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Monday, August 1, 2011

Q&A - Marilyn Wedge, Suffer the Children (book reading - San Carlos)

Today I'm bringing you a Q&A with author Marilyn Wedge, who will be doing a reading and discussion of her book, Suffer the Children: the Case Against Labeling and Medicating and an Effective Alternative. Details about the Thursday, August 4th event in San Carlos are at the bottom. Wedge is a family therapist who argues that the child's environment should be considered before any drug therapy is started.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A:  In the early 1990s, I began seeing more and more children coming to my office already diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and already taking psychotropic drugs. I saw this as an unnecessary and dangerous way of dealing with children's emotional and behavioral problems. I wrote the book because I wanted to provide parents with a safe and effective alternative for resolving their child's problems without the use of disrespectful labels or potentially toxic drugs.

Q: What does family therapy do, versus medication?
A:  Rather than viewing a child's emotional or behavioral issues as a sickness, the family therapist finds the source of a child's problem in the child's social context. This usually means the child's family, but a stressful situation at school or with friends can also trouble a child. Once the therapist finds the root cause of the child's troubles, she can make interventions that resolve the problem. The interventions are gentle and  respectful, and can be as simple as having a mother tell her child a few good things about her day. Medications, on the other hand, merely sedate a child's symptoms without addressing the underlying cause of the child's troubles. Psychiatric medications also have dangerous side effects, many of which have been hidden for decades by pharmaceutical companies.  
Q: Is medication ever appropriate for treating childhood ADHD and other mental disorders?
A:  In my twenty years of experience, I have never seen a child who could not be helped by family therapy without the use of psychiatric medications, if the child's parents were willing and able to work collaboratively with the therapist. I think parents should understand that stimulant medications used to treat ADHD will help anyone focus better, as college students and fighter pilots have known for decades. Just because a stimulant such as Ritalin helps someone focus better, that does not mean that the person has a medical condition. As I show in Suffer the Children, there are many family issues that can cause a child to be distracted and unfocused at school, and family therapy can address these issues.
Q: What if the school insists that the child be medicated, because the child is disruptive in class?
A: Framing a child's misbehavior or inattentiveness or moodiness as a "mental disorder" or sickness is currently the dominant narrative in American psychiatry; and the pharmaceutical industry has been the major author of that narrative. However, there is an emerging new narrative in new books by psychiatrists, psychologists and even pediatricians that challenges this view. My book is one voice in this new narrative. The book contains many examples of disruptive children whose schools referred them for medication. When their pediatrician refused to diagnose and medicate their child, parents sought out family therapy. In every case, the child's misbehavior was successfully resolved in family therapy. Parents should also be aware that having children diagnosed and medicated  brings financial benefits not only to drug makers but also to schools. In California, public schools receive additional funding from the state for each diagnosed and medicated child.
Q: Is family stress always a factor in a child's mental health or ADHD?
A: Stress in the family is almost always a factor in a child's mental health or ADHD-like behaviors. The sources of the stress, however, are not always obvious: they can be an illness or injury in the family, a parent's job loss, or an in-law problem. In the book, parents will see how a father's broken arm was related to his son's having personality change out of the blue and becoming disruptive. While family stress is the most typical factor, issues with teachers or with friends can sometimes play a part in causing a child to have problem behaviors

Agree? Disagree? Intrigued?

You can hear Marilyn talk about her book, Suffer the Children, and hear how family stress affects children's behavior (and what you can do about it without medications) at the Reading Bug in San Carlos. The event is on Thursday, August 4 at 7 p.m., 785 Laurel Street, San Carlos.

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