Dr. Judy 24/7
Sunday
Feb072010

Latest Press Releases on Haiti Earthquake Relief Work

Wednesday
Feb032010

Boy Scouts In Haiti

MEDIA: FOR FREE USE OF THESE PICTURES, PLEASE CONTACT VANESSA KIM, 646-484-9890, Vanessa (at) oneworldexp (dot) com

Dr. Judy trains Boy Scouts in Haiti to offer comfort to children and wounded in the earthquake aftermath

 Port-au-Prince. January 21, 2010.

On Wednesday morning after the horrific earthquake in Haiti, it is 6 a.m. and I am asleep in my tent on the church grounds where Father Wismick and I are staying during this mission to his home land.  We have come to try to retrieve the bodies of the ten young priests he has trained who are buried under the rubble of the school in which they were teaching.  They were like his “sons.” Six nuns from his order are also missing.  We fear the worst, that their bodies are under piles of rubble like innumerable others and will not be found.  We have also come to assess the psychological needs of his cherished church community, and to see how else we can be helpful.   

I am startled awake by some sensation that the earth is moving though I think I am dreaming.  I later heard CNN’s Anderson Cooper say the same thing in his report.  But I am alarmed at the commotion outside my tent. I unzip the tent and rush outside and a man tells me in French that there has been a big aftershock: 6.1. People are praying, led by the head priest Father Quesnel Alphonse.  I suddenly notice a familiar site:  a brown uniform I recognize from my childhood that my brother wore.  It’s a Boy Scout.  Memories of their motto, “Be Prepared” flood my mind.  I did not expect to see Boy Scouts here, but why not?  I know there is a worldwide Girl Scouts and Girl Guide organization because members were on my panel a few months ago about youth initiatives for peace, at the United Nations NGO conference on Disarmament in Mexico City.

A light goes off in my head: how perfect for the Boy Scouts to be here.  They would be ideal for the role of “comforters” for the suffering children at the church here and for the patients at the hospital at which we have been headquartered.  The President of Hopital de la Communaute Haitienne (HCH), Georges-Michel Celcis, had welcomed us as family, saying “Vous êtes de la famille,” so how perfect for the Boy Scouts to be part of that family.  Apparently, the scouts have been assigned to this church to help out with practical tasks like food distribution, but why can’t they also be taught the simple comforting skills that I have used to train other community leaders in disasters, like basketball coaches and school teachers.  These comforters as I call them, need primarily to have a “heart” and be “caring.” The Boy Scouts fit that bill, with their training for community service.  My brother was a Scout and he was caring; and I was a Girl Scout for years, so I know well the spirit of scouting.

Father Wismick appears from the church grounds where he was staying - literally across (what is left of) the street - where he has been sleeping on the ground in open air in the sleeping bag we brought along.  Dozens of other people spend the night in open air to avoid being trapped under collapsing buildings in the case of aftershocks. 

I describe my plan to enlist the Boy Scouts, and he loves it.  So we describe it to the Scouts gathered in the churchyard.

They all are enthused to take on this new role to help others  I can sense that they all would be wonderful, from my intuition about people’s personalities honed from years of being on the radio and knowing in an instant from a person’s voice whether they are warm and caring. 

I get to work right away, guiding the young men to a somewhat quiet corner of the church grounds.  They only speak French (no English) so I am grateful for all the years I spent studying the language and even reading Descartes and Camus in French when I thought I might major in French in college (thanks to my mom) and spent an intensive summer studying in Geneva.  My accent is rusty and some vocabulary fails me, resorting to English words like “breathe” until I remember “respirer.”  Since Father Wismick is  impressed with my French, I feel reassured.  Of course, Creole is another matter.

There are two tasks ahead of me.  Task 1 is to teach the scouts simple ways to cope with their own stress, as I know they have also lost loved ones and have been traumatized.  Task 2 is to teach them simple techniques they can use with children and patients.  I delve mentally into my “toolbox” of techniques that I have developed over the years working in trauma situations, that I catalogued in a paper I wrote for a professional book aimed at teaching graduate students, to pick techniques I think would work in this culture in this situation.

The Scouts are eager. They are Deneu, Sincy, Marcelin, Jhonny, Jean Bathiste and Antoine. 

I tell them that my goal is for them to feel strong “dans le corps and le coeur” (in the body and the heart). The first step is to achieve Calmness, using the breathing technique of exhaling to one more count than inhaling.  Using this breathing, the next step is “Grounding,” to feel secure within themselves, by squiggling their feet into the ground to feel rooted into the earth for a sense of solidity “comme un arbre” (like a tree).   

Another one of the techniques – one of my favorites – is aimed at feeling safe, since achieving a sense of safety is absolutely fundamental in any crisis.  This technique has been very effective in many cultures after disaster.  In this 3-part Security Exercise, they start out holding their hand on their heart saying “Je suis en securite” (“I am safe”); then turn to a partner reaching out their hand saying “Vous êtes en sécurité” (you are safe), and then make a circle extending to all the others “Nous sommes en sécurité” (we are safe). 

I also teach them techniques to help ameliorate headaches and stomaches. Somaticizing  emotional distress by having a physical symptom is very common for people, and especially children, particularly in non-western cultures where people do not traditionally talk about feelings. 

Every intervention has to be sustainable.  So, I tell them that whatever they have learned, they can pass on to others, who can teach others.  In emergencies, things have to be done immediately, so I ask them to find any children who may be suffering, and let’s put the techniques into practice right away, under my supervision, until they can do it on their own.  Jean Bathiste brings over a young child, and asks in Creole if he has any pains.  He motions he has head aches. 

I watch admiringly as the scout repeats the steps I did with him, instructing the young boy to imagine taking the head aches out of his head, and finding a remote hole in the ground and burying it in the hole.  The boy does it willingly and tells JB that he feels better.  It’s a start.  I tell JB I am proud of him; everyone needs reinforcement.

Another important part of psychological first aide in trauma situations is acknowledging the helpers, who themselves are suffering losses or certainly stress.  Wismick has told me that such appreciation is even more helpful in Haiti as people are not used to being told nice things about themselves (parents don’t tell children that they are wonderful; even if they say so to others). He thinks it would be wonderful if parents complimented children verbally. I reflect about how my mother was always so encouraging and openly admiring of her children, constantly telling my brother, sister and me how smart and capable we are, bolstering our self-confidence.  I note this is an important aspect of psychological care for this culture.

The scouts come with us to the hospital.  We start a meeting with staff about future plans, but one of the staff interrupts, saying that they cannot talk about the future, since there was a 6.1 aftershock this morning and they have to get busy. She impatiently asks, “We are in a crisis, what can you do now?”  Of course, she is right; this is an emergency; time for action, not talk.  The scout motto flashes across my mind, “Be Prepared.” We roll up our sleeves and go out to offer support.

We gather bottles of water to hand out to patients. The Scouts are enthused about their new role, despite some having normal shyness when thrown into such a new role.  But they are so courageous and kind-hearted.  I watch as they approach the patients lined on blankets under sheets or tent coverings, and talk with them in Creole.  I can see that they are doing exactly what they need to do: offer essential life-sustaining water and provide a caring presence.

At the end of the day, we gather for debriefing, and the Scouts are all enthused and excited about what they accomplished. 

Father Wismick and I are thrilled. 

The next day brings more volunteers thanks to the hospital social worker, Jean Yves Valcourt, a social worker who runs the AIDS clinic.  He sends out an email to students, that goes to a wide network of interested youth who want to help.         

That next morning, we meet the Scouts at the church grounds for another day at the hospital. Father Wismick corrals a flatbed truck so the scouts can pile into the back and we get in the cab. Such things like transportation in such a crisis have to be done sometimes “catch as catch can.”  You can prepare as much as you can for an experience like this, but then you have to improvise and go with the flow “on the ground” given the situation. When you see a possibility, you have to act on it immediately, as in the case of  finding the right vehicle to cart all of us the few miles to the hospital.

We are delighted when we arrive at the hospital to find that Jean Yves’s network has resulted in 30 students showing up, ready and willing to be trained to be comforters.  The Boy Scouts have already had a day’s previous training.  We set to work.     

Saturday
Nov282009

GIANTS of Broadcasting honored by the Library of American Broadcasting  

"At 5'3", I have never been considered a Giant, Katie Couric announced from the stage when accepting the coveted "Giants of Broadcasting" award at our big annual luncheon for the Library of American Broadcasting at the Hyatt Hotel October 1st. You'd think everyone would recognize Katie by now, as the first female solo news anchor and after her years of success on the Today show, but humbly she chided that someone came up to her in the bathroom and said, "I loved you in the Golden Girls." The audience howled.

Tracing her career, Katie started out as a desk assistant, then graduated to Pentagon correspondent.  Later, she became best known for her on-air colonoscopy test (inspired by the death of her dear husband from colon cancer), causing a 20% increase in colorectomy tests, called the "Couric effect." Since then she noted she has been "humbled" by the magnitude of events" to which she has been given a front seat, singling out “memorable moments with the Central Park jogger (showing the world personal power); reminding David Duke of the dangers of anti-Semitism; flying over Afghanistan poppy fields with Defense Secretary Gates; probing with Sarah Palin; as well as being serenaded by Sam Donaldson, and realizing 'damn, I'm old.’" She recalled Walter Cronkite's synonym that objective journalism and an opinion column are as a similar as [a respectable newspaper] and Playboy, and she shocked members of the audience and even me, using the word "gravitas", and explaining it is the Latin word for having testicles, actually seriousness that men were expected to have to cover stories with substance. The word “Testicles” out of Katie’s mouth certainly added spice to the afternoon!  

In another humorous admission, Couris noted that the honor came in handy with her children that morning , when one of her daughters spoke sharply to her, to which she responded, "Don’t do that, I'm a Giant of Broadcasting." (The attempt fell on deaf ears, she noted, as her daughter responded, "Whatever...")

The problem with being the last acceptee, Couric noted, is that the jokes are already taken by others, as it was by former president of the Radio and Television News Directors Association Barbara Cochran, who had previously noted that at 5'3" she was surprised to be a called a "Giant."

Board members posed with winners including Couric (center, flanked by me on the left and CBS-TV Sunday Morning host and radio talk show veteran, Charles Osgood).  To Katie's and my left is radio guru Norm Pattiz, head of radio Westwood One, a company that once syndicated my popular "LovePhones" radio show.

Other honorees included documentarian Ken Burns (fifth from left), who has produced award-winning films on subjects others might not tackle, like about national parks and the Brooklyn Bridge (about which my most powerful memory was that ather and son builders died in the construction, getting the bends while descending below too fast- something that always haunted me while scuba diving).    

Other honorees this year included radio empire builder Norm Pattiz, the brains behind giant Westwood One syndication, and in memoriam for Bea Arthur (the real Golden Girl Katie was mistaken for) and long-time Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon (who curiously died debt-ridden).  Pattiz’s beginnings are inspiring, as he took his own $10,000 from the bank to syndicate Motown programming when no one else had the idea, and went on to develop formats for country, black, Spanish-language and of course music. Pattiz impressively acknowledged his wife, who interestingly left radio DJ'ing to become a psychologist. .  . 

The Library of American Broadcasting is an important entity, as it houses the history of radio and TV broadcasting. As a great appreciator of preserving history, I am proud to be a Board member. The Library houses unique collections that students can learn about the business, not available in any other place!

Past honorees include greats in front and behind the scenes (e.g. in engineering and sales). 

It is also delightful that Osgood has been the host of the luncheon event for years. With his characteristic engaging story-telling style, he introduced each winner. I am particularly fond of him, being that his show did a feature about my work in China years ago, which was shot in China, covering the trainings I had been doing for years of medical doctors teaching them about techniques to become more "holistic doctors" in the tradition of complementary medicine and liaison work I had done at Columbia Medical School decades ago, introducing psychiatry into other disciplines for total patient care. The training focused also on AIDS education and taking sexual histories and giving simple advice about issues to improve partner’s "harmony" (the word used in China for healthy relationships). I had worked with producer Alec Sirken from CBS-TV  for years and the reporter was Barry Peterson who was CBS' Asia reporter. Interestingly, the part where I talked about doing the work for free became a piece may people remembered and talked to me about, since few people are willing to ever do that, but for me it felt like 'giving back."!

Tuesday
Oct132009

“I Want”: The Journey of TV Talk Show Personality Jane Velez Mitchell from Addiction to Spiritual Awakening”

“We are all addicts, the difference is your drug of choice,” television investigative journalist Jane Velez Mitchell announced to the full house at the lecture and book signing in New York City for her just-released autobiography “I Want: My journey from addiction and over-consumption to a simpler and honest life.”

The list of “stuff” we are addicted to is endless: work, gadgets, love, sugar, food, alcohol, drugs, sex, and drama.

“We are all victims of over-consumption,” Velez-Mitchell explained, including herself in the revealing public confessional about her own addictions to all that “stuff” and the inspirational account of her journey from addiction to spiritual peace and activism.

Jane signing copies of her book "I Want"Jane's friends at her booksigning: Hilary Barsky (right) Soshonah Wolfson (left) Dr Judy (middle) who worked with her at WCBS-TV news 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  “The book wasn’t supposed to be about my life,” the veteran investigative reporter-turned talk show host and pundit, announced.  “It was supposed to be about getting over addictions that millions of people have, and about how the Twelve-step program works, but as I got into it, my editor wanted me to tell my story.”

Smart editor, since every word and anecdote in Velez-Mitchell’s book is exceptionally compelling. She certainly had “Issues” – appropriately the name of her hit TV talk show airing nightly on Headline News Network.  On “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell,” she passionately tackles tragic dramas of the day – from party mom Casey Anthony accused of killing her little girl to animal killer Michael Vick being rewarded with a TV show to Americans’ waistlines growing to deadly proportions. 

“I Want” is filled with brilliant psychological truisms: “The desire to own status symbols actually reveals low self-esteem” “No material product would ever fundamentally alter my inner emotional state” and “You consciously push away what you subconsciously seek.” It’s also an exceptionally accurate description of the steps towards recovery.

The book chronicles vivid examples of Jane’s real-life experiences, from doing an early-career TV report wearing a bikini, to screaming “RRRAAAIIISSSAA” to get the attention of the then-First Lady of Russia Raisa Gorbachev, to sparring with a shopper over the use of plastic bags.

Despite her humility, Jane’s story is a tale worthy of being told, and learned from, as she goes from “insanity to clarity, egocentrism to altruism, alcoholism to activism.” It’s chick full of confessions, like that “I couldn’t go through a day without having 3 drinks.”  

In true multi-addiction style, she also had “gadget lust” (buying flat screen TVs, sound systems and fancy bikes), co-dependency on love interests, and an obsession with diet soda. 

On top of all that, she was “over functioning” at work (a word from the addiction vocabulary, which she lists in a helpful glossary in the back of her book), going overboard with clever tricks to “get the story” like the inside scoop on Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial, or “one-on-one” comments from Robert Redford about saving the whales or from Raisa Gorbachev about world peace. 

So how did she finally kick the habits?

With true psychological insight, Jane acknowledges the multi-dimensions of the “disease,” “bottoming out” and getting sober. The one-time party-girl lush and so-called “kissing bandit” was doing “snake bites” (downing whiskey while sucking juice from a lemon in someone’s mouth), when she kissed the gay host, knocked him down the stairs and passed out.  The next morning, she panicked thinking her then-boyfriend had abandoned her (the bed was empty; he was on the couch); remembered a friend bugging her to get sober; and realized that at 39 years old what she was doing was “not pretty” anymore.  She called her friend, went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and has been going to meetings and sober ever since. That was 14 ½ years ago. 

“I called lots of people and said I was sorry for how I behaved,” she told the book signing audience at the 92 Street “Y.”

The Twelve-step meetings, and therapy, helped.  “It’s a journey,” she explains, “to live a life that is kind, compassionate and of service,” with emphasis on the word “service.”

“You have to get over your ego,” she said wisely, spelling ego as “Edging God Out.”

“When you’re an addict, you play God,” she explained in her typically engaging and articulate style.  “If it’s a rainy day, you say, oh, I’ll have a drink and feel better. When you surrender in the Twelve-step program, you say, ‘I’m not God.’  You get humility.” 

Velez-Mitchell is a brilliant spokesperson about addiction and recovery, and even about life and love. As a psychologist, I am continually impressed with how brilliantly, eloquently and accurately she describes deeper dynamics and analyzes human behavior, evident in her book title “I Want” and her outlining of the emotional requirements for recovery: learning to sit through and deal with feelings instead of escaping them, drowning them in drink or avoiding them with other ego-based over-indulgence (bigger cars, more clothes, more “stuff”).

Addiction is genetic (her dad was an alcoholic) and also psychological.  You get caught in a vicious cycle, Jane describes: (1) the “high of the buy” (if you’re a shopaholic); (2) remorse afterwards; and (3) when the remorse wears off, returning right back into the craving.  The only way out:  Instead of indulging the substance when you feel bad, do something else to feel better to fill the aching hole:  jog, go to a move, get a massage; call a friend.

“It’s not will power, it’s a disease,” she explains.

Her talk at the “Y,” and her book, is replete with quotable, succinct “sound bites” --

the television term for clear explanations in a few short seconds.  No wonder Walter Cronkite called her an “excellent reporter” when encountering her in the CBS-TV cafeteria, and why HLN host Nancy Grace (a major talk talent herself) gave her a break to express her opinion and not just the facts of cases she was covering. 

Ashleigh Banfield, a fellow television journalist interviewing Jane at the book signing,   told the audience that she “howled” at the story in Jane’s book when she went to Woodstock and barged into a stranger’s home to call in her story to the TV station (the farmer went to get his shotgun when he discovered her on his phone).  But Jane is tough on herself, wryly calling that an incident of workaholism, and recalling her nickname “One More Bite” referring to how she would always seek one more interview or video shot to perfect a story.

After she got sober, she had “a moment of clarity” that “one more” didn’t matter.  Her workaholism was even more evident to her when reflecting on how, during a vacation with a lover, she propped a camera on the pool’s edge, giving a running commentary on healthy vacationing, instead of spending intimate time with her partner. 

To set boundaries, Jane advises, “You have to decide, is my work making the world a better place.”  For someone like me who works a lot (though I love every minute), it was certainly issues to reflect upon.

There were also more surprising changes in store with sobriety:  For example, she came out as a gay woman. Jane had publicly announced that fact a few weeks earlier in a radio talk show interview with Joey Reynolds on his syndicated WOR Radio show.   She had also previously, yet hurriedly, mentioned her attraction to women years earlier on a gay man’s radio show, after feeling hypocritical discussing Idaho Republic Senator Larry Craig’s gay scandal in an airport bathroom.  Her own same-sex feelings, she describes in her book, date back to high school. Fearing those inklings at that time, she was purposefully rude to women she secretly coveted.

“I’m so happy I got sober, I got happy and I came out as a gay woman,” she told the “Y” audience.        

The lessons of “I Want” and Jane’s journey are not only psychologically valid, but also spiritually enlightened, not unlike a modern-day version of a classic book Jane (and many youth) read in high school, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Jane likens the Twelve Steps’ principles to the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path: right thoughts, right conduct, right livelihood and right effort – about practicing nonviolence, compassion and kindness.  Seek moderation rather than craving which only leads to suffering.   

With a knack to get the facts  (always responsibly warning her outspoken guests on her TV talk show not to indict a subject they’re analyzing before proven guilty), Jane also has uncanny psychological insight and ability to clearly outline dynamics.  It’s a quality as a psychologist I find tremendously impressive (and for which I give her an “honorary psychology degree”). When interviewing me about the cases in her book “Secrets can be Murder: What America’s Most Sensational Crimes Tell Us About Ourselves,” she brilliantly analyzed the cases; for example, tracing the demons of multi-millionaire record producer-and- convicted killer Phil Spector back to his father’s suicide, and analyzing his proclivity for shoving guns into women’s mouths as signs of phallic aggression.

Jane has equal insight into her own dynamics, weaving captivating stories about herself and even reflecting on her childhood lessons, like (1) don’t be boring; and (2) always DO something (never just sit there doing nothing, like mindlessly watching TV); and (3) express yourself in an interesting way.  She certainly does that, as a great story- teller.

Her upbringing, Jane reveals, was “eccentric.” Her Irish Catholic father (to whom she dedicates her book), a suave, debonair and successful advertising executive was sadly also an alcoholic, who died too soon. And her now 93-year old “flamboyant” Puerto Rican dancer and performer mom, sent her to endless classes – on elocution, tap, and Hindi dance. Both had major influences on her life and traits.  Her mom, sitting proudly in the audience, was always ahead of the curve, Jane described, teaching her (when she was only 6-years old) about veganism by serving guests vegan food, long before that lifestyle became well-known. 

Jane with her 93 year old mom AnitaJane grew up to become a major animal activist, along with friends like Peter Max (who is throwing her a book party), the head of PETA, and her first female long-time love, Sandra, with whom she made animal rights documentaries.

“There are more than 100 vegan restaurants in New York City,” Jane announces, explaining that it’s not impossible to be vegan and also live a full social life. It’s also a peaceful life.

“Peace is on your plate,” says Jane, referring to the PETA slogan that eating animal products amounts to killing.  “No matter what happens today,” Jane explains as her philosophy of life, “I am happy because I went through the day without killing something.”

In another take-away vignette – so typical of the conciseness and vividness with which she speaks – Jane explained that eating meat is the single cause of world hunger because the amount of grain that it takes to feed animals could feed the world’s poor. “We’re hogging our resources,” she declared.

Jane’s commitment to peace was evident to me when I was in Amman, Jordan at a conference, and she called me (at 4 am Middle East time), to be a guest on the radio talk show she was fill-in host for.  She wanted to talk about the lobbing in Washington D.C. I had just done with the Peace Alliance for a Cabinet level Department of Peace, spearheaded by Ohio Republic representative Dennis Kucinich.  Always on the cutting edge of issues, Jane had long been talking publicly about this issue:  “We have a department of war, called the Defense Department,” I have heard her say, “So why can’t we have a Department of Peace.”

Good friends figure largely in Jane’s current happy life, as does her love for her three Chihuahua mixes.  That Jane has a heart of gold is evident in the fact that she recently adopted an elderly dog to add to her brood of two cherished younger ones.

Going to AA meetings also helps. 

"Why do 12-step meetings work?” an audience member asked. 

Telling your story to others helps you realize you’re not alone, that your experience is not shame-based, and that others support you, Jane explained.  The reasons resonated with me, as they were the same reasons my radio call-in advice show listeners were so avid, feeling comforted knowing they are not alone, not the only one with their problem, and that help and support is available.  

Seeming motivated by talk of the value of such sharing, Banfield surprised the audience saying, “I was 190 pounds two years ago.  I struggle with it everyday.” Now, she explained, she has two children and no time for over-indulging.

Banfield, a gifted story-teller like Velez-Mitchell, also resonated with Jane’s commitment to protect the environment, evident in her carrying groceries in a cloth bag to avoid using plastic.  Tiny pieces of plastic get carried in the ocean, she explained, eaten by fish and then passed on to humans.  Frightening.  

The take-aways included the vivid stories and lessons learned.  Through her journey, Jane learned to distinguish between “want’ and “need,” and reached “psychological relief” from the pressure to succeed and control.  Even her breast cancer scare, and subsequent surgery and radiation, was a “wake-up” call to get in touch with her feelings and to change: to decrease materialism and increase efforts to make a difference.      

The passionate personality now surprises herself that she prays. “I wake up every morning and ask, ‘Please higher power, help me to humbly be of service, and make my day not just about what’s in it for me’,” she says.

After her talk, as fans lined up to get a copy of her book signed, some could be heard commenting, “She has so much courage to go public with what she’s gone through.”

Jane had earlier addressed that issue.  “I don’t care anymore about how people judge me,” she had said. “It’s part of my spiritual growth.  As an alcoholic you judge all the time- yourself and others – now that I am sober, I don’t judge myself or others anymore.  I accept myself, and I am no longer ashamed of me.”

Her ultimate, ever-so-smart mantra at the end of her book marking the continuation of her journey: I do enough, I am enough, and I have enough.” 

Wednesday
Sep302009

Tsunami in Samoa recalls terrors of Asian Tsunami

With the tsunami tearing apart the Soth Pacific, echoes of the Asian tsunami resonate.  This is the article I wrote about the relief work I did in Sri Lanka after that tragedy.  The messages seem to apply to what people in another part of the world a few years later are experiencing. 

Posted on the New York Daily News website, February 21, 2005

When former Presidents Clinton and Bush Senior arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday, the heat swelled like a Florida day.  The two former U.S. chiefs, making their first-ever visit to this once-vacation wonderland yet undiscovered by Americans, came to survey the damage wrought in the region by the Christmas tsunami.  What awaited them was ruin and misery not unlike that in the wake of recent Florida hurricanes, but worse.  While tragedies cannot be compared, some 40,000 people from this small island were swept into the sea or killed by the deadly tidal wave and thousands more left deprived of their homes, livelihood and loved ones.

By the time the Presidents came, I’d already been in Sri Lanka for over a week, as part of a relief mission offering psychological first aid to the survivors living in camps and trying to rebuild their lives.  Our mental health team set up in the town of Batticaloa, a 10-hour journey by van to the northeast coastal area hard hit by the tidal wave – and already suffering from years of civil war between a rebel group, the Tamil Tigers, and the government - leaving the people in twofold trauma.  

The mission was organized by Fordham University psychology professor Ani Kalayjian, who spearheaded the Mental Health Outreach Project that has provided mental health support after disasters like earthquakes in Armenia, Turkey and Japan.  Our initial seven-member team coordinated with UNITED SIKHS, a worldwide humanitarian organization, to set up a unique ongoing mental health program, working with Ananda Galappatti, the local psychosocial authority, and local psychosocial groups to deliver services and identify local people who can be trained to offer emotional support to those affected by the disaster.     

Clinton and Bush Sr.’s visits to Sri Lanka, and the other Indian Ocean areas hit by the tsunami was at the request of President Bush, to head up private sector fundraising for relief and reconstruction.  On Sunday they met with Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumarathunga and set off today to tour the town of Weligama on the southern tip of the island, to visit a temporary shelter, see a water pump providing fresh water, and talk with an organization  providing trauma counseling for children.

From our experiences in the camps in the past week, I know what the Presidents will go through.  It’s heart-wrenching to see how people who once lived in lovely seaside abodes, now crowd into camps that are converted buildings or colleges, where large auditoriums are sectioned off by broken chairs to delineate families’ spaces. 

Children, not yet all returned to school, jump into my arms, while others fight to grasp my hand. “Mommy,” one orphaned girl calls me, as she wraps herself around my waist and looks up wistfully into my eyes.  I wish I could adopt them all.  I can give them a marble (the favorite toy here, as it is simple and easy to play with), but more important is a tight hug and a broad loving smile.

How can you possibly give them all the love they need? I worry. There are 1,200 people in just one camp our team has worked in.  I calm my frustration by remembering a story that President Bush Sr. told during his “1,000 Points of Light” campaign.  A grandfather was walking on the beach with his grandson, picking up starfish as they lay drying and dying on the hot sand, and throwing them back in the water.  “But grandpa,” the boy asked, looking at so many starfish, “How can you save all these starfish?”  The grandpa answered, “If I save only one, that is good.”       

Clinton’s charisma -- I’ve seen it first hand during a visit with him in the oval office – will undoubtedly touch some hearts of these beautiful souls struggling – and coping with bravery and spirit.

The trauma counseling for children that the former chiefs will see is getting under way in some places on the island.  Group play therapy is universal and applies to every culture, particularly drawing pictures as a good way for children to express feelings. I’ve had children draw their family, and themselves on a bridge (a technique developed by Israeli psychologists who certainly know a great deal about trauma from experiences in their country). Then I ask each child to announce a quality that makes them feel special, and the group all repeats that quality back to them, in a show of ackowledgment -- that brings a smile every time. “My mother told me I’m pretty,” said one girl.  Several boys and girls feel proud that they work hard at school.  Everyone claps.   

While tradition here holds that people do not talk about their feelings, when given a chance to share their terrifying experiences, emotions poured out. “Emotional release is important in every culture to purge intense sadness and fears in order to prevent long-term suffering,” says Kalayjian, who has developed a six step program to help survivors heal. The traumatologist knows expression helps, even from her personal experience recovering from long-term effects of genocide in Armenia.

After expressing feelings, taking some action to reduce fears helps. In a psychological technique called “in vivo desensitization,” the counselor goes through the steps of the dreaded experience with the person who has a fear.  Typical to combat fear of flying, for example, the therapist would actually go with the person onto an airplane. Since nearly all the survivors in the camps expressed fear of returning to the sea, with ten children and some parents we piled into our van off to the beach, at steps along the way, practicing stress-reducing breathing techniques and repeating “I am safe, you are safe, we are safe,” and then playing.

The next day, all of the members of the group say they slept peacefully for the first time. Associating the sea with joy, rather than pain, is healing.  

A few days later I took the group to the beach again, this time with another group who expressed fears of returning to the sea – to pass along the healing.  

At the beach, we pass artificial sand dunes made of piles of remnants of TV sets, electrical sockets and scraps of clothing created by the swirling tsunami waters, and reach the site of one of the women’s houses. I pick up a torn scrap of gold Indian silk, once her beautiful sari, and a red-suited Santa Claus stuffed toy – a gift on that fateful Christmas that the tsunami hit.  One of the children warns me not to pick it up because it is dirty from all the sewage, but I encourage them to help me wash it in the sea, as a ritual of transforming ruin into renewal.

As the mental health resources of the country have been minimal -- with reportedly only a few dozen trained workers in the country of millions and only one psychiatrist in the northeast district where I was – recruiting local helpers is key.  Implementing services is an overwhelming task, but being done with great care, by local authorities like Galaps, and the district officer of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, Sylvester Solomon. As the local psychosocial group, Shade, knows, listening and empathy are basic, but effective. 

Despite the cultural tradition of not talking about feelings – complaints are physical, like headaches, stomach aches, difficulty breathing – given a chance, emotions pour out. Sad but sweet faces and heart-wrenching stories now echo in my head as much as nightmares of the raging sea torture theirs.  The night before the former Presidents’ visit, as I sipped wine and danced in the disco at the 5-star Mount Lavinia Hotel in Colombo, my mind drifted to 13-year-old Nialini who at that time I imagined was trying to fall asleep while lying on a mat on the stone floor.  I clutched at the pink hairclip I am wearing, wishing that I had given it to her.

Images of their losses flood me.  A mother who survived when a wave catapulted her over a fence but lost her husband, three children, and her parents, cried about the loss and persistent thoughts of her son being ripped from her arms by the raging waters.  A 30-year old man who lost twenty members of his family including his wife and two children said, “I was holding my two children one under each arm when the second wave hit and snatched them from me.  I can still hear my daughter’s voice calling on me, saying, ‘Father, help me’.”

A preliminary assessment showed that frequently expressed feelings were of fear, sadness, guilt, flashbacks, and recurring nightmares.  Nearly all the people from age eight to over sixty were afraid of the sea and that the tsunami will reoccur.  Survivor guilt was also common; eighty-five percent of people expressed feelings of guilt that they could not save their loved ones who died, many of whom were washed out to sea.

A focus of our group sessions has been on identifying strengths, finding new meaning in life and identifying what is being recognized as “post-traumatic growth.” Young children were congratulated for being able to survive, by running to safer ground, climbing houses, coconut or banyan trees, or hanging on to logs. A young man was encouraged to be proud of how strong and heroic he was, despite his slight frame, to carry a heavy older woman to safety. “If you can survive this, know that you can face anything, and do anything,” they were told.

“People’s faith has been tested,” notes Kalayjian. One man told the group that he could not pray since the tsunami because he had lost faith in God, but that the exercise in the group where people stated their hopes was the first time he was able to pray again.     

To address children’s nightmares, I led a group teaching them to change the ending of a dream. One little girl who kept dreaming about herself in a coconut tree watching her mother being washed out to sea crying for help, reframed the dream so that her mother was smiling at her saying, “Even if I die, know that I am okay and you must live and be happy.” 

Children are taught simple breathing exercises to reduce their anxiety, and encouraged to allow themselves to express their feelings.  One young girl whose grandmother told her not to cry role-played with the counselor to ask her grandmother to hold her while she cries, knowing that once the sad feelings are expressed, you can be happy and play again.

Ultimately, I know from doing mental health relief at so many disaster sites around the world, that it is not the technique that makes the difference, but it is coming with an open heart and love. Sharing love makes people feel comfort and some joy again. 

The humanitarian effort is progressing slowly, despite a background of politics that always plays center stage. One newspaper story reported how the Indian government was concerned about the U.S. deployment because of heavy Indian Oil Corporation investment in the region.   

Politics aside, it’s high time to care for people’s hearts.  Our team has identified several needs besides psychological first aid, including funeral services, since a vast number of survivors have never located the bodies of their lost loved ones and therefore have not been able to go through the mourning process.

Another need is for public education, especially in the remote areas of the island, given pervasive fears and questions about what a tsunami is, and widespread rumors that circulate in the camps that another tsunami is coming.  After an earthquake in Australia, a radio station suspended its regular programming for me to take calls from listeners about overcoming fears like children’s school phobia and older people’s fear of going out of the house. 

Financial aid has poured into the entire Indian Ocean region affected -- $500 million from Japan, $350 million from America, more millions from Australia and Germany -- but some of that money needs to be funneled into the all-too-neglected area of mental health.  “While jobs, food, shelter and medical care are certainly essential, we want to encourage people to donate funds to the mental health relief effort to insure emotional healing,” says Kalayjian.

Some of that money can go to identifying local people, including translators, with good communication skills and innate sensitivity who can be trained to offer support to others.  Malcolm the basketball coach turned translator, married to a school career guidance counselor, says with pride, “I’m getting even better at helping people than my wife.”

Another translator, Sudhan, a 25-year old computer technician, living in one of the camps when he was identified as having the necessary skills, says, “My uncle and two cousins died in the tsunami and our whole house was washed away, even the ten computers and laptops I was fixing for people, but I don’t care about any possessions.  I don’t care if I have any money, any clothes or things.  I only care that I am helping people.”        

In a closing group ritual -- one of my favorite techniques that I use around the world in disaster areas – people stand in a circle and throw multi-colored balls of yarn to each other, creating a web.  One ten-year old girl expressed the intention perfectly:  “It shows that we are all one family.” An older man who also got it, said, “The tsunami took us no matter what religion we are, and now we are one, no matter who we are.” 

 

Wednesday
Sep302009

Courage to the Samoans

 In the wake of the tragedy of the tsunami in Samoa, I am riveted with pain thinking about the people's suffering there. My prayers are with all the Samoans.  

I remember my visit to the island years ago, when I met a most wonderful woman, Tisa, who runs Tisa's Barefoot Bar, a wonderful beachfront restaurant which was noted in airplane magazines as "the" destination at the millennium.  

We sat at the wooden tables with the water lapping the beach, eating freshly caught fish which Tisa cooked herself. 

The conversation was intense in contrast; in fact, about Tisa's decision to run for office (Governor). She was preparing to challenge the male-dominated societal traditions, with a platform including women's rights and openness about "taboo" topics, like domestic violence.  She was even willing to publicly share her previously secret personal experiences with such abuse.  I called the local television station, who responded by agreeing to do a public service show on the topic.  I talked about the psychological issues; my sister-in-law discussed legal issues, and Tisa shared her story. 

Below is an article about the television show, and also an article about Tisa's campaign. 

This seems an appropriate time to share her story here, shoring up the courage of the people.

An email to me in September, 2000, from Rosalia Tisa Faamuli, told the story of her courageous run for office, mobilizing a "Tisa Team." About her running mate, she wrote: a woman who was to run with her pulled out at the last minute and she was replaced by a long time American Samoa resident and social activist, Jim McQuire, and her campaign issues -- the environment, women's rights, family abuse, illegal labor practices and the economy.

Tisa was optimistic. "As a woman, I think I know more about these issues than my opponents," she wrote. "Take business for example, the guest register at the Barefoot Bar in Alega lists thousands of patrons from all over the world who have found American Samoa to be a wonderful and beautiful island with beautiful people."

She was confronting great tsunami odds of a different nature, but not unlike the environmental pounding of today.  She said, "You know our culture is pretty much run by men with high chief titles. I derived from royal bloodlines, I argued that point, the bill was tabled. The old boys club has made it possible to block all the supporters from me by using the food give aways and lots of money. So far the cost to gain a vote per person, is $70.00 USD. In the normal state like California, the cost per voter is $6.70 USD. You realized, my campaign is about no fraud waste and abuse, meaning I am determined to run this campaign with little or no money. The small island paradise, is all related to the big tree. Meaning the big brothers continue to bully the sisters around, the children and youth, our leaders have gained their way into the western way and perverted the hell out both Samoan culture and American. Not to worry, I stick to my guns and charging straight ahead. So far have accomplish one goal to be the first indeginous woman to run for governor ever in the history of our little island and Hawai'i as well."

In March of 2001, Tisa emailed me, "Our little paradise needs friends in big world out there." 

Yes.  Now even more than ever.

Wednesday
Sep302009

First Indigenous Woman to Run for Governor in the South Seas

Article written in November, 2000

She’s well known as the woman running one of the hottest restaurants in the South Seas. And now she’s also well known for being the first indigenous woman ever to run for Governor of her small island paradise or its surroundings islands. 

Rosalia Tisa Faamuli, owner of Tisa’s Barefoot Bar poised on an exquisite coastline of the American territory of American Samoa, lost the election last Tuesday. She got only 59 votes out of 12,600 votes cast.

The winner is the current Governor and Minister’s son, Tauese Sunia, who beat out the male runner-up, a local businessman who owns a bank and Ford dealership.

But even though the votes were not “too close to call” as they are on the U.S. mainland, Tisa claims corruption in the electoral process.

“My people were afraid to vote for me,” she said in an interview. “They told me afterward that they were made to believe by the opposition that the secret ballot was not secret, that if they voted for me everyone would know and they would be banned from their village.”

In theory, ruled by the U.S. Constitution, voting is secret and confidential. 

The island politics has enraged the grassroots feminist. 

“I never realized how corrupt things are here on my island,” said Tisa.“Big business and the government keep wages low to control the people and keep the big money for themselves. I touched on issues about women and human rights and wages that noone would discuss, and they tried to silence me.” 

“Men on the island told me that if I talked to the villagers, my children or me would get hurt.”

But fear and the harsh defeat has not deflated the restaurateur, activist, and mother of two, who is now even more fired up to improve the lives of her people.

“I feel like Evita,” Tisa said. “I was the people's candidate. The underdog.  The voice of women, young people, and workers.  The fat cat men are shocked that the underdog woman put up a fight.”

Her campaign slogan directed at women was “If not me, then who are you waiting for? If not now, then when is the right time?”

She is convinced that the women didn’t vote for her because native people don’t understand. “They only believe what men tell them, so they vote out of fear,” said Tisa.

Fear was what Tisa believes also caused her female running mate to withdraw from the race in the last moment before the registration deadline. “Taimane Johnson called to tell me that the opposition pressured her to get out,” said Tisa. She was replaced with another unorthodox choice, a white American male resident who had lived on the island 25 years but was not a native.

In another major challenge, the local legislative branch moved to pass a bill disqualifying Tisa to run for Governor on the basis of not being titled as a chief.  But the measure was deemed unconstitutional.

Campaign financing was another challenge. Determined to run a campaign with no waste or abuse, and on little money, Tisa spent only $2,000 (including $500 to register and $150 on one ad).  Her shoe-string campaign posted only one sign, in front of her restaurant, that said, “Our Land, Our Life, Tisa for Governor.” She had only 5 volunteers.   In contrast, her opponents spent about a quarter of a million dollars to win the $50,000 a year Governor’s job, including launching food give-aways and costly publicity campaigns.

Tisa was buoyed by a lot of free press coverage, with sell-out issues every time her picture appeared in the paper. 

“I felt like Hillary Clinton,” says Tisa. “The press was interested in me because I was a woman running.”

After the first gubernatorial candidates’ debate at a local college, Tisa hit the streets, handing out posters, shaking hands, and asking her people about their family. 

“It’s a technique I learned from selling real estate when I lived in California,” Tisa explains.  “You say hello to everyone because eventually they will need a house and they will remember that you care about them.”

Even her father’s illness requiring him go off-island for health care, did not sway Tisa’s dedication to platform about  improving the environment, getting rid of trash on the island, jobs for youth, women’s equality, family abuse, the economy, illegal labor practices and higher wages than the current $2.50 an hour.

“As a woman, I think I know more about these issues than my opponents,” she said.

If her business is any example, the guest register at the Barefoot Bar in Alega lists thousands of patrons from all over the world enchanted with her place and the island. “That’s a shining example of business development that none of my opponents can match,” said Tisa.

Personal experience also fueled Tisa’s platform on family and women’s issues.  She became public about domestic violence a year ago when she appeared on a local public service television show about abuse, speaking directly into the camera in her native Samoan tongue, relating her story for the first time about having been abused in a past marriage.  She pledged from that day forward to expose the extent of abuse on her island, and to encourage other women to speak out and seek help. 

Throughout the days of the campaign, an independent female documentary producer was following Tisa to record her unusual and courageous fight.  Tisa hopes her story will be told to women around the world as an inspiration that a woman is never too small and never powerless.

Two days after the election, Tisa was back at work at her internationally famous bar and restaurant, cooking and serving exotic dishes to 40 guests gathered under palm trees as the turquoise ocean waters lapped the shore.  Preparing fish freshly caught in those very waters, she reviewed the tough lessons she had learned. 

“Island politics is strange.  Everyone comes from the same tree, meaning they’re related somehow, so brothers want to tell their sisters to back off playing with the big boys.  The people who were afraid to support me openly because something might happen to them, had to go underground.  But I won’t get scared.  I’m as good as them.”  

And she vowed to continue her fight. 

“I shook the system that’s run by men,” she said proudly. “They’re not ready for a woman. The island is still living under the old ideas that the man is the head of the household and the woman and children belong to him.”

“They’re scared of me now because I call them on everything.”

And that won’t stop. Tisa’s gearing up to develop ecotourism on her island. “We need tourist retreats on a local level here, not 5-Star hotels,” she says. “It’s the only way for the people to start becoming more self-reliant.”

As her dinner guests shout compliments about her culinary skills, Tisa muses to me about her future political ambitions and campaign strategy. 

“I’m going to run again in 2004. And before that I am going to act like the governor from the outside. I’m going to start on a village level, networking with the people. I am going to get grants to help indigenous people. My people need to know how they can better themselves and I intend to help them.”

Wednesday
Sep302009

Kenya Prime Minister Speaks to Diaspora: Cool Coalition but Snow Shock

With the General Assembly in session at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the leaders of countries around the world are in town. Besides high level GA meetings, the dignitaries also make speeches and host other events. I went to a reception for the Kenya Mission to the UN at the Helmsley Hotel, at the invitation of my Kenyan-born UN NGO intern, Wiarimu Kuguru. Many officials, including the Prime Minister, made speeches, talking humorously and honestly about the situation "back home" to the audience of appreciative Kenyans. The loudest cheer, when states were mentioned for the assembled diaspora, was for "New Jersey," though there were sprinkles of Kenyan New Yorkers and even DC'ers.

The speeches were certainly eye-opening about the situation in Kenya.

“We have drought and also floods,” one dignitary said.

Climate change is another serious problem, explained the Prime Minster of Kenya.  I was shocked to hear that there is “less snow on Mt. Kilimanjaro.”  My sister had just told me her dream of climbing that mountain.  I have climbed the Annapurna Range in Nepal, but said I would go with her to the Kenyan challenge, and was distressed to hear of its victimization by global warming.

Besides the snow, the forest is also disappearing: another shock.

Noting the bad economy, he told the diaspora, “We know you are sending less money home… I know because I see the figures.”  Some in the audience laughed in guilty recognition.

The P. M. also addressed the political situation. emphasizing the success of the coalition government, with a Prime Minister and a President sharing dual power as the first example of its kind in Africa. “The country went through a difficult time in 2007, but we are now working together,” he said, warning against believing media hype about the problems and political unrest in Kenya. 

Another dignitary noted that politicians in Kenya are telling the truth even at the risk of being unpopular. 

The Kenyan diaspora was clearly plesed to hear the review of their country, and proud of what they are doing besides how things are being handled “back home.”

 

Wednesday
Sep232009

The First Day of the Clinton Global Initiative: Commitments and Clean Water, Matt Damon and Obama

“This is the only conference you have ever been to where the gift bag is empty,” said former President Bill Clinton at the opening session of the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative this afternoon.Laughter filled the audience, packed into the Sheraton Hotel ballroom, of presidents of countries, dignitaries, top executives and NGO representatives, who were either invited or paid thousands of dollars to participate in the annual networking event.  Clinton explained that the attendees have to fill the bag – with commitments of their time and talent to solve world problems like poverty, disease, energy and climate change disasters.

“That is your gift,” Clinton said.  I appreciated the psychological implications of the metaphoric use of the word “gift.” At many board meetings of non-profits, I have heard references to the 3 T’s:  our time, talent and treasure.   Those are the gifts we give to others, to enrich their lives.

So many in the world are in need, and the accomplishments of past CGIs have been impressive to meet those needs, with thousands of companies and individuals making “commitments" to work together to effect positive change, feed starving children, implement alternate energy sources, and purify dirty water.

Dirty water causes disease and death for millions of children under 5 years old, Clinton explained.

The first panel of the day included the female President of the Republic of Chile, Her Excellency Michelle Bachelet.  In his true engaging style, Clinton highlighted how she was the first female defense minister in Latin America, proving that women are not always in “soft” positions in government. 

I was reminded of the celebration of womanhood in Chile I had been exposed to over 15 years ago, when I attended the wedding of a former Miss Universe from Chile, Cecilia Bolocco.  She had married my friend who was a fellow talk show host on CNBC-TV when it launched in 1989.  The event was like the wedding of Princess Diana, with loudspeakers transmitting the ceremony to the crowds lining the streets. 

Another panelist, the President and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, Muhtar Kent (whom Clinton pointed out as coming from Turkey) announced that the company has pledged money towards clean drinking water in Africa for every one of the typical dances done in celebration of every goal made at the World Cup.  The football sporting event is exceptionally popular around the world, equivalent to our soccer in the U.S. (and called by that name in the rest of the world… sometimes causing confusion).

Coca-Cola also plans to make their bottles out of recyclable sugar cane product.  New programs using less water, he explained, will free women up from carrying water on their heads, to be able to participate in entrepreneurial work.

The President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. described how his company has a new health care plan for its workers. He also posed his future program for consumer information, asking, “Wouldn’t it be great to know the footprint of every product you buy?”

 Both CEOs were received with appreciation by the crowd.

Clinton also endorsed the G20 – participation in world affairs by more countries than the present G8 – while acknowledging that it will be more complicated to hear more voices.  With 192 countries at the UN, he asked us to imagine the difficulties of 192 people sitting around a table making a decision. 

Relating his concern about clean energy, Clinton applauded Israel. “Israel will have 100,000 electric cars in one tiny country,” he noted, encouraging others to follow the lead. “It’s the debate in Washington and everywhere,” he said.  “Can we grow the economy by consuming energy in a different way?”

The two commitments celebrated during this opening session were by actor Matt Damon regarding clean water in Haiti.  This peeked my interested because of my recent trip to Haiti, witnessing extreme poverty and needs of the people. I went with a wonderful Haitian priest who is interning with my UN NGO organization, the International Association of Applied Psychology, and has presented about ways ot overcome poverty and violence in that country at conferences at the UN and also att he American Psychological Association. Father Wismick Jean Charles took me to the village where he was born and for whom he is “giving back” by building a community center to feed and educate the children and provide health care. 

The second CGI commitment example was a project in Kenya.  A past year’s CGI participant had entered three words in the CGI web connect: girls, education and empowerment, and gotten immediate response and funding.  Three of the girls who benefited from the project recited a story about their appreciation and growth, centered on the metaphor of having shoes. Another crowd-pleaser.

Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher were spotted in the crowd.  The Demi and Ashton Foundation will be at the Thursday awards event when Alicia Keyes will sing.

Clinton covered for the few minutes of late arrival of the keynote speaker – President Obama – by describing that he President is a “Decider in Chief,” a phrase the former President Bush had used.  He described that others make many decisions the President just signs off on, but other difficult ones are left to him.  

Obama arrived to enthusiastic applause.  He amused the audience in his typical engaging speaking style, by describing how Clinton took him to lunch at an Italian restaurant and then peered from under his glasses, with his characteristic way of making you feel like you are the only person in the room (I experienced that same ability when I met Clinton in the Oval Office at one of his private Saturday meetings).  Obama complimented Clinton saying how he could retire and work on his golf score (which he said he heard was still not that great) but instead he is making such a difference in the world. Obama also complimented himself, saying that he knows the experience of government working with NGOs, as he was a community organizer, as his mother was a pioneer in civil society groups, and as Michelle left her law firm to work for an NGO.     

Monday
Aug312009

Garrido Sex Slave “freed”: How Can This Be?

As enslaved Jaycee Dugard emerges from her 18 years of captivity, raped and kept in squalor, accompanied by her two children (11 and 15 years old), the world wonders, How can this be? What will become of them?  I've given unique analysis questions below, and answer some pressing questions asked of me an a pre-interview for an on-air live interview with the talented anchor Don Lemon, aired on CNN this evening at 10:30 pm.

How could Jaycee have stayed for 18 years in captivity when she was in a backyard tent from which she could have escaped and from which she also emerged in public on several occasions with her abuser. 

I have my theory that I have not heard spoken of elsewhere:  Jaycee Lee Dugard was brainwashed, as were her kids. Philip Garrido had her in his cult and was practicing mind control, even through rape – along with her two daughters (which he fathered), and his legal wife. 

They constituted a “family,” so this protected her from death from which other young women might not have been spared (given accusations that he had murdered other women, including prostitutes).

Garrido claims he was transformed by having a child (by Jaycee); and it helped cure his sexual aggressiveness (from previous rape and assault behavior, for which he received a jail sentence).  He put this in his manifesto which he was enthusiastically wanting to release to the world and for which he expected a positive reception.

What is this man’s state of mind? Basically, Garrido is psychotic – a different variety from other major cases covered on the news, where abductors and killers – like the spa- shooter and the Holocaust museum shooter - were likely psychopaths.

This psychosis has classic signs: thought disorder indicated by his ramblings (on his blog), messianic delusions of grandeur (hearing angels, being a messenger of God), feeling as thought he has a message to save the world.

Garrido snared Jaycee into his cult.  He brainwashed her and the kids, and his wife – who was described as a robot )(not unlike other females who follow such a messianic maniac, like a Svengali).  Garrido may even have had some others coming and going, temporarily. One neighbor described others entering the place and other little girls. Garrido was caught because he emerged, ready to spread his word of being the saviour – to a college campus, with his daughters in tow, which raised suspicions of the female cops who called the parole board, which then brought his house of cards crashing down.

Garrido is like other psychotic messianic perverts.  Like Charlie Manson and David Koresh, he even had a shrine set up for him and was working on a manifesto about life the way he sees it and how it should be.  Like them, he corralled young impressionable, insecure and lost females to follow him; who look up to him as the messiah in fact, he was the only male in the household).   Like Manson, he was even a two-bit musician.  Jaycee was an impressionable, shy 11-year old who knew no better when she was kidnapped. 

Drugs added to the brainwashing and the forced devotion of others to his psychotic vision.

His blog reveals his psychotic character: rambling, disconnected, delusional, with biblical references about being close to angels and God. 

Garrido did his brainwashing well – he changed Jaycee’s identity – she was turned into “Alissa” and raped until she was fertile enough to give birth, so he would be her protector and “father” (e.g. God) figure as well as “lover” – which would all serve to make her devoted to him and confuse her even more.

Jaycee’s stepfather said she has developed a strong emotional bond to Garrido.  Of course, Garrido and his wife were the “family” she knew and grew comfortable with – no matter how dysfunctional. Garrido could have told he that she was meant to be whisked away, and that her parents were “bad” for letting her go, causing her to resent them. After a while, kids become used to dysfunctional parents, with severe psychiatric disorders.  Especially when the children were born, this band became a “family.”

There are assualtive and non-assualtive child abductors and pedophiles, and those who are childless and those who aim for a cult. Garrido is a mix, of being both assualtive and also non-assaultive, and also childless and aiming to establish a cult.

Jaycee cannot be just thrust into her past family circle and expect to be the same or adore them and re-integrated with her biological mother whom she hasn’t seen throughout her growing up period.  Consistent with this, her mother called her sister when Jaycee was brought “home” to her because she didn’t feel connected- even though she didn’t use the word “brainwashed,’ the sister thought she implied it. The experience is like being in a trance – like the captor’s rambling teachings and music .

Garrido’s father described his son as sick and reported he used LSD.  Cult leaders use drugs to fuel their own delusions of grandeur and also to brainwash their captives/followers.  Likely Jaycee was given mind altering drugs.

Her daughters – reportedly looking glassy eyed and distant (scary by some accounts) probably also had been given drugs, and also because they have not related to other people socially before so are really inept. . They appear odd because they cannot relate to society and should not be forced to do so, as they cannot adjust quickly, since all they know is the life they had. They are not socialized with other people or peers.  They cannot be shaken brutally from their assigned identity – under names like Starlot and Angel  -- and lifestyle.  That would be a secondary traumatization (no matter how joyous the public is that they have be saved or re-united.)

Everyone wants to say that it is great that they are re-united with their biological family (mother).  It is poltically incorrect to say otherwise, but such immediate reuniting is not the perfect solution. The biological parents have to be counseled to deal with this new turn of events and that their “daughter” is not free –and certainly not the same as the 11 year old daughter they “lost.”  Garrido and wife– as psycotic as they were  – were still the only family Jaycee and the girls knew.  They will undoubtedly be depressed about losing them; like a second traumatization after the abuse they first endured.  They will endlessly feel guilty about leaving Garrido, and even sympathetic since he claims he has changed; as happens with abused children who forgive their parents and blame themselves. 

Their life inside what we see as littered squalor had its own chaotic sense of home.  There was a welcome sign, lots of clothes, Barbie dolls, a pail, cartoon sheets, baskets of flowers, make-up containers, CDs (which are modern) and a book titled “Self-esteem: a family affair.” And there were indications of pets (every child’s desire) – an aquarium and a collection of cats (even if only dolls or procelain).  Other books were varied, for any educated children. The authos include suspense master Dean Koontz to romance writer Danielle Steele to science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.  Of course, we’re missing the mathetics texts; and disturbingly, the link between these three books are that they are all about fantasy – not reality!  So, they are not helping the girls adjust to the outside world.

This story is very different from the Missiouri Monster who raped his daughter and kept her in a closet and killed the children and buried them in a water cooler.  These girls of Jaycee were out in fresh air, even if emerged from squalor tents.  They were not shackled, and they went outdoors with their captor. 

I have to say I have mixed reactions to his maifesto about his transformation from sexual rapist monster to man capable of intimacy.  Some parts make sense; others are still ramblings. But his effort deserves some credit. 

Garrido thought he had cured his sexual impulses that drove him to commit unspeakable acts of aggression: through spiritual transformation.  It is a noble mission, in my view, that he was seeing – and thought he found -- the cure for the things he did that caused pain to others including his wife and family “whom he had victimized (good that he acknowledged that and doing self reflection) by ‘examining the issues that cauesd pain in myself and in those who are victimized by those behaviors”. 

Garrido said he had this epiphany when having sex with his wife – the act had “changed” him. As repored in the NY Post, he wrote in his manifeesto, “One day when we were having intercourse and I ejacualited, I got up, and in great anger I realized I never needed to act or do the thing I thought were so great.’ “I began to weep, telling her, ‘I am so sorry for the things I did in the past.’ (Good that he is showing remorse). At that time a feeling of remorse came over me, one that I never knew or felt before or thought was possible.” “When I had intercourse with her, the feelings were so powerful and exciting that every time we have intercourse now, it is as though I just met her (this part sounds healthy and can be transformation of people who are into sado-masochism who suddenly discover intimacy).  He goes on, :”You know the kind of excitement we all find when we first meet someone, we keep thinking of them during the day and can hardly wait to be with them. You have no idea how rewarding it is especially for me, as I always wanted to get away from a woman after it was concluded, no longer needing or desiring to touch.”

In my view, this is the explanation that is consistent with a man who goes to prostitutes or murders prostitutes, and who mixed sex with aggression  – he cannot feel love or intimacy.  And this is an ephinany of a man who no longer needs to mix sex with aggression, who can FEEL something for the person he has sex with, without hurting himself or them out of anger or out of need to feel anything even if it is pain 

In his manifesto, some things are true, i.e. that “out of control behavior” is everywhere, in every walk of life, undermining the lives of many of its victims.” To know this, we only need to look at the staggering statistics of alcoholism, drug abuse, and sex abuse. 

However, in his manifesto, there is still rambling, but kernels of valid thoughts: As Garrido describes how to go from sexual deviant to model human he describes, ‘we need a quality means of understanding the internal controls of the human mind and body, and a way to supply people with a value system that is constructive…then a person can see and feel the effects of healthy thinking and the rewards that come along with it.”  It is the age-old struggle between right and wrong that is holding the human race back from discovering a freedom so capable that the renewing of ones mind become a simpler reality than anything we have believed. 

Another part is a little clearer, as it sounds like behavior therapy and thought control in a healthy way (not the mind control he was doing in an unhealthy way), outlining what exactly what you do when unacceptable impulses arise: ‘For example, every time I would see a woman who was attractive, I began to examine  my own thoughts directly, not allowing my eyes to turn aside to avoid those issues…Looking allowed my self-talk to provide pictures and words that dealt with reality, saying to myself that people are beautiful and attractive"..  (he is on the right track psychologically about the technique of self talk but he needs to continue the exercise, for thought stopping, to switch his attention to something else that is not related to his obsession about women). 

He continues, “as time went on, I gained contol over my body by taking the next step (controlling masturbation) as it is key in opening the mind up to more problematic developing.”  He is right to control his masturbatory thoughts and actions.

The general ideas are there- they are not clearly worked out, as a therapist would help him to do.

”I began to weep telling her I am so sorry for the things I did in the past.  All that time a feeling of remorse came over me, one that I never knew or felt before or ever dreamed was posssible.”  (this remorse is of course a positive emotions for such a perpetrator).

It futher seems to me that Garrido was wanting to give up.  He walked on the campus requesting he be heard with his maifesto, with his two daughters in clear view and being honest about them; this made the cops susipicious, who later set the wheels in motion to call his parole officer and the truth came out. 

 

Other answers to questions CNN asked me to prepare, for my 10 pm interview with anchor Don Lemon on August 30, 2009:

1. Can you explain how an individual can remain with her captors for so many years without any apparent physical threat?

The 11-year old child (Jaycee) was “brainwashed” and traumatized, to the point where the captors became her new “family” which she would not desert.  Essentially the little girl developed an emotional attachment over time to her captors, as they were the source of her survival.  This was all set in motion by changing her identity.  The process usually starts with physical threats and then includes some acts of kindness – just as Garrido himself said,  the story was “disgusting” at the beginning but “I turned my life around” (presumably when the first daughter was born.) The captor becomes the source of survival and the abducted child becomes dependent on the captor (like on a parent).  In this case, there was also a wife, who becomes the replaced mother-figure. Over time, Jaycee is inoculcated into his “cult” -- sealed by his altering her identity, indicated by changing her name to “Alissa”.   Garrido and his wife Nancy become the surrogate parents – the only parents she now knows.  They form a new “family” sealed by the (evil) stepfather fathering her children, making her even more dependent on them.  Then they start to live an abnormal (to us) “normal” life where Garrido runs a printing business and Jaycee apparently even becomes his assistant.  So she is not only the mother of his children but also his business partner. 

She may even have been given many drugs – since Garrido himself may have been on LSD (mind altering drugs).

Her dependency and succumbing to captivity can be explained by what is called the “Stockholm Syndrome” whereby hostages become loyal to their hostage-takers.  Jaycee’s “adjustment” to this dysfunction is remindful of the 11-year old boy kidnapped and held captive by a Missouri man, where the boy went out in public and did not tell anyone and also took on his captor’s last name.  Garrido’s psychotic behavior is similar to that of Charles Manson and his “family,” with Garrido hallucinating and thinking he is a messenger of God.  Family members get used to that bizarreness, and even excuse and follow him.  

2. What type of psychological and physical abuse does an individual endure in a situation like this?

First there is abuse and then after several years of such long captivity, the abuse can stop if the victim becomes compliant. Likely in the beginning, there was abuse on all THREE levels: physical, psychological and sexual – it’s a one-two-three punch assault and the resulting trauma is three-times as intense.  First likely came threats that she or loved ones would die if she told anyone or tried to escape. Then, she was likely physically beaten and also repeatedly sexually abused (clearly she was impregnated – when she was 13 and fertile, since she is 29 and her older daughter is 15).  For an 11- year-old, all this is massively confusing.  After a while, the young victim becomes numb to any abuse, as the abusers are the source of survival. 

3. Describe what will need to happen next as Jaycee is integrated/reunited with her family? 

I think she needs a “halfway house” and intensive therapy for re-establishing an identity, and get re-acquainted with her old “family.” While we have heard from Mr. Smart, this is a different case from Elizabeth Smart – who was only captive for less than a year.  Even Elizabeth Smart has said that “life will not resume; she may wonder about her captors.” This captivity was over so many years, and being parents and business partners, that Jaycee is now “Alissa” and a mother whose children are  a result of rape of her captor, who has become her surrogate “father,” a kind of  “husband.”  Her identity has been built on being “Alissa.”  She cannot just be expected to be torn from that environment and placed with her original biological family and be “normal” again, or happy to be reunited with them!!!  She will have CONFLICTED feelings!  Besides any relief people all expect her to have, she may resent being “freed” and also be unable to adjust to “normal” society (even buying groceries or talking to neighbors).  She will have to be prepared to face social scrutiny.  She definitely needs to be away from media attention.

Jaycee’s father says she feels “guilty” for developing an emotional attachment to her captors—but this can be what she thinks she HAS to say as it is politically incorrect for her to admit anything else.  Her “guilt” has to be absolved.

4. How important will it be for Jaycee and her family to receive counseling during this time?

CRUCIAL.  They ALL need counseling individually and then together, as they will ALL have conflicting and extreme emotions; not just relief but also anger (at each other and the system).  INDIVIDUALLY:  Jaycee’s mother and sister (the mother apparently has some cognitive disability) and her stepfather (who apparently lives separate from the mother) need counseling to learn how to deal with her and her children, and not to force her to love them as before.  The stepfather really needs therapy to get over his anger at all he went through (his marriage dissolving and being held as a suspect all these years, even though he is now absolved).  Jaycee needs counseling individually to express her feelings and process her experience and her CONFLICTING emotions about her captivity and her present life.  And THE CHILDREN (one a teenager) need counseling – they will be the most disturbed of all.  Then, much later they should have family counseling to monitor how they are adjusting to each other and accepting each other. 

The whole public needs healing sine the Garrido “family” lived among real people as neighbors, one of whom noted problems, and who notified authorities who did nothing.  Also, they did business with real people.

5. Now that Jaycee has children, how does this compounds this situation?  

The situation is tremendously compounded.  Now that Jaycee and her children are “freed,” it has to be decided where the best place would be for her and her children to live (not necessarily with the mother or the stepfather, whom the children have not ever known as “grandparents”).  The children are likely VERY dysfunctional and cannot be integrated into society right away.  They have been reported as staring blankly and disconnected.  They have been ripped from the family environment they have known all their lives, which must be acknowledged.  They can’t be immediately told that life was “sick” or made to feel wrong or bad. They do not know how to interact with others socially, other than with their immediate “family.”  They need to be in a very safe, still-somewhat protected and isolated home, where they can be gradually taught social skills and “de-programmed” from the cult-like life they have been living.  They are teenagers who likely have very arrested development; may also have been under the influence of drugs.  They also need “de-programming.”  The first daughter (15 year old ) will feel guilty and conflicted since her “father” (Garrido) claims that he turned his life around because of her!   

ADDENDUM: IN MY VIEW, the internet needs to be filtered for psychotic people and potential murderes and perpetrators!

Garrido kept a blog, that could presage some of his acts.

Once again, the internet has revealed signs of a potential disaster –  as in the gym-slayer, and the Holocaust Museum shooter.  This raises issues of potential filters or policing the internet – while others can criticize this approach on the basis of First Amendment rights. 

It was reported that “Ironically, more than a year ago Garrido referenced the potential for psychotic symptoms to cause violence against children. (he wrote that) A woman who drowned her 3 children in the San Francisco Bay was, "led by a powerful internal and external (hearing) process that places the human mind under a hypnotic siege that in time leads a person to build a delusional belief system that drives them to whatever course of action they take."

This case also shows serious failure of the legal system – evidenced by his being paroled after only 10 years of a 50-year rape sentence, and by his current parole officer knowing nothing of his life, and by the inept investigator who failed to enter the home after a neighbor’s complaint.