Sunday, July 6, 2014

Greyhound Therapy -- (Afterword added 7/16/14)

There are at least three kinds of Greyhound therapy.  The first, recently made notorious by a Las Vegas psychiatric hospital but probably a card up the sleeve of many community mental health facilities, is the dumping of a problematic client, by means of a bus ride, beyond one’s borders.  The second kind, which I once contributed moral support to at a 24-hour crisis center, is to send a victim to refuge, to help her run from a monster of a man.  I remember that our agency, with benevolent power and warm wishes, bought the bus ticket and drove a woman to the Greyhound station in the dead of night.  The third type, which on the surface looks like “running away from one’s problems,” is to start a non-starting life over, far away from a sticky or poisonous or spirit-sapping family.

I have found myself recommending this answer to a scattering of clients over the past few years, even clients who have shown no competence to move themselves upward in their life.  What justifies this?  In part, the fact that I did it myself, and my optimism that comes from remembering it.

Yes, our problems don’t go away when we’re in a new environment.  And that is the point: The new home doesn’t yet house or play our regressive self, yet we remain leaded down by our sick character.   We are in a new story with promise, but we don’t know the story or how to find the promise.  The old relationships with their voodoo are not there, and we haven’t yet gravitated to new people with the old voodoo.  Now on this clean plane, we are both invigorated by the present and frozen by the past.  We see that we are the problem and, no longer bled and supported by the family, want to help it.  My situation was: A victim, after fourteen years I ran away from a borderline-disordered wife to a strange and solid place, Ohio, only to discover the perpetrator: my emptiness and narcissism.  Lost as the day I was born, I sat down and wrote my auto­biography, looking back in time for moments of felt meaning.  I saw confusions so headless and bodiless they couldn’t be called questions – a footloose typographer, a childish musician, a pretentious philosophy student, a teenager whose only “rebellious” self-delineation was to hang a plastic crucifix on my bedroom door in a Jewish home to pique mother’s composure.  I saw the depersonalized thirteen-year-old who wrote himself: empty clichés for a Bar Mitzvah speech, and a twelve-year-old who pulled his hair out.  And then, descending out of a fog, I saw the five-year-old who did not like his parents, and the epiphany exploded, and I was struck by earth landing, for the first time in my life, under my feet.

Not everyone who cuts his roots will do this, but I began to understand myself for the first time because my destination, “so various . . . so new”,* was the glaring sign that said my death.  With some spirit, which most of us have, this led to a kind of rebirth.

Clients, men and women in their late teens and twenties, maybe thirties (I was forty), need to leave.  This is the theory, and I believe it is more right than what they will probably do, which is to stay, maybe buy a new outfit, maybe get a new job, maybe fray the old “boundaries” with their parent into a slightly different shape.  They will not find Nickleby’s Bookstore Café, to have a scone and Kona and talk with a woman.  They will not get a bad, redux feeling of their dependency: find where they exist, or don’t, apart from the neediness.  They will not see horizons – outer and inner – with clearer eyes.

Or, I may be wrong, and running away might be ultimately lonely.  I do have a warm, or melancholy, feeling about those who couldn’t tolerate that total loneliness because they have never known it, in their frustrating family.

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* Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach, also excerpted at blog post


I am displeased with this post, and I am not sure why.  The ending is poorly written – it does not come smoothly logically out of the main point, but I think Ive been unable to fix it because the entire idea of Greyhound therapy discomfits me.  Though leaving my childhood home worked for me, this was possible only because I had never had a sense of home, at all.  As Janov points out, many depressive individuals are ahistorical – they lack a feeling of roots and of their continuity and depth in time.  This was me, but it may not be my clients, even those Ive discussed leaving home with.  What did work for me, a couple years after arriving in Columbus, Ohio, was to meet my partner and wife.  She became home for me.  Without her, this place would just have been the next spot of dirt to walk on or float above, as my earlier destinations were.

This is not to say that my psychologically stuck clients are better served to stay in their home-of-origin.  They may become sicker, the nest a prison or solvent progressively dissolving their backbone.  Some (or more) do not find their life partner there.  And even when they do, there are often problems that come to therapy: He or she remains too immersed in parents, in the guise of being helpful or in the guise of feeling guilty.  Or the relationship stays very immature.

So maybe the conundrum that impairs my article and botches my certainty is that Greyhound therapy is the worst choice when it is most needed.  Whats really needed is a good first home.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.