As a father of two, I am often inquisitive about the nature of my children’s dream life. Maybe it is remanent of my training with analytical and psychoanalytical forms of psychology. Or maybe it is a way in which I have learned to relate to my children as a lover of the rich, imaginal landscapes our dream-life provides. Nevertheless, as a father, and a psychotherapist, I have found a conduit that links my interest in dreams to the growing journey I see my children undertaking to become their own beings.
As a child, I remember vivid dreams, where I would engage with the rich, symbolic content of my psyche’s unconscious playground. Dreams were abound, both good and bad, sometimes waking, and oftentimes sleeping. Nevertheless, I would spend hours playing with my dreams, talking about them with my mother, father, and step father, attempting to find new ways I could actively engage their storylines, and ultimately try and make sense of my life as it emerged during my childhood.
My family was supportive, and would often entertain the imaginal world of my making. They would expose me to stories, let me watch movies, take me to symphonies and museums, exposing me to a world of imagination, rich with symbolic content. However, their was a sharp divide between the expectations of family and that of the schools I would attend.
In the classroom, I was often scolded, put down, and oftentimes made of in front of my peer group by teachers who were not patient with my need to dream life forward. They had lessons to teach, and my dreaming stood in the way of their meeting state mandated curriculum requirements, a fault that had to be purged from their classroom through a ritual of ostracization, segregation, humiliation, and degradation.
In the classroom, I found the work to easy. Being bored, I would often be drawn to the flights of fancy my dreams took me on after my work was complete. This caused problems for the teachers, who in all honesty had enough problems teaching to the 80% Bell Curve so well-known amongst educators in the K-12 setting. Not knowing what to do with me, they referred me to be put through a battery of tests from zealous doctors who were all to eager to start me on amphetamine based medication as a means to suppress my dream life, as a means to help me “focus” and to “concentrate better,” so that I could reach my full potential as an adult. I was labeled ADHD, and even worse, was shown to have emotional disturbance due to a failing systems inability to provide me an education that benefit my needs to actively engage life forward. School became a prison, and I was only 9 years of age.
I tell my story not as an autobiography, or a need for confession, but as a comparison to the ill intent I continue to see children undergo in the school and systemic mental health setting. A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control showed “that under the Medicaid health care program, doctors have given some 10,000 American toddlers a diagnosis of ADHD and treated them with ADHD drugs that have not been shown to be effective or safe in children that young.” Furthermore, drugs such as “Adderall and the methylphenidate Ritalin” were actively used to treat one out of “every 225 toddlers nationwide,” with no evidence of efficacy being shown in a population this young.
While much research is conducted by pharmaceutical companies on the efficacy of their products to treat adverse medical conditions, recent studies suggest what many have always known, amphetamines have addictive qualities, are highly sought out by adults for the active effects they induce, and this is no different for children, who only lack to qualitative knowledge of what addiction is.
Why are we poisoning our youth?
As a child, I was never exposed to amphetamines. My parents simply did not believe in medication. As such, I was allowed to develop my own coping skills. My attention flourished when I was challenged, but the traditional Bell Curve oriented K-12 curriculum never accomplished this feat. Instead, I continued to fall through the cracks, and would never enjoy education until I was ultimately challenged in the college setting.
As a teacher and practitioner of mental health therapy, I have seen thousands of children referred to assessment, be given treatment plans, and ultimately be prescribed heavy hitting, side effect laden medications whose adverse effects far outweighed the benefits of use. As a society, I see us poisoning our youth with medications that are not only unnecessary, but also adversely effecting their ability to develop health life skills that will serve them towards a successful adult life. We ultimately are not treating the patients we serve, but are poisoning the next generation for ease of service provision and ultimately corporate / governmental profit motives to make our “classrooms more manageable” and our jobs as parents a little easier.
As a therapist, I must ask myself, who are we treating? The children that are brought to us for help, or the ease and profit potential of the system we ultimately serve.
When dealing with children, the best lesson you can teach is to foster them to formulate, engage, and follow their dreams. We are not all bricks of the same sort to be put into a systemic wall. Instead, we are dreaming beings, who can formulate, engage, and create enormous potential if we are only allowed to dream that possibility forward. Have you engaged or encouraged your child’s or the children you work with dream’s today? If not, maybe it is time to ask them, What do you dream about?
Dr. Thomas Maples