Saturday, June 30, 2012

Medfield Insane Asylum

Welcome. We've been expecting you.
In a recent blog post about the New Orleans City Asylum, a reader commented about an abandoned asylum here in Massachusetts. The asylum contains, among other things, a cemetery in which many of the patients who spent their lives in the care of this asylum were buried. I woke up before sunrise this morning and headed out to Medfield for a look. I needed to experience the place for myself.

The Medfield Insane Asylum was created in 1892 by an act of the Massachusetts State Legislature. At its height, the asylum held over 2,200 patients supervised and cared for by between 500-900 staff members. Built in the Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and Beaux Arts styles, the 58 buildings scattered on 900 acres of rolling green land a self-contained institution. The facility had it's own power generation, heat, water, and sewage systems. The patients raised their own livestock and produce.

Major institutions of the era were built in the Kirkbride style--patients and administration were housed in one large building. Intended to offer humane treatment for those in need, Kirkbride style buildings worked toward changing public perception of "lunatics" who were generally locked in prisons and alms houses. The newer hospitals were meant to treat the insane in a more natural environment away from the pollution and hectic life in the city. Medfield was to be a different kind of institution. When the doors of the asylum were opened in 1896 it was the first in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be built on the cottage plan.

The cottage plan gained popularity during the end of the 19th century. The Kirkbride buildings were becoming overcrowded and dangerous places. The doctors of the time found that the Kirkbride buildings lacked proper facilities for patients who were noisy and violent. The cottage style, which continued to be popular through the 20th century, was move away from large institutions into more home-like environments.

The plan generally consisted of multiple paired buildings (segregated by sex and patient type) surrounding a central core of administration, recreation, worship, and treatment buildings. At  Medfield, the "cottages" mimicked the home environment--sleeping quarters were on the second floor and sitting and work rooms were on the first floor.

Unfortunately, as suggested by the article to the left, life could still be a dangerous and violent place at the asylum.

A newspaper article describes the early set up of the asylum.
At first, the staff worked on the wards and lived with the patients, usually sleeping in the attics of the buildings were they worked. For a time inmate death rate averaged four per week... Farming took place on the hundereds of acres of land surrounding the campus. A farmhouse was built across Canal Street in 1901. It served as living quarters for the head farmer and his family as well as 14 farm hands and 30 patients... farming was stopped in the late 1960s... There were also between 6-10 emotionally distrubed children admitted to the facility; the youngest just 4-years old. 
I located annual reports for the first 23 years of the hospital's operation. I'm going to spend some time with the documents over the next few weeks and write a future blog post about them. For now here are a few highlights:

From the Trustee's Report
The doors opened to the Medfield Asylum in 1896. Due to overcrowding in other state asylums, the State Board of Lunacy and Charity transferred "about 600 patients of the chronic and incurable class... from the various hospitals for the insane" to the newly built asylum. The Superintendent, Dr. Edward French, made $2,500; Assistant Physican Dr. Charles A. Drew made $1,500; Assistant Physican Thomas Howell made $900; Steward John B. Chapin made $12,200; Engineer Arthur e. Read made $1,000, Bookkeeper Sue R. Haynes made $600; Treasurer Charles C. Blaney made $500; and Matron Mary R. Satterwaite made $450.
From the Superintendent's Report
The world of cleaning, furnishing and otherwise preparing the different buildings was begun March 1, and was pushed forward as rapidly as possible. Twelve of the cottages for patients were ready to be put in order while six others designed for the filthy and more disturbed classes were in process of erection. 
Let's take a look at the occupations of the first 600 patients of the asylum:

Now let's take a look at the chief complaint of those six hundred people who were the first to call the Medfield Asylum home. Note the variety of complaints that would lead to life long commitment to an insane asylum such as epilepsy, influenza, masturbation, menopause, disappointment, and domestic affliction.

The last patients left Medfield State Hospital on April 3, 2003. Here is some of what is left behind.

Check out my next blog post, We Too Have Lived, to learn more about the Medfield Hospital Cemetery that is tucked away behind the old asylum property. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Penny Mindfulness

As regular readers of the Irreverent Psychologist know, I live in an undisclosed location in the Merrimack Valley. My home, built high atop a hill in 1851, has overlooked the cyclical rise and fall of the town below. 

What was going on that year in the United States?
Why am I thinking about this? This 162 year old house that I live in needs a lot of attention and renovation. My current project is focuses on the office. I'm carefully affixing pennies onto the back wall. It's a slow process. I'm going for randomness in terms of heads or tails, old or new, but have decided that I want each of the pennies to be oriented the same way on the wall.

As I'm gluing the pennies on the wall I've been thinking about the hands that have touched the pennies. The oldest I have attached to the wall is from the 1923. The newest that I've come across was minted this year. As I hold the pennies I think of the journey they have been on. What have they helped purchase? What history have they witnessed? The dirt that accumulates on my fingers suggest these pennies have gotten around. 

These pennies give me a connection to this histories of all those who have touched. Those histories are going to surround me as I sit here at my computer writing creating what will become my own history. Someday when I'm gone, another person might sit at this wall and contemplate their own past. 

The accumulated history of my own life will slip into the silent and ever accumulating layers of stories that these pennies have witnessed.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

New Orleans City Insane Asylum

New Orleans City Insane Asylum
I couldn't pass these records up. The New Orleans City Library has select patient records of people who were committed to the New Orleans City Insane Asylum. The city asylum appears to have served as a sort of assessment center. Local residents, police, and other officials would drop people off for evaluation. Dr. Y. R. LeMonnier, the physician of record, would make an evaluation and determine whether or not the patient would be sent to the East Louisiana State Hospital for the Insane.

The records offer up a fascinating glimpse into what behaviors were considered abnormal in the late 1800s. Some individuals were "cured" and returned home to their families. Many lived out their lives in the asylum and were buried in unmarked graves on the asylum grounds. One can only imagine what the lived experiences of these people, deemed insane by the state of Louisiana, must have been like. Here are a few of their stories:
  • Abigail vs. Mrs. Lincoln – F – Blk – entered April 26, 1865 – aged 43 years. Today April 25,/82 – 61 years old [sic] – native of U.S. 5 3 ½ feet high. Kind of Insanity when she entered – Furious Mania – Today her disposition same is quiet & obedient – but she is turbulent, vulgar and obscene when irritated, yet very clean about her person. All doctors are her husbands brothers. Health rather good.
Quiet and obedient. No wait, just quiet. Also prone to being turbulent, vulgar and obscene when irritated. That's the record for Abigail. It's not much to go on. Not much at all. Take a closer look at the dates Dr. Le Monnier entered into the record. Abigail was brought to the asylum during the second year of the Civil War. It's unclear what the record means by "entered April 26 1865." It's entirely possible that Dr. LeMonnier didn't get around to entering the data into the record until years later. It is also possible that it was the day  Abigail was transferred to the East Louisiana State Hospital for the Insane. While the meaning is unclear, the date is interesting. April 26 1865 entry occurred just days after General Lee surrendered the Confederacy to the North on April 9, 1965. 

One wonders if Abigail was mentally ill or damned angry at being held in slavery. Was her illness the failure to fit in with White society's expectation of normal behavior for their slaves?
  • Victorine – F – Blk – Entered Oct. 26, 1866 – 45 yrs old – Today, April 25, 1882, 62 years old – Native of U.S. 5.3 feet high – Kind of Insanity when she entered – Erotomania. Today, same. Disposition: quiet and obedient. Excited at times, at the sight of men, strangers to the institution, but even then very obedient. When her thoughts are turned to the pass [sic], on whatever subjects, she will at times seem to be a raving maniac. At these moments it suffices to call her, for her reason to return and she becomes quiet and obedient. Her health is very good. She makes herself useful.
Erotomania is a diagnosis that describes a person who has a delusional belief that a person of higher social status falls in love with them and is making sexual advances toward them. The record makes no mention of who was the subject of Victorine's advances. One wonders if she was in love with a White man, and if he loved her back. Could it be that a society with rigid anti-miscegenation laws diagnosed Victorine to keep races separate?

Was Victorine mentally ill or a victim of a racist culture?
  • Ah Sing – Chinaman – age unknown (35? yrs)[sic] – Committed to the Asylum June 28rd*, 1882.This man is very excited. Being a Chinaman nothing can be obtained from him. Attached is a specimen of his writing – His tongue is good. Yesterday (26th) he was very wild, Raving Mania, to-day he is much better. This improved state is probably due to exhaustion. Yesterday his P. was 108, small; weak; to-day the 27th it is small and weak at 84. 
I'm speechless here, really. Was Ah Sing insane, or unable to communicate in English? Imagine how you might behave if you were kept against your will by captors who did not speak your language. Raving Mania, indeed.
  • Anna Doyle, female, white, 35 years of age, native of Indiana, married, recommended her commitment to the State Insane Asylum, on November 3d, 1882, finding her suffering from Puerpueral Mania. This young woman is of a crabbid [sic] and peevish nature, using at times a very obscene; insulting language. She is naked, has a diarrhoea, and constantly dirties on her. At times rational, then incoherent in her speech. Her present condition is the result of a miscarriage or parturition – I have been unable to learn which or the exact date – a few weeks ago. She was sent to the hospital but her insanity caused her removal to the parish prison, for examination, prior to be sent to Jackson. At the hospital as here, she was very disagreeable; unmanageable [sic].
My heart goes out across time for poor Anna Doyle. It's interesting that she had no family to speak for her--Dr. LeMonnier wasn't sure if she had a miscarriage or live birth. Where was her husband? The record says she was married. Was the child the result of an affair? Was the husband uninterested--or dead?

It's important to note that no psycho-social factors were considered in any of these records. Do you suppose we take into consideration the context of peoples when  making diagnostic decisions in 2012? If you were to read the records of psychiatric patients who are hospitalized in 2112 would the records indicate an ignorance of the ways in which context influences sanity.
  • Wm. Turley, male, white, 19 years, native of N.O., La. recommended his commitment to the S. I. A. at Jackson, on February 13th, 1883, finding him suffering from Stupidity. This young man is an epileptic, and is to-day reduced to an advanced state of Stupidity, which renders him unable to distinguish his right hand from the left. He knows not his age; says he is 10/years[sic] of age. He knows not the difference between 10 & 20.
It has been nearly erased from history that people who suffered epilepsy generally faced a lifetime of institutionalization. 
  • Mrs. John Morehiser born Mary Grady, female, white, single (i.e. not legally married) native of Ireland, 27 years of age, recommended her commitment to the S-I-A. at Jackson on Feb’y 28th/83 finding her suffering from Puerperual Mania. This unfortunately woman was living with a man, to whom she was devoted. He proved untrue to her. She became jealous, and shortly, one or two months, after the birth of her last (3d) child, she showed the first symptoms of insanity. She is very quiet, speaks very little, her answers are slow to come, the questions often, having to be asked several times before being answered. The answers are not always rational. Her eyes are constantly roaming to & fro looking for something. She speaks of her children who are in the garden, whereas they are not present, nor is there a garden near by.
I found the admission record for Mary when she was adjudged to be insane by the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans. The reason official reason for her insanity? Jealousy. Was she insane or was she angry (or dejected) that her lover abandoned her and their children? 
  • Augustine Smith, male, white, single, 21 years of age, native of Algiers, LA recommended his commitment to the S-I-A. at Jackson, on March 21st 1883, finding him suffering from Klopemania He is in a state of excessive hilarity. Laughs, jumps, claps his hands, runs at a great speed across the room, sets down jumps up again, puts his hand in your pocket, in a word does not remain two minutes quiet. At the station house, I found him in his cell, having torn his shirt to pieces, broken the lamps glass with his shoe, and laughing at his deeds. A month or two ago, he was arrested. He had robbed a ladder at night, brought it to the police station (Algiers), and there was asking for the loan of a hatchet that he might fix it, to enable him to light all the street lamps of Algiers. The citizens of Algiers complain of his night prowlings & thefts, and fear that he may some night be shot as a thief, if he be not placed in a safe place.
A modern day reading of Augustine's record suggests he might be suffering from a manic or hypomanic episode. What's interested about this record is that it suggests the protective use of hospitalization: Augustine was placed in a safe place so his behaviors didn't get him shot as a thief. One can infer from  Dr. LeMonnier's writing that he didn't believe Augustine was responsible for his own behaviors. Perhaps an interesting precursor to the notion of 'not guilty by reason of insanity'?
  • Elizabeth Riley, female, white, about 35 yrs old, married, native of Ireland. Recommended her commitment to the S.-I.-A. at Jackson, on March 11th/84, finding her insane, suffering from Hallucinations. She is afraid of bodily harm, when anyone approaches
Hallucinations or flashbacks? The experience of Elizabeth is mostly erased from time. I wonder if perhaps she was victimized by someone--perhaps rape or physical abuse? 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Alan Watts: Nature of Now

Alan Watts: On Nothingness

'Alan, you're so weird. Why can you be like other people?'  
"Well I thought that was just plain dull.'

Really. How did I go all these years without learning about Alan Watts?

The Primal Egg: Nothingness

From time to time I think of the following quandary: how can something come from nothing. It's a pleasant paradox that I usually put off to the side. It is unanswerable. I was up reading Carl Sagan the other night and the paradox crossed my mind once again. In the book The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View on the Search For God, Sagan wrote:
But I stress that the universe is mainly made of nothing, that something is the exception. Nothing is the rule. That darkness is a commonplace; it is light that is the rarity. As between darkness and light, I am unhesitatingly on the side of light. But we must remember that the universe is an almost complete and impenetrable darkness and the sparse sources of light, the stars, are far beyond our present ability to create or control.
This got me thinking of a time in my life when I thought I was being particularly clever. It was my senior year of college and I was taking a course called The Nature of Science. I had, of course, waited until the last minute to write the final paper. There I was the night before the paper was due and I had nothing to write about. That's where my flash of brilliance came in. If I had nothing to write about, why not write about nothing? Surely I could pen ten pages about nothing.

So that's just what I did. I wrote out ten pages of something about nothing. The main thrust of the paper was a meditation on how something could have come from nothing--and if it did, how could nothing exist--and thus how could something.

I got an A on the paper. The professor encouraged me to look at some ancient Arabic literature that grappled with the concept of zero. I promptly put the paper, and the professors comments, out of my mind. It wasn't until years later that it occurred to me that I might actually like to read the literature that he suggested. The professor is dead and the paper is long since lost.

Perhaps someone else might point me in the direction of this literature he suggested? I really want to read it now.

So anyway, thanks to Carl, I'm back to my old tricks thinking and writing about nothing.

This business of thinking about nothing is a surprisingly complicated task. There are myriad creation stories. They all find some way to describe the creation of something out of nothing. Yet none of the creation stories really take a crack at nothing. The stories always start at first light: something appears from nothing.

In the Christian world, the most famous creation story of all comes from the Bible. Did you know there are over 21 versions of the Bible collected at just one website? I poked around and discovered scores more. This nearly sent me into a hermanuntic fit. I've quoted three versions that caught my eye.
  • In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water. (Complete Jewish Bible)
  • First this: God created the Heavens and Earth--all you see, all you don't see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness and inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. (The Message)
  • In the beginning God made of nought heaven and earth. (In the beginning God made out of nothing the heavens and the earth.). Forsooth the earth was idle and void and darkness were on the face of (the) depth; and the Spirit of the Lord was borne on the waters [and the Spirit of God was borne upon the waters]. (Wycliffe Bible)
I'm interested here in the nought mentioned in the Wycliffe Bible. What is the nature of the nought? Where did it come from and how did it get there? Most importantly--how did nought get there? How did something spring from nothing?

Really. If I think about this too long I go a little crazy.

How about a peek at some other creation stories? They don't offer up any help in this contemplation of nothing. They are interesting--especially in how each of them echos the same basic narrative found in the first two lines of the story of Genesis. More accurately put, the story of Genesis echos the narratives of these other creation stories.

Ancient Greeks:
  • In the beginning there was nothing but Chaos, which was a void of nothingness. A black winged bird named Nyx emerged from the void. She laid a golden egg and sat on it for a very long time. The egg hatched and from it came Eros, the god of love. One half of the shell rose upward and became the sky. The other half of the shell stayed put and become the earth.
The Hopi:
  • The world at first was endless space in which existed only the Creator, Taiowa. This world had no time, no shape, and no life, except in the mind of the Creator. Eventually the infinite creator created the finite in Sotuknang, whom he called his nephew and whom he created as his agent to establish nine universes. Sotuknang gathered together matter from the endless space to make the nine solid worlds. Then the Creator instructed him to gather together the waters from the endless space and place them on these worlds to make land and sea. When Sotuknang had done that, the Creator instructed him to gather together air to make winds and breezes on these worlds. (read more)
The Norse:
  • In the beginning of time, there was nothing: neither sand, nor sea, nor cool waves. Neither the heaven nor earth existed. Instead, long before the earth was made, Niflheim was made, and in it a spring gave rise to twelve rivers. To the south was Muspell, a region of heat and brightness guarded by Surt, a giant who carried a flaming sword. To the north was frigid Ginnungagap, where the rivers froze and all was ice. Where the sparks and warm winds of Muspell reached the south side of frigid Ginnungagap, the ice thawed and dripped, and from the drips thickened and formed the shape of a man. His name was Ymir, the first of and ancestor of the frost-giants. (read more)
The Maori:
  • All humans are descended from one pair of ancestors, Rangi and Papa, who are also called Heaven and Earth. In those days, Heaven and Earth clung closely together, and all was darkness. Rangi and Papa had six sons: Tane-mahuta, the father of the forests and their inhabitants; Tawhiri-ma-tea, the father of winds and storms; Tangaroa, the father of fish and reptiles; Tu-matauenga, the father of fierce human beings; Haumia-tikitiki, the father of food that grows without cultivation; and Rongo-ma-tane, the father of cultivated food. These six sons and all other beings lived in darkness for an extremely long time, able only to wonder what light and vision might be like. (read more)
The Jicarilla Apache:
  • In the beginning there was nothing - no earth, no living beings. There were only darkness, water, and Cyclone, the wind. There were no humans, but only the Hactcin, the Jicarilla supernatural beings. The Hactcin made the earth, the underworld beneath it, and the sky above it. The earth they made as a woman who faces upward, and the sky they made as a man who faces downward. The Hactcin lived in the underworld, where there was no light. There were mountains and plants in the underworld, and each had its own Hactcin. There were as yet no animals or humans, and everything in the underworld existed in a dream-like state and was spiritual and holy. (read more)
Ancient India:
  •  In the beginning there was absolutely nothing, and what existed was covered by death and hunger. He thought, "Let me have a self", and he created the mind. As he moved about in worship, water was generated. Froth formed on the water, and the froth eventually solidifed to become earth. He rested on the earth, and from his luminence came fire. After resting, he divided himself in three parts, and one is fire, one is the sun, and one is the air. (read more)
The Mossi People:
  • In the beginning there was no earth, no day or night, and not even time itself. All that existed was the Kingdom of Everlasting Truth, which was ruled by the Naba Zid-Wendé. The Naba Zid-Wendé made the earth, and then they made the day and the night. To make the day a time to be busy, they made the sun, and to make the night a time of rest, they made the moon. In doing so, they made time itself. (read more)
Ancient China:
  • Long, long ago, when heaven and earth were still one, the entire universe was contained in an egg-shaped cloud. All the matter of the universe swirled chaotically in that egg. Deep within the swirling matter was Pan Gu, a huge giant who grew in the chaos. For 18,000 years he developed and slept in the egg. Finally one day he awoke and stretched, and the egg broke to release the matter of the universe. The lighter purer elements drifted upwards to make the sky and heavens, and the heavier impure elements settled downwards to make the earth. (read more)
I could continue, but none of these creation stories are talking about nothingness. They are all concerned about the origin of things. They show us the birth of things--which in one way or another have sprung out of nothingness.

But what of nothing? That very well might be my point. Nothingness is the magic in our lives. There is nothing but what we make from the nothingness. So, as Alan Watts suggests, "Cheer up! This is the most incredible nothing. Nothingness is like the nothingness of space. It contains the universe. Out of this void comes everything and you're it."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Birthday: Mid-Life Edition

I've been thinking a lot about birthdays this week. Mostly it's because my birthday was this past week. Before getting on with these evenings musings of an irreverent (and aging) psychologist, why not return to the scene of my original birthday for a couple of moments? Here I am with my mom and dad, two days old, and just a little squished up bundle of potential. 

It dawned on me that I passed a tipping point somewhere between these pictures and today. I stopped growing and started decaying. There were no parties on that day--no cakes were eaten, no cards were received, and no party hats were worn. There were no forms of recognition and no fanfare on that day when I crossed the invisible line. 

Science guides me to think that tipping point happened sometime in my mid 20s. My body was developmentally at it's strongest. My brain was at the apex of its ability to process information. With that in mind, the moment I crossed that line probably happened somewhere in Vermont. I was a graduate student working on the first masters degree that I would complete.

Here, if you look closely, is me around the time of the peak of my physical development. As you can see, my hair was also near the maximum length of its development.

It's bothered me, a little bit, to realize I am decaying. This realization isn't a particularly delightful thought.  What's worse is that I have also recognized that from an actuarial standpoint, there are more years on the road behind me than there are on the road ahead of me.

Bummer. If I live a normal life expectancy I'm actually a little more than half way dead. 

Double bummer. 

All things decay. I've known this in an intellectual way for most of my life. However, it wasn't until recently that I've learned to find comfort in knowing since I too am thing, I shall decay. It's not as if I really have a choice in the matter. I'll decay just the same, whether I want to or not.

The hints of my decay are hovering around the edges of my perception.  There are the inevitable aspects of decay. They are cosmetically annoying. The dark hair that suddenly burst forth from my chest and face announcing the arrival of a new man is gradually turning grey with the frost of age. There are also the unexpected aspects of decay. I've  begun to notice the subtle ways my middle-aged self is either invisible to younger people or commands an unexpected authority--an authority that I've not yet learned to be entirely comfortable with. 

There is something else I've discovered too. Somewhere in this time, between the summer and autumn of my life, I'm finding the joys of adulthood. What are these joys? Keats suggests our adulthood, the long autumn of our lives, is the season that ripens the fruit, harvests the fruit and makes the music.

I'm hope I have plenty of life left to make the transition from summer to autumn. I think I have some pretty good crops that can be ripened and harvested. The music sounds good, too. 

This makes the grey hair a very welcome sign--a sign of the harvest that is yet to come. In the end, it's the spaces between growing and decaying that life really happens--every moment--every day. I'm not entirely convinced that we could even have a life if we didn't also have decay and death.

There is not beginning without and ending.

Plus their is always hair dye, should all else fail. 

To Autumn
by John Keats

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Antaeus: Keep your Feet on the Ground

Hercules and Antaeus by Gregorio De Ferrari
As the story goes, Antaeus, a half giant, would challenge those who passed him to a wrestling match. He would kill his challengers and save their skulls. It's what you did when you were the half-giant son of Poseidon and Gaia.

Of course he wasn't just saving those skulls for posterity. He was planning on using them to build a temple in honor of his father, Poseidon. Perhaps it was a father's day present. We'll never know for sure. Antaeus never got to build that temple. Hercules came around one day and challenged Antaeus to a fight. He was perplexed that he could not win. Every time he threw Antaeus down to the ground he would become reinvigorated, rise up, and continue to fight.

After several rounds Hercules caught on to Antaeus' super power. Every time he returned to ground, he was healed by his mother (mother earth, Gaia). Catching onto this, Hercules flexed some serious muscle and held the half-giant up into the air, squeezed Antaeus in a bear hug, and ended his skull collecting days.

I'd not heard about the story of Antaeus prior to this evening. I've been doing a little light reading of Erich Fromm's essays on "What does it Mean to be Human" and came across this quote:
Man is not bound to be sheep. In fact, inasmuch as he is not an animal man has an interest in being related to and conscious of reality, to touch the earth with his feet, as in the Greek legend of Antaeus; man is stronger the more fully he is in touch with reality.
I lingered on the quote for a little bit and looked up the story of Antaeus. As it ends up, this skull crushing half-giant offers some important commentary on modern day dilemmas. Have you turned on the television lately and watched the news? Have you read a newspaper? With a presidential election coming, our media is fired up with competing descriptions of reality. None of those descriptions, of course, are particularly reflective of anything resembling reality.

Back to Fromm to scoop up another quote:
As long as he is only sheep and his reality is essentially nothing but the fiction built up by his society for more convenient manipulation of men and things, he is weak as a man. Any change in the social pattern threatens him with intense insecurity and even madness because his whole relationship with reality is mediated by the fictitious reality that is presented to him as real. The more he can grasp reality on his own and not only as a datum with which society provides him, the more secure he feels because the less completely dependent he is on consensus and hence the less threatened by social change.
Presidential elections remind us we are in a period of intense social change. Our fictitious foundations of reality become battle grounds where forces of change (generally the left) battle against the forces of stability (generally the right). Where our political system becomes deficient and dangerous is that both sides become agents that advertise increasingly slick depictions of a fictive reality.

We no loner seem to want to help people keep their own feet on the ground. I'm thinking Hercules made a big mistake by lifting Antaeus up off the ground and crushing him to death. We seem to have forgotten that the heart of a well rounded education requires us to learn to stand on the ground and use   critical thinking skills--the ability to take in information from the world around us, analyze that information, and come to reasoned conclusions in a disciplined way. No. Not much of that. What we actually have is an abundance of irrational thinking that is based on a deep need for those in power to demand the other to be a state of submission and dependence.

Back to Fromm, one last time:
The process of increasing awareness is nothing but the process of awakening, of opening one's eyes and seeing what is in front of oneself. Awareness means doing away with illusions and, to the degree that this is accomplished it is a process of liberation.
So I ask you this: what are you going to do today to dispel the illusions and bring forth a little more liberation? What are you going to do to stand on the ground today?

Curious about Erich Fromm? I've gathered several videos which capture the essence of what he offered the world. Click here to explore those videos at your leisure.

An Eric Fromm Video Primmer

"The right of each man to unfold as an individual and as a human being, assuming for example that everybody has a right to voice his opinion. But what value is this right if he has no opinion? Or rather, if he is under the delusion of having opinions but actually he is only repeating what the newspapers write for him?"

"If I don't know who I am than I have to join the herd in order to be sure that I am somebody. That I am at least like the rest. That I have a place somewhere. That I am not completely disoriented. If I have a strong developed sense of I, I do not need to have an obsessional need to be part of the herd because my role in the world is given by my own experience of I."

Getting in touch with the realities inside of myself and outside of myself, that is to say to see to be in communication with what I sense without being aware of it requires first of all a social atmosphere that is free from fear. Free from fear of any kind. Free from any threat. But more than that, in which dissent is not discouraged. Is encouraged. Is furthered... to what extent a man dares to say or even dares to think what is inconvenient.

"In our enthusiasm to dominate nature and to produce more material goods we have transformed means into ends. We wanted to produce more in the 19th and 20th century in order to give man the possibility for a more dignified human life. But actually what has happened is production and consumption has ceased to be means and has become ends and we are production crazy and consumption crazy."

Friday, June 1, 2012

An Open Letter

I recently sent this letter to all of my collegues in Massachusetts who are licensed psychologists. For those of you whom I've missed, consider this my invitation for you to consider these important ethical concerns.

Dear Friends:

As some of you know, I recently became outraged when I saw a YouTube clip of a licensed marriage and family therapist advocating the discredited notion that therapy can be used to help gay and lesbian individuals remove "unwanted same sex attractions." Every credible professional organization has repudiated these attempts to repair or remove same sex attractions. Yet organizations, such as the National Association for Research and Therapy about Homosexuality, continue to peddle a pseudo-scientific agenda that preys on vulnerable people across the United States and the world.

Over the past 15+ years I've met the occasional patient who has been victimized by ex-gay therapies. Since speaking up about these issues many more have crawled out of the woodwork and shared their stories with me. I think this is important--and I think it's an opportunity for psychologists to stand up for what is right.

I've recently wrote both the licensing board and the Mass Psych Association asking them to carefully consider the ethical issues involved in so-called reparative therapy. I've encouraged them to make a public statement about this issue.

I hope each of you also take the time to consider these ethical issues. Perhaps some of you might be moved to contact our licensing board and professional association. Perhaps you might even be moved to speak with your colleagues about this--and share my letter with them.

Think about this for a moment--in the Commonwealth we are the first-in-the nation to recognize same-sex marriages. We also are in a peculiar situation where licensed therapists can go about trying to remove unwanted same sex attractions from vulnerable youth. Which is it going to be--full recognition of gay and lesbian people as human beings--or continued shaming and sham attempts at 'repairing' something that is not broken? I think it's time to push back and make it clear that it's not okay to victimize our patients with discredited and damaging therapies.

Thanks for listening--and a quote that my doctoral program gave me on bookmark during my interview day is worth remembering here: 
“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Founding President of Antioch College, Horace Mann, 1859

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