Wednesday, January 23, 2008

An Insight Sadly Ignored

I'm not generally a supporter of Bruno Bettelheim, from what I've heard of him, but recently I found something he wrote that I really wish more people had followed.
In the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, volume 26(3), pages 507-518, published in 1956, he said:

"All this would be quite easy to see if we would just listen carefully to what the schizophrenic children tell us, at least those who talk. They will let us know readily enough what kind of treatment they need..."

He then describes a case where a 'schizophrenic' girl told Anna Freud, her therapist, that she was a very different person in different situations and therefore Anna Freud really had a very limited understanding of her, seeing her in only one setting. Rather than listen, Anna Freud described it in this way:

"It struck me that here, disguised as a piece of 'technical advice,' we were offered some insight into the basic deficiencies of her ego structure. [and proceeded to give a long and convoluted interpretation which I will not quote here]"

He also has some interesting case studies, showing some issues still around today and probably more ignored now:

"A mother whose schizophrenic child lived at the School had been in prolonged psychoanalytic treatment. She was making good progress, but we felt that her influence on her child was so pernicious that they should remain separated. The mother's analyst thought that the mother needed to test her ability to be a better mother, and supported her in her insistence on a home visit. Reluctantly, we agreed to a visit of two weeks' duration. The child set fire to the parental bedroom while the parents were asleep there. No great damage was done and the parents viewed this as a childish prank. A year later, with the approval of her analyst, the mother again insisted on a visit. We were opposed, because the child, who was functioning quite well within the protected setting of the School, expressed great fear about what might happen on such a visit. Despite our objection the visit took place; then, while with his parents, the child died in a carefully contrived accident."

Murder of disabled children by their parents was certainly present back then. It chills me to think of what it was like for that child - clearly, he knew or suspected they would do something terrible to him. On the other hand, I'm glad that Bruno Bettelheim clearly views the killing of this child as a bad thing.

"Parents considered their boy feebleminded from the moment he was born. Since he supposedly did not understand, they spoke freely of how he ought to be put away, how he should never have been born. Autistic withdrawal led to his being sent to an institution for feebleminded children, where he was badly neglected and where he was often deprived of meals as punishment. This added to his conviction that his parents wished to kill him through starvation. He spent most of his first seven years in phantasies of how he would torture and kill others before they could kill him. (Such phantasies were typical among concentration camp prisoners.)"

This reminds me of Amanda Baggs' description of growing up with the expectation that she'd either be cured or institutionalized.
It saddens me to think that things like this were spoken about in the 1950s, and most people still don't get it. How long will it take before people start listening to us, respecting that we have just as much a right to life as anyone else, and recognizing that we are aware and being spoken in front of with hurtful statements hurts us too?

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