Letters for the week of March 24-30, 2004 

Cinema therapy, take two; gay theologians want their cake ... ; and yet more back and forth on the mental illness issue.

"So, How Do You Feel About That Scene?" Feature, 2/25

Thanks for the fine writing
You did go out on a limb to write the cinema therapy article, and I'm here to tell you that you retrieved some wonderful things out there. I was sitting at an outside table at the Montclair bakery, surrounded by others, and tears started leaking out of my eyes. I was not really prepared for this, and I abruptly packed up the paper and moved on away from there. I had to catch my breath before I went back in.

I've done some therapy under light hypnosis, and it surprises me what can come up in that state. Sure, the therapist may initially be "fishing," trying to link something, but invariably the inner landscape would reveal things that had meaning for me. I can't "will" meaning to happen, so I was impressed that these imaginary scenes had such power for me.

I can't agree with Dr. Goldenberg's criticisms of the therapy. Almost ANYTHING can be the launching pad for these kind of revelations, if you have two or more people who are willing to let it happen. Dr. Wolz would probably be an equally competent therapist if she used tea leaves or play therapy. It just happens that cinema is a good gateway for her to channel her talent.
Farrell Wills, Oakland

So, you free Saturday night?
I loved Justin Berton's article. It provided a compelling and personally revealing exploration of cinema therapy. With so many fly-by-night practices out there, I was pleased to see something that could be so easily accessible yet had real psychological underpinnings.
Christina Mona Stiegelmeyer, Walnut Creek

Don't quit your day job
I'm a middle school counselor and extreme movie buff. I really was starstruck by your piece. That would really be an enjoyable way of practicing my counseling skills with clients. I think my shingle will read "Dr. Paul ... Take One." What do you think?
Paul Cameron, Sainte Genevieve, MO

"Outing the Bible," Feature, 2/11/04

Yes, we're in the Bible, but not like they say
This Bible/homosexuality issue is tedious to me for several reasons.

I happen to think the Bible (New and Old Testaments) is fairly clear. Homosexuality is considered wrong ... a sin, whatever. That doesn't upset me too much because I am far from convinced that the Bible is the divine word of God (certainly not cover to cover). So I don't base my beliefs on Scripture.

However, those gays who want to remain Christians, and who want so much to believe that the Bible says it is okay to be gay, go to extraordinary lengths to interpret Scripture in a way that supports that belief. They will argue about the accurate translation of words or phrases based on the ancient Hebrew language; they will read between the lines and imagine all sorts of eroticism and hidden meanings; they will look at documents many scholars say are not authentic; and they make claims about relationships between Biblical characters that are mere speculation. Claiming that Timothy was Paul's lover is total speculation and is offensive to those whose acceptance we seek. It may be true, but why waste time with a theory that will never be proven? They make themselves look foolish, and hurt their credibility, when they try to qualify a fairly clear condemnation of homosexuality. For goodness' sake, to say that when the Bible condemns "exchanging natural relations for unnatural," it was condemning just heterosexuals who switched, and was not condemning homosexuals, is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard! Do they really believe the Sodom and Gomorrah thing was about being bad hosts?! Bless their hearts, they want so badly to believe the Bible accepts them and their sexual behavior.

It doesn't. Deal with it.

Letting go of the Bible as a divine guidebook is very hard. Expecting mainstream churches to do that is not realistic. It is ridiculous for these gay ministers and gay church members to be angry at their church for not accepting them. These queer theologians want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be embraced by a church or religion that bases its whole belief system on the Bible, so they want the Bible interpreted in a way that embraces homosexuality ... when it simply doesn't.

What is happening with the churches that are moving toward acceptance of homosexuality is they are evolving toward a spiritual philosophy that does not completely conform to the Bible. These churches concentrate on the general principles in the Bible about love and kindness and acceptance, and sort of "ignore" the Bible when it gets specific about the don'ts (which it does, over and over). Or they twist themselves in a knot trying to qualify it or explain it in a way that allows for their modern "compassionate" ideas. Maybe that is a good thing. But you cannot be angry or impatient with a church that simply wants to follow more of the Bible than you do. Instead of demanding that your church change its beliefs because you don't want to leave the church of your childhood, find a different church.

What happens, though, when the Bible becomes irrelevant? Without the Bible as a divine set of guidelines for living and as an explanation for our existence, churches will become just clumps of people who think alike spiritually based on their own ideas of right, wrong, and the universe, etc. (Actually, we already have that -- they are called "denominations.") Maybe that is okay, too.

I think we are all just guessing about the whole God-soul-afterlife thing, anyway. Sometimes I am amused, sometimes I am annoyed, by everyone trying to fight it out using the Bible ... when the Bible may not be the source of divine "TRUTH" in the first place. There have been so many translations and so much editing by so many men over so many centuries that we may never know what the original really said, or who really wrote what, and then there are the writings excluded for reasons ranging from scholarly to self-serving. Perhaps the reason the Bible is the cause of so much debate, disagreement, and angst is because its authors were not in agreement nor were they all divinely inspired. Perhaps.

Also, this movement by some gays to get gays to accept a view of sex and commitment that is different from the straight mainstream is just sleazy. They say gays don't have to embrace the conservative straight world's values when it comes to sex and relationships. It is nothing more than an attempt to give validity to a lifestyle of casual or loveless sex outside of a committed relationship. Sleazy. Period.

Too many gays are just about sex, and that is one reason why gays often look like perverts to the straight world. I find myself getting used to the fact that gays I have just met assume that, because I am gay, it is acceptable to start discussing sexual matters in an obscene manner. I realize that straight society has become more trashy, but if a straight man talked filthy to a woman he just met, he would get slapped in the face (I hope). Why should our standards be lower? When I went to a gay bookstore looking for Christmas cards about love and acceptance, I found instead Christmas cards with Santa Claus having sex with his reindeer.

Why should our standards be lower?
Glenn Mitchell, Orlando, FL

"The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum," Feature, 2/18

Thanks for being rational
Recently read your article and wanted to applaud you for writing so candidly what many people today do not want to hear about. If you haven't already, you can expect to receive rather harsh criticism from a variety of groups who purport to serve in the best interest of people with psych difficulties. Abuses surely are unacceptable; however, much of what I've read of late is dramatic, irrational, and unsophisticated. But the violence toward mental health workers is staggering at times, with very little protection for them/us. So thanks for taking a rational approach to the subject.
Dr. Troy Martinez, forensic and clinical psychologist, Wichita Falls, TX

A controversial claim
Although any death by violence is horrific and tragic, this article portrays all people with mental illness as violent and uncontrollable. From the grotesque caricature of a mentally ill psychiatric patient on the cover to unchallenged comments about dealing with violence as "part of the job" for people who work with the mentally ill, this article perpetuates misunderstanding of those with mental illness as violent, deranged, and in need of incarceration. The simple truth is that media, such as the Express, through ignorance and need to publish "interesting" and "dramatic" stories, turn to stories of the mentally ill that fit the stereotype but do not fit the reality.

Despite what is implied in the story, people with severe mental illness are no [more] likely to be violent than the general public. Many people diagnosed with mental illness go on to live full, rich, meaningful lives. They are employed in all realms of life, have families, contribute to society, and want to live without the unnecessary stigma and pervasive discrimination that are so rife in this culture.

The weekend this article was in print and on the racks at my campus, Dr. Courtney Harding, a renowned researcher and clinician in psychiatric rehabilitation, was speaking at the annual Symposium of the Institute for Mental Health and Wellness Education, Cal State Hayward, about the reality of recovery from severe mental illness. She shattered the myths of danger and chronic deteriorating illness, based on worldwide long-term longitudinal studies of people with diagnoses of schizophrenia. The work was not only with people who were hospitalized, but studied the lives of people with schizophrenia for up to thirty years after they had left hospital, thereby eliminating the "lens of bias" found in work done on only those who are seeking help or who are in need of involuntary treatment, the people who are in the system because they need substantial assistance.

Locally, many mental health clients and providers are working together to reduce and eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness in our community. They are working hard to counter the myths and stereotypes, to provide corrective information to providers, families, schoolchildren, the media, and many others through publications and an active speaker's bureau. Several client-run agencies can provide local understanding of these issues and show in vivid color that it is not just anonymous worldwide study participants who recover from severe mental illness and emotional crises, but neighbors, family members, community workers, mental health providers, teachers, janitors, students, co-workers, and friends have too.

If you want a truly "exciting" story to print, it is THIS story which is truly dramatic and telling. It also has the benefit of being the TRUTH.
Tracy Thode, San Leandro
Member, board of directors, Institute of Mental Health and Wellness Education; director, Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services

Editor's Note
The writer's claim that people with severe mental illness are no more likely to be violent than the general public is highly controversial. While we are aware of at least one study (HJ Steadman et al., Archives of General Psychiatry, 1998) that in part supports that claim, Steadman's study applied to patients who were largely free from substance-abuse problems and had been taking their medications. As John George staff psychiatrist Harold Cottman notes in the story, about half of the county hospital's patients have drug or alcohol abuse issues, and many are indigent and don't receive proper treatment. Furthermore, it has been documented in countless studies, in cities all around the world, that severely mentally ill people who don't get proper treatment, or who aren't taking their medications as indicated, are quite a bit more likely than the average citizen to harm others. In a 1992 American Psychologist article entitled "Mental Disorder and Violent Behavior," author Dr. John Monahan noted, "The data suggest that public education programs by advocates for the mentally disordered along the lines of 'people with mental illness are no more violent than the rest of us' may be doomed to failure. ... And they should: the claim, it turns out, may well be untrue." This excerpt, plus summaries and citations for the aforementioned studies, can be found on the Web site of the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center at PsychLaws.org/BriefingPapers/BP8.htm

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