Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spies among us, our lack of privacy

"The real voyage of discovery
consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having fresh eyes."
Marcel Proust

Did you know that we can be spied on and we can spy on each other? Even though I am not usually a suspicious person, I have learned that we are all vulnerable to our privacy being violated frequently.  Watch this recent Vice episode with Edward Snowden for more details: https://www.facebook.com/vicenews/videos/600211946805426/

We live in a country and in a world that once gave us the illusion that we had privacy, just enough so that we could act without immediate judgment or witness.  These days, however, privacy is a thing of the past.  The Golden Age of Technology, as wonderful as it is, has changed all that, and breaches to and betrayals of our seeming privacy and safety happen more often that we know.  

Any of us who use or carry cell phones, iPads, and computers allow the National Security Agency (NSA) and other groups and people to enter our worlds, not just our thinking and feeling worlds, but our worlds in action: where we go, what kind of music we like, where we shop, what we read, data about family, friends and romances, and other tiny details about our everyday lives that shouldn’t really matter to anyone but to us, and perhaps to our loved ones.  The NSA now has access to our lives almost all of the time.

Whether you call Edward Snowden a saint or a criminal, he explains how we no longer have much privacy whatsoever. By collecting metadata, our country may not even be able to process it easily, and if the producers of Vice can be believed, the NSA’s data collection has never once prevented a terrorist attack. 

Presidents and other political structures will not stop this spying on so many citizens because if they do and a terrorist attack occurs, they will be blamed. Some think this data collection is a way for us to be safer instead of its being a government process that can create more danger for us all.

No longer can we talk or joke aloud about how we feel because data is collected through our iPhones which carry two cameras and a microphone.  How do we live contently in a world like this?

What does not having privacy do to our minds and our hearts? We cannot develop our creativity without sometimes wandering through the darkness.  Adolescents can no longer adventure easily through their reckless years without being continuously watched. And, journalists can no longer assure sources that their valuable data will be kept confidential.

However, technology can be extremely important when our phones record crime, like when police attack brown and black boys and men.  Or, when college students record rapes of drunken, adolescent victims. But, life gets insane when our government and businesses intrude so far into our lives that everything that we do or say might just be observed.

Some speculate that we will be living in a police state soon.  I hate to think that.  But, I wonder how we will evolve without knowing clearly that we can share some confidences safely, especially during times of crisis or distress when we need discreet and careful support and guidance? Without this possibility, few of us can remain healthy.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Counseling discrimination: the dark ages have descended

The dark ages have once again descended upon Tennessee.

To summarize: “Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday signed into law a controversial bill that says no licensed counselor or therapist must serve a client whose ‘goals, outcomes or behaviors’ conflict with the counselor’s ‘sincerely held principles’ — a measure the American Counseling Association had denounced as a ‘hate bill’ against gay and transgender people.” (http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2016/04/27/haslam-signs-controversial-bill-giving-therapists-protections/83509448/) This law is not controversial.  It is a travesty.

Imagine that you are a LGBTQ child from a low income family living in the Tennessee hills.  Imagine that you are depressed, even somewhat suicidal, and when your good Christian parents find out about your distress, they send you to the only counselor in town.

When you enter the counselor’s waiting room, you notice books about Jesus, positive thinking, faith and will power.  Counseling is supposed to be a supportive, safe space where you should be able to say anything that comes to your mind, where you can build trust with a confidential counselor who can help you understand yourself and the world around you so that you can find healthy ways to live, even with depression.  

However, if you tell this counselor that you are gay, bisexual or transgender, she may want you to embark on a journey of conversion or reparative therapy for your LGBTQ issues, possibly neglecting your depression and suicidality as secondary to the issue of homosexuality. Such a counselor should be reported to and reprimanded by the Tennessee Health Related Boards but you don’t know that as a child.  You aren’t even sure you want to live, and this lady is telling you that homosexuality is a sin and in order to feel better, you must change who you are. 

If you as this child asks that the counselor to treat you in a gay-affirming manner, the counselor,  who should be your thread of hope, can now tell you, because of this legislation, that she has decided not to work with you because of her “sincerely held principles,” her thinking that your sexuality is problematic.  Some might say if you are suicidal, she has to work with you, but not unless you are in imminent danger of hurting yourself or others.  Irregardless, who would want to work with this kind of counselor anyway? Someone in trouble, that’s who.

So imagine if you had begun counseling with this person and had worked with her for a year already before you told her that you are LGBTQ - after trust has been built, after you have depended on her for so long, a lifeline for you.  Then, she may refer you to another counselor because of the same issues.  Such a betrayal by a counselor is traumatic and tragic to an already struggling child.

A young LGBTQ child may not have the resources or the transportation to find any other avenues for mental health counseling in rural Tennessee.  And, if the child reports to their parents what the counselor  has said, they may agree with the counselor because they also don’t like the fact that their child seems to be oh, horror of horrors, LGBTQ.  They, too, may be uneducated about any other healthy alternatives for counseling assistance.

All this because some Tennessee legislators and the governor have proposed and passed this disgusting bill into law. 

One mental health advocate, Sita Diehl, Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, states,“This legislation flies in the face of professional ethics. Helping professionals make considered decisions about who they can serve - and who they should refer to others - based on their areas of professional competency, not their personal beliefs.  Referral is a skill that requires sensitivity and professional judgement. The law is a blunt instrument that has no place in this delicate process. I’m truly disappointed that Governor Haslam has seen fit to besmirch our state by signing this bill into law.” 

What’s a child or even an adult to do? Some counseling not only reinforces the shame that the child or adult may already feel but can add to their depression and suicidality, figuring that if even a counselor says they are a sinner and need to change, or go to hell, then life is not worth living.  They may die.

Is this what we want for Tennessee and its citizens?  Absolutely not, most of us counselors say.  But, hardly anyone is listening. 

Not only is there no need for this law, it is a disgrace to Tennesseans.