Resolving the Trouble with Society.............
This paper provides examples of the need for intervention, describes observations and experimentation, and in conclusion advocates the development of therapeutic communities. It illustrates the desirability of an eclectic approach in psychotherapy with special focus on the importance of social networks. It also implies that a therapeutic process rather than punitive operations would be more appropriate in addressing criminal behavior. The people described in the story, for the most part, had either failed with previous attempts at therapy, or could not find an avenue to address their problem. Many of the people mentioned were very dangerous, and their need for treatment compelling.
Experiments designed to further uncover dysfunctional characteristics in society, and to identify a therapeutic approach to address these issues is the nature of the paper. Background information is provided, and insights into the evolution of the deficiencies in contemporary society are explored. An overview of extractions from various theoretical approaches that were used are listed prior to the story. These notes aren’t intended to be exact representations of the theory mentioned, but my interpretation, and what was applied in the course of the story.
It appeared useful to uncover childhood memories, which have become hidden in the recesses of our subconscious mind, and may be at the core of the cause of distress. Bringing this to the surface may be enough to effect change. Since fear is often a factor some participants were encouraged to confront fear until it was bearable, and through this method abandon the need for projection, repression, and other defense mechanisms. It was also often attempted to develop an understanding that data, which restricts our contentment and effectiveness in living, has packaged itself with other harmless data and is routed in ways that may make scrutiny increasingly difficult. Hypnosis was also applied.
This story was often told: Imagine you are going up a path with your friends and family. You come to a look out area by a meadow at the edge of a precipice. There is an owl standing on a tree stump. Be that owl. What does the owl see? What is it thinking? Select some friends back in the meadow and go up the path further. Your friends circle around the tree that stands up the path. The tree roots are all over the ground where everyone sits. Your friends are all sitting around doing separate things or things together. Become the tree. What do you feel? You leave the body of the tree and walk away from your friends for a moment to go off the path to a big rock overlooking a canyon. Be that rock. How does it feel? What do you see? What do you think about your journey?
Everything has a purpose. To every problem there's a solution. Self-understanding is only possible when hidden purposes and goals in behavior are made conscious. It was explained that the goal must be specific; a plan of action must be developed, and all of it must be written down. The person was then reminded—encouraged.
A theoretical approach by Robert S. DeRopp called Creative Psychology, and described in his book The Master Game, was applied extensively. It is based on the philosophy of Gurjieff that posits that people go through their life in their sleep. DeRopp claimed that what people really need and demand in life is not wealth, power, or esteem-- but a game worth playing. He describes various games and aims, and claims that the only game really worth playing has the aim of Awakening.
A Global Context theory was also applied. This theory analyzes cognitive maps, and how the mind packages and routes information, and then places this in context in several levels from self, to family, to friends, to community, and to the individuals global perception—and aims beyond looking at individual techniques or symptoms.
Automatic thoughts were scrutinized, and arbitrary inferences questioned. Labeling was addressed, and how people want to think of themselves was explored. Alternatives to faulty thinking were suggested. This theory is an Existential-Cognitive mix.
Family System Therapy
Functional Family Therapy, and Network Therapy were also applied. These applications are self evident in the course of the story that follows...
A Tour of the Real World:
A Story about Distresses, and Experimentation to find Relief...
As a taxi driver at night in San Francisco I became aware of a lot of things that the average person doesn't even imagine is happening. On one occasion I took it upon myself to become involved: a 13-year-old girl was being subjected to horrendous abuse and forced into prostitution by a gang that kept a watchful eye over her. I knew there weren’t many options for stopping what was happening, but understood that prostitutes may interact with taxicabs under the eye of their oppressors because this interaction will often happen in the course of their illicit business. So, I pulled up on the corner where she was standing. She was reluctant to get in because people were watching, but agreed to go around the block. She explained that she had to get back to her corner or they would kill her. I asked her if I could bring her to a safe place, and if anybody found out she could blame me. She said that they would find out, and then they would kill me. I agreed to take the risk, and if they found out she could just say that I kidnapped her. She was certain that I would be killed, but was willing to go to a place where she could be locked inside safe. After three days she was somewhat surprised that I wasn't killed yet, or even that there was no indication that anyone was going to find her, and she started to feel a sense of freedom. She agreed to call her mother, and I bought her a bus ticket and sent her home. A few months later she ran away again, and I became the subject of a police investigation. I explained the situation to the police, and they informed me that there are agencies and programs to deal with this sort of thing, and that I shouldn't have stuck my neck out. Ironically, the agency that would have dealt with this girl's problem was a half a block away from the corner that she was working as prostitute. Soon after this incident word got out on the street, and suddenly I was mobbed with referrals. It wasn't until two people who asked to talk to me commit suicide that I was willing to acknowledge cries for help. What's wrong with this picture?
I found out it was really very easy to help some people, and I was surprised how some people can get trapped in ignorance, for example: a male prostitute told me that he had to do what he did because it was the only way he'd have a place to live. He actually didn't know how to rent a place for himself. I drove him to a residential hotel and told him how to go rent a room. He didn't think he could because he was under 18, but he did, and a week later he had a real job.
Another person that I helped out was a 26-year-old man who I will call G.L. The apparently successful results with him were noteworthy, because I witnessed the same results with several other people. G.L. had come to me claiming that he was dying of cancer. He said he didn't like Doctors, and heard that there was a way of curing cancer with diet. He heard that I could find answers to questions, and wanted to know if I could answer his. There was something about his behavior, and his family history that led me to suspect that maybe he should see someone else. His mother had commit suicide by running nude into a busy intersection during rush hour and stabbing herself in the heart. His behavior got me to worry about inheritability, and I didn't want to get caught up in anything. He was persistent, and I finally agreed to go to the library with him, or whatever we had to do to address this problem, provided he saw a doctor I knew for just a minute. The doctor was a psychotherapist friend of mine who suggested that G.L. was paranoid schizophrenic. Since G.L. had never been diagnosed with cancer I didn’t believe there was a reason to assume that he had cancer. He was willing to pay me, and I agreed to do research to put together a diet that might improve his health. I designed a strict diet program for him that is similar to what works for some diabetes. He followed the diet better than most diabetics might. After a couple of months the difference in his character was amazing. I told other people about it, and people who were acquainted with G.L. also noticed a change, and were very interested. One person who saw what happened had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and wanted to try whatever G.L. had done. I delivered my research to him, and it appeared that he got results too. Another person who had a history of violence, and had been arrested for assault 38 times asked me if I can help him with his problem, but I wanted to avoid him, and told him that all I was doing was research on a diet plan. I told him what research I’d done, and he subsequently elaborated on the research while trying the diet. Again there was a dramatic change in behavior, but it was also obvious that his overall health improved. I had to mention all this, because it is often ignored, but if therapy is supposed to work, maybe for people to eat right would help.
I hadn’t wanted to get so involved, and it was too easy for people to find out where I lived. The simple things I was doing were enough to get me mobbed, so I decided to move.
Rent was going up in the city, and homeownership was beyond consideration, so I bought a house in the country on a quarter acre and built a large garden to relax in. The story about a family in the neighborhood I moved into is important because it helps put a problem in perspective.
The commute was demanding, and I didn't have time for gardening very much, so I hired a young man, “A.J.”, who I had seen frequently wandering around in the neighborhood. Because I offered him a job, and he claimed nobody else would, he wanted me to meet his family. It turned out that his dad was a heroin addict and never home, and his mom was home all the time drinking. The family was excited that I gave A.J. a job, and wondered if I'd have opportunities for other members of the family. There were 20 children living in the house. My gardener A.J., was the oldest, he just turned 18. Some of his younger sisters already had children, and that's why there were 20 kids in the house. Evidently mom gave birth about once a year, and had twins on one occasion. I was moved by the plight of these children, and it was nice to be able to be helpful, also; I needed a part-time gardener, but all of a sudden the rest of the family seemed to want to hang around my gardeners work. The normal wear and tear that might take place in the course of a year seemed to hit the house in one day. A.J. had told me the history of his life, and it seems that the family had destroyed one house after another, often stalling eviction processes that started soon after they moved into a new place. The family was very destructive, and I became labeled as some kind of bad person because I didn't think the whole family should be going to my house when A.J. had to do gardening. I decided I didn't need a gardener anymore, but it wasn't that easy: Nobody had ever done anything for A.J., and because I provided him with an opportunity he interpreted me as his friend, and didn't want to let go. He had never had any friends outside of his family, and seemed to lack the ability to make or have friends. Unfortunately, it seemed that his perception of a friend was somebody that you share things with (steal from, and it’s OK). He never had a birthday party in his life, and nobody in the family had ever participated, or encouraged him in anything that might have occurred outside of the family. To top it off he had some sort of a role as an outcast within his family system. Adamantly A.J. refused to go away, and in order to get attention he would try to cause me trouble somehow. I went over to his house to complain that the neighbors saw AJ dumping a pile of trash in my yard. The family explained something about A.J.'s role that didn't make any sense except to them. I also complained to mom about her other children stealing around the neighborhood, and she just said, “The kids gotta have stuff too”. The whole family ended up being something that I couldn’t forget about, because once becoming acquainted it was impossible to undo the acquaintance. If they wanted something, or needed to know something, or for whatever reason-- I was somebody they knew. For example, a few years later one of the children showed up at my door every morning crying. I was used to just telling them to go away, and trying to ignore them, because if you told them something, or even got angry they didn't seem to notice. After several days of being awakened in the morning by a boy crying at my door I finally took him to the dentist and paid to have a tooth pulled out because he insisted that there was no agency that would provide him service, and nobody in the family would help. I observed this family for 15 years. Most of them never learned to read, and about half of them went to prison as soon as they were adults. From what I observed I often wondered: Weren’t they on welfare? Where were the social workers? Where were the teachers? But there was also the question about what happened to the neighborhood, and what, through extension could happen to the world?
Thinking about neighborhoods, and looking into my past, I can remember a time when I elected to move into an African-American neighborhood, even though I'm of Northern European decent. A white person could move into a black neighborhood, or the other way around, with the requirement that they gained acceptance in that neighborhood. I learned this the hard way, and thought for awhile that I'd made a mistake, because the African-American neighborhood I moved into turned out to be a very dangerous place. What saved me, and what I learned, is what makes a neighborhood or any other social interaction work may rest upon how communication is managed, and in this neighborhood it was an old woman named Georgia. As soon as I knew Georgia, and she understood who I was and what I was doing, suddenly I was accepted as a resident rather than a potential victim. Georgia knew everybody's business, and would walk up and down the street with a baseball bat. An old woman with a baseball bat might not be much of a threat, but that bat represented the whole neighborhood, and nobody would mess with Georgia. She knew everybody's business, and was accepted as an arbitrator in any disputes. It's incredible how a neighborhood that would appear to be in total chaos from the outside, was within itself brought to order by one old woman who could facilitate communication. While living in this neighborhood I also met an elderly African-American gentlemen who told me about his life, and explained how the neighborhood used to be even more affordable, as well as more functional. He talked about how people in the neighborhood would get together at the corner cafe and discuss issues, and how it was important that the owner of the cafe was also a resident in the neighborhood. There was a local church where everyone who wanted to go to church would go, and the church would reach out to help anyone in the neighborhood. There were a lot of businesses owned by neighborhood people, and everybody in the neighborhood participated to make sure the neighborhood was a good place for them to live. He said that this changed when a ‘civil rights thing’ came along, and suddenly people in the neighborhood started to disperse and engage in business and other activities elsewhere. The corner store was replaced by a corporate store. People didn't talk to each other so much anymore. Eventually the neighborhood turned into a slum. The ideas about this neighborhood; about Georgia, and the old man's story about the rich interaction within the neighborhood in days gone by, may be in conflict with contemporary opinions about the way things should be. How can that be? In any event, there are lessons to be learned from this scenario.
The most significant feature of these observations and questions is that of the significance of social interaction. Rapid changes in society seem to have left congruence with human needs behind. From a society with a functional family within a neighborhood that operated as an extension of the family, and everyone took care of each other like family—We might ask contemporary society: Would you let your sister live in the park, and eat out of a garbage can?
Neighborhoods may be different nowadays, but in the absence of a clearly defined physical location social networks still exist. People will interact according to rules, roles, and rituals that they apply collectively to their own private world—the network they identify with. The world outside of their engagement may be nebulous, frightening, or even invisible to them, so there may be strict resistance to change. Thomas Jefferson told us that people will suffer as long as things are sufferable rather than take the risk of change, and along the lines of this thinking people will try to perpetuate dysfunctional systems be they within the family, the neighborhood, the greater community, or the world as they perceive it. The comfort of predictability may displace the need for reason.
In order to experiment with these ideas I identified a social network that was loosely associated with a certain part of town. The network wasn't confined to a specific neighborhood, and some of the people in the network identified with State Prison in place of a neighborhood identity. I infiltrated the network when an elderly woman in this certain part of town started asking me favors-- I refused the favors, but brought her groceries in order to maintain control of the situation. I brought the groceries to a dismal place that was only accessed through an alley when there had been frequent murders. Because I was bringing groceries, my status was quickly shifted from that of a potential victim to somebody who was acceptable within the network (but I wouldn't recommend anyone following my footsteps). The woman lived in a little room with her son. She used cocaine even though she had a heart condition. Her son had began using hard drugs when he was 8 years old, but had since abandoned cocaine, and at age 15 was injecting amphetamines. At any given time there were between 5 and 10 other people in the little room shooting dice. After a few visits, and no longer being recognized as an outcast, people were more comfortable talking around me. I identified an individual at the top of the hierarchy within the network that I’ll call “D.K.”, and took note of his complaints about his worldview. I used D.K.’s story as a model to tell a story about my own problems. He was African-American, and for me to mirror his problems made him curious, and interested in talking to me.
I had the opportunity to have a private conversation with DK when I saw him on the street, and he told me his life story. He said that he had been homeless all of his life, and never had a job. He was 23 years old. He had been involved in home invasion robberies, carjacking, and numerous other violent crimes. He said that he felt confused about what was right or wrong, but thought that he was being a better person by being a drug dealer. His own mother was one of his customers for crack cocaine, which he says she had smoked continuously since long before he was born. He claimed that because he was a ‘Crack Baby’ he had acquired ADHD, and Bipolar Disorder. I suggested that although our experiences may be different, the solutions to our problems might be the same, and invited him to enroll in college with me. We signed up for the same classes, and successfully completed a semester. I was with him all of the time at school in order to provide a buffer to his potentially frightening demeanor and appearance, so as to improve his chances of integrating with the student body—and to protect the pubic in the event he got upset. I helped him obtain financial aid with the agreement that he must refrain from selling drugs, or other illegal activities. I helped identify people within his social network that would interfere with his progress, and helped him set boundaries. I also helped identify people who would be supportive of his desire to change, and tried to engage them. A significant change did occur, but the dramatic shift to a new lifestyle left him confused, and he needed more support than I could provide myself. He also mismanaged some of his affairs, and needed more direction. When left alone to attend another semester of college by himself he was self-conscious, and felt intimidated by the other students. He was embarrassed to go to class. Other students invited him to join clubs, and I encouraged that was a good way to establish a new social network, especially since it might help him in his studies. He agreed, but then declined to do so out of fear of scrutiny. He admitted that he found comfort in reverting back to old acquaintances, and he complained that he didn’t like that influence, but he couldn't completely cut off people from his past because he had no place to live, and no income other than financial aid because he was no longer engaged in any criminal activities. If I had been able to provide housing, and a proper diet, I believe there would have been a successful outcome, however, what needed to be done was beyond the scope of what I could provide, and after an attempt at a third semester in college failed, D.K. dropped out of his new life plan, and within a few months was on his way to State Prison for a collection of very serious violent crimes.
The engagement with D.K. opened the door with other people in his network, and established trust, respect, and acceptability with looking to me as someone who could help. It was easy to approach other people, but more often I was approached with an insistence that they need help too. Here are a few brief examples of some of the encounters:
R.C.: Lived with his Aunt on house arrest for stealing cars, and somehow stole a car while he was on house arrest, and had it parked in his Aunt’s driveway. He wasn’t with his mother because she was a drug addict, and doesn't have a place to live. He used to smoke amphetamines with his mother, and started doing that when he was about 10 years old. While living with his Aunt the age of 13, because it was the only place he could find to be on house arrest, he was beaten by his Aunt’s boyfriend because the boyfriend was a drug dealer, and wanted to impress on the kids not to steal his drugs. He called the police on his Aunt for doing drugs, and the police told him he shouldn't call the police on his Aunt. His entire family seemed chaotic and criminal. He seemed to be fairly intelligent, and spent most of his time ruminating about elaborate criminal schemes. With R.C. I simply established a rapport, acknowledged his potential, talked about options, and instructed him on the process of establishing a goal and a plan of action. I emphasized that if a person doesn't have a goal that they're working on, they are headed to a goal that they don't know about, and; if you don't plan where you are going, you're likely to end up someplace you don't want to be. When I talked about options, I explained why there could be no harm to other people, or nobody will want to deal with him. Later he came to have a goal in mind, and called me about it. I assisted him in writing down the goal, making it clear and specific, and helped him work out a plan. His progress has been impressive and sustained, not simply by having the clear vision of a goal in mind, but also by establishing boundaries with some of his family, because he realizes that they would interfere with his goals.
D.J.: Homeless, and addicted to amphetamines at the age of 16, DJ claimed that he’d been to 35 different therapists, and had been diagnosed as manic-depressive (or bipolar disorder by another therapist), OCD, ADHD, schizophrenic, antisocial personality disorder, and of course he could add dependency to the list. After observing him for awhile it appeared that he truly did have a full spectrum co-morbid personality disorder. I also noticed that he had a profound ability to process huge amounts of information, and exhibited analytical ability far beyond normal. I wondered about his intelligence. He asked if he could use my computer and took an Internet IQ test that I checked for validity, and although the test allowed 30 minutes he completed it in 15 with a suggested IQ score of 163. He said that was wrong, and claimed to have an IQ of 190. I don’t doubt it because some of the things I saw him do with his mind were truly amazing. He told me a story of a life of abuse: As a child his cousins would tie him up and beat him to make him tough, wrap duct tape around him like a mummy, subject him to sexual abuse, lure him into hazardous situations, make him drink piss, get him to climb the neighbors fence and get in trouble, move things that belonged to his Aunt, eat food that nobody was supposed to touch and he didn't like anyway, and in a variety of other ways put him in jeopardy or get him in trouble with the adults in his life, and then praise him for doing these things he “had to do”. The result was that his guardians were encouraged to believe that he was a troublemaker and a nuisance. Some of his adult relatives had not even been to High School, and criticized him for being too smart. The interaction with his family made him confused about being accepted. The most important thing to him was acceptance. He claimed that his family rejects him because he's a troublemaker supposedly, yet he imagines that they would respect him if he was criminal. His mother has been addicted to amphetamines most of his life, but he hasn't seen her for years. Some of his cousins are also amphetamines abusers, and he believed that using amphetamines would gain him acceptance with his family. He's never been around his father because he was in prison, and he insists that he wants to go to prison to be like his father. He frequently talked about killing people. He is suicidal, and on one occasion I wrestled a razor blade out of his hand after he had written suicide notes to his relatives and proceeded to slash his arms. Needless to say, I didn't appreciate the way he tested me to see that I cared, but that intervention, and the fact that I listened to his life story seemed to be enough to make a difference. After he told me his story he claimed that he had blocked it out, and hadn't really thought about it so much before. When I commented about his story, saying that the things that happened to him in the past were wrong, and they didn’t need to have an affect on him now-- that's about all I had to do. I also suggested that what he really wanted to do is be himself, and he might want to establish boundaries against people who don't want to accept him for who he is. Subsequently, with very little effort on my part other than bearing the difficulty of being around this person, I observed him make significant changes: he quit using drugs, and found a relative to move in with that is against using drugs, and he says that this relative has a way of maintaining boundaries with the rest of the family, and that he wants to learn how to set viable boundaries himself. A paradoxical approach in conversations—about who’s really crazy— also seemed to help him find the freedom to re-think his motivations, and it appears that he is continuing to make progress.
J.C.: Came to me practically begging for help. His mother is a recovered heroin addict, but she’s a thief, and the only reason that they had a nice place to stay for a while is that she found a cache of money hidden by an elderly man she was taking care of. His father is an alcoholic, and a fugitive from the law. Whenever his father was out of prison J.C. got severely beaten on a regular basis. To escape the harshness of life J.C. drinks and smokes weed, and loses himself in gangster rap videos, which serve as a role model for him. Although he was begging for help, it seemed that he would be very resistant to any direction or advice. He appeared to be terrified of life, and just wanted to escape. On the other hand, it should be considered that even though he demanded help, and investigation indicated that he clearly needed it, he may have been operating according to an ulterior motive-- to see what he could get, or get in the way of. I elected to declined to participate with him, and believe that to help him he would have to be removed from his environment, and be placed in a highly structured therapeutic community where there is an intense threat of social ostracism--with no way out-- in order to compel him to participate in a process. With him, because he was only 16, as with others who were under legal age-- the best I could do is to express unimposing suggestions or opinions, and in no way be invasive, or actually engage in therapeutic processes without informed consent. Obviously, in some of the scenarios described in this paper it would be highly unlikely to obtain informed consent from the parents. Nevertheless, it should be clear, as the study revealed, that there is a tremendous need to address these issues--A need that is not met by available options. J. Edgar Hoover, when head of the FBI said that more crime can be prevented in the high chair than in the electric chair. Even as a teenager it might not be too late if a persons social situation, and motivations, can be altered-- and they can. A guard from the California State prison told me that although statistics claim that 80% of the people who go to prison will return to prison again, that it was more like 90% because the statistics don't count people who died from a drug overdose, or are killed by police, or move out of the jurisdiction, etc. This is just another example of the significance of social networks. People become socialized in the prison environment, and it can be tremendously difficult for them to adjust to an alternative once they are released. Especially in a society that labels convicts as undesirable, refuses employment, fails to provide appropriate treatment, and in other ways encumbers a person's ability to fully embrace anything other than Society in prison. Most, if not all people in prison need some kind of therapy, but it appears that the public is driven by the media to call for punishment. The younger people that I met in the course in this study, and many that I encountered during nearly 30 years as a taxi driver in San Francisco at night, need therapy. Eventually they will be punished. Would society also move to take revenge against the homeless, or other people who aren’t accommodated in the absence of a viable replacement for institutional metal health services? Or shall rigid conformity be called on to shroud maladjustments, as society under a critical eye appears to be racing into chaos?
During the adventure herein described I made contact with over 100 people that desperately needed help, and I estimate that more than 1/3 of them may have been denied treatment because a licensed therapist would at some point be compelled to call the police—Or at least they thought so. Many of these people were, in effect, denied an exit from their errant behavior, but all of them at some point expressed a desire for change. It is my opinion that many of them, given the option, would have volunteered to confine themselves in a properly administered therapeutic community, rather than accept the inevitability of arrest, and subsequent to arrest become even more entrenched in destructive patterns. They know this, and in conflict with Choice Theory which is a popular philosophy connected with the Judicial System, the consideration that to some degree Society is to blame, can actually become an important adjunct to therapy.
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