Nov 11

Sexual Abuse of Boys and Men: Recovery

1in6, an organization whose mission is “to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences live healthier, happier lives,” lists on their site eight facts that counter common myths about the sexual abuse of boys and men:

  • Boys and men can be sexually used or abused, and it has nothing to do with how masculine they are.
  • If a boy liked the attention he was getting, or got sexually aroused during abuse, or even sometimes wanted the attention or sexual contact, this does not mean he wanted or liked being manipulated or abused, or that any part of what happened, in any way, was his responsibility or fault.
  • Sexual abuse harms boys and girls in ways that are similar and different, but equally harmful.
  • Boys can be sexually abused by both straight men and gay men. It’s about taking advantage of a child’s vulnerability, not the sexual orientation of the abusive person.
  • Whether he is gay, straight or bisexual, a boy’s sexual orientation is neither the cause or the result of sexual abuse.
  • Girls and women can sexually abuse boys.
  • Most boys who are sexually abused will not go on to sexually abuse others.
  • Not understanding these facts is understandable, but harmful, and needs to be overcome.

The following pertinent quotes are from therapists/writers who are experts on the effects of the sexual abuse of boys and men.

Jim Hopper, PhD:

Many men fear their masculinity has been robbed or destroyed, that they’ll be exposed as a ‘fake’ – even if no one has a clue about what happened or thinks twice about their masculinity.

...(L)earning to experience and express vulnerable emotions (at times and places of your own choosing), means becoming more masculine in many positive ways. 

         Richard Gartner, PhD, Psychology Today (author of Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life           After Boyhood Sexual Abuse):

Boys who grow up without coming to terms with their childhood abuse often struggle as men with addictions, anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide as well as the inability to develop or maintain relationships.

Confusing affection with abuse, desire with tenderness, sexually abused boys often become men who have difficulty distinguishing among sex, love, nurturance, affection, and abuse. They may experience friendly interpersonal approaches as seductive and manipulative. On the other hand, they may not notice when exploitative demands are made on them – they’ve learned to see these as normal and acceptable.

        Mike Lew, M.Ed., Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse:

Another question I am frequently asked is, “What do you mean by recovery?” It has taken me a while to answer that one. I had been depending on other people’s definitions of recovery until I developed one that worked for me (just as you must come to one that makes sense for you.) Mine is simple. For me, it is about freedom.
Recovery is the freedom to make choices in your life that aren’t determined by the abuse.
The specific choices will be different for each of you; the freedom to choose is your birthright.  

Lists of various resources are available to male survivors at 1in6 as well as on the websites of Jim Hopper and Next Step Counseling (co-directed by therapists Mike Lew and Thom Harrigan), and Dr. Kelli Palfy (author of Men Too: Unspoken Truths About Male Sexual Abuse), among others.

Oct 26

Transgender and Gender Identity Books Worth a Look

The following are selected transgender and gender identity books worth a read:

I. Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, 2nd edition (2022), compiled by Laura Erickson-Schroth

“…(A) revolutionary resource–a comprehensive, reader-friendly guide for transgender people, with each chapter written by transgender and gender expansive authors.”

II. “You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!”: And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions… (2017) by psychiatrist Laura Erickson-Schroth and therapist Laura A. Jacobs

Aims to educate people about some frequently held but misguided beliefs on this topic.

III. Gender Failure (2014)by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote

Kate Bornstein, author of A Queer and Pleasant Danger: “At times hilarious, at times heartbreaking, their storytelling is top-notch. This book is unputdownable.”

IV. the GENDER book (2014) by Hunter Rook, Jay Mays, and Robin Mack

Page by page, The Gender Book includes easy-to-read and colorful graphics such as the one below:

transumbrella

V. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (2014) by Susan Kuklin

Six young adults and their families are featured.

VI. Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen (2014) by Arin Andrews    

Arin Andrews had gender reassignment when he was a high school junior.

VII. I Promised Not to Tell: Raising a Transgender Child (2016) by Cheryl B. Evans

From the publisher: “What is unique about this deeply personal parenting memoir is that it follows one transgender child from birth through age eighteen.”

VIII. My Daughter He: Transitioning With Our Transgender Children (2014) by Candace Waldron    

Waldron’s trans son started to deal openly with his identity in his teens.

IX. Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of An American Family (2015) by Amy Ellis Nutt  

Wyatt is one of the identical twins adopted by Wayne and Kelly Maines. “By the time the twins were toddlers, confusion over Wyatt’s insistence that he was female began to tear the family apart. In the years that followed, the Maineses came to question their long-held views on gender and identity, to accept and embrace Wyatt’s transition to Nicole, and to undergo an emotionally wrenching transformation of their own that would change all their lives forever.”

X. Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings Attached (2016) by Hillary Whittington 

This book expands on the viral YouTube video of Ryland, age 5, and his parents.

XI. Raising the Transgender Child (2016) by Michele Angelo and Ali Bowman

Whittington (see above) “praises Raising the Transgender Child as “an essential ‘how to’ guide for any parent or guardian of a gender fluid or transgender child.”

XII. The Reflective Workbook for Partners of Transgender People: Your Transition as Your Partner Transitions (2019) by D.M. Maynard  

A relatively new workbook for a sometimes forgotten group in need.

Other resources for trans partners, by the way, can be found at TransGenderPartners.com.

Oct 17

The Secular Therapy Project: No Imposed Religion

Are you a prospective client seeking a therapist who won’t impose his or her religion or spirituality on you? Are you a therapist who wouldn’t dream of doing that? If so, take a look at The Secular Therapy Project. You can sign up to find a therapist or you can register to be one of those therapists.

If there isn’t a secular therapist in your geographical area, telehealth therapy may be your best option.

I first found The Secular Therapy Project via a more comprehensive resource called Recovering From Religion, an organization that was founded by psychologist Darrel Ray. From the website:

Many people come to a point that they no longer accept the supernatural explanations for the world around them, or they realize just how much conflict religious belief creates. It can be difficult to leave religion because family and culture put so much pressure on us to stay and pretend to believe the unbelievable. If this is you, we want to help you find your way out. Don’t let people convince you that you just didn’t have ‘enough’ faith, or that you just haven’t found the ‘right’ religion.

A list of religious issues (found on the Recovering from Religion site) you or someone you know might be confronting includes such topics as religious harm, Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS), Scrupulosity (Religious OCD), cults, wanting to understand a loved one who is nonreligious, and mixed belief couples.

In a blog post, Ray further explains his belief about the importance of separating religion and spirituality from clinical work:

If religion was an important key to mental health, then religion would have solved the problem of mental health 2,000 years ago. Jesus’s approach to mental illness was to cast demons out of a mentally ill person, into a herd of swine, and have the swine jump over a cliff. That was the state of mental health knowledge until secular psychological science came along 150 years ago. Only with the advent of science have we learned how to treat depression through talk therapy and drugs….

The bottom line is this; if religion works, then go to your minister, priest, imam, scientology auditor or guru. If psychotherapy works, then go to a secular psychotherapist trained in evidence based approaches and/or go to a psychiatrist trained in good drug therapy. There is no valid reason to mix these two. Religion had its shot for 3000 years or more. The best it could do was find demons everywhere.

My purpose in starting the Therapist Project was to help people with no superstitions find a therapist with no superstitions. If a therapist is spiritual, by definition, they are superstitious.

Ray was asked in an interview: What if someone comes to one of these secular therapists and says they’re having doubts about the existence of god, or questioning their faith? How would a good secular therapist handle this kind of client without pushing them to leave the religion? Ray answers: “Cognitive behavioral approach, I would say. That’s what cognitive therapy does. It asks you to consider a rational approach to dealing with your problems. A lot of our therapists are well trained in CBT. A religious person could still perform that kind of therapy, as long as they kept their religion out of it.”

Want to learn more about Ray’s views? Two of Ray’s books are titled Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality and The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture.

Oct 05

“I’m Glad My Mom Died”: May Hit a Nerve

Former child actor Jennette McCurdy‘s bestselling new memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died has been notable not only for its popularity among readers but also for its title alone. She blatantly admits being happy her mother is dead? Who does that?!

 

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon:When the book debuted earlier this month [August 2022], it became an instant bestseller and sold out on Amazon. Its success revealed that there is a whole population of survivors who have complicated feelings toward our deceased relatives.”

In the following top quote from the book McCurdy, now 30, contemplates her abusive mom‘s death:

I take a longer look at the words on her headstone.
Brave, kind, loyal, sweet, loving, graceful, strong, thoughtful, funny, genuine, hopeful, playful, insightful, and on and on…
Was she, though? Was she any of those things? The words make me angry. I can’t look at them any longer.
Why do we romanticize the dead? Why can’t we be honest about them?

Well, honesty about this is hard, but it does happen. Google the topic. You will definitely find others confessing a lack of sadness over their parents’ deaths.

I can tell you I’m glad my father died. It’s not that he was abusive, it’s that he just wasn’t there throughout my entire life. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me, so until he died he was already a ghost anyway—one who made my life challenging at times. (Explaining this further might involve a book’s worth of thoughts and feelings.)

It may be much harder for most to admit similar feelings about their Mother, though. That’s just a thing I probably don’t even have to explain.

McCurdy has done a lot of work on herself to get to the place of being able to write I’m Glad My Mom Died. Previously she had developed a one-woman show of the same title; she also does a podcast called Empty Inside. And, ta-da, she goes to therapy.

As the author told the Associated Press, therapy alone wasn’t cutting it, however. Putting together her show and doing her other writing have also been important. “Processing the events that happened in my childhood took so long in therapy. I needed to do so much of that excavating work on my own.”

Which is not to discount her therapy’s impact. Therapy has helped her significantly, for example, with her eating disorders. “…I don’t obsess about food at all. I say this because I want people to know that I do believe it’s possible to not have it haunt you for the rest of your life. I feel great in my recovery. I consider myself recovered. For anybody who might be struggling now, I want them to know it’s possible to recover.”

Are you grappling with the death of an abusive or toxic parent? Dr. , Certified Grief Counselor, has a pertinent article at Join Cake.

You might, of course, also be interested in I’m Glad My Mom Died. 

Sep 28

Comedy As Therapy: Five Notable Examples

Comedy as therapy is a widely supported approach. See the selected examples below.

I. Stand Up for Mental Health

Counselor and humorist David Granirer created a program called Stand Up For Mental Health in which people with mental health issues can learn how to do stand-up comedy as therapy. In the video below called “Cracking Up,” participants introduce us to it.

You’ll need over six minutes to watch this—but it’s worth it.

If this whets your comedy appreciation appetite, clips of individual routines that have emerged from this program are available on their website.

Below Granirer himself riffs to an audience on the topic of mental health stigma:

II. Comedy Warriors

Another program, Comedy Warriors, was designed to aid soldiers who are injured physically and mentally.

Five veterans who were hurt in combat—four men and one woman—are featured in a documentary about their experiences of learning stand-up comedy from some well-known comedians, including Bob Saget and Brad Garrett.

As stated on their website, “As any comedian will tell you, the most poignant comedy comes from pain. And no one knows this better than a service member with a life-changing injury.”

Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor was released in 2013.

III. Taylor Glenn: Reverse Psycomedy

The show of comedic performer Taylor Glenn titled “Reverse Psycomedy”—about her former life as a therapist—has been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

Glenn spoke with Mark Smith about her therapist humor (click here for the article):

…’I learned to yawn through my nose, for example, which is the kind of thing they never taught you at university,’ she says. ‘They don’t tell you if you have to yawn don’t let your patients see that because they’ll be devastated so you learn to yawn and look really interested.’

Being honest about therapy in this way has been hard for Glenn because she was a conscientious psychotherapist; she took it very seriously. ‘I would never break my ethical code or anything like that but I have to be honest about what it was like on the other side of that chair. And I think it’s refreshing for an audience to see that therapists are just normal people who swear and have weird thoughts and have a sense of humour.’

Below Glenn offers bits of help and advice—“Fringe Therapy”— to fellow comedians:

IV. Dr. Lisa Levy: Faux Therapy Sessions

Dr. Lisa Levy is “a Bebe Neuwirth type with Ashleigh Banfield glasses—combined common sense, dry humor, and a winning feeling that anyone can be an analyst if they want to, as long as they never actually studied being one,” Michael Musto once said.

In one article/interview, Levy noted that she traces her interest in therapy back to high school when her father experienced severe depression and was hospitalized. Later, when she was in college, she went to therapy herself to deal with her own depression.

Below is one of her live faux sessions with comedian Eugene Mirman:

V. Tig Notaro: As Funny As Cancer

Maybe at some point you’ve heard or said something along the lines of, “That’s (you’re) as funny as cancer.” Obvious meaning: “Cancer funny? Not so much.”

But, maybe you can be funny about cancer? And maybe it’s therapeutic? Not only for others but also to the comic who actually has cancer.

The dryness of Notaro’s style and delivery is a comedic tone that works well. Here’s a brief snippet of her routine: