Wednesday, July 01, 2015

LGBTQ Community and Marriage... and Rocky Road Ice Cream???

Well, typically as a mental health professional I stay out of subjects that are controversial on a social scale. Naturally, I see individuals and these subjects arise, though it is my ethical responsibility to work from their value system and perspective. However, as the subject of the Supreme Court ruling is being discussed heavily in the media (both professional and social), I felt that I may pipe in with my own two cents on the matter.

Firstly, as is discussed in my blog profile, I am a mental health counselor by trade and follow the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics. As such, I am required to provide services that are multiculturally sensitive, as well as to practice in my areas of competency. Being multiculturally sensitive does not mean what many think it means. I have heard some ignorantly say that it means mental health counselors must put aside their personal beliefs and values and advocate for values within the societal and individual system that may go against their own. Thus, it would make the profession amoral, as in it has no moral system that guides it on an individual basis as the professional would be required to give up their belief system. That couldn't be further from the truth. What it actually means is that we, as professionals and individuals maintain our personal value system, we work to become self-aware of our value system and how it may interact with other value systems that may not coincide with our own. Thus, we are able to skillfully competently control our value system and how it might influence others on a conscious or subconscious level. We are held accountable for our value system and how we essentially push it onto others. For example, on a simplistic level and only for the purpose of explanation, my value system may say that the best and most enjoyable flavor of ice cream is Rocky Road (which it is); however, my client's value system is such that Neopolitan is the most enjoyable and flavorful. Let's say my client is struggling with their spouse whose favorite ice cream is also Rocky Road. They have heated arguments about it and it results in marital discord. My natural inclination is to agree with the spouse as I also love Rocky Road. Without being aware of my bias, I can inadvertently side with the spouse, thus causing more stress and anxiety to the client and affecting the therapeutic relationship. On the other hand, if I am able to skillfully identify my own bias to Rocky Road, and to focus on my client and their struggle with their spouse and the resulting discomfort they have, then I can be empathetic to them and demonstrate my empathy through reflective listening and other skills. Thus, I would maintain the integrity of the relationship with my client, helping them work through their own struggles (which really have nothing to do with ice cream) while simultaneously maintaining my own personal conviction about the deliciousness of Rocky Road.

Now, I know that this is simplistic, and that many would argue that I am minimizing the importance of the public arguments about the Supreme Court ruling on the lawfulness of Gay Marriage. However, it is a likeness that I would like to use as a demonstration of the process that is going on. There are those who say that this Supreme Court ruling is Constitutional and others say it is not. By the way, this is not a political article. (If you want to argue politics, do it with someone who is much more adept at it). Those that say it is Unconstitutional may also say that it is wrong, and/or immoral or something else. Those that say it is Constitutional may say that it has nothing to do with being moral or immoral, but rather it is a person's right to show their love to an individual through marriage whether their orientation be straight, gay, bisexual, etc. Thus, the argument results in heightened levels of emotions and then philosophical, religious, and politically-lined debates to prove who is right and who is wrong; or to justify one's position in a logical manner. Either way, it ends in the same thing...judgment, anger, and hurt. Now, being a counselor, I would say that there is nothing wrong with being hurt. Hurt feelings and pain can be a breeding ground for change. My old boss used to say "Out of the ashes of pain, beautiful things can grow." I agree. I'm not justifying bullying or people being mean, because that is wrong. As you can see, I'm taking the side of the survivors and victims of hurt, and not the dealers of it. But, I digress. The point I am trying to reach is that one may have personal conviction and evidence to support their value that this decision was good/right or bad/wrong. And living in the US of A, and having their Freedom of Speech gives them the right to voice it. As such, they are accountable and responsible for the words they say. Furthermore, an individual has the right to have their opinion. Yet, it is possible for people to become aware of their values and biases and even though it may go against another, they can still support and love the individual WITHOUT compromising their own value. It is possible to love all people, yet not agree with an opposing belief systems and value. Yes, that may cause some discomfort, but once again, I believe (this is my value) that discomfort can be a growth-promoting tool. Once again, a person can maintain their own beliefs WITHOUT compromise and still love a person. Notice, I did not say that they must necessarily advocate or support the other person's belief system. I only mean to say that they love the other by simple virtue of them being of the same Human family. It does not mean you agree with, advocate for, or support compromising values. Just love or care for the person as that is a quality that does not require agreement. In fact, a person who can express love for someone that they don't agree with shows an even higher level of love, in my opinion.

That's all I have to say for now...

Friday, May 22, 2015

To Hate Or To Forgive...That Is the Question

Reality Show: 19 Kids and Counting

This reality show was recently brought to my attention, more specifically, the news that is rapidly spreading throughout social media regarding Josh, the older child of this family. It was indicated that a few years ago he had admitted to molesting a few of his siblings, and in turn, received counseling services. Furthermore, it was also stated that the survivors of the incident also received treatment. These types of scenarios are not ones that any one person enjoys reading about, as it opens up a realm of ridicule, doubt, judgement, and fear. I was amazed at many of the social media responses and comments made about Josh, as well as the survivors in addition to their family and religious beliefs. Therefore, I, like many others are undoubtedly doing decided to write a few remarks on scenarios such as these. 

It is difficult to be an outsider looking in when we hear about children having been sexually abused. As a counselor, I have heard over the years that one in four or even as high as one in three girls are sexually abused. One in four boys are, as well. It seems to be more commonplace than we know, yet it continues to be the frightening elephant in the room. Rather than look at it from a judgmental place, I’d rather look at it from a place of understanding. 

First, not all people who act out sexually in an inappropriate manner have been victims themselves. There can be a small correlation to this idea, but it is not a cause-effect relationship. There are many factors that play into a person acting out. Therefore, jumping to a conclusion that someone does this because it was done to them is not accurate. Also, religions that call for sexual purity or sexual abstinence do not lead to someone acting out. There is no cause-effect relationship, though on social media I have seen this said. Research does not support statements like these. Third, saying that the victims must come out into the open and tell their story is not always helpful, nor is it therapeutic. In fact, it can do the opposite. It can foster hate…and we all know what happens when hate is encouraged. 

Now, on to the victims or survivors of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can be a developmental life changer. I want to reiterate what I just said—it CAN be a developmental life changer. That means and implies that other factors must be involved such as support, age of the individual, psychosocial stage of development, cognitive development, etc. Sexual abuse introduces a very mature idea into a small mind and body that is not cognitively or socially ready for it. It also introduces strong physiological responses in a small mind and body that may not be ready for it. This can lead to confusion about sex, relationships, identity, and much more. However, it doesn’t have to be a game changer. Again, it is not a cause-effect relationship. Much can be said about the victim/survivor who comes out and talks about it, though it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are more or less healthy than those who keep it quiet. Much can be said about those who keep it quiet and work on it on their own without creating an environment of anger. The reason I say that, is because one social media responder indicated that the victims need to have a voice and be represented and speak out loud. This type of behavior can actually lead to ongoing symptomatic and behavioral problems, as well as fostering self-loathing, hatred, and mistrust. Anger and hate beget more anger and hate. Helping a person find meaning in their life after the abuse can foster inner peace, healing, understanding, and forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness for the one who did the abuse. 

In the many hours I have spent working with people who have suffered through many types of trauma, I have yet to meet a person who fully healed that did not forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that one is okay with what happened to them or what they did to someone else. Forgiveness means letting go of all hope of a better past (not my saying, but a good one), and allowing the pain, sorrow, and suffering to go. Holding on to the pain and suffering only brings more pain and suffering. Again, I return to my prior statement that we all know what happens when hate is encouraged.
Finally, true healing can happen for both the victim/survivor and the perpetrator. It requires empathy on both sides. Empathy is being willing to walk with the individual, side-by-side, and to support them, not to enable them. Empathy can empower a person to have hope for a better future. A better future does not mean that they will be free from the memory of what was done, but rather that they can grow and develop into something stronger. They can find meaning from the suffering (yes, that is a very existentialist statement—for more information read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning). The path to recovery from victimization or perpetration is not comfortable, but it is doable. Most of the time, you won’t find those stories in social media. Those people keep their stories to themselves, because they are sacred and personal. If a story fosters hate and confusion, there won’t be much healing there. 

If anyone has questions or comments, feel free to leave them…if they are negative and degrading, they will be deleted. My blog is not a place for that.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Negative Psychology? Or Is It Focusing on People?

A few nights ago, I was up until a far too late hour with a sibling discussing various topics regarding mental health, addiction, trauma, etc. As can happen, I found myself going into a monologue about the subjects. This happens due to a passion that I have for them. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to attend trainings and supervision on various subjects. What I find fascinating is when two seemingly unrelated subjects or ideas come together in a correlational fashion. Therefore, I was discussing these types of experiences with him. As we continued our discussion, I did not find myself enlightened by the topic as I had heretofore experienced; but, rather, I found myself becoming saddened and despondent. I remember the moment when I was aware of my mood change when I had finished talking about the effects of pornography and other addictions on the brain and my brother asked, “Is it possible for the effects to be reversed? Or for the person to experience some kind of full recovery?” At that point was when I had realized that I had backed myself in a corner. I had been focusing on the psychological research that I had studied, which is very negative. In fact, that is one of the complaints of the psychology field is that it can be negatively focused, which is why Positive Psychology became a movement. We finished the conversation and I went to bed. The next morning I was still feeling despondent. I meditated on the “why” of my mood and realized that I had, once again, focused so heavily on the research that I forgot about the human aspect of this field. The study of people does not take into account the people as it looks for correlations in variables. Now, I’m not saying that research does not carry importance, as research is highly beneficial, but the people no longer become the focus as the variables and how they interact with other variables carry more weight. But, I digress. 

As I was reflecting on what we had discussed and the sense of sadness it brought due to the negative results of mental health problems I had a very strong impression come to my mind. It was simply put “What are you going to do about it, Jamison?” At that moment, the sense of hopelessness disappeared and I experienced a feeling of empowerment and I asked myself the question, “what can I do about it?” The answer, then, was simple. I can keep trying. I can keep trying to work with people to help them see that despite their struggles, traumas, addictions, disorders, negative experiences in all of their forms that they have inherent value just by virtue of being alive and being a member of the human family. Is that not what counseling is about? Our clients struggle with various maladies of the human experience which bring them to question their value. We call these struggles disorders as a means to classify and measure. But, at the end of the day, do we not all have moments of depression, anxiousness, traumas, addiction, behavioral outbursts, etc.? Therefore, what I can do is engage anxiously in a positive cause to try to help where I am able and hope that my interaction and interventions will result in an increase of self-awareness. I can provide treatments that are intentional and purposeful that help give others an idea of the direction they hope to go that they might liberate themselves from “disorders” with which they are plagued. And, maybe, along the way I too can learn more about myself, have more self-awareness, and learn (piece by piece) of my own value as a member of the human family.