This New York Magazine (published 1/31/17) is an important contribution to the conversation about how to treat sexual compulsions, especially about the fact that shaming people is counterproductive. While that may seem obvious, a lot of providers haven't caught up to the research:
Marty Klein's article on how facts should shape public policy especially about sexuality is worth reading. I spend a lot of time in my practice undoing the damage done by ignorancee about human sexuality:
The sounds of the fife and drum pulled me away from what I was doing like the insistent memory it was - one that keeps saying "don't forget where you came from". So, like I first did years ago, I left to follow the sounds of my ancestors.
Long ago, a kindly neighbor, (perhaps sensing my dilemma) took me to see my first St. Patricks Day Parade. I was a quirky 5 year old who sensed, but couldn't know the closet my parents were trapped in. All I knew was that something was off at home, that I adored art, music and dance, and that no one around me looked or acted like me. So I was beside myself to see people whose skin and hair looked like mine. I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sight red haired men wearing skirts and making music.
Days ago, just like years ago, a marshall at a bandstand said to the crowd: "We need to know our history so it can be told correctly." Years ago when I wanted to know where I came from, I would learn that "in this house we don't discuss those things". The day my mother slapped me for asking where the red hair came from was the day my I resolved to keep asking questions, despite the consequences. Why don't I look like anyone else in the family? What's wrong with dying the slipcovers purple? Why shouldn't men wear skirts?
I would go on to make friends with people who like me, who were not easily categorized: artists, odd balls, queers, trans and other mixed-race kids. It would take years to discover the family secrets, years to put what l discovered to good use.
An accident took me from a career in the arts one in psychotherapy, a career I was reluctant to enter, not for lack of a desire to help, but from a deep discomfort with the privilege it conferred. I cringed at the mainstream cliches of psychotherapy, unable to accept that being gay or kinky were diagnosable conditions requiring treatment. Once I entered the field, without ever asking for it to happen, kinky, quirky, queer, trans bi and other not easily categorized clients found me. Some of my colleagues judged me harshly for my support of sexual minorities.
I found solace and legitimacy in research. Deeply uncomfortable with popular image of the psychotherapist as a distant, judgmental expert and still obsessed with finding my ancestors, I found them in Family Therapy, a discipline separate and distinct from mainstream psychotherapy, its roots in biology and systems theory. Within the lineage of Family Therapy I found Solution Focused Brief Therapy, a way of working that matched who I am and how I think, characterized by curiosity, respect for clients and an unshakeable faith in their ability to discern what works for them. I was relieved to learn that Solution Focused therapists asked useful questions like:
- What really helps clients?
- What do they want?
- What does it look like?
- What differences would it make in their lives if it happened?
Using these question meant I didn't need to be an expert in anything but asking questions. Work got easier. My own history started to make sense, and can be told correctly.
I absolutely love a parade.
It has been a week. I've been watching the the reports from France and remembering.
Out to dinner, one of my companions, surveying the menu asks "what is gateau?” Cake, I say without hesitation. Some one else asks are you French? Partly, I say, also without hesitation. I explain that I grew up listening to it, and try to stop there. It’s complicated and I don’t always want to explain how I developed an ear for language listening to my partly white, partly black, french-speaking English teacher father, who sometimes spoke proper French, sometimes a partly-French partly-German version spoken in Alsace-Lorraine.
I remember one day teaching, during a first day of class introduction exercise a young woman introduced herself saying she was nervous to be speaking in class, because she is French. Another young woman jumped up to admonish her “What kind of French girl are you, saying you are nervous? You have to be strong and show people what we are all about!" They became fast friends and represented their culture well all semester.
Watching the people of France surge back to cafes and restaurants as an act of defiance, I remember some of my father's defiance. I remember how he refused to compromise his integrity to get ahead. I remember his admonitions: always do your best, don't settle for mediocrity, but also manage to...enjoy the moment. I remember going with my father to small, good restaurants for fresh crab, or clams, to a good play or an exhibit that wasn't well known. I remember how a raised eyebrow from him conveyed that certain popular books, music or films I was eagerly consuming were somehow not all they could be. I learned not to make a statement I couldn't back up, not to accept a theory that couldn't be explained in plain language, not take things at face value. I learned to be skeptical and discerning, without losing any of my enthusiasm.
I learned growing up in a household with one biracial parent and one bisexual one that few things are as they seem, and that people who are not easily categorized must be careful who they reveal their identities to. I remember the first time client called me in tears to ask if I could work with her without judging her sexual practices. I remember wondering what was wrong with my (then new) profession that she had to ask such a question.
Today as I eagerly consume research to understand what really helps clients, I must remain skeptical that some theory is all it claims to be. There is too much at stake. I can't forget how my parents, friends and clients have suffered defying easy categorization. There are many ways to be defiant. Mine is to not accept things at face value, to always do my best and to...enjoy the moment. I am partly French after all.