Ask the Rock Doc:
Dr. BLT offers advice for
a song to music-minded youth and adults in crisis.
following inquiry has been paraphrased, with certain details omitted and/or
altered to protect the confidentiality of the subject.
Ask the Rock Doc
Sound Advice for the Musically
by psychologist, Dr. Bruce
L. Thiessen, aka Dr. B.L.T., The Rock Doc
Dr. BLT offers advice for
a song to music-minded youth and adults in crisis.
The details contained in
the following letter may be altered and the medium of expression disguised
in order to protect the confidentiality of the distressed party.
Dear Rock Doc:
I am a 52-year-old mother
of two. I have a twenty-two year-old daughter who is a single missionary
in Russia who has never caused us a problem. My 20-year-old son is another
story altogether. He is the lead singer of Crushed Pearls, a band that
recently opened up for one of Canada's top "screamo" rock bands (I think
that's what they're calling it these days). Even though my husband and
I can't stand that particular style of music (we prefer to hear old gospel
greats like George Beverly Shea, The Blackwood Brothers, and The Florida
Boys) our son is basically living out his dream and my husband and I have
always supported him. At the same time, we are painfully aware that he
suffers from Manic Depression and his doctor told us that he's been self-medicating,
(a polite way to say that he's abusing illegal drugs as a way of dealing
with emotional problems). When he came to visit last Christmas, I confronted
him on his drug problem and he became so enraged that he tried to strangle
me. My husband had to have him arrested! He hasn't spoken to either of
us ever since with the exception of last night, when he called to tell
us his favorite hockey team, the Calgary Flames, were going to the Stanley
Cup playoffs,. The only way we can find out whether he's dead or alive
or what's happening with him is to watch the headlines on the entertainment
pages of the newspaper. Can you help a family in crisis?
It takes a great deal of
unconditional love to support a son in the center of the "screamo" scene,
particularly when you and your husband couldn't be further apart from your
son in terms of your own musical tastes. I fall between the ages of you
and your son and although I hate to admit it, I am a little closer to your
age than that of your son. My dad used to play those old Blackwood Brothers
records all the time when I was a kid, and I grew up loving that stuff.
Much to my state of utter bliss, I recently found my very favorite Blackwood
Brothers record in perfect condition at a thrift store---an autographed
copy no less! Being the parents of young adults, I'm sure you'll know what
I mean when I say: The Blackwood Brothers rock! I've never heard anyone
nail those extreme low notes like the late J.D. Sumner.
Back to your problem. Although
"screamo" music isn't my favorite either, I have interviewed certain bands
that tend to fall into the arena of either "emo" or "screamo" music. Since
your son apparently suffers from an inability to control his rage, the
music he is involved with may be providing him with some measure of release.
It may represent a form of catharsis. To some degree, it may be a therapeutic
outlet for him, much like Primal Scream Therapy (as "out there," as it
may have seemed), undoubtedly was for so many distressed teens in the sixties.
On the other hand, I have found that with certain individuals, particularly
those suffering from the form of mental illness you said your son suffers
from (now, formally referred to as Bipolar Disorder), "screamo" music may
be an emotionally and spiritually revolving door, especially when the lyrics
are marked by hopelessness, fear and despair and offer no way out. When
you throw illegal drugs into the equation, things obviously take on an
even more chaotic dimension.
It doesn't sound like your
son is really "living out his dream." It sounds like he is living out his
nightmare, and it is now becoming your nightmare. Since he is no longer
under your roof, and he seems to have chosen to keep contact with you and
your husband at a minimum, there is little power or control at your disposal
to redirect him towards a more positive, constructive path. That's where
what I call "psychoPRAYERapy" comes in. I believe that the stress associated
with a son who is out of control is so intense that it requires parents
to undergo therapy just to cope with the stress.
Without seeing any of you
in a therapeutic setting, I can only throw out unconfirmed hypotheses concerning
the dynamics of your family. There may be some biochemical, genetic factors
involved, but this also feels like a control issue. I'm not sure what styles
of parenting your son was exposed to, and I don't automatically blame you
for the direction your son seems to be taking. However, if this, in any
way, is about your need to control him, your husband's need to control
him, and his apparently failing attempt to wrest control away from his
parents and take it into his own hands, this issue will need to be resolved.
No matter how infrequent your contact is with your son, the control issue,
if there is one, will interfere with progress if it is not adequately dealt
An appropriate level of
emotional involvement with your son will need to be negotiated, preferably
with the aid of a trained, highly skilled psychotherapist. If you and/or
your husbands are believers, as many gospel-music fans are, then prayer
will ultimately be your most powerful means of reaching your son. The spirit
of God intervenes in mysterious and powerful ways that should never be
underestimated. Hold your son up in prayer, do what you can to settle core
family issues (especially those centering around control) and then, under
the direction of your therapist, devise a plan of action for intervening
in your son’s life. If he can be stabilized with regard to his mood disturbance;
if he can be spared from mercilessness of drugs and the demon of despair;
his music will begin to become more of a source of therapy for him. I believe
that with the power of prayer, the undying support of family and friends,
and the possibilities associated with good therapy, "crushed pearls" and
crushed mothers-of-pearls can be completely restored.
Furthermore, I believe that
"screamo" music is ultimately transformed into "dreamo" music when the
artist is liberated from his or her nightmare and shown a vision of a promised
land-one that begins and ends with the free gift of eternal life and the
abundant life that Christ came to offer all who will humble themselves
before him. That is what I am praying for as it concerns you, your "crushed
pearl," and the undoubtedly imperfect, but well-meaning family that I believe
he belongs to.
If you are a musically-minded
person in distress, write Dr. BLT at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. B.L.Trivia Contest Winner
Last month, Dr. B.L.T. invited
readers to identify Rolling Stones song titles appearing in subheadings
and embedded in the body of his article, When the Stone Rolled from the
Tomb. This month we have a winner and he is:
DARRYL ENS of RICHMOND,
BRITISH COLUMBIA. DARRYL is a solo guitarist, and former member of
the Canadian Christian rock band, Samson. Congratulations,
Darryl! As the winner of the Dr. B.L.Trivia contest, you will recieve
a CD copy of When the Stone Rolled from the Tomb, the one-song soundtrack
to the article from the forthcoming CD, Stone-ground Dreams, a CD containing
songs about the Stones, written from a Christian perspective by the author
of the article.
Dr. BLT, aka Dr. Bruce
L. Thiessen, is a Christ-centered licensed clinical psychologist and university
instructor who specializes in the psychology of modern music. He
uses his original songs as well as those of other artists to address the
problems of his patients, including his biggest, sickest, most challenging
His face and name recognition,
particularly with teens, comes from his short part on a long Cake music
video--the Cake video for “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” that earned the band
a nomination for Ground Breaking Music Video of the Year on the 2002 MTV
Video Music Awards.