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

The Posibble Lingering Effects Of Childhood Medical Treatments

A moving story by Leigh Kamping-Carder in the April 29, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("My Heart Defect Was Repaired by Age 4. But Was I Cured?") described her life after three childhood cardiac surgeries, aroused several thoughts.


A child's mind is immature and, when provided treatment, often blames their parents and the doctor for their discomfort, being unable to grasp its need. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms can develop which indicate that the mind's capacity to cope with stress has been exceeded. Which can happen to anyone with any stress whether a soldier, child, or adult. They may have nightmares or become overly sensitive to noises or change of temperature.


Autism and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which the reporter indicates are potential sequelae of early life medical treatment, have other origins entirely. Autism is vastly mis-diagnosed and has nothing to do with medical procedures, vaccination, air-pollution or whatever other fantasy is popularly believed. Rather, it derives from severely deficient early parenting which the infant senses and tries to avoid by becoming independent but inevitably fails, then turning from the world as self-protection. This was well understood by psychologists since the 1980s but is resisted by widespread public and doctor ignorance of child psychological development abetted by undeserved parental feelings of guilt.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is perhaps the most unsophisticated mental health diagnosis of the past two-hundred-years, its symptoms being identical to anxiety and depression which can be present in any medical or psychological disorder. Its predecessors are the "mental restlessness" of seventeenth-century England medicine and the Minimal Brain Dysfunction (MBD) of early twentieth-century USA practice when it was depicted by a Harvard psychiatrist as being such nonsense that only a doctor with a minimal brain dysfunction would use it



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Becoming An Adult

The difference between the adult's and the child's view of life is that an adult is able to question it. When a child, you don't question if your world is good or bad because if you decide it is bad, that for whatever reason your parents are not nice people, you are questioning your existence which depends on their benevolence. Only when an adult and have your own life, can you can question their nature. But this conclusion is not always true since I have known youngsters who decided their parents were crazy before entering high school. Then deciding to trust only their own judgment and to make independent decisions. But these youth also had an outsider, a loving relative or a trusted teacher, to guide and encourage them. Lacking this, atrocious criminal acts may occur, committed by long smoldering and enraged, suicidal adults who lacked the critically important "good-enough" parenting experience as a child from which the basic ego capacities and personality develop. 

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Sleepovers Are Now a Battleground

An article about sleepovers in the March 30, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("Sleepovers Are Now a Battleground - Parents split on slumber parties, once a rite of passage — 'I've had parents ask me if we have a water filter'") aroused reader comment. Having long treated children, I've gained insight into this parent dilemma. What it comes down to is knowing your child's and your comfort with sleepovers, and how well the other parents are known. Which can be tricky when parents feel the need to interrogate them about the presence of animals, the storage of guns, and potential allergic substances. For a parent to be concerned about real potential dangers is not "helicopter parenting." I've heard of life-threatening allergic reactions which would terrify even the least risk-averse parent and remember as a child visiting a friend's home and his pointing a gun at me (a real not toy gun). Contrary to popular belief, sleepovers are not needed for a child's healthy personality development. Not until they're adult and it's with a potential mate, of course. Nuff said.

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The Unspoken "Elephant in the Room" Afflicting American Society

If all parents read first to and then with their toddlers, almost all children would be reading simple books by kindergarten. And, apart from emergency situations, their parents never said to them, "Do it because I say so," but rather gave explanation,  their adult functioning would be better too since the former depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking as psychologists have long known. The lack of a "good-enough" parenting is the unspoken, politically incorrect, "Elephant in the Room," that explains most inadequate academic and work performance.

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Screen Time and Child Development

An article in the February 25, 2023 of The Wall Street Journal ("Why I'm Not Writing About Kids and Screen Time Anymore - The next phase of research on screen use will focus on family dynamics") referred to a Harvard study which found no relationship between a child's screen time and their language development.

There is widespread ignorance of child psychological development among the public and doctors too. The human mind has an innate ability to induct the grammatical structure of language which is why a child born in Germany comes to speak German and a child born in France comes to speak French. Similarly, if first read to and then with by their parent(s) as a toddler, almost all children will induct the nature of reading and be able to read simple books by kindergarten. Unfortunately, this sound parenting practice isn't universal. Another critical parenting behavior is, apart from a true emergency situation, to never say "Do it because I say so" to a child but rather to explain parental requests since the former depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking as psychologists have known since the 1960s.

Regarding "screen time": this obsessive-compulsive activity (an obsession is a continually repeated thought while a compulsion is a continually repeated physical activity) is often an attempt by both youth and adults to reduce their anxiety, the mind's obsessive-compulsive ego defense being one of its most effective and developmentally mature ways of doing so. Nuff said.

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Children and Reading

Children have the genetically ingrained capacity to induct the grammar of their native language. Thus does a child born in Germany naturally learn to speak German and a child born in Italy naturally learn to speak Italian. This has been known by psychologists for many years. Similarly, the brain has the ingrained capacity to induct the nature of reading, but only if the child is first read to and then with by a parent when they are a toddler. Given this interaction, most children will be reading simple books by the time they begin kindergarten. While the public education system is generally poor at teaching children with difficulties, attempting to paper-over their inadequacies with trumpeted pronouncements, teachers cannot be expected to take the place of children who have failed to receive the "good-enough" parenting that is the birthright of all children. Thus many children are unable to read and unready to learn, or even cognizant of basic courtesy as teachers complain. Nuff said.

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 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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Every Infant's Inescapable Battle

While the psychological world that the newborn confronts is complicated they possess a biological predisposition to create a sense of who they are or, as psychologists term it, a "sense of self" from the social experiences they encounter. Beginning in their second year a profound continuing struggle exists between infant and caretaker as the child battles to establish their autonomy apart from the people who controls their destiny. But because babies are not born with instructions and parents have their own childhood-based limitations, the "good-enough" parent-child interaction needed by a child is not always gained, to the long-term suffering of both. Which is where psychotherapy may enter their lives but that is another matter.

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On Inborn Psychological Capacities

While humans are born with instinctive psychological abilities like the ability to learn language, a child being able to induct the grammatical structure of their native language (thus a child born in China easily learns Chinese while a child born in Germany easily learns German), the successful development of more complex functions depend on experiencing the "good-enough" interaction with their earliest parenting figure, which for most children is their mother. Because of an infant's psychological immaturity, conflict between their desires and the needs of their parents are inevitable. Yet, from this, the child's mind usually expands healthffully. It is only when parents don't encourage their child's struggle for individuation that unneeded exaggerated tension occurs. Caused by the parents lacking knowledge about child development (a baby doesn't exit the womb with instructions), or the lingering effects of the parents' psychological struggles with their parents. 

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Coping With Work or Marriage Conflict Through Triangulation

Triangulation is the commonly occurring reduction of anxiety in a problematic relationship by introducing a third element into the situation. At work this can be a person or corporate directive depicted as "crazy" and in a marriage a child being termed "impossible." Though reducing anxiety, this unconscious maneuver is destructive since it doesn't resolve the problem. To accomplish this a third party, a management consultant or a psychotherapist, must reframe communication so the real issues are confronted. But here triangulation can also occur if the consultant identifies with the worker or the psychotherapist with the patient(s). As I never tire of repeating, the unconscious is very powerful and one must respect its power.

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