Monthly Archives: November 2014

More on that law

So the dialogue continues on the new law AB1775, the surreptitious addendum (from the POV of therapists and others who will actually have to follow it) to the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, which decrees that “certain persons” who fail to report to police or a department of social services those who “access, stream, or download through electronic or digital media (material) which depicts a child engaged in obscene sexual conduct” are committing a misdemeanor. Obscene sexual conduct is defined in California Penal Codes 311.2, 311.3, 311.4, and 288.2, among others, and refers to various sexual acts, including the broadly termed “lewd and lascivious acts”, which is in turn defined as that which touches intimate parts of the body (sexual organs, buttocks, breasts of a female) and is “intended to arouse, gratify the lust of another”.

Most of those chiming in on my association list-serve are commenting on the absurdities of this law, pointing out (rightly) that this law will disrupt therapeutic episodes, ruin the lives of people unnecessarily, while doing little to prevent the proliferation of child pornography–the supposed purpose of the bill. The most ardent of critics argue that advocates of the bill lack compassion for those who struggle with porn addiction. Their opponents respond, without apology, that critics are supporting the wrong people (versus victims of child sexual abuse) while delivering motivational harangues about the scope and seriousness of the child porn problem. We are informed of cults, divisions of government–the CIA–who are perpetrating ritual sexual abuse of thousands of children; recruiting children for an army of sex…anyway, something like that. Advocates of AB1775 employ the logic of demagogues: in the 50s they would have justified blacklisting suspected communists by pointing out how many people Joseph Stalin was killing.

I think the issue is not so much one of compassion as common sense. Despite three months of asking, advocates of the bill are yet to give a sensible answer as to how the reporting and subsequent persecution of individuals viewing obscene material will stop those who produce the material. We are told isolated anecdotes of hard drives confiscated, images discovered, and through those images, the locations of victimized children are determined. Really? I wonder how many times this sort of intervention has occurred, and who gave the tip-off(s), which begs the question, why do authorities need therapists to provide the tips. And does it occur to anyone governing sex offender treatment that if someone is referred to said on the back of an episode in which a mental health professional tipped off police about child pornography use, why should such an individual thereafter trust the therapeutic process?

In deference to my esteemed colleague and crusader against ritual abuse, I declare that I’d actually be happy to report the CIA for sexual abuse to my local offices of Child and Family Services, though I don’t suppose the investigation would get very far. Meanwhile, I should get back to my office and prepare for some sessions with adolescents (wrong people) who present with more commonplace habits. You see, I need to explain to them the new law. I need to explain that the law specifies “child” as a minor, and so if they look at pornographic material depicting persons of their age group, I have to report them to authorities. However, if they look at a pornographic image of someone ten years older, then it’s all good. Also, I must warn that if they insist on sending pictures of their junk, breasts, zits on inner thighs and so on, then I might have to report that behavior also. Welcome to the new world order. I hope their generation is smarter. I doubt it.

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Full Metal Self

Had a few ideas recently, after watching the film Whiplash; made a few links, reignited certain determinations, sighed and resigned to my fate on a few other matters. The film stirred hope and–dare I say, inspiration–on many levels: firstly, I learned that the film had been out for nearly a year already, though it was only recently making a splash in theaters. I am reminded that promoting a film, like promoting a book, takes time, hard work, and no little amount of salesmanship. This parallels the story of Whiplash somewhat. Miles Teller plays Andrew Neyman, a young would-be jazz prodige, a drummer in a prestigious music conservatory band. Scouted and then selected by the school’s jazz maestro, Terence Fletcher, he joins a band that is further elite, and is initiated into rehearsals in a manner that is at once predictably brutal, yet also fascinating and entirely gripping. Actually, more so than any thriller or action flick I can think of, this film had me gripping my seat for almost its entire length, such was the tension created between the quietly narcissistic hero and his near sociopathic mentor. In scene after scene, I watched with mounting angst as Fletcher alternately seduces and then terrorizes the naive yet ambitious Neyman. He flatters him, telling the class he’s found his Buddy Rich; then, minutes later, he is tossing cymbals at Neyman’s head, mocking him for not keeping tempo, threatening to “rape him like a pig” if he fucks up his band. For my part, as non-musician, I had no idea drummers were this important.  Meanwhile, the Fletcher character brought to mind a few teachers from my past, sort of morphed with that terrifying drill sergeant character from Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

About two thirds into the story, we get Fletcher’s rationale for being the way he is: modern jazz, like modern society, is in a sorry state, he says. The words “Good job” constitute the most harmful phrase in the English language (I’m paraphrasing). He’s an advocate of tough love, obviously; of the belief that teachers must push people beyond expectations in order to get the best out of them. The ends, as in the preservation (or growth) of standards, justifies the brutal means. The film’s counterpoint is to indicate casualties: a former prodige whom Fletcher had allegedly driven to suicide; the girlfriend whom Neyman dumps so as to focus on his drumming. Neyman’s father, a loving but feckless man, voices opposing values, decrying Fletcher’s abuse, challenging his son’s obsession, imploring him to slow down lest he (literally) die on the drumstool. Ultimately, the story seems a celebration of going for it; of not compromising standards. It’s just that it doesn’t ignore the costs.

Again, the film brought up a lot for me. I wonder how much of Neyman and Fletcher’s drama is transferrable to the world I inhabit. If you’re a would-be client of mine reading this, don’t worry. I have no plans to emulate Fletcher or the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. However, I reflect on the opinions I expressed in Working Through Rehab, my book about adolescent drug treatment; sympathetic views about the dinosaur-like, similarly tough-love ethos of the much maligned Therapeutic Community Model. This week, I shall be teaching a short-term class on the Masterson Model at a community service agency in Marin, and espousing the value of, among other things, therapeutic confrontation, the importance of having boundaries, a therapeutic frame in which consistency, self focus–striving beyond expectations–are at least analogously observed. The dialectic I anticipate will mirror the drama of Whiplash, and maybe FMJ: principled agreement about driving people to their best, tempered with compassion for those who, for a variety of reasons, fall short.

As for myself, I go for it in my own way. Inspired by Andrew Neyman and the indelible image of his blood-stained drumkit, I might stay up late tonight, working on my latest manuscript: tightening the prose, adding pieces of subtext, changing a character or a plot point, correcting sundry mistakes in punctuation and spelling. I am well read with respect to my own books. I read them over and over again. It’s like combing the text, looking for tiny bugs. Sometimes I am satisfied; more often, I am not. Figuratively, I bleed. I have expectations.

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The law that will lose us our clients (among other things)

In a recent editorial directed at leaders of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, LCSW Robert Weiss wrote eloquently in protest of AB1775, a new California law (effective in January, 2015) which reduces therapist-client confidentiality, purportedly because it will protect children from the downloading and dissemination of child pornography. It won’t.

Weiss reminds us that the protection of client confidentiality is among the most elemental facets of a productive and meaningful psychotherapy relationship–that without the safety and trust provided by client confidentiality there is no true clinical path to healing. This teaching follows ethical standards dating back to the Roman Hippocratic Oath. The legal exceptions to this principle center on the prevention of imminent direct harm to others.

Perhaps the most significant change in so-called “duty to warn” laws occurred in 1976, with Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, a case whose finding determined that mental health professionals have a duty to protect individuals who are being threatened with bodily harm by a patient. A less palatable revision of confidentiality law occurred in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, in the form of the Patriot Act: section 215 authorizes FBI agents to request a subpoena from a special court, obtain access to psychotherapy records, and further prohibits clinicians from revealing to clients that their clinical records have been subpoenaed. Today, for the moment, the hysteria that induces totalitarian intrusion surrounds pedophilia, hence AB1775. Not surprising, really. If you want to pass a law that is uninformed by research or logic, your best bet is to have it be about sex.

Ostensibly, AB1775 will broaden the scope whereby a clinician such as a therapist can report an individual to authorities if said individual has used child pornography. Under the existing Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, therapists are mandated to report sexual exploitation: “depicting a child in, or knowingly developing, duplicating, printing or exchanging film, videotape, negative or slide in which a child is engaged in obscene sexual conduct”. Failure to report is a misdemeanor, and admittedly, some of the language of this legislation seems anachronistic. Now observe the language of AB1775: sexual exploitation includes “downloading, streaming, or accessing (accessing?), through any electronic or digital media, a film, photograph, videotape, video recording, negative or slide, or slide in which a child is engaged in an act of obscene sexual conduct.” This bill was signed by Governor Brown and filed on 8/22/2014.

Bear in mind that the law defines a child as someone under the age of 18, and given the language of the law (“accessing through any electronic or digital media”), therapists will now have to report to authorities teens who send naked pictures to each other over their cell phones, or someone exhibiting an “obscene” picture of a minor on Facebook. Also, porn use that depicts teenagers (not preteens) constitutes child porn, according to the law.

And if you think this might be a good thing, let me now elucidate other problems, including elements that pertain to this blog’s title: after an individual is reported and later arrested–their computer and other hardware materials confiscated–they would begin an adjudication process that would likely result in a referral to counseling, with a provider who is certified in sex offender-specific treatment, as presided over by a government entity called The California Sex Offender Management Board (or CASOMB). Such a referral is a requirement for those who will likely have to register as sex offenders. Therefore, if a therapist reports an individual for engaging in sexual exploitation, as defined by AB1775, and he or she is not a certified sex offender treatment provider, a court has the authority to remove the client from the therapist’s care, thus disrupting not only therapeutic continuity, but also that therapeutic bond. Now a certified CASOMB provider (BTW: this takes a while), I write from experience on this matter.

Finally, recall the term  ‘imminent harm’ from earlier “duty to warn” provisions. This language pertains to the concept of protecting from harm versus reporting past events. So, we now have a social reality wherein someone can report raping or murdering a stranger, and the therapist is not required to report the event because the event is past tense. Indeed, he or she would be  compelled to maintain confidentiality. Meanwhile, if someone reports viewing a singular image of a minor, of something that could be construed as obscene, the listening therapist is required to alert police. Absurd.

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