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Thursday
Nov102011

Lessons from the Penn State sex abuse scandal

 

In the wake of the sex abuse scandal at Penn State, revelations about the serial sex abuse allegedly perpetrated by assistant coach Sandusky, the firing of revered coach Joe Paterno and the rioting of Penn State students in his support:

1.  Some media are hesitant to talk about the details of the grand jury findings against  ex-Penn State coach Sandusky, fearing they are too lurid.  Dr. Judy says we must not be ostriches putting our heads in the sand about child sex abuse. Glossing over what the disgraced coach did to the boys is like denying the horrors of pedophilia and child sex abuse.We must not skirt the issue and just say Sandusky is reported to have had “sex,” but instead we must say enough specifics to educate people about what child sex abuse is; for example, that he touched the young boys inappropriately and made one young boy put his hands up against a wall while he forced him to have anal sex from behind. That lets people know we are not afraid to face the facts and that we are brave enough to help people learn from this horrible case.  

2.  Use this case as a “teachable moment”: for all parents to talk to their young children about sex abuse.  Tell them that it is not okay for anyone to touch them in their private parts, and that if they are touched in a way that makes them “feel funny,” they should tell you right away, and that you will do something to protect them.

3.  Children need to be taught this lesson from the time they are little, even as young as five years old. Repeated child sex molestation even occurs to children as young as three.

4.  This sex abuse scandal at Penn State is a wake-up call for all college campuses - and high schools- to have classes about sexuality, about sex abuse and even about sexual harassment -- since the statistics about “hallway harassment” are shockingly high. All parent-teachers associations and groups should insist on such classes in their schools.  

5.  People are up in arms about Penn State students rioting in favor of now-fired head coach Joe Paterno, caught on video and posted on Youtube.  This rioting shows shocking disrespect for the kids who suffered the abuse. These students should be rounded up and showed the video interviews with the young boys who were molested. They should be asked, “How would you like it if you were forced up against a wall and the coach penetrated you sexually?”  That will shock them out of their football frenzy and into a different state of mind.

6.  Tremendous support should be offered the young men and their families who were “victims” of this abuse.  By the way, should be called “survivors,” not victims. They have demonstrated great courage in coming forward.  They need to be reassured that it is normal for them to have been confused – as one young man described – about what was happening when they were touched sexually by the coach, and for them to not be sure about how to react.  Such confusion and fears (e.g. of shame, not being believed) are very common.  They were understandably hesitant to report the experience, because they were getting benefits from the coach, and didn’t realize how they were being manipulated, seduced and bribed to keep quiet.  

7.  Some of these young boys who were abused are now finding strength in speaking out against child sex abuse, promoting an organization that helps survivors and provides education.  In this way, they can turn their horror into healing by helping others.  Others who have not yet come forward may be too afraid to publicly admit they too were abused but they can find strength in the others speaking out.

8.  It is not uncommon for serial pedophiles ot have been abused when they were young, completing the cycle of abuse.  But even if Sandusky had been abused as a young boy himself; this is in no way any excuse for his criminal behavior.  

9.  It is true that sports can stimulate sexuality, psychologically and also physically in that chemicals flow in the brain during the extreme activity, including adrenalin and endorphins.  Similar reactions occur in activities where crowds and action n predominates, like rock concerts.  Research proves this connection.  From a constructive point of view, I developed “theme park therapy” for Universal Studios based on the principle that couples can fall in love when engaged in an exciting activity in a high-energy environment like a scary theme part ride, or in a large, reactive crowd at a concert or sporting event.   But everyone must learn how to manage those feelings in appropriate situations, and to separate the “rush” from acting out sexually.  Kids should be given lessons about how to manage these experiences, since the psychological and physical reactions can be confusing.

 10.  Parents might understandably be leery of allowing their kids to join team sports because of the abuse uncovered in this case.  With adequate education, now that this scandal has been so public, kids can safely engage in the sport.  All schools personnel, coaches and parents will now be on the alert.

Saturday
Nov052011

Lennon’s former lover and other shutterbugs show off iconic photographs with a psychological message

Trust is key in making a relationship work. I know that, as a psychologist. Trust is crucial for lovers, and between photographer and subject.

 

Accordingly, “Trust” is a subtitle of a section of favorite photographs held by their image-maker, featured in the new book “Behind Photographs – Archiving Photographic Legends. The exquisitely published coffee table book produced by photographer Tim Mantoani includes a range from collector’s item portraits of icons like Mother Teresa, Bruce Springsteen and Nelson Mandela to jaw dropping images of war refugees, an Iraqi boy injured by an explosive, an AIDS-ridden child.and a row of Russian missing forearms deformed by pollutants. There’s also Cuba’s Fidel Castro smiling and hugging  grinning Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev when they met at the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 1960 – an encounter of particular interest to me, as an NGO representative at the UN who has sat in on GA sessions when heads of state make presentations each September. 

 

Imagine. That’s another favorite psychological term.  Imagining allows you to fulfill your dreams, consistent with the inspirational saying, “If you can see (imagine) it, and believe it, you can be it.”

 

Imagine is also the title of one of John Lennon’s most popular albums. Imagine if you were up close to that icon of our times.

 

May Pang was.  The photographer and Feng Shui jewelry producer is an icon of sorts herself as the one-time assistant to Lennon and Yoko Ono who became his lover during the 1973-1975 interim phase of that relationship, referred to by Lennon as the “Lost Weekend.”

 

Pang’s contribution in Mantoani’s book was taken in the summer of 1975 on the Long Island Sound, capturing Lennon in a charming pose with his young son Julian.

 

“I helped bring the two of them together that summer,” Pang told me.

Pang answered a burning question, “Was John Lennon a good lover?” with an enthusiastic, “Yes.” When I asked her to elaborate, she replied that he knew how to please a woman first and even taught her a few things.  These are all excellent signs, I told her. 

 

Another stunning photo is the Fab Four in 1964 caught midair jumping onto a bed when told by their manager Brian Epstein that they were number 1 in American and going to New York.

 

Besides the Lennon shots, you can “Imagine” why I marveled at a youthful Elvis Presley caught on celluloid June 30th 1956 backstage at the Mosque Theatre in Richmond Virginia clearly tongue-kissing an unknown date. It reminded me of how Gene Simmons once thrust his (albeit longer) tongue down my throat backstage at a concert in the days when I was hosting my Z100 “LovePhones” call-in radio show. 

 

Imagine doing something innocently at one point in time that decades later becomes outrageously valuable. Lori Grinker did that as a student in 1980 when doing a project on young boxers, taking a picture of then 14-year old Mike Tyson, being told he would become the next great heavyweight champion – and then he did! She followed the later-ear-biting champ for 10 years, and is quoted in the book saying, “He was a troubled but sweet kid who veered off the good path he was led to with all that comes with being a celebrity in that world.”

 

Similarly, Amy Arbus in 1983 stopped a then-unknown young woman on the street (whom she recognized as a girl in her gym who sat around naked in the locker room) to ask for a picture who said she still had her pajamas on, was grateful since she would be famous one day.  The girl turned out to be Madonna.

 

At the book reception and exhibition recently in New York City, Mantoani described the psychological value of a still photo that you can look at again and again.  “It tends to burn into your psyche. It becomes ingrained in your mind.” 

 

Seeing the groundbreaking image-makers with their favorite subjects not only puts a face to their work, but reveals another interesting psychological principle in Mantoani’s description of how over time photographers develop their own way to seeing and their individual style.  Indeed for all of us, “We all have our own personalities…our own voice and our own style.” 

 

Convincing the photo takers to pose with their images was surprisingly not always easy.  “Some were shy,” Mantoani told me.  But he was persistent, driven to show young generations what these artists have done and to be inspired to create their art.

 

His words reminded me of a young Japanese girl in the class I taught at Tokyo’s Aoyama Gakuin University.  After my lecture about following your dreams, she came up to me and told me of her dream to become a photographer, but her parents’ disapproval, wanting her to do something to insure a more secure future. She cried as I encouraged her to go for her dream.

 

Another valuable psychological message in the book comes from a photo of children jumping high in the air off a rock onto the sand at a beachfront on the Marshall Islands in 1997.  The notation by photographer Mark Edward Harris says wisely that “kids don’t need money to entertain themselves…a lesson we should all keep in mind.”  

Friday
Oct282011

We all have our own Ministry: Wisdoms from a luncheon at the UN

“We all have our own ministry.”

That was the wisdom of the Honorable Felix Ortiz, New York State Assemblyman, learned from his father.  I love that message.  We all serve others in our own way, with our own skills.  It reminds me of Martin Luther King’s famous saying that if you are a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be.

Ortiz, chair of the Mental Health Committee and Puerto-Rican/Hispanic Task Force in the state assembly, was the keynote speaker at the luncheon I attended October 27th at the United Nations delegates dining room, sponsored by the American Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation (AAPR).  One reason I went is because I have worked with AAPR colleagues, since they are an NGO affiliated at the UN, like my NGO, the International Association of Applied Psychology, for which I am the main UN rep.

“We have to think out of the box,” said the congressman, using another phrase I\that I consider wise. I love that phrase.  I always recommend that people, and couples, be creative in their lives. 

The assemblyman, a member of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic Legislative Caucus, also noted that to improve mental health systems, we have to achieve cultural competency, including to overcome linguistic problems.  Fortunately, the government has mandated that every agency that provides services needs to have staff who speak different languages. We also have to identify problems early, to get them into the system (like in cases of autism), taking a more long-term view.

On other matters, he noted the need to re-distribute financial waste, utilize webcasts, and be ready for women in the armed forces returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another reason I went to the luncheon was to meet in person the President of the World Psychiatric Association, Dr. Pedro Ruiz, who was being honored with the Irving Blumberg Human Rights Award (pictured with me in the photo). 

  

I've had a long-time association with WPA, on the board of the Disaster Section and meeting with colleagues in Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo. I gave him a copy of our book, Intervention in Destabilizing Situations: Crises and Traumas (published in Rio de Janeiro by Associação Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 2009) and edited by my friends Brazilian psychiatrists Jose Thome and Iveley Taralli and Argentinian psychiatrist Moty Benyakar.  The book is an interesting multi-cultural tome with articles mostly in Portugese and Spanish. My article in English is “Communication and media in mass trauma: How mental health professionals can help.” Another article in English is “Spirituality, Religion and Resilience Promotion in Resilience Trauma” by Australian psychiatrist Russell D’Souza.

Dr. Ruiz was presented his award by his good friend, psychiatrist Dr. Humberto L. Martinez, who has spent 32 years serving in the South Bronx.  I found it fascinating that he remembered my being on TV news from decades ago, from recognizing my eyes!

“The eyes are windows to the soul,” he said wisely. We traced that keen attention to his being in the armed forces, after being drafted from his native Puerto Rico. As an army brat, I could relate.

Yet another valuable wisdom from that afternoon was the phrase:  “A sandwich and conversation.”

That’s a good way for friends to offer their friendship and consolation.  It’s the approach of “Project Help” described by founder Sam Tsemberis, when volunteers cruised the streets of New York in a van looking for homeless people and offering them help (food, shelter, personal connection). It reminds me of the approach we used as mental health volunteers after 9/11 when we walked around the pit of Ground Zero offering the rescue workers water, apples, gloves and an opportunity to talk if they wanted.  It is also my approach in disasters that I applied in Haiti right after the earthquake there, where I trained students to be “comforters” offering the injured people lying on hospital grounds water and comforting words. 

So think about, what is my own ministry?  How can I think out opf the box?  To whom can I offer a sandwich and ocnversation?

Friday
Oct282011

Ruth and Bernie Madoff’s “suicide attempt” and lessons for life

Ruth Madoff, wife of disgraced financier Bernie Madoff, who seduced and duped colleagues into a Ponzi scheme that wiped out their savings, has admitted that she and her scheming husband impulsively planned to kill themselves.  Their act highlights death wishes thousands of people sadly have. Here are some issues from a psychological point of view:

1) If the Madoffs really wanted to die they could have succeeded. People who are smart enough to con colleagues out of so much money, as in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, are smart enough to know how many sleeping pills to take to insure not waking up. They would also know what pills they were taking (i.e. Ruth said she didn’t know if they took Ambien or not). Their act of taking pills and then being surprised when they woke up in the morning shows that they likely really wanted – as many people do – to go to sleep and have all their problems disappear in the morning.

2) No doubt the Madoffs are both depressed.  Suicide, after all, runs in the family. Their son Marc committed suicide in his Manhattan loft on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest. But the son did it in a more violent way- hanging himself. And he was evidently very intent on being successful, because his first attempt with a cord did not apparently work—the broken cord was found nearby.  He strung himself up again with another cord, that worked. That shows determination. 

3) Lack of success with a sleeping pill overdose to kill oneself seems to run in the family. This is not uncommon. Apparently son Marc had made an earlier attempt (before his hanging) with pills – the way his parents supposedly tried – had not “worked.”

3) The Madoff’s suicidal ideation and attempt highlights the act as (what we hear so often) a “cry for help,” but it is also despair that there is “no way out” of the person’s current desolate situation and mental state. The Madoffs were caught in the$18 billion financial deception and there was no way out.  Also narcissistic and powerful people in the high life, like the Madoffs, who fall from grace and their position, suffer tremendous humiliation, which can add to suicidal ideation.

4) Double (husband-wife) suicide pacts – and acts -- have happened in other cases.  Just a few days ago a husband and wife in New York, reportedly under financial problems, committed suicide together.

 5) Ruth Madoff’s admission of the suicide attempt is certainly also a public relations ploy to sell more books she agreed to her son that she would help promote.  It can also be a way to elicit a bit of public sympathy, since they were so besieged by hate mail, and could be “the most hated couple in America” (next to Casey Anthony being dubbed the “most hated woman in America”).

6) One predictor of suicide is a previous attempt.  It was said that Bernie Madoff was under suicide watch after being exposed, and that he thought of it (but stopped because of thinking of helping recover the money and also of his family).  Now that their attempt is so public, it will likely prevent another attempt.

7) Mrs. Madoff was quoted as saying that when she woke up after the night that ended up of  sleeping off the pills, “I’m not sure how I felt about him waking up.”  One interpretation of that is tremendous anger, that she would have wished her husband had died—maybe because of her anger at him, that her charmed life was ruined, or  saving him the pain of facing it (although she is the one who thought she didn’t know how she would face it).

8) With the Michael Jackson trial underway and the defense claiming suicide, and Ruth Madoff now talking about suicide attempts, the publican learn valuable lessons about suicide.  When you feel the thoughts of ending it all, immediately seek help.  Go to the nearest emergency room and see a psychiatrist.  Choose life and convince yourself that your family needs you, no matter what, and that you are strong enough to face the consequences. 

see abc.com news story by Susan James about Ruth Madoff's confession for excellent info about drugs that kill and don't kill.  

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/madoffs-suicide-pact-leaves-suicide-expert-dubious/story?id=14828858

Sunday
Sep182011

Shrinking Casey Anthony

The latest news about Casey Anthony’s psychological state is that the young woman accused, but acquitted, of the death of her little daughter Caley, is about to see a female psychiatrist. Reportedly, she had previously been getting help from a “grief counselor.”  Here are my reactions:

 

1.  Seeing a “psychiatrist” implies that hopefully Casey will be getting a proper diagnosis – since speculation has been rampant about her condition.  She has been labeled as narcissistic, psychopathic and a pathological liar.  Her mother, Cindy Anthony, has publicly said, “I think there’s something seriously wrong with my daughter,” including a deficit in her “thought processes.”  Cindy has even hypothesized that her daughter has “post partum schizophrenia” “a brain tumor” or “Grand Mal seizures” -- which have been questioned by experts and criticized as a way to excuse her behavior. 

 

2.  Consulting a psychiatrist implies that Casey will now be assessed for appropriate medication treatment, since “counselors” are usually not medical doctors and psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medication for psychiatric disorders.  Only a few states (e.g. Louisiana) have given prescription rights to licensed psychologists.

 

3.  Likely, antidepressants will be considered, since Casey has multiple reasons in her life to be depressed.  Her long and very public trial is very stressful.  Further, she has suffered many losses, including the death of her daughter; “loss” of her parents (especially her father saying on TV’s Dr Phil show that she is to blame for her daughter’s death and that she is not welcome in their home); loss of a future “normal’ life; damage to her reputation (being called ‘the most hated woman in America”); and worse, threats to her life. 

 

4.  It has been reported that Casey will see a female psychiatrist.  The gender of the therapist can be important for some clients, given what is called “transference” whereby the client unconsciously projects feelings, and repeats behaviors, with the therapist that come from past significant relationships. Often relationships from childhood with a parent are re-enacted. This dynamic affects the patient’s degree of openness, trust, honesty, comfort, subject matter, and behaviors in the sessions, as well as what is triggered in the sessions and enacted in life. While it is true that the degree of rapport between the therapist and patient matters most in the outcome of therapy, the matching of genders matters.  For Casey, seeing a female can be positive, in that a male can trigger negative transference to the “father” figure, George, who is right now being critical and blaming, which would undoubtedly lead to Casey being furious at, and feeling betrayed by, him and any male authority figure. Conversely, her mother has defended her, and been the more stoic of her parents (George has been suicidal and also therefore not a role model of a strong male figure).  Her mother also seems to have similar personality characteristics to Casey, which could predict a more positive identification and transference with a female therapist. 

5. Therapists also have what’s called “counter-transference” with patients -- projecting past experiences onto the patient relationship. Of course, therapists are trained to recognize and control any entangled emotions and reactions, not letting them interfere with the therapeutic alliance or objectivity. A female therapist would have to be conscious of personal feelings about mothering (especially if she is a mother herself) and about any woman who might have been involved in their child’s death. A female therapist might be more understanding of a woman’s conflicts over mothering, or sympathetic about post-partum conditions, but it is also possible she would struggle with negative reactions like condemnation or hostility towards a woman’s lying, partying, irresponsibility towards mothering, or even being suspected of malicious actions towards a child.  

6.  Casey’s problems are more serious psychologically than can be adequately handled by just getting medication, or seeing any therapist in private sessions, even a few times a week. Psychiatrists these days usually see patients for short periods of time, mainly to check on their meds, and do not typically have the 45- minute “talk” sessions that psychologists and other mental health counselors typically do. 

 

7. In my opinion, Casey should be in residential treatment, in a protected environment where she has a myriad of treatment sessions, and other therapeutic activities, every day.

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