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Ask the Rock Doc: Sound Advice 4 a Song
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr BLT

Some of the following content may be altered to protect the confidentiality of the distressed party and/or to offer certain psychological and spiritual insights, to the reader that may not otherwise be readily offered.

Dear Rock Doc:

I got your email address from my wife who is a Cake fan, and who saw you on one of their music videos. 'Tis the season to be haunted, and haunted I am.  I'm haunted by a disturbing childhood (to say the least) coupled with a troubling experience in the war, in which I, like another vet I recently read about in this column, was paralyzed in the Viet Nam war.

I fell apart lately, being consumed with haunting images, first of witnessing my father beating my mother and molesting my younger sister.  These were followed by a flood of memories and terrifying images of my experiences back in Nam.  If that weren't enough, my wife and I have been having problems.

She's like my mother---very rigid and stubborn.  We clash all the time because we're so different.  I finally convinced her to join me in therapy, but after the first session, she refused to return.  She says it's all my fault.  I thought the therapy session went well.

It started out great.

He welcomed us without showing any favoritism, he told us about our rights as patients; he explained the limits of confidentiality---and that didn't bother me a bit, I have nothing to hide; we discussed payment, fee and insurance issues and he let us sign up on a sliding scale, which was cool; he even talked about his policies on things
like phone accessibility, emergency procedures and his cancellation policy.  Actually, his cancellation policy kind of stunk to high heaven.  He said that, apart from an emergency, we would be obligated to pay if we didn't give him a 24-hour notice of cancellation.  But I kind of understand him on that, I mean who wants to be stiffed out of
the money and not have enough time to reschedule the session?

He said he would be using what he called an object relations model. Do you know what that is?  Anyway, he seemed genuine, and cool and everything.  He talked about some cool stuff too---stuff like differentiation of self, whatever that means; triangles, and emotional cutoff.  He said something about societal regression too.

He gave us some homework that involved both Sylvia and I doing something called a Genogram. I didn't really understand what that was all about.

My wife, Sylvia did say she might go if she gets to pick the therapist.  She knows a woman named Dr. Elaine Crowder.  She said she knew her from college and that she is grounded in Satir's Human Validation Model and that she also relies on theorists like Bowlby and Minuchin.

I resent the fact that she's trying to run the show.  This Elaine woman sounds okay, but I just resent the fact that it's Sylvia's way or the highway.

I've been tossing and turning at night, having nightmares, and I'm plagued with disturbing memories throughout the day.  My wife doesn't help a bit, only telling me to get on with things, and to "Get over it!"  Can you help with some songs and some sound advice, doc?

Haunted Hal

Dear Haunted Hal:

 All I can do is to try.  I'm terribly sorry that you had to witness your father beating your mother, and then molesting your younger sister.  If that weren't enough to cope with, I can't imagine how, in addition, you are forced to cope with this "flood of memories and terrifying images of your experiences back in Nam."  I'm not surprised that you and your wife are having problems.  Marriage is difficult enough, without all of this baggage that you came into the marriage with.  And I'm sure that your wife also dragged in more than her share of such baggage.  It's no wonder you feel as if you're heart is haunted.

To get you started with a song, here's a brand new song that you might be able to related to, having to do with a person suffering from mental anguish over memories that haunt him.  It's called:

 Hauntin' My Heart
Dr BLT copyright 2007 Smash Records

You share certain issues with the vet who previously wrote me, yet your situation is unique.   If you read that, then I'm sure you've come across this one:

Dr BLT cover tune

In terms of the whole therapy thing, I would first try to see if your wife would be willing to give the therapist you initially selected one more try.  If she agrees, but continues to want to switch therapists after the second visit, or if she refuses to go along with this plan, try something else.

This sort of compromise would allow the two of you to avoid a power struggle.  If it doesn't work out with the first therapist, I would recommend agreeing to go to Elaine for 6 sessions.  Once the 6 sessions are up, if you're not happy with the way its going, she could agree to see the therapist that you've already seen on a single occasion, or the two of you could seek out another professional altogether.  Oh, and by the way, if you cancel, remember to cancel within 24 hours of the session : )

I don't know enough about the therapist you've started seeing to be in a position to tell you whether he is good at what he does, but I do have a great deal of respect and admiration for object relations theory.  In fact, I rely on it quite a bit as it relates to the therapy I provide.

Object relations therapy may, in fact, be the optimal treatment for you and your present situation.

The therapist coming from such a perspective typically examines the marital relationship in terms of something called complementarity.  You said that you and your wife typically clash with one another, and objects relations theory would be good for discovering how you could begin to compliment one another with your differences, instead of simply clashing with one another.

It sounds like it's not only Sylvia that has developed an inflexible way of relating to you and interacting with others.  It seems like the system, as a whole, has grown fixed and inflexible.  Stability requires what Goldenberg and Goldenberg refer to as "flexibility of roles."  These authors aptly point out that "What begins with a breakdown in complementarity may lead to interpersonal conflict within the family and ultimately to intrapsychic conflict in one or more individual members."

Framo believed that such interpersonal conflict keeps going through the process of projection.  By projection, Framo means the following: That which is deemed unacceptable within the individual by that very individual, is projected onto a spouse or onto the children in a dysfunctional household.  For example, you don't like the side of you that is controlling, so you project it onto the other person and begin complaining about how controlling that individual is.

Also, I cannot stress enough, the role that interactions with parental figures, is playing into the present situation that surrounds you.  It sounds like the essential mirroring by parents that Kohut speaks about did not happen in your household, or happened in a way that left you stuck in terms of emotional development.

Mirroring is the first activity children are exposed to that involves communication with mother and child.  When a child smiles, for example, an effective mirroring response on the part of the mother is to pay attention to such a smile, and to respond in kind, with a smile.  When a child's mother responds by ignoring the smile, or returning that smile with a scowl, the mirroring activities that are supposed to give the child a sense of security actually produce insecurity and intense anxiety.

It generates what Murray Bowen referred to as anxious attachment.  If you were abused by your parents, it would naturally (though actually unnaturally) produce such anxious attachment in which you would cling to the abusive parent.  The ensuing relationship would be marked by fusion or symbiosis and would make it very difficult for you to ever establish a sense of autonomy and independence.

This process probably didn't begin with your relationship with your mother.  It was probably well established through what has become known as the multigenerational transmission process.  This is basically the build up of anxiety and dysfunctional ways of processing such anxiety over several generations.

This is where the Genogram, or the family maps would come in handy. It would allow you to get a good sense of your family background, your wife's family background, and the map would allow you to explore this transgeneralizational model.  It would help you understand the broader context in which your problems developed.

Virginia Satir's model is also a good one, so having to change to a new therapist with your wife on board could be a great move if she continues to refuse to see your present therapist.

Satir has introduced the Human Validation Model.  In such a model, the therapist's role is to bring the family to a point of homeostasis and balance by bringing out inherent potential that may be covered up with conflict and symbiotic fusion.  This would be accomplished through what Goldenberg and Goldenberg identifies as "Clear, congruent
communication" aimed at balancing and nurturing the family system.

This is a humanistic approach, emphasizes the free expression of emotions that have been bottled up.  And, why, you may ask, do people keep such emotions locked up?  Well, when one keeps his/her emotions to him/herself, many times he or she does so in accordance with unspoken rules that exist in the family and which perpetuate the
symbiosis.  Satir focuses on eight aspects of the self and these include the following:  the physical; the intellectual; the emotional; the interactional; the contextual (involving such factors as colors, sound, light, temperature, movement, space and time; nutritional and spiritual. Someone who follows her model would typically explore all of these
areas.  It's an exceedingly holistic approach.

It's also great that this therapist has elected to include techniques borrowed from Salvador Minuchin.  He effected change by introducing structural change into the family.

Sometimes houses need to be remodeled and sometimes, families do to. Sometimes even the restructuring process itself fosters positive change because it frees individuals in the family from doing "the same old thing," and falling into "the same old destructive patterns" of interaction.

In addition to family treatment, it is likely that you require individual therapy.  I never form definitive diagnoses independently of having examined a person, or a family, but one of the diagnoses I would entertain for you would be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those memories you are having are, without a doubt, excruciatingly painful, and incredibly disruptive, likely in every area of your life.  You will need to explore those memories, face the music, no matter how disturbing, and explore underlying emotions, all within the context of a supportive therapeutic environment.  Believe it or not, in the long run, avoiding the memories takes a great deal more energy than facing them.

Then, last, but certainly not least, I would recommend constant prayer.  If you'll notice, in the psychoPRAYERapy that I came up with, the PRAYER part is in the center, and it is capitalized.  And it is capitalized, and centered for a reason.  It is central to the recovery and healing process of any individual and any family.  You can talk to a psychologist until your faces are blue, but unless the psychological healing is accompanied by a divine touch of grace, and by the hand of the creator, the healing, and the recovery will be incomplete.  God wants to replace "haunted" with "healing."  God wants to make whole the places in your soul that are now holes.

I want to wish you Happy Halloween, not because I celebrate evil, or the ghosts and goblins that crop up every October 31.  I celebrate Halloween, not for in the demons that haunt you even as we speak. When I celebrate Halloween, I celebrate the blood, but not the blood flowing from the face of a Halloween mask, the blood that Jesus shed
for you and for me for the atonement of sins.  When I celebrate Halloween, I celebrate that God has conquered evil, once and for all by the healing power of the blood of Jesus Christ.

May that power heal what is now haunted.

***If you are a musician in distress, or the family member of friend of one, contact Dr BLT at or visit:

If you are a musician in distress, or if you are concerned about one, please contact me, Dr BLT at  or visit me at:



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