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

On Deserved and Undeserved Parental Guilt

While it is best for a distressed child to receive mental health treatment as soon as possible this is not always done. Babies are not born with instructions and parent guilt is often a factor, they not wanting to accept their role in their child's problems. While parents don't blame themselves for a child's physical illness they often do so with their child's emotional problems. Feeling responsible, and with justification since early life experiences are the bedrock of adequate functioning. But parenting mistakes derive from their own imperfect life experiences so, after gaining treatment for their child, parental guilty feelings are undeserved and counter-productive in helping their child. And though children will readily forgive parental mistakes they never forget having been ignored.

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Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms are NOT Your Enemy

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has gained much of its erroneous though popular knowledge from frightening movies depicting berserk ex-soldiers on killing sprees. Yet PTSD symptoms can develop in anyone including children. It exists because the mind has a limited capacity to cope with stress and, when exceeded, symptoms develop. A symptom is the sign that something is wrong and, with PTSD, can include nightmares, flashbacks of the causative event, psychogenic seizures, over-sensitivity to startling noises, or odd fears and obsessions. These reflect the urgent message from the unconscious that help is needed to avoid damaging the mind or body as great continuing anxiety can do. Thus PTSD symptoms are like the bodily fever that warns of infection, being temporarily uncomfortable but needed since it leads to gaining the required care and regaining health.

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Good Common Sense Isn't Always Good Parenting Sense

Some child interaction guidelines, which have long been followed by both parents and teachers, derive from the popular notion that reward and punishment effect behavior. Thus if a child is punished for misbehaving they are less likely to do so in the future. A belief which sounds reasonable but is not.

As psychologists have long known, behavior modification work with dogs but not cats, with those of severely limited intellect (since it simplifies their environment) but not those of near normal and above intelligence, and for inhabitants of tightly controlled environments such as prisons. It does not work with others since humans are a thinking species.

Moreover, children are reasonable and want to develop into adults. Thus if asked to do something by their parent or teacher they usually will though being less likely to do so if they are hungry or tired or ill or troubled, or unable to do what is asked for a reason which may make sense to their immature mind but not to others.

Thus, apart from emergency situations involving harm or danger, explaining why a child should do something will usually gain their cooperation. If not it will be for one of the above reasons in which case they will be behaving like similarly afflicted adults.

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The Lessons From The Netflix Documentary "I Am A Killer"

The extraordinary Netflix documentary, "I Am A Killer," evidences several truths: the powerful effect of childhood experience on adult behavior which can later go awry with tragic consequences; the critical importance of having good legal counsel; the destructiveness of alcohol and drug use; and the great power of the unconscious over behavior, particularly when substance abuse affects self-control.
The criminal behavior that sent these interviewed prisoners to Death Row may be said to be as heinous as the childhood ordeals which predetermined their commission.

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The Surprising Benefit of Panic Attack

Panic Attack is the experience of extreme anxiety when the normal symptoms of anxiety are misinterpreted as a deadly medical event. Feeling unbearable, it causes many people to frantically drive to an Emergency Room fearing their lethal cardiac event though forty-to-sixty percent are suffering only anxiety. Yet like all psychological symptoms Panic Attack has the value of motivating a change of behavior before real bodily damage occurs. Thus an overly-stressed person who had resisted changing their life-style may do so after suffering this distress and later realize what caused it: over-work; loneliness; or the yearning for intimacy which had been nearly forgotten but became aroused during a chance encounter.

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The False But Seductive Attraction of Suicide

Because of the innate biological imperative to live, suicide can be difficult to understand. Yet its occurrence with even highly successful people, as the former Miss USA Cheslie Krystal, who was also a lawyer, and the widely applauded CEO of the Atlanta rail transportation system, Jeffrey Parker, can be puzzling without visualizing the psychology of despair.
Obsessed with a tunnel vision of their suffering, the suicidal person sees no other ending for it, and in a manner that appears fitting though illogical to others. Krystal leapt from a skyscraper and Parker jumped in front of a moving train.
While the symbolization of the self-destructive means is irrelevant, the prior turning inward of the personal world is significant though there are gradations of this experience since virtually all consider suicide at some point in their life.Perhaps after receiving a serious medical diagnosis or during a particularly stressful work situation. Yet relatively few do, the proverbial needle in the haystack being an accurate metaphor for this act. And as has been said, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, even that of long term distress.

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Coping With Life's Regrets

Every thoughtful person, when considering their life, must regret things they did and said and feelings they left unsaid. Being human, we inevitably make mistakes.
Accepting this truism isn't easy whether concerning a past, potentially great love (for there can be no certainly how a relationship would have progressed), child-rearing errors that created a child's emotional problems, or resentments which kept one from the critical understanding that occurred only after their hated relative died.
Even for those who experience a fortunate upbringing, life can be hard and the justified forgiveness of oneself and others be wanting. Unfortunately.

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The Fear of Intimacy

A common complaint, about which there have been many self-help books, is of problems with intimacy, without which life has been said to lack meaning. The capacity for intimate relationships develops in early infancy, its prototype being the mother-infant interaction. If the child's needs are (as usual) satisfied when needed, the child develops a positive view of intimacy and the world in general. If not, these becomes absent and create a corollary view: that intimacy is dangerous and to be avoided, and that the world is unfriendly. And because early life experience is the bedrock of personality and adult behavior, these negative feelings won't change without psychotherapy, or a lengthy, continuing loving relationship which can be difficult to achieve with these fears.

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The Value Of Psychological Autopsy After A Publicized Suicide

The motive of all suicides is complex and can range from long term distress since childhood to the loss of a loved one and more, being particularly puzzling when the deceased is relatively young and successful. I was reminded of this upon reading of the recent suicide of fifty-five-year-old Jeffrey Parker who successfully led the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) after providing noted public service in Connecticut and Massachusetts. While the virtue of privacy is often sadly ignored, I believe that conducting a psychological autopsy after a widely publicized suicide can serve the public good as do medical treatment case histories, by educating people about the complexity of behavior and power of the unconscious. Thus, hopefully, dissuading others from such tragedy while creating a fitting memorial to the deceased who, as has long been said of those who suicide, chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

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Special Education Consigns Students to "A Treadmill of Failure"

A January 7, 2022 letter in The Wall Street Journal, "The Tragedy of 'Special Ed,'" insisting that these programs consign students "to a treadmill of failure," aroused my long-past memory. While doing psychological research in a Mid-West school, I sensed the similarity between a school and a factory.

Both operate on a rigid timetable where products (widgets or students) must move smoothly along the production line. With students this involves flowing without interruption from classroom to lunchroom to dismissal, with interference being removed. Thus defective widgets, or slowly moving/uncooperative students, are removed, with the latter being sent to Special Education to begin their struggle along the "treadmill of failure." The reason for this is simple: while academic failure can result from several reasons, it usually reflects psychological causation which schools, lacking sophisticated child development knowledge, are ill-equipped to remedy.

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