Sunday, September 30, 2012

Psycho Nation

The studies were begun nearly two decades ago, but they are still relevant and pertinent.

Performed by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda they demonstrate two salient points. First, children who have been traumatized are far more likely to have medical or behavioral problems. Second, the incidence of these problems is, the authors explain,  “unexpectedly common.”

David Brooks summarized the results in a recent column:

In the 1990s, Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda conducted a study on adverse childhood experiences. They asked 17,000 mostly white, mostly upscale patients enrolled in a Kaiser H.M.O. to describe whether they had experienced any of 10 categories of childhood trauma. They asked them if they had been abused, if their parents had divorced, if family members had been incarcerated or declared mentally ill. Then they gave them what came to be known as ACE scores, depending on how many of the 10 experiences they had endured.

The link between childhood trauma and adult outcomes was striking. People with an ACE score of 4 were seven times more likely to be alcoholics as adults than people with an ACE score of 0. They were six times more likely to have had sex before age 15, twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, four times as likely to suffer emphysema. People with an ACE score above 6 were 30 times more likely to have attempted suicide.

Later research suggested that only 3 percent of students with an ACE score of 0 had learning or behavioral problems in school. Among students with an ACE score of 4 or higher, 51 percent had those problems.

It’s nice enough to say that we need to counter the effects of poverty and to provide a better education, but, at root, Brooks suggests, Americans are psychologically damaged. Unless we deal with that problem, public policy solutions are unlikely to be beneficial.

Brooks explains:

In the past several decades, policy makers have focused on the material and bureaucratic things that correlate to school failure, like poor neighborhoods, bad nutrition, schools that are too big or too small. But, more recently, attention has shifted to the psychological reactions that impede learning — the ones that flow from insecure relationships, constant movement and economic anxiety.

He adds:

… across vast stretches of America, economic, social and family breakdowns are producing enormous amounts of stress and unregulated behavior, which dulls motivation, undermines self-control and distorts lives.

Ferlitti himself explained that pathological behaviors are attempts to self-medicate:

"We saw that things like intractable smoking, things like promiscuity, use of street drugs, heavy alcohol consumption, etc., these were fairly common in the backgrounds of many of the patients...These were merely techniques they were using, these were merely coping mechanisms that had gone into place."

But, how did we get to the point where “social and family breakdowns” are traumatizing children and undermining their character?

Brooks does not say it, but we, as a nation, have, for the past few decades been engaged in a grand social experiment. We have decided that personal self-fulfillment is more important than social stability or family stability. We act as though our mental health depends on our ability to let it all hang out, to be free from all social strictures, to be open and honest and out of control.

Add to that the stress that comes from constant movement and economic insecurity and you have a culture that is unfriendly, even hostile, to children.

These children might not have been physically abused, but they live with parents who place their needs before their responsibilities. These parents have been told by pseudo-scientists that they should be more permissive and indulgent. Thus, they try to make a virtue of their own detachment and neglect by failing to discipline their children. The experts cheer them on, telling parents that this helps children to develop their creativity.

So, kudos to Ferlitti and Anda for quantifying the problem, and kudos to David Brooks for drawing out attention to it. For my part I would add that the state of the national psyche is the natural outcome of our own Great American Cultural Revolution.

As one might expect, the eminently sensible Brooks proposes something resembling a national confab to bring together teachers, psychologists and social workers to find a solution.

The idea is mental balm for uneasy minds, but still, it does not address the most important issue here, the issue of responsibility.

For many years now the American educational system has given itself over to the task of providing therapy for children, mostly in the form of mindlessly puffing up children’s self-esteem.

How’s that been working out?

I would be happy to see all of American’s parents turn into Tiger Moms and all schoolteachers turn into disciplinarians who reward excellence and call out failure and sloth, but that would require such an extreme culture shift that one doubts that it will happen in the foreseeable future.

Too many people are too invested in self-esteemism for it to disappear any time soon.

One understands why Brooks would call for more mental health services, but, seriously, do you believe that America is lacking in mental health services. Children are regularly exposed to counselors, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

It would be more accurate to say that Americans, both children and adults are drowning in mental health services. Americans have been therapied and drugged to the limits of their endurance.

If the Felitti and Anda studies are correct, we must conclude that all the varied modes of therapeutic intervention are simply not very effective.

All the counseling and pills seem to have very little real impact on the outcomes of childhood stress and abuse.

And it is not as though therapists have not been aware of the negative consequences of childhood trauma. Freud founded psychotherapy over a century ago as a theory about infantile trauma.

And yes, I am aware of the fact that the American Psychological Association has recently reported that all forms of therapy are effective.

But then, ask yourself this: what did you think that a professional association of psychologists and therapists would say?

Would you trust the American Bar Association to offer an objective appraisal of the cost of excessive litigation?

If, as the studies show, nothing that we, as a society, are offering to children who have suffered childhood stress and abuse has a helped change the course of their lives, then clearly, the therapy industry is failing to do the job.


n.n said...

Men and women elect to exchange their liberty and dignity for submission with benefits.

They have suffered a progressive dissociation from reality as their dreams of instant gratification (i.e. physical, material, ego) do have consequences. Behaviors which could be tolerated have been normalized and can no longer be tolerated.

Redistribution schemes, the various class wars, the normalization of dysfunctional behaviors are opportunistic effects of sabotaged character development.

The more people defer their judgment to the care of experts and mortal gods, the greater the corruption they and our society will suffer.

The corruption of our culture, more than anything else, will be our conclusive undoing. A majority of Americans reproducing in the minority, or choosing the elective termination of their children, will be the literal undoing of our nation. The progress of psychotic behaviors, while natural, is not inevitable, and their development was encouraged for profit.

The individuals and cooperatives which advance their political, economic, and social standing through the exploitation of base desires or vulnerability must be countered. The individuals and cooperatives who avoid political, economic, and social persecution must be replaced. Both malicious (or selfish) intent and cowardice will ensure that the causes are never addressed and our "great" civilization will continue its progressive decline.

n.n said...

Both malicious intent and cowardice are selfish behaviors. Our technological superiority and military prowess will be insufficient to save us from ourselves. We have sought to normalize dysfunctional behaviors and have been enormously successful in our achievement.

David Foster said...

OTOH, this line of thinking offers an endless pool of excuses for an incompetent educational establishment. The tendency will be to say, "See, you can't expect us to teach kids to read or calculate until (a long array of social problems) are all solved." Which is what is sometimes called a "boil the ocean" type of proposition.

If you're in business and you have a sales region that is having a hard time because the potential customers there have long been inclined toward a competitor, and/or are too dumb to realize the wonderfulness of your product, you should take account of this in setting their quotas. You shouldn't just throw up your hands and say, "well, OK, whatever you sell or don't sell is okay with me."

Anyhow, shouldn't it be noted that plenty of kids in prior ages were traumatized, too? Fathers killed in the Civil War? Parents with no money and no English skills fleeing to the U.S. from pogroms? The Great Depression? Slums and alcoholism?

Anonymous said...

Touché! David Foster!

Stuart Schneiderman said...

excellent point, David.

Dennis said...

One has to recognize the problem before one can address the problem. We have a long history of not feeling sorry for ourselves so that those who follow are much more likely to accept the challenges of life and succeed.
I shudder to think of what my life would have become given the "therapy culture" and group identities we marinate in today. It never occurred to me to think I came from a very dysfunctional family environment. I did not have any body telling me how bad I had it therefore I could do anything that I desired if I worked hard, had the talent, and had that "fire in the belly." Unlike most of these children who are being further traumatized by those who prey on their situation to gain power.
As much as I like business metaphors they do not work unless a LOT of people are looking to solve those problems and we are not being divided into groups competing for government largess or the "freebies" that n.n so apply addresses.
I would be much more interested in how one addresses these problems given the cultural environment we now find ourselves in. Also given that "capitalism" has become a dirty work for large numbers of individuals I am not sure that any solution that "smacks" of a corporate solution goes anywhere. We have to get the individual to see their abilities to address problems at a local level. We have to take control of the educational environment at the local level among a large number of other issues as well
We need to accept and understand a downward spiral in order to change it to an upward spiral.
This country has been run by lawyers and the likes for some time and their idea that laws solve all problems has NOT worked as anyone with an active brain cell should have recognized. It has only made for a centralized government with increasing power over every aspect of this country including business.
Until one is ready to recognize the problems and them address them, and of course not see them as excuses, them we fall into the trap of doing "battle" against the wrong enemy.

n.n said...


What doesn't break us, makes us stronger.

Liberty is not a revolutionary but an evolutionary principle.

The problem, at its root, is sabotaged character development. Most notably normalization of behaviors which engender dysfunctional outcomes and entertaining the fulfillment of dreams of instant gratification. The problem is that people do not respect each other. This is the basis for justifying progressive involuntary and fraudulent exploitation. The problem is that treating symptoms in perpetuity is more profitable than addressing their causes.

The incentives are present for progressive and exceptional corruption.

Recruiting Animal said...

1. I'm sure that in times past in plenty of families in which there was no divorce there was enough of marital discord to generate the same kind of stress in children.

2. In the middle of the posting you switch from the test to your own pet peeve: discipline.

This made it seem as if you used the first part of the entry as a mere excuse for you to go off on a standard rant.

3. You said that constant movement was hard on the children. It would be interesting to study military families because they have to relocate a lot.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I think that it's commonly accepted that divorce is bad for children. Surely, there are some cases where there is so much conflict in a marriage that the children are traumatized, but, by and large the wave of divorces that began in the 1970s was not a good thing.

The culture was radically transformed in the late 60s and early 70s. About that there can be little doubt. I was there; I knew the culture before and after the great cultural revolution.

The studies reflect the state of the culture, what counts as good and bad behavior, what people should and should not do.

The therapy culture has systematically devalued discipline in favor of permissiveness. Many people may find the idea objectionable, but to say that young people, for example, lack discipline seems to me to be uncontroversial.

Some think it is a good thing; I don't.

After all, these same young people are competing with young people around the world... many of whom do have discipline and focus. How's that working out?

Heck, our culture doesn't see very much good in fiscal discipline... many people fear austerity more than they fear out-of-control spending... Some people believe that we can spend our way out of our current economic crisis.