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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

 Parent Behavior and Children's Safety

A basic human tendency is to consider other people as being rational. Disagreeable perhaps but rational nonetheless. Except for those who commit such unspeakable acts as the Utah father, Michael Haight, who recently killed his mother-in-law, his wife, and their five children ranging in age from four-years through seventeen-years. This occurred two weeks after his wife filed for divorce. He had earlier removed guns from the house apparently so his victims couldn't defend against his planned attack.
Two-years before his oldest daughter, Macie, then fourteen, reported to the police her father's multiple assaults and the extreme abuse she suffered which made her, to quote a news article, "very afraid that he was going to keep her from breathing and kill her." Which he did.
This raised the significant question of why nothing was done by the police. The possible answer, that the wife refused to press charges, isn't sufficient since Macie had clearly been harmed. Had an adult behaved similarly toward another adult they would have been jailed (hopefully, though this is not certain in these odd times). Yet the testimony of youth even older than Macie tends not to taken as seriously as an adult's.

Another possible answer for why children aren't removed from an abusive family is the belief that children are best raised by biological parents despite aberrant parental behavior. This, even in states where judicial decisions are required to be "in the best interests of the child," is hardly ever done. Only rarely are parental rights abrogated with children being freed for adoption.
Not that foster care is always better: a recent news item descirbed foster parents who not only sexually abused their two young wards but prostituted them.
Clearly, more sophisticated evaluations are needed of both criminals and foster parents, and greater education of police and judges too in the hope that, finally, decisions are made consistent with the safety of children rather than hoary philosophy.



























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 How Much Personality Change Can Psychotherapy Effect?

The degree of personality change that can be effected through psychotherapy depends on: the talent and knowledge of the therapist; the degree of early-life emotional damage that the patient endured; and, to a degree, their intelligence. But luck is a factor too, as with all activities. Ideal mates may meet through chance or not, and one may carelessly cross a street. Consider our world had Winston Churchill been fatally injured upon being hit by a car while crossing a New York City street in 1931. But granted the best of fate, the question remains: how much change can psychotherapy effect? A great deal but not coomplete.


The critical ego capacities develop early in life. These enable the child and later the adult to control their thinking and behavior, distinguish reality from fantasy, modulate their mood, and create a sense of who they are or, as psychologists term it, a "sense of self." But for these to develop the child must experience a "good-enough" parenting. Which depends on luck since even the best intentioned parents are a product of their own life experience, babies are not born with instructions, and good health services and nutrition are not available to all.


The therapist's task is to provide the equivalent of the "good-enough" parenting which the patient lacked early in life. Then, like a plant yielding toward the sun, the mind becomes nourished to heal the past psychological damage. Yet even as some plants that receive sufficient nutrients fail to flourish, all therapy is not successful. It takes a long time for an infant's mind to become adult, the early mental structure is its bedrock and, being conservative like all nature, resists change, aided by its powerful unconscious which demands respect.

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Parenting, School Achievement, and Standardized Testing

Parents should read first to their toddlers and then with them, this enabling most children to induct the nature of reading as they do the grammar of the language of the country into which they are born (thus a toddler in Germany learns to speak German, a child in Argentina learns to speak Spanish, etc.) and reading simple books by kindergarten. Parents should also explain rather than say "Do it because I say so," since this depresses the development of the critical capacity for abstract thinking as psychologists have known since the 1960s. Which is not to say that public schools don't need improvement since, with exception, they tend to be clueless in helping struggling children. But schools shouldn't be expected to remedy absent parent involvement or act as parents for children who haven't been socialized (as teachers complain). Standardized testing is critical too since a child's poor scores says something important which need be investigated and remedied.

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Instant Analyses of the Alleged Idaho Killer's Personality

Published comments from those having earlier interactions with the alleged Idaho killer of four youths, Bryan Kohberger, are similar to those arising after other mass killings in which common behaviors are considered to have foreshadowed violence. These, for Mr. Kohberger, included student criicism of his harsh grading (which lessened as did his apparent teaching motivation following student protest), and talking down to a fellow graduate student. A quickness of temper was also noted by past acquaintances. All of which can be said of virtually every college teaching associate. For most this task is their first teaching assignment which can be frightening. Losing job motivation and easing grading when confronted with student protest would not be unexpected develpments.
Perhaps part of the human need to quickly comment is our horror at the crime and desire to distinguish between the criminal and ourselves, to emphasize that we could never commit such heinous act.Which is true for virtually all unless addled by drugs or alcohol. Yet this attitude also reflects the widespread ignorance of child development, ego psychology, and especially the powerful influence of early parenting on a child's immature mind, the years when beliefs and impulses are created which become the bedrock of adult personality. And as I never tire of stating, the unconscious is very powerful and one must respect its power.

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