Apr 19

“Road to Jonestown”: Mass Murder-Suicide

At some point I hope our culture starts making people who want to be leaders focus a little bit more on the facts, and a little less on whatever is convenient to try and make people believe something that is not necessarily true. Jeff Guinn, interviewed about The Road to Jonestown (Salon)

For many the 1978 mass murder-suicide known as the Jonestown Massacre is a remotely known thing that somehow became responsible for bringing “Drinking the Kool-Aid” into our lexicon. Now, though, you can learn much more about it by reading true-crime writer Jeff Guinn‘s The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.

Kool-Aid, by the way, was not really involved. More than 900 of the Reverend Jim Jones’s cult-like followers and their children died that day from drinking something called Flavor Aid laced with cyanide. The method of self-infliction for Jones was a handgun.

Terry Gross, NPR, further introduces Jones and the key events of that November day in ’78:

…He drew his followers to Guyana by convincing them that America was facing imminent threats of martial law, concentration camps and nuclear war.

After claims of abuse in Jonestown surfaced, Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif., came to Guyana to investigate. A number of Jonestown residents sought to return to the U.S. with Ryan, but others opened fire on the delegation, killing the congressmen and four others. The mass suicide followed.

Guinn says the lessons of Jonestown still resonate today. ‘Jim Jones epitomizes the worst that can happen when we let one person dictate what we hear [and] what we believe,’ he says. ‘We can only change that if we learn from the past and try to apply it to today.’

Jones (1931-1978) decades earlier was “a charismatic, indefatigable minister in Indiana and California preaching Christianity, socialism, vehement antiracism, and a bizarre personality cult that worshipped him as God” (Publishers Weekly).

But, as Guinn conveyed to Gross, “More and more over the years, as his paranoia increased, as his drug use increased, he began to think of himself at war with almost everyone in the outside world — the United States government, all kinds of secret forces.”

The substance abuse was indeed significant. According to Kirkus Reviews, Jones had developed “an endless appetite for drugs—’amphetamines and tranquilizers, pills and liquids to provide significant boosts of energy, or else slow down his racing imagination and allow him to rest’—and decidedly un-Christian patterns of behavior” that took advantage of many of his subjects.

How did Jones get all those people to worship him and ultimately to die en masse? Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle:

Guinn offers several reasons: Some valued the security of knowing that all of their ‘material needs were met’; others believed that in a ‘nation full of violence and hatred and greed … the poor of all races and backgrounds must care for and help each other’; still others thought that any man who acquired such a following must be touched by divinity.

Jones was a demagogue and ultimately, a mass murderer. Paradoxically, Guinn writes, he ‘attracted followers by appealing to the best in their nature, a desire for everyone to share equally.’ Nobody joined Peoples Temple looking to get rich or powerful. ‘Most members sacrificed personal possessions, from clothing and checking accounts to cars and houses, for the privilege of helping others,’ he adds. ‘They gave rather than got.’

An important takeaway for our times as expressed by Jon Foro, official reviewer of The Road to Jonestown for Amazon:

Anytime a leader is allowed to say what and act how he pleases without restraint, when followers are encouraged never to question any of his words and actions and an angry sense of ‘us versus them’ is fostered, then things will end badly no matter how well-intentioned those followers might be. Anyone claiming to be the only leader with all the right answers should never be placed in a position of ultimate power. Jim Jones was a gifted demagogue, and he led his followers to their doom. That’s what demagogues in any era do.

Jun 24

“The Anonymous People” and the Public Recovery Movement

Many in recovery from substance abuse and other addictions choose anonymity, often participating in 12-step “Anonymous”-type programs. But a new documentary called The Anonymous People focuses on something called The New Recovery Advocacy Movement, an alternative to this more traditional approach.

What is this Recovery Advocacy Movement about? Some key “core and evolving messages,” taken from the Faces & Voices of Recovery website, include recognizing various pathways to recovery, having supportive communities, seeing recovery as a voluntary process, and becoming part of the solution in communities.

For further info, check out Faces and Voices of Recovery online.

The feature documentary film The Anonymous People attempts to destigmatize people with addiction. From the film’s website:

The moving story of The Anonymous People is told through the faces and voices of citizens, leaders, volunteers, corporate executives, public figures, and celebrities who are laying it all on the line to save the lives of others just like them. This passionate new public recovery movement aims to transform public opinion, engage communities and elected officials, and finally shift problematic policy toward lasting solutions.

Greg Williams, age 28, is the creator of The Anonymous People and is reportedly himself at least 11 years sober from multiple substances. No longer “Greg W.”, he’s now fully out. Why? He’s on a mission to reduce the stigma attached to addiction and recovery.

From an article at Juvenile Justice: “[Williams] hopes the movie alters perceptions and leads to deep changes in how experts look at finding a solution.” This includes looking at the way addiction affects society’s institutions, e.g., public health and criminal justice.

Watch the trailer below:

Feb 20

“Inside Rehab” By Anne Fletcher: Addiction Treatment Today

Just out is a new book by health and medical writer Anne Fletcher called Inside Rehab: The Surprising Truth About Addiction Treatment–and How to Get Help That Works, based on the author’s extensive research.

But first let’s go back to a previous book of hers. Over 10 years ago, Fletcher’s Sober for Good looked at myths related to alcoholism recovery:

Myth: AA is the only way to get sober.
Reality: More than half the people Fletcher surveyed recovered without AA.

Myth: You can’t get sober on your own.
Reality: Many people got sober by themselves.

Myth: One drink inevitably leads right back to the bottle.
Reality: A small number of people find they can have an occasional drink.

Myth: There’s nothing you can do for someone with a drinking problem until he or she is ready.
Reality: Family and friends can make a big difference if they know how to help.

Little has changed since then, the author of Inside Rehab finds. Expanding on the above, Fletcher exposes 12 myths about rehab. Among them:

  • Rehab is necessary for most people to recover from addictions.
  • Drugs should not be used to treat the drug addict.
  • Highly trained professionals provide most of the treatment in addiction programs.

In a recent Psychology Today post, Fletcher reports that the lack of addiction expertise offered in many rehab programs is one of the worst problems she found.

As one expert I interviewed stated, ‘In few other fields do we place some of the most difficult and complicated patients in the health-care system with some of the least-trained folks among us.’ Most experts I interviewed agreed that the minimum degree for an addiction counselor should be a master’s degree, as it is for other mental health professions. A team approach is ideal at a rehab – with qualified addiction counselors, as well as physicians and mental health professionals who have expertise with addictions. Unfortunately, many states don’t even require a bachelor’s degree to become a certified or licensed addiction counselor.

Fletcher points out in an interview with Chrisanne Grise, Salon, that peer support from other addicts in the form of 12-step programs long ago became the foundation for many treatment programs: “I think in part because the medical system didn’t want to deal with addicts…”

Indeed, it’s common for clients in addictions treatment to be taught their rehab won’t work without 12-step groups. While other types of group counseling may also be provided, individual counseling often isn’t.

When patients relapse—and they often do—it’s not unusual for them to return to the same treatment model that didn’t work before. If it fails again—and again and again—who’s blamed? Often the patient. Who may be shelling out thousands of dollars in the process.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that the higher-cost, celebrity-populated rehabs are necessarily better than the others, Fletcher says. She tells Grise: “I was really surprised at the quality … of some of the low-income, community-based outpatient programs. [In some cases, these] provide treatment that is more state-of-the-art, science-based and comprehensive than that provided by prominent programs in this country.”

Oct 29

Humorists and Mental Health: Mark Twain Prize Winners

Tomorrow night at 8 P.M. most PBS markets will televise the recently recorded presentation of Ellen DeGeneres: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize. DeGeneres is one of many humorists who has addressed mental health issues in one way or another.

This humor award has been given annually since 1998. When DeGeneres found out she’d be receiving it this year, she reportedly remarked, “It’s such an honor to receive the Mark Twain Prize. To get the same award that has been given to people like Bill Cosby, Tina Fey and Will Ferrell, it really makes me wonder…why didn’t I get this sooner?”

Besides the humorists mentioned in the above quote, the other Mark Twain winners have been Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Lorne Michaels, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Neil Simon, Whoopi Goldberg, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, and Richard Pryor.

Now, please indulge me as I make all of this pertinent to Minding Therapy….

Ellen and Neil Simon have had depression. And when Ellen’s character needed to address her coming out process on her sitcom, she used therapy.

Both Will Ferrell and Tina Fey have struggled with shyness. No, really.

Here’s Steve Martin describing his history of panic attacks: “(F)or those who have them or had them – I don’t get them anymore, thank God – but it’s a terrifying experience of disassociation from your own self, and it’s a morbid sense of doom and you feel like you’re dying.”

Whoopi Goldberg famously feared flying, apparently because of witnessing a mid-air collision many years ago. It’s been reported, including on segments of The View, that she’s overcome this with the use of a technique called Thought Field Therapy, or TFT.

Jonathan Winters admitted to having bipolar disorder.

Richard Pryor‘s substance abuse issues were well known.

As forever-producer of Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels has overseen the work of many comedians in trouble with alcohol, drugs, and various mental health issues.

And if you thought that one was a stretch…

George Carlin once publicly denounced prayer as a form of mental illness.

Carl Reiner starred in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

And Bill Cosby as Dr. Huxtable on The Cosby Show represented the picture of emotionally healthy, if also comical, parenting.

Finally, several of the Mark Twain Prize humorists are known for their portrayals of shrinks or their potential patients:

Bob Newhart not only played Dr. Bob Hartley on popular sitcom The Bob Newhart Show in the 70’s, but a MADtv skit featuring his character’s special brand of brief therapy is also frequently watched. See it here on YouTube.

Billy Crystal, of course, is reluctant psychiatrist-to-the-Mob-boss in the movies Analyze This and Analyze That.

Lily Tomlin was Trudy the Bag Lady in Jane Wagner‘s play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Trudy: “I made some studies, and reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. I can take it in small doses, but as a lifestyle, I found it too confining. It was just too needful; it expected me to be there for it all the time, and with all I have to do–I had to let something go.” More recently, on TV’s Web Therapy, Tomlin has played the wacky mom of wacky shrink Fiona Wallice (Lisa Kudrow), who admits her to a mental hospital.

Mar 28

“28 Days”: Hollywood Version of Addictions Rehab

Due to the high costs, whether you have health insurance or not, month-long treatment of addictions is not in the cards for most people. Less expensive treatment options are generally now the norm. But we’ll always have, as a dramedy-type reminder, the movie 28 Days (2000). In this film, Gwen Cummings (Sandra Bullock), a writer for a city newspaper, messes up her life to such a degree that she’s forced into a rehab facility known as Serenity Glen. It’s that or jail.

Here’s the trailer:

If you didn’t already pick up on it, rehab-speak runs rampant in 28 DaysCharles Taylor, Salon: “It’s one of those movies that make you feel like you’re going through a therapy session.”

Gwen herself says while in rehab: “I am so tired by the way you people talk. You know, I mean, ‘one day at a time.’ What is that? I mean, like two, three days at a time is an option?”

Some of the best quickie lines come from Betty, the tough nurse played by Margo Martindale, when she announces over the PA system the upcoming educational topics. These often start with “Tonight’s lecture…”:

  • How many brain cells did I kill last night?
  • Are you a blackout drunk, or don’t you remember?
  • I’ve worked all 12 steps, can I go home now?
  • What’s wrong with celebrating sobriety by getting drunk?
  • Is God an alcoholic?

The following is a more serious scene involving a group meeting that occurs after Gwen uses again:

It’s not uncommon for substance abuse counselors to be in recovery themselves, and this movie reflects this. At one point, top counselor Cornell Shaw (Steve Buscemi) tells a group of patients what it was like for him to be in the grip of chemical addiction:

…I would tell myself, ‘Tonight, I will not get wasted.’ And then something would happen. Or nothing would happen. And, uh, I’d get that feeling. I think you all know what that feeling is. When your skin is screaming and your hands are shaking. Uh, and your stomach feels like it wants to jump through your throat. And you know, that if anyone had a clue how wrong it felt to be sober, they wouldn’t dream of asking you to stay that way. They would say, ‘Oh, geeze, I didn’t know. Here. It’s okay for you. Do that mound of cocaine. Have a drink. Have 20 drinks. Whatever you need to do to feel like a normal human being, you do it.’ And boy, I did it. I drank and I snorted, and I drank and I snorted, and drank and I snorted, and I did this day after day after day after night after night. And I didn’t care about the consequences, because I knew they couldn’t be half as bad as not using. And then one night, something happened. I woke up. I woke up on a sidewalk. And I had no idea where I was. I couldn’t have told you the city I was in. And my head was pounding, and I looked down and my shirt is covered in blood. And as I’m lying there, wondering what happens next, I head a voice, and it said, ‘Man, this is not a way to live. This is a way to die.’

Although it’s been many years since I saw this film, I do remember kind of enjoying it despite its flaws. And, judging by a lot of consumer reviews online, so did many others.