Saturday, May 26, 2007

Reparations

In the comments to the previous post on Rocky Balboa we have the following dialogue:

Teebopop:

With regards to backtracking and fixing the errors of the past:

You can't change the past. Period. How is it possible to do that? What's done is done. There is no going back. You just have to deal with the past and hopefully learn from the mistakes. And even if I could fix things, would I want to? Would I be at the same place I'm at right now, good or bad, if I was able to fix things?

This totally confuses me.

TherapyDoc:

Teebopop, SOMETIMES you can change the present by referring to the past, especially if there is something to learn from something that has happened in the past. Clearly you can't change what has happened.

But you can apologize to people for the things you have done to them in the past and that changes the present and the future. Also, if you have been hurt by someone in the past you can go to that person and demand an apology and/or reparations.

What are reparations? I'll post on it right now. It's about time I did.


So the question is,
What are reparations?

Here's how it goes. A young woman comes to therapy because she's been sexually molested, perhaps even raped, by a member of her family many years ago. She was a young girl at the time and perhaps the perpetrator was only a few years older.

This isn't at all uncommon. Boys see their sisters and cousins as perfect objects of experimentation and need fulfillment. A girl is not always sure that what is happening is wrong or that it will come back to torment her in the future. Molestation can feel good and the girl has been sworn to secrecy, a perversion of emotional family intimacy. She also loves the perpetrator. He is her older brother/cousin.

At some point the molestation has ended, generally when he has found himself another girlfriend. The sister (let's say it's brother/sister incest) is confused and mortified. She knows, at some point in her emotional development that this wasn't the way it should have been. Incest is a universal taboo. There is no culture in the world that gives the nod to incest.

Years later she's in therapy. She's having difficulty with sex. She talks about the incest. We talk about bringing in her brother, making him own his part of her problem, and making him pay.

Thoughts of him, after all, have interrupted her life in the most egregious moments. She's bombed tests at school, she's panicked socially and on dates. She's never been able to finish college. She's felt guilty for having sexual desire, yet is unable to have romantic relationships.

We determine that an apology, him on his knees, literally, will feel very good, along with financial assistance so that she can go back to school. She has worked through much of her emotional trauma in therapy with me. But she needs to cap it off. She needs to see him grovel.

He is willing to do it. He comes to my office ready to take a beating. He's been waiting for this, has known that one day he would have to accept responsibility for what he has done.
He gets down on his knees. He bows to her, then looks up, tears in his eyes. He begs her forgiveness. He offers to help. They cry. They hug. It's amazing.

It's family therapy, friends. It's the real thing.

Oh, and the intervention is direct from Chloe Madanes, Jay Haley's wife. (He's one of the fathers of family therapy). I am sorry, I'm not sure of the name of the book I took the intervetion from but I want to say, Uncommon Therapies.

Much of the work that I do today is grounded in this kind of therapy. It is called strategic family therapy. Do you see why I get a little less than humble when I diss the training of other schools? It's not that other types of treatment are less powerful in general. They're just less powerful in specific situations, much less powerful. This is one of them.

Copyright 2007, TherapyDoc

3 comments:

Chana said...

on his knees?

he did this willingly? a real person??

WOW.

therapydoc said...

Yup, on his knees. A real person. A really contrite human being.

JustMe said...

wow, is this type of intervention common? it seems that for it to be successful the perpetrator would have to already feel some remorse and be ready to admit what they did was not only wrong, but had a serious impact on the victim's life. what happens if that is not the case?