A good, humble self-reflection

While I may be frustrated with aspects of ISPP’s diversity indoctrination, certain aspects of it have been laudable.   Notably, I have received considerable training in recognizing the systemic forces which influence individuals.  In some  ways and at some times, mental illness is better understood as the system’s failure to adopt the needs of the the individual rather than the individual’s ability to adapt to the impartial system.  Of course, some mental illness has organic (brain-based) etiologies.  And that is not to say that parents per se are to blame for all mental illness.  But, sometimes, it’s just that the cards are stacked against individuals.  For the past two years in my practicum seminars, colleagues shared cases of individuals growing up in gang-infested neighborhoods in which carrying a gun and getting involved in fights to prove that you are tough was a way to make sure that you didn’t get shot and that you didn’t beat up.  That is adaptive behavior, not maladaptive.  It may be antisocial, but it’s still adaptive.  What of the poor minority kid, parents on drugs, no one in his neighborhood makes it past age 30.  Think he’ll be depressed?  Think he’ll be antisocial?  Everyone he knows coming out of his schools are either dead or in jail.  Where is the hope?  Where can he put his pain?

When I read an article about the book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander, these memories came to mind.  By incarcerating and stripping the rights (by labeling them felons for life) of a disproportionate level of minorities, especially African Americans, the white majority continues to oppress individuals of color, according to the book.  I haven’t read it, but as you can see above, I’m in line with its basic premise.

There was a collective sense of helplessness at the end of our conversations in practicum seminars.  What can we do, as therapists, when the system is unable to handle these kids?  No level of compassion or therapeutic tools will be enough to bring these kids through to a better life.

I have a few responses.  First of all, let’s all be grateful for our respective levels of affluence, heterogeneous as it may be.  Let’s not forget the poor, who have a claim on our time, talent, and treasure.  Let’s be smart in our political discussions.  As one who tends to be conservative on social issues, mass incarcerations and the war on drugs are illegitimate in my eyes.  We can unite with liberals on this one.  Finally, prayer and spreading the Gospel of hope.  This Gospel is the only True form of freedom, that in the end, if accepted, will set the prisoner free.  That is not to say that we are exempt from working for the dignity of people of color who are marginalized.  But we need to pray for apostolic zeal in our faith that we can spread the good news and give hope for the hopeless.


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