Monday 12 March 2012

"If you want to be loved and liked, don't go into psychotherapy."

Take a look at this article about the doyenne of forensic psychotherapy, EstelaWelldon

The field often attracts "do-gooders", says Welldon, who are singularly ill-suited to it. The only physical attack she has ever witnessed at work took place when a colleague comforted a client by patting them sympathetically, prompting an explosive reaction. "Touching them?" she says, "No way. Also, if somebody's saying nobody wants them, and wants to talk about the parts of themselves that are bad, or hateful, they don't want to hear: 'You're actually really nice.' Fuck you! I mean, honestly, it's so condescending, and you're not seeing what the patient wants to give you.

My first exposure to psychiatry was when as a very new student nurse I chaperoned a doctor one night as he spoke with a young woman, about 16 or 17 years old in the Sisters Office. Looking back on it it’s clear now that she had been raped, was in shock and possibly a little dissociated. The psychiatrist was all technique, at one point noting that the woman glanced at a picture of fairies that was propped against a wall and wondering if she’d like to join them. Happily, his bleep went and he left the room.

Having not yet learned that professional means detached, I said something along the lines of “Well thank Christ that load of old rubbish is over. What happened to you?” The doctor hailed me as some kind of miracle worker when he returned and the young woman was able to speak about the evenings events.

When we treat patients as poor souls in need of our expertise we distance ourselves from them and patronise them. As a matter of principle, we are all equals.  And it’s dead true that therapy attracts do-gooders, people in massive need of care themselves who find satisfaction in exerting control over others. Therapists come into training because we’re interested in our own inner lives above and beyond almost everything else; we’re a desperately solipsistic lot and we’re all a bit bonkers. Therapists have to accept that about ourselves to keep the privileges that we’re given under control.

[Welldon] says she has an "enormous amount of violence myself, and I think the patients know that too.”

Hoorah. Many of us are seething with violence a lot of the time but we’ve learned to tone it down, disguise it, pretend it’s something else because that’s what gets rewarded and it’s why so much of Paganism is pathetic. Sitting with some friends the other day one said, ‘If one more person tells me I’m strong, I’ll scream.’ Another replied, ‘Tell them you’re not strong, you’re violent, that’ll shut them up,’ and we laughed with recognition and pleasure. Religions in particular tell us we must be meek and mild, totally accepting, utterly non-judgemental and it’s a very rare person who can come close to that even occasionally. Patients who are wild with fury, often very justifiably, don’t want to be met by someone who would really like them to talk about rainbows and puppies and the power of forgiveness. Whilst it’s often important for a woman patient to have a woman therapist there must also be room for a woman to meet with a male therapist who’s au fait with his responses to sex and  gender and is comfortable with a woman who needs to rage or talk honestly about her dangerous feelings around her children. I’ve met too many women therapists who make their fear and disapproval of women’s rage and violence all too obvious.

We all walk a thin line between professional, cold, and over-involved and we’re not always going to get it right. Good training, a good attitude towards authenticity, excellent and rigorous supervision all help, as does having people around us who are also authentic, who are settled enough in themselves to allow us to be vulnerable, livid, clever, committed, successful. Who are wise enough to allow and accept our humanity in its entirety.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Abuse Excuses

The media is heaving with news and opinion on the conviction of Eric Bikubi and Magalie Bamu, the three day torture and murder of Magalie’s brother, Kristy aged 15, and the torture of Kristy’s other siblings.

This case has been simmering away for a year but it was only after sentencing that pictures of the flat in which Kristy was murdered were allowed to be shown. I’m very unsentimental, detest sentimentality in others and fairly hardened to life, but I was aghast at what I saw on the news last night. Suffice it to say that the people whose duty it was to sit through details of this misery and pass verdict have been exempted from jury service for the rest of their lives.

Commentary is starting to focus on the socio-economic situation of the perpetrators – Bikubi and Bamu lived in a council flat in Peckham, an area of deprivation. The words ‘council flat’ in populist media are code for poverty and general shiftiness and also, to paraphrase a number of talk radio responses,  “We’re giving council flats to asylum seekers who bring their strange and dangerous foreign ways over here.”  Not only were they poor, they were African and therefore doubly troglodyte and unable to know the difference between right and wrong. Which misses the billions of poor people, African people and people in social housing who would not dream of being abusive.

The people who tortured Kristy to death were respectable members of their British communities. There’s the clue to what was really going on:

“People who knew 28-year-old Eric Bikubi have spoken of their shock to learn that the promising football coach . . . who showed no sign of the barbaric nature that was to emerge . . . killed a teenager.”

I’ve worked as a domestic violence counsellor for many years and the same issues arise there too. Perpetrators are very often respectable, charming people well liked by their co-workers and neighbours. In fact, the more charming and well liked perpetrators are the more likely it seems that they will kill, sometimes indulging in family anniahilation. Their motivations are power, control and a sense of entitlement.

When you meet with abusers it’s very easy to be drawn in by their charm. Abusers are almost by definition manipulative. It’s never a matter of ‘losing control’ because abusers are absolutely in control of themselves, they don’t attack their friends and neighbours or strangers who accidentally get in their way as strangers will from time to time. They choose to ‘lose control,’ that is, they choose to become abusive.

 They will say that they blacked out and have no memory of what happened; that the violence appeared out of the blue (“I’m not a violent person”); they deny their victims humanity (“A slut, a bitch,” “A Witch.”) Their entire perception of events is centred around themselves: if the victim hadn’t have done something to them they would not have had to defend themselves, or the police were called in order to punish them rather than to protect their victim – they’re classic narcissists. They have an enormous sense of entitlement and will want to talk about their victims’ behaviour and their own feelings.

Alcohol and stress are often used as excuses for violence. Yes, they can lower inhibitions but they’re also used ritualistically, as a precursor to violence. The scene is set, “I had a drink,” or “I’ve been under a lot of stress.” The abuser blames the victim for causing the stress or for not soothing stress.

Psychological instability is often used as an excuse, either a momentary insanity or because the perpetrator had an abusive childhood. In fact, the link between experiencing abuse as a child and perpetuating abuse as an adult is not clear and, again, discounts the vast majority of children who were abused who do not go on to become abusers.

I’ve no doubt that Bikubi and Bamu will use the ‘cultural belief' in witchcraft as an excuse for their behaviour. At least for a while, until they realise that the UK mental health system is inherently racist and will not tolerate any cultural expressions of distress at all. Whatever their eventual diagnosis part of Bikubi and Bamu's crucible of healing will be to acknowledge that they are child killers and child abusers: it has nothing to with witchcraft or kindoki style=, or any other 'cultural' practice.