Sunday, December 11, 2011

Insights from Dr. Kenneth Hardy

I had the privilege of listening to Ken Hardy as he presented at the NASW CT specialty conference on social justice. He focuses on oppression, which of course has a lot of overlap with trauma.

Dr. Hardy is a Professor of Family Therapy at Drexel University and the Director of the Eikenberg Institute for Relationships in NYC. He has written several books including Teens Who Hurt: Clinical Interventions to break the Cycle of Adolescent Violence (Guilford Press, 2005) and, with Monica McGoldrick, ReVisioning Family Therapy: Race, Culture and Gender in Clinical Practice (Guilford Press, 2008).

Dr. Hardy described people as divided into three groups: jailers, helper, and healer. Jailers value correction over connection. They protect the prevailing order even at the cost of crushing the human spirit. Their primary goal is to keep order, and they use the tactics of demanding obedience or ejection. Their words are: Not here! Out of here! Dr. Hardy pointed out that there is a lot of recruitment and rewards pushing people to become jailers in our current society.

The helper is well intentioned, and tries to intervene in the face of injustice and harm. They try to restore order, but do not focus on preventing injustice from happening. Many of us in the social services world find ourselves in this position.

The healer is a visionary who tries to challenge the established order and to rejuvenate the human spirit. He values connection over discipline. He establishes mutuality. His work is not just a job, it is a passion. He works on behalf of the human condition, to make a better planet. He is in the business of manufacturing hope.

Dr. Hardy suggested that the way to become a healer is by embracing one’s own suffering, turning towards one’s own pain instead of denying it. We have all been oppressed in some way. Look at your own invisible wounds, find and speak your own authentic voice.

In our programs, is there pressure to become jailers? Are we encouraged to become healers?

Shame was a central topic for Dr. Hardy. He spoke that we are even ashamed to admit we feel shame. Shame is a powerful force that cannot be named or spoken about, because it is associated with weakness. Shame arises from the devaluation of human dignity. The more a person’s basic dignity has been eroded and assaulted, the more that person will demand respect, and will be aggressive rather than suffer further degradation.

Further, Dr. Hardy described “learned voicelessness”. This is what happens to a person whose dignity has been degraded, and who has been unable to speak. Of course this applies to children who cannot speak of their abuse. The more a person has been silenced, the stronger their rage. The role of the healer is to help the person find and speak their voice, and transform their rage into outrage that is channeled into action to change the world.

I felt this description illuminated my thinking about effective action: that trauma with its inherent helplessness over time convinces the victim of the impossibility of effective action in their own life. Our job is to re-teach that effective action is possible. Add to that, trauma and its secrecy silencing the voice, and our job is also to help the person regain their voice. We have to be careful that our treatment programs do not themselves demand silence from the clients.

I was very moved by Dr. Hardy’s presentations, and I look forward to reading his books. Stay tuned for book reviews!