Tag Archive | Stress

Attachment Disorder – Early Detachment from Mother

Attachment Disorder is not really a diagnosis. You will see it labeled as Reactive Attachment Disorder but I find that it does not always fit neatly into a box. It can be seen as a personality disorder, as chemical dependency, as depression or anxiety. I see it more as a symptom of a client’s mental health. What I am talking about is a child who was separated from mother at birth and this can be for a variety of reasons. One case the mother was mentally ill and had a breakdown on the delivery table between baby one and two, the children were sent to foster homes immediately.  Another case the mother was sick and the child was separated from her for a certain amount of time. The mother might be a drug addict or alcoholic. The mother might have mental health problems and are unable to bond with baby; severing the trust/mistrust stage. I am going to share a story about Bill.

Courtesy of Ashevilleacademy.com

Bill is a child who was born with “yellow jaundice” as they used to call it. He was left in the hospital for a week and his mother was sent home (hospitals are not attune to the effects separation will have on babies – maybe they are now but they weren’t long ago).  Bill’s parents were in a Domestic Violence plagued marriage (father as batterer) and when his mother tried to escape with him, his father caught up with them and kidnapped Bill for six months. The mother did not know his whereabouts and as the parents were not divorced yet, the police could not do anything about it. The father ended up abandoning the baby and then the police brought the baby to the mother. During the divorce proceedings, however, Bill was given to the grandparents. The mother was able to see Bill once a year and tried to reunify with him without success on several occasions. Bill had lost an ability to attach to the mother and the mother was ill-equipped to understand how to recreate a bond with him. It was too late.

As an adult, Bill dropped out of school and became a drug addict for many years. During which time he had many children from various women. He did get clean but never sought out treatment. His children are all over the place and he has no ability to connect with their mothers so that he can have visitation with them. His finances are utilized on the family he did finally stabilize with – another woman who was also a drug addict like him. A woman who also never sought out treatment and came from a family of addictions, sexual abuse, and depression that never went treated. She was seriously neglected and thus probably has attachment issues as well.

I am not treating Bill but a family member shared this story with me. They were concerned about his mother who desperately wanted a relationship with her son and grandchildren. He seems to be a loving father but has never been able to connect with his mother. In fact, he appears to do whatever he can to go against the mother. Along with being a drug addict, he was reported to be a pathological liar. His mother knew this but when she would try to confront him about things he would start crying and throw a fit (as a child). As an adult, he turns the story around and tells her she is crazy and needs help. He will vehemently deny things even those which are obvious. For example: the mother reported that she tried to explain to her son that he was feeding too much candy to the children. The son, standing in the driveway with candy all around him said that he and his wife had stopped giving this to the children. When the mother pointed out the obvious, he stated that the reason it was on the ground was that the children didn’t want it anymore so they through it there. The mother continues to feel isolated and detached from her son because she can’t have conversations with her son unless it is to praise him for something. It is a relationship based on lies. She worries about the life her grandchildren are leading.

People like Bill, who were raised with a separation from their parents, have difficulties bonding with them. Often they are able to bond with the caretaker (who had them the most) but reject the mother. Even the bond that they will have with the caretaker is filled with lies and deception. As Bill was a drug addict, he stole from his caretaker. The caretaker enabled him to continue with the lies and deception because he would tell her that the money he “used” (meaning stole) was to pay for diapers or gas for his car. Even when Bill spent time behind bars, the caretakers coddled him and took him in upon his release. As Bill never spent time completing his treatment, he has never made amends to his caretakers (paid them back) and owes his mother a large sum of money for an attempt to do rehab.

Attachment is severed the minute the baby is removed from the womb. The baby needs to develop an immediate bond with the parent, thus they are given to the mother, after delivery to soothe the baby. Children are okay being in a nursery and sent to their mother’s from time to time for feeding. This is the first stage of learning individuation/separation. The longer the baby is separated from the mother, trust begins to be severed. Without trust, the baby begins to self-soothe and if they are emotionally intelligent can withstand some trauma but if not, they will collapse completely.  Some adult children who talk about being separated at birth and were emotionally intelligent (good survival skills), have attachment issues but I find they are easier to work with in therapy. As I am not an expert on this, I can only go with the cases I have worked with successfully and these are survivors.

I have found that if the birth parent is reunited with the baby – early on (a week or two later) attachment can be supported, yet attachment as an adult is difficult. In these cases I do see self-soothing with an oral fixation. Early detachment from birth mother that is severed completely (adoption or long term foster care with few caretakers) can heal with the consistent caretaker as well but often there is self-soothing here too. Both of these scenarios might show obesity, or a fluctuation with weight but it also might be a smoker. More severe situations of detachment from birth mother and multiple caregivers will show Chemical Dependency and Conflict Disorder or even Reactive Attachment Disorder. This is a more extreme self-soothing and self-sabotage without the resiliency levels to repair the attachment or want to repair the attachment. Some people may get clean and sober but repel psychotherapy because then they have to attach to themselves through self-awareness. Often it can be more painful to try and attach to self than to live their lives in pain (i.e., denial). I have heard a few clients who abandoned therapy make the comment “I have lived for years with [this chaos] and have been just fine why do I need to dredge up all this history?” I suspect this is the case with Bill and probably his wife. People who seriously need psychotherapy have learned to find coping skills that they feel are appropriate but often it is isolating themselves in a cocoon to protect from others.

The wall Bill has built between he and his mother deflects any self-awareness by pushing her away with his invisible shield that spits out swords that pierce her and shut her up. This keeps the relationship under his domination. He controls and manipulates her so that if she wants a relationship with him, she must obey his clues. It is my understanding that his mother has felt afraid of her son on occasion but more specifically when he was on drugs.

As a therapist, I often wonder about the relationship between early attachment and shooters that we see, almost daily now, around the country. I can’t imagine that someone who has a healthy attachment to their mother would have this level of a lack of empathy toward their fellow human beings. I read “School Violence: Facts vs. Fiction” by Dr. Dewey Cornell, many years ago now and the main issue I took away from this was perpetrators being bullied. I don’t recall the discussion of Attachment Disorders because at that time I was not as conscious of this as an issue as I am now. Therefore, if he did mention it, I clung to the bullying instead which was more easily identifiable in my consciousness then. Now, however, we are dealing with much more than school shootings. It is adults who have taken over from the plight of teen angst and wish to have their moment of glory or retribution to those who have harmed their psyche in some perceived way.

As Narcissism and Attachment disorders or early attachment being severed are closely linked if not synonymous, it is important to make people aware of this in the field of mental health, medical fields and social work. Educators could benefit from these teachings as well but this must be handled more carefully with this professional. I find that teachers tend to play psychology professional when they learn about the mental health world. Thus, they are constantly diagnosing and even telling parents what medication a child should be on. More often than not, they are incorrect. Nonetheless, more education needs to go out to professionals dealing with children and parents and adults in general. Hospitals can benefit from learning about early attachment and find ways to keep the child and mother together as much as possible. They will be able to better detect situations when brought into pediatric care, rather than trying to quickly put into a box (assess a more holistic picture of the child). Mental health clinicians will have a better grasp of their client. Social workers will be able to better understand the placement of the foster child and detect a need for therapy earlier on – rather than waiting for the behavioral issues to begin showing itself.

Attachment between mother and child is imperative. Nine months in a womb means that once they are delivered we must, as professionals, be more prudent in assuring that early attachment is protected.

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A Narcissistic Family: Lies, Lies, and More Lies

Meet the Valour family, (names changed to protect the victims). There is the Narcissistic Mother, aka the martyr, the chameleon, the adaptor over the years as it suits her. There is the Father or the placator (someone who gives in to the demands of the Narcissist to keep the peace). He, however, is the one who doled out the physical punishment to his stepchildren. There are five children total, one son from a previous marriage who was rarely in the home. There are two daughters (Jenny and Joan) who are stepchildren to the father and then came two sons (Ronny and Frankie) from the Narcissistic Mother.

Jenny was the oldest and ended up being abused the most. She suffered physical abuse from the stepfather and emotional abuse from the mother. She never knew whether she was coming or going, with so many mixed messages growing up. She was beautiful but not as smart as other people’s children, which she was often told. She was old enough to hear “TMI” that her mother enjoyed confiding in her but not old enough to make decisions for herself. She ended up with Severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and got pregnant as a teenager. She married an abusive male from the wrong side of the tracks and got divorced a couple of years later. Her child was given to her Narcissistic mother to raise, because the father of the child disappeared and the courts determined Jenny would end up on welfare.  Jenny’s story is the most compelling here because she became the proverbial “black sheep” of the family and it is her life that will be betrayed to others as the decades went on.

Joan was Special Needs or Borderline Intellectual Functioning. She wasn’t abused as much because the family felt sorry for her. She would become the placator (child) and spent most of her life living with her parents – because she was told by her mother that she couldn’t live in the world by herself. She ended up with a child out of wedlock because she was desperate to have a baby. That baby grew up to have a child out of wedlock as well. As the placator, Joan tells lies to suit her mother or herself and this deflects any responsibility onto herself. She presents as a narcissist because she has no self-awareness.

Ronny ended up the family hero and went on to retire from the military. He exhibits in narcissistic ways because he was entitled as a child. Nothing he can do is wrong in the family’s eyes so he is unable to empathize or take criticism from others.  He is perfect and assumes the world revolves around him when people are with him. That is what he learned growing up. He is a very caring person but very detached from the family. He raised several children but his wife sought to compete for his attention and thus kept the children from Jenny and keeps tight rings around all of them now so that they are one great big enmeshed family. Joan is allowed entrance but only because she continues to elicit sympathy from everyone. Jenny lived most of the time in another state, as well, so the children did not see her much and gifts were given to them (as far as she knows) but there was never acknowledgement so she ceased to send them. She is not sure if the gift giving ever attempted to create a relationship or not.

Frankie died early on as a child so he is the saint in the family. No one ever talks about him because it is too uncomfortable to confront one’s emotions. It is as if he never existed. Jenny tries to create a space for him but the family changes the subject. The father died a decade after his son, and when this happened, the high standards that were expected in the family ceased to exist. This is because the Narcissistic mother focuses too much attention on getting attention from her descendants. Rather than being the mother she once was, who also expected these standards, as it might make her look bad, she allows lowered standards to appear cool and modern.

Thus the family has become like every other family in America with very low standards. The second generation of girls have tattoos all over their bodies. At family events, people show up in whatever they feel like wearing. The third generation toddlers have mohawks and pink hair. One family is raised in filthy conditions. Their parents feed them  daily amounts of sugar through soda and candy to pacify them. This is because their parents raise them like toys and are afraid to set standards. The latter family is Jenny’s child and grandchildren, whom Jenny’s mother raised.

The mother enjoys taking comfort in harming her daughter Jenny. She loves to hear negative things said about her and Jenny’s bitterness and anger have become much darker and deeper over the years. While Jenny has tried to do therapy and create a better life for herself, she feels she has never really found happiness. Her child (whom her mother raised) became a drug addict like his father. He had multiple children from various women, two of which he never sees or has anything to do with.  While he finally did become a “dry drunk,” which means clean but without a mental health support system, his life continues to be a mess.

The lies are the denial that goes requited generation after generation. The matriarch or the Narcissist, who perpetuates the lies, with gossip and tales to feed to the others about her favorite target: Jenny. This has trained the others to feel it is acceptable to lie about Jenny or create stories about what she is like. As they see this anger and frustration coming from Jenny whenever she is at family events, she continues to feed into their beliefs about her created by the Narcissist. Jenny was the scapegoat from the time she began to find her sense of self, as a teenager, and this coat of arms has never been removed. This web of deception in this family will never change unless the descendants begin to question things. Why should they though when the Narcissist adores them and praises their every move.

Family gatherings in the Valour family consist of everyone, but Jenny, adoring themselves and being adored by the Narcissist. No one is honest, is allowed to have opinions, but generally they don’t speak up about their beliefs – if they have one – because they have learned to appease one another.

The Valour family has no courage, no self-awareness, and no empathy. They have empathy for others in their desire to look like good people but not amongst their own kin. They have all ceased to individuate from the mother, with the exception of Jenny who has been outcast. In order to keep her sanity, she continues to try and develop a stronger sense of self but struggles with this daily. She made the mistake of returning home, assuming she was stronger and more prepared but ultimately finds herself collapsing each time she tries to develop some connection with her nieces and nephews or grandchildren. Every attempt she makes is thwarted by their mothers who have developed a bond with the Narcissist in order to be accepted by their own partners.

This type of family is not an exception. I learn about very similar stories of families like this month after month in my office. Either it is the mother or the father who can be the Narcissistic parent. I am often surprised to hear just how far the Narcissists will go, as I learn different ploys these parents will use to take advantage of their children. Some go as far as sexually abusing their children, because they can. I have heard of a parent who put their kids in another house down the street, so they could have their own life (without a parent in the other house and often without enough money to live on). Anything they can get away with, the Narcissistic parent will. Social services have been called out in many of these stories I have heard about. However, as Narcissism is not well understood and many social services staff are not clinically trained (at the master’s level), they are fooled by the Narcissist and close the case. In Jenny’s child’s story, the house is not filthy enough to remove and the unhealthy food is not a reason to remove either. As long as a child eats (even if it is McDonalds everyday), they are eating. As long as the house does not have feces on the floor, needles lying around, and maggots in the food, it is not considered a reason to remove. Having worked in social services for eight years, I know that my standards and the standards of most of us are not a reason to judge others for their stupidity.

There are always the same roles within the Narcissistic family. The spouse placates his/her spouse to keep the peace and generally is the most miserable emotionally (because they have no spouse).  Often the placating spouse stays with the Narcissistic partner because they become too weak from the emotional entrapment. Next there is the prime scapegoat (there can be more than one), the hero (often the opposite sex of the Narcissistic parent), and the child who placates the parent who is the Narcissist and is generally the sidekick of the placating parent.

If you were raised like Jenny, in this type of family, it is important to get support from a therapist who understands Narcissism. Unfortunately, not many do because there are not many trainings on this topic. Most people assume the Narcissist is the CEO or the egotistical person. There is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the Narcissist but why would they go into therapy when there is nothing wrong with them – the fault lies with the scapegoat. I have known people who went to family therapy with the Narcissist and the therapist became fooled as well and the children were blamed. I have also known where the Narcissist was brought into the room – so the therapist could meet them and became emotionally trapped by this person causing them to deflect from their own client.

It is a tricky situation to be in when you are a therapist. You have to be able to know it, smell it, hear it, taste it, (metaphorically) when you see it. Narcissists have a similar language that they use (I hear certain phrases over and over again). It is always emotional abuse to the victim and as I mentioned earlier can sometimes include physical and sexual abuse and even torture. Thus there needs to be more trainings available to social workers and therapist who are practicing in social services, the medical field, in private practice or for counseling centers (both at the academic and community level). The client will often present as bewildered and confused; who know something wasn’t quite right with their parent. With their Narcissistic partner they will think that they (the client) was at fault and will constantly be apologizing when explaining their relationship. We, as clinicians, must always listen and believe and trust the path the client is walking down. We have to look for the things they cannot see and ask questions to understand more. Most of all, we have to normalize their pain. It isn’t important that you meet the Narcissist. If you can feel (your instincts are saying) that this looks like one, it probably is. Never diagnose the person who is not in the room but you can state “This sounds like…” and help the person to get resources to better understand what you are seeing. If the person is a Narcissist, the client will identify with this when they read articles on this topic. They will also be able to better explain to you, as the clinician, their symptoms from learning more about it.

A terribly misunderstood topic, that needs to be more widely understood; so that we can help to identify and bring healing to our clients.

Group Think or a Polarized Society

The term “polarized” continues to permeate the land and, as I suspected, we would be in a new type of civil war. Many years ago, when I worked for social services I had the insight that soon we would be fighting a new type of civil war. I told my fellow co-workers it would be vastly different from the last one but equally deadly. Here we are, on the heels of the position being filled for the 45th president of the United States. Republicans and Democrats had been at each other’s throat even before then; as we saw in the election for President Bush. At that time, there were claims then that it had been rigged (and liberals would be moving to Canada). Now that we have another Republican who has succeeded, once again the charges of rigging the election have occurred. Only this time it has been taken to a new level. It cannot just be that the person won the election.

The Media has jumped on this bandwagon; of course they always do, and have terrorized the country with their “opinions.” Good journalism is really a testimony to people who actually work on finding the truth and presenting evidence, on both sides, so that people can come to their own opinions. Some newspapers are known for this. Some are known for being sensationalists.

 

“Group Think,” is a psychological phenomenon that is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility. I would add to this that even intelligent, educated folks fall prey to this mindset just as easily as uneducated, naïve people. It happens on juries, though people are cautioned to not be persuaded by others, it can be hard not to; at the end of the day.

So many times this has happened in our history and though people have appeared to be in favor of doing the right thing for the majority of the people, someone (often large amounts of people) always gets killed. When they are killed, it will be argued that sometimes this has to happen in order to create change. This happens even though the ones being killed have no weapons. They probably would in defense, if they knew they were about to be killed but they don’t. Thus by the time people are killed and consequently become saints, it is too late to feel some remorse. The victors end up the enemies or the traitors and then over time, during a period of healing and quiet; people realize what they had done wrong.

 

Another unfortunate issue with “group think,” is that when it is over with, many people who conformed to this position will pretend they never did. It takes guts to take responsibility for your mistakes. By this time, there is too much fear that if they admit, they will be tortured or punished in some way. And many times they are.

How do we heal from such trying times? A holistic minded person would not conform but take a step back and view all the angles. They would reach into their history books for research on other such occasions and try to compare and contrast. They would look at the long term consequences of the decisions, (or orders) being expected and think for themselves. They would trust their instincts rather than following their ego.

It is important to have respect for the person in charge, whether you like them or not. Our country is based on a democratic mindset which means that sometimes Republicans will be in power and sometimes Democrats. Many of us would like to see more than two choices but at the moment; we can at least be glad there is more than one. I doubt anyone can say they have liked every single president because the world is not about you and what you want. I have found that for the most part, in our history, we have flip-flopped so obviously that you can always predict who will win the presidential race. This time it was the Republicans turn. Eventually it will be the Democrats turn. Instead of acting like gang leaders and forming red and blue teams, it would behoove the opposite side to focus on what went wrong and begin planning a strategy going forward. Generally this is what was done in the past.

It would also be important to figure out how to work with the person in charge. More happens with sugar than vinegar, as the saying goes. People are so angry right now, one side because they lost and the other side because their power is put into question. People stop being friends with those who don’t think like them, which causes some to conform. This is either out of fear of isolation or fear of being killed (metaphorically or realistically). It is a scary time now and not because of the person in the White House but because of the uprising all around him. It makes our country look very weak and of course vulnerable. When this is the case, it is so easy to take advantage. This is what concerns me right now. We are sitting ducks, due to our polarization. No one seems interested in ending the feud and trying to find balance. Meanwhile, both teams think they have the most power and that people are listening to them. They are blind, deaf and dumb. But they are Right!

Life is a rip off when you expect to get what you want. Life works when you choose what you got. Actually, what you got is what you chose. To move on, choose it. Werner Erhard

 

 

Support for Partners of Vets, Desperately Needed

The film, “Thank you for Your Service,” is an outstanding movie. It is informative and directed more like a documentary rather than a blockbuster film with special effects and big names. This is essential to make it raw and to create an illusion that you are in the midst of someone’s private life. And you are because even though these are all actors, they are portraying real people and these events did happen.

So I would like to use this film as a spring board into the issue of support for partners of vets, which is not the intention of this film; though it is there begging to be the subtitle. All of this film caused me to be at the edge of my seat because the male soldiers were so emotionally unstable; I felt afraid of what they were going to do next. The ending hit with a bomb as the main soldier told the story of how a woman’s husband was killed. Yet what stuck with me the most was this line, which says so much about women today “Would you like a blow job,” she says thinking this will comfort her husband. He isn’t communicating with her and this is all she can think of. This comment and the woman’s fixation on sex (to get him to talk) during the entire movie is just one of the reasons it is imperative to have support for partners of vets.

Back in the early 80’s, my then husband was a sailor enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was about to be deployed on a West-Pac (aka tour of the Western Pacific) for six months. The families were brought in for a meeting prior to their departure to help couples understand what to expect, or what was normal. They told us about the departure, a little bit about what was going to happen and when we should expect the men to return. They also talked to us about relationships and sending letters, and about the fact that the Captain’s wife would be our ombudsman, available to us while the men were gone. This woman, whose name I cannot recall, met with the ladies during the six months on at least a monthly basis. We got together to chat, have coffee, discuss the letters we were receiving, any news we might need to know and ask questions about our housing, our money or any other issues of concern. It helped to build comradery, alleviate isolation and perhaps depression, but also to develop respect for the military and our spouses.

As I work with the military now, as a contracted civilian psychotherapist, not one single person has understood what an ombudsmen is nor do they recall such intimate gatherings taking place as I assumed was typical. There are yellow ribbon ceremonies that take place months after a return from deployment. At these presentations it is nicknamed “death by power point,” which means there isn’t a lot of concentration on what is being said. The meeting I attended with my ex-husband in the 80’s was approximately 30 people with our Captain speaking to us directly. The ceremonies today can be anywhere from 70-300 and sometimes even more than this. My psychotherapy table is the least visited booth on the breaks. Once the ceremony is over, people race to get out the door first. It is very sad to me because this is too little, too late and I feel as if it is nothing more than a checkbox being ticked; rather than attention to the mental health needs of men and women both soldiers and their partners. When I talk to people about this, the only thing I ever hear is “it would cost too much money.” This essentially means a person’s life is not worth it. What we see in the movie noted above is the main character being told by the VA that he won’t be able to see a mental health person for a number of weeks. He responds that he could be dead [by suicide] by then.

Going back to the issue of partners in the military, the point is that women today have no self-respect (nor do men) and look at themselves as sexual objects rather than partners and team players. What can we expect though when we live in a sexualized society where people are overly focused on what your sex type is and are confused about what gender they want to be? Where women believe that a date means you need to have your breasts hanging out, heavy make-up and six inch heels rather than a time to dress like a woman with the intention of getting to know the man in front of you.

Many children today are raised by single parents and sometimes they don’t even know their father or their paternal family. Often I see that they are pacified by technology. The teen girls and young adult women I talk to don’t use birth control and so many are desperate to trap the guy with a baby. Others use feeble excuses as to why they don’t use protection such as the doctor said they couldn’t get pregnant or it has been so long without a pregnancy they thought they couldn’t. These guys are happy to become “gamers” today and the girls stand idly by wondering why they won’t pay attention to them. They don’t need a war to ignore.

Since everywhere a woman turns she is being portrayed as a sex object, in the media and society, what else is there for her to think? Parents are not educating their children on sexuality nor are they teaching standards (I see this moreso with one parent families because there is no time to have quality time). Parents often race to get home to cook dinner while they check FB or Twitter and start chatting with someone else who is not there. Thus the kids are following their intended role models.

Once women were groomed to be married and the talk of sex was the last thing they would learn (if they had a talk at all). They learned about courting men which meant being a good conversationalist. They learned to dress appropriately so as not to tease. They learned to behave like mature ladies rather than silly girls. They understood that at times men needed their space and to walk away and self-soothe if need be like attending to a personal project or hobby. Women used to be self-sufficient. They were involved in women’s groups, charities/fundraisers, raising their children, running a household. Their days as teens were not spent hoping they would get laid but hoping they would find a suitable match. Their parents didn’t allow them to shop at a store such as “Victoria’s Secret” and purchase thongs or push up bra’s (when I was a teen even, this was a store for adult women not teenagers), it was a time of restraint and modesty.

We have come to a place where we have no standards. There are no rules in society. We are career women yet many go to work thinking about some guy they will see there. We don’t dress like women who want to get ahead because we have lost a sense of dignity and integrity. More and more companies are adopting a work culture with no professional dress policies.

Therefore, how can we expect a young woman whose husband or partner comes home from war to think of nothing more than sex? The soldier is coming home from war without their mental health as a top priority, even though they are a ticking time bomb. The partner has no support, the soldier has no support and so it is the blind leading the blind. I’ve seen so many resources available to give the post-deployment folks free this and free that and incentives for one thing or another. All this money could be utilized more effectively by supporting them with psycho-education and mental health services that are mandatory and respected.

In the movie the soldier is told (by his superior), to not allow his men to see him as a weak person getting services from mental health. This is not an isolated situation as I hear this time and time again from vets and their partners. We are all too aware of the problems with the Veteran’s Administration. What some people don’t realize is there is not enough staff and people are backlogged and no one gets preferential treatment. The staff are not treated fairly or with respect in some cases, no different than corporate America. Essentially, they are government workers no different than at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I learned recently it is not run by the military but by a corporate boss who is assigned to head the VA but this is not necessarily based on merit, experience, or military background.

In Britain, after a woman gives birth, a health worker follows her for a year to teach her how to care for her new child. In Britain, when soldiers return from war, they are held on base for 30 days before reintegration into society (as I’ve been told by an officer) and have a much lower suicide rate than the U.S. When astronauts land back on earth, they too are held before being reintegrated back in society. Why do we choose to ignore the people we have trained to kill, knowing full well that more than 30% will come back with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Worse than this is that 20 veterans die by suicide daily. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists have been fighting with the military for years to hire us to work with soldiers on base. The jobs currently only recognize social workers.

What I would like to see is an independently licensed clinician, who serves as a family support worker. Someone who is assigned to a household that they follow for a year pre and post-deployment on a monthly basis. Someone who goes to the home weekly post-deployment, and then monthly once services are set up and followed through on. We do this with foster children as this was once my job. While in the home, the worker would be responsible for psycho-education first and foremost, secondly helping the family to fill out forms and explaining the importance of these services. Their job would be to assess and monitor follow-through on mental health support (not to provide it, i.e., not be the actual therapist as you cannot be in a dual role but offer counseling support). This job would then write reports to provide to a supervisor who is monitoring the clinicians in the home. No confidential information need be provided to anyone with exception to that which is a limit to confidentiality (which already exists for clinicians in the military). The records that pertain to mental health would be held by the supervisor. The supervisor could provide demographic information in the way of statistics so that the information gained could be utilized effectively within the military.

You would need a licensed independent clinician handling this assignment in the home as they would be qualified to assess major vs. minor psychological concerns that a simple case worker with only undergraduate knowledge would not have. Obviously, these clinicians would need special training to have more knowledge of military life, family needs as well as advanced training in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorders), TBI (traumatic brain injury) and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) symptoms.
If this type of support were made available to families, I suspect (common sense) that one would see lowered rates of death by suicide, homicide short-term and long-term, military divorce post-deployment, and a better quality of life overall to be had by military families.

We are in a pro-military society now and have gained so much psychological knowledge about the effects of battle since World War I. Why are we wasting this valuable information? Why are we spending so much money on war and then spend money on incentives rather than quality support? Why is a soldier’s life valuable but his/her partner’s is not especially when the family unit is imperative to the success of the soldier’s return? The success rate of person’s who struggle with PTSD is partly dependent on how it is managed within the family (believability, validation) and what support systems they have available to them in the community as well as through mental health and other adjunct resources (i.e., books, workshops, groups).

What we are essentially saying to a soldier and their family is “Thank you for your service and hey, Good Luck to you!” Isn’t this a bit hypocritical? I think they deserve better.

Mental Health and Gun Control – 19 Years

This past month has been a terrible time for those of us in Columbus, Ohio. First, we lost a juvenile who was in court and, because of his violent behaviors, was subsequently shot outside of court by a deputy sheriff. Then we lost two respected police officers in the very small town of Westerville. Both involved mental health issues of the victim in one case and the perpetrator in another. In the past week, our country lost a total of 5 police officers, including Westerville. We lost a total of 17 teens and school staff in one high school in Florida.

High school shootings have been going on since 1999. Now we are hearing the media say FL was worse than Columbine. This isn’t a competition to see whomever shoots the most kids wins. All school shootings are traumatic, are equal and should never have happened. It is time to wake up and smell the coffee.

We need to stop blaming and start taking action. Political activists want to blame and act as if it is the Republicans fault that high school shootings exist; when in fact we have had both Democrat and Republican presidents since 1999. Over the years, both sides have made statements about offering love and prayers, obviously they are going to say that because it would be heartless not to. What is worse though is that both sides have said “This will never happen in our country again.” Unfortunately we have now seen 19 years of this happening again in our country. We have seen this happen at the college level, high schools and an elementary school. It is time to stop blaming one side or the other and get to the table and have discussions. To start with, this does not belong on a lobbyist table, it needs to be a discussion of professionals in the mental health industry, police officers, forensic specialists as well as the leaders in the NRA and they need to listen to one another. Listening is the key ingredient in making change, not trying to get votes.

I have been in the mental health profession since high school shootings began. I was trained in holistic thought processes so I am not prone to listening to one side; I try to hear the whole story. You can’t understand anything unless you are looking at the big picture and the long term effects. I have lots of prejudices, believe me, yet I work with people from all different backgrounds, including those I have opinions about. However, because I believe people have a right to be heard and it is hard for me not to have empathy when I hear them and have taken them into my fold as a therapist, I am able to set my opinions aside for this client or clients and provide them the support that they need. After all, working with someone in therapy, I believe, is helping them to become a better person. This is what it means to be a professional.

America has become a Roe v. Wade in the sense that everything is a Pro-Life v. Pro-Choice extreme thinking conversation. No one ever listens to the other side. It is idiotic and stupid when one side is incapable of listening to what the other side has to say. It is ridiculous to hold an opinion that you are right and they are wrong. Sure we all joke and say, “but I am right,” but to actually believe this to the point that you can’t possibly sit down with your opposing view neighbor and have a cup of coffee and hear what each other has to say is beyond sad. It is disturbing and this is what our country has to offer right now.

All these people who get on bandwagons and say they are “tolerant” or “celebrate diversity,” are online yelling at the other side and giving their biases about race, religion or culture. When we are behaving in such a hostile environment as we are on social media, how can we expect that a mentally unwell person is not going to take advantage of this? If Kathy Griffin isn’t capable of understanding that there is a line you don’t cross when it comes to shouting your hatred toward the president of the United States, how in the world can you expect a mentally unwell person to understand and intellectualize what is happening online?

It has become common place to hear about shootings and we have become immune to this. We get an endorphin rush when it happens and a week later we forget. What do we expect is going to happen to someone who has mental health problems and is paying attention to all of this online. We get to be voyeurs but they internalize it and fantasize about it and feel empowered by this.

Madeline Albright (the first female Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton) spoke in San Jose, CA sometime in the early 2000’s and I went to listen to her talk. She spoke about the split in politics and how it has become so damaging to the D.C. atmosphere. When she began her journey in politics, it was normal for Republicans and Democrats to eat together, party together even walk down the street together. Our country being divided to the point of not being able to say who you voted for without getting spit on, means we do not live in a safe place and we cannot expect things to change; as long as we behave in this manner. If our politicians can’t behave like professionals and respect their own colleagues, how can we citizens be expected to behave like decent people? Right now the Democrats are just being sore losers and this is what we teach our children across the country not to do when they are on a team. Republicans were sore losers during Obama; worrying about a birth certificate. Each politician who wins the presidency has 4-8 years in which they can be elected to serve. Be patient and it will be your turn. The winners go in cycles; it is just the way we vote. There has not been one president that has been perfect and not one who has not been narcissistic.

There has been 19 years of school shootings though, with both Democrats and Republicans serving our country. We do need gun control – obviously – no one needs an assault weapon. We should be grown up and mature enough to understand that no one is saying you can’t carry a gun. It is one thing to carry a gun in your holster, on your belt that you are legally allowed to carry or a hunter with a rifle in the back of their truck on a rack. It is one thing to have a gun legally and one illegally. The topic of Mental Health needs to be brought in and we need to be more strict about mental health assessments when carrying a gun. Perhaps everyone needs to have a mental health assessment in order to legally purchase a gun. It wouldn’t be a bad idea. I have family that all carry guns, they would not like to be inconvenienced. However, I am sure all the families who are victims of the 19 years of school shootings, did not like to be inconvenienced either. When the “right to keep and bear arms” amendment was signed into the constitution, we were a different world. Back then it was cowboys and Indians and revolutions that made a positive difference in this country. School shootings make a negative difference in this country, it harms our psyche and destroys our families.

I am listening to children tell me they are afraid to go to school. They are having panic attacks whenever there are noises at school. Instead of just a tornado drill or an earthquake drill, they are having to learn how to hide from a school shooter. I am hearing parents who want to put their kids in private education or home school them. Is this what we are going to come to because adult professionals are not capable of coming to the table and reach an agreement?

Then of course you have the criminal world. No matter what we do, criminals and mentally unwell people can get access to a gun out on the streets. It is not too hard to  go into a bad neighborhood and within a few minutes find someone walking down the street who knows someone who has one to sell. Having worked in bad neighborhoods and spent many conversations talking to people who lived there, I am aware of how easy this is. Having spoken to people who have been drug addicts or alcoholics, I have heard many stories of how easy it is to get what you want if you need a fix. This means we need to have tighter laws about what happens to people who are caught selling guns illegally. The guy who sold the gun to the perpetrator of the two police officers in Westerville was found and brought in. I have no idea at this point what will happen to him or what the laws are currently. I do know that in California, where I used to work on the streets, a crime carries a stiffer penalty if it is gang related. Do we have strict enough laws for the people selling guns illegally, nationwide? Shouldn’t they get the same attention as the perpetrator, since they knew the reason for buying was not for something good? Wouldn’t they be an accessory to the crime?

These are the questions we need to be asking. We need to have discussions about this within our communities and amongst our professionals and come to some answers that we then present to Washington. But it is time for us to behave like grown-ups and professionals and listen with the purpose of coming up with a solution. I am tired of hearing that the NRA has control over Congress. What does this mean? It means that they have control over the lives of our children and grandchildren. Again, if they have had control over Congress they have had it for at least the 19 years we have been concerned and this has been over terms of both Republican and Democrat presidents.

What is a solution that is workable? What is a solution that is going to be tougher on crime, stricter on mental health awareness and reporting and one that makes sense and will protect our children, our families and our country? Stop blaming and start forming community discussion groups, in person because we aren’t capable of having talks online. Bring all the professionals involved to a table and have a discussion that is going to create positive change in our country. We don’t need an assault weapon to go hunting in the woods or to protect our family. A simple gun or rifle will work fine. Let’s show our children that we are capable of making this world a safer place.