Some Clarification on Affluenza

The story of Ethan Couch  seems to have captivated much of the internet.  The 16 year-old, who killed 4 people because he was drunk driving, received probation and counseling for his offense.   Couch was referred to a luxurious rehabilitation site, to suit his specific needs and help address his symptoms, primarily an overwhelming sense of entitlement, a grandiose sense of self paired with a lack of recognition of others’ personal value, and belief that rules do not apply to him.  This may misdiagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

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Affluenza, it has has now been legally and medically termed.  A condition in which one fails to recognize that actions have consequences.  This condition results from never experiencing consequences in one’s life.  Parents fail to explain and enforce limit.  This usually begins at an early age; a child throws a tantrum and, rather than getting a time-out, they are given a new toy.  In essence, the child is placated, rather than punished.  As the child matures, this lax enforcement of rules and consequences eventually generalizes to outside of the home environment.  In school, the child may push boundaries, tease or bully classmates, refuse homework, or charm their way out of responsibilities.  This pattern of behaviors is reinforced by those around the child.  Parents provide inadequate or inappropriate responses to unacceptable behaviors, teachers in prestigious school are disempowered from appropriately disciplining the child, and legal consequences are offset by family wealth.  The underlying belief is that the child cannot or should not suffer consequences if they can be avoided.  This teaches the child, not to avoid bad behavior or even to avoid getting caught, but simply that consquences, no matter how serious, can be negotiated in a way where “everybody wins.”  This condition is highly associated with a melanin-deficiency and seven-figures in the bank (or trust fund, if under age 18).

Looking at the child through an ecosystemic lens, we can better understand how such behavior is reinforced by one’s environment.

If you look carefully, you can actually see how the world actually revolves around the child.

If you look carefully, you can actually see how the world actually revolves around the child.

Although some were taken aback by Couch’s sentence, which seemed light compared to his offense, there is actually a great deal of historical precedent for Affluenza.  As with many psychiatric diagnoses, we can recognize instances of the disorder long before we had defined and termed it.  For example, we may retrospectively diagnose Ted Kennedy and even Laura Bush with Affluenza.  In fact, it would seem that this particular disorder is common to those in politics.  Phil Spector seems to suffer a terrible, chronic case of Affluenza as well.   A quick internet search will also bring up a  list of well-to-do individuals who have suffered and appear to have made a full recovery from this malady.   Fictional portrayals are also common in the US.  Gossip Girl is a wonderful fictionalization of this disorder and it’s systemic impact.

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It would seem that treatments for such a diagnosis should begin early in life.  A Systemic treatment model would likely be appropriate.  If we re-visit Bronfenbrenner’s model, we can see imagine ways to tweak the various systems in order to treat, and perhaps even prevent, cases of Affluenza.

Let us look again at how each layer of influence and how it might contribute to Affluena.

Let us look again at each layer of influence and how it might contribute to Affluena.

With the growing wealth gap and loss of the Personal Responsibility Value in the upper class of all generations, we face a potential epidemic of Affluenza.

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Thoughts on relational aggression

As I work on my dissertation, a question comes to mind.

First, my dissertation topic: Pre-adolescent and adolescent girls’ peer relationships from a developmental perspective.

Now, the question:  Are these girls, in their relationships living up to messages absorbed in the media rather than being who they really are in their relationships?

Now, background for my question:…

But first:  I’ve only just started data collection, so none of this reflects any of my data, only what I have seen in my painfully extensive lit review.

Ok, back to the point.

As I read through and write up the existing research, I continually find studies on relational aggression, clique behavior, throw away friendships, group dominance, girl hate, etc.  All of these terrible stereotypes of girls’ behavior.  This is not only in the research journals and scholarly works, but is in every form of media, news, movies, music, on and on.  I see this behavior on occasion when I talk to the girls I work with, but for the most part, it is not a huge part of their relationship narratives.  They value their friendships, but they also fear losing them.  The fear, in my experience, is what spurs the aggression.  Now, I have seen research that says it comes from boredom or jealousy and I completely see that as well.  But I believe their is something to the idea that girls fear losing their friends.

I remain unabashed in my love/need for Gossip Girl.

But here is my real question: how much of this behavior is coming from the messages they receive that this is what they are supposed to be like?

Research was done years ago, but is regularly repeated (like good research to make sure it’s still relevant and the work was done honestly), that showed the effects of setting negative expectations.  In the research, a classroom of boys and girls were given a math test.  In one group, the class was told that, in general, girls performed worse in math across the board, so to not feel bad if they do poorly or struggle on this test.  In the control group, they were told nothing.  Well, surprise, surprise, the girls in the first group performed worse on the test.  They absorbed the message they were given and lived up to it.  Now, if you are wondering, another set of research was done where boys performed similarly on a writing test.  The takeaway message:  people live up to the message they are given.  People want to feel normal, when we tell them what is normal, they do it.  This might be especially relevant for adolescents who are desperately searching for an identity, want to be accepted, and work very hard to be both unique and “normal.”  Can we apply this to the relationally aggressive behavior?

I hope you enjoyed this preview of my dissertation. 🙂

The State of Mental Healthcare


I currently work in the community mental health setting.  A setting that is primarily funded by state and federal dollars and primarily serves low income, high need clients.   Clients that seek community mental health are usually those that are ill to the point their disorders and symptoms interfere with their ability to function in a work or school setting, many with a history of incarceration or hospitalization (in my experience there is little difference between these two, both revolving doors of shitting care and overmedication), but with regular care and appropriate support would be able to live like “normal” people.  Unfortunately, rarely is this care ever provided consistently or appropriately.

Since I started working in my field, I’ve pretty much rotated between working in schools (alternative and traditional) and community care.  But my disgust at how the system fucks some of, not only the most needy clients, but some that could have massive potential if they were given proper care.  Children with learning, behavior, and sensory integration disorders are routinely put on the back burner in schools, not receiving proper assessments or interventions.  They fall behind a little bit more every year until they are failing, their sense of self and identity become defined by failure.  The risk factors add up, one after another until they become absorbed by the mental health and education systems that failed them in the first place.

For individuals with chronic mental illness, thought disorders, personality disorders, severe emotional disorders, or developmental disabilities the bureaucracy  that is mental health is worse.  Wait lists of many community mental health centers number in the hundreds.  Social workers, whose caseloads should be no larger than about 20 in order for them to actually help the individuals they serve, are usually closer to 50-60.  Psychiatric hospitals deal with overcrowding by over-dosing clients on sedatives.  Hospitals rarely provide treatment, instead the have settled for assessment, stabilization, and providing guardians/family with a list of recommendations so vague they can hardly be followed.  That list usually includes a recommendation for individual therapy, psychiatric medication consultation, and case management….at those community mental health centers with the hundred person wait list.  This leaves a 3-6 month gap in treatment in which clients are left to their own devices.  Some, depending on the severity of their symptoms and the level of dedication of their support systems, can manage to go back to some semblance of a life, perhaps a job or school.  Others, however, cannot.  They will cycle in and out of crisis care and hospitalization, most end up in prison.  Millions self-medicate with street drugs, leading to addictions and worsening of the core symptoms.

Then you get to the systemic problems caused by this failed system.  Families are effected, parents, children, siblings, grandparents.  Because lack of treatment leaves them so ill they cannot hold a job, they are forced to go on disability.  Not only does that have an economic impact, but it leads to boredom and decreased motivation to get better.  Mentally ill individuals are viewed by others as lazy, dangerous, or stupid, which has an impact on their own self-image and sense that they can do something more with their lives.  Constant failed attempts at getting help lead many to give up.  Institutions and psychiatric hospitals that could have provided treatment (the level and kind of treatment provided is a completely separate issue) have been replaced by prisons.  Most mentally ill are still placed in general population, provided little to no treatment outside of medication, and eventually released with no resources.    Again, we cycle back to economic and family impacts.  The cycle repeats year after year.

Our culture likes to put mental health on the back burner.  As a society, we think the mentally ill are mentally ill.  They cannot be helped.  We think this because it is what we see.  Chronic mental illness equates to stupidity, laziness, and criminality.  But this comes from what the system has done to mental health care.  And it is also self-perpetuating.  If we think about the mentally ill as dirty, stupid, homeless criminals, we can accept their lack of care.  They are the “other.”  They’re not like us and they don’t deserve our federal dollars because they will always be that stupid, gross, crazy person.  So, it become easier for us to ignore or be okay with the lack of mental health care.  The media’s portayal of the shooter from the Colorado spree is perfect.  He was crazy, therefore he was dangerous and must be locked up.  This must also apply to all other crazy people.

There are thousands of trained therapists and social workers dying for work.  People go into this field wanting to help.  They have ideas and dedication, they just need the funding.  Every time I see a mental health center or service be closed down, funding cut, etc, I go a little crazy inside.  Where do politicians think this will save money?  They are leaving high need adults and children without care and vulnerable to everything I already talked about.  Funding cuts for mental health will lead to an increase in crime and dependence on federal disability money.  Many of the clients they put out want to work and want to contribute to society, but they need continuous support to be able to function.  With that support, they can do amazing things.

So, fuck you bureaucracy.  And shitty run around that causes crime and death.

The War on Kids–it’s brutal.

Another Documentary Review!!!  But this one is a bit more positive. (I wish this was my big kid job!)

I’m watching it as I read this, so it might take a turn for the worst, but it’s so good.  The War on Kids.  Oh, so good.  I’m biased, because of the work I do and my love for the work I do and my little soapbox, that I try to keep myself off of, because I know how annoying soapboxes can be.

(http://www.thewaronkids.com/)

The doc briefly covers a number of topics, (so many and so briefly that I would like to see the doc turned into a series) including Zero Tolerance Policies (for violence and drugs), the School to Prison Pipeline (http://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/school-prison-pipeline-talking-points), the psychological effects of school surveillance, education and corporate curriculum, diagnosis/psychiatric medication for children, teacher/faculty bullying of children, and several more.  The doc interviews individuals from various child-centered professions, including teachers, pediatricians, and school board members.

The doc is pretty low quality, but the people interviewed are very passionate and make a lot of good points.  In one section, various teachers and school officials are talking about how their curriculum is given to them by the state, rather than individually created.  This means, that freedom is taken away from teachers as well as students to think for themselves, to find creative solutions, and to ask difficulty questions.  To me, this answers the questions “Why are kids so complicit and so lazy?  Why can’t kids think for themselves?”  Well, because we never teach them to, and even that natural impulse to think creatively is squelched as soon as it begins to develop.  Those neural connections are never made and therefore the skill is never developed.  Soapbox time:  teaching to standardized tests, corporate curricula (sold by Scholastic, or whatever other company has a contact with the school district and state), pushing children through lessons without checking for comprehension, disallowing or shaming students that question what they are being taught are all what make children hate school.  They are not allowed to be creative, to think “outside the box,” to stop the teacher when they don’t understand, to ask about something they learned somewhere else, to point out when things are either inconsistent or flat out lies.

For a brief section, they talk about how this type of education impacts adult lives and the ability to participate in democracy.  One of the individuals in the doc points out how junior and high school school papers, newspapers, and other writings are so highly censored. What they can and cannot say, the opinions expressed are completely regulated.  So, when they get out of school, when they become adults, why would they think this kind of censorship is wrong?  Why wouldn’t they think being told what to think is normal?  In one of the schools I worked with at one point, the Government class was assigned to write a letter to their congressman about a bill that was being presented.  The students were told exactly what side to support and what points to include in the letter.  What the FUUUUCCKKKK!!!!!!! That’s so fucking insulting to these students!!!! That is a horrible assignment!!!!!! Writing a letter to your congressman? Yes, good.  More people should.  But telling them what to say?  Dear teachers, that is brainwashing.  That is not encouraging free thought or critical thinking.  Several students reported they did not feel comfortable with this assignment, but were forced to do it anyway.

In the past, I have encouraged students to question what their teachers taught them, and even pointed them to things that they might find interesting (Howard Zinn, anyone?  Writings on Disobedience is a good primer for teens, and less intimidating than A People’s History).

Main point: every system in place for kids and adolescents is broken.  They are too over controlled.  They’re not allowed to make mistakes because they’re too over-surveilled.  Their curriculum is written by corporations and states, with no wiggle room for individuation or creativity or accommodation for learning styles.   They’re over-medicated and sedated within an inch of their lives.  Bah.  I would hate to be a kid today.  Because they’re not allowed to be people.  They’re forced to be automatons.  And then we, as adults, complain and wonder why they suck at life.  Well, because they’re not taught how to live or how to be individuals.

Human beings are terrible creatures.

Confession:  I am a documentary junkie.

I don’t really know if that’s a confession since everyone in my life pretty much already knows it.  But!  I found the Holy Grail.  The most stomach churning documentary ever!  And it’s not what you might think from the chick who sat through (and thoroughly enjoyed!) Human Centipede 2.

Oh no!  This is so much more disgusting.  What is it you might ask?

NURSERY UNIVERSITY

A documentary about New Yorkers–primarily upper-crest Manhattanites–trying to get their 2 and 3 year-olds into the most competitive pre-schools in the city.  Yes, pre-schools.  Those places you go to finger paint and learn to not shove other kids when they wipe boogers on you.  Oh dear lord.  Education should not be this disgusting.  I understand there is some apparent lack of good pre-schools in New York.  However, from what this documentary showed me, unless you are super rich and can both afford to send your kids to these ridiculous schools and have a connection to get your kids into them, your kid gets no early education or very poor early education.

I’ll start off with what, to me, is the most important issue here.  What the fuck New York?  Education is not a limited resource.  Why is it difficult to build more pre-schools, especially when parents will obviously pay a great deal to get their kids into anything.  The doc starts off with the statistic that for every 1 spot they have in these private pre-schools 15 children will apply.  Obviously some parents are applying to multiple schools for their kids, thus skewing the stat some–who knows how much. But for fucking real, New York.  I’m stressing this point here: You can build more schools and hire more pre-school teachers!  It is not difficult!  I refuse to accept the idea that it is impossible to educate each and every child.  I don’t know what New York’s public schools are like, but if they are like Chicago’s or Detroit’s they are probably terrible.  Overcrowded, underfunded, and run by apathetic administrators.  So I understand the want for private schools and pre-schools.  But at this earliest stage of life, when education and exposure is most important and when more and more parents are forced to make the decision to work or stay home solely on economic basis, I’m struggling to understand why creating more schools is so difficult.  More schools=more jobs across the board.  And it has a long-term positive effect of education.  The lack of schools has across the board negative effects that fucking hurt my soul.

Okay, now that  that is out of my system.  Let’s talk about these shitty fucking schools, then we’ll talk about these shitty parents.  Some of the highlights that scroll past my eyes include administrators rejecting “shy” children, rejecting children who show any kind of separation anxiety during the “group interview”–okay, stop.  Fuck.  They would reject the 25 year old me! I just need to make that point.–talk about “legacies” (what the fuck?  Legacies are bullshit no matter what the level of education), ranking preferable races of children, criticizing freeplay, denying any child that cried or is “developmentally young” or had a temper tantrum (because that’s not what toddlers do), talking about preparing these children for their first job at Goldman Sachs, and forcing children to complete puzzles during this interview process.  I would love to learn the philosophy that actually drives the philosophy behind these schools.  They describe each days as being so over-scheduled, with first yoga, then Spanish class, then reading, then blah and blah.  For real.  And they don’t see the benefit of free play? What?  Do they know anything about child development?  God, the Goldman Sachs comment made my fucking stomach churn.  Is this really how rich people think?

Okay, now the parents.  Again, I totally understand that these parents are overly stressed due to the lack of good early education opportunities.  But, they sit around and write essays for their children, they step on one another to get the last spot in a good school, they make massive “donations” to the school to inflate their chances, they kiss so much ass because that is what they feel they have to do.  I’m sure their is an even seedier side of this; the documentary mentioned–in not as much detail as I would have loved to have heard–an incident in the early 90s (I may be a bit off on that) when a stock trader inflated the stocks of the head of this school in order to get his child in.  That’s fucking hard core.  It’s like applying to Yale for a 2 year old.  It’s so wrong.  Parents should not have to do this for their child just to get their child into pre-school.  And then the parents who don’t get what they want complain.  One woman ends by saying “We’re not used to not getting what we want.  I thought we could pay like $20,000, $30,000 and get what we want.  I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

And all these little toddlers want is some fucking play doh!  Come to me children, away from your creepy parents!  I have play doh that you can stick in your nose or throw in each other’s hair!  I hope all these children, in their coming years, leave all kinds of tiny legos around the house for their parents to step on!

Paternal Attachment–I created a Professor “oh crap” moment. Sorry :(

I just received a really fantastically awkward response to a question about the absence of fathers in attachment theory.  Anyone who has read a bit of attachment theory quickly realizes that most authors are talking only about mothers.  The pressure is placed on the mother to create a secure attachment, to ensure that they provide the ideal level of boundaries and warmth.  I’m not going to go over all the 4 levels of attachment, but suffice it to say, it is a difficult balance to define and for a woman to enact.  Many parents achieve this with little difficulty (yay for them!)  Psychologists tend to pathologize all everything except secure attachments.  (wiki-link, if you’re curious to want more! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory) In my opinion, children and adults are more adaptable and resilient than we give them credit for.   But even outside of psychology, culture gives mothers the responsibility of creating the early blueprint for attachment.  The relationship with the father is considered tertiary, consequential.  Short of outright abuse, anything the father does is juuuuust fiiiiiiiine.

The field of attachment research focuses almost solely on mothers.  We have a ton of information on how mothers attach to their children and a massive lacking of information about fathers.  A few people have attempted to explore how fathers form bonds with their children, but this collection of research is very, very small.  The field of psychology and relationship science instead assumes that paternal attachment is just the same.  The problem with this is that we simply don’t know.  It is worth exploring but it is not being really explored.

I brought up this issue in class after watching a video clip on corrective attachment therapy. This type of therapy is primarily applied when an infant is diagnosed with Failure to Thrive and no biological/medical base can be identified.  Failure to Thrive occurs when a child and parent have no attachment, are out of tune with one another, the parent is not meeting the child’s need for security.  This failure of relationship result in the child not eating or taking in nutrition or not sleeping.  The child does not grow.  FTT does not occur only in first days/weeks of life, but can appear age 3 or even older.  It creates a great deal of disruption in the entire household, especially if two parents are involved.  The video we watched and every discussion I’ve ever had on this topic throughout multiple classes, revolves around the mother.  Treatment revolves primarily around the mother, teaching the mother how to appropriately respond and build an empathetic connection with the child.

So, in my infinite curiosity, I inquired as to why the fathers were not more involved.  They were obviously involved and equally as disengaged from the child.  At least one of the families featured involved two working parents.  Why is the father’s lack of attachment not emphasized.  I received a very bumbling and unsatisfying answer that mentioned the working father, the importance of the “feeding relationship” (think breast feeding–even though few mothers currently breast feed), the father not wishing to create more tension in the family.  To my prof’s credit, he acknowledged that this was an area that was lacking, but he came back around to excusing that.  At no point did he imply, yeah dads need to be involved!  They can have bad attachments too!  I followed up by stating that it seemed father’s were excused in their Ego-Centric level of awareness with their child, and that it is accepted or expected that fathers relate to their children in this way.  Again, I received more bumbling and nothing resembling a satisfying answer.

Poor guy.  He went out of his way to inject “father” every time he said “mother” and tried to inject some comments about patriarchy for the rest of the lecture.  I felt kind of awkward as he answered the question, as awkward as I was annoyed.  It was a clear moment of “oh crap I have a feminist in my class!  What do I doooooo?”  But the field of psychology and attachment are dripping with misogyny.  Hell when you break it down the whole field was created by men to control and condemn women’s natural impulses and urges.  Fucking Freud.

This just in!

Rick Santorum proposes that women report each menstrual cycle to the federal government and be jailed until they conceive a child.  Santorum states that every time a woman has her period she is aborting a potential life and this kind of “lifestyle convenience” can no longer be tolerated if we hope to keep our Christian nation strong.

Later in his speech, he continued to press the importance of small government.Image *

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Haha!  Just kidding.  But it sounds like something he’d say.