Monday, December 29, 2014

Person of the Year - Corinna West

"If you want to know how young black people overcome adversity, we’ve got over 400 videos up on the Poetry for Personal Power You Tube channel." (Corinna West)

Corinna West is the one woman dynamo behind Poetry for Personal Power, a mental health social inclusion campaign that encourages young people struggling with mental health issues to get up on stage and communicate. She founded Wellness Wordworks in 2008 to show how the recovery community can provide internet skills and business opportunities to their peers. I've always been impressed with Corinna's entrepreneurial and community leadership skills. She seems to have zillions of "I can do" ideas in her head. Corinna's enthusiasm for social change is infectious, not to mention she's got a master's degree in pharmaceutical chemistry with lived experience, having survived homelessness and 12 psychiatric diagnoses.

An amazing woman.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism

Rossa's recommendation: Top notch! The best! Can't put it down! Below is a Kirkus Review of Dick Russell's superb memoir. This book should be on every parent's night table and on every therapist's bookshelf. The alternative approach offers great hope even for those who have spent years in hospitals and group homes.


A memoir about the tight bond between a father and his mentally ill son.
Until his son’s late teens, Russell (The Life and Ideas of James Hillman: Volume I: The Making of a Psychologist, 2013, etc.) had enjoyed his relationship with Franklin, a smart, handsome, mixed-race child who was a “dreamer” and a perfectionist but showed no traits considered out of the ordinary. At 17, however, Franklin experienced his first mental breakdown. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia; suddenly, Russell didn’t know how to connect with his son. With honesty and grace, the author writes of the maelstrom of feelings that surged in and around him and his son for the next 15 years as Franklin moved in and out of group homes and the hospital as his illness progressed. Some days Franklin was kind and loving, and at other times, he denied Russell was his father, lashing out with rage and frustration. When an unexpected opportunity arose to take Franklin to Africa, where the author had traveled as a young adult, father and son embarked on the trip with both anticipation and trepidation. Although Franklin’s schizophrenia manifested occasionally, the two-week trip led Russell to believe that his son’s disability might actually be evidence of something more profound, a deep connection with the spirit world. Searching for more answers, Russell and Franklin underwent numerous healings with a West African shaman and a Peruvian healer, who both confirmed Russell’s idea that Franklin was not afflicted with an illness but was undergoing vastly different life events than those around him. The author’s candid account of these difficult years shows his deep commitment and love toward his son and offers readers a new concept on how people with mental illnesses should be perceived.
Not all readers will be convinced, but Russell provides an earnest and eye-opening account of the possible thin line between a psychotic disorder and mysticism.
Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1629144870
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Review Posted Online: 
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Today's Obituary

P. D. James, Novelist Known as ‘Queen of Crime,’ Dies at 94

Ms. James gave birth to the first of her two daughters in 1942, during a bombing blitz. She served as a Red Cross nurse during the war. When her husband returned from military service with a severe mental disability, marked by bouts of violence, that kept him virtually confined to hospitals and unable to work, Ms. James was forced to support her family. She went to work for the National Health Service and attended night classes in hospital administration.

Read more here

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I believe I'm 32 again (and it feels wonderful)


What if Age is Nothing but a Mindset?

One day in the fall of 1981, eight men in their 70s stepped out of a van in front of a converted monastery in New Hampshire. They shuffled forward, a few of them arthritically stooped, a couple with canes. Then they passed through the door and entered a time warp. Perry Como crooned on a vintage radio. Ed Sullivan welcomed guests on a black-and-white TV. Everything inside — including the books on the shelves and the magazines lying around — were designed to conjure 1959. This was to be the men’s home for five days as they participated in a radical experiment, cooked up by a young psychologist named Ellen Langer.

The subjects were in good health, but aging had left its mark. “This was before 75 was the new 55,” says Langer, who is 67 and the longest-serving professor of psychology at Harvard. Before arriving, the men were assessed on such measures as dexterity, grip strength, flexibility, hearing and vision, memory and cognition — probably the closest things the gerontologists of the time could come to the testable biomarkers of age. Langer predicted the numbers would be quite different after five days, when the subjects emerged from what was to be a fairly intense psychological intervention.


To Langer, this was evidence that the biomedical model of the day — that the mind and the body are on separate tracks — was wrongheaded. The belief was that “the only way to get sick is through the introduction of a pathogen, and the only way to get well is to get rid of it,” she said, when we met at her office in Cambridge in December. She came to think that what people needed to heal themselves was a psychological “prime” — something that triggered the body to take curative measures all by itself. Gathering the older men together in New Hampshire, for what she would later refer to as a counterclockwise study, would be a way to test this premise.

The men in the experimental group were told not merely to reminisce about this earlier era, but to inhabit it — to “make a psychological attempt to be the person they were 22 years ago,” she told me. 

Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

New family education course starts soon

Families Healing Together

families healingBy Krista MacKinnon

I’ve worked in the mental health system for twelve years now, and prior to that was a patient for three. My family was educated to believe that I would be sick my whole life, and that they should have very little hope for my future. When I became a family counsellor, I vowed to never “educate” anyone in such a way. Since then, I’ve watched “Recovery” grow from a subversive whisper to a full-blown growing paradigm in mental health services. Countries have adopted Recovery and implemented its model into their health care planning, academics have studied it and written thousands of articles in peer-reviewed journals,  organizations have restructured and reorganized their teams to reflect it’s principles, and brave everyday people have told their personal recovery stories to friends, colleagues, conferences, and the media. Recovery is a strong political force, a narrative, a system, a way of life, and a tool. So why then, has this incredible force of “Recovery” not leaked its way over to Family Education? 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dr. Ping: Con job or great job?

Eighteen months ago, Chris switched medications from Abilify to Respiridone because he didn't like Abilify (I've forgotten why).  Three months after switching he began to rapidly put on way more weight than what the Abilify did for him. I got alarmed at his out of control appetite and insisted he get a blood test, which revealed (surprise surprise) high cholesterol, for the first time in his life. So, after discussing all this with Dr. Stern, at the beginning of the year, he went back on Abilify and dropped the Respiridone all in one go. I assumed that his weight would go back to his Abilify weight. Well, it hasn't. Many months later, Chris's weight has not returned to his pre-Respiridone level.

My Internet pal, Irene, is a nurse who is quite familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). She suggested, based on her understanding, that TCM herbs can help with the metabolic weight gain caused by antipsychotics.

Dr. Stern, Chris's psychotherapist, wrote him a prescription for ten acupuncture sessions and I located a Dr. Ping, who runs two TCM clinics in our city.

Part of my thinking (and Dr. Stern's) was that in addition to dealing with metabolic weight gain, acupuncture would also work on Chris's ever elusive body/mind connection.  I was hoping that acupuncture could super glue or better yet "weld" Chris's intellectualizing head to the rest of his body to give him a real physical presence and "flow." Dr. Stern had previously taken up my body/mind suggestion by sending Chris to a metamorphic massage therapist. 2014 is the body/mind or bust year for Chris.

I haven't accompanied Chris to his medical appointments for several years. Once he got to the point of remembering he had them and actually getting there on time, there was no need for me to go with him. The missed appointments are a thing of the past for Chris. This time, I made an exception in the name of "research" and went with him. I had a lot of questions that I wanted to put to Dr. Ping himself. Chris had undergone 5 point acupuncture several years ago, at the suggestion of Dr. Erika, his holistic psychiatrist. At the time, I didn't think it did much for him, but he was at at different stage, and maybe being further along in the recovery process would make a difference. I really wanted to grill Dr. Ping on what exactly he might be able to do for Chris. Otherwise, this latest adventure could be a huge waste of Chris's time and our money.  I'm mustering less and less enthusiasm to keep suggesting new therapies for Chris. For much of the past two years he has been happy to just get on with his own life, his way. As it should be.

We sat down with Dr. Ping and his Chinese assistant, and he asked Chris why he was there, which got a rather lengthy philosophical reply, but eventually he got the idea that Chris was there to see if acupuncture could help him lose weight. I kept my mouth shut. Once Chris's pulse testing was done and his tongue examined, I asked about using Chinese herbs.

"No! said Dr. Ping.  "Maybe need for herbals later, but now only acupuncture. He have stagnant liver. He need to express himself more!"

"Can I see how you do the acupuncture?" I said, thinking that maybe there was something new since the last time Chris had done it. "Research," remember.

"Okay," said Dr. Ping. "Follow me."

I followed the two of them into a ward of curtained off cubicles.  I noted where Chris's cubical was and then waited down the hallway until Dr. Ping had finished. When I arrived Chris was there on the table, Saint Sebastian in his underwear, his chest stuck full of needles. Dr. Ping had left the room. There was obviously nothing new here from the last time Chris had acupuncture, so I said to Chris "I'll see you at home," and left.

Chris was a bit shaken when he got home. While I was lying on the table, Dr. Ping leaned over and hissed at me "What's your mother doing here? Be a man!"

"Well, be a man, Chris! Do what Dr. Ping says. I've been trying for ten long years, since you came back from university,  to get you out from under my apron strings. I didn't want this job in the first place. Maybe, Chris, what he's telling you is what I've been telling you, in so many words, since you were a child. You let everyone else decide for you. YOU should start establishing stronger boundaries. If you want to be a man, tell your mother she is no longer needed!"

"What else did Dr. Ping say?" I asked.

"He said I need to exercise more and not eat sugar," Chris responded.

Well, you don't need an acupuncturist to tell you that, I'm thinking.

Over the course of his treatment (number 8 and only two more to go) Chris's weight has remained more or less the same, despite his increased daily exercise routine. At his last visit, Chris challenged Dr. Ping on the lack of weight loss. "You not exercising enough. "You do MORE!" said Dr. Ping. As a parting gesture, he hammered three pins into Chris right ear. "Twist them at least four times a day," he instructed.

Dr. Ping. Well done! You are hammering home the body/mind connection by reminding Chris to use his body, to break some sweat. So, YAY! However, my response to this lack of weight loss is: Dr. Ping, then what are we paying YOU for? If we thought Chris could lose the weight by exercising or dieting, there'd be no need for acupuncture. What exactly are you selling here? Everybody knows that antipsychotics produce metabolic weight gain in most people. YOU held out the promise that acupuncture would be different.

Unless, unless, I say to myself, a great part of TCM is the doctor applying psychological pressure on top of the needle pressure. Dr. Ping may be doing a great job. The acupuncture may simply be a distraction, a side show. What may be more important than the needles is the psychology.

The Chinese physician, in contrast, directs his or her attention to the complete physiological and psychological individual. All relevant information, including the symptom as well as the patient's other general characteristics, is gathered and woven together until it forms what Chinese medicine calls a "pattern of disharmony." This pattern of disharmony describes a situation of "imbalance" in a patient's body. Oriental diagnostic technique does not turn up a specific disease entity or a precise cause, but renders an almost poetic, yet workable, description of a whole person.*

Will Chris be able to lose weight caused by metabolic weight gain through acupuncture? I have no idea. It's either a con job or a great job.
Kaptchuk, Ted J., The Web That Has No Weaver, McGraw-Hill, 2000, page 4.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Practical things you can do for anxiety

Hope for Everyone

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Kjetil Mellingen

September 3, 2014

I am a very optimistic psychologist, but with reason. For 25 years I’ve been working with people who have had psychological problems in every conceivable area. Many psychologists have problems with burnout, especially early in their careers. For me, this has been very different. By using the treatment techniques that I do, I feel anti-burned out. It is so gratifying to see people get out of their serious problems, that I look forward to every day of clinical work.
The reason why many in the mental health field get burned out may be that they are not able to make changes in people’s lives as they had hoped.
I often get frustrated when patients come to me after a treatment career with four or five previous psychologists. The clients have been very close to giving up, but they often give it a last try, especially in the anxiety clinic where I work. Having failed in many therapies, having been made very pessimistic, I really admire them for not giving up completely.
Usually these patients have been to psychologists who are very concerned with childhood experiences. For years they have been talking to the psychologists about all kinds of bad things that have happened to them, in an attempt to find out what may have caused their psychological problems.
The problem is that even if we could reliably find exactly what caused the problems, this does not give us any direction about how to help cure the problem. The sad fact is that we cannot change people’s childhoods.
Another sad effect, is that doing psychotherapy that is not working may be very demotivating and give people the feeling that there is no hope for their condition.
What makes more sense, especially to clients, is to look at their everyday situation, and find out what problems they have within their daily lives. In technical terms, this is called formulation.Many British psychologists see this as a very useful alternative to diagnosis. The formulation would describe in everyday language what triggers your  problems, how you react, what  makes the problem worse or better, and eventually what may be done with this in the here and now.
Read this rest of the article here. There is a very good video in it for learning to handle the anxiety associated with drug withdrawal.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Life goes on

I'm still here. Life goes on at its decidedly slower pace now that Chris is becoming a self. I haven't blogged about him in a while, but recently I've been getting a flurry of e-mails from mothers seeking my advice about what to do about their own sons and daughters who've been recently diagnosed. I can't just tell them to read my blog (all 912 posts) and expect them to get a handle of how to help their relative NOW. Years ago, an Internet pal told me that the best way to be influential is to write a book, so yes, that memoir I've been talking too much about and doing too little to finish, will take precedent over  regular blog posts once again, beginning this month.

I've been looking over some of my earlier posts and wince at how garbled some of them are. What was I possibly thinking when I wrote THAT? I wonder. A future project for me will be to clean up some of the language to make the posts more readable. (Ref. Weird Al Yancovic's Word Crimes, "Saw your blog post. It was fantastic! (I'm being sarcastic.) Cause you write like a 'spastic.") . . . Better book some quality time with my book editor beginning this month.

Monica Cassani has started a weekly blog post about psychiatric drug withdrawal called It Gets Better. Seeing her post today reminded me that an important part of my blog is to also show people from my own experience with Chris, how it does get better. The person you thought you knew at eighteen or twenty, was probably not a personality, not a cohesive self. The person you see ten years later may the person he or she has been struggling to be all along, defining themselves in surprising ways. Given the right conditions, the caterpillar eventually becomes a butterfly, the seedling becomes a plant. The building up of a personality is for patient people. The results are gratifying.

Chris has been wonderfully productive recently. He's taken two intensive French language courses and passed his language proficiency exam, which he will need to show to a potential employer. One step at a time. He just got back from a week's technical training in sound and light for theater productions. Since he dropped out of university at age twenty, he has not wanted to/not been able to, take a course involving assignments and grades and he hesitated to venture far from the nest. What he has done recently should give anyone struggling under the diagnosis of schizophrenia, cause for hope. I don't see "schizophrenia" anymore. Haven't seen it for a long time. I prefer to talk in terms of spiritual crisis, maturation, and a finding one's self.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Free Online Training Module Using Normalizing Within CBT for Psychosis

Ron Unger is a licensed cognitive behavioral therapist whose understanding of psychosis I greatly appreciate and admire. His writing has helped me enormously in "normalizing" the way I think about my own relative, calming ME down, and increasing MY hope for my son's recovery. Ron has recently created an online course in "how to talk to people with psychotic experience in a way that allows them to calm down, feel more grounded, access coping skills, and increase hope for recovery." His course was designed with professionals in mind, but it is also open to service users, ex service users or survivors, and family members.

  • Free Online Training Module Using Normalizing Within CBT for Psychosis

  • Use the link above to signup to get access to a free online training in how to talk to people with psychotic experience in a way that allows them to calm down, feel more grounded, access coping skills, and increase hope for recovery. By signing up here, you will also be added to an email list to be notified about upcoming events like the release of the complete online training in CBT for Psychosis, which will include CE credits for US professionals. You can unsubscribe from this list at any time.

Please read more about the background for this course. I have reprinted an excerpt from Ron's Mad in America post below. (If the link above doesn't work, there is further information in the comments section of Ron's post.)

How Can Professionals Learn to Reduce Fears of Psychotic Experiences Rather Than Emphasize Pathology?

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July 19, 2014

The kinds of experiences we call psychotic are often incredibly scary: people feel they are being persecuted by strange forces, or that their brains have been invaded by demons or riddled with implants from the CIA . . . the list of possible fears is endless, and often horrifying.
While standard mental health approaches counter many of these fears, they often create new fears of a different variety.   People diagnosed with schizophrenia for example may be led to believe that they will definitely be mentally ill for life, that this illness controls what happens in their brain and not themselves, and that there are few or even no alternatives if drugs don’t work for them.
This can be extremely demoralizing.  Oryx Cohen graphically described his own reaction to the standard mental health psychoeducation he received after his first psychotic experience:  he reported it made him feel he had lost his membership in the human race!  As a result of it, he felt caught up in a pathologized understanding of himself, he lost his expectation of being capable of learning from experience and shaping his future, and he now felt defined by his abnormality rather than by his humanity.
Despite − rather than because − of what the mental health system taught him to believe, Oryx later discovered other ways of understanding his experience, and he made a full recovery.  But wouldn’t it be better if people like Oryx were helped to find a more humanistic understanding of themselves within the mental health system and from the very beginning of treatment?
Wouldn’t it be helpful if professionals were trained in an approach that could help people shift away from both dangerous psychotic ways of thinking and also away from the sometimes equally terrifying explanations which emphasize pathology?
Further, what if such an approach could also build a foundation for learning effective coping skills, and also help a person build hope and a road map toward a possible full recovery?
And wouldn’t it be nice if this approach was already proven to be “evidence based,” so that both people learning the methods, and their supervisors and colleagues could have confidence in its effectiveness and safety?
Fortunately, at least one such approach exists, and it is called CBT for psychosis.  This method allows professionals to collaborate with people in developing understandings of their psychotic experiences that neither minimize problems nor emphasize pathology, but instead help make sense of extreme human experiences in a way that is grounded in more everyday human experience and issues.
Read the rest here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

People never change because they are happy

Torn from easyJet's latest in-flight magazine issue, an interview with Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic:

You're known for doing crazy stuff, but your latest piece is just you in a room for eight hours a day, six days a week. What's happening?

"After 40 years of being an artist, I really want to see if I can work with just energy. It could fail, so I guess that's why it's worth doing. I've never been in a space where there is nothing."

What do you hope to achieve?

"People are so lost these days, there's a need for this transmission of energy at the moment. They are full of so much pain and direct contact with an artist is not there. Artists become celebrities and are untouchable."

How can you do this by saying and doing nothing?

"We can alert our powers of telepathy. For the past year, Russian and American scientists have measured my brain waves. They have proved that when you're looking at a total stranger, without saying one word, you're sending subconscious information to each other. So you can actually know more about somebody without saying one word than while having a conversation. It's cheaper than a telephone."

In past performances, you've cut yourself, taken drugs and allowed strangers to hurt you. Why?

"Terrible events can make tremendous change, like terminal disease, an accident, someone from your family dying. People never change from happiness. I'm not waiting for this kind of event. I'm staging difficult situation in the form of the performance."

Louise Gillett

Louise Gillett is a writer and creative talent behind the blog Schizophrenia at the School Gate. No, wait, she's not just a writer, she's an excellent writer and she's got a wonderful way of explaining "schizophrenia" from the point of view of her older and wiser self. She writes about her insecurities in a way that I find delightful and insightful.  I got Louise's permission to reprint her latest musings on social anxiety because I think what she's saying can give parents hope in recovery.

Here's just a snippet:

"About me.  Well, I am normal (we have established that.  Or haven't we?!) but I was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young person and that still affects my perception of myself.  I feel quite strongly that this label is wrong - not for me in particular, but for everyone who is afflicted with it.  Because anyone can suffer emotional distress for a variety of reasons (there always are reasons) and anyone can break down - and anyone can also recover.  But the label of schizophrenia doesn't allow for recovery - even if, like me, you haven't had to take medication for twelve years and you have no symptoms of mental ill-health (social anxiety is not schizophrenia). 

Which means that those people who do recover - which is more than you would think - stay very quiet about the fact that they were ever diagnosed.  Which gives the others with the same label - and people are still being given this label today - very little hope for their own futures. " 

Read the rest of Louise's post here

Monday, June 23, 2014

Next Recovering Our Families course starts in August

Recovering Our Families

“Recovering our Families” introduces families to key recovery principles, leaders, research and resources that are person- and family-centered, trauma-informed and strengths based. This interactive, facilitated online class combines emailed lessons with recovery exercises, videos, online resources and a password-protected website with private facilitated group discussions and peer support. The “Recovering Our Families” course was written by and is facilitated by Krista MacKinnon with the help and support of Family Outreach and Response Program in Toronto Canada, and The Foundation For Excellence in Mental Health in Oregon, USA. If you’re not registered in the class, learn more about it hereNext class begins August 29th, registration will be open soon.

A list of warmlines by state

Warmline logo
A warmline is a peer-run listening line staffed by people in recovery themselves.
Scroll down to see a directory of known warmlines around the US.

Information on peer-run respite nationwide.
Other peer-run respite programs to go to:
Another directory of warmlines:

Metro Boston Recovery Learning Community (MBRLC) recent Peer Warmline feature in the SAMHSA Recovery to Practice weekly newsletter 11/12/10.
Warm line featured in the Boston Globe on February 5, 2009! (Article written before our collaboration with NERLC and the expansion from three to six days a week.)

Article about the Metro Boston Recovery Learning Community warmline by Carey Goldberg

The Warmline Guide is now live at:

To search for Warmlines by state, click on a state in the list below.

(Note: Warmlines listed in red are nationally accessible and welcome calls from anywhere)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Secrets They Kept: The True Story of a Mercy Killing that Shocked a Town and Shamed a Family

An intriguing quote in this book puts the secrets of the Levin family tragedy in perspective:

"Secrets are like stars. They blaze inside the heart and ultimately could be explosive. But there are two types of secrets. Small secrets, like small stars, will eventually burn out. With time and space they lose their importance and simply vanish. No harm done. But big secrets, like massive stars, with time and constant fear grow stronger, creating a gravitational pull that eventually . . . When they get so big, they become a black hole." (Jennifer Jabalay).

A true story, The Secrets They Kept reminds me very much of the family secrets that author Robertson Davies so brilliantly exploited in his novels like Fifth Business and What's Bred in the Bone.

The central question in this book is what could possibly motivate a man to kill his own daughter? Sixteen year old Sally Levin had recently been diagnosed as schizophrenic, and about to be institutionalized. Sam, her father, told the court that he wanted to relieve her suffering and she had begged him to do it. Sam's granddaughter, Suzanne Handler, leaves no stone unturned considering plausible answers where very little family history is available. Her aim in writing the book is to give Sally her rightful place in the family and to expose the consequences of the stigma surrounding mental illness. What I see when I read this book is all that and more. This is a family psychodrama acted out over multiple generations. At the end of the book, the author writes about how hidden secrets estranged her from her mother (Sam's daughter), reminding me of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung's observation, "Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent."

My review of this book draws on shamanistic beliefs that form the basis of Family Constellation Therapy popularized by ex-Jesuit priest Bert Hellinger. My family participated in Family Constellation Therapy that was precipitated by a diagnosis of schizophrenia in my son.

The Hellinger Institute of Northern California website explains that "A Family Constellation is a three-dimensional group process that has the power to shift generations of suffering and unhappiness. Bert Hellinger, the founder of this work, who studied and treated families for more than 50 years, observed that many of us unconsciously "take on" destructive familial patterns of anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, aloneness, alcoholism and even illness as a way of "belonging" in our families. Bonded by a deep love, a child will often sacrifice his own best interests in a vain attempt to ease the suffering of a parent or other family member. Family Constellations allow us to break these patterns so that we can live healthier, happier, more fulfilled lives. In a moment of insight, a new life course can be set in motion. The results can be life-changing." 

From a Family Constellation Therapy perspective, there are probably two or more tragedies in the Levin family history, one buried in the history before the family immigrated to America, and the one at hand. We suspect this because of Sally's status as a black sheep and her diagnosis of schizophrenia. Sally embodied something about the Levins that they feared about themselves. She was their mirror.

Author Suzanne Handler has stunned me by fearlessly and compassionately shining a light on her own grandfather and his immediate family in order to bring respect and honor to her long dead and forgotten aunt Sally. She leads the way in showing others how compassion and forgiveness are important in even the most awful circumstances. She's done what Family Constellation Therapy would advise her to do for the sake of her own healing and for those of her children and her children's children. She brings Sally to life through this book, she erects a new gravestone bearing the proper spelling of Sally's name, and she forgives her grandfather.

Amongst other things, this book is a truelife crime story so I'll put my own thoughts on the table as to what may have motivated Sam Levin to kill his daughter on August 16, 1937.

It is not axiomatic that all parents love their children equally or at all. Some parents have favorites and some have scapegoats. From what little we know about Sally, it appears that Sally was the one who never quite fit in with the family of seven who lived a cramped existence in a two bedroom house. Her break with reality may have been the final straw for an already stressed family. Anyone who has lived with a family member who is actively psychotic knows how high tensions can run. The psychotic person is alternately feared, criticized and ridiculed by other family members who haven't a clue how to help their relative. Or, in trying to be compassionate, families often project worry and instill learned helplessness in their loved one. (There are books and courses available today that teach people how to diffuse the stress and uplift the person, but this kind of knowledge was little known then and only somewhat better known today.)

This (purely speculative) abuse may also have been a longstanding pattern in the Levin household when it came to Sally who was strikingly different from the others, being two shades darker in complexion. Her family called her "Blackie," underscoring her noticeable difference. Was she the family black sheep or the family "scapegoat"? Shouldn't at least her mother (Sam's wife) have protected her? Surely she must have known something of Sam's plans that day, or at least have had some sort of inkling. Protection is often too big a burden to ask of siblings, who are rivals for their parents' affections. When the deed was done, the family members rallied round their father and perhaps took a vow of silence to not divulge to anyone that Sally was anything other than a beloved sibling. Their shame would have been too great.

Regarding Sam's wife, I thought immediately of the Mrs. Dempster character in Davie's book, Fifth Business. Both were alike in that the townsfolk said they were never right in the head. Mrs. Dempster wandered off one day and took a tumble with a tramp down by the river, to the lasting shame and horror of her pastor husband. Perhaps Sally Levin's complexion gave rise to suspicions on Sam's part that she was not his biological daughter and he treated her accordingly, despite his professed love for her.

What is a scapegoat? In Family Constellation Therapy a scapegoat is someone on the receiving end of a subconscious family process spanning multiple generations. Like the Biblical animal scapegoat, one family member, as a form of atonement, takes the brunt of the collective sins of the community/family and then is forcefully driven away from them. The family honor is thereby restored and the family can point to the scapegoat as the strange one who is not like them.

If one believes that there is some truth to the intergenerational scapegoat theory, then Sam was sacrificing one child for the good of the many. He was unconsciously carrying out his duty to his ancestors, while problematically creating a new burden for future generations of the family.

Did Sam Levin really intend to kill himself along with Sally? I doubt it. It was Sally's idea for him to join her in death, not his. He needed to live to support the rest of his family. He was a dutiful husband, son, and father. His suicide note cleverly introduced the idea that he was insane himself, and destined to go the local insane asylum if he didn't kill himself first. His suicide note says nothing about loving his daughter, nor anything about his daughter, for that matter, other than signing her name at the bottom. He was sane when he killed her. Not even temporarily insane. And yet, I can also imagine him fearing he was becoming temporarily insane because of stress. I've almost been there myself. The label of schizophrenia was enough to push me into a spiraling psychedelic anxiety that if not checked, could have made me temporarily insane. There is nothing I can tell from the story that leads me to believe that Sam loved his daughter, although the investigators came to the conclusion by interviewing relatives and church leaders (all people who would want to protect Sam) that "the defendant was so obsessed with the love for his child that he himself would lay down his life with her." Except . . . he didn't lay down his life for her. This is a psychic anomaly. It seems that he visited her grave many years later, and that shows a certain amount of contrition and respect for her, but love for Sally may not have been the case while she was alive. 

There is another interpretation of Sally's outcast status that comes from Family Constellation Therapy which shows how Sally herself was perhaps sacrificing herself for someone in a previous generation of the Levin family who was denied their right to belong to the family, through an untimely death, a murder, prison or some other form of estrangement. The Levin parents were immigrants from the pogroms of the Ukraine whose known family history was lost along the way. Sally chose to offer herself in atonement for some long forgotten exclusion. She was intuitive to the suffering in the Levin household. She was their mirror.

According to Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt, schizophrenia often has its roots at the fourth (intuitive) level of healing because schizophrenics are particularly sensitive to these familial exclusions or injustices and will act out the role of victim. Dr. Klinghardt maintains that if schizophrenia is not cured at the physical level (level 1), it is usually because the issues lie in the realm of intuition (level 4). According to the Family Constellation theory, the root of schizophrenia is almost always found three or four generations removed from the present. The current family environment isn't directly responsible for the origins of the schizophrenia, but the family is implicated because of the way its members might unconsciously deal in the present with the aftermath of the family event from the past.

On a non-Family Constellation note, I'm of the opinion that it is the original diagnosis of schizophrenia that is a recipe for disaster because it causes people to lose all hope. Sally might well have lived had her doctors not painted such a bleak scenario of her future. This non-medical diagnosis of schizophrenia (there are no biomarkers) and similar mental illness labels should be dropped in favor of empathic treatment of people, not treatment of labels masquerading as diseases.

I highly recommend this book because it shows us how the author explores and attempts to resolve the ominous burdens of her family history.