Beyond Punishment: Taking An Inside Look At Child Abuse

When I first saw this video yesterday it broke my heart. What I saw was not only in my eyes child abuse, but an angry man who probably not only beats his children like they were strangers on the street, but also probably abuses the women in his life. On top of that, what I saw was a culture where this type of physical abuse is not only excepted, but encouraged, hence the person video taping it and most likely the other people in the house who never intervened.

From my understandings, this father was “punishing” his thirteen-year-old daughter for being “rude”, “disrespectful” and talking to grown men. Obviously these are things that no parent would want from their child, but beating a child purposely with a belt on her face is not discipline. I can almost guarantee that this is not the first time that she has been beaten and yet her inappropriate, most likely defiant behavior hasn’t stopped.

Chances are that this parent has no real idea of how to be a parent or raise a child, if he did, there would have never been a need for him to discipline her physically because she would have been raised, taught, guided and disciplined more appropriately over the last thirteen years. If this father had any real ideal of how to raise a child in a loving way, he would have punished her in a way that wasn’t to hurt her necessarily, but to teach her right from wrong.

Most parents punish their children from a place of love. I didn’t see any love for this child during this beating. What I saw is a father who is psychologically disconnected in so many ways.

From a psychological point of view we have a young lady who is acting out for one reason or another and physical punishment isn’t going to stop that. She is acting out and only talking and trying to understand why she is acting out is going to stop that.

Secondly, we have a man in a wheelchair who probably already feels emasculated if not just outright angry at the world for whatever condition put him in a wheelchair and therefore is always a ticking time bomb. He may have been a mean and angry man before whatever put him in a wheelchair, but many people become more angry when they are injured, in pain or handicapped.

Read my article on physical punishment to understand some of the ways it can affect a child’s mental and emotional health. From my experience in working with children who have gotten punished like this, they rarely learn to stop the undesired behavior, but learn how to be more sneaky. The sad part is, a valuable lesson this girl may have learned from this is one many girls who grow up in abusive homes learn which is:

  1. If a man really loves me he will hit me to show it
  2. It’s okay if a man puts his hands on me, it’s all part of being in a relationship
  3. I need a man who knows how to “handle me” and put me back in my place when I step out of line

To most of us those three responses may seem trivial, but I’ve worked with enough abused girls and young girls who ended up in abusive relationships to learn that many of them came from abusive homes where either they themselves were abused or where they witnessed abuse in their homes. They grew up thinking that it was not only okay, but the norm. Some even felt like it was a vital part of being in love because that is what they grew up seeing and thinking love is: Mom and dad fight, but they love each other and I see that. OR, mom fights with her boyfriend and then they go make love afterwards.

One young lady in particular saw her dad not only beat her mom, but he also beat her. Every relationship she got into as a teen and young adult was an abusive one. She didn’t understand it, but she unconsciously would seek out abusive men. She had two kids, each from an abusive man and the last time I met with her in counseling, she was with yet another abusive man. She couldn’t break the cycle. Her young boy and young girl are going to grow up witnessing and maybe even experiencing abuse.

This father in the video, in an attempt to raise a virtuous young lady may be in fact creating a woman who will go through a lifetime of troubled and abusive relationships because of the abuse she receives from her father.

No doubt some people may look at this video and see nothing wrong with the way he is disciplining his daughter and believe that people should mind their own business, but I personally hope that child protective services sees this video and rescues this child while the law punishes this “man”.  I wrote this post not only because I am passionate about protecting children from abuse, but also in hopes of increasing the exposure of this video so that maybe someone will recognize the child and the father and contact child protective services in whatever city, state this took place in. It’s a new video so chances are something can be done relatively soon.

***Warning, the video may be hard for most people to watch.***

Being A Psychotherapist: Things School and Books Can’t Really Prepare You For Part Two: Suicidal Clients

Another thing school and books can’t really prepare you for are suicidal clients. Sure they cover the subject of suicide in graduate school, but the training of dealing with suicidal patients is usually very brief. There are many great books on working with suicidal clients and I have read a few, but I don’t think anything can really prepare you for sitting face to face with and working with a suicidal patient.

From my experiences, there are many types of suicidal clients and they all have to be taken seriously.

There’s the client who doesn’t really want to commit suicide, but they like to self-injure and that self-injurious behavior may lead to an accidental suicide. These are often the most common types of clients, often called “cutters” and they tend to be the most frustrating since a lot of them have cluster b type personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder.

When I worked in a high school I had a whole group full of students who self-injured and ended up involuntarily hospitalizing at least one every month because while they said they weren’t suicidal, they were definitely at times flirting with death.

This picture was taken of one of my former students who likes to cut. The next day she had twice as many cuts on her arm and I was forced to involuntarily hospitalize her.
This picture was taken of one of my former students who likes to cut. The next day she had twice as many cuts on her arm and I was forced to involuntarily hospitalize her.

There’s also the suicidal client who is extremely depressed or emotionally unstable and talks about death and suicide a lot. They typically don’t self-injure and have never tried to commit suicide and don’t think they ever would, but they talk about it so often and their emotional pain is so deep that when they leave your office you often wonder if this will be the last time you ever see them.

These type of clients can also be very stressful to deal with. Often when I have had clients like this I found myself worrying about them when I wasn’t even at work, when I was on vacation,  when they didn’t show up for an appointment and sometimes I even dreamt about them.

One patient in particular was diagnosed with a terminal disease and she didn’t want to die a slow death. She didn’t think she would kill herself, but all she talked about was death and dying and her depression was so deep that it was hard to not be concerned about her when she missed an appointment. Eventually I had to hospitalize her after one particularly draining and emotional session when she couldn’t promise me she wasn’t going to go home and try to kill herself. Everything inside of me was screaming she would. She was angry that I hospitalized her against her will, but told me in later sessions that she had every intent of going home and killing herself that day and thanked me.

Another type of suicidal client is the one who never talks about suicide. Some are impulsive, but many just keep their thoughts and feelings buried deep inside.  They may never even tell anyone that they are in pain. They just attempt or commit suicide without any real warning signs. These clients take not only you by surprise, but everyone else in their lives too.

I once worked with a student for two years dealing with the grief of a parent and then one day he gave me a card thanking me for helping him. It was our last session, he was doing great. Less than a week later I got a call from his family telling me he had attempted suicide and was in critical condition at a local hospital. I was stunned. I rushed to the hospital and nearly broke down in tears as I looked down at his lifeless body. I kept replaying our last sessions together, our last interactions, his last words to me, trying to figure out what did I miss. Thank goodness he came out of his comatose state after a few days and I was grateful that he not only lived, but that I had the opportunity to process his suicide attempt with him. I didn’t miss anything. He had suddenly decided he didn’t want to live any more and wanted to be with his deceased parent.

A couple of years before that I had been part of a crisis team that was sent to two different schools after two students had killed themselves apparently out of the blue. One was a popular jock that killed himself and stunned the whole community because no one, not even his closes friends knew that he was in so much emotional and psychological pain. His friends, family and even school staff members were blaming themselves for not seeing signs that weren’t even there.

The other student apparently killed himself on impulse in the midst of an angry dispute with his girlfriend. He told her he was going to hang himself. She didn’t believe him, but that’s exactly what he did. He had no history of being suicidal and no one saw it coming.

In my nearly 8 year career as a psychotherapist I’ve dealt with hundreds of suicidal clients. My main job right now is interacting with inmates who have been flagged as suicidal. Luckily I have not had one client commit suicide although I have had a few who have made serious suicide attempts landing them in the emergency room.

Studies suggest that:

  • 1 in 4 interns/trainees will have a patient who attempts suicide at some point during their training and 1 in 9 will experience a completed patient’s suicide.
  • 25% of psychologists and 50% of psychiatrists will experience a patient’s suicide.
  • 1 in 6 psychiatric patients who die by suicide die in active treatment with a healthcare provider.
  • Approximately 50% of those who die by suicide in America will have seen a mental health provider at some time in their life.
  • Work with suicidal patients is considered the most stressful of all clinical endeavors. One third of psychotherapists who experienced a patient’s suicide subsequently suffer from severe emotional distress. Several factors may contribute to such severe distress including failure to hospitalize a suicidal patient who then died; a treatment decision that the therapist may feel contributed to the suicide; negative reactions from the therapist’s institution; and the fear of a lawsuit by the patient’s relatives.
  • 25 % of family members of suicidal patients take legal actions against the patient’s mental health treatment team.

As a coincidence, just as I was finishing this post I was informed that an inmate just purposely swallowed 18 Ativan pills in an attempted suicide and is being rushed to the hospital.