In the wake of the Ft. Hood massacre we are now hearing evidence of a very troubled man–trouble that it appears many observed over the last few years of the Maj. General’s life. Some of his former teachers and supervisors took note of his strange behavior, his loner tendencies, his rages. They even mused about his possible move into psychosis. Despite these notations, they moved him on to a place they thought (so the reporting is going) he would not get into trouble. In the words of one person, where his dangerousness would be limited by the number of mental health professionals serving alongside him.
Lest we pick on the military alone, we could level charges of ignoring problems on those around Madoff, the mortgage crisis, and any other recent scandal.
The truth is this: we see things that need our attention; our voice. And yet, we often fail to act. Why? Here are some reasons:
- We’re not sure what we are seeing or feeling. We have trouble adding up the problem
- We don’t want to make a mistake and look foolish
- We hesitate due to empathy
- We don’t want to intrude on the rights of others
- We assume someone else is more responsible
- We don’t want to make waves, we want to avoid conflict
- We think the person we are concerned about it will take care of it on their own
- We deem the situation not relating to our own interests
- We underestimate that Satan intends to deceive us into doing nothing so that evil may reign
I’ve had a couple of experiences where I didn’t act and should have–a client “playing” around with life threatening behaviors, a friend beginning an emotional affair with someone not her husband. After the fact, everything looks clear and obvious. Duh, hospitalize the client, confront the friend. And yet in both cases I acted but more slowly than I should. If there is one big reason: I think things were fine in the past and so they will be fine in the future, and so I fail to adequately assess the present.
Last Monday we discussed this topic in my social and cultural foundations of counseling. There are always new ideas and books trumpeting something exciting that surpasses other counseling techniques with successes never seen before. Just read this book and your life will change forever!
Do you hear my voice dripping with suspicion? You should. While there are advances in counseling, popular books are often just that because they package a good idea or two into something that people want to buy (which means they also package it with fluff). What do we want to buy? Freedom from suffering; the end of our sorrows and struggles; we want complete removal of mental pain. This isn’t a bad desire, but it does set us up to buy the “next best thing” without proper critical evaluation.
And yet, we need to be open to the possibility that there is something new on the horizon. And so, I propose we do the following:
- Read with an open mind. Ask these questions: What does this author observe about their world, about people, about change? What are the problems they see? What are the solutions they envision? Can we see what they see? Can we consider the importance of what their observations?
- What techniques and interventions do they use to solve the problems they see? We may disagree with authors at numerous points but we can still evaluate the techniques they use. Do they work? How do we know?
- What assumptions, worldviews, presuppositions, etc. bleed through on their pages? I used to always go here first. The problem was it made me unwilling to consider their observations if they were wrong in their assumptions. But everyone sees—even if poorly. And observations can be very helpful—even if fixated on one small aspect of life.
- How might their observations and assumptions challenge mine? Where are my assumptions and worldviews uncritically formed; based on faulty logic or distorted beliefs?
- What techniques or interventions might find a home in my repertoire and what impact would they have on my work?
- What promises do they offer that must be critiqued? What misrepresentations must be exposed? What admissions must be made about our own models as a result of their work?
Now, these are good questions to use to evaluate the “next best thing” that actually has substance and as several commenters observed, creation therapy probably doesn’t merit this level of work until it moves into the realm of transparency and shows that it is available for observation and critique. With research on 5,000 individuals, where is the evidence? The real challenge is evaluating those models that run too far with a few facts and ideas and sell it as a type of cure-all. Much of the “change your brain, change your behavior” popular literature out there does just this. Some significant piece of data is then used to promote an idea that one can change everything.