Paper Tigers, Self-Help and Choice Theory

A school in Walla Walla, Washington, and a researcher in Canada, have recently impacted and challenged my thinking.

I finally had a chance to see the movie, Paper Tigers, a documentary about an alternative high school in Walla Walla, Washington. For years after it came out it was shown in sponsored venues, usually a community or school setting, and always accompanied with follow-up discussion. I occasionally looked at their website to see if a showing was scheduled within driving distance. A few days ago a showing of the film took place in Napa, a half hour from me, and I jumped at the chance to attend. I was not disappointed.

And then this morning I came across* an article by Michael Ungar, a professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is also the Canada Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience and besides overseeing projects around the world, has authored more than a dozen books, including The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success. The title of the article I read this morning – Put Down Self-Help Books. Resilience Is Not a DIY Endeavor – caught my eye. (Click on title to access article.)

Ungar explains that there is a huge industry right now aimed at helping people fix their own problems. From mindfulness to neuroplasticity to cognitive behavioral coaching to career coaching to Kripalu yoga, the options for advice, guidance and inspiration are endless. These approaches, Ungar continues, place the task of becoming motivated and, indeed, transformed, on the individual. His view is that most people fail when it comes to transformation, whether it be keeping the weight off or doing better in that next relationship. Self-help emphasizes that everything we need is already inside of us. Ungar states plainly, “The notion that your resilience is your problem alone is ideology, not science.”

He goes on to say that –

“Resilience is not a DIY endeavor. Self-help fails because the stresses that put our lives in jeopardy in the first place remain in the world around us even after we’ve taken the “cures.” The fact is that people who can find the resources they require for success in their environments are far more likely to succeed than individuals with positive thoughts and the latest power poses.”

Toward the end of the article he summarizes the data complied from his research –

“The math was daunting, but what it showed was the relationship between risk exposure, resilience and behavioral outcomes for almost 500 young people, all of them facing serious challenges. We later verified these results with more than 7,000 young people around the world, but this was the first proof that let us say with certainty that resilience depends more on what we receive than what we have within us. These resources, more than individual talent or positive attitude, accounted for the difference between youths who did well and those who slid into drug addiction, trance and high-risk sexual activity.”

Time and again as I read the article I stopped and wondered about Choice Theory. Is the “ideology” of Choice Theory an example of what Ungar is talking about? Is Choice Theory just another DIY self-help opportunistic resource? I don’t think it is. I don’t think Ungar was taking aim at a Choice Theory set of beliefs.

I don’t think Choice Theory is the kind of problem Ungar writes about for the following reasons:

+ I believe in and benefit from Choice Theory and I resonate with the author’s key points. 🙂

+ Choice Theory acknowledges the frustration, the pain, and even the devastation that tough circumstances can bring, and doesn’t suggest that different thinking will fix someone or their circumstances.

+ Choice Theory explains that we only have direct control over our thinking and our behavior, and then asks a person to begin to identify the kind of thinking and the kind of behavior that will move her/him forward.

+ Choice Theory ultimately focuses on a plan, which very likely will involve accessing resources.

What other reasons should I have listed here? Please let me know.

I very much agree with Ungar when he states that agencies outside of an at-risk person – whether school, community, church, city, or government agencies – must work to provide reasonable and tangible supports that prevent an/or solve unforeseen emergencies or systemic problems. I agree that too many people are struggling to make it with almost no resources at their disposal. I don’t think there is anything in Choice Theory that wants to overlook this or sugarcoat it.

The movie, Paper Tigers, is such a good example of what can happen when two important pieces are included. First, the school recognized the value of positive relationships combined with expectations for competent performance. Insightful and firm leadership was implemented within an environment of warmth, love, and respect. Second, the school recognized that students who lack resources are placed at an unfair vantage point and they took steps to provide students with access to health care, counseling services, and even transportation across the state to a college to which a student applied.

Choice Theory explains that a person’s Basic Needs must be met, with survival and safety needs being as basic as it gets. I feel that the teachers at Lincoln High School exemplified the non-punitive principles of Choice Theory, while seeking to provide the resources that Ungar describes.

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* I came across the Ungar article while taking a look at the Mad In America website. I can’t say enough good things about this resource and the community that contributes to it. Glasser was very impressed with Robert Whitaker’s book, Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Treatment of the Mentally Ill (2002) and bought a hundred copies of the book to give away. You can access their website (which I recommend) here – Mad in America

+++ NEWSFLASH!! – The movie, Paper Tigers, is now available on iTunes.

We Live the Feeling of Our Thinking

 

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This picture just captivates me.

On one level I am drawn to its wonderful creativity. I bought the door stop pictured below for my office door out of sheer respect for whoever the person was who thought of it. This kind of creativity needs to be rewarded.

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I have to tip my cap to this artist of the chain link fence picture as well. On another level, though, this picture goes so much deeper than just creativity. What is it saying to you? The chain link fence, ubiquitous, a comparatively cheap and efficient way to keep something in or keep something out, strong, you can see what is on the other side, yet you cannot reach it. The design of the fence itself is a model of conformity and permanence. Its tightly wound wire states very emphatically that “you can’t get out.”

Yet in this picture, not only can someone get past this fence now, the fence itself is breaking free. The very instrument of control, force, and restriction is itself becoming instruments of freedom. Dead weight has become helium. Anchors have become wings.

It is easy to see ourselves in the picture, both in the lock-step control of the lower part of the fence and in the links breaking free in the upper part of the fence. Optimism spills out from the picture, even if only to feel good for the links flying into the distance. “Good for you,” we whisper. “Good for you.” So powerful are the images of the links as wings that even the total grayness of the picture cannot keep us feeling gray.

Of course, we need not only whisper, good for you. The links taking off to who knows where can be us. Those freedom loving links can represent our new way of being, our new view of the world, our recognition that we can choose to leave a tightly wound focus on control.

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It would be interesting to use this picture as part of an assignment in school. I can see it easily being used in creative writing for Language Arts, or for activities in Health class, or Social Studies, or Bible. What are some thought questions that could open the discussion in a class setting? Such questions might include –

What is this picture saying?
What did the artist want to convey?
The caption under this picture said that We Live the Feeling of Our Thinking. What does that mean?
Did someone need to cut the links to free them or did they free themselves?
Does this picture suggest that fences are bad and that being free of them is the goal?
Is there such a thing as a good fence?
What would make a fence less good, or even bad?

What do you think? How could this picture be used in a classroom or in a choice theory workshop? How could the picture’s creativity and insight really be plugged into? What questions would you add to those listed above?

* This post is reprinted from January 31, 2015

The Power of a Friend

In a recent blog (3C’s – Connection, Community, Companions) I shared a quote written by Adam Smith in 1759 in which he stated that “The mind is rarely so disturbed, but that the company of a friend will restore it to some degree of tranquility and sedateness.” There is a lot of truth in this insight and the story you are about to read will underscore the impressive power of simple friendship.

As part of my research for writing the Glasser biography, I became familiar with the work and writings of Dr. Peter Breggin, the author of Toxic Psychiatry (1991), an important book on the dangerous realities of psychotropic drugs. At the beginning of the book, though, Breggin shares a story of an experience he had as a young, undergraduate future psychiatrist, a story, it turns out, that I have never forgotten.

Dr. Peter Breggin

Early in college Breggin got involved with a student-led program that focused on volunteering at nearby psychiatric hospitals. This was in 1954, the same year that thorazine came onto the mental illness scene and also the same year that Glasser began his psychiatric residency in the neuro-psychiatric veterans’ hospital in Southern California. Breggin quickly observed the inhumanity and even horrors within mental hospitals of the day – intimidating and abusive staff overseeing patients who were treated more like animals, more like hopeless cases of permanent dysfunction, housed in cold, colorless cement. He questioned that these hospitals needed to function this way and that patients were viewed as hopeless vegetables.

Breggin rose to a position of leadership within the volunteer program. His questions about how patients were treated — why were patients forced to endure freezing cold temperatures in the winter and stiflingly hot temperatures in the summer; and why were insulin comas and electric shocks forced on patients – were answered unsatisfactorily. The volunteer program grew, though, and as it did it began to have its own effect on hospital’s atmosphere. There were fewer cases of staff abuse and the hallways began to take on color and life.

Feeling like more could be done, as a sophomore Breggin came up with an idea and approached the hospital superintendent. “Let a dozen or more of us,” he began, “have one patient each, assigned for the duration of the year. We would work with the patient one afternoon a week,” he continued, “and meet as a group with a social worker.”

Instead of responding with interest and support, the superintendent responded with outrage. How could untrained undergraduates in college even entertain the idea that they could work with back ward schizophrenics? The president of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society also protested the idea and warned that the patients could be harmed as a result. Breggin explained that he could take the volunteer program to another hospital if they preferred and their ire turned calmer, given that the volunteer program was one of the hospital’s only bright spots.

And so began a simple, but powerful arrangement. Fourteen students were begrudgingly given a patient – all older, chronically ill, and hopeless – with whom to work. Hospital staff felt they were beyond harm or help. Breggin was one of the 14 students. Instead of me trying to describe his remarkable story I will let him describe it in his own words –

My own particular patient, an elderly man I’ll call Mr. Liebowitz, was diagnosed as psychotically depressed, overcome with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. It was impossible to motivate him to do anything. He was afraid of people and phobic about having a heart attack. When I introduced myself to him, he tried to shoo me away like some vastly annoying fly. I thought to myself, “He’ll never even talk to me!”

After a time he began to trust that I actually would show up each week and that I would be a friend to him. Like most inmates, he was absolutely friendless, and my attempts to establish a relationship must have seemed strange and inexplicable to him. Gradually he let me help him get better clothes from the dispensary and encourage him to work on some simple projects in the hospital carpentry shop. Soon he became willing to chat with me about what he might do to get out of the hospital.

Fearful at first about a heart attack, Mr. Liebowitz gradually allowed me to help him walk outdoors around the hospital, and then eventually around the hospital grounds. We became more able to talk about his actual physical condition, which was excellent, and to contrast his fears to reality. We chatted about his concerns about old age and put them in a more hopeful perspective. I am sure that the interest of a young college student did much to convince him that he still possessed some human worth.

Then I helped him select a home for older and retired people in town, where he was able to take advantage of going outdoors, shopping, and visiting in the community. It was more than a decent place to live and he was very pleased to be free of the hospital.

Other students in the program had more extraordinary accomplishments. Some worked with more grossly “psychotic” patients, those suffering from hallucinations and delusions, and helped them return to their families. While Mr. Liebowitz didn’t talk much, many of the other patients became quite involved in expressing their feelings and discussing their lives with their student aides. For many of the students, this once-a-week supervision with the social worker became as intense as graduate training in psychotherapy. Nor did medication play any role in the outcome. Our patients were not yet receiving the new “miracle drugs.”

Breggin’s story thus far is interesting and even touching, and the story could end there and still be worth every moment you have taken to read this far, but it is the next paragraph, the one that talks about The Results of this simple program that is truly informative and inspiring. Continuing on, Breggin writes –

By the end of the year, eleven of the fourteen patients had been released from the hospital. Only three of those eleven would return in the follow-up, which lasted one to two years.

This story strikes me as incredibly profound. Men viewed as hopeless psychotics, tucked away in a back ward of an institution and tended to as some tend to vegetables, and sometimes worse than that, became sane enough to leave their confines and return to life with their families or venture out on their own. Both – the effects of loneliness and the effects of a supportive friendship – are powerful. Society tends to overlook or misunderstand these effects, though. May this story serve as a gentle reminder of the importance of positive relationships and connection, and further serve as a nudge toward being a friend to others.

You Make Me So . . .

A few months ago, students in a class I was teaching challenged me over the idea that other people can’t make you feel anything, and argued that another person could indeed make you feel happy. The tone of the class during this discussion remained positive, yet after the class I continued to think about what I thought and even felt about the topic. I wrote out my thoughts a couple of days later and shared them with the class on a discussion board. What follows is the note I wrote.

I have continued to think about our class discussion this past Wednesday, which really got me to thinking about my beliefs and reviewing the concepts of Choice Theory. Several of you felt that another person could indeed make you feel happy. My explanation of a different way of looking at that process seemed not to gain a foot hold. Or maybe I should say .  .  .  a mind hold. In my thinking and reviewing, though, I contemplated this  .  .  .

What if during my attempted explanations during class I looked at you and said, “You make me so frustrated!”

In that moment you might think, Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make you frustrated, but fairly quickly you would probably arrive at thinking I am not making you anything.

Your thought process would then continue with – If you’re feeling frustrated because I asked a question that’s your problem. Your “frustrating” or “choosing to frustrate”, as Glasser would say, is about something inside of you, not made to happen from something in the classroom.

And if that was your thought process you would be right. My frustration would be the result of a picture in my head not being satisfied. Common teacher QW pictures include – being able to answer student questions insightfully and accurately; all students listening attentively; and giving assignments that students pour themselves into, to name a few. When a specific picture isn’t being met a teacher would very likely choose to frustrate.

What about the phrase you make me happy? Well, you make me happy is as accurate as you make me frustrated. When a picture I have placed in my head is satisfied it is easy for me to happy or to choose to be happy.

The language we use can make a big difference in our habits of mind. We use the phrase you make me so easily and so quickly that over time we come to believe it. You make me so mad we might think. And in so doing we plant the idea or support the idea that our being mad or our being happy is not up to us. It is instead up to someone else. This habit of mind, that is, the idea that someone or something outside of us can control us, drains or robs us of so much of our power. We go from a person being responsible for our Total Behavior (which includes our feelings) to a person being a victim of external circumstances. We go from creating our future to simply following the tide of events; from negotiating our QW pictures to trying to manipulate the QW pictures of others.

It is freeing to not be at the mercy of others behavior.

We may like it when someone in our life surprises us with a gift. And if this happens it is fine to think or say I love it when you surprise me with an unexpected gift. I feel valued and appreciated when you go to the trouble of planning something like this. This language reflects my choosing what I value.

It may seem like a small thing, the words we use, but it isn’t really. It is a big thing when we get in the habit of owning our Total Behaviors, and then using language that reflects this ownership. Recognizing that we directly choose and nurture our thoughts, and that our feelings are a part of this process, actually empowers us. This power brings with it responsibility, which basically eliminates criticizing, blaming, and complaining as ways to make things better. But this power, with the Holy Spirit’s help, puts our past, our present, and our future into our hands. It is freeing to not be at the mercy of others behavior.

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I am so open to your comments and feedback. So many times you have responded to one of my posts and helped me to see things more clearly and accurately. Could I have said things better in the note to my class?

3 C’s – Connection, Community, Companions

Three disparate voices, separated by 260 years, yet together, like a lighthouse, they point out the rocky shores of loneliness and separation. Three quotes, each stating the importance of connection and community.

Whether Brene Brown is writing from a spiritual perspective or not, when she states that “Connection is why we are here” and that “We are hardwired to connect with others,” it reminds us that there may indeed be laws of the universe that we simply must keep in mind. When I am standing near a precipice I keep the law of gravity in mind; as a passenger on a plane I am counting on Bernoulli’s Principle to create lift above the wings; and when going around corners in a car I should keep the law of centrifugal force) in mind. Maybe similarly, if I want a good state of mental health I need to cooperate with the law of human connection. As Brene Brown explains, without connection there is suffering.

We can resonate with Jesus when He informs us that “a new commandment I give to you — that you love one another” or we can agree with Paul McCartney when he sings “all you need is love,” but either way we are prodded toward Love. We are prodded toward our need to Belong. Is one – our beliefs or our spirit to love – more important than the other? I don’t think so. Instead, I think we need 100% of our being to be devoted to having both; to having our thinking be right and to having our view of others and our relationships be right.

We hear the word sustainable more and more, and rightly so. We question whether beliefs and habits of behavior contribute to the ongoing health of the planet. Most often these questions are about behaviors related to climate change, but I would add that our lack of love may destroy us before the adverse effects of climate change do. Within this context, learning to love is our only hope for a sustainable future. Unless we can get along, it won’t matter how high our seas rise or how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere. A short passage from Desire of Ages declares what is needed if we are to thrive in this life, as well as the next –

In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-sacrificing love is the law of life for earth and heaven.   Desire of Ages, pgs. 19, 20

 

Smith’s truism is important, but so is the truism it solves — that being without the company of a friend our mind becomes disturbed. Relationships matter to us. The more important the relationship, the more deeply our pain and frustration are felt. Our work is adversely affected when we feel disconnected from our spouse; a child’s school work is affected when when he lacks support at home or friends on the playground; and soon, whether adult or child, even our physical health can be affected.

Loneliness is a smarts killer and a sense killer. We’re not as quick, not as sharp when we start downshifting into survival mode because of a hurting relationship. We are less able to accurately process things cognitively when our creative centers, in an attempt to cope with our relationship pain, begin to depress and shut down. We start off simply masking, but soon we are self-medicating or numbing, which almost always becomes a negative cycle, since people who numb are rarely able to think and act in a way that really solves their dilemma. Yet Adam Smith nudges us back toward tranquility — focus on a relationship, even if it is a connection with one other person.

Spiritual or not; religious or not; self-helpish or not – this is just the way things are. Connect, learn to love, value a companion.

 

The Better Plan blog has been going since the end of 2012. This post represents number 300. Thank you for being a part of The Better Plan and Choice Theory community.

The Difference between Pain and Misery

“The difference between pain and misery?
Pain is what we walk through; misery is what we sit in.”

I hesitate to write about a quote that says, “misery is what we sit in,” because I don’t want to come across as flippant when it comes to misery and sadness. I can write about these two approaches, though, because I have experienced them both – I have walked through pain and I have sat in misery. For me, I see now that I have a choice as to which course I will pursue.

Looking back I can see times that I chose to sit in misery. At first glance, it may seem strange to consider this as a chosen behavior, but I have talked to many others who admit to this choice as well. The thing to keep in mind is that all behavior is purposeful. In other words, we behave for a reason; we behave to satisfy a need. More simply, with a behavior comes a payback.

All behavior is purposeful.

This is where it gets interesting. Why, for instance, would someone choose to be miserable? What is the payback for misery? I can remember being miserable when work felt overwhelming or when my wife wasn’t reading my mind like I needed her to. Instead of taking a step at a time and seeking other’s assistance at work, or instead of talking to my wife about a frustration or perceived unfairness, I would go into a dark tunnel and distance and separate and withdraw. And to a degree, even though I felt miserable, I also felt kind of good. I clutched my misery and nurtured it, like Gollum talking to himself about his Precious. If my wife wasn’t treating me like I wanted, then I wouldn’t treat her like she probably wanted. Fair is fair. I deserve fairness, I defended, even as I shrunk further away from the very thing, the very person whose intimacy I sought.

Glasser alerted me to this kind of thinking in his book Control Theory* (1985). In fact, he listed four reasons for people to choose misery.

1. It keeps angering under control

Rather than expressing our anger outward, and maybe even threatening and hurting other people, we turn it inward. We don’t know how to deal with our anger in the public arena, so we direct it to a private location. (Besides this kind of behavior hurting our relationships, it also can harm our physical bodies, as anger triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol into our systems. Over time misery can lead to organs and joints being affected.)

2. It gets others to help us

When we show up as miserable or depressed it can serve as a cry for help, which can be especially appealing for men, who often don’t like to just come out and ask for help.

3. It excuses our unwillingness to do something more effective

The more miserable or depressed we become, the more helpless we become, too. We convey that we are not capable of doing much when we are overcome with misery.

4. It helps us regain control

When we feel out of control because of how someone else is treating us or because of the difficulty of a circumstance, choosing to be miserable or to depress can very much increase our sense of control. No one can challenge us when we are helpless.

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Any of these behaviors can make sense at the moment. We are desperate for a behavior that will help us feel better and we rummage around in our behavior system for something that will give us even a smidgeon of control. Being miserable doesn’t feel that great, but it feels better than the alternative, whatever we perceive the alternative to be. Somehow, misery is need-satisfying.

Of course, it is not usually a good idea to tell a person who is in the midst of being depressed or miserable that he/she is choosing it. A miserable person can become quite defensive of their misery. But there will come a time, when things are better or when the pressure is off a bit, when he/she will be more open to considering their role in the misery process.

And what a special moment it is when you first realize that misery isn’t something that just happens to you. An awareness begins to dawn in your thinking, an empowering awareness that maybe, just maybe, you can literally choose your state of mind. As you grow in your understanding of choice theory, it’s like you become immunized against misery and even depression. Yes, it can be scary to realize how much power and responsibility you have for your own mental health, but the trade from victim to empowerment is well worth it.

 

Yeh, heck yeh. For me it was #1, the one about keeping anger under control. I had never understood it in that way. But it made perfect sense to me as I thought about it. It actually inspired me to get a little help  .  .  .  with the anger thing, you know.   TJ

Mine was a combination of #2 and #3. I really did want others to view me as helpless, and to come to my aid. I see now that it was kind of manipulative, but I didn’t think that at the moment I was being miserable.   BD

I think there should be a #5 on the list, since my being miserable had more to do with punishing others, especially my wife. #5 should be about punishment, about getting back at another person.  HR

Habits To – and Away From – Loneliness

Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.     Carl Jung

Carl Jung (1875-1961)

It is true that loneliness often has nothing to do with not being in proximity to other people. We can be in the midst of a crowd and still feel lonely. Just being around people isn’t the answer to loneliness; rather it’s being connected to others and feeling understood and appreciated that melts our aloneness.

This aloneness is one of the profound conditions of life on this planet. We battle it from birth until we die. We cry for our needs to be met when we are tiny, even just physical contact may be enough to comfort us, and we continue this reaching out for connection, and at times crying for our needs to be met, throughout our lives. When positive relationships are lacking or when we experience a good relationship taking a turn for the worse, our mental health is very much affected. According to Choice Theory our level of mental health is all about relationships. So important is the element of connection and relationship that Glasser felt a person couldn’t achieve decent mental health without having at least one positive relationship with another human being. We are social beings, created from the beginning for social connection. When our connections to others are lacking, we get frustrated and hurt.

William Glasser (1925-2013)

I think Jung is on to something when he suggests that our loneliness comes out of our inability to communicate the things that seem important to us. Glasser agreed with this so much that he came up with a list of Caring Habits to remind us of the kind of behaviors that will get us close to others, and keep us close as time goes on. The Caring Habits list includes –

Listening
Encouraging
Accepting
Trusting
Respecting
Supporting
Negotiating Differences

Each of the Caring Habits is important, although one stands out when it comes to our ability to communicate, that habit being the one on Negotiating Differences. Being open with a spouse or significant other and trying to find common ground and agreeable compromises can make all the difference in the world. It is a skill, though, that for some comes with practice. And besides, what is the alternative to negotiating a difference? Usually it is frustration that morphs into blame, resentment, and yes, loneliness. Too many go into the silent treatment mode (a behavior meant to punish) when a spouse or someone important to us isn’t treating us the way we want.

What we need is connection through effective communicating;
what we get is loneliness through withdrawing.

The opposite of the Caring Habits are the Deadly Habits. So while the Caring Habits bring us closer to others, the Deadly Habits take us farther apart and maybe even sever a relationship. Glasser referred to the Deadly Habits as The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People, playing off of the title of Steven Covey’s bestseller. The Deadly Habits include –

Criticizing
Blaming
Complaining
Nagging
Threatening
Punishing
Rewarding to Manipulate

Whenever we rely on these ways of being we hurt the important relationships in our lives and as a result, we create or add to our loneliness.

We have a choice as to which set of habits we will use. Just remember that one set leads to connection and peace, while the other leads to resentment and loneliness.

 

Every Parent and Teacher Should See This Movie

Time is of the essence, so I won’t say a lot at the moment, other than to say that you can see a movie for FREE this weekend, and that it is a movie you want to see. The movie is called Most Likely to Succeed and it will either change the way you see education or, if you are a fan of Choice Theory learning strategies, it will confirm what you have hoped for in classrooms.

The link is below. Scroll down and follow the simple logon instructions.

https://www.inc.com/joshua-spodek/why-every-parent-should-watch-this-movie.html

Remember, it’s FREE this weekend!

Check out the trailer –

 

Throwing Any Fish?

Behaviorism didn’t become an ism for nothing.

We are influenced by circumstantial stimuli, to events in the world around us, and there is no getting around it. Behaviorism responds to this point by saying, “Well said.” Choice Theory responds by saying, “Not so fast.”

Behaviorism, wanting more than just influence, though, goes on to claim the ability to predict behavior. In other words, certain stimuli will lead to certain behavior. Do A and you will get B. Animal trainers at Marine World, for instance, explain how the strategic use of food, like tossing a fish to a dolphin, will condition the dolphin to perform specific behaviors and tricks.

The strategies of Behaviorism have been less reliable when used on humans. Some level of success seems apparent, yet at the same time something seems not quite right.

Speaking of fish, Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird (1994), shared an interaction she had with her son when he was small.

I was teaching Sam peace chants for a long time, when he was only two. It was during the war in the Persian Gulf; I was a little angry.
“What do we want?” I’d call to Sam.
“Peace,” he’d shout dutifully.
“And when do we want it?” I’d ask.
“Now!” he’d say, and I’d smile and toss him a fish.

This story, an admission really, invites us to answer the question, How then do we teach others, especially children, what needs to be learned? How can we make sure this important learning happens? How can we, in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, make it so? Anne Lamott went on to suggest that fish tossing may have more to do with the fish tosser than the fish catcher, or even the desired behavior –

The words were utterly meaningless to him, of course. I might as well have taught him to reply “Spoos!” instead of “Peace” and “August” instead of “Now.” My friends loved it, though; all three of his grandparents loved it. Now, how much does this say about me and my longings? I think something like this would tell a reader more about a character than would three pages of description. It would tell is about her current politics and the political tradition from which she sprang, her people-pleasing, her longing for peace and her longing to belong, her way of diluting rage and frustration with humor, while also using her child as a prop, a little live Charlie McCarthy. The latter is horrifying, but it’s also sort of poignant. Maybe thirty five years ago this woman had to perform for her parents’ friends. Maybe she was their little Charlie McCarthy. Maybe she and her therapist can discuss it for the next few months. And did this woman stop using her kid, once she realized what she was doing? No, she didn’t, and this tells us even more. She kept at it, long after the war was over, until one day she called to her three-and-a-half-year-old son, “Hey—what do we want?” And he said plaintively, “Lunch.”

A live, little Charlie McCarthy. You would have to be rather old (or be a whiz at Trivial Pursuit) to understand the significance of her referring to Charlie McCarthy in this way. Through much of the 1940s and 50s, Charlie was a radio and television personality. Debonair and quick-witted, he had a real following. He was known to sit a lot, though, given that he was the ventriloquist doll of the comedian, Edgar Bergen (the father of actress Candice Bergen). Charlie may have appeared like he had a mind (and mouth) of his own, however he truly was the parrot of his talented handler. Such an arrangement with a doll made from a block of wood is fine, certainly entertaining, but Anne Lamott recoiled in horror at the thought of her little boy becoming her own little Charlie McCarthy, mouthing her words and acting her behaviors on command.

Charlie McCarthy (on the left) and Edgar Bergen.

Where is the line between teaching and indoctrinating, between learning and brainwashing, between the pursuit of ideas and the pressuring of ideas? Are some ideas so important that they require indoctrination?

Such questions bring another McCarthy to mind, that being Joseph McCarthy of the 1950s Communist witch hunt. As a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, McCarthy claimed to have a list of Communist sympathizers and spies who had infiltrated the highest levels of government, the armed forces, and even the entertainment industry. He made unsubstantiated claims and attempted to smear the reputation of people he thought soft on communism and socialism. His tactics added to the already growing fears about Russia and communism and indeed swept the country. Fear, threats and force were his preferred tools and many people were unfairly affected by his attacks.

Joseph McCarthy

Two McCarthy’s – one a puppet that mirrored his owner and the other a politician who bludgeoned others with his ideology. The little-block-of-wood Charlie McCarthy reminds us of our temptation to craft our children into little blocks of our own making, while the-Senator McCarthy reminds us of the temptation to force others, maybe especially our children, to think and act in the way we deem best. The latter seems just as horrifying as the former.

Behaviorism and stimulus-response cannot with any level of certainty predict human behavior because humans are so .  . well .  .  unpredictable. Oh, we might be predictable now and again, but that isn’t really being predictable, is it? Some caved to Senator McCarthy’s attacks, while others stood up to him; and Anne Lamott’s son eventually said he was ready for lunch, rather than continuing to parrot about peace.

Choice Theory explains that we behave to satisfy a need, which may or may not jibe with the behaviors the fish-tossers in our life want. Better to focus on the needs of our children and then to teach them how to appropriately meet their needs. Besides helping children become self-managers, rather than parrots, getting rid of fish can improve the overall smell of things in general.

Brain Drugs, Children, and Teenagers – An Interview with Robert Whitaker

We have never met, but I feel a kinship to Robert Whitaker. We have both written about mental health topics, him much more impressively, and we both have a connection to William Glasser, me much more extensively. Whitaker has written several important books, including Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill (2001) and Psychiatry Under the Influence: Institutional Corruption, Social Injury, and Prescriptions for Reform (2015). I have written about his work in previous posts, which you can access by clicking on these links –

The Fox and the Chicken Coop

How Emotions Are Made

Glasser was very impressed with the ideas expressed in Mad in America and bought 100 copies of the book to share with people. I found it to be fascinating and troubling at the same time and referred to it in parts of the Glasser biography. I recently became aware of an interview sponsored by Parenting Today, and conducted by Heather Juergensen, that is entitled How Psychiatry Came to Be. The interview’s reach is much wider than the title implies, though, and includes the need for full disclosure before children, or anybody else for that matter, are prescribed brain drugs for conditions labeled as Attention Deficit or Bipolar.

 

The interview is almost an hour long, yet it is compelling throughout. Rather than looking at the clock I was caught up in Whitaker’s descriptions, explanations, and research. If you are thinking of the present state of affairs in mental health, and particularly of the use of drugs to modify thinking and moods, especially with children and teenagers, this is an interview you will want to hear.

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Just a reminder that the biography – William Glasser: Champion of Choice – is available through different sellers. Click on any of the links that follow to quickly get a copy of the book.

William Glasser Books

Amazon

Zeig, Tucker & Thiesen Publishing (digital copy)

 

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