HB 1840 is nanny-state meddling and legalized assault against Tennessee's LGBTQIA+ communities

The practice of psychotherapy is not for sissies. An agreement to engage in a therapeutic relationship becomes, in many instances, an invitation for one human being to accompany another into the darkest, most terrifying spaces in the cosmos: the depths of the human psyche. It's a private space, the boundary of which is held and protected by the therapist so that the patient can explore those depths as far as they choose to without harm.

That's why I find myself at odds these days with the Tennessee Legislature and with Governor Haslam, who recently signed HB1840 -- the Counseling Discrimination bill -- into law. With his refusal to veto this bill, Gov. Haslam took us outside the boundaries of reasonable rules of practice into nanny-state meddling and legalized assault against the LGBTQIA+ community.

The state of Tennessee requires that I have a license to practice therapy. To maintain that license I have to play by the rules, which include completing a minimum number of continuing education (CE) hours every year. Not that many years ago, rules for professional counselors, marriage and family therapists and pastoral counselors were amended to require that 3 clock hours of professional ethics be included in the total number of hours required in each 2-year license renewal cycle.

Ironic, isn't it. My practice board (the members of which are generally appointed by the Governor) seems to value ethics competency enough to call them out specifically in the rules. Yet the Governor and legislators in Tennessee can make a law that specifically invalidates the codes of ethics for which professionals are held accountable.

Why do we have professional practice boards? Here's what the state of Tennessee says:

The mission of each board is to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans by requiring those who practice health care professions within this state to be qualified.

The mission of each board is to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans by requiring those who practice health care professions within this state to be qualified. - See more at: https://www.tn.gov/health/section/health-professional-boards#sthash.e3MVE7yX.dpuf
The mission of each board is to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans by requiring those who practice health care professions within this state to be qualified. - See more at: https://www.tn.gov/health/section/health-professional-boards#sthash.e3MVE7yX.dpuf
The mission of each board is to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans by requiring those who practice health care professions within this state to be qualified. - See more at: https://www.tn.gov/health/section/health-professional-boards#sthash.e3MVE7yX.dpuf

In other words, professional rules and standards are meant to protect the citizens using professional services. So why did Gov. Haslam sign a bill that changes the rules to protect therapists, instead, thus demonizing a specific subset of citizens?

Of course, supporters still insist that the bill also protects citizens needing counseling services.

Just days before Gov. Haslam signed HB 1840 into law, NPR's Steve Inskeep talked him on Morning Edition's special broadcast from Knoxville. During the interview, Haslam posed a question that I think is crucial to the whole discussion on HB 1840:

HASLAM: So on the therapist bill - I mean, the American Counseling Association says that you should always counsel from a valueless position. In other words, you don't put your own values into the conversation. You're there to help. I personally wonder, like - I think regardless of whether you're a religious person or not, everybody comes into every conversation with a particular worldview and things that you believe are right or wrong. And so I think the question is can you counsel from a totally non-value-based position?

When I heard him say this, I actually gave Haslam a spontaneous thumbs-up. What a great question! It goes right to the heart of the whole discussion about HB 1840. How can you counsel from a totally non-value-based position?

If you are a mental health professional, you have likely (I hope!) given huge amounts of time to study, contemplate, and consult with experienced practitioners on this very question. You think about the answer from your first day of professional training until you retire from practice...and maybe even beyond that. Really, can a human being do anything from a totally non-value-based position?

My answer is, we can't.

What we can do, though, is to cultivate awareness of our own values and worldviews. We can discover from the patient what they need to make the therapeutic space safe enough for them to do their psychological work. We can learn how to respectfully explore the subjective experience of people we see, rather than make people into objects. We can stay aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise when we're with someone, and explore these in self-analysis and with peers and supervisors to identify biases and unhealed aspects of ourselves that may create barriers to healing for the patient.

A decision about whether or not we can work together is best made collaboratively by me and the person seeking help. The standards of practice in my profession have always included ways to help people find the best care possible, even if it isn't from me. Respectful referral in a way that does not harm the patient is not a big mystery to those of us who do this work. We don't need interference from politicians to get it done.

One of the best ways we, as helpers, can be professionally accountable to the public is to take full responsibility for our own psychological health and development. That includes personal work that can take us into the dark and terrifying spaces of our own psyches.

Therein lies the gift, I think, that mental health practitioners of all kinds can offer to the world. Doing such work with ourselves and others allows us to see that discovery and full integration of human experience, no matter how dark and terrifying, is possible. Such a process, for one thing, liberates us from the inevitability of projecting our own fears onto others, seeing them as real, then needing to enact hateful, discriminatory legislation to protect us from terrors we have only imagined as out there.


See these related articles:

Counseling bill detrimental to clients' health (Letitia Flores, May 2, 2016 / Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Message from ACA CEO Richard Yep Regarding Tennessee HB1840 (American Counseling Association, April 27, 2016)

TN's HB 1840 Negatively Impacts the Mental Health of LGBTQ Youth (Statement from The Trevor Project)

Bill Would Discriminate Against Vulnerable Patients (Dianne Bradley, April 5, 2016 in The Tennessean)

Terrorism, Shared Trauma and Citizenship 2.0

Less than two months after 9/11, I had the opportunity to hear Vamik Volkan speak on terrorism, religious and ethnic identity issues, and mourning over loss in the wake of this shared national group trauma. So, I couldn't be happier that Dr. Volkan will be in Knoxville on October 26th to present a conference on Terrorism and Its Effects on Politics and Society – the morning session of which is open to the public. He will focus on topics from his latest book, Enemies on the Couch: A Psychopolitical Journey Through War and Peace.

The opening chapters of Enemies on the Couch trace the evolution of psychopolitical thought from its more narrow focus on individual growth and development to expansion of our understanding of large group trauma and international relations.

In his books, Volkan writes of both popular and professional resistance to ideas about how we come to identify others as enemies or friends, how we engage in relationships with them, and how the effects of external, historical trauma are passed on to the children of those who suffered the consequences directly. But the idea of historical trauma has, for some time, also been acknowledged among people and groups who have experienced its intergenerational effects.

I became aware of this when I practiced in New Mexico in the 1990's. There, many Native Americans were already working with the notion of historical trauma to heal themselves and their communities from traumatic effects of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual genocide, endured for more than 500 years, and imposed under European and American colonialist policy.

Here in the South (and elsewhere) descendants of both slaves and slave holders now use a "transforming historical harms" framework to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the history of slavery in the United States.

Professional attitudes began to change in a concrete way, says Volkan, with the initiation of a series of dialogues facilitated by the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Psychiatry and Foreign Affairs between Egyptians and Israelis from 1980-1985. He describes the dialogue process, and his participation as a facilitator, in fascinating, inspiring detail.

After 9/11, the International Psychoanalytic Association formed a Terror and Terrorism Study Group. In 2011, the American Psychoanalytic Association's outgoing president Prudence Gourgeuchon urged psychoanalysts to be more active in providing information regarding the human behavior behind traumatic events lest statements by people with less knowledge prevail. 

In a 2007 essay about my own shift toward using psychoanalytic ideas to understand the world beyond the consulting room, I wrote: "The space between changing the world one consciousness at a time and influencing social change on a larger scale has always seemed like a huge leap." 

Hearing Dr. Volkan in 2001 (and several times thereafter), I have relied on his work as a major source of information for my continuing professional interest in the transformation and healing of collective trauma. I also use it to inform my day-to-day citizenship, and my participation in social and environmental justice projects.

So, yes, I see knowledge of political psychology as having very practical applications. What attracts me or you to a specific issue or political position? Why do political relationships become so polarized and unmovable? What are the psychological dynamics that shape and drive relationships between leaders and followers? It’s possible to shed more light on such questions when a psychological perspective becomes part of the exploration.

More and more it seems to me that the space between changing the world one consciousness at a time and social change on a larger scale isn't so huge after all.

If you can be in Knoxville on October 26th, I hope you will join my colleagues and me to hear what Vamik Volkan has to say about terrorism -- a topic about which many Americans have fearful concerns -- and how shared traumas such as 9/11 impact our politics and social fabric. 

For more information on the conference:

If you are on Facebook, you can go to the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society's event page for Terrorism and Its Effects on Politics and Society. People may register at the door, but can take advantage of a lower registration fee if they sign up by October 22nd.

Download the registration form for the public session, or

Download the professional participant brochure and registration form at the APS website: scroll down to the link under Part 2. (CE's available for professionals attending the full conference!)

Here are some links to Dr. Volkan's earlier books:

The Need to Have Enemies and Allies: From Clinical Practice to International Relationships (1988),

Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism (1998),

Blind Trust: Large Groups and Their Leaders in Times of Crisis and Terror (2004), and

Killing in the Name of Identity: A Study of Bloody Conflicts (2006).


Embedded link correction, January 24, 2015.

Sharing Atoms in the Fire of Light

"So many millions of info-bits on the Internet," I'm thinking, and then wondering, "what led me to this one?" Maybe a more important question: what made me zero in on this one and let all the others move in and then out of focused attention?

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto's time-lapse map of the 2,053 nuclear explosions that shook the Earth between 1945 and 1998 certainly set off a lot of thoughts, feelings and questions for me this morning. None of them were things I had not thought, not felt, not questioned before. (See my August 6, 2010 post: "The Bomb"s at 65.) In a way, perhaps, Hashimoto's art has brought it all more profoundly into my body.



A couple of experiences with this video today stand out.

The flashes of light and sound representing each detonation evoked the feel of a gaming arcade, or maybe a casino, pure entertainment in the zone of things imaginary. At the same time, the connection of the flashes on the map to another human being's home place was not lost on my heart. The white-light flash on the screen beneath the cross-hairs over Hiroshima sucked time, along with my mind, into a six-decade implosion. For a second I was simultaneously in the rooms where generals gave the destruct order, in the cockpit of the Enola Gay, and on the ground with WTF-amazement at my fiery ascension into the poisonous mushroom.

A few years pass in the upper right hand margin of the video before I can make sense of the flags, beeps, tones, pulses, flashes and numbers emerging in front of me.

My mind reorganizes. It occurs to me how far some of the flashes on the map are from the capitols of the countries that exploded them. How foolish to think that a nuclear explosion in a sparsely populated area would not have consequences.

What is the source of this privilege, this arrogance (or pathetic mindlessness) that could possibly endorse such destruction inside or outside of its own boundaries, against its own (or other) species? It would have to be people who are totally disconnected from laws of nature, people who, blinded by the superpower of fear and loss, have forgotten that what we do to others, we do to ourselves.

Perhaps it's not that Hashimoto's art brought my nuclear thoughts, feelings and questions more profoundly into my body, but that his interpretation put me more profoundly in touch with something that was already there. After all, the atoms in the bombs and the atoms in my body are the same, all connected, all communicating, all the time.

When the US dropped that bomb on Hiroshima, it dropped on me, though I wasn't yet born. The cells that would grow and develop as a vessel for this local self I know as "me" already held the memory of that nuclear holocaust, and have no doubt reverberated with every explosion since, though well beyond conscious awareness...until now.

Sunset at White Sands National Monument, south of the "Trinity" site in New Mexico where the United States detonated the first atomic bomb in 1945. [Photo credit: Cathie Bird]

And so I renew my questions with a louder voice: Who is really the scariest bomb maker? I think a case could be made that it's the folks who have exploded the most bombs, the people who dropped the first ones on unsuspecting citizens of someone else's country.

But here in this first week of 2012, another question comes to mind: What if we as a species misread the impulses that led us to build such things as bombs in the first place? What if the seed of the bomb is our own atomic not-yet-conscious memory of the life-giving Big Bang? It wouldn't be the first time that humankind misunderstood the cohesive evolutionary forces of love, light and life and chose instead a path of undoing.

What if the explosion of light we are driven to seek and give form on Earth is the spiritual fire, the atomic essence of our true Selves?



Ouch! I had really enjoyed reading Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's blog -- Who's Afraid of Social Democracy? -- for the past year or so, and had subscribed to it via email to be notified of new posts. She wrote about politics and culture in our modern world with a psychoanalytic eye on things. It also seemed to me that she managed to embed a clear, vital spirit in her writing, which is why the news of her death took me so much by surprise, I think. Today, Dominique Browning cross-posted a tribute on Young-Bruehl's own blog, and I thought I'd share it here.

On Thursday night I went to a performance of Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha, about the early life of Gandhi. I left in a trance, spellbound by the music and the puppetry. In front of Lincoln Center a large crowd had gathered; it took me a moment to recognize the barricades, the police vans lining Broadway, the gorgeous blue-green sheen of a large puppet of the Statue of Liberty, covering her eyes in shame, or was it misery? It was a peaceful demonstration; the protestors were chanting; it seemed as if sidewalk had become proscenium. The audience surged forward for another performance. Several people were standing at the entrance to the opera house, giving away copies of a broadsheet: The Occupied Wall Street Journal. I took one, and went home.

I was restless that night, even though it was late; I couldn't sleep. Glass's music is lyrical and lulling and I kept humming fragments that bubbled up. So I sat and read The Occupied Journal. I began thinking, intensely, of my friend Elisabeth, who has written so much about revolution and democracy. Elisabeth was due to arrive on Sunday for a week of lectures and research work in the Winnicott archives, an enormous project into which she had just thrown herself with her usual whole-hearted, single-minded absorption. I kept thinking, as I read the Occupied, how much she would enjoy the essays in the paper--the entire movement--and how much I would enjoy talking to her about its profound significance. I set the old-fashioned broadsheet on top of a pile of books and magazines I had put aside to share with her when she arrived.

Early the next morning came the terrible, choked phone call from Elisabeth's beloved spouse, Christine Dunbar, that Elisabeth had suddenly collapsed and died as they were walking home from a concert.

Read the whole post at www.slowlovelife.com

You can also read Browning's tribute at Who's Afraid of Social Democracy?


What Happened to Obama’s Passion? - NYTimes.com

Drew Westen's latest article in the New York Times is well worth reading -- so good that I even tweeted it to @WhiteHouse:

When Barack Obama rose to the lectern on Inauguration Day, the nation was in tatters. Americans were scared and angry. The economy was spinning in reverse. Three-quarters of a million people lost their jobs that month. Many had lost their homes, and with them the only nest eggs they had. Even the usually impervious upper middle class had seen a decade of stagnant or declining investment, with the stock market dropping in value with no end in sight. Hope was as scarce as credit.

In that context, Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety.

via www.nytimes.com

Westen is a professor of psychology at Emory University and the author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.”

After reading Westen's OpEd today, I found it interesting to review these articles from 2007, the year The Political Brain was published:

Book Review: Drew Westen's "The Political Brain" (Daily Kos)

Stop Making Sense (David Brooks)

Dissecting the Political Brain of David Brooks (Drew Westen in response to a review by David Brooks)


Joel Weinberger: The Dark Side of the Political Personality Redux: Weiner, Schwarzenegger, and Edwards

I haven't had time to post much lately, but questions about political personalities have certainly have certainly been on my mind the past few weeks. I generally find the media's obsession with stories such as Donald Trump, Sara Palin, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards and Anthony Weiner have recently inspired annoying. But looking at such things from a perspective of psyche and culture is much less so for me. That's why I found this piece by Joel Weinberger--in response to the coverage of Schwarzeneggar, Edwards and Weiner--interesting enough to post as a link:

Let me briefly review the psychological and emotional reasons that can lead to this kind of behavior and why politicians are more likely to have these characteristics. The interested reader is also referred to my previous column for a bit more detail. Space prevented then and prevents now a comprehensive review but here it is in a nutshell: There are four psychological factors that make this behavior likely; politicians are likely to have all four. These are: Narcissism, Power Motivation, High Risk Taking, and a False Self.

via www.huffingtonpost.com

When I'm thinking about behavior of leaders and those who follow them, I find the works of Kohut, Winnicott (quoted by Weinberger in his article) and Lacan (now that I've thought more about his theories) to help organize my contemplations.

Weinberger does not include a link to his earlier article on John Edwards, so I'll include it  here.

Resistance to Change: a key from cognitive neuroscience (and psychoanalysis!)

I got some links from Joe Brewer at Cognitive Policy Works today that included this video presentation on what needs to happen in order to bring about change in behaviors that are harming people and nature. Joe focuses on some key ideas from cognitive neuroscience that I'll be weaving in with whatever I write about my earth and psyche research project. I decided to post this so I can link back to it in future posts.

Joe's video is brief but has some really fundamental info that, sooner or later, activists, healers, policy makers and just about everybody else I can think of will need to be aware of:


Cross-posted from Earth and Psyche

Slavoj Zizek: Why Far Right and Xenophobic Politicians Are on the Rise in Europe | | AlterNet

I have a lot of links stacked up in my unpublished posts bin. I intended to write a little more about why I found them interesting but have not had the time, so I decided to shoot a few out today. I think my main interest in this one by Zizek is that the craziness I see in American politics and politicians is not limited to the United States. So it speaks to me of something worthy of further exploration.

Here's an excerpt from the article in AlterNet back in October of 2010:

In Europe, there is a growing concern about the growing acceptability of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Far from just being expressed by the extreme right wing, the anti-immigrant trend has entered the mainstream. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a gathering of young members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union party this weekend that multiculturalism has utterly failed. A recent German poll found 13 percent of Germans would welcome the arrival of a new "Führer," and more than a third of Germans feel the country is "overrun by foreigners." Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! spoke to the world-renowned philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who has the been called "the Elvis of cultural theory."

via www.alternet.org


Cathie's notes: I have long been interested in Zizek's ideas because he's a psychoanalytically trained person who tackles beyond-the-couch intersections of psyche and culture. I can't think of another time in my life in which understanding -- beyond polarized dialogic entrapments -- what I'm seeing in the world right now seems so crucial.

George Lakoff: Untellable Truths

Here's one of the "untellable truths" -- the one about our dependence on carbon-based fuels -- listed by Lakoff in his recent article on political psychology and the science and art of framing:

Carbon-based fuels - oil, coal, natural gas - are deadly. They bring death to people and animals and destruction to nature. We are not paying for their true cost because they are being subsidized: tens of billions of dollars for naval protection of tankers; hundreds of billions for oil leases; hundreds of billions in destruction of nature, as in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Death comes from the poisoning of air and water through pollution and natural gas fracking. And global warming pollution destroys nature itself - the ice cap, the creation of violent storms, floods, deserts, the blowing up of hilltops. The salesmen of death - the oil and coal companies - are profiting hugely from our payouts to them via subsidies and high prices. And with the money, ordinary citizens are giving to them in subsidies; they are corrupting the political process, influencing political leaders not to deal with global warming - our greatest threat. We are dependent on them for energy, to a large extent because they have politically blocked the development of alternatives for decades.

via www.truth-out.org

Read the full article for broader discussion of why material policy questions depend on "how the issues are realized in the brains of our citizens." According to Lakoff, how Americans understand the issues "is what determines political support or lack of it in all its forms, from voting to donations to political pressure to what is said in the media."

via my Earthbytes blog at tennesseehawk.typepad.com

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl: A Perfect Storm of Prejudices

[Cross-posted from Raising Cain.]

Recently I discovered a great blog -- Who's Afraid of Social Democracy -- by psychoanalyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. Today she posted an article on the subject of prejudice, and I thought I'd say a few words, toss in some quotes and post a link to it here at Raising Cain.

On her blog, Young-Bruehl writes about current affairs and reflects on contemporary political issues and questions. Prior to her psychoanalytic training, Young-Bruehl was a doctoral student of the political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, and eventually wrote her biography. Young-Bruehl has also written many papers and books on gender issues, as well as a book very relevant to her blog post today, The Anatomy of Prejudices.

Since I formalized my anti-racist journey by becoming an activist in organizational anti-racism transformation, I've spent much time integrating what I'd previously discovered about human relating and relationships from my psychoanalytic training and practice. The intersection of the individual psyche and the collective mind of society has become an edge of tremendous interest and discovery for me personally and professionally.

That edge is not an either-or space: we need to know a lot about how people come to be who they are AND how the collective mind and societal systems come to be as they are if we want to get beyond racism. The individual and society co-create each other psychologically just as, in a parallel process, a baby and her mother co-create each other. If we would like to change ourselves and the systems in which we live, I believe we'll have to become aware of these complex dynamics.

I have a sense that Young-Bruehl's last two blog posts have opened doors and moved my thinking about all of this forward.

Speaking about a changing view of the nature of prejudice after World War II, Young-Bruehl says:

That decade of psychoanalytic work was extremely important because it opened up for exploration the whole domain of unconscious motivation. But, to my mind, it was also very flawed and replete with misleading generalizations. For example, in Adorno’s and Allport’s books, there is no prejudice against women because all prejudice is against minority groups and women are not a minority group. (By the same crazy logic, there would be no prejudice against blacks in South Africa because the blacks are not a minority group there…) During the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s, the ethnocentrism synthesis began to unravel under pressure from people whose victim experience it misconstrued or overlooked. People of color pointed out that racism is not just like anti-Semitism. Look, they said, did the white people who invented tests to show the inferior intelligence of people of color also try to show the inferior intelligence of the Jews who supposedly masterminded the international Jewish banking conspiracy?

She follows the evolution of this notion further into the feminist "gender-race-class" discussions of the 1970's, but notes:

Meanwhile, prejudices continued to flourish in ever-changing appearances. Nonetheless, many hoped to be able to interpret America as a nation marching in the direction of being “post-racial,” and many hoped a “post-feminist” era was dawning because women have made considerable social progress. These hopes, it seems to me, reflect the still-prevalent confusion about prejudices and how they operate. Even if the acts and appearances that are typical of a prejudice do abate or ameliorate, the needs or unconscious purposes served by the prejudices remain –and can rise up again or reassert or take new directions as circumstances change. There’s not much lynching going on now, but huge numbers of black men are hung up in jail, and that is not very “post-racial.”

With that, I'll leave you to your own investigation of Young-Bruehl's ideas. I get uneasy sometimes excerpting from pieces that seem so coherent as Young-Bruehl's impress me, so I hope you'll read her entire article.

She references her previous post as well, and you can access that one here.