Sunday, July 18, 2010

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater

An recent New York Times article is generating a bit of interest in the mental health blogosphere. Accepting that Good Parents Can Plant Bad Seeds has a huge flaw in its reasoning, that faithful reader Marian pointed out in her comment on my recent post on the same article. The author of the NY Times article, Richard A. Friedman, M.D., has grasped the obvious fact that no two siblings are alike, and they will be treated differently by their parents, but then goes on to say that some children are just plain not nice and that parents have a limited role in this outcome. All this would be fine except that clearly the parents in this article are grieving for a relationship that they do not have with their children. Something is bothering them, too.

Oh, how far we have fallen from the parent blaming of the post-war generation. We have fallen so far away from "blaming" the parent, that we continue to do damage of another sort. The damage is in not getting the help that is needed to reap rewards from the relationship and to heal. Better outcomes are being sacrificed these days in order to save face as a parent. Many parents prefer to believe that their child is the one with the problem.

The central pitch of any child psychiatrist now is that the illness is often in the child and that the family responses may aggravate the scene but not wholly create it,” said my colleague Dr. Theodore Shapiro, a child psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College. “The era of ‘there are no bad children, only bad parents’ is gone.

The quoted paragraph is hard for me to swallow, because I believe that psychiatry (which seems to never get it right when it comes to mental illness), threw the baby out with the bath water when it eventually stopped even suggesting that parents may actually have something to do with their child's problems. Psychiatry became the willing handmaiden of pharma, which proclaimed mental illnesses to be brain diseases. The product literature for these dastardly drugs may as well say in big bold letters - Parents - don't even bother to try to work on your relationships with your children because this is a brain disease, nothing you can do about it.

Dr. David Allen picks up on the New York Times article in his blog, Family Dysfunction and Mental Health and he comes to the same conclusions as Marian and me. He then goes on to say "There are types of psychotherapy which can help people repair dysfunctional relationship patterns, solve problems, and reconcile with their loved ones."

I know that relationships between family members are at the heart of this and so do most people who have received a mental health label, but sadly, many parents will miss out on the opportunity to heal their children because they refuse to even consider that something in them doesn't vibrate well with the other person and vice versa. Relationships are a two way street. I have made the same sort observations in my review of After Her Brain Broke. My point about the book was that the author was too afraid to be seen as not the perfect mother that she was actually standing in the way of exploring better help for her daughter.

From my knowledge of Dr. Allen based on his previous blog posts, he loses me when he insists that schizophrenia is a special case unrelated to what is happening in the family and is the result of brain chemistry run amok. That's why, knowing what I know, it amazes me that he can make the following comment and still believe that schizophrenia is a special case.

It is interesting that next to Dr. Friedman's article is a still from the 1956 movie, The Bad Seed, about a pretty little girl from a fine family who develops into a young murderess for no apparent reason. Such things, unless a baby comes out brain damaged in some way, happen only in lurid novels and movies.

So, if I read the previous paragraph correctly, Dr. Allen believes that beneath all behaviors is reasonable cause. The only possible explanations I can think of why Dr. Allen still wants schizophrenia to be a brain disease, is that it is now totally politically incorrect to "blame the parents" when it come to schizophrenia. Psychiatry won't touch that one with a ten foot pole. The other possible explanation is that he truly does believe that people with schizophrenia were brain damaged at birth. This explanation has so far eluded medical science, I wish to point out. I will write more about the origins of this pervasive don't blame the parent attitude in my next blog post.


  1. Sometimes, when I read blog posts like this one, I think to myself: "Hey Rossa, now I hope, you're not too hard on yourself!"

    This one had me think of something else, too: In one of her books (don't remember which one) Alice Miller said that it is wrong to believe you do a rape victim a favor if you tell them there was nothing they could have done to prevent the rape from happening. First of all, it isn't quite true. They could have stayed at home, chosen another route, another time, they could have reacted in a different way to the perpetrator, whatever, and the rape maybe wouldn't have happened. second, telling someone there was or is nothing they could have done or do to prevent something from happening to them is the most disempowering you could tell this person. We are all aware of this when it comes to the "mentally ill" individual him-/herself. What we're not quite as aware of, as it will seem to me, is that this also applies to the surroundings of the "mentally ill" person.

    Just as it immediately may be a relief to be told that it is "not your fault", that you're not a weak, flawed character to experience the suffering you do when you're labelled "mentally ill", it also immediately is a huge relief for most parents when they're told they didn't do anything wrong. Unfortunately, very few "mentally ill" people realize that they pay with their personal freedom for this "relief", and even fewer parents realize that also they have to pay this price.

    IMO, it isn't that much about "blaming", like in "scapegoating", as it is about liberating, also, and not least, parents, and everybody else around the "mentally ill" person. I think, I've mentioned before that I regard "mental illness" a struggle for freedom (with "sz" being the most fierce form of it). The "mentally ill" person doesn't only fight for her own freedom, but also for that of everybody else. If you tell them there is no such thing as freedom, as psychiatry does, you also deny yourself this freedom. What a waste of opportunity to grow emotionally, spiritually, personally! For everybody involved.

  2. Yes, it is about liberating everyone, not just the person with the diagnosis. Perhaps I overemphasize the parental "blame" in order to make the point that parents do play a significant role in individual outcomes. Drug based psychiatry has been trying to paper over this reality.

  3. I have two children who were raised together by me, a single parent until they were eight and ten. My son is stable and my daughter suffers from too many diagnoses to mention. She followed the predictable route from add to bipolar and on to borderline when the meds didn't work.
    My daughter was born the way she is. She was quick to anger and feared abandonment as a small child. Once triggered, her behaviors were hard to pack away and escalated into panic and tantrums. Depression and body dysmorphia followed in the teen years. Alcohol and benzo addiction, manic and psychotic episodes came in her late teens and early twenties.
    I was as solid and trustworthy a parent as she could have possibly had and yet, she suffered. It could have been much worse for her if she had been raised by her biological father who suffers with many of the same symptoms that my daughter does. But, I was there helping to guide her into adulthood and fostering confidence and validating along the way.
    Good parenting plays a role in how people turn out but it is not everything. I sat through endless interviews at hospitals where the admitting doctors were convinced that if they asked the right question, the CAUSE of my daughter's trouble would tumble out. Where was the abuse? Give it up! My daughter is 25 and she has done EMDR in a vain attempt to locate some lost piece of the puzzle, but she comes up empty handed. Maybe there wasn't abuse. Maybe when I left the room on a bad day for her, it was enough to trigger the profound feelings of abandonment she has.
    My daughter fled the last treatment center she was in and quit most of the psych drugs she had been on for years. A year and a half later, she is better. This is someone who we were told would never live on her own. Never be able to support herself or make reasonable decisions to carve out a life for herself.
    Did my parenting skills hinder her or help her?

  4. Kristin - Thanks for your e-mail. What I try to convey in my blog is not that a mental health diagnosis is a problem with parenting skills per se but with the emotional environment, the tensions that underly who we are. These things are not obvious on the surface. I was and am a decent enough parent, but I actually know that there was a disconnect with between my son and me from his conception. Profound psychotherapies and other interventions that I underwent with him have helped to bring him/me out of the disconnect. EMDR is supposed to be a very good therapy, but every person is diffent and what works for one person will not work for someone else. The most challenging idea that I have learned is that families pass down emotional vibrations from generation to generation. This has nothing to do with "bad parenting" in many cases, but may have more to do with profound feelings of sadness or self-hate or anger, the origin of which is unknown to the suffering person. My complaint is that psychiatry brushes the trauma origin of a mental health diagnosis aside in favor of giving the person drugs.

  5. Yes, I do understand your view point and in an attempt to find this core/source, my daughter works with a healer who feels that she came into this life with the "emotional vibrations" from "previous lifetimes". It is hard to discount because, as they do the work, she seems to be emerging. My daughter is finding meaning in her life, freedom where there was only sadness and anger.
    My daughter and I are not disconnected in the way that you describe you and your son have been but that is not to say that this hasn't been a profound learning experience for both of us.
    xx kris

  6. I believe in the previous lifetimes approach. For some people, this is where the healing needs to take place. I read an really interesting book called "Then and Now" or maybe it is Now and Then, by Denis Kelsey, a psychiatrist. You can reference it on my reading list. It really opened my eyes to some very unusual things that people have experienced. One of his patients could remember her conception. When I refer to my son and me as being disconnected, apparently one thing mothers often report is that their baby seemed "unresponsive" with very little muscle tone. This was also reported originally as being a "refrigerator" mother. My thinking was just "well, that's the way he is, and I can't force what he doesn't feel, but on the other hand, he may have also felt disconnection from me. That is part of the reason I was so interested in past life regression, but so far, that is a therapy that my son hasn't tried. For one thing, the psychiatrist is dead set against it. I would be interested in hearing more about the results of your daughter's past lives.

  7. The healer has been very specific. Nine murders. My daughter was probably a victim of the Holocaust. She witnessed and experienced murder before the age of three. The healer doesn't know exactly, just senses the weight. Letting go of the "energy" of those lives has been difficult. She has carried many with her for many lifetimes. According to the healer, she was burdened down by too much this time. Last fall she reached a critical moment when she was forced to either surrender to the pain or fight. It was a real battle. She decided that she wanted to live. It was very dramatic and sad and scary. But, ever since, she has been mending. It is two steps forward and one step back. But, she is making progress.
    My daughter is intense, focused and very intelligent. We looked long and hard for help from the medical model that is at work in the States today. It completely failed her.
    I do not trust the mental healthcare community to provide honest, drug-free help. My daughter tried every combination of psych drug available on the market. The big guns and the garden variety. Nothing worked for any length of time. It is very sad that there are not more alternative treatments available in this country because my daughter is not alone.
    Research goes to more drugs. In England, exercise is considered a mental healthcare treatment and membership to clubs is often part of the healthcare package.
    Little steps. Of course, we are lucky that we can pay a healer out of pocket. And, I think that my daughter is lucky that she has the support of parents who believe in alternative medicine.
    I wrote a book about the odyssey we took looking for help for our daughter. I point out the poor practices of small clinics and huge reputable hospitals. I kept thinking as my daughter got worse and worse as she was shuttled from one treatment facility to another, that it wasn't working. I was so invested at that time in the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental illness, that I was crushed when my daughter threw her arms up and fled Austen Riggs in Stockbridge, MA. They had drugged the life out of her and she announced that she was done. She moved to New York City and started carving out a life for herself.
    The book was praised by agents for the writing but I was cautioned that I probably couldn't find a publisher for it because - Who would read it? I was asked this over and over again. Finally someone suggested that I write a blog and find out if anyone would be interested in reading our story. I have been writing for less than six months and I am amazed by the interest.
    I am happy that the book didn't get picked up when I originally sent it out at the end of last year. I had not read Robert Whitaker's Anatomy of an Epidemic. By reading that book, I found the answer to what was wrong with the medical model that we had entrusted our daughter to.
    My long-winded point is that, alternative therapies are valid treatments in place of drugs for even the most severe mental illnesses.

  8. Kristin - I am glad to hear praise for altenerative therapies coming from another mother. I think mothers with a different opinion about today's medications at all cost scene is a powerful counterweight to the NAMIs of the world. It seems to me that your book should be of more interest now to publishers because of the Whitaker book. After five years I am still slogging away on my book. I feel fortunate that Chris actually had a relapse recently, because it showed that mental health is a struggle and we also then found more really good therapies to write about that we wouldn't have known about otherwise. I started my blog for the obvious reasons of finding a platform for an eventual book, but the blog has also helped me tighten my writing skills, which were dormant. Also, the blog is fun and I hate to miss a day of it. I just found your blog which looks very interesting and will follow it.

  9. From a previous post of mine on the British Journal of Medical Psychology re past life experiences:

    The March 2003 edition presents research on past-life experiences of young children. Children reporting past life experiences tend to have both high intelligence quotients and verbal skills. It notes that the behavior problems (agression, traumatizing fears and hallucinations, etc.) seen in some of the research subjects increased if the past-life experience centered around a violent death. It also puzzled over how birthmarks are sometimes seen to be in the exact place where an ancestor or person associated with the past-life had suffered a trauma

  10. The past life quote is so interesting in that that it came from a reputable journal. Past life experiences are not recognized here in the States for having any weight in the psychological make up of the patient.
    I am glad to have found your blog, too. I regret missing a day writing or reading and have to decide between working on the book or the blog and too often the blog wins out. The interactive quality is missed with a book. I have used many of the ideas and experiences from the book as subjects for my blog. The responses are instructive. I wrote the book in a year but the ending was too sad. No answers, a broken daughter. By writing the blog and researching more, I have a different, more hopeful ending.

  11. Now, when people tell me that they have severely mentally ill young children or relatives who remain severely mentally ill for years in institutional settings, my first instinct is to think that past life therapies are the key. This should be what every psychiatrist should investigate. What has anyone got to lose by going this route?


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