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Opinion & Essays - Feb, 1995 Issue #32 

THOSE DARN PARENTS: FACT OR FICTION?
by: Tom Bratter, President 
The John Dewey Academy
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
413-528-9800 

Today many residential programs are influenced by Freud's (1920) pessimistic pronouncement when he condemned the family's culpability by being intrusive and controlling. 

Psychoanalytic treatment may be compared to a surgical operation, and has a right to be undertaken in circumstances favorable to its success. You know what precautions the surgeon is accustomed to take: a suitable room, good light, assistance, exclusion of the relatives, etc. How many operations would be successful...if they had been performed in the presence of all members of the family, who would put their fingers into the field of operation and cry aloud at every cut of the knife? The interference of relatives in psychoanalytic treatment is a very great danger, a danger one does not know how to meet...It is impossible to approach the relatives of the patient with any sort of explanation, one cannot influence them to hold aloof from the whole affair, and one cannot get into league with them because we run the danger of losing the confidence of the patient...Besides those who know the rifts that often are formed in family life will not be surprised as analysts when they discover the patient=s nearest relatives are less interested in seeing him cured than in having him remain as he is.  (1) 

Freud failed to realize by excluding family members from treatment encourages them to sabotage or to continue their dysfunctional permissive behavior at a time when the adolescent desperately needs external pressure to stop the fright-fight-flight game. 

When parents weaken, tormented by feelings of guilt, or become ambivalent because they question the school's practices and policies or by permitting themselves to be manipulated, not infrequently , the adolescent will test the resolve of family members to enforce limits by creating a crisis--i.e., by leaving prematurely. 

Rejecting this Freudian assumption, the John Dewey Academy believes without family cooperation, the probability for growth of the student has been minimized. Like other schools, John Dewey cannot compete against Adolescent pleasures@ (freedom, drugs and sex) which generate excitement and gratification because we are voluntary. Few students want to remain in any place which restricts their freedom. They resent their families, whom they feel have deprived them of entitled pleasures and excitement. Despite being housed in Searles Castle, listed in the Registry of National Historical Landmarks, John Dewey Academy is viewed by neophyte students to be a jail where thought and behavior control is utilized. 

Reduced to the lowest twin common denominator, The John Dewey Academy's therapeutic mandates are to force the student not only to accept responsibility for personal attitudes and acts but also to make a commitment to change. The adolescent, who desperately needs to be placed in a safe and structured environment, is oblivious to the correlation between current behavior and future payoffs and consequences. This student exists in the present and believes magically everything will be self-correcting. Stated succinctly the gifted, angry, self-destructive adolescent who has freed him/herself from rational restraints of the maturation process, refuses to change. 

Freud, by removing the family, and especially the parents, from the healing process, was suggesting removing the most vital factor for change available. 

(1) Freud, S., (1920) A General Introduction To Psychoanalysis, New York: Boni and Liveright (p. 328) 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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