sane and stable, and determines by his subjective observation of behavior how the person is a deviant from what should be expected of him or her and then categorizes it and assigns it a label. There is no concern for the person’s experience, rather the person is seen as an ‘it’, as an object whose behavior is to be analyzed. Science is only able to examine what is, not what will be. It is based on duplication of results, but can we duplicate experience. When we merely look at behavior without understanding the context of it, we draw false conclusions. Understanding the context may lead us to see that the behavior is not truly meaningless after all. Frankl states, “An incurably psychotic individual may lose his usefulness but yet retain the dignity of a human being…a doctor, who would still interpret his role mainly as that of a technician would confess that he sees in his patient nothing more than a machine…but man is ultimately self-determining.”
Laing states, “behavior therapy is the most extreme example of such schizoid theory and practice and proposes to think and act purely in terms of the other without reference to the self of the therapist or the patient, in terms of behavior without experience, in terms of objects rather than persons. It is inevitably therefore a technique of nonmeeting, of manipulation, and social control.’ Experience is the soul of psychotherapy and we should note that the term psychotherapy literally means the ‘healing of the soul’. The therapeutic process should be a meeting of two human beings, it should be the sharing and understanding of experience. Laing states that “I see you and you see me. I experience you, and you experience me. I see your behavior and you see my behavior. But I do not and never will see your experience of me.” It is popular today to look at individuals’ behaviors merely as the result of chemical processes or the effects of so called chemical imbalances. But then we must ask the question as Laing did- do chemicals come together because they love each other? Do atoms explode because they hate one another?
So often we seek to ignore experience. Laing notes the invalidation of experience by such comments as ‘that never happened’, or the trivialization of
experience, or to invalidate its content by such words as “it wasn’t really that way’ or ‘how can you think such a thing?” We must realize that we exist in an existential vacuum, and it is these things that lead to the development of aggression, addiction, depression. Our behaviors are how we communicate distress; they are for some the only form of communication they know. Their behaviors communicate to us a glimpse of their experience. “If our experience is destroyed, our behavior will be destructive. If our experience is destroyed, we will have lost our selves (pg.28).” The therapeutic process is a shamanic voyage, a journeying with another person. But can two human beings truly come together? Are there too many barriers? Can we put aside our affiliations, our ethnicities, our religions, and all the other things that set us apart? Can we come together completely bare and share in the human condition? Nietzsche stated, “Nihilism represents the ultimate logical conclusion of our great values and ideas- because we must experience nihilism before we can find out what value these ‘values’ really had.” So, we must come together in nothingness and from this to ex nihilo, from nothing, become. We must as Frankl (pg. 112) stated be able to transform tragedy into triumph.
But without often realizing it, therapists and others become agents of oppression. Is our work solely leading people to become proper conformists, to do what others are doing? Is our work solely to make people adapt to totalitarianism, to do what they are told to do? It has always been these two processes that have led to the most dangerous of
outcomes. When freedom and autonomy are taken, and individuals can no longer be individuals, when critical thinking has ceased, we have entered a dreadful place. Maybe we are already there. Freedom is to have choice and have regard for others. License is to do which one wishes without regards to the other. Often today we see the violence evoked on people in the name of a common good or a common cause, or as Durkheim would say the collective consciousness. We can even justify our brutality as progress if what we are doing somehow subdues a person, makes them more amenable to society, or brings us satisfaction. If we can turn a person into a ‘them’ by ascribing a label, then ‘we’ can feel justified to treat them as we wish. This violence which calls itself love can be found within the very structure of the family. Within the structure of the family are certain rules that are established that the members are to adhere to. These rules may not always be sensible, but nonetheless become a part of how the family operates. They are generally known whether or not they always are followed. It is dependent on who is in control and what the consequences are for violation whether the family members adhere to the established rules of conducting themselves.
CHAPTER 2: FAMILY DYNAMICS
Children have moments of looking at themselves apart from the established structure. This becomes more pronounced in the teen years. This can become a major source of contention inwardly where the child sees himself in a way that may not meet to the approval of the family structure. The structure where authoritarianism reigns may shun the thought and creative expression of the child leading to repression of independent
thought and action. The child is expected to do those things which protect and preserve the family structure. The structure may be faulty, but nonetheless it is maintained, at times violently so. Being a deviant from the structure can have dire consequences for the child, from within the family structure itself and as a result of the energies wasted in a struggle to change something where they have not been empowered to evoke change. They are left only to comply. Their unhappiness and discontent will be ignored to preserve the 'integrity of the family structure."
Often there exists the situation of self fulfilling prophecies within certain structures. What one hears they unfortunately become. If a child is told that he is a certain way, and this becomes a repetitive message, it is likely he will behave in like fashion. The child may repeat the very language he hears, not necessarily knowing its meaning, but knowing it conveys a feeling and can be used as a defense.
There exists at times in families, one who will do all possible to preserve the structure, no matter how dysfunctional it may be. This person often utilizes an authoritarian stance and expects their children to respect them solely for the sake of their presumed authority. Their objective is control, and the independent or creative nature of the child is looked upon as a deficit. The child's only voice is to be the parental voice, if it is not, punishment will certainly come. This person is many times a person who implies
the idea of 'do as I say" but not necessarily as they do. This creates despair in the child, leading to states of hopelessness and depression. They may begin to question their sense of self, their own identity. They become anxious, fearful children who appear timid because they dare not speak something which could bring them punishment from the authority in charge of the structure. This learned behavior begins to manifest outside the family structure as well, as these are the children who then become easily swayed by peer influence. These are the children who do not really know themselves so they adopt the traits of those around them, seeking to gain acceptance and a sense of belonging. They are thus always victims of control. Once they branch out from the control of the authoritarian parent, they are bound to be controlled by some other party who will influence their decisions and deprive them of critical thought. They may not realize they are being controlled, thinking they are somehow apart because they belong to a 'clan' who dresses this different way or that, but nonetheless they are under the control of something or someone. These children are usually the underachievers. They are not sure of what to strive for, thus they often do not strive at all. They allow life to merely 'happen' rather than taking charge themselves.
The overachiever is one bound by feelings of inadequacy and this often takes its roots in the familial structure. It is often in these situations where there exists a force within the family who has defined the rule of what it means to be 'successful'. There is the constant pressure and drive to have the child to conform to expectations. Those with
this structure in place highly value competitiveness. The siblings are often competing for attention for one another. It is often the only child or the firstborn who is placed in the glorified role. If they meet the expectation, they are heaped with praise, if they do not; they are likely to be cast aside. Once cast aside, or in the worst case, cut off from the family, they often enter into depressed states. They may seek various avenues to mask their feelings of inadequacy. These feelings of inadequacy may impair their future relationships. They may become those always striving for an unreachable ideal, always slightly out of reach. They cannot fully accept themselves in the present moment, but always want to be gaining or achieving more. They become individuals whose level of dissatisfaction can become immense.
There exists in some families as well where the gap between ages of the siblings is significant, and where one sibling may have been seen as having provided a contribution to the family and deemed ‘successful’, and the far younger sibling once reaching the ‘freedom’ of adulthood develops a resentment towards the older sibling and adopts a victim mentality. This then can lead to the younger sibling entering a period of rebellion, rejecting opportunities, and seeking to align himself with those who standards are lower than himself or that of his family. By doing this, the younger sibling can stave off their feelings of inferiority.
There is the public image and the private image. This dichotomy often creates great confusion and distress and can lead the child to questioning of reality and their identity. What is meant by the public image is what the leader(s) of the family structure wish to convey to the outside world, whereas the private image is that dysfunction which lies within that these individuals are wanting to conceal at whatever cost. Familial secrets exist, trust is lacking, and children are guarded about their expression. Children may be lied to and dilemmas between family members masked or suppressed. The real nature of things may be shrouded in confusion and 'mystery'. Mixed messages may arise, or the members of the family may see themselves placed in 'damned if you do and damned if
you don't situations." Some family members may frustrate themselves in striving for the 'ideal' structure which never arrives.
In the dysfunctional structure, as in oppressive societal regimes, there are those who seek rebellion. Rebellion against the structure becomes more pronounced in the stage of adolescence where already the teenager is beginning to exert a greater sense of autonomy and desire to be apart from the familial structure. However, because children lack the resources for which to engage in a rebellion that could be successful, the rebellion is always squashed. What does this leave the child to do? They can do little but endure and await the period where they can break free from the structure that they find oppressive. What is termed 'conduct' problems is usually this desire to break free from what the child has perceived as oppressive in their lives. Often without the appropriate guidance and 'moral compass' coming from the familial structure, their rebellion turns not just to fighting the familial structure, but the structures outside which also resemble the authority they have found oppressive. This type of rebellion is usually futile and self-destructive. There exists the warring between parents themselves, which cause the children to be placed in the predicament of divided loyalties, not knowing which parent to turn towards. There may exist the opposing styles, one parent who is permissive and one who is the authoritarian. This scenario leads to immense conflict.
In the worst scenarios, the combination of 'seared in' memories of trauma, with the dynamics as mentioned above leads to the disintegration of the person. Reality is too painful, and is questionable. Reality is not reliable. As a result, this member of the family seeks to 'break out' and develops the behavior that would be termed psychosis. They retreat into their own inner world, their own sense of reality and identity. This too is often a painful journey, but not anymore painful than the experience of the structure they have felt subjected to. Children in some structures are still viewed as ‘property’; therefore they are often enslaved to the faulty structures. Mere compliance does not earn one's freedom but neither does active rebellion. Cycles exist, once a structure is learned, it is bound for continuation. The child in many instances will perpetuate the structure that they learned once they have their own family to lead. The stresses and trauma of one can often become the stresses and trauma of all, it becomes a collective trauma. The faulty structures within the family dynamics are seen in society as a whole. Therefore, we are all shaped by the society and the family structures in which we have encountered. Thus, concepts of 'mental illness' or the 'unruly child' all take shape and form by the experience one has in the family and ultimately in society. These are not biological processes, but rather social and political processes.
CHAPTER 3: THE JOURNEY THROUGH ‘MADNESS’
What is termed ‘madness’ or ‘mental illness’ is for some the only means for expression of their being lost and confused in a world which has caused them deep hurt and pain. Such is not disease but behavior with metaphorical meaning. There has been received through life mixed messages and placement into situations where regardless of the option they choose they felt damned. They seek to break out from the reality which has only caused them distress. The development of hallucinations and delusions are all metaphors for the very real demons they have encountered in disordered society. The inner mind, the voice within us, becomes amplified, and becomes ‘possessed’ with the demons coming forward from the trauma and distress which has been encountered. Rebellion against the system of things becomes self-destructive as the person seeks to send a message to the world of their distress, but it remains unheard. Each coping mechanism that has been employed has often led to failure and not brought them out of the unlivable situation that is their life. However, the catharsis of this pain and grief can go in two directions- it can be misery and existential death, or it can be transformative.
Through the pain and struggle, through the breaking out of the ‘typical reality’ one can journey through various modes of altered consciousness. Many deemed ‘mad’ speak of the supernatural. They have sought every attempt to reach out and create meaning. If they can be helped by a loving, supportive network to navigate through this state of confusion and the various realms of altered consciousness towards rebuilding and
reconstructing a life of meaning, then they can come forward to a recovery that gives them valuable insight about human nature and who they really are and the reality of the impermanence of this life and the world around us. They will find that suffering is an inevitable, and it that suffering is the state of the world which is mired in greed and attachment. The one deemed ‘mad’ for once has accomplished a rare task- they have completely detached. But this detachment is only from the typical standards of the world. They remain haunted by the visions of their previous life. They cannot escape it, and thus they become anxious and paranoid that something or someone will pull them back to that painful existence. At times, rage comes forward as the reaction to challenges, but who would not be outraged if their voice was suppressed and they became the scapegoat for the problems of their families or those around them? Those deemed ‘mad’, feeling always alone, depart to a world where they remain alone from people, yet may create for themselves beings who give them comfort and solace. This is really the end of their search, to simply be accepted and loved. But here too lies a problem, for when their lives have been devoid of love and they receive unconditional love, it becomes like an overwhelming fire that consumes them. They have never been loved, so how can they respond to an outpouring of love? When all they knew was that oppression and coercion was said to be because ‘we love you’, when ‘love’ really was only about control, how can the person then understand genuine love? Once again, the confusion sets in. To reach the person who has been deemed ‘mad’, we cannot overwhelm. Our sincerity will not be enough, for there trust has been shattered time and time again. It is only through entering
their world for what it is, by joining in, and learning to speak the language, can we ourselves begin to understand the experience of these individuals. It is only by this joining in that the person may have the chance for their journey known as ‘madness’ to reach a transformative ending towards discovery.
CHAPTER 4: LIFE AND BEING HUMAN
What exactly is a person? We live, but what does it mean to actually live? Who are we? Where are we going? What exactly are we doing? Must we do anything? Must we go anywhere? It is innate in us to search out for meaning, wherever it may lie.
Life is our creation. We create it by our choices. In this ability to have choose, this is where we are gifted with freedom. But this freedom can be liberating or it can bring us to hell. Life is like a play or performance. At times, people's frame freezes and they become trapped in that singular moment. All that they define about life, about who they are returns to that singular point. We imprison ourselves by our thoughts, by our own choice.
Life does throw us challenges at many turns, but it is our choice to either become entrapped and fall into despair, or to seek for our liberation. It is our choice how we wish to perceive events and circumstances. We can take charge and create our existence or we can allow life to control us. Human beings have the capability of being resilient. We have the ability to create, to create our own destiny. Eplicletus had stated that men are not disturbed by events but rather their perceptions of them.
Challenges and mistakes can be moments of discovery, if we will allow them to be. Hindus often use the greeting, "Namaste". This statement implies that I honor the self within you. We are all inter-connected, each of us plays a role in this play of life, and we are all part of the human condition. Within each of us is the innate ability to remain inter-connected and the nature of what is benevolent. It is as if we each are a mirror reflecting beauty, yet when this mirror becomes covered with dirt, it no longer reflects this image of beauty. The image becomes contorted, even ugly. In Buddhist thought, there are three poisons that lead to the downfall of a person- greed, hatred, and delusion. Greed implies the desire to possess at the expense of another. Hatred is the resentments we hold to, the thought of harming another, and delusion implies that we are unaware or our thinking is clouded. It is these poisons that are a 'collective sin'. We infect ourselves and our infected by others, and it is for this reason why individuals are born into various degrees of suffering.
Therefore, we must realize that our self is inter-connected with the self of others. We are all journeying the same path. It is not a race or a competition, but rather a simple journey. We cannot complete it alone.
What is success? We may find many, many answers. It is often our view of what success is that shapes our vision, our goals, and ultimately who we are and will become. Our views of success should be tempered with the reality of our mortality. Whatever our view is of that which occurs at death, we can all ask the question if our life was fulfilled. What have we created? What do we leave once we have passed on?
What exactly does it mean to love? Often love comes with strings attached or is a means by which to control another. The definition of love as put forward by Saint Paul is of great value- Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
CHAPTER 5: STORIES OF TRUE RECOVERY AND REACHING OUR HURTING YOUTH
I recall working with a young man who had undergone sexual trauma at the age of 4. He lived in a chaotic family with an aggressive, addicted father. There was little positives spoken to this young man. He had an extensive history of psychiatric hospitalizations. What I began to note was that within the hospital setting he was able to 'conform' and was discharged in only a few weeks, but problems would erupt again once sent home leading to further hospitalizations. In one instance, this young man stayed in the home of those outside his family. Though there remained some challenges, he appeared calmer and more able to communicate.
I recall a similar instance with another child. The step-father was abusive both verbally and physically. The mother often because of her own fear would 'cover' for the step-father's actions. The child in one on one settings never created any disturbance.
However, his behaviors in the home were often 'disturbing'. I was pleased that during my work with him he was not hospitalized at any point nor on psychiatric drugs. However, I was aware that he had a prior history of this many times over. In both of these situations, I saw the family dynamics as oppressive and detrimental and tried my best to help the children navigate through the challenges with the system doing little to collaborate in meeting these children's needs.
In light of these two situations, and hearing of others from colleagues, I determined that it was the home, the family dynamics that was the catalyst for making these children 'mad'. When apart from these dynamics, they were able to conform to the rules of the institutions because they were forced to do so. But really what were the psychiatrists accomplishing for them? They merely subdued them with drugs, forced their compliance, and returned them to the same oppressive environment which led to their being hospitalized in the first place. It became evident that the psychiatric establishment could really care less, for each admission added to their coffers. The family was pleased to create a scapegoat rather than addressing the core problem and to have a place to send the 'disturbed child' to so that they could continue in their own self-interest.
I recall two other clients that I collaborated with in therapy. One was an adolescent boy who I will refer to as Alan. Alan was seen by most as an obstinate young man who had completed departed from any sense of reality. His hallucinations had earned him the diagnosis of a psychotic disorder not to mention he frequently displayed
aggressive behavior. Reading the charts from before, it painted a monstrosity, but gave little detail to what Alan’s experience might have been. When I first encountered Alan, I did not demand that he speak to me or that he not speak to me. I made no demands. I solely informed him that I was a supportive person who wanted to know him for who he is. This opened the door to intense dialogues. Together we explored questions about life that we both may have never thought much on before. The topics would drift to purpose, impermanence, suffering, the human condition. He related to me the pain of years of abuse, how he felt dehumanized and humiliated by the various people he thought would help him. He told me of his feelings of being alone, of being nothing. This feeling of nothing for him was an end at the time, but really it was the beginning. It was the door for him to question life, to question what he had been taught, to become. He related to me about his hallucinations, and his imaginary friends became mine as well. I asked about their habits, and their words. I noticed that these beings he saw were him at various points in time. As I met each of these beings, I learned something a bit more about the experience of Alan. Gradually as his emotional needs were met and he began to see himself once again as a singular person in the present moment of time and space, these beings began to depart. I saw in Alan the resilient human spirit and I will not forget him.
I was contacted on one occasion to conduct an assessment and consult with a family in regards to their son who was in his early twenties who had been involuntarily committed by his father to a state mental hospital. As I entered the facility, wondered how any in this place could not feel worthless, depressed, and mad. I entered to meet
John. He appeared somewhat lethargic because of the cocktail of psychiatric drugs he was being given, but he greeted me warmly and with a smile. John began to immediately speak and told me how he was an African American infant who when he was around two years old was turned white. (John was quite pale in complexion). He then proceeded to tell me about the mind control he felt he was experiencing, that his freedom was taken away, he could no longer think for himself. I asked him who he felt was controlling his mind. His answer did not surprise me- it was his father. I later asked the mother if John’s father was a racist and if John had been abused. The answer was yes to both; the father had been linked to racist organizations. The abuse began around the age of 2. It was clear that John had a powerful message, though surrounded in metaphor. To the person only wanting to categorize behavior and ignore experience, would they have known what John was seeking to communicate? As Laing states, " psychotherapy must remain an obstinate attempt of two people to recover the wholeness of being human through the relationship between them."
The distressed adolescent often has feelings of abandonment, emotional detachment, withdrawal, and isolation. These children begin to develop an intense anger directed towards an adult society that they feel has hurt them and does not understand them. Parents need to learn how to build relationships with these children and this can be accomplished through a process of emotional coaching, of allowing the child to express their feelings without judgment while providing clear guidance, limits, and
expectations. It is often inconsistency and lack of clear guidance from parents that further the struggles for these children who then begin to seek guidance from misinformed peers.
These children need love, affection, and a non-judgmental atmosphere. If love does not come from a meaningful and sustainable adult relationship then it will take on a new and contorted character where the concept of 'love' comes from trying to be accepted by peers (even if they be negative ones) as the child will know that they will find a source of non-judgment and will be 'liked' even if it causes their eventual self-destruction. Affection that is not provided by adults, who should be responsible, is then replaced by irresponsible sexual activity where the teen not only seeks for pleasure in a world that often provides only hurt, but feels once again that through sex, they can find a sense of acceptance and supposed emotional connection.
Some teens are so hurt and are suffering from the adults in their lives and the chaotic environment in which they dwell, that they turn to 'radical rebellion'. This can be seen with those children who are 'cutters' as well as those into such movements as punk and goth. With cutters, the emotional pain and trauma they have experienced is so intense, that their mental anguish manifests itself physically through the act of cutting. For the goth teen, who dwells in a world of emotional darkness and frequent experiences of despair, once again, this mental anguish displays itself in physical signs through the wearing of dark clothing, dark objects, body piercings and fascination with things associated with death. There are also those teens who involve themselves in gangs as they
are seeking a sense of connection with a 'family', even if this 'family' causes them to engage in dangerous behavior. The desire for a connection with someone who they feel will accept them outweighs their thoughts of any sense of danger or risk.
Teens are seeking autonomy, but they must be taught by responsible adults that this autonomy they desire also comes with responsibility. Many teens who are distressed feel that they are controlled and are criticized. Rarely, are distressed teens positives and strengths accentuated but teachers, parents, and others frequently focus on the negative. The child enters despair and has no motivation or drive to change because they have been taught by the adults around them the attitude of 'why bother' and the feeling that they are without worth.
Parents and others must stop looking at the child as the 'problem' or try through various means to uncover some 'hidden problem' or try to blame the problem on others. If the parent can be honest and introspective, no matter how difficult and even painful that may be, they will find that there are ways that they can help alleviate the suffering of their child and they may even uncover that there were ways they contributed to this suffering. This does not mean the parent must wallow in guilt, but rather to recognize the things that must change for the teen and the family to have a more harmonious relationship.
When children have experienced abuse and abandonment in early childhood, this often becomes a 'seared in' memory and halts emotional development to the point where the trauma occurred. They may be seen to have a more 'infantile' mind. These feelings of abandonment are often furthered by demeaning words and condescending language used with the child. Each times this occurs; the child begins to look at themselves as a 'non-entity'. They experience existential death. The external conflict that children see amongst their parents becomes an internal conflict for them, the internal conflict then manifests itself externally (usually as aggression). The child becomes devoid of trust, and those who draw near often become the persons who this internal conflict is unleashed upon. It is not that the child is devoid of any feeling for the person seeking to connect with them; it is rather that every connection had strings attached or every connection has been severed. The child becomes anxious and afraid of loss, of even losing themselves, if they are to try again to embark on the process of building a trusting relationship. Laing (1969) stated that 'if there is anything the schizoid individual is likely to believe in, it his own destructiveness. He is unable to believe that he can fill his own emptiness without reducing what is there to nothing.' It will be common then for these children to question whether they deserve 'happiness' and many times question if they even 'deserve to exist'. The children who have undergone the trauma of abuse and abandonment lack an identity of their own; they appear as a construct of others and often are conformist. They do what they feel will earn them the praise of others. But in reality this is based on their own fears and their negative perceptions of themselves. These children are prone to be seen as
manipulative, but this is because they are seeking to exercise control over some aspect of their lives when prior they had absolutely no control. They strive for ideals they cannot be met. Often their intense desire to control or to engage in certain activities in reality is a crying out for their real desire- to have an actual loving and trusting relationship. But these children do not know how to respond to an outpouring of love. They feel that they do not have a voice, are not heard. It is easier for them to feel hated than engulfed by love, particularly when they have seen love to be about control. They desire autonomy and feel they will lose it in the process of building a true relationship. These children may begin to also de-personalize; they may not be prepared to relate to other persons. They may be perceived as lacking empathy, however this is not that it is not there or could not be there, rather it is their fear that blocks their emotional expression of empathy.
These children are often very hurt so they feel they must hurt others.
What do we do? How do we reach such a child? It requires a patient approach. We must allow the child to vent their frustrations. We must share our understanding that we know they are hurt. We must journey with them as they relate their experience of trauma. We do not judge them or withdraw. Even when their emotional expressions may cause us to be afraid, we continue to reach out. We need to be able to forge relationship know matter what and to help the child come to an understanding of life's impermanency, yet we can still strive for happiness now. The trauma is past and does not need to haunt us. We can encourage this child to explore their own sense of self and engage in activities that give
them a positive sense of self worth apart from others. Caregivers and others need to make themselves emotionally available, to look at emotional expression as a time for intimacy and teaching. We need to be able to understand the behaviors, even that which are annoying to us, as a means of communication, and when the child is in the 'right space', to communicate with them and help them process those feelings that were behind whatever incident occurred.
We may be prone to drug the child because the behaviors are seen as 'out of control' or 'disturbing', but whereas this may cause the problematic behavior to lessen, we may be making a grave mistake. We may be subduing the very process by which the child is able to release the tension and pain. We may be numbing but not looking at the root cause. Unless we see the behavior, how can we truly know what to do? If we cannot allow the child to express their distress, how will we truly know of their distress?
To be simple, our means of reaching this child is this- to be with them unconditionally.
How do we make sense of the troubled teen? Particularly those who enter the world of addiction, whose family relationships are torn, and who are often seen associating with 'negative' peers? Many will assume that these teens can be easily identified by their style of dress or maybe by their class, but these struggles can be found in many families. Behavior can be seen but not experience. What the child may interpret as their experience may be very different from the parent and vice versa. What may have been gravely traumatic to the child may not have been seen as such by the family. In our society today which causes us immense stress and pressure to survive (if we are poor) or
attain more (if we are well to do) has diverted attention away from understanding experience. Society has now sought to medicalize experience where any thoughts and feelings, any part of our human condition need not be understood but numbed by a pill. We are a numb society responding to societal pressures. These pressures become unleashed on our children. A parent may fear that their child will endure hardship that the parent may have endured so the parent seeks to force and coerce the child 'out of love' to achieve and do what the parent desires. The teen in a state of exerting autonomy feels threatened and thus rejects in toto the guidance of the parent and seeks after peers who will understand their experience and their pain.
As I mentioned that we are taught to be a numb society, some teens choose to numb their emotional pain by illicit drugs. This idea has been instilled by our society. The teen may not realize the self destructive course they are taking because they have convinced themselves that they are free. But it is not freedom they possess, for freedom comes with responsibility, rather they have traded one slavery for another. Parents must take the time to understand the world and experience of the teen, to build communication which seeks to understand their desire for autonomy and which respects their experience. An overprotective stance and coercion leads to the breakdown of communication which is vital for any relationship to survive. We often distrust children, we do not allow them the ability to make decisions and when they are poor ones to see the logical consequences. Why is it that adults assume they possess the wisdom when adult society has engaged in numerous conflicts costing many lives? Could children make the right decisions or better
decisions if we solely gave them support and listened and journeyed with them rather than seeking to take away their autonomy they so desperately desire?
We all seek to be free. When we seek to create the identity and destiny of the teen, we will fail. They will not be able to develop an identity of their own but will grapple with who they are, meaning, and their purpose. We must allow them to find themselves as we as adults function as coaches in this game of life. We cannot think we can play the game for them or can manipulate the results. When we can become involved with children again in a relationship of trust and respect, then it is possible that what is seen as troublesome behavior will diminish. When the child feels validated, supported, heard, and able to have a voice, they will in turn give the same to the parent. We must be cautious of what we model. If we seek to coerce and manipulate the child to meet our desires as adults, we will have manipulative children. Our methods of communication will be the children’s methods. If we focus our time on the mundane, we will find children to do likewise or seek to rebel against this system. Because of the imbalance in power, the child's rebellion is never successful but mostly self destructive but they rarely recognize this. We can restore sanctuary to families, but it is up to each to take ownership and responsibility for creating it.
CHAPTER 6: THE IMPACT OF TRAUMA ON OUR LIVES AND WELL BEING
Whereas I find the various disorders in the DSM IV to be highly subjective, they are mainly a listing of certain behavioral traits manifested by certain individuals. It is my proposition that behind all of these behavioral traits lies traumatic experience, and that based on age of the time of trauma, the nature of the trauma, and environmental factors will have a role in what reaction occurs and what behaviors are displayed.
Trauma appears to be the main causation of the majority of what are termed 'disorders' in children and adolescents. Hammersley, et al. (2003) found in his study, "Childhood trauma and hallucinations in bipolar affective disorder" that there was a highly significant association of those experiencing hallucinations and the behaviors that are labeled bipolar disorder and those experiencing childhood traumas, particularly childhood sexual abuse.
McKenzie (1998) noted that a symptom defining trauma prior to 18 months could lead to the development of psychotic features once a symptom-precipitating trauma occurred later in life. McKenzie (1998) also proposed that trauma between 18 and 24 months would lead to what would be term as 'schizoaffective' traits and that trauma between 24 and 36 months would manifest later as 'major depression.'
I propose that trauma within during later childhood (approximately age 6-8) can lead to the development of behaviors in children that would be labeled as "Conduct Disorder". James (1989) states that trauma violates basic trust and disrupts one's ability to have empathy. During the age between 6-8 is also the period where a child begins to develop a sense of justice, a delineation between what is 'right' and 'wrong'. If a trauma should occur during this period of formation, then the outcome would be the manifestation later of serious conduct. Chemtob, Novaco, Hamada, Gross, & Smith (1997) report that trauma can lead to an individual acting out by violent means. I have seen that in children and adolescents who commit sexual offenses, that there is a pattern of sexual victimization. In addition, these children had attachment concerns and problems in bonding and connecting with family members. Physical abuse of the child is common. These children lose sight of the ability to forge genuine relationships and as puberty sets in become very confused by their feelings. Their having been subject to a lack of proper bonding and attachment and their being subject to often cruel and chaotic situations leads them to a complete lack of confidence and esteem. They mistake sex for love, and esteem for power. Sadly, in our society though the rates of recidivism are low for juvenile offenders and there is evidence that these children can be helped through intensive family work and community based programs, these children are seen as 'throw-aways', of no value, and looked upon with great disdain. They are often subject to detention centers and other facilities where they are chemically restrained and held in isolation. It is unfathomable how any can expect that such 'treatment' is expected to evoke any change
or rehabilitate. Rather, such leads these children to more despair, and even the possibility of suicidality. I believe it is possible for even these children to be reached, but it requires a multi-systemic approach as well as a person willing to connect with the child in a profound way and to reinstill a sense of confidence, hope, and instill values and the understanding of appropriate boundaries. However, we are not a society that has the patience, caring, and understanding to want to pursue this more humane course.
If a child experiences significant abuse and neglect within the first year of life can develop what is termed as 'reactive attachment disorder'. The child has difficulty forging appropriate relational bonds. They are inherently distrustful. The child who would fall into the categorization of "reactive attachment' must be differentiated from those with pervasive developmental disorder, as whereas those with developmental challenges may manifest difficulty in relational bonds, there is a differing causation. With autism and pervasive developmental disorders, trauma is also a factor, however the trauma is not resultant of any action of the parent in regards to abuse or neglect. Rather, the trauma is beyond the control of the parents and is usually resultant from trauma in utero or as a neo-nate. In addition, there may be some role in regards to exposure to toxicity in relation to developmental delays. Waseem and Switzer (2005) report that the earlier the onset of severe trauma the greater propensity for dissociation. Those children who begin to dissociate are those where the trauma is not a single isolated event but a pervasive and recurrent event in the child's life.
Trauma which occurs that is less intense and can be more readily resolved would fall into the classification of what is labeled, "Adjustment Disorders". Lochner, et. al (2002) in the study, "Childhood trauma and obsessive compulsive disorders' found a significant higher level of childhood trauma, particularly emotional neglect in adults who later manifested obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In OCD, the trauma occurs in childhood and the environment is one that is chaotic, and the child begins to feel the need to have a semblance of control. It is through the obsessive-compulsive rituals that the child then begins to feel that they are able to take control over some aspect of their lives. Anxiety and panic concerns can also be seen to be trauma related. Exposure to a fear invoking event or 'flashbacks' to a traumatic event through a new precipitating trigger can evoke the panic response. Being that the various psychological 'disorders' are connected to trauma, it is logical that this is the factor that must be addressed and the use of psychotropic drugs in 'treatment' would only be subduing behaviors and numbing the impact of the trauma without truly ever addressing the core issue which has led to the psychological distress. Therefore, it is important that clinician's begin to truly examine the experience of children and adolescents and begin to understand the role and impact of traumatic experience in their lives. It is necessary for the adults in the life of the child to begin to address the factors in the environment which may perpetuate distress and to aid the child in development of adaptive coping responses and the ability to resolve the inner conflicts arising from the traumatic experiences.
A society can be judged by how it treats its children, even those most troubled and disturbed. Many choose to 'throw away' those children who are deemed delinquent. But
how did they become that way? It is not just their choices but it is also the failure of adults in their lives to truly reach out and guide these children. Court systems, Child Protective services, and our educational systems fail these children time and time again. They are shuffled off to placements and through psychiatric ceremonials only to become more bitter, more hardened, more distressed, and more disturbed. We should be investing our time to teach new skills, to change the frame of reference, to show compassion and wisdom. We must have patience and journey with these children, to know that someone truly cares and that their pains and hurts need not be self destructive. But the issue remains greed. It is profitable to keep the status quo, the psychiatric establishment profits and so do others. No one wants to take the time to bother with these children, few are interested in social justice, few want to give the things that would truly rehabilitate.
I hope that there will be those who will wage a non violent resistance and to once again make our children a priority. We live in a society where there must always be winners and losers; it impacts every aspect of how we conduct ourselves, in courts, in politics, in business. If only we can regain a sense of our common humanity, and be able to develop concern for others, even the most troubled. We are creating the monsters by our failure to meet the true needs of our children; we are contributing to their demise. Hopefully we will soon awaken to this and make the important changes.
I had the privilege of working with a young man who had experienced much turmoil in his life. From early on, we connected, and over time this bond became stronger. Family sessions were often difficult and challenging, but one on one he would share with me his pain, his dark secrets, his sorrows. He had been abandoned by his father, sexually abused by a peer at age 7, witness to a suicide attempt of his mother, and having a conflictual relationship with his step-father. He had little love in his life to the point where he had no love for himself either. He began to loathe himself and be filled with rage. I sought to be loving but firm, and to steer him towards finding meaning and of resolving conflicts in his life. We had a strong relationship, we could joke together but also share more serious reflections. However, I knew that because he had been so hurt and broken, that he was not fully trusting anyone and he was constantly being sucked into the vortex of negative peer associations and familial dysfunction. I'm spite of this, he progressed, even to the point discharge was discussed by the psychologist. But then came the series of unfortunate events. I noticed him struggling again and isolating. He then had an incident where he was caught unclothed with his younger sibling. I suspected he had been abused again by a peer, but he was not able to develop the courage to relate this until much later. He persisted in some negative actions at school, using domination of others as a way to regain control and his feelings of worth. There was another incident of sexual acting out and this brought charges. I had predicted sadly that if better choices were not made that legal ramifications would come and there would be a day where all decisions would be out of his hands, out of his parents, and out of mine. The State became involved. Not understanding my connection to the young man, and wanting everything sterile and clinical, as well as having political machinations, they chastised me for being real and genuine and actually treating this young man as a human being. They had their agenda and decided to proceed. It was not that I did not understand that he needed additional support and help, it was that I was concerned if he felt alone and had no spiritual connection, he would only become more hardened and fall into despair. The young man pleaded with me not to abandon him, and I said I would not. He told me that he wished he would have followed what I said, but he could never trust anyone, but now he knows that I truly cared about him, but he felt it was too late. I had given him a word that means 'I see the love, truth, and divine in you.' He said this word to me as he remembered it. When I examined it meaning, he wept. Now I am left to only hope for the best in an absurd situation, to hope for the best in a system not knowing compassion, not knowing persons, so filled with ego. His mother's words were very meaningful to me in that she said- 'you did not fail, you gave him more than anyone ever did- you gave him trust, hope, and love.' This I did and would do again and again even though the pain has been great. And if any dare say that what I gifted this child with was 'unprofessional', then I must question their heart. It is indeed a great misfortune that those who claim to be in the field of protecting children are so beguiled by greed and corruption, that they lose sight of how to truly reach our children, even the most troubled ones, and deal with them in compassionate, rehabilitative means.
CHAPTER 7: OUR SOCIETY
American society is now filled with the concepts of self interest, entitlement, and playing victim. The downward spiral of our economy should be no surprise, our attitudes have only led to this eventual result. As I have mentioned previously, the education system does not value or reward initiative or creativity, it is rather focused on the self interest of the educators and administrators who seek to have children conform to standards based on tests and gain their compliance so that the administrators can appear as if they have fulfilled their duty while the children actually languish. We are a society that expects others to 'fix' our errors and provide for our relief. We are a society of shifting blame. We are a society that does not seek to take ownership and responsibility. We are a society that knows not how to think critically but only to possess and consume. The American dream can be now said to be the American nightmare. We do not think of others, but we focus on our own survival, and our political leaders and the elite have placed persons in this uncomfortable position of intense worry for their own survival. When this occurs, the concern for others lessens, and we focus solely on our own needs, our own desires. Society itself is sick, yet it seeks to pathologize those who would react to this sick society, and it offers them its technologies, it offers them its drugs, to numb them into accepting things as they are rather than to actively protest and change the injustices that exist. American society has become apathetic and numb, and if such persists, our further decline is only inevitable. Let us hope that some will awaken from their stupor before it is too late.
When we seek to judge behavior, we come upon some great difficulties. Let us say that we have identified a person as 'aggressive'. What exactly is an aggressive act? A person who hunts an animal? Is that an aggressive act? Johnny punches Sally in the nose, is that an aggressive act? A nation invades another nation. Is that an aggressive act? Mr. Smith invests a lot into the stock market. Is he an aggressive investor? George rises to the top of his company. Is he aggressive? How we answer this is based on our values. However, psychiatry would like us to think that judging and categorizing behavior is a science, that it is medicine. So, understanding that these are value judgments, we could say that 'well, a behavior that infringes on the rights of others is a problem'. Indeed, he may be, but to state this means we are dealing with legality, not medicine. Therefore, psychiatry can be said to be an arm of the law, a means of social control and defining who the offenders of the social ‘norms’ are. From this arises the question as to whether this position should be afforded to psychiatrists to be the arbitrators of values and what society 'should look like'.
As human beings, we all seek to be free from suffering. We all seek to be free from oppression. We all react to what we experience. Some react in unconventional ways. Not all reactions are effective means, yet we react. We all are seeking to create order, a sense of purpose to our lives, though there are varying constructs of what life is, of what it means to be human. Some retreat from suffering or seek higher levels of consciousness through use of substances, but this often becomes destructive, much like a
plane soaring to high altitudes only to crash and burn upon landing. Those who become labeled as mentally ill are often seeking to break free from severe oppression and suffering. Yet society seeks to stifle their experience. How dare they break free! How dare they act in ways we do not approve! So we drug and shock them hoping they 'come to their senses' or at least not be a 'bother' to us anymore. If we could only come to realize the transformative process, and support their liberation. If society could but realize its illness rather than ascribing so called illness to persons.
We all react to what we experience. We all seek at some point to create order in life and at times control those events which are uncontrollable. We each have our stories of joys and sorrows, blessed memories and traumas. For some individuals, the way they experience the world has led them to despair, or led them to obsessive behavior as a reaction to the extreme chaos they have internalized. Those we label as mentally ill are those whose reactions to their experience society judges to be without value or problematic. This creates stigma, but if we understood these reactions, if we sought to understand the experience, we would find that these reactions may be the person's only way of dealing with the intense emotions, oppression, or other experiences they have had. As Laing stated, that what is termed insanity may be a sane response to an insane world. We lock people up for behaving in ways we do not like. We argue it is for their own good, and we claim that we can predict their behavior or judge them to be a harm to themselves or others when in reality we do not truly possess this capability, we can only hypothesize based on our own limited perceptions. We believe falsely that those labeled
mentally ill are more prone to violence while our 'sane' ones continue to involve themselves in wars and conflicts.
Problems in life are inevitable, we cannot escape them, we do have no choice in this. What we do have a choice in is how we wish to address these problems. We have the choice to decide to allow these problems to make us anger, bitter, depressed, anxious, etc. Our other choice is to become patient, to transform our minds towards total acceptance. When problems befall us we can also think of the causes that we may have created or misguided deeds or actions that may have led to our present experience. We must realize that birth, death, aging, and sickness are events we cannot escape. So many people indulge in various distractions and temporary pleasures to not have to think of these events. However, all pleasures lead to suffering. For instance, we may have one drink that is pleasant and relaxing, but multiple can cause us to become ill or hungover. We must begin to examine our minds. Even if we are not raging, we must examine the angry minds we possess. Simply being impatient is an angry mind, it is a mind based on not being able to come to acceptance, of seeking to change that which cannot be changed. One of my clients, age 14, commented that he felt he has always had 'anger problems' and that he feels that he has always 'had problems in my life." I discussed with him the root of his anger, patience, and the concept of total acceptance. I told him that he can change his mind to not look upon himself as the 'kid with problems' but realize that we all undergo problems, it is the human condition, and that he can transform his mind to accept this fact and develop patience and total acceptance.
I have always had particular interest in the works of Dr. Alice Miller who discussed the role of childhood abuse and the development later of emotional disturbance, criminality, addiction, and further cycles of violence perpetuated on their children and others. I have argued that aggression breeds aggression. My article "Trauma Model of Psychological Distress" provided a timeline of when trauma occurs in childhood and the resulting impact in the teen years and into adulthood. The mental health establishment often ignores these important factors instead attributing emotional distress to solely chemical processes. Miller discussed the role of the enlightened witness which lessened the impact of the trauma. I strongly believe that this role is crucial and a buffer to the destructive social and familial forces that impact some children. This is a key part of the person developing resiliency. Even in the most serious emotional disturbances the potential for recovery (and discovery) is possible. It is not an easy process, but a possible one. It is sad that in our age we do not provide long term psychotherapy but focus on numbing people's minds and feelings. This is not recovery, it is repression which often leads to oppression.
For the disadvantaged youth, what are the choices that the ruling oligarchy allows them? Go into military service and fight the wars for the rich so they can possibly receive the 'blessings' of the rich to pursue an education? Or become a slave to them by amassing student loan debt while the wealthy ones path is paved. There is no real opportunity. Efforts are rarely rewarded, but the good conformists are rewarded. Is it any wonder that many poor kids turn to the sale of drugs and crime? When we do not reward effort, the elite oppress, and opportunities are grim, some are willing to assume the risk
and danger if only for a moment to be apart from poverty and struggle. And so it is with our homeless and those we often label mentally ill. They seek to be free from oppression, and thus many depart from the reality and standards of corrupt society. As Laing stated, madness may very well be a normal response to a society gone mad. For these persons, the elite drug them into submission, their experience is of no importance, and so they often wander the streets with little chance of recovery as first, no one seems to care, second, they are damaged by psychiatric drugs, and lastly, society refuses to change.
Where is our sense of humanity? Where is our compassion? Can equality truly exist? We are taught not to worry about such things, there is a pill for these worries. No need to change anything, its all in your brain. You have the money, you can be part of the game, and maybe win. If you don't have money, you lose. Whether this be education, health care, or other basic human rights.
In many of the instances of troubled teens I have encountered in my work, I have noticed that a common theme is that they are lacking meaning and purpose. This does not imply that they must have a particular religiosity. What I am referring to is that they have become lost along the way, somewhat apathetic, and their zeal for life has been squashed. Many of these kids are solely of the attitude that 'whatever happens, happens." Because current psychiatric practice is focused on the medicalization of experience, it may be missing a key component to the resiliency and recovery of these troubled teens. Many of them I have worked with have been involved in numerous psychiatric programs, they go through the motions, or they become distrustful, questioning genuineness and sincerity in
the system, and still on a quest for something more. The defiant interactions of these children are only fueled more by these problems inherent in current psychiatric practice. When persons feel they are unheard and become desperate, they often adopt a defiant stance. If we sought to create places of sanctuary, places of understanding, places where experience is heard, we may be on a better track to meeting the needs of troubled teens. I have been confused many times how that drug addicted teens are weaned off of street drugs only to be psychiatrically hospitalized and given prescribed drugs. I wonder what message we are sending.
We are controlled in this country by a ruling elite, whether we wish to recognize it or not. The elite have their paths paved for them. The middle class struggle to survive and are burdened and the elite seek to make them slaves to the system. For example, a middle class young person will be burdened with student loan debt possibly until the day they retire, the elite do not face this. The elite have created this system to keep people 'in their place'. For the poor, the elite have sought to entice them with financial incentives if they will go along with the sad debacle of having their children labeled as 'crazy' or to be shipped off to fight the wars that the elite have created and benefit from. Some are more than willing to submit to this system, to receive the governmental handouts and to abdicate their freedom as well as any responsibility for themselves or their children. The elite seeks to keep this nation ignorant and stupid. Our educational system has become not about learning at all but rather regurgitation of information as the elite would have it.
There is no present presidential candidate or any politician for that matter that can really save us from the mess we are in. Our only real hope is for people to flee from ignorance and to awaken to the real situation we are in, and for there to exist a true effort to restore social justice. Is it too late?
We must examine the inherent dynamics within families and within society where individuals enact violence upon one another to obtain their own particular selfish interests. This violence may be subtle and may even be said to be done because of love, but underlying it is selfish interest and desire. People are looking to fit a particular model of what it is to 'fit the norm'. Be it cosmetic surgery or psychiatric drugs, we are seeking to escape the actual realities of the human condition. We seek distractions and entertainments. We do not truly want to face the human condition. We only seek to try to escape it. Those who do not fit to our desires are made to be scapegoats, or they are shuffled away, or their freedom is taken away from them. We do not seek to understand them nor do we want to understand them. In families, there can often be one child who is designated 'the problem' and all the dysfunction and turmoil of the family is laid upon this child. They will be the one drugged into submission or sent away so that the family can continue to pursue their selfish interests.
Can we once again become people of compassion? Can we once again be people of understanding? Can we accept what it means to be human? Can we be a human family?
When we look at those who are labeled delusional, we must realize and understand that society itself is delusional. The difference is that in one situation the majority has accepted the delusion whereas with the one labeled so, it is the delusion of one.
It is often when one faces the sense of feeling alone or being alone in this world, of seeking to define a sense of self before realizing their existence itself, that angst arises. Mental distress arises from not finding any point or purpose to existence and then feeling that in this, the person stands alone. The person then must seek to define or be defined. Being defined means to be labeled.
What ultimately is the human condition? Has psychiatry and psychology truly answered the questions about it? Has it really offered solutions? People remain troubled and in spite of research and studies and psychiatric inquiry, little has changed, in fact, it has become worse. Because we have not really looked at the human condition, we have not faced the things that would lead persons to a better existence, instead we have developed systems based on self-interest, seeking not to understand the human condition and do something about, but to create a sense of 'groupthink', to solely make persons more amenable to the oppressive environments they encounter. We see it in schools, where children are stifled and drugged if they dare not comply with the demands of a system that has become less and less about learning and more about how to think. We see it in the divisions between class. It is all around us.
I had the experience of encountering a young man who had been given the diagnosis of 'schizophrenia'. He had been through years of therapy and had been through multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. Mental health professionals spoke of him only in clinical terms and I found this disturbing. His chart was reams and reams of paper painting the picture of an immensely helpless and hopeless character. The school system sought to exile him as well. I tossed aside all the clinical records, they only reported on his behavior, not his experience. It is the experience that is the 'soul' of the person. Psychiatrists never really spoke to the young man, they deferred to his parents, or spoke at him, judging his behavior and assign their labels. I embarked on becoming his therapist and in this did not want to judge his behavior, I wanted to know the person. So our sessions involved a process of my merely listening, of connecting. I did not seek to judge him, label him, or dismiss his experience. I only sought to join him where he was at. He began to relate to me his pain, his feelings of isolation and aloneness. He shared with me about the voices he heard and the beings he saw. I would converse with him about these beings, treating them as real as he was before me. Over time, I saw that these things were fragments of himself, they were dreams he had, hopes he envisioned, people he wanted to meet who never arrived. He had immense fear, and I journeyed with him in understanding the roots of this fear. I stood by him as he sought out new ways of living and coping. I understood the circumstances which led to his 'madness' and set forth some new possibilities, but at his pace, at his comfort level.
He has overcome a lot, and we continue to have periods of conversation though we do not see each other as frequently. We forged a bond as two persons with very different
experiences, but each seeking to understand the human condition, each seeking to know about this thing we call life.
There are powerful social forces which are heeped upon us. We cannot escape them. Children are told to behave 'appropriately'. Yet, what is appropriate? What does this mean? It is a social construct, and the most powerful of these social forces is the family. From the earliest point, a child is taught what are the 'appropriate' responses- when and what to laugh at, when to cry and when not to, and often how to feel. The family defines what is 'appropriate' but is it? One family may condone violence, another abhor it. The dynamics of the family shape us for life. What has been the experience of the parents may be forced upon the child to be their experience. Hence why adolescence is often a turbulent time as the teen seeks to become autonomous and create an experience apart from their parents experience or what they have been told to experience. But what of those who are stifled to the point where they can experience nothing but what the other has told them to experience? Here lies some of the root of what we may term 'insanity'. Being that each seeks a level of autonomy, each seeks to have their own experience, when this does not arise, then the person must cast off the shackles of these familial and social forces, often to the extreme of departing from all accepted notions of reality or what is termed by the mainstream as 'acceptable'. Once again, what is 'acceptable'? The message can be contradictory. We may be taught through our familial faith to not harm another, yet we are exposed to the forces of violent society, the prevalent self centeredness and greed, and we may then ask, what is 'acceptable'? Is the
'acceptable' necessarily what we have been taught? Is it necessarily what we have learned? What is it that we have learned? Is it possible that we may have to unlearn? Behavior results from our experience. If a behavior is deemed by some as maladaptive, it can only be seen in light of experience. But can we really know the experience of another? Will we only choose to judge the experience of another by our own experience? Will we invalidate the other because they do not share our perception of experience? Will we force them to have 'our experience' and thus behave as we do? Are we right? Are we wrong? Who is to say? Could there be commonality in our experiences that we can recognize? Can we journey with each other? To find what is 'acceptable' is to find our humanity, to find our inner being, to find those links of experience which remain in spite of the social forces that cause us to sway this way and that, and for some tear at their core being and identity. When we are free, we can experience the other, when we are free, we can be ourselves. If we are free, we can reshape these social forces, and they will not be storms, but unifying forces helping us to recapture our sense of what it means to be human and to truly love again. How do we be free? Must be become 'mad' to be free? But are the 'mad' really free or have they been driven to this barren place? We can only be free once we have come to a state of unlearning, of unknowing, a rebirth where we are not bound by blame and shame and the darkness of past traumas or of ideas we have learned and carried forward because it is all we knew.
CHAPTER 8: ANARCHO-PSYCHOLOGY
One of my clients, a thirteen year old boy, related to me about his prior time at a residential treatment center. He said that many of the staff would call him and the other children by obscene names, that he often felt bullied, degraded, and ‘like I never was a human being.” The father of this young man told me that “you have done more for him in a few weeks than many did in years.” This was a kind compliment and I was pleased that I was able to make a contribution to this boy’s life but beyond that I began to think- what exactly is different in my approach with this young man that has allowed a connection to blossom forth and has helped him to progress in a short period whereas he had rece3ived years of prior ‘treatments’. I found the answer to this in what I sought to create, and I believe this is the key to any genuine emotional healing- relationship. Beyond that, I radically tore down the barriers that would separate us. I tore down the hierarchy. I did not bully him or seek to use my position to force or coerce. From the beginning, I informed him that he was in a safe place to be his actual self, a place where he could feel comfortable to express whatever he chose without judgment or hostility. It came to be that whenever crises arose he would often seek me out. Many treatment programs today are based on staff being in positions of power over the person and seeking to modify the way the person thinks and feels by a system of manipulations. Those who conform to this are said to be ‘improved’ and are discharged. But I have never seen any real progress come from such ‘treatment’. This is because it was never based on genuineness, it was never authentic. We know that residential treatment facilities are costly and we know that the ‘success’ rates for such programs are very low. Why are we afraid to empower young people? Why are we afraid to use shared energy and power? Why is it that we adults who have created a warped society filled with wars, greed, corruption, poverty, and injustice feel that we have more wisdom and the ability to control our young people. I find that much of what is termed conduct problems among our young people are the result of what they have received from adult society or is a futile and unfortunately self destructive attempt to remove the shackles placed upon them by this corrupt society.
Residential treatment centers are like concentration camps. This indeed many be a strong statement. But we have taken a group of youth who have often been the scapegoats in their families and we have incarcerate them in facilities against their will, dehumanized them, and used power, control, and force to seek to make them be as ‘us.’ Imagine if we took the funds channeled to these residential treatment centers (which are often for-profit) and we invested it towards alleviating poverty, for educational programs, for assistance to mothers, for parental skill transfer, etc. We do not want to invest in these things because it would actually make a difference, it would elevate and empower people and this would be a huge threat to the status quo and the oligarchic system under which we operate. Often young people come to me and will complain about the injustices of the world and the unfairness of their lives. Sadly, the countless examples of corruption and greed seen in adult society make them feel powerless. I think of the judges in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania who profited from sending juveniles to detention facilities for lengthy periods for minor offenses. When young people see and endure this, it is no wonder that they become complacent. But their complacency is what I find most disturbing. In the past, youth often would stand up vigilantly to defend their rights and the rights of others. Now there is just apathy. People sit back and take the abuse from the system. They have become disenfranchised and disillusioned. But the message I send to young people is that yes, life can be unfair, it can be absurd, there are many unanswered questions, but through our experiences we maintain the choice to be complacent or to press on. We can take our painful experiences and transform ourselves and our world and those around us. I was inspired to enter the counseling field after encountering a woman who endured years of abuse but who made the choice to empower herself and others by creating a place of sanctuary for those who experienced such brutality. She pulled many out of the darkness of despair because she could journey with them, she had been through their darkness, and she knew where they were.
This is a powerful theme- the journey with another person. To simply be with another person, particularly when they feel alone in the world. This has a dramatic impact on a person’s well being. But that is not how most ‘treatment’ works. Rather, ‘treatment’ seeks to ‘do’ things to you instead of being with the person. Be it psychiatric drugs, electroshocks, or restraints, all of this is something we ‘do’ to alter the person’s experience and to bring them to our sense of ‘normality.’ But is it good to be ‘normal’? Is there something better about this? Laing had commented that normal people had killed million of other normal people in this past century.
I find the Myth of Sisyphus as related by Albert Camus to be a powerful and inspiring story. Sisyphus is condemned by the gods to roll a rock up a hill for eternity, when he reaches the top; it falls again, only for him to have to do it all over again. This is often a metaphor for our lives, how we feel trapped, that we must go through the same mundane things over and over, however Sisyphus presses on because he maintains a spirit of defiance. I believe this spirit of defiance is what helps us to continue onward and develop new meanings. We are constantly revising our meanings; we are constantly reviewing and revising our lives. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a popular diagnosis for young people who would dare to be angry ore challenge what adults tell them. Granted, this defiant attitude can be productive or destructive, the spirit of defiance I refer to is one that causes us to think critically and to take action, not just for our own benefit but for the benefit of others. The example of Martin Luther King Jr. is one of this spirit of defiance leading to radical and needed change. His was a non-violent spirit of defiance and that is what is needed to evoke any lasting change. If it is not non-violent then we just contribute to the cycle of misery and despair that individuals so often become entangled within.
I have known that for some of my clients they have felt as though they are trapped in a prison. A prisoner of their own minds, haunted by visions of the past. I do not find it helpful at times to rehash the past history of traumas. We can know what the traumas are but a regurgitation of all the details does not bring healing or move the person forward. It is often necessary to simply journey with the person and for them to come to a point of patient acceptance. This means accepting things were what they were but letting go, not inflicting more wounds upon ourselves or having a constant dialogue with ourselves of what if or why me? This patient acceptance allows us to come to a sense of peace within ourselves and with that around us. But when I say patient acceptance I am not stating that we must accept being abused or oppressed in the present. Instead, we must be active agent of our liberation and the liberation of others. This can only come about by turning away from a victim stance and becoming empowered to transform ourselves and by our transformation, in our small but significant way seek to bring peace and solace to others.
I believe that one role of the therapist that is basically forgotten today is to be an activist. If we truly want to see people happy and free from mental anguish, then we must take a role in championing the basic rights and dignity of all human beings. This activist role has been lost because the current medical-pharmaceutical model in the mental health system would tell us that everything is a chemical problem in the brain of the person. If this is the case, then there is no immediate need to change our environment or the way our society operates because it has not had any impact on the distress of the person, it is all in the wiring of their brain. This medical model has led to stigmatization, greed, has stifled any understanding of individual experience or the powerful social, familial, and political processes that leads to distress.
In addition to the fraud of the medical model, religious propaganda also causes us to lose sight of the need for us to take action in our world now. If persons are led to believe in some future better existence and that life is merely a test or preparation for the next better world, then what motivation do we have to change anything in our world now? If we are led to believe that the earth will all be destroyed at some point in time anyway, why take any action? I recall a client about nine years old whose grandfather had died of cancer. She was terrified, anxious, having nightmares and intrusive thoughts that her grandfather was burning in Hell. Why do we do this to our children? We often grasp onto beliefs because it is what we are told, or what our families did, or because others around us believe it. We have lost our ability to think critically. We have relinquished our lives to the control of some outside power that is really only the man behind the curtain pulling the strings. Ignore the man behind the curtain we are told and indeed we do!
CHAPTER 9: A REFLECTION
The summer day arrived where the child entered this world. The mother laid hemorrhaging, barely conscious, and the child upon birth was whisked away from the mother to the neo-natal unit. The sounds of medical equipment, the frantic voices of the medical staff, bright lights, and poking and prodding by invasive medical instruments greeted the child’s entry to the world. From the hospital, the child would enter the family’s home for the first time. Once again only to be subjected to grave brutality as on the night he entered the home, his father intoxicated begins to savagely beat the mother. “I told you to shut up dammit!” the father shouts and with a loud crack across the mother’s cheek, she falls to the ground clutching the infant in her arms. And this would continue day after day until the police one day arrived to escort the father to a long incarceration for his violent crimes and drug possession. A few days before the arrest, the mother leaves the home to obtain groceries for the family. She instructs the father to bathe the child and place him in bed. The father once again becoming intoxicated places the child in the bathtub but too sedated to realize the temperature of the water, scalds the child, and he is left with a large burn upon the side of his head. A scar that still remains both physically and emotionally. For the next four years, the child barely speaks. The trauma of his world has muted him. The mother in desperation seeks for another relationship that will ease the financial burden and maybe find her the fulfillment she has longed for. But again, she stumbles into an abusive relationship. The new man in her life is more a monster than the first. Day after day he subjects the child to demeaning words.
“You retard! Why can’t you do anything right?” “If you don’t get out of here, I will smash your head in.” One night the child sees the mother and her boyfriend fighting and shoving one another. He goes to bed only to awaken to find the mother and her boyfriend sitting at the breakfast table casually chatting. He asks about the night before. “What are you talking about? You must have been dreaming.” The child dazes off confused and questioning his sense of reality. Was it a dream? The child became the scapegoat for the family. “If we never had you around, life would be good.” “You are the one who causes all the problems.” “Look what you have made your sister into.” Day after day, his esteem plummets to nothing. The family continues their civil war. The demons of hopelessness and despair overtake the child. His light is nearly extinguished. The child begins to curse God. Where is God in this? Why must I endure this pain and turmoil. He expects to hear God speak to him, but he hears nothing. God appears distant, or maybe dead. The child has no voice and no relationships. No one to console him, no one to hear his cries. And God too does not respond to his pleas. But even in this darkest night of his soul, the light is not extinguished. The child encounters one who for the first time hears his voice, and he begins to embark on a journey of renewal. The war around him has not ended, nor is there a cease fire to come, but the child through this alliance begins to realize that he is loved and that he is heard. He is encouraged to find value in himself. He looks deeply within and finds that life is impermanent. He begins to understand the cumulative
sufferings we all endure. But in this he realizes that there is a better way. The way out does not exist in self-destruction. Death and despair is not a better way but merely an escape. He begins to realize that he cannot change circumstances, he cannot change others, but he can change himself and he can change his mind. The child begins to lay aside the cumulative traumas. They no longer torment him but become an opportunity for sharing and growth. He unites his sufferings to the sufferings of others and realizes that his experience is valuable and maybe through his experience, he may lead but another soul out of the darkness.