Therapy Student

Month: July, 2014

Children at the United States-Mexico Border

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 2014), the human cost of war displaces an average of 32,200 people per day. While research in the past has primarily focused on identifying and treating that post-war mental health implications of individuals, it has largely neglected the needs of families (Shick, Morina, Klaghoer, Schnyder, & Műller, 2013; Weine, 2011; Nickerson, Bryant, Brooks, Silove, & Chen, 2011).The immediate implications of exposure to war-related trauma manifests in PTSD symptoms such as intrusive and involuntary thoughts, avoidance of feelings or event-related reminders, negative alterations in cognition and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity (APA, 2013). The long-term implications, on the other hand, manifest in an inability to maintain steady employment, pursue an education, engage in health interpersonal relationships, and dependence on substances (Min, Farkas, Minnes, & Singer, 2007; Lo & Cheng, 2007). The loss and grief associated with war extends beyond the individual and influences the entire family (Nickerson, et al., 2011). While direct exposure to war has a harmful cumulative effect on the mental health of children (Catani, Jacob, Schauer, Kohila, & Neuner, 2008), parental response to war also contributes to the development of PTSD and anxiety in children (Thabet, Tawahina, El Sarraj, & Vostanis, 2008).

I Stand with Refugee Children

The recent crisis of children on the United States-Mexico border, for example, illustrates the deep-rooted consequences associated with a lack of universal definitions. The act of labeling these children as refugee or immigrant has individual, familial, national, and international repercussions.

According to the Refugee Convention (United Nations, 1951) a refugee is anyone “owning to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owning to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

If these children were classified as refugees, they would be endowed with rights and privileges associated with seeking protection from harm. The United Nations (2002) definition of immigrant, on the other hand, is a “non-resident who enters a country with a view of establishing residence.” It is radically different and seemingly allows nations to independently define immigrant. If these children were classified as immigrants, they would not be endowed with the same rights and privileges granted to refugees.

The familial consequences have further repercussions that are associated with international policies. The definition of refugee falls within international humanitarian law, also known as the law of war, which is responsible for the protection of civilians exposed to conflict. If the children at the United States-Mexico border were classified as refugees, for example, they would be entitled to rights outlined by international humanitarian law. These liberties include an inherent right to life and identity, which includes family relations, without unlawful interference (UNHCR, 1990). The United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2013) defines family as a household consisting of either a married couple without children, a married couple with one or more unmarried children, a father with one or more unmarried children, or a mother with one or more unmarried children. While this definition seems comprehensive, it is not universal. In the social sciences, family is often synonymous with the parent-child relationship. The most comprehensive definition of the parent-child relationship, according to Anderson, Riesch, Pridham, Lutz, and Becker (2010), is the connection between parent and child that develops as a result of behaviors and emotions.

If the children are classified as immigrants, on the other hand, their liberties would fall under international human rights law. The most direct manner of implementing and enforcing human rights law is through national and local legislation (Weissbrodt, Ni Aolảin, Fitzpatrick, & Newman, 2009). In the United States, Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be responsible for enforcement of human rights law.

Excerpt from “Through My Parents Eyes: The Refugee As a Therapist”

What happens to a family nearly twenty years after the guns fall silent? The immediate consequences of war are obvious. They manifest in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). The long-term consequences are not obvious. They manifest in substance abuse and dependence, clinical depression, and perhaps most importantly, dysfunction in family relationship dynamics and the parent-child relationship. The lack of focus on the impact of war on family relationship dynamics is problematic.

According to family systems theory, family members influence each other’s behaviors and emotions. Regardless of whether the father or mother has been diagnosed with PTSD, the entire family will be experience the symptoms of withdrawal, depression, anger, and loss of identity. Children in particular are at risk for developing secondary traumatization as a result of being exposed to parents diagnosed with psychiatric problems as a result of war. The general long-term consequences of secondary traumatization in children has been described extensively in research literature. As adults, these children tend to have dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, are unable to cope with external stressors, and use substances to numb feelings of emptiness.

The symptoms of secondary traumatization are not out of the ordinary. They are similar to the primary symptoms of PTSD. The difference, however, is in that these children have often not been directly exposed to traumatic events. They were not exposed to shelling, did not witness murder, and were not tortured. They lost their homes and identities, which is different from typical experiences associated with war, but nonetheless cataclysmic.

We arrived in the United States on a hot and humid July afternoon. I was in awe of the yellow taxis at the airport. It was how they were portrayed on television. We were greeted by a man who feign smile, had tumbleweed hair, gold rings on his fingers, and made many promises. I did not like him.

I knew that what was portrayed on television was fiction and nothing would ever be the same once we arrived at the new apartment. I have described the apartment for numerous years and grown tired of trying to illicit vivid images. It was a run-down red-brick multi-family apartment building located a few blocks from a police station. There were constant disturbances and the police was called nearly every day. The neighbors were drug addicts, homeless men and women, and squatters. These were all images representative of the low and unfortunate that had given up on life. I had not given up on life. I was not used to failure and even as a child, I knew that I did not belong in this run-down red-brick multi-family prison. I wish that I could say that everything changed at that moment and that I committed to a better life through the pursuit of education. It did not. I was torn between being a child and parent.

I remember my first day of school in the United States. It was early in the morning and my father was walking me to the bus stop as I nervously held onto a small plastic bound German to English dictionary. I spoke a little English but not enough to effectively communicate with others. I was excited to see the yellow school bus, which I had previously only seen on the television. I nervously stepped into the bus when it arrived. I could see different faces of children walking down the narrow isle of the bus when one suddenly exclaimed, “You are gay!” I shyly smiled, and embarrassingly replied, “Thank you.” I sat down alone in the back of the bus on the pleather seats, opened the small plastic bound dictionary, and turned to “g.” A tear began streaming down my face as I read the definition. The thoughts inside my head began to culminate and fear surrounded the possibility that living in the United States would not be different from living in Germany.

I was afraid that the stigma of immigrants and refugees, which I had been exposed to on a daily basis, was not different. It was perhaps the first time when I began to question the ideal of the “American Dream” and recognize that hatred is an international language.

The Refugee as a Therapist

In an effort to improve my writing, which is one of many things I am looking to improve, I have begun drafting a paper entitled: The Refugee as a Therapist. There is an enormous amount of literature on the clinical implications on working with immigrants and refugees but none that I have been able to find on the refugee as a therapist. This is an excerpt from what I have written thus far that is especially meaningful, to me that is.

“Whether in a romantic or professional relationship, I consistently replay difficult moments not with the intention to resolve them but with almost the consequence of punishing myself. Being a therapist does not make the matter easier because I am aware of what is happening on a conscious level but unable to stop it on a subconscious level. In other words, as a therapist I should be more accountable for my actions and thoughts than the layperson. This cycle of punishment is never ending but infused with brief moments of compassion and caring that wash away the anxiety of having to maintain a façade of perfection and solitude. The days pass like grains of sand in an hourglass of time, and while each is precious, I fail to take advantage of each opportunity presented. These opportunities are not professional. They are personal. The destructive cycle of indifference rears its ugly head once again and it becomes a never ending battle to subdue my subconscious voices of imperfection, solitude, and perhaps more importantly, desire.” 

Cornell University Response to “Facebook Experiment”

After several hours of furiously writing an angry e-mail Cornell University, I received a reply.

I am not necessarily satisfied by the response but the institution, at this point, is doing damage control. They recognize that their involvement in this matter was detrimental to its long-held traditions and the utmost importance placed on human rights by various national and international organizations. In the end, I do not think that this conversation is over. It is just the beginning to a public relations nightmare.

Cornell University Logo


FOR RELEASE:  June 30, 2014

Media statement on Cornell University’s role in Facebook ‘emotional contagion’ research

ITHACA, N.Y. – Cornell University Professor of Communication and Information Science Jeffrey Hancock and Jamie Guillory, a Cornell doctoral student at the time (now at University of California San Francisco) analyzed results from previously conducted research by Facebook into emotional contagion among its users. Professor Hancock and Dr. Guillory did not participate in data collection and did not have access to user data. Their work was limited to initial discussions, analyzing the research results and working with colleagues from Facebook to prepare the peer-reviewed paper “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks,” published online June 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science-Social Science.

Because the research was conducted independently by Facebook and Professor Hancock had access only to results – and not to any data at any time – Cornell University’s Institutional Review Board concluded that he was not directly engaged in human research and that no review by the Cornell Human Research Protection Program was required.

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers