Saturday, April 21, 2007

Forced Therapy and Cho Seung-Hui

The following comment was in my inbox this morning from "Anonymous":

Couldn't mandatory therapy and the blessed intervention of medication have helped him?

I've been giving some thought to that over the past few days as well. At what point does any society have the right to pull someone out of the community and force treatment?

While watching TV yesterday, switching between Fox News and CNN, I caught a snippet of a psychologist being interviewed. What she said scared the living hell out of me.

I wish I'd documented the quote exactly but didn't. Essentially what she said is that there needs to be a specific standard of behavior that is viewed as "normal" in the culture and that those who "don't fit" should be forced to get treatment.

Truly, it scared me.

Who ultimately determines what is "normal" and what is not? Who is the final arbiter?

That is what leads me to take a stand against compulsory therapy and forced medication.

There must be a better way.

I believe the way Cho would have been helped most is with compassion. Compassion before he went so far over the edge that it was unlikely that anyone could bring him back.

As anyone who has had therapy knows, there has to be a baseline of trust. A relationship has to be established between the therapist and the client that will allow the client to speak from the heart, to speak his truth.

Once the government insinuates itself into that relationship, forget it. It's doomed.

I've been reading reports this morning about Cho's background. He was ridiculed and made fun of in classes as a young kid. Where was the teacher? Why was it permitted to go on? Where were those who should have been supervising the behavior of those children? Why weren't the bullies stopped? Where were his parents?

It's impossible to say enough about the effect of bullying and ostracizing and what it does to young minds. There are too few words ~ and far too little understanding.

Cho was angry and felt powerless.

Yesterday, I left the following comment on KC's site:

I had many thoughts after the tapes were released to the press of Cho's rants. It generated a few thoughts and I'll put them to you for consideration.

Strip away all the whining and ranting. Beneath it is.. in my opinion...

cultural alienation.

I'm not trying to excuse his behavior and I'm certainly not trying to use cultural alienation as a convenient catch-all.

But I heard it. The majority of his complaints revolved around US and VT culture.

While I don't have a violent bone in my body and would quickly kill myself before I ever hurt another human being, I've felt those feelings. I was lucky enough to realize that choosing a way of life is just as valid as any other choice we make.

Obviously Cho didn't know that.

It made me wonder how different his life might have been if he'd stayed in Korea.

Speaking from personal experience, I can absolutely say it is possible for cultural alienation to drive a person insane. In 2004, I went there.


In addition to cultural alienation, I should have mentioned pain. The pain expressed in those tapes was so intense that it made my gut hurt. If he'd gone on long enough, I believe he would have dissolved into intense crying.

The solution to the problems these kids develope will never be solved by forcing them into therapy or making them take medication. That is an authoritarian solution to a much deeper problem.

What those kids need is to know that adults will protect them. What those kids need is to know that might doesn't make right and that bullies don't get away with it. What they need to know is that they come with a birthright and part of that birthright is that they get to go to school without being abused by other children under the eyes of those tasked with supervising them. Instead of using the cop-out that every point of view is equally valid, teach kids some values. There are plenty of universal values that are culturally neutral. Give them a foundation to grow with and to stand on. Telling a young child that he has to decide for himself what is right and what is wrong is just plain... excuse me.... stupid. What those kids need is to be held, to be loved, to be protected and educated. And, yes, that includes moral and ethical education.

This culture failed Cho Seung-Hui. That statement might make some of you angry, but it is what I believe. I've seen too many budding Cho Seung-Huis in my life. I see them standing around on street corners in South Sacramento nearly every day.

Maybe with that understanding, we can make some progress in preventing more Chos from being created instead of coming up with authoritarian pseudo-solutions as a means of damage control.




MsLittlePea said...

This is nothing new. I don't understand why the issue of bullying hasn't been/has never been brought up when this kind of thing happens. Because this seems to be one common factor in almost every instance. Actually, this whole 'bringing a gun to school' is not just something recent. I started school in Hawaii-not exactly a place you'd think of as viloent. A boy in my class brought his father's gun, thankfully unloaded, for show and tell and we heard later on that he said he was afraid of getting beat up by some of the other kids who had been picking on him-of course this was a big deal then but somehow got swept under the rug. This was 1st grade!!!!A six year old!! I never saw him again but this wasn't the last time something like that happened. 7-8 years later, I was in junior high school in Florida and a kid who(surprise,surprise!) had been bullied for years brought a gun to his English class and started shooting, luckily he was a bad shot, he ran out of the class where a parent wrestled him away from his gun and no one was hurt. It didn't even make national news I don't think. This too, was dealt with for a few days by the school offering counseling, then swept under the rug. No one once addressed the problem of bullying! Of course we have to make our own choices for ourselves. Those of us in a sound mind usually deal with negative emotions and try put them behind us. But for those who are not mature enough to deal with being scared, hurt, alienated, broken and angry don't have the tools needed to....I feel like I'm making a pointless comment and people are just going to see it as I'm defending this young man's actions. It's just that i look at the situation and I feel like an idiot could have predicted that this would happen. I've gotten off the topic of 'forced help' I guess but this is the first time I've talked about the whole thing. I agree with you Chani. This is typical of 'experts' or 'government' thinking that EVERYTHING can be prevented by butting in to everyone's lives. The only way to prevent something like this is for everyone to learn and practice compassion. For ourselves and for each other, everyday not just when something looks strange. Because by the time his teacher noticed he needed some help--he was probably so far gone, even if he had been forced to get some counseling, he probably would have found a way hurt others and himself anyway. But I'm no expert.

Snoskred said...

I think most people who are bullied are lucky in that someone, somewhere, sometime, reaches out to them and makes contact. It might be a teacher. It might be another kid. It might be someone in the neighbourhood.

Now, many of those people who would probably have reached out in the past simply don't do it, for fear of being accused of things. Child sex abuse would be one of the real fears. Many fathers feel like they can't touch their kids at all because they're always worried it will be seen in the wrong light, that someone will call CPS and report something entirely innocent. But times that by 100 if you don't know the kid.

Who would risk reaching out to take a troubled child under their wing in this day and age? When male teachers are becoming rarer and rarer. When teachers of both genders are afraid to hug kids.

I was lucky. I had several teachers who reached out over the years. I doubt the kids of today will be that lucky.

slouching mom said...

Amen to this:

Instead of using the cop-out that every point of view is equally valid, teach kids some values.

Anonymous said...

Currently, the government is trying to shoot its way to peace and balance the budget with a clever combination of increased spending and tax cuts. I don't really trust these guys to administer a mandatory mental health system.

Part of the solution will be to foster more permenant communities. People are so transient these days that few take the time to get to know their neighbors. When people used to stay put, social networks were created and fewer people fell through the gaps.

jen said...

this thought from that comment: blessed intervention of medication
scares me a lot. Talk about a culturally defined answer.

I agree w/ much of what you said, Chani. I don't think it's possible to answer any of these questions with forcing treatment...the external stressors aren't affected by those modalities, but yes, perhaps squashing our impulses are.

but how far short are we falling if that's where we stop?

thailandchani said...

MsPea, I'm no expert either but I recognize truth in what you are saying. It amazes me that human beings with intellect and consciousness, even while being animals, don't understand that if you poke at someone with a stick long enough, they will turn on you.

I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed but I do get that one!

As Solomon said, there's really nothing new under the sun. When I was in college (or maybe even high school.. I disremember at this point), some kid was arrested for killing his girlfriend and then inviting all his friends to come see the body.

That same year, some kid killed his parents because he didn't like what he got for Christmas.


Snoksred, you make an excellent point. I wish I knew the solution to it. Kids need mentors. And sometimes being a mentor means a certain level of risk.. but I must admit, I'd be awfully cautious, too. I wish that wasn't so. I need to think about what you've said.


SM, our mouths to God's ear! :)


Thomas, I agree with every word you've said.. and I wouldn't trust this government to clean up after my dog.


Jen, no gavno! Culturally defined, indeed! Dope 'em up and get 'em out of our hair! They don't participate in the economy so, ergo, they're just a hindrance!

Impulse control, absolutely. If psychosis is developed to that degree, of course someone needs to intervene. Perhaps the real question is who.. and who should have that authority.

Government toadies whose only purpose is to patch people up for the gerbil wheel are not doing the job. It needs to be more holistic. As long as the culture doesn't value human beings more than profit and economy, I don't have the answer. I wish I did.

Your guess is as good as mine, eh?




thethinker said...

I completely agree.

Some people are trying to ignore the issue of Cho's treatment prior to this incident. They're overlooking what caused him to do what he did and instead are debating lesser issues like gun control and campus security. They aren't concentrating on the pressures that influenced his thoughts and his actions. They go straight to stories about how he "stalked" girls and withdrew from society, forgetting to ask themselves why he did so. If they really asked themselves why, they would be admitting that they are, to a certain extent, just as much to blame for his condition as anyone else.

And I'm not necessarily saying that the students at VT were deliberately mean to him in any way. It was probably more the result of earlier experiences at school in lower levels.

KC said...

I couldn't agree more that society let Cho down. He was clearly a boy with special problems- apparently from an early age.

But to answer the question about where were his parents...

They were working 6 day work weeks, barely making ends meet, with their only goal for a good education for their children. I know my parents had no idea about the racism and prejuidice I encountered growing up. I couldn't go to them about many issues- culturally, they just didn't understand a lot of my issues. There was plenty of love, of providing, but a lot of the time, I felt like I was parenting myself.

There's also a cultural stigma of mental illness that may or may not have played a role.

I feel for his parents. I pray for them.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

His whole life was a snowball gaining size and speed as it raced downhill.

We all bear some responsibility when a member of our society goes terribly wrong.

But what chills me anew is the snippet you heard of the psychologist being interviewed.

Who, indeed, is capable or has the right to determine what, exactly, is normal? This reeks of Brave New Worldism, Jonestown and countries in which young people are brainwashed to be clones.

Any ideology that attempts to level everyone to one standard scares me silly.

The worst case scenario, of course, is being taught that suicide bombings are the best thing they can do with their precious lives.

flutter said...

Do you think that there are just people that cannot be helped? I realize that sounded snotty, and it wasn't intended to, I just wonder what your perspective is on that particular question.
I am just struggling with this. Partially, I think because I was bullied as well, partially because I suffer(ed) with depression as well. I just don't get how he got from point a to point b, so I am curious what you think.

Lucia said...

What I struggle with, though, in terms of government involvement is that they and corporations have all the money. This kind of mental health care is going to take big bucks. Although the thought of government deciding who is not "normal" is absolutely something we should be fearful of.

Tabba said...

I wish I could type about this at length in a comment section.
I agree that the culture has let him down. I dated a guy from S. Korea, who was sent here at age 10 to live with his grandmother. And despite the fact that he lived here for most of his life - it was something he could never reconcile. I remember quite clearly his anger at our culture, the harshness, the spoiled and entitled mind-set, the waste. Quite frankly, though he was never violent, it scared me. But it was his truth. It is our truth.
And I have to say, this all goes back to gov't and doctors and society who feel it is better to numb everyone down. To not effectively deal with problems. Let's just eat our way into oblivion, and wash that down with a pill or two.
I have flashes of scenes I've read in "Brave New World" by Huxley. Who decides what is normal? Who, please tell me, is normal?
And governments & scary therapists like the one you speak of on TV, are being left to "make" our's beyond scary.

Tabba said...

And off topic - you always find the prettiest pictures/images to go with your posts. I like how you add them to the beginning of your they tell a story before I even get to the actual post - how it sets the tone.

Suzy said...

Oh, Chani. Would you mind if I linked to this post from my blog? I am moved to tears by what you have written. I had not read much about Cho's background, but I didn't need to, to know that this was a child who had been horribly hurt.

We talked about it a lot in the teachers' lounge this week, and I made the point that what we (I and my colleagues) do every moment of every day MATTERS to kids and may be the thing that prevents someone from "losing it" at a later date.

I do have to respond to the comment above from Snoskred: "I doubt the kids of today will be that lucky." That may be true for many schools -- I don't know -- but for my classroom, building authentic community and treating each child with kindness, dignity, and respect, well, that's the heart of it. My kids KNOW they are loved, at school if not at home, and they in turn reach out to those around them with kindness. I couldn't BE any other way as a teacher ... and though I get them at the very beginning of their school careers (kindergarten) I'd like to think they carry it with them as a kind of touchstone. I also extend that to every other kid in the school whether they've been my student or not. I figure that my smile and "hello" might be the only one a kid gets -- especially if they are one of those kids who thoroughly TESTS their teacher's patience. It's the whole "takes a village" thing.

My school district has adopted a "positive discipline" model, that is very non-punitive. This makes some teachers extremely unhappy (they think the kids are getting away with something,) and I'm sure it is implemented in varying degrees at different schools. At my school, our social worker does a lot of work with the bullies, teaching them social skills, putting them into supervised mentoring roles with younger kids, setting up "alternative service" within the school, fostering reconciliation. The loners are also plugged in. I think it's amazing. Unfortunately, as my husband pointed out to me yesterday as I was expounding on this, nobody ever judges the success of a school by the number of students that DON'T become serial killers!

Finally, I want to address the whole question of medication, by referencing a very interesting article I read just this morning. What if the medication was the CAUSE of Cho's breakdown?

Anyway, I am so grateful to the many, many loving and compassionate responses to this latest tragedy as well as the reference to shooting your way to peace.

Anonymous said...

It was interesting reading KC's comment. I wondered how much of his problem was cultural. Not that coming from another culture is a problem but rather how that culture views mental illness and/or personal problems.

My parents come from a very different generation than mine and their views on mental illness are very different than mine. My mother always talked about my father's brother being "Schizo", is how she would put it. She obviously didn't like him. It was only a few years ago that I found out he was schizophrenic and a street person. He was beaten to death many years ago. My parents thought that you should keep your problems to yourself, not air your dirty laundry.

As for mandatory therapy and medication, it seems like a good idea if the health care practioners are wise, kind and all knowing, but they're not. They're human and make mistakes like the rest of us.

I don't think there's anyway to stop someone like Cho. If someone is set upon the idea of killing others and himself, he'll find a way. Mind you, it might have been more difficult if he hadn't had access to automatic hand guns. Hand guns are only for killing humans. I don't have a problem with hunting rifles but hand guns are not necessary.

lu said...

I think that the worst thing we've done to children is to do too much for them, to take on too many of their burdens. We don't let them own their own mistakes, we don't let them learn how to fail, and arm them with coping mechanisms when things go badly. Then we throw them out into society with a feeling that they are entitled to everything and NOW!

I don't know what this kid’s entire story was, but from what I hear people tried to get him into therapy, he was not ignored. He was mentally ill, compounded with the belief that the world owes him his happiness and it was way too easy to buy weapons. I wonder if he had any clue that he had any control of his destiny. Obviously he was mentally ill but before it came to this awful end, was he made worse and further deluded by all the violent and negative images that are out in the world?

Recent studies show that children display narcissistic traits more now than ever in history- I see this in my classroom, what we aren't giving our children is an understanding of accountability. We are accountable for our actions, but few kids believe that--it's always someone else’s fault. So many kids believe Someone owes them and they want to collect now.

Anonymous said...

First, thank you for realizing that Cho wasn't inherently evil. I've read so many hateful comments saying in the light of "he should've killed himself a long time ago."

Secondly, I just want to share with you the reason I feel nothing but pity for Cho: I used to be so much like him. I never talked in class. I went for several years with no friends at all. In my case (I'm not sure if Cho's was the same), isolating myself wasn't a conscious choice at first. Other people are shy, it's normal right? After a while, however, it became known that I was "the girl who never talks" and I guess I thought to live up the expectation, or something.

Several months after, without my knowing it, the class teachers apparently made a contest out of me. "Whoever can make [insert my name here] talk will get some extra points." Soon everyone rushed to me during lunch time asking what my name was (they knew it - I wasn't a new student or anything). This time I didn't respond because I knew none of them was being sincere. It kind of hurt, really. (Incidentally, I found out it was a contest a couple years later. I stayed in the same school for a few years with all the same people.)

Eventually my school life became so bad that I couldn't bear to go to schoool anymore. Everyone was in their own clique and I seemed to be alone. Even the outcasts had formed their own clique, but I was completely alone. Come to think of it, I think I was sent to some sort of counseling once. (But it wasn't really counseling, it was more of a teacher with a degree in psychology yelling at me wondering why I wouldn't talk like normal people.)

Fortunately, my family had been planning on moving to the U.S. and I thought I would start over where nobody else knew who I was.

Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned. I found out that I didn't speak English very well. I had to repeat everything I say before I was understood, and it made me feel self-conscious. So I stopped talking once again and spent four years of high school almost in complete silence. I nearly broke down, but I thank God everyday that I found someone who gave me hope. I'm sorry that Cho never got to meet that special person BEFORE he snapped.

The reason I'm sharing this is to give a little perspective of what Cho's life is like. It's undoubtedly not accurate - I've never met Cho personally and I don't know what he was still like. Still, you can see by reading his plays that he didn't even know how teenagers talk, he was that isolated. I wouldn't surprised if he literally had no one to talk to. I used to visit to a message board where I was well-liked. I wonder if Cho even had a "virtual friend."

I think when it comes down to it, people need to evaluate themselves before they shift the blame on the victim. Unless you're practically invisible like Cho was, what you do affects people around you. What Cho needed wasn't a counselor or a quarantine, what he needed was a FRIEND. What he needed was people not rubbing in the fact that he didn't talk.

I have a feeling I know which specific group Cho was particularly mad at and why, but I won't elaborate on that.

Sorry to vent, but I needed it.

thailandchani said...

Anonymous, it is one of those things that those who haven't experienced simply don't "get". They don't understand that while we absolutely do not condone Cho's choices, it is easy to understand how it evolved.

When we're confronted with that kind of thing (which I was also), we either turn it inward or outward. I suspect girls are more apt to turn it inward. Boys just get pissed.

Perhaps if nothing else, this event can become something positive by using Cho's case as an example of what *can* happen which will prevent more generations from experiencing the "oh, it's just a rite of passage" routine ~ or the "all kids are like that" excuse.

There simply is no excuse. Ever.

I agree. What he needed was a friend.

Thanks for commenting here. Your further thoughts on this topic are welcome, anonymous or not. You are welcome to contact me privately.

Read the other comments here, too. I think it's evidence that a lot of people *do* get it.