Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D,B.C.S.A.,DAPA.

Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D,B.C.S.A.,DAPA.
e-mail: batushkad@yahoo.com

Sunday, January 31, 2010


In third world countries, 64% of people having a psychotic breakdown fully recover, compared to only 18% in developed countries. Let us remember that the developed countries are those with 'treatments', particularly anti-psychotic drugs. Why is there such a difference? A network of community support is crucial to recovery which is lacking in the developed countries which is suffering from a complete breakdown of community.
"Schizophrenia" can be seen as the dream state applied to everyday life. It has been noted that those undergoing a 'psychotic' episode spend greater time in REM sleep. When people are distressed, they often repress certain thoughts and feelings that later become expressed in dreams and nightmares. In the cases of severe trauma and the 'psychotic' episode, this dream state becomes activated while awake, and the process of hallucination and delusion becomes evident, with a struggle to be able to differentiate between the two 'realms'.
As it is indeed possible to control the dream state, people undergoing a 'psychotic' episode can be helped to manange their experiences that are distressing. This does not require them to become lifelong consumers of toxic drugs, it merely requires us to seek to connect with the person's experience and provide them a safe, supportive environment.

-Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D.
202 W. Tioga St.
Tunkhannock, PA 18657


Thursday, January 21, 2010


If you are seeking assistance where you are respected as a person, where self-determination and self-advocacy is a key principle, where you are not seen merely through the lens of a diagnostic label and where you can begin the process of discovery, we welcome you to contact us. We have helped many distressed children and families resolve areas of distress, create meaning, build better relationships. If you are a parent, mental health professional or educator, you may be interested in our training programs or arranging to have a lecture or seminar for your organization.

Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D,B.C.S.A.
202 W. Tioga St.
Tunkhannock, PA 18657



Existential-Humanist Psychotherapy (Children, Families, and Adults)
Autism/Developmental Differences
Post Traumatic Stress
Posychological Assessments
Educational Advocacy/ Assistance with Individual Education Plans (IEP)
Forensic Consultation
Behavior Consultation

The International Center for Humane Psychiatry was founded in 2006 by Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D., B.C.S.A., and is an emancipatory movement of mental health professionals, psychiatric survivors, educators, activists, and others concerned about human rights in the mental health system.

Our work is to fight against oppression and coercion in the mental health system, to eradicate the hierarchical barriers between 'doctor and patient', to eliminate the medicalization of emotional distress, and to develop means of helping distressed persons where their autonomy, experience, and dignity is respected. We seek to return a conscience to the field of mental health and create an environment where people undergoing distress feel validated, empowered, and capable.

We believe in the power of the human spirit and each person's potential to be resilient. We believe that the forging of relationship is a key to emotional healing as well as the ability to help a person explore themselves, their world, society, and the human condition. We we seek to join with people in setting life goals, understanding the human condition and experiences without looking upon the person as defective. ICHP encourages involvement in issues related to social justice and believes that our working together to create a world free from poverty, greed, conflict, and discrimination will go a long way towards the development of true mental health.

We seek to be pro-active and preventative in our care for persons. We promote drug free, relationship based approaches for troubled and distressed children and adults and encourage the development and implementation of community based programs. We advocate for juvenile justice reform and for an education system that inspires a zeal for learning and is respectful of children's innate strengths and abilities. We believe in the development of community based options. We are opposed to force and coercion in the mental health system.

We seek to provide a place of sanctuary for people in crisis or undergoing extreme states of mind, where they can feel supported and validated, and not be subjected to any 'treatments' they do not desire. We believe distressed people thrive in environments that are non-threatening and they feel safe.

We collaborate with and offer consultation to parents, educators, and children and their families to develop relationship based approaches and problem solving towards resolving issues of distress, realizing that people are resilient and capable of healing from distress. We have been successful in helping individuals not have to resort to psychiatric drugs or to be able under the direction of their physicians significantly reduce their use.

We believe the key to this healing is by the forging of relationship and the construction of meaning. We believe that compassion is one of the highest ideals. We believe that psychiatric drugs do not teach new ways of living, thinking, loving, and being, whereas people do. We are particularly concerned about the vast prescribing of psychiatric drugs (many which carry warnings of suicidal ideation, violence, agitation, and aggression) upon individuals' well being. We are concerned about the unethical conflicts of interest existing between medical psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry.

We seek to provide to those individuals undergoing serious distress a place where they feel safe, secure, and can begin to begin the process of discovery and overcome fear and emotional chains.

We do not feel that locking individuals away in institutions solve human problems, rather it is through compassion, empathy, and seeking to understand our human condition that true mental health will arise. We believe that placing persons in mental hospitals is equivalent to incarceration however the distressed person has committed no crime, rather they are subject to a psychiatric ceremonial where the pschiatrist seen as 'sane', interrogates the person, makes a judgment, and then declares a sentence. We believe that psychiatric diagnosis often stigmatizes and limits opportunity for individuals. We believe that modern society is driving people 'mad' and that we must have radical transformation of ourselves and our values as well as return to a greater sense of community. We believe those who call themselves therapists must be actively involved in issues of social justice, helping end oppression and encourage liberation for marginalized persons. We recognize that distressed individuals must be treated as persons with respect and dignity. We believe in recognizing that even the most troubled persons and families have innate strengths. We believe that persons need to be given informed consent and not seen merely by a diagnostic label. We believe that ethics must proceed technology. We believe that bio-psychiatry has often used brutal methods (such as electroshock, insulin coma, toxic drugs, and lobotomy) and has evoked much harm in the lives of individuals and does not provide any true answers to the problems of life. We believe that there is no objectivity and science to the process of psychiatric diagnosis and that those diagnosed are often stigmatized and oppressed in society by virtue of this label.

We encourage drug free relationship based, problem solving, and holistic approaches and encourage individuals who choose to use helpful adjuncts such as meditation, acupuncture, tai-chi, and yoga. The International Center for Humane Psychiatry is one of few entities taking a strong stand on social justice issues and seeking to create a mental health system that does not treat people as objects, but persons.

We believe that it is also necessary for us to assume personal responsiblity and accountability for own own actions and choices and to not resort to the use of or embracing of labels to exonerate ourselves and institutions.

We are joined and supported in this endeavor by a number of talented and compassionate professionals as well as members of the psychiatric survivor movement.


provide information on the adverse events associated with psychiatric drugging of children and inform the public of how these drugs have been implicated in causing violence, mania, and psychosis in some children and provide research on effective psycho-social approaches.

encourage informed consent in regards to mental health treatment of adults

advocate for community based alternatives and reform in the juvenile justice system
promote social justice and equality
support consumer choice and the voices of psychiatric survivors

expose the lack of scientific evidence for bio-chemical theories of mental distress

oppose the role of the pharmaceutical industry in influencing psychiatric practice.

encourage science to be tied to ethical principles

seek to listen and understand the experience of people undergoing emotional distress and extreme states of mind

encourage spirituality and psycho-social human services

eliminate psychiatric abuses and support psychiatric survivors

encourage informed consent be given to adults involved in the psychiatric system

respect autistic/ developmentally different individuals and encourage drug free relational approaches towards furthering their self-determnation and self-advocacy

Sunday, January 17, 2010


"People look for pleasure and excitement, instead of joy; for power and propert, instead of growth. They want to have much, and use much, instead of being much."- Erich Fromm

I have seen many clients who have gone through physical, sexual, and emotional abuse yet in spite of these horrid experiences, relate their experience in psychiatric institutions as the scariest and most traumatic. Many of these individuals in childhood were seen according to the 'good-bad-mad' concept as Laing would term it. They were seen as good as they remained quiet and gave no problem to others, but when they challenged the system of things, they were seen as bad, and once the psychiatrist was brought into the picture, then seen as mad.
I recall an evaluation with an 8 year old boy who had been physically abused. In spite of this abuse, he remained a connection with the abuser because they sought to buy his love and affection. This child had been considered 'quiet' until he reached 3 years old, at this time he became more rambunctious and for the parents to continue in their self interest and for him to remain quiet as havoc was created around him, they had him drugged with stimulants and anti-psychotics from that age on. This boy related a psychiatric hospitalization as the scariest event of his short life. In many of the facilities and programs he had been in, no one sought to connect with him, rather they evoked their power and authority, and he reacted with aggression and was frequently restrained. I was told I would have 'difficulty' connecting to him. But, as we spent our time together, and I simply listened, I saw a very kind young man, though a hurt and terrified young man.
If only individuals are able to remove self-interest, and to simply hear the voice of the child, not seeking to control, then it would be possible to help this child through his distress. I worry that with the current forms of 'treatment', this child will sadly have a long term psychiatric 'career'.

I have wondered about our society today. It seems in the 60;s and 70's there was more community, more connection, even when things were going badly, and a regard for others. We see now that young people are complacent, feel disillusioned, and are apathetic. I wonder if this is the result of the "Decade of the Brain", of further alientation by greed and corruption where young people have basically just surrendered. I hope that meaning and purpose can once again be restored to young people.

Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D. is serving as a consultant in the case of Kurt Danysh, an individual without a prior history of violence who committed a violent act shortly after being prescribed Prozac. For more information on Mr. Danysh's case, please see

International Center for Humane Psychiatry


A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has noted that anti-depressants are of little help for mild and moderate depression. It also suggests that non-medical intervention may be more useful.
This study confirms what I have been stating for some time that these drugs are often dangerous in themselves, provide little benefit, and people need people, not drugs to overcome emotional distress.

Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D.
Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, USA


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

"Anarcho-Psychology"- Uncovering the Roots of Distress by Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D.

by Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D.
Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, USA

Dr. Dan L. Edmunds is a noted existential humanist psychotherapist, child developmental specialist, and social activist. He is Board Certified in Sexual Abuse Issues through the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Dr. Edmunds specializes in drug free relational approaches to autism/developmental differences, extreme states of mind (schizophrenia, schizoaffective, bipolar), and trauma. He is a member of the Board of Advisors of the R.D. Laing Society and is a Professor of Existential Psychology and Comparative Religion.

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 leads 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 be 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.
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 selfdestructive.
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.
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.
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, we are
all part of the human condition. Within each of us is the innate ability to remain interconnected
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
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, 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.
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
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 'nonentity'.
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 childs 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.
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.
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 are the offenders of the social 'norms'. 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
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
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' responseswhen
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.
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 no 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!
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