It’s About the Trauma: How to Truly Address the Roots of Violence and Suffering in our Society

Leah Harris
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We are a deeply traumatized nation. It wasn’t enough that 20 children were massacred at a school in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. It seems we are confronted with a new and devastating mass killing tragedy every few months in America, the latest being the recent shooting at Fort Hood. More soldiers have now died by suicide than by combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suicide now kills more Americans than car accidents.

What has been our collective answer to this appalling state of affairs? We shun serious discussions of gun control, and instead scapegoat people with mental health issues for the complex issue of violence in our society. But my intention is not to write about gun control. Even if by some miracle we were enlightened enough to take all guns away from people tomorrow, the fact remains that we are a traumatized nation. And the question is: what are we going to do about it?

Representative Tim Murphy is a psychologist who proposes unsatisfactory solutions to our most pressing social problems. In a “shockingly regressive” piece of legislation known as the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013” (H.R. 3717), he proposes to expand the highly controversial practice of Involuntary Outpatient Committment (IOC) for persons with serious mental illnesses. But that approach is not the answer, as documented in a fact sheet authored by the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery:

Proponents of IOC claim that it is effective in reducing violent behavior, incarcerations, and hospitalizations among individuals with serious mental health conditions. However, repeated studies have shown no evidence that mandating outpatient treatment through a court order is effective; to the limited extent that court-ordered outpatient treatment has shown improved outcomes, these outcomes appear to result from the intensive services that have been made available to participants in those clinical trials rather than from the existence of a court order mandating treatment. In addition, studies have shown that force and coercion drive people away from treatment. “By its very nature, outpatient commitment may undermine the treatment alliance and increase consumers’ aversion to voluntary involvement with services,” according to a study cited in “Opening Pandora’s Box: The Practical and Legal Dangers of Involuntary Outpatient Commitment,” published in Psychiatric Services.

So what is the answer? If we look across our systems, such as behavioral health (including mental health and substance use treatment), homeless services, veterans’ services, and criminal justice systems, what is the common denominator? Trauma. If we search the text of Representative Murphy’s bill, the word “trauma” only comes up four times. Conversely, “mental illness” is mentioned 83 times. This reflects a misguided lens through which we are looking at social problems. We need to flip that and look at our social problems through a trauma-informed lens.

We should be focusing on trauma, not mental illness.

Dr. Richard Mollica, of all people, should know about violence and human suffering. He is a psychiatrist who founded the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, and for decades he has successfully helped people who have experienced war and other kinds of severe human-to-human violence to heal. In his book Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World, he points out the limits of a purely medical/individual approach:

When mass violence occurs, there is damage not only to individuals but to entire societies, indeed to the world. The victims of September 11 and their families suffered horrible losses, but even those of us who watched the television footage suffered, whether by experiencing depression, anxiety, a loss of faith in humanity, empathic overload, or emotional withdrawal. As a consequence, healing must occur not only within individuals but also within societies, with society as the healing agent…Personal and social healing are united in a reciprocal and mutually advantageous relationship.

The average person does not have a clear understanding of what “trauma” really means. It doesn’t just mean that your family physically abused you as a kid or that you witnessed a violent act, or even that you have head trauma, such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Trauma should be understood as much more broadly occurring when:

An external threat overwhelms a person’s coping resources. It can result in specific signs of psychological or emotional distress, or it can affect many aspects of the person’s life over a period of time. Sometimes people aren’t even aware that the challenges they face are related to trauma that occurred earlier in life. Trauma is unique to each individual—the most violent events are not always the events that have the deepest impact. Trauma can happen to anyone, but some groups are particularly vulnerable due to their circumstances, including women and children, people with disabilities, and people who are homeless or living in institutions.[ii]

The prevalence of trauma

To understand how trauma is directly relevant to the current debates raging in America, consider the following facts and statistics:[iii]

  • Men and boys of color are disproportionately affected by violence, trauma, and high rates of poverty and incarceration.[iv]
  • 80% of people in psychiatric hospitals have experienced physical or sexual abuse.
  • 66% of people in substance abuse treatment report childhood abuse or neglect.
  • 90% of women with alcoholism were sexually abused or suffered severe violence from parents.
  • Exposure to childhood trauma (physical assault and bullying) is linked to psychotic experiences, such as hearing voices.[v]
  • 95% of women and 89% of men entering jail diversion programs have experienced physical or sexual abuse. [vi]
  • A study of women inmates at a maximum security prison found that they had experienced physical and sexual abuse throughout their youth and adulthood.[vii]
  • An individual can be “retraumatized by services, supervision, and management policies that ignore or dismiss the role of trauma.” [viii]

Take the complex problem of suicide. There is compelling research to show that early adverse childhood experiences [ACEs] dramatically increase the risk of suicidal behaviors. The ACE Study consists of a questionnaire asking people if they have experienced various ACEs, such as witnessing violence growing up, or having an alcoholic parent. ACEs have a strong, clear relationship to suicide attempts during childhood/adolescence and adulthood. Two-thirds (67%) of all suicide attempts, 64% of adult suicide attempts, and 80% of child/adolescent suicide attempts are attributable to ACEs.[ix] Dube et al. note that their estimates of population attributable fractions for ACEs and suicide are “of an order of magnitude that is rarely observed in epidemiology and public health data.”[x]

Or let’s look at the connections between homelessness and trauma. According to the Homelessness Resource Center:

Homelessness is traumatic. People experiencing homelessness are living with a multitude of losses. People who are homeless have lost the protection of home and community, and are marginalized, isolated, and stigmatized within the larger society. Additionally, people who are experiencing homelessness are highly vulnerable to violence and victimization.[xi]

The statistics don’t lie: we need to focus on supporting all people in healing trauma. Trauma is a huge risk factor for suicide as well as for every manner of behavioral health and physical health challenges, as well as increased risk of interpersonal violence.[xii] Yet trauma is rarely addressed in the context of legislation, community development, human service provision, jail diversion, or suicide prevention programs.

What does it mean to be “trauma-informed?”

Looking through the lens of trauma does not mean that we blame families for being in crisis. It means that we need to recognize the ways that individuals, families and communities are reeling from the effects of trauma, and to help them empower themselves to look at and address the root causes of the crises they face. As described in a 2010 report by the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice and Department of Medicine, Drexel University:

Trauma theory represents a fundamental shift in thinking from the supposition that those who have experienced psychological trauma are either “sick” or deficient in moral character to the reframe that they are “injured” and in need of healing. Such shifts are made possible in the context of a supportive political movement. To a significant extent, “trauma theory” attained credibility because Vietnam Veterans refused to be silent about their experiences and because the antiwar movement had an air of legitimacy not previously known.[xiii]

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal agency that has done much to promote trauma-informed approaches:

A definition of trauma-informed approach incorporates three key elements: (1) realizing the prevalence of trauma; (2) recognizing how trauma affects all individuals involved with the program, organization, or system, including its own workforce; and (3) responding by putting this knowledge into practice.

A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for healing; recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in staff, clients, and others involved with the system; and responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, practices, and settings.[xiv]

The little Gulf Coast city of Tarpon Springs, Fla., gets it. They have undertaken an effort to be a “trauma-informed community.” The community has made a commitment to engage people in all walks of life: education, juvenile justice, welfare, housing, medical practices, and business. This is exactly the direction our country needs to take. We should read about Tarpon Springs’ initiative to train all of its systems in understanding the prevalence of trauma, and how to be more trauma-informed in the way we approach every person who interfaces with educational and human service systems. Here is one example of what they are doing to help break cycles of trauma and violence in their community:

The Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-Entry Coalition used the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experience questionnaire to discover that the overwhelming majority of people in its substance-abuse, batterers-intervention and sex-offender groups had suffered severe trauma. The coalition counselors changed their program, with the result that the ex-offenders feel more optimistic, and that they have more tools to turn their lives around.[xv]

The solutions proposed in Representative Murphy’s legislation will never fully address the serious crises facing our communities and our nation. At best, the expansion of IOC will be a band-aid covering a horribly festering wound. H.R. 3717 represents a policy response that is not only NOT trauma-informed, but will only serve to further perpetuate trauma in our communities. We need to address our community problems within our communities, as communities. That is where the hope lies to begin to address the problem of self-inflicted and interpersonal violence in our society, and to heal our traumatized nation.

* * * * *

References:

Mollica, Richard. Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World (Vanderbilt University Press, 2006).

[ii] Blanch, A., Filson, B., Penney, D. & Cave, C. (2012).  Engaging women in trauma-informed peer support: A guidebook.  SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care. Available at: http://www.nasmhpd.org/publications/engagingWomen.aspx

[iii] Sharp, C. and Ligenza, L. Is Your Organization Trauma Informed? http://www.thenationalcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Is-Your-Organization-Trauma-Informed.pdf

[iv] Davis, L. (2009). Reparable Harm: Assessing and Addressing Disparities Faced by Boys and Men of Color in California. Santa Monica, CA, RAND Corporation.

[v] Ian Kelleher. Childhood Trauma and Psychosis in a Prospective Cohort Study: Cause, Effect, and Directionality. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2013; 170 (7): 734 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.12091169

[vi] Policy Research Associates. (2011). Final report of the evaluation of CMHS Targeted Capacity Expansion for Jail Diversion Programs initiative. Delmar, NY: Author.

[vii] Browne, A., Miller, B., Maguin, E. (1999). Prevalence and severity of physical and sexual victimization among incarcerated women. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 22, 301-322.

[viii] Harris, M., & Fallot, R.D. (2001). Envisioning a trauma-informed service system: A vital paradigm shift. New Directions for Mental Health Services, 89, 3-22.                 

[ix] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11754674?dopt=Abstract

[x] Dube, et al. Childhood abuse, household dysfunction, and the risk of attempted suicide throughout the life span: findings from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. JAMA. 2001 Dec 26;286(24):3089-96.

[xi] Homelessness Resource Center. http://homeless.samhsa.gov/channel/trauma-29.aspx

[xii] Centers of Disease Prevention (CDC). Major Findings of the ACE Study. http://www.cdc.gov/ace/findings.htm

[xiii] Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice and Department of Medicine, Drexel University. (June 2010). “Healing the Hurt: Trauma-Informed Approaches to the Health of Boys and Young Men of Color”

[xiv] Harris, M. & Fallot, R. (2001). Using trauma theory to design service systems.

[xv] “Tarpon Springs, Florida, May be the First Trauma-Informed City in the US.” (February 13, 2012). http://acestoohigh.com/2012/02/13/tarpon-springs-may-be-first-trauma-informed-city-in-u-s/

 

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81 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Leah, I sure hope the people who could stop the Murphy Bill are listening and that we are reaching out to our legislators. Everyone in recovery are sharing the same thing this bill will do more harm than help. It is another form of bullying those who already suffered bullying and are feeling the pain and need a way to safely heal, find hope and be empowered to live our best lives, we are further being picked on even more. I feel disgust as I tackle this same experience in my work life. Continue writing and sharing.

  2. Dear Leah,

    Thank you for addressing the crucially important issue of VIOLENCE and TRAUMA in our society, both structural and infiltrating groups and families. Your insight, reflectivity and courage to address these essential problems in our mega-stress and conflict-burdened modern society are much needed and appreciated.

    I would like to honor the pioneer works of two american ladies at this occasion:
    Shery MEAD’s development of trauma-informed peer support (now Intentional Peer Support)
    Judith HERMAN”s clinical, feminist and research work on Trauma and Recovery
    Both ladies, their colleagues and clients/peers are my constant inspiration.

    Here in England, two lady trauma survivors have collected and developed amazing insight on ABUSE, TRAUMA, DISSOCIATION – Jacqui DILLON honoree researcher & Eleanor LONGDEN psychologist. They deliver 2-3 day workshops which are truly life changing.

    Inspiring TED talk 2013 video by trauma survivor & psychologist Eleanor Longden, research coordinator of INTERVOICE Hearing Voices Network International, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syjEN3peCJw

    For people interested in a comprehensive summary of recent academic research on trauma, neuro-development, post traumatic distress, an excellent lecture by one of the leading US experts Bessel VAN DER KOLK, MD, Boston University School of Medicine, Trauma Center Boston, May 2013, CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, AFFECT REGULATION, POST TRAUMATIC DISORDERS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syjEN3peCJw

    With gratitude for your fabulous work at the National Empowerment Center and with the consumer/survivor movement and with
    Kind regards
    Ute

  3. The list is valuable. Much trauma relates to home life for children. Why are American families so violent? I can verify from people I know that the list is very accurate. I have often said that the health of a nation can be measured by the health of man woman relationships. Marriages and families receive little help in the USA. Is marriage almost despised by the media and leading lights? Americans also as a whole do not seem to care much for children. I know these are generalizations but I keep getting these impressions
    from conversing with people.

    Now when a nation goes somewhere and destroys the infra structure, kills hundreds of thousands of people, contaminates the land, wastes vast sums of money, neglects the affected Vets and sends them home addicted to drugs . . . can we really say this has no effect on the social life in that nation? Certainly not. And America has been into one war or another almost since WWII. And not a single one can be characterized as defense. They were all without exception wars of aggression. Even WWII is suspect; and certainly WWI was something the USA ought to have stayed out of. So lots of war. A bellicose nation.

    Most Americans end up in families that have a Vet somewhere nearby–husband, wife, grandparent, uncle . . . This is one explanation. A society in which science is regarded as a religion such that religion is regarded as a fraud is also a problem source. We toss out the notion of soul and talk about love as chemical. I love you means that certain hormones, etc. are circulating in my brain. Nothing more. And when the chemicals stop–goodbye. And most scientist will lie to save their jobs, get a better one, or receive moneys from a corporation. As a result we have wonderful nuclear power; GMO’s; Ready
    Roundup; fluoridated water; food additives. It is as if no one cares about people because People (corporations) have all the money and want more.

    Guns are not the problem. When and where I grew up there were lots of guns and never anyone shot. No murders. No one wounded. I can only remember one accident and that was a kid pounding on a shell. But that was the society this society damned and threw away. It had religion and was decidedly more rural. Knowledge and power in the city; peace and decency in the country–Mason Cooley The Murphy’s of the world evidently can not read. The science behind psychiatric medications is what people used to consider that science behind witches’ brew. The modern psychiatrist is often the same dictionary’s definition of a witch doctor: “a magician in a savage tribe”. If Representatives and psychologists like Murphy are running things and they are, then we the people will need to avoid the gov as much as possible and go it alone. Most of these rascals are only good for bribing and blackmailing.

    We need more doctors like Jonathan Shay. But these are rare persons. His two great books are of incalculable value. I wonder if Murphy could handle reading something so inspired? Anyway, glad you are on this. Thanks.

    • Agree, guns are not the problem, they are the only thing between us and tyranny. Think about how badly the “know whats best for us” crowd would behave if the population did not own guns.

      Don’t Drug my Child or I’ll Shoot!
      Aug. 30, 2011 – 4:00 – Detroit mother Maryanne Godbaldo is cleared of criminal charges related to her effort to prevent Child Services from physically taking her child from her.

      http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/1136297714001/dont-drug-my-child-or-ill-shoot/#sp=show-clips

  4. Lets look at the glass as half full , this “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013” may help the public to start recognizing psychiatry is something to avoid.

    Good luck fixxing societies problems by feeding people pills, thats totally absurd.

    America is screwed up ! First the worlds largest prison system , now “chemical prison” for mental health offenders, OMG ! WTF ???

    • I agree, Copy_cat. When I consider the ruin towards which this nation is headed I have a good idea of where most of the mental illness is coming from. Here is an excerpt from a good article by Paul Craig Roberts:

      “As I write I cannot think of one thing in the entire areas of foreign and domestic policy that the US government has told the truth about in the 21st century. Just as Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, Iran has no nukes, Assad did not use chemical weapons, and Putin did not invade and annex Crimea, the jobs numbers are fraudulent, the unemployment rate is deceptive, the inflation measures are understated, and the GDP growth rate is overstated. Americans live in a matrix of total lies.

      What can Americans do? Elections are pointless. Presidents, Senators, and US Representatives represent the interest groups that provide their campaign funds, not the voters. In two decisions, the Republican Supreme Court has made it legal for corporations to purchase the government. Those who own the government will decide what it does, not those who vote.

      All Americans can do is to accept the serfdom imposed on them or take to the streets and stay in the streets despite being clubbed, tasered, arrested, and shot by the police, who protect the power structure, not the public.

      In America, nothing is done for the public. But everything is done to the public.”

      Now imagine for a moment an average American family. The parents have many things to be distressed about. Maybe the eight year old used his finger as a gun and was arrested by the police. Or maybe the thirteen year old daughter was watching porn at a friends house. Maybe neither has the job they had ten years ago and are doing part time. The food is bad or not so good as they once could buy. They love their kids but their emotional control is thin. There is screaming now. They all feel traumatized. They can not afford an evening out without feeling guilt. They are not sleeping so well either. Fortunately they may have a reluctance to get drugs–but for how long? The Affordable Health Care is costing them more than they were formerly paying. Thank God they have good health still.

      All this is a mighty contributor to the mental heath situation. Murphy will get his campaign contributions and this family or that will bear the burden of his gross stupidity and avarice. I wonder who raised this man of no integrity? And what university gave him a degree in psychology? He learned nothing because it probably taught nothing.

      • Here is a group that’s trying to do something about this part:
        “Elections are pointless. Presidents, Senators, and US Representatives represent the interest groups that provide their campaign funds, not the voters.”
        http://www.wolf-pac.com/the_plan
        Please, support these guys anyway you can – they’re trying to add an amendment to the US constitution making it illegal to bribe politicians on a mess scale as it is done now. they already had some victories on state level. At the very least you can sign the petition.

  5. Thank you for this very thorough review of the different ways in which we become traumatized and the wonderful resources you shared. You’re opening line about America being a “traumatized nation” is a perspective I share. (I open a thesis I wrote with a chapter titled “Trauma Nation.”) When we look at the history of trauma as a subject within the field of mental health, the topic tends to come up during war time (e.g, WW II and the Vietnam War) and then has a way of falling off the radar during peacetime. Yet traumatic stress has become such a prevalent aspect of living in the twenty-first century, and as you note, adverse childhood experiences are so prevalent, I think we have reached a point when the denial of trauma shocks us as much as the occurrence of traumatic events.

  6. Isn’t everyone traumatized at some level? Because I’m surmising that your point is that violence is caused by trauma so we should address the causes not the results, or something like that?

    I have an alternative hypothesis: That violence is the go-to solution for the rulers of this system, and is consciously programmed into our cultural lives, our value systems, and our notions of “common sense”; and that those who engage in “senseless” violence are actually emulating the values and role models presented to them by their leaders and “educators” via school, TV, Xbox, etc. (not to mention Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya etc.).

    When mass murder for America is no longer officially “cool” and Dylan Kliebold is officially considered a loser even by other losers I suspect that these high profile cases will subside.

    I guess my main problem, Leah, is not anything that I think is inaccurate with the article or its emphasis, but I simply don’t think that Murphy & Co. really care whether or not you’re right or wrong about this. I think they’ve got their ducks lined up and their only concern is intimidating or placating any significant dissent in order to get what they want, and that’s it. Plus of course putting on a nice show hearing or two.

  7. Hi, Leah,
    Thank you for being such an articulate and fierce advocate for human freedoms . I don’t necessarily disagree with your focus on trauma as a causative agent in psychosis, because, it is becoming a useful and logical counterforce to the current obsessive focus on flawed brain chemistry and meds. But, I have my reservations, mainly is the pendulum swinging too far the other way in favor of one opinion and one opinion only? Is trauma the latest North American obsession that will last twenty or thirty years, until the excesses committed by people who promoted it will cause another major and polar opposite intervention? Is the trauma emphasis too Western-centric? Here in the West we like to see obvious solutions for obvious problems. What would other societies think of this? I’m certainly not an anthropologist, and I recently put this question to Phil Borges, who is one, and even he wasn’t sure about how to answer. My limited reading of the shamanic approach to treating psychosis shows at least two possible ways tribal cultures handle it. They have healing ceremonies/exorcisms or they recognize that the person is someone especially gifted and they train to person to be a healer. One of first books I read when I was trying to find a hopeful way out of the situation our family was in, featured a section on Malidoma Patrice Some, who described his African belief that what we call schizophrenia his tribe looked upon as a “gift front the heavens.” (I’m going from memory, here.) All this to say, there is no healing without a hurt, granted, but there is also the spiritual and unknowable side of what we Westerners can’t seem to come to grips with, preferring to “logically” apply drugs or “logically” say that trauma must be at the base of all psychosis, when everybody has trauma in their lives. There is a danger of not getting the public onboard by overemphasizing trauma as a certainty. But, I do agree, that the way to treat psychosis is through being sensitive to what the person with lived experience says, and that approach has been sadly absent for decades.

    • I don’t think it’s all trauma. How about mental illness as defined today has multiple causes? For some people it’s going to be past trauma, for other current life problems and stresses either social and economical or personal. Some people can have underlying physical illness that causes them to “malfunction”. Others will have these experiences no matter what because their brains are just more susceptible of spontaneously generating them and yes it can be partly genetic. The real issue is how to find an approach that will be efficient in recognising the individual causes and offering every person the best answer for their articular problems. I don’t think there is one cause and there certainly is no one answer.
      To be honest, I don’t find a conflict between the approaches that tackle trauma and those which treat psychotic experiences as the “primitive” cultures do. They are in fact linked in one significant way: they recognise that the experiences themselves are important and have a meaning and the way to handle them is by finding it and teaching people (not only the person him/herself but also the society) how to best solve the problem or use them creatively.

  8. My first thought on reading your blog post Leah was “preaching to the converted”. Therefore the challenge surely is to reach the unconverted, the people resistant to the “truth” about trauma, mental illness, the patriarchy and infantilisation that’s endemic in psychiatry.

    Where women are blamed and men are treated like women, forcibly if “necessary”. (Bonnie Burstow, ECT “a gentleman’s way of battering a woman”:
    http://www.professionalsagainstect.com/uploads/7/1/1/1/7111990/electroshock.burstow3.pdf

    So how do we resist or challenge the violence, the overpowering, subduing of the person who is feeling the pain of trauma or the person who is speaking out about it? I think there are many ways to do this and it will depend on the resources we have as to how we respond.

    For example, I’m an activist in nature who likes to do something as well as talking about it. I was a community worker in the “real” world since 1980, setting up projects, making a difference, empowering people. In the mental health world I can’t be any different. So what form of action can I take, to challenge an abusive system that has targeted every one of my close family members, through 3 generations? I can’t just lie down and let them walk all over me. It’s not going to happen as long as I have breath in my body.

    But I’m also a mother and grandmother, have responsibilities to my offspring, and that is something I have to consider and factor in, when planning a course of action. I am mindful of those I love. At the same time I must act and do what I can to influence change, speak out about human rights abuse and expect/demand justice. Here is the tension. And there will always be tension in taking back the power.

    Those in power won’t give it up without a fight. They will resist just as we who are psychiatric survivors are resistant to the labels and the drugging, to lifelong naming, shaming and blaming. Unbelief is my shield. I will not accept their religion or belief system. No matter if they force me to accept their drugs, for a while. Inside I will always reject the mantra of mental illness.

    The fight doesn’t have to physical, is how I see it. We can resist in our minds and in our speaking out, in our writing and in the way we live. We can stand in solidarity with others who are resisting. (peer support and advocacy) It means we’re going to be under attack. That is the reality. Shifts in powers and paradigms are not achieved in calm waters and by not rocking the boat. Although some might choose a more peaceful form of resistance. That’s their choice. Each to their own.

    • Well, the psychiatry as a whole can be seen as inherently sexist – not only in being against woman but rather in selectively pathologising certain aspects of gender related behaviours: more women are BPD, more boys have ADHD and so on. Family violence, in which women are more likely to be victims is tightly linked to the “mental illness” in the victim. A “gentleman’s way” (that’s an awesome way to put it) to blame the victim and let the perpetrator walk free.

  9. Leah-Thank you for a truly excellent perspective and support for trauma-healing approaches. It’s one thing to support healing from trauma, and another to point at specific programs or instances that show potential, a way forward outside of the pills-oriented, diagnosis-dependent status quo. I’m glad you’ve pointed out just how much Rep. Murphy’s bill looks at “mental illness” rather than the trauma and life experiences that contribute to what we might call mental illness in the first place.

    I wanted to add that Rep. Murphy’s bill does not just simply endorse IOC as the one way to solve our mental or emotional health issues. In fact, it does much worse when it cuts PAIMI advocacy funding by about 95% I believe, and also severely limits the ability for those abused in hospitals and by other mental health providers. In short, it’s not simply a case of IOC bad, it’s a matter of silencing dissent and removing accountability/creating impunity. This to me stands out as a far more disturbing sign of where Rep. Murphy’s pro-force, pro-pharama, don’t-question-me agenda lies.

  10. We live in a world of outrageous pain. This generation is the first to be digitally intimate every moment of every day with outrageous pain. One response to global outrageous pain is to close down. Close the heart. Don’t feel. Don’t think. Numb out. Any surprise that 1 in 4 have an encounter with the psychiatric system?

    The only response to a world of outrageous pain is outrageous love. We need to become outrageous lovers. What does that mean? It means to see with Love’s eyes, and to let Love see through your eyes. To be enlightened means to move from your perspective to Love’s perspective.
    Bill Clinton said that only a shift in consciousness will allow us to take the necessary steps to heal our future. The mystical and political are coming together because that is the invitation and demand of this evolutionary moment.
    Marc Gafni said that the shift in consciousness that we are invited to is no less then the awakening of the outrageous lover that lives in us. The outrageous lover shatters her mistaken identity as a skin-encapsulated ego, loving only what serves her superficial survival and prosperity. The outrageous lover expands beyond the contractions of ego, into larger and larger fields of felt caring and concern. The purpose and trajectory of her life is the evolution of love.
    Mysticism is a technology of daily practices and injunctions that result in the evolution of consciousness. An altered state of consciousness can be practiced and sustained as an altered stage of consciousness. Every generation is responsible for its own evolution of consciousness. This generation has the potential to transcend to the kosmocentric stage of consciousness. Every village must support this generation’s evolution. It is our covenant with them. Nothing less will do.

  11. The problem is: people are traumatising other people without even being aware of it. Grownups are traumatising children in particular and think they are doing it for their own good, just like psychiatrists who use coercion. My daughter was traumatised by her teachers and turned into an elective mute; my niece was traumatised by her well-meaning, bossy mother who didn’t allow her a say and organised everything in her life without inquiring what her daughter wanted. When she became a teenager she started smoking cannabis, just to spite her mother, and became psychotic. She was diagnosed mentally ill. Her mother was shocked but the label suited her nicely. It cleared her of blame. She hasn’t got an inkling that she might be to blame at least a little bit. To make things worse, she sided with the psychiatrists and my bright, clever niece has been forcibly drugged now for 10 years. My heart bleeds.

  12. I healed a lot of trauma from my life experience–from early childhood family dynamics to medication brain trauma to psychotherapy trauma to professional marginalization trauma to stigma and discrimination trauma to professional advocacy trauma. In early childhood, powerfully dysfunctional family dynamics were cleverly hidden, since my parents were pillars of the community.

    I have forgiven them over and over for having done everything in their power to control me, primarily by demeaning and humiliating me in front of others, for starters. While I have compassion that they both came from their own trauma, they were neither forgiving nor self-responsible. I had to learn forgiveness, self-responsibility, and also how to have healthy boundaries, from excellent teachers and guides, later in life.

    But before then, it all led to diagnoses and medication, which I accepted for 20 years. During that time, I worked, went to school, and began a partnership which is now in its 29th year. No trauma during that time, other than when I went to visit my family. By then, I was so accustomed to their ways (which I had not yet identified as traumatic, that came much later, when I WOKE UP), that I simply operated in my usual anxiety and denial, and kept taking my meds.

    Then I went to grad school to study integral counseling psychology, primarily to learn more about the DSM and ‘mental illness,’ since I had been living with it for a while by then. I experienced tremendous trauma there, from a very spiritually miserly professor (this was a psycho-spiritual integral counseling program, and he taught “Buddhist Principles of Counseling Psychology”), who told me I didn’t belong there, after I had revealed all of myself in a paper, which was exactly our assignment–to apply our issues to psychodynamic theory.

    I’ve always been an excellent student, and I did what he had requested from us all, and he whacked me hard for it. He even went to my advisor, for whom I put on a very humble song and dance because I wanted to stay in the program. I got him back in my evaluation (some of my classmates backed me up), but the damage to my psyche was done, as I felt very betrayed, unsafe, and I was already feeling extremely vulnerable as a student. His shaming voice raged in my mental ears for throughout my remaining years in graduate school.

    I persevered and completed my MA, as well as 1000 hours of clinical training. Upon graduating, I felt miserable about myself, regardless of my success as a student and intern, and I wound up applying for disability because I had become so riddled with anxiety, and my negative voices were in full force. As a result, I became dysfunctional and disabled for the first time in my life, after having functioned well, both, socially and professionally, for about 17 years on medication.

    I eventually forgave this professor for igniting my decade long dark night of the soul, because, after all, it was because of this dark night, that eventually I found my light and full integration, and I learned all sorts of fascinating and mystical things, that I’ve since assimilated into my being and awareness, thanks to this long and twisted journey of healing.

    Then came the mental health system, cruelly demeaning therapists, abusive psychiatrists, and hopelessly indoctrinated social service providers and vocational rehabilitation counselors, and finally, corrupt advocates–all of it, extremely traumatic, via betrayal and deceit.

    When finally I came off 20 years of multiple medications, due to horribly debilitating side effects from what had become 9 meds, I discovered that my brain was totally messed up, and it took years to heal this.

    I healed it all through compassion, forgiveness, natural herbal remedies, Qi Gong, vibration and energy medicine, and a lot of faith. Also, on a whim, to help me heal anxiety, I took a singing class which miraculously led to an acting career, which did wonders for my ability to ground and be in present time. Music and the expressive arts, especially geared toward performing for an audience (scary, indeed!) is of tremendous healing value, imo. Really boosts confidence, and heals internalized invalidating voices.

    Ultimately, I feel that what healed the adverse effects from all this trauma was when I learned to perceive it all from a non-victim perspective–one of full life ownership–which is what I now teach in my healing and teaching practice. This informed my path, my spirit, me sense of Self, and my life purpose.

    I strongly believe that those of us who have experienced profound and chronic trauma are healers. We have true and authentic empathy. Once we heal the resentment which we carry in our hearts from such injurious betrayals, we can then find clarity and meaning in our lives. At least, this has been my experience, and I’ve witnessed this in others–my partner, for one.

    I think we are a violent nation because it was founded on duality–landowners vs. slaves, rich vs. poor, Europeans vs. Native Americans, and the list goes on and on. Generations of oppression, marginalization, abuse, and slaughter-both physically and emotionally–will, indeed, make a nation enraged with violence, and for sure, we’ve been carrying this forward. At what point do we say “Enough!” ??

    Betrayal leads to resentment leads to rage leads to violence. When we learn to forgive, release resentment, own our life experiences, and heal our hearts, perhaps this seemingly endless cycle will end, and then we can move on to creating a more peaceable world–one forgiving soul at a time.

    At least, that’s how I see it, fwiw.

  13. I must be one of those hysterical mom’s referred to in other post’s on this site. I would ask you to educate me, but trust me, I have had personal dealings with the mental health field from the age of 17 with major depression from the “trama” of childhood and faulty DNA. Older and wiser, on psychotropics and off, I have reverted to a formidable state of stability after 12 step “therapy” and SSRI’s et al. May I also mention that my psych nursing clinicals were done at the VA before deinstitutionalization came about. I’ve seen both sides. My 13 yr old son with Asperger’s, who has violent tendency’s, led me to read Peter Lanza’s (dare I mention this name) account of his son’s fate and “wishing he had never been born.” Tell me, when you speak of civil rights, did Adam’s mother also have no rights? Good luck with this hands-off approach. The field of psychiatry is fraught with misguided, ambiguities but there must be a middle ground somewhere. Tell me where I turn when my son comes at me weilding the end of a broom handle, or worse yet, the end of a knife. Riddle me this fellow Mad in America compadre’s. Objecting to Tim Murphy’s law person because one should never be mandated to go to OUTPATIENT treatment? Really?

    • The purpose of the law appears to be to broaden the already ambiguous standards for enforced treatment. This raises two issues: one, the reason for the current regulations requiring an imminent threat to self or others is because back in the 60s, doctors were locking people up left and right for no genuine reason, and there was no kind of standard. It is extremely dangerous to entrust this kind of decision to any professional without checks and balances, because, as the saying goes, “power corrupts,” and even if most of the profession uses these powers appropriately (which history suggests will not be the case), there will always be those who consciously or unconsciously use this power to oppress those who are vulnerable.

      Second, it is not necessary to allow for civil rights of parents or adults to be violated in order to oppose this kind of enforced treatment. I very much doubt that anyone here would object to someone being taken into custody for threatening a person’s life. But detaining someone to protect someone else’s rights and safety does not translate into enforcing a “treatment” of questionable effectiveness for “diseases” of questionable validity.

      As you yourself can testify, “treatment” does not always help as it is supposed to, and can make things significantly worse in some cases. Once we take away a person’s right to decide for him/herself what is helpful, it again puts all the power in the hands of the professionals, who usually don’t know the person well enough to understand what is going to help, and are frequently so emotionally invested in being “right” about their own “treatments” that they don’t even recognize simple, common side effects from the medications they prescribe, and continue people on cocktails of 5 or more drugs when none of them have been effective in resolving the initial problem.

      Finally, mandating a person to go to outpatient treatment is not possible without the threat of being taken and locked in an inpatient ward. That is the reality of AOT – the “Assistance” is the threat of incarceration in a psych ward and enforced treatment against your will. Especially when you consider that most of the time, enforced drug treatment is not particularly effective, and even more, the increasing evidence that long-term use of psychotropic drugs can actually make it less likely that a person will recover, the idea that enforcing treatment will somehow decrease violence is a pipe dream. In fact, the vast majority of those going on these shooting sprees, most likely including Adam Lanza, have been receiving psychiatric treatment or are in withdrawal from psychiatric treatment at the time of the event. There is good evidence that SSRIs, in particular, can create or exacerbate violent tendencies in a small but significant proportion of those receiving them. Prozac was initially banned in Germany for just this reason. Not saying that all the killings were caused by psych drugs, but there are such a high number where psych drugs were involved that we can at a minimum say that forcing people to take them does NOT prevent or reduce violence in any way.

      The Murphy bill is misguided and will not create the effect it supposedly intends. And it will take money away from other initiatives that are much more promising. It is an emotional overreaction to a complex issue that no one in power cares to take the time to analyze. If it is passed, it will result in more and more civil rights violations over time. It is not something you want to support.

      I’m sorry you’re having a tough time with your 13 year old. It sounds VERY frustrating and downright scary. No one is suggesting that you don’t need or deserve support with helping him find a way to survive safely. It’s just that this bill won’t really help him or you, and may make it harder to get the kind of services that he might really benefit from.

      —- Steve

    • litmurf,

      Given that the drugs you seem to be advocating are known to make all the conditions for which they are prescribed much worse in the long run per real experts with no conflicts of interest, I find it odd that you would think it helpful to force them on anyone, least of all your precious son. It appears that those on these drugs especially by force are all the more likely to be violent or be subjected to violence due to their dangerous effects.

      If your son is really being physically threatening, perhaps the police should be called since he is committing a crime of violence. But, that doesn’t mean that you should follow E. Fuller Torrey’s advice and turn over the furniture to make him appear violent when he isn’t to subject him to ill conceived psychiatric “treatment.”

      Though I feel bad for Adam Lanza’s mother, I think she was grossly irresponsible to allow Adam access to guns as his problems became more clear and to increasingly collude with his growing isolation per school officials who tried to help him in various ways per web articles and news releases.

      Finally, those advocating for Tim Murphy’s law like NAMI and other groups have much Big Pharma backing as usual, which makes this agenda highly dubious and suspicious as to its true motives indeed.

      As is true of most involved, either they are deceived or complicit.

    • litmurf , what is your answer then? What should be done with your son? Do you think that he should get locked up in an abusive institution or be forced to take drugs which do no more than make him a zombie? Because that is essentially the “solutions” that the Murphy’s law is proposing.

      You see, nobody here is happy with the current system which at best leaves people to deal with their issues on their own, at worst subjects them to all kinds of violence and abuse.
      What makes you think that the outpatient treatment would help you and/or your son? The drugs they give can’t fix anything that could possibly wrong with him, they can at the very best sedate him into the state of total oblivion. In the worst case they can cause him to become even more violent and unstable. As for now it is not known if Adam Lanza was on the drugs shortly before on during the shooting since the files were sealed. However, many other shooters were on psych drugs and it did not stop them. There is some evidence that suggests they may have made them do it.

      Here we are trying to have a constructive discussion about how best to address the need of people who live with mental illness diagnosis. Do you have any idea what your son wants? Why is he violent to you? Have you ever tried alternative approaches to dealing with him? Do you know what he likes, what fascinates him, what makes him happy? Do you think you could find out how to help him to develop his interests, to direct his energy to something positive?

      There may not be a good answer for each and every person out there, I just need to clarify that but „Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one”. The coercive system won’t be able to protect anyone any better than the current system does. In fact it may exacerbate the problem. I’ve read reports saying that a short time before the shooting Adam Lanza realised his mother wanted to commit him to an institution. A fear of being locked up like an angry animal can make people violent.

      No one here knows the specific problems you have with your son or the treatment he has gone through so far but we ourselves are a collective evidence that the system isn’t working. It ends up traumatising people and not helping them. We don’t want more of the same, we want an alternative.

  14. Hi Leah;

    “We shun serious discussions of gun control, and instead scapegoat people with mental health issues for the complex issue of violence in our society. But my intention is not to write about gun control. Even if by some miracle we were enlightened enough to take all guns away from people tomorrow, ”

    I’d be happy to have a serious discussion of gun control with you, or anyone else in the mental health community/field.

  15. I can’t imagine a single mother alone without at least a loving father to help by spending lots of quality time with his son within a situation that litmurf finds herself. She and her son need big time help daily .And how many others find themselves in this difficult dilemma.
    Maybe Alex has some ideas.

    • Fred, each individual has their own path, as you know. Hard to respond to situations like this online, but for now, I’d suggest watching the video I just posted in my response to Leah, above. I think it’s inspired, and contains profound truth. At least, it’s a start. When all else fails, I send a lot of love through the collective. After all, we are one, and those vibes are, indeed felt powerfully, if we allow ourselves to feel them.

      • Alex
        The video you posted is as heart warming as Leah’s is heart breaking, both fundamentally enlightening.
        In the last two years studying some Kabbala taught by Rav Michael Laitman Phd. online I learned that the real interpretation and meaning of the golden rule is Mutually Guaranteed Survival. He means Universally.
        He also says if it is not mutual within a group a person could become depleted or destitute. It has happened to me in the past. Until my mother told me “Fred this is the last time we are gona buy you silverware, dishes etc. Learn to hold on to a dollar. ” We can only do the best we can. Thank you
        Fred

        • “…if it is not mutual within a group a person could become depleted or destitute.”

          Boy howdy, ain’t that the truth! I’ve also had to address this within myself, as you describe. Discernment is something I’ve had to practice consciously.

          I also studied Kabbalah online, and also took a class in person just before I left SF, with Kabbalah Center. I learned a lot from them and really appreciate those teachings. I find them so relevant to the world situation today, in terms of shifting our internal programming. Great stuff!

  16. Trauma, violence, suffering . . . sounds like Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq or Ukraine now. What these places all have in common is the presence or recent presence of the USA which has greatly increased the levels of violence, suffering and trauma! So it should come as no surprise that when the Congress of the USA gets in proximity of mental health care the levels of coercion and force will be elevated. Today two old ranchers in Nevada with 48 grandchildren, a man and his wife, have snipers surrounding them over some land dispute that has been going on for 20 years. This is the way the USA behaves domestically and in foreign affairs–like a big bully. Living in the USA one is constantly subjected to a lack of respect. Just like when Uncle Joe Stalin was shaping up the Soviet Union in the 1930’s. All you need are some not very stupid tough guys with guns. With a scattering of psychopaths for managers.

    So in my opinion about half the mental health problem in the nation stems from a gov leading the nation to ruin. Almost the other half comes from a very bad eating regimen. Subtract these two groups and the remainder is not so large. Less than one percent I would think. It’s hard for parents to do a good job on part time employment with little money plus schools now that arrest primary school kids for failure to follow minor rules. And all the other dumb things that gov finds to harass people. Clearly this contributes to a mood of violence. Plus the vets coming home in terrible shape and receiving the minimal help now that they have served their purpose. All this added together is the recipe for bad homes. Hence, trauma. Drugs and alcohol. And now Murphy?

    And now Murphy. Where did he get all this wisdom?

    • I know from my family’s ordeal, and research into child abuse cover ups, that there is a major problem of covering up child abuse for the powerful “elite,” worldwide. And it is the “elite,” and psychiatrists working to maintain societal control for that “elite,” who are the problem.

      And think about how much easier and more profitable it is for the psychiatrists to defame, drug, and torture little sexually molested children, or their concerned mommies, than it is to actually deal with reporting child abuse by the wealthy or powerful. Shame on the psychiatric “professionals,” and all others, who are part of the problem, rather than the solution.

  17. As far as our soldiers coming back committing suicide and killing their own families in such unusually high numbers.
    Just Google Russell BlaylockMD and soldier suicides . Blaylock is a retired Neuro-Surgeon he has much to say that would shed much added light on many facets of the issues discussed here at MIA and this Blog.
    I believe powerful people in the USA do not want healthy people with combat experience back home . They are afraid of them and don’t want expert fighters around analyzing the powerful most wealthy peoples crimes against much of the rest of the population.

  18. For literature about what can be provided for vets the two books by Dr Jonathan Shay are wonderful: Achilles In Vietnam and Odysseus In America. But you know immediately that someone like Dr. Shay would never, never be seriously consulted and placed in a powerful position. It is clearly not about solving problems or doing good; that’s sissy stuff. It is about getting and getting and holding power. The Vets and most of us are Americans. But the last four or five administrations have been Globalists. For them America per se is not interesting. It is a failing nation and not worth saving. So they sow discord. At home and abroad and in the process make loads of money and gain more power. One nation down at a time. So it turns out that mental health is a political problem. James Hillman came to that conclusion. No point helping people get back into what made them sick to begin with. They need a new nation. I believe one poll found that 26% of the American public considered themselves mentally ill. That is impossible. They were thinking about something else. Feeling dis-empowered. Lacking community. Brain washed by TV and the nightly news. Assailed by ads designed to make them feel of little worth and without dignity. Worn down by their meager pay checks. Failing to look beautiful like the air brushed chicks. Lacking the erotic musculature of the right kind of man . . . If the Devil did not invent consumerism he must be so envious of the guy who did.

    My inspiration is the Grand Boycott. Americans become minimalists. Buy only the necessities. Get clothing at thrift shops. Use cell phones for emergencies. Write letters. Throw the TV away. Read. Refuse to borrow money to buy more junk. Go a bit ascetic. Walk. When a politician comes through avoid him or her. No point voting so avoid that as well. They are all the same. Be like the turtle and draw in your limbs. Avoid Facebook and Twitter. Don’t be seen with a lap top unless really necessary. Be care of the Internet. Meet people in person. If Gov believed in democracy they would not have friends like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. Presently Russia is the good nation. They actually have a genuine leader. He actually cares about Russia unlike some people we know and their nation. Congress is largely soap opera. Etc.

    By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired. — Franz Kafka That could be our new Amerika.

  19. Damn this discussion is GOOD. I was feeling like I just wanted to check out when I (again) couldn’t sleep, and you people here, and you, Alex, and you, AgniYogi, have mirrored my own thoughts and beliefs…I am considered a freak because I’ve never chased the dollar, I live simply and I am ridiculed! It’s so nice to know there are more of us out there, truly. Blessings to all of us.

    • I agree, I feel like I’m living in the wrong world, because I already know money isn’t what makes one happy. It’s family, true friends, helping others, respecting oneself. But it seems the robber barrons want to rid the world of us decent and kind people. What has happened to my country? It’s heartbreaking.

      • No, they don’t want to rid the world of us. They want and intend to enslave us. They need us to run and take care of everything for them and to fight their wars they create all over the world. They will never get rid of us but they sure as hell will bend us all, each and every one of us, to their will. I’ve often wondered if psychiatry and its toxic drugs aren’t the beginnings of the takeover that they plan. They’ve got politicians wrapped up already. Look what happened to the Occupy Movement. Police were sent in to beat people into submission. I used to dismiss these ideas as silly when I was younger and not as informed as I am now.

  20. Well, they don’t need too many hungry consumers, just enough to provide the necessary labor and material wealth to keep the elite prospering. The inevitable progression of capitalism is the increasing concentration of wealth into fewer & fewer hands.

  21. Leah, thank you for this thoughtful and informative post.

    As a suicide attempt survivor (my attempt was 20 yrs ago), I appreciate the need to better understand trauma. I was able to rebuild my life, but had to do it without the assistance of mental health professionals because at the time they were more interested in slapping a diagnosis on me, rather than giving me tools to deal with trauma. I had been raised in a violent home and did not know how to take care of myself. How could I? All I really needed was someone to understand my trauma and show me how to live. Pretty simple.

    After my suicide attempt, I realized I would have to figure it out myself, and I did. It was a long, hard road, but I’m happy to be here.

    Some good news re: suicide prevention: today the American Assoc. of Suicidology granted attempt survivors a division! This a huge victory. Due to the stigma and the taboos, our voices have been silenced for decades. All we want to do is help others. Finally, thanks to hard work from many people, like Cara Anna (TalkingAboutSuicide.com) and Dese’Rae Stage (LiveThroughThis.org).. and many others, our voices can be heard and, hopefully, save lives.

    Thanks again for speaking out about this.

  22. If this discussion goes on much longer and provides many more useful links, I think one could be forgiven for suggesting that it be the first chapter in a book.
    There is more useful support and info in this series of comments than in a full year of “therapy” that I received from the VA, many years ago. Heck, you could accumulate a series of comments on a series of topics and have it more useful than the DSM5.
    Trauma survivors can really be the best resource for those engaged in starting their own recovery.
    Hugh Massengill
    Eugene

  23. This was an excellent discussion. Trauma is rarely discussed in a public setting. You are right, if we don’t address the trauma we are not addressing the root causes to the problem of violence in our society. I like that you brought up, “An individual can be “retraumatized by services, supervision, and management policies that ignore or dismiss the role of trauma.” In order to for victims to grow into survivors and heal their trauma needs to be recognized. Too often than not I have seen survivors quit or be fired from jobs, because their work system was not offering services to deal with their trauma. We imprison children rather than deal with their trauma and violence and we try to do the same in the workplace by not dealing with the root issues. Violence will not go away until we pay attention to the effects trauma has not only on an individual, but society as a whole.

    • I agree. It actually happened to me – I had to give up my job while a person who was responsible for the whole problem got a short speech from our boss and was allowed to stay because he was not the “crazy one”. Needless to say it didn’t help me to recover.
      I can understand though why people find it hard to make such choices (workplaces are not charities) but I think in the end punishing victims and affirming abusers brings every workplace down in the long term.