Showing posts with label psychotherapeutic humanities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychotherapeutic humanities. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Cinematherapy - Hunt For The Wilderpeople

 Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Movie on Neflix streaming.

Plot - From IMDB - Reclusive country folk Bella and Hector become foster parents to Ricky, a problem child from the city. After some adjustment, things go reasonably well. However, Bella's death means that Hector must now look after Ricky himself, and they haven't been getting along. Moreover, her death causes Child Services to decide to send Ricky back to the orphanage. Ricky refuses to go back and runs away, ultimately sparking a national manhunt for him and Hector.—

Audience - The movie is intended for a general audience. It can be enjoyed by all ages from 10 and up. This review is written though for human service professionals.

Creative tension - The creative tension in Hunt for the Wilderpeople is derived from two sources. First Ricky Baker is a foster child, 13, who has been difficult to place and retain in a foster care setting.. How will he adjust to this new foster home, way out in the country, with Bella and Hector, a childless older couple. Bella is very motherly, almost grandmotherly, while Hector is antisocial and a curmudgeon. The second source of creative tension arises when Bella dies and Child Welfare Services writes a letter to Hector informing him that they will be coming to remove Ricky from his home now that Bella is dead. Ricky refuses to go back to child welfare,  and Hector is upset that they don’t think he can raise a child without Bella. Hector and Ricky escape to the bush to avoid capture by Child Welfare authorities.

Moral of the Story - Family comes in multiple forms and Ricky and Hector have formed theirs no matter how unlikely and mismatched. Does their form of family coincide with community norms? No. But does it work and is it filled with love and caring? Yes.

Utility of the movie for human service professionals - To learn an appreciation for diversity in all its multiplicities. What conforms with social convention might not always be the best. In such cases do the nonconformists become outlaws? As outlaws do people evade, resist, and attack the forces of subjugation and oppression? As witnesses do we side with the conventional authorities or with the right to self determination of those the system would subjugate? In these dilemmas what is the appropriate ethical stance of the human service worker?

Recommendation - This film is highly recommended for its entertainment, and for its presentation of deeper ethical dilemmas. It earns a 5 out of 5.

Articles about Cinematherapy appear on Markham's Behavioral Health on most Tuesdays.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Psychotherapeutic humanities - Knowing about, and experience.

There is a big difference between knowing about something and experiencing it. When working with people with substance misuse problems they often ask the counselor if the counselor is in recovery themselves. The saying in AA and other twelve stop programs is that “it takes one to know one” or as my friend, Jim, told me one time, “Dave, you can’t bullshit a bull shitter.”

Of course to expect that a helper has had personal experience with the problem influencing the helpee is unreasonable and unnecessary for the helper to be empathetic and understanding. Often the helper has vicariously experienced the problem from the stories of other helpees and from works of art, the most relevant being fiction, nonfiction, and films.

The three main factors of helpful bibliotherapy and cinematherapy are trust, connection and action. Trust meaning that the fiction or nonfiction seems realistic, authentic, relevant, and believable. Connection meaning that the reader, viewer, can identify with the characters, and action in the sense that the scenarios, interactions, and dynamics can be replicated.

Can we experience life vicariously through the artistic rendition of other people, events, and dynamics? Absolutely, and this living vicariously can help one become wise, compassionate, knowledgeable and helpful.

Art facilitates the growth of the soul, not just the intellect. A competent helper needs both intellect and soul.

Articles about the Psychotherapeutic Humanities appears on Markham's Behavioral Health most Sundays.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Who are the therapist writers?

The stories in this collection, not unlike those by Oliver Sacks, Atul Gawan­de, Perri Klass, Danielle Ofri, and a growing number of physician-writers, are teaching tales that offer hope and humane reassurance: in the midst of a struggling health-care system, there are some who understand medicine as ministry.

As I read the above sentence in the book review for Tornado Of Life by Jay Baruch by Marilyn McEntyre, I got thinking about all the books I have read by therapist writers about psychotherapy. There are many. The most memorable for me are "The 50 - Minute Hour" by Robert Lindner and Love's Executioner by Irvin Yalom.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Psychotherapeutic Humanities - The play, Equus, by Peter Shaffer

Equus is a Tony Award winning play by Peter Shaffer about a seventeen year old male, Peter Strang,  who blinds six horses with a metal spike and is committed to a mental hospital in which his psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Dysart, attempts to understand the motivation and meaning of Peter’s  behavior. This play is considered by some a classic and has been studied in various college courses.

The intended audience is adults with an interest in psychodynamics and the impact of  religiosity on behavior. 

The creative tension builds as the psychiatrist, in the course of his psychotherapeutic work, must work through the difficulties in his own life.

There might be many lessons derived from the story. The main one seems to be that repressive upbringing in the 50s led to repressed sexual energy which was acted out in destructive ways. This seems to be a lesson which in subsequent decades has been learned as patriarchal structures have been deconstructed as feminist values have manfiested more prevalently in society.

The story seems a bit outdated since the play was first produced in 1973. In the last fifty years the values and attitudes about sexual expression have radically changed. The main utility of studying the play at this time might be to increase the understanding of the management of sexual impulses in previous decades influenced by the cultural conditioning of the time.

The play is recommended to those interested in the dynamics of sexual repression in previous decades in western societies especially of England and the United States.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Psychotherapeutic humanities - Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (Novel)

Vanity Fair (Novel)

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery published as a serial in a magazine in the 1840s has become, what some people, rate as one of the 100 most important English novels of all time.

Here is a summary from Spark Notes: 

Vanity Fair is a classic novel by English writer William Thackeray, first published in serialised form in the magazine Punch in 1847. The story is told within a frame narrative of a puppet show at a play, highlighting the unreliable nature of the events of the narrative. Vanity Fair follows the lives of Becky Sharp, a strong-willed, penniless young woman, and her friend Amelia 'Emmy' Sedley, a good-natured wealthy young woman. Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, Vanity Fair charts the girls' misadventures in love, marriage and family. Becky, manipulative, witty, and amoral, is Emmy's opposite, while Emmy, initially presented as the novel's heroine, is passive, sweet, likeable and a pawn to her family's wishes. Becky, forced to become a governess by circumstances, marries wealthy, while Emmy marries George a man disinherited by his prejudiced father. Critics of the time discussed Vanity Fair's misanthropic view of society, while later critics have called attention to the novel's depiction of the commodification of women in a capitalist society.

Thackeray as the narrator often interjects himself into the narrative with ironic comments. The novel was written for a general adult audience and is widely studied at the college level. This review is written for human service professionals.

The creative tension in the novel is derived from the class system in England in the first part of the nineteenth century when wealth also meant social status akin to the kind of social status that comes from family history. At this time, people could either attain social status through being a member of the titled aristocracy or accumulating wealth. The two main characters of the novel Amelia Sedley and Rebecca Sharp are coming of age where the station at which one marries determines the kind of life the young woman and her children could expect to have. Amelia Sedley comes from accumulated wealth which her family loses and goes bankrupt while Rebecca Sharp is an orphan and through her powers of manipulation and seduction gains access to the upper rungs of English society.

As might be imagined, the intrigue and drama might do a soap opera proud were this story to be adapted to this genre in the twenty first century, 200 years after the first telling.

The novel questions the values of society and takes the position that vanity colors most of human social life especially when it comes to social class consciousness of the time. Amelia is portrayed as the good girl while Rebecca is portrayed as amoral and narcissistic. The reader is led to become conscious of and laugh at the pretensions of society and to question the whole existential basis for the egoistic values that we hold and which govern our lives.

This novel could be used in a college course on human behavior and social environment to demonstrate how societal values influence individual behavior. The novel also highlights that lack of self awareness as the characters sleepwalk through life with no awareness of how their society has molded them. While the narrator does not mock them, he does offer a more objective view of the puppet show in which each character is playing a part. This view reminded me of Shakespeare’s great line his play “As you like it” when Jacques says, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”

This novel is recommended for a general audience and especially for  professionals who intend to enter the field of human services in its many forms whether it is as a minister, a teacher, a nurse, a physician, a psychologist, a Social Worker, etc. This novel earns a 5 out of 5 stars.

PS - There have been many movies and TV series made of this novel.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities, Book, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Book Review

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage is a novel about a young black couple who get married who are from different social classes. The wife, Celestial, comes from a wealthy upper class family while Roy comes from a working class family. They both are college educated but coming from different backgrounds seem to have different values, beliefs, and preferences.

Roy gets arrested and is falsely accused of rape and sentenced to twelve years in prison after the first year of his marriage to Celestial.

Celestial stops visiting Roy after about three years saying that she can’t live like she is, as a single woman, while Roy, her husband, is incarcerated. Celestial has taken up with Andre her childhood friend who also was Roy’s best friend and is the person who introduced Roy and Celestial to begin with. Roy is released after five years when his case is overturned on appeal. Roy’s homecoming to find that Celestial and Andre are planning to marry when Celestial sues Roy for divorce brings the plot, the love triangle between Celestial, Roy, and Andre, to a climax.

The ambivalence each character experiences about these love relationships creates the creative tension that gives this novel its appeal.

The subplot deals with the injustice of the criminal justice system as it pertains to prosecuting and incarcerating black men and the damage this does to families and the communities beyond the injustice done to the alleged offender.

Tayari Jones is a good writer but the story is a bit like a soap opera. The moral of the story is a muddle. Whether Roy and Celestial would have made a go of their marriage had Roy not been incarcerated is hard to tell. It may have dissolved anyway, but after a year of marriage the bond was not strong enough to weather the enforced physical separation.

Celestial and Roy had talked about having children but had put it off. Had they had children one would wonder if this would have made a difference.

Why the novel is entitled “An American Marriage” is not clear. What makes the marriage between Celestial and Roy “American” is never addressed. The dynamics of the plot involve an African-American couple, but would be similar if the couple were white, or Hispanic, or Asian.

Reading “An American Marriage” reminds me Stewart O’Nan’s novel, “The Good Wife” which has a similar plot except the wife is pregnant when her husband is incarcerated and she stands by him and raises their child for 28 years.

An American Marriage gets a 6.5 on the MBH 10 point scale.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities - "You Choose" by Linda McCullough Moore

Chapter three
Where do divorces come from?

Linda McCullough Moore writes in her story, "You Choose" in her book of short stories, An Episode of Grace, on pages 1-2,

I turn the wipers to fast swish and purse my lips and hunch my shoulders, as though these nods to ritual and posture might give me better traction.

“Where did this weather come from?” I say.

“Heaven,” Adam says. “God. Same place as every weather.”

Adam is six and the only member of our family who is unfailingly religious.

McCullough Moore, Linda. An Episode of Grace . Thornapple Books.pp.1-2


Is Adam’s comment about the weather coming from God because he is “unfailingly religious” or because he is still innocent and hasn’t been corrupted yet by the socialization and conditioning of society?

Linda McCullough Moore always seem to inject a spiritual consciousness in her writing which makes it full of grace. The title of this book of Moore’s short stories is entitled, “An Episode Of Grace” and here, in this first story, as the family gets stuck in a snowstorm on their way to meeting with the children’s father so that he, and their mother, driving the car, can share with them the news about the death of their marriage, their intention to divorce, and breaking up the these two young boys family as they have known it, we read about a moment of grace which the mother calls "religous.".

The mother’s question, “Where does this weather come from?” is more than just a question about the weather. It is a question about the purpose of their journey, the purpose of their intended mission, the purpose of life.

Dr. Freud taught us about the unconscious mind and that what we think we are doing consciously often has little to do with what our deeply held  unconscious  thoughts and feelings are.

Our will and God’s will are often two different things. The joke pointing to this truth is “If you want to hear God laugh, tell God your plans.”

The mother’s question, “Where does this weather come from?” can be said in many ways such as merely a comment on the fact of the matter, or a sigh of victimization, and perhaps with a laugh at the absurdity of the situation with their trip being disrupted in an uncontrollable way.

Adam, at the age of six, still thinks about situations with a concrete innocence that still believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Adam reminds me of the little about a young boy in Sunday School drawing a picture. The Sunday School teacher asks him, “What are you drawing?”

The little boy says, “I am drawing a picture of God.”

The teacher says, kindly, “Well, nobody knows what God looks like.”

The little boy says, “You will when I am done.”

The mother chalks up Adam’s comment to religiosity. It might be better understood in terms of his stage of cognitive, social, and emotional development. Adam is still innocent and thinks that the weather comes from God. When he is told about his parents’ divorce, where will he think that comes from?

To be continued.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities - "The Maid's Story" by Adam O'Fallon Price

The story in the June, 2019 issue of Harper's Magazine is "The Maid's Story" by Adam O'Fallon Price.

The story is about a hotel maid, Hannah Kohl, who is afflicted with kleptomania and steals small items from the hotel guests' rooms. Hannah steals a ruby brooch, a piece of cheap costume jewelry, from Annette Gerson who was staying for a few days on vacation with her husband and two children.
Hannah is terrified of her thefts being discovered and being fired from her job.

When Mrs. Gerson catches Hannah stealing her brooch, Mrs. Gerson enters into a scheme to blackmail Hannah into coming to her home and staying over night by offering medical care for her son, 8, suffering from polio.

As the story progresses Mrs. Gerson sexually molests Hannah and then manipulates the situation so that Hannah is fired from her job and has little choice but to move to Manhatten and become a live in nanny for Mrs. Gerson's children.

In this age of #MeToo, this is a story of sexual exploitation outside of the usual male/perpetrator - female/victim motiff. In this story a female becomes a perpetrator in a lesbian assault. What makes the story work is the class difference of a rich women preying on a poor one.

While sexual abuse makes the news and public outrage is fanned, class differences which often make the exploitation possible are overlooked. What appears to be sexual exploitation could not occur if class differences were not part of the situation.

As is so often the case from a psychotherapeutic perspective, the sex is the minor part of the offense in which domination, exploitation, and abuse of power is the root evil. Domination and subjugation robs the person of his/her right to self determination and agency.

This is how the story ends.Hannah Kohl is called into her supervisor's office and fired. She is told there is a message for her at the hotel desk to call Mrs. Gerson.

"How horrible," the woman's voice boomed in response to the news of her termination.

"Yes, I was reported."

"How horrible," she repeated. "Well, perhaps this is kismet. Mr. Gerson and I have just been discussing the need for a live-in nanny. I have so much to do, and only so much time-" she went on, but the maid was only half-listening, aware of herself as a guest watching might have aware of her: a slight woman in a sweater and long skirt and cheap brown shoes, shoulders shaking, bent over the desk in a posture of utter submission.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities - overview

Medical humanities

Psychotherapeutic humanities
There are many activities that are involved in training psychotherapists. The main activities are academic learning about various aspects of human functioning: biologically, psychologically, sociologically, spiritually. The disciplines of study are varied and many.

Aside from the academic learning comes the practice, through internships, and later through clinical supervision, which consists of discussing one’s work with a more experienced psychotherapist. Learning for a psychotherapist is ongoing and lifelong.

One of the activities that may provide the most learning is the study of the psychotherapeutic humanities, a branch of the medical humanities,  which are the arts such as novels, films, plays, art, and music. The humanities have much to teach physicians, nurses, the psychotherapist, and other human service workers about human nature and life.

On Markham’s Behavioral Health we describe works of art which are helpful in our understanding of human nature and our lives. It is this understanding that contributes to the maturity and wisdom of the psychotherapist.

Over the next few weeks, material from Linda McCullough Moore’s book of short stories, An Episode of Grace will be discussed. It would be informative and enjoyable if people were to read the book and join in the discussions by commenting on the articles posted.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities - Do we own our children or lease them?

Linda McCullough Moore writes in her story, "You Choose" in her book of short stories, An Episode of Grace,

My windshield is all but whited out before it occurs to me it’s snowing. I’m getting to be so slow on the uptake. It takes a snowplow broadsiding me for snow to capture my attention. 

“Wow,” Jonah sings out from the backseat as the car in front of us attempts to brake and skids into the empty passing lane. 

“Awesome. That rules.” 

Jonah is eleven and things either “rule” or they “suck.” 

I can’t decide which word I dislike more.

McCullough Moore, Linda. An Episode of Grace . Thornapple Books. Kindle Edition.

Reading this passage, I smile. Jonah is eleven which puts him in sixth grade, the first year of middle school. The power of the peer group starts to exert itself and kids pick up the slang words of their generation. This makes them part of the in-group and fosters a sense of belonging in a group outside of the family of origin.

Slang sets its speakers a part. Slang is a sign of membership and separates the child from his/her parents and family. The narrator, Jonah's mother, doesn't say what she doesn't like about the words that Jonah is using. We can speculate that they are not the same slang words she used in her middle school years and so they seem foreign to her and therefore objectionable.

Jonah's use of his generation's slang is an apron string being cut, a pulling away from a mother-son bond and attachment and could it be that mother feels somewhat jealous, competitive, left out, and sad?

It is hard for some parents to watch their children grow up and leave them which ultimately they must if they are to develop a healthy self sufficiency and autonomy. As one person put it, Our children are not our possessions. We don't own them. They have only been leased to us temporarily by God.

This is a second article on "You Choose" by Linda McCullough Moore.

To be continued

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities - When to tell the children about the impending divorce?

Linda McCullough Moore's book of short stories, An Episode Of Grace, begins with the story entitled, "You choose," which begins with this paragraph:

"I’m driving on Route 91, going ten miles over the limit, on the way to my divorce, or, at least, to its announcement. My husband Jake and I decided we would tell the kids tonight. We’ve waited way too long. Our marriage died of natural causes years ago. We are planning that our children will be shocked beyond surprise, but we both know better. Any hesitation that we have about telling them isn’t fear of their surprise; it’s knowing that once we say the words, out loud, to them, it will be official, carved in stone, irreversible. But, of course, that’s what we want."

The childrens' names are Jonah who is 11 and Adam who is 6.

Of all the questions I get asked as a couple counselor and a family therapist by people going through a divorce are when and how to tell the kids?

My stock answer is "Don't tell them anything until you know specifically what the plan is unless they ask."

Kids being narcissistic in a healthy way first ask when told their parents are separating is "What's going to happen to me?" Parents need to have the answer to provide the child with whatever sense of security and predictability they are able.

The narrator in this story has her plan in place and has coordinated the telling the children with her husband and is on her way. But as she travels to the meeting with the children she gets stuck in a snow storm and as the various events unfold her ambivalence was divorcing her husband grows in poignant ways.

The ambivalence partners usually feel about a break-up with the concomitant anger, sadness, fear, hope, sense of failure and regret, are things the therapist witnesses and, hopefully, clarifies with the client(s) into some sort of coherent story that makes sense to themselves primarily and then to others affected.

The key question, often overlooked, in the emotional turmoil is, "What is the purpose of this relationship?" The genuine answers to this question usually lie at an unconscious level that the individual is not aware of and doesn't understand.

The understandings of one's motivations, choices, and responsibilities are key to growth towards greater maturity so that the individual does not jump from the proverbial frying pan into the fire and engage in what Dr. Freud called the "repetition compulsion" to merely re-enact the same scenario over again.

The narrator of the story recognizes that telling the children about the impending divorce is a milestone in the process which she determines as a point of no return. It is an action which will make the rupture permanent and complete. The finality and the closure seems to heighten her apprehension about the decision to divorce rather than mollify it and liberate her.

You choose is a great story and much can be learned as we puruse our study of the psychotherapeutic humanities.

This is the first article on "You Choose" by Linda McCullough Moore.

To be continued

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Movie - On The Basis Of Sex

On The Basis of Sex is a movie about Ruth Bader Ginsberg's early life and career establishing her expertise in  advocating for women's rights in the U.S. in the later half of the twentieth century.

It is a five out of five on the MBH movie scale and is highly recommended.

Editor's note:
This is not only a biographical story about RBG but a good example of how social change is made in an intentional and deliberate way.

The norms, attitudes, beliefs, practices of a society are highly influenced in a democracy by the "rule of law." The impact of the changes in women's rights in a patriarchal society made by Ruth Bader Ginsberg's and others efforts are enormous. What is taken for granted today and "just the way things are" has not always been the case, and the recipients in todays society of the changes made by those who came before us deserve recognition, acknowledgement, and support.

This movie is informative on multiple levels and inspirational. It filled me with gratitude for the work that has been done to improve the lives of people in our society by what are called in Unitarian Universalism, "Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love."

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Books - Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

What happens when parents suddenly die in a car crash and leave a 17 yr. old son, a 16 yr. old son, a 7 year old daughter and a baby daughter in a rural farming community in Northern Ontario, Canada?
Grown up Kate, now in her 20s tells most of the story.

It is a narrative full of love, sacrifice, loyalty, persistence, projection, and descriptions of attachment styles that are fascinating.

Kate certainly has become avoidant although she had been every attached to her brother, Matt the youngest son. This attachment dynamic is the plat of the book. While Luke the oldest, and Bo the youngest are interesting characters, the primary creative tension revolves around Matt and Katie, 16 and 7 when tragedy strikes the family.

This novel is an extraordinary description of sibling relationships and the significant role they play in our growth and development.

I give Crow Lake a 4/5 and recommend it if you are interested in family dynamics especially those between siblings who are thrown upon their own resources to care for one another.
I would recommend this book to students entering the helping professions especially for its depiction of attachment styles.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Books - The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

There are plenty of slave narratives. Do we need any more?

Colson Whitehead's novel, The Underground Railroad, tells the story of a young slave woman, Cora, who escapes the Randall plantation in Georgia with a male companion Caesar and makes her way north and west on a literal underground railroad whose tunnels have been dug by abolitionists committed to undoing the bonds of slavery.

The scenes about slave torture and killings are terrible and offset to some extent by the kindness of strangers who help and conduct the slave escapees to freedom.

This is a story about the tenacity and perseverance of the human spirit against the evil of economic forces and power which exploit, subjugate, oppress, and terrorize to maintain power and dominion. It is a more extreme story of what is happening in America today with Trumpism and the championing of racism, mysogony, xenophobia, deceit and using fear and terror to undue civil liberties and the rule of law.

The Underground Railroad is an old narrative going back 300 years in the United States and continuing on in more subtle and insidious forms in our country today.

Cora and her companions seeking freedom and human development in the face of life threatening terror and domination is a souce of inspiritation and hope. The people who help her and her companions are the unnamed saints and martyrs for the cause of human dignity and respect. While a difficult book to read because of intentional pain and suffering deliberately inflicted to dominate and subjugate human beings, it is more importantly a book not only of resistance, but of endurance, hope, and triumph.

I give The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead a 4.5 on the Markham Behavioral Health 5 point scale.