Author: has written 57 posts for this blog.

Clarisse Thorn is a Chicago-based, feminist, sex-positive activist and educator. Personal blog at clarissethorn.com; follow her on Twitter @clarissethorn; you can also buy her awesome book about pickup artists or her awesome best-of collection, The S&M Feminist.
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86 Responses

  1. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 12, 2011 at 9:15 am |

    … whatever she wants to label it, and however she wants to write about her own experience, I support her right to do so.

    Unless it’s Bristol Palin writing about her own experience and not calling it rape?

    McClelland is not a well person. Clearly. I also take exception to the idea that “there is nothing wrong with using consensual, carefully-negotiated BDSM to process past traumatic experiences”

    How do you know? Besides anecdotal evidence, I mean.

  2. Natalia
    Natalia July 12, 2011 at 9:36 am |

    When you’re a journalist on assignment it can be hard to negotiate what is and isn’t fit for publication (especially if someone is not immediately forthcoming with their own boundaries on the subject) – but this situation seems pretty clear to me.

    There is no point in riding with someone/talking to someone, as a journalist, if you can’t write about it in some fashion. Revealing confidential information, however, obviously puts your source in danger, not to mention the invasion of privacy, possible humiliation, etc.

    MacClelland owes “Sybille” an apology at best.

  3. LC
    LC July 12, 2011 at 9:43 am |

    The debate in the comments of that article is interesting, as MoJo, McClelland, and K*’s lawyer all weigh in.

  4. Natalia
    Natalia July 12, 2011 at 9:44 am |

    I also take exception to the idea that “there is nothing wrong with using consensual, carefully-negotiated BDSM to process past traumatic experiences”

    How do you know? Besides anecdotal evidence, I mean.

    … I can’t answer for Clarisse, but anecdotal evidence is usually the best you can get in this scenario. I’m not aware of any extensive research on the subject at the moment.

    If you know several people who have gotten help this way, however, you’re allowed to form an opinion. I’m not into BDSM myself, but certainly “getting it rough” has been an important factor in my relationships – because it involves putting a lot of trust in the man for me, which in turn has helped me move past some of my own shit.

  5. Kat
    Kat July 12, 2011 at 9:44 am |

    @ Tinfoil hattie- How do YOU know that there is something wrong with it? We can go back and forth on this all day, but the fact remains, if someone is able to process trauma through a consensual experience, then there is nothing wrong with it FOR THEM. If someone tries it and finds it ineffective or makes things worse, then it is clearly not the right course of action for them.

    Not all methods of healing work for all people, and even attempting to recover from a past traumatic experience involves accepting the risk that you will stumble and have setbacks along the way, and will probably find some ways of recovering that work and some that don’t. To assume that no one can benefit from one course of action that may be considered out of the mainstream is pure arrogance, and not based on any evidence at all.

  6. Natalia
    Natalia July 12, 2011 at 9:54 am |

    Oh, wow, so there was a fixer involved wrt obtaining consent from “Sybille”. That’s most likely a big chunk of the problem right there. Not saying that the fixer intentionally misinterpreted the situation, but you do see these kinds of situations rapidly degenerate due to lack of direct negotiation with a source. That’s why I’m glad I speak Russian, it makes a huge difference when you’re writing while in Russia.

    This comment from the lawyer bothered me,

    “…I see she also threw in a one-liner about one of my clients who died last week. Mac did not have my permission to write about this client. Nor does one line even begin to tell the story of our eight month effort to help this woman, which is a story I will not share in detail lest it appear in print without my permission.”

    As a journalist, I wouldn’t work with this lawyer, based on a comment like that. Not because of a lack of trust, but it basically amounts to “you will write what you’re told”, which goes against the editorial standards of any good publication. I understand that writing about these issues while also protecting the privacy of the victims is extremely hard to begin with – but in this situation, the lawyer would best turn journalist themselves. There would be no other way to relay those stories.

  7. AM
    AM July 12, 2011 at 10:01 am |

    I second LC. The comments section over on essence is particularly interesting. Such a sad story all around. I also agree with the comments over at Essence that perhaps twitter is not the appropriate venue to discuss such an issue so sensitive with potentially dangerous ramifications for the victim.

  8. Jadey
    Jadey July 12, 2011 at 10:13 am |

    Well holy shit, that changes a lot. I’ll admit, I had given Mac the benefit of the doubt, however naively, that she was talking about her trauma experiences with at least some kind of permission to share the background details as they pertained to another person. I’m ashamed of that now. Not only did she not, she was actually disregarding an explicit denial of permission.

    Mac had every right to tell a story about her and her experiences (although now I’m even wondering if she had “Isaac”‘s consent or permission either and what the fall-out has been for him, although hopefully his identity has not been compromised), but she could have done so without bringing another woman into it in such blatant violation of her consent, violating her privacy and safety.

    Thank you for bringing this up, Clarisse – I’d had no idea. I still feel for her trauma, but it seems that she has been incredibly irresponsible about other people’s.

  9. Jadey
    Jadey July 12, 2011 at 10:14 am |

    Ugh, and in the comments over there already people are using Mac’s professional irresponsibility and unethical behaviour as a weapon against her sexuality. FABU. Everybody loses.

  10. Esti
    Esti July 12, 2011 at 10:17 am |

    I’m in full agreement with K*s lawyer that it’s obviously and incredibly inappropriate to tweet details about an individual’s sexual assault while riding along with them, particularly if you include their real name and location when you do so. This, to me, highlights the problem with some forms of new media — Twitter’s focus on constant real-time updates is not suited to situations in which you know you need to be careful about what you are saying, both to protect the privacy/safety of individuals and to ensure that you don’t get facts wrong (as it seems that McLelland did). I can’t understand how anyone, and particularly a journalist, would think it’s a good idea to publicly share a series of messages about a sexual assault victim without sending them to their editor for review and fact-checking (and without clearing them with the woman herself) before they are made public.

    Even leaving aside the Twitter messages and the related back-and-forthing in the comments section on Edwidge Danticat’s article about when permission was given and for what, it’s very clear that permission for McLelland to write about K* was revoked in her lawyer’s email sent in September 2010 and K*s letter sent in November 2010. McLelland has every right to write about her own experiences and feeling of secondary trauma, but she should not have included any reference to K* in that article in Good. I found that piece interesting and thought-provoking when I first read it, and I’m really upset to learn that her descriptions of “Sybille” were used despite the clear request that she stop writing about K* because she had caused her pain and put her in danger.

    When McLelland’s Good piece came out, some people expressed disappointment that a white American reporter was writing about how Haiti had affected her instead of about Haitians. The response they got from many people was that McLelland was one of the good ones, who had written many articles about Haitians themselves, and that although it was unfortunate and predictable that the media had focused on the story about McLelland’s own experiences while ignoring the many stories about people living in Haiti, McLelland wasn’t one of those journalists that parachutes into a devastated country and makes it all about her. I thought that was a reasonable enough response at the time. Not so much anymore.

  11. gretel
    gretel July 12, 2011 at 10:34 am |

    Thanks for posting about this, Clarisse. This is extremely disturbing information. I wonder how much background research GOOD did before they published this essay.

  12. Azalea
    Azalea July 12, 2011 at 10:55 am |

    Natalia:
    When you’re a journalist on assignment it can be hard to negotiate what is and isn’t fit for publication (especially if someone is not immediately forthcoming with their own boundaries on the subject) – but this situation seems pretty clear to me.

    There is no point in riding with someone/talking to someone, as a journalist, if you can’t write about it in some fashion. Revealing confidential information, however, obviously puts your source in danger, not to mention the invasion of privacy, possible humiliation, etc.

    MacClelland owes “Sybille” an apology at best.

    An apology at best? She owes her an apology at LEAST! She put this woman’s life in danger, that is no small offense. What the hell was the purpose in giving away her location when she KNEW the people who did this to her could be seen again, when she knew how terrified Sybille was and how badly they had injured her?

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous July 12, 2011 at 11:17 am |

    One thing I’m unclear about: can a source withdraw their consent to be written about? In this case it seems like the reporter should honor the wishes of a sexual assault survivor. But I can think of hundreds of situations (namely political corruption, misdeeds, corporate malfeasance, etc.) where a source might say something that they wish they could take back, but you wouldn’t want that to be allowed: anything on the record should be fair game. If the head of BP is on record saying something incredibly callous/greedy/etc. about the oil spill, they shouldn’t be able to retroactively withdraw consent.
    Anyone know what the ethics are for other situations–especially sexual assault survivors?

  14. matlun
    matlun July 12, 2011 at 11:50 am |

    @Anonymous: The Mother Jones editors discussed that a bit in the Essence comments.

    Although we would never allow a politician or a corporate spokesperson to walk back access or quotes, in this case, we wanted to respect the victim’s wishes […]

    As a totally irrelevant comment – the language filter on that site is hilariously bad: “Ins***ute”, “***ume”, “***ociate”…

    1. Jill
      Jill July 12, 2011 at 11:55 am | *

      In the comments to the Essence piece, here’s what the Mother Jones editors said:

      Mac has been at Mother Jones for four years, first as a fact-checker, then as a copy-editor, and for almost two years now, as our human rights reporter. We are proud of the work she has done for us, which is gutsy and voicey, but also meticulously researched—as well as rigorously edited, fact-checked, and lawyered.

      In the course of her reporting on Haiti, which took place in September of 2010, she connected with a local ***ociate/fixer for Ins***ute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and affiliated human rights advocates who allowed her to accompany him as he took a rape victim to a clinic to get reconstructive surgery. Mac asked the representative to obtain consent from both the victim and the advocates involved. (The victim does not speak English.) In both instances she was ***ured that consent was given. And nothing over the several days she spent with the victim led her to believe otherwise. Several days after the first web pieces and tweets appeared, our email records show that the advocates were enthused about the reporting, but in the coming days they then began asking that certain details be changed. First it was that the name (only the first name was ever used) would be redacted or withheld. Eventually other details. In each case we complied. But then came the insistence that access had either never been given, or that it was conditional upon review of any material prior to publication—a condition that we would have never agreed to.

      Although we would never allow a politician or a corporate spokesperson to walk back access or quotes, in this case, we wanted to respect the victim’s wishes and were sensitive to the inherent communications problems. We agreed to hold off on any more web stories on the matter and to revisit with the advocates as we fact-checked a feature piece. In November, after weeks of not getting back to our requests, the main advocate sent, via PDF, a letter from the victim that requested we not use her story. We cut any direct account of this victim from the story. We received complementary email from IJDH staff following its publication.

      Months later Mac then wrote, for another publication (GOOD), a personal essay, in which she briefly summarized her earlier reporting of the incident. Mother Jones editors had no prior knowledge of this decision and were not involved in reviewing the piece. Mac understands that this was a serious lapse in judgment. We are reviewing our policies regarding freelance work by staffers.

      Sincerely,

      Monika Bauerlein & Clara Jeffery
      Co-Editors
      Mother Jones

  15. Anon21
    Anon21 July 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm |

    Jadey: although now I’m even wondering if she had “Isaac”‘s consent or permission either and what the fall-out has been for him, although hopefully his identity has not been compromised

    He’s the editor of some site, I forget which one. Anyway, they outed him on that site while linking to the McClelland piece, so I assume that’s how he wanted it.

    Esti: I’m in full agreement with K*s lawyer that it’s obviously and incredibly inappropriate to tweet details about an individual’s sexual assault while riding along with them, particularly if you include their real name

    Which she did not. The woman’s real name has never been revealed, fortunately.

    On the broader issue: sounds like McClelland behaved quite unethically and did appropriate this sexual assault survivor’s experience in ways that the survivor expressly forbade. That’s really awful. I’m glad that someone is putting the facts forward, and that the survivor’s voice is now being heard. I do hope that people who were uncomfortable with the personal ideas that McClelland put forward don’t use this new information to delegitimize McClelland’s experience of PTSD or her chosen response to it. The issues of respect and ethics raised by this latest disclosure just don’t bear on whether you think McClelland made the right personal, therapeutic, and/or sexual choices, and I think Clarisse does a great job of drawing that line.

  16. Esti
    Esti July 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm |

    This is a fantastic discussion of journalistic ethics and tweeting framed through the context of McClelland’s original reporting on K*: http://www.jinamoore.com/2010/09/17/tweet-rape/

    Anon21: The woman’s real name has never been revealed, fortunately.

    She did in fact reveal the woman’s first name, as well as the camp she was living in and details about her assault that made it easy to identify her. The blog I linked to shows a screenshot of McClelland’s initial tweets; the woman’s name has been blacked out by the blog’s author, but it was included in the tweets initially.

    The more I read about this, the more upset I get. I hadn’t read any of McClelland’s work prior to Jill linking to that essay a few weeks ago, and I didn’t know anything about the backstory of her reporting on K*. I can see how using an interpreter to gain consent for publication could lead to misunderstandings, but that doesn’t explain a) the decision to tweet about accompanying a sexual assault survivor to a medical appointment, during which she revealed the woman’s name, location, and a number of identifying details, and b) the decision to write about her experiences with K* after she had received communications from both K* and K*s lawyer telling her that she had upset and endangered K* and that they wanted McClelland to stop writing about her.

  17. William
    William July 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm |

    One thing I’m unclear about: can a source withdraw their consent to be written about?

    Pragmatically, I cannot imagine an ethical system which wouldn’t allow someone to withdraw consent. It happens all the time in other situations.

    I can’t speak for journalistic ethics, but I know that if I continued to write about someone who had withdrawn their consent to participate I’d be, at minimum, in front of my IRB explaining myself to some very unsympathetic folks. Thats true even if I anonimyzed the information a little bit. In order to be safe I would have to change enough details that the person would no longer be identifiable, which probably means making a composite story and changing significant portions of what actually happened in order to protect confidentiality. Depending on the nature of the disclosure I might be facing criminal charges, would almost certainly be open to civil liability, and there is a chance I would face professional sanctions. According to my professional ethics I’d be pretty clearly in the wrong and I could expect colleagues to tell me so to my face if I ever tried to present my data professionally.

    I know journalists aren’t held to the same standard, but when you’re not dealing with an adversarial source I have a lot of trouble imagining how a journalist could square the value of public reporting in a case like this with violation of consent. Thats especially true given that the same reporting (at least in this case) could just as easily be done with anonymity or composite stories. Call the source whatever the Hatian Creole equivalent of Jane Smith is, don’t name the camp she lives at, be vague about specific details or commingle them with other stories so as to protect her from identification, that seems like pretty simple protections that don’t threaten the integrity of the story.

  18. Amarantha
    Amarantha July 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm |

    The tweets of location and identification definitely cross the line–the charitable interpretation is that the reporter didn’t think the tweets contained identifiable information, but she stil put her source in danger. Bad idea. The publication process in the original Mother Jones piece (aside from tweets) seems to be ethically on the up-and-up. The problem is the information revealed in the Good piece, and whether or not it violated the agreement that K* and her lawyer came to with Mac/Mother Jones.
    Legally, it seems unlikely that McLelland did anything actionable (correct me if I’m wrong, Jill). But she sold out her source for a story, and she didn’t use enough human decency when reporting on K*’s experiences. And since McLelland’s beat is human rights abuses, she should have known better how to navigate the ethics of compassion and human decency and cut-and-dry journalistic ethics.

  19. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm |

    if someone is able to process trauma through a consensual experience, then there is nothing wrong with it FOR THEM. If someone tries it and finds it ineffective or makes things worse, then it is clearly not the right course of action for them.

    which, without professional, credentialed supervision, a person cannot possibly know without just jumping in, trying it, and hoping it works!

    I’m for science and data over anecdotes.

  20. Amarantha
    Amarantha July 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm |

    William,
    My understanding of journalistic ethics is that anything said to a reporter, unless explicitly described as “off-the record” or “on background” is fair game for reporting (other journalists even say there is no such thing as “off the record”: everything is on the record). For public figures, politics, and investigative reporting this is hugely important. Deciding not to report on something is essentially a courtesy journalist extends to their source if not reporting it will not compromise the integrity of the piece.
    That shouldn’t apply if the person claims they didn’t understand the concept of consent–why you can’t interview a child, or someone who is sheltered and doesn’t understand what journalists are.
    The ethics should be different for sexual assault survivors: it’s standard practice in US Newspapers not to disclose the identity of a survivor in a rape case, for instance. I’m just not sure that the media has a widely agreed-upon, articulated set of standards for how the narrative of a sexual assault victim should be treated, and the idea of what is “identifiable information” may not be clarified. It should be.

  21. groggette
    groggette July 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm |

    tinfoil hattie: which, without professional, credentialed supervision, a person cannot possibly know without just jumping in, trying it, and hoping it works!

    Because no professional with credentials has ever fucked up someone under their supervision.

  22. Complicated
    Complicated July 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm |

    Question: Do you all think there is a difference between (1) live-tweeting details about the assault, giving away location and other info which would make it reasonably possible to identify the victim, and (2) writing the piece later about her own way of dealing with trauma, and giving a description of having spent time with a rape victim, without giving away any identifying details.

    My first feeling is that its possible for (2) to be ok but (1) is definitely not ok. However, I’m not so sure (2) is ok either.

  23. Esti
    Esti July 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm |

    I’m not a moderator or anything, but could we try to leave the conversation about whether exposure therapy is a good idea/works to the other post/discussion thread about McClelland’s piece, where it is relevant? This post was about how McClelland potentially coopted a Haitian woman’s experience without consent to discuss her own trauma. Having the same discussion about McClelland’s self-therapy in this context is kind of missing the point of a discussion about appropriation and about the media ignoring Haitian women.

  24. chingona
    chingona July 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm |

    Amarantha is correct.

    We extend a lot more courtesy to people who are not used to being in the public eye than to public figures who deal with us regularly, as well as to people who genuinely have something to fear, but it is just that, a courtesy. The ethical thing to do (I think most reporters would agree) is to clarify before the interview begins what will and won’t be reported and to be extra clear with people who aren’t used to dealing with media.

    But it would be a disaster if we let anybody withdraw their statements at anytime. All kinds of people all the time try to walk back things they said when it becomes inconvenient for them. You can’t give other people the ability to dictate what is in the piece. People who aren’t comfortable with that always have the option to not talk to the reporter.

  25. Jadey
    Jadey July 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm |

    The discrepancy between the ethical standards of scientists and the ethical standards of journalists is kind of mind-blowing*. I’m too firmly entrenched in one with too little experience in the other to offer a more complex analysis, but it seems to be a entirely different set of priorities when it comes to human participants. Maybe that’s part of why science reporting is such a mess most of the time – we’re coming from totally different places.

    *Which is not to say that either side has 100% adherence to any set of ethical principles, but even in theory they are quite disparate, even contrary.

  26. Lara Emily Foley
    Lara Emily Foley July 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm |

    tinfoil hattie:
    if someone is able to process trauma through a consensual experience, then there is nothing wrong with it FOR THEM. If someone tries it and finds it ineffective or makes things worse, then it is clearly not the right course of action for them.

    which, without professional, credentialed supervision, a person cannot possibly know without just jumping in, trying it, and hoping it works!

    I’m for science and data over anecdotes.

    Uhh yes you do have to generally try something to find out if it works for you. Also no scientific study is gonna prove anything anyways because the efficacy of this sort of thing varies drastically from person to person.

  27. Esti
    Esti July 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm |

    Complicated: Question: Do you all think there is a difference between (1) live-tweeting details about the assault, giving away location and other info which would make it reasonably possible to identify the victim, and (2) writing the piece later about her own way of dealing with trauma, and giving a description of having spent time with a rape victim, without giving away any identifying details. My first feeling is that its possible for (2) to be ok but (1) is definitely not ok. However, I’m not so sure (2) is ok either.

    I think there’s definitely a difference between the two, but if (1) has occurred and has caused the victim to ask that you not write about her anymore, (2) really isn’t okay either.

  28. ACG
    ACG July 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm |

    Anonymous: One thing I’m unclear about: can a source withdraw their consent to be written about?

    Short answer: Nope.

    Longer answer: A source can’t withdraw consent to be written about because a source doesn’t entirely have to consent in the first place. I can write about anyone I want, on any subject I want, as long a I have the evidence to back up what I’m saying. If we talk, and I’m recording in an open and legal way, what you say is fair game. And if you call me up and ask me not to print it, then not only do I get to print it, I also get to print the fact that you called me up and asked me not to. It’s not an absolute rule, of course, but in the vast majority of cases it boils down to “don’t say stupid things to people you don’t know very well.”

    However, a writer certainly has the right to pull a story or a quote if the source asks. And said writer certainly has an ethical–if not legal–responsibility to avoid endangering innocent people through his/her reportage. If you’re a nice person, which not all writers are, you’ll honor the wishes of someone who says, “This was very painful for me, and I’m still getting over it, and your writing about it makes me feel less safe, so please don’t.” It’s not an absolute rule, of course, but in the vast majority of cases it boils down to “don’t be a dick.”

  29. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 12, 2011 at 5:57 pm |

    Well, if science can’t help individuals, and *some* mental health professionals have messed up, let’s all just treat ourselves, then! We should just figure out shit that works “for us,” and proclaim ourselves cured! Yay!

    On topic, though, McClelland clearly made this entire piece about HER. It wasn’t objective and it certainly doesn’t qualify as good journalism. If she’s that self-absorbed that she can’t respect another woman’s request to NOT have her story splashed about, maybe she isn’t so over her PTSD? Maybe she has more work to do?

  30. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable July 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm |

    Thanks for this update. The thought didn’t even cross my mind. That poor woman.

  31. Tony
    Tony July 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm |

    Since the internet world has moved on I highly doubt that the words of K*’s lawyer will get as much attention as McClelland’s original article and the back and forth that followed. So thanks for keeping tabs on this story and providing this update.

    As a non-journalist inexperienced in matters of reporting from foreign post-disaster areas, I can’t speak to all the rights and wrongs of this story. Besides, it sounds like there are a lot of nuances in what exactly transpired that we’d have had to be directly involved to truly understand.

    But I will say I’m surprised that McClelland seems to have such a poor and insensitive relationship with K* and her lawyer, given that K*’s experience affected McClelland deeply. I would have thought that having a trauma that comes from the same source, one directly or one indirectly, would have drawn McClelland to be especially attentive to K*’s wishes. That didn’t happen, and the rape victim in question here has been victimized again (apparently) by having her story used in a way she does not like or approve of.

  32. William
    William July 12, 2011 at 6:23 pm |

    Well, if science can’t help individuals, and *some* mental health professionals have messed up, let’s all just treat ourselves, then! We should just figure out shit that works “for us,” and proclaim ourselves cured! Yay!

    Honestly, thats pretty much how clinical psychology works and moves forward. Clinical psychology doesn’t lend itself well to the kinds of research we do in other areas because people are radically different. Freud developed his theory of dreams by looking at his own dreams and in the process managed to radically alter and advance the way we think about the human mind and intrapsychic process. Jung made some of the major advances he was able to make by working through a psychotic episode that probably had a PTSD component. Melanie Klein, still one of the most important names in modern psychoanalysis 50 years after her death, developed her important challenges to Freud largely in response to her own childhood traumas. The same pattern continues today with people like Marsha Linehan, Viktor Frankl, and Heinz Kohut.

  33. Tony
    Tony July 12, 2011 at 6:29 pm |

    Although, on second thought, we now know more about the backstory here than we get for 99% of the stories published on the internet by journalists. You do have to wonder about all the things that go on behind the scenes of articles that get debated online every day. The Internet is a skeletal mirror of the real world.

  34. Natalia
    Natalia July 12, 2011 at 6:38 pm |

    One thing I’m unclear about: can a source withdraw their consent to be written about?

    No.

    But like ACG said – you can be nice to your sources, or not-so-nice.

    But I will say I’m surprised that McClelland seems to have such a poor and insensitive relationship with K* and her lawyer, given that K*’s experience affected McClelland deeply.

    Well, the relationship with K* was apparently conducted through a fixer, and that could be the root of the problem. I could be wrong, though.

    As for the lawyer – I expect that most journalists would have a tough time with someone like that, based on the comments to the piece Clarissa linked to. I know I would. I respect what they’re doing, but couldn’t work with them.

  35. Megan
    Megan July 12, 2011 at 7:33 pm |

    tinfoil hattie:On topic, though, McClelland clearly made this entire piece about HER. It wasn’t objective and it certainly doesn’t qualify as good journalism.

    The GOOD piece was a personal essay recounting McClelland’s emotional and psychological experiences, so yes, it was all about her. It wasn’t meant to be objective journalism and at no point did she claim that it was.

    Which is not to say that her use of K*’s experiences to provide context for her PTSD is not seriously problematic. But she wasn’t reporting on Haiti or treatments for PTSD in general; she spoke only for herself and her experience.

  36. saurus
    saurus July 12, 2011 at 7:41 pm |

    As Lore Sjoberg wrote, journalism is a lossy form of compression.

    I think the lesson here, if any, is that if we can use our resources to support marginalized peoples in telling their own stories, leading their own movements and finding/implementing their own solutions, the end result is much better than if we try to use our “privilege” or resources to do it “for” them or on their behalf.

    I think that, whenever possible, we should mobilize so that people have the access, resources and attention they need to get their own stories out (and grow their movements, and so forth), instead of taking the reins ourselves – lest we reproduce the same power structures we want to dissolve. Marginalized folks should be (and be treated like) the protagonists of their own lives, their stories, and their movements…not the subjects (however loved) of a less-marginalized person’s narrative or efforts or ideas…

  37. Norma
    Norma July 12, 2011 at 7:51 pm |

    The craziest thing to me is that those tweets–with K’s full first name and location, the descriptions of her injuries, everything–are still posted on McClellan’s Twitter feed. You can find them if you scroll back to September. It’s hard to reconcile this with McClellan’s apology in response to the Danticat post. If she’s deeply apologetic for any pain caused, why not at least delete the tweets as a symbolic gesture?

  38. Rob
    Rob July 12, 2011 at 8:28 pm |

    McClellan abused her journalistic privileges in a self-serving manner. She gained, the Haitian woman lost. McClellan used this poor woman.

  39. Amarantha
    Amarantha July 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm |

    saurus, I agree: letting a given culture/people tell their own stories is often the best solution.

  40. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 12, 2011 at 9:29 pm |

    Thanks for the mansplanation, William. But I never said psychology is an unchanging science that is written in stone. All of science is mutable. But psychology moves along based on new theories of things that have worked, over time, for various psychological conditions. So a self-developed treatment is not the same as a treatment based on sound psychological principles, guided by an educated and experience professional. It’s a nuanced view, I know. The sad fact is, anyone can hang out a shingle and call herself a “counselor.” But being a licensed clinical PhD in psychology is quite a bit different than being someone who treated her own psychological symptoms through trial and error.

  41. Jadey
    Jadey July 12, 2011 at 9:58 pm |

    tinfoil hattie – still not recognizing the difference between an untrained person figuring things out for themselves and an untrained person trying things out *on someone else.* Hint: only one of those is deeply unethical.

  42. Georg
    Georg July 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm |

    tinfoil hattie:
    Thanks for the mansplanation, William.

    I found William’s comment interesting. I knew that eg. physicians and pharmacologists tend to see clinical psychology more as a healing art than as a conventional science, but I had no idea clinical psychology was embracing this. Besides I had no idea the history of psychoanalysis was so strongly intertwined with PTSD work.

  43. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan July 12, 2011 at 10:55 pm |

    Megan: Which is not to say that her use of K*’s experiences to provide context for her PTSD is not seriously problematic. But she wasn’t reporting on Haiti or treatments for PTSD in general; she spoke only for herself and her experience.

    saurus: Marginalized folks should be (and be treated like) the protagonists of their own lives, their stories, and their movements…not the subjects (however loved) of a less-marginalized person’s narrative or efforts or ideas…

    I (mostly) agree with Megan on this one. If you’re talking about your own personal experiences then there’s no reason to center a different person in the story, no matter who’s more marginalized than whom. And I actually think that — while sharing K’s name and story in real time was extremely dangerous and disrespectful — the impact of K’s story on McClellan is fair game. If learning K’s story was part of the trauma then how could she possibly have a frank discussion of that trauma without any mention of the story? Her article would basically be “I met some [redacted] people and saw some bad stuff like [redacted], then had sex of [redacted] type, the end” and would be useless.

  44. Esti
    Esti July 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm |

    @Bagelsan

    Would it really have changed her piece so much to say “I was in Haiti reporting for X amount of time, during which I met a lot of sexual assault survivors and had some incredibly disturbing experiences watching them cope with the trauma that had been inflicted on them” and then go into her reaction from there? I mean, it doesn’t do as much to impress on the reader the scope of the trauma she witnessed, but it otherwise doesn’t really stop her from saying what she wanted to say about her own reaction and coping mechanism.

  45. Megan
    Megan July 12, 2011 at 11:32 pm |

    @Bagelsan–I should clarify: I meant that McClellan’s *possibly non-consensual* use of K*’s story was problematic; I actually agree with your sentiments about using it as context. :)

  46. ACG
    ACG July 13, 2011 at 12:12 am |

    I can even see her mentioning it as a situation that she found particularly traumatic, to provide some context to the story–“This is what I was doing, and this is what happened, and even though I’d been through more personally traumatic situations [list], for some reason this was the one that messed me up.” The editor in me couldn’t help but take a look at those two paragraphs that took the most advantage of K*’s story, and turning the focus from K* back to McClellan makes the story equally powerful but less gruesome and exploitative. (It also trims her overwrought text back by about a third.)

    It doesn’t need lurid details. It doesn’t need names (or even pseudonyms). It doesn’t need to be personalized with gratuitous descriptions of K*’s terror or her attack, or by constantly referring back to this other person’s experience. If this is about you, write about you–if you have a story worth telling, you don’t need to borrow someone else’s misery to make it hit home. A good writer should be able to tell that story without abusing her source, and an ethical writer would have honored her source’s understandable request in the first place.

  47. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan July 13, 2011 at 12:25 am |

    I think details like this (excerpt ahead):

    And the way Sybille went into a full paroxysm when we were on the way back to the post-quake tarp city she lived in was the worst thing I ever saw in my life. We were sitting in traffic and saw one of her rapists, and she started just SCREEEAMING a few inches away from my face, her eyes wide and rolling in abject terror.

    make sense to include. Maybe even the preceding sentences, because they set up the point at which the writer dissociated; this was the incident (embedded in a really traumatic day) that did it for her. Without including details like Sybille having been raped at gunpoint, McClelland’s later rough sex (and thoughts of including a gun) wouldn’t make sense. And I didn’t think the details were “lurid” either. Honestly I thought she handled the description fairly delicately… and the (wtf) tweeting aside it doesn’t seem like a description that could endanger Sybille, so I’m not sure how it could be done “better” without weakening the whole point.

  48. Esti
    Esti July 13, 2011 at 12:32 am |

    I agree it might make sense to include that bit if your only consideration was to tell your story of what secondarily traumatized you. But I don’t think leaving that out significantly detracts from McClelland’s ability to write about her own experience — and to the extent that it does detract, it seems like K*s express requests that McClelland stop writing about her surely should have won out over “the details about someone else’s life, which they’ve asked me not to share, make my own story more compelling.”

  49. Shaun
    Shaun July 13, 2011 at 1:44 am |

    Clarisse, I think there’s a difference between writing about your own experiences, in which other people are the actors in your play, and writing about THEIR experiences. Specifically in this case I’d say it was your right to write about your experiences (but maybe not things he TOLD you about himself during those experiences), but you may consider limiting or omitting those experiences if it will keep peace with him, if that’s important to you and it’s a compromise you’re willing to make.

  50. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Lindsay Beyerstein July 13, 2011 at 2:01 am |

    The biggest problem here was the decision to tweet potentially identifying details about a rape victim in real time, while her assailants were still at large and presumed dangerous. Regardless of what K or her lawyer consented to, it was an incredibly stupid idea. It’s easy to say that in retrospect, but I can see how Mac might have gotten caught up in the moment, especially if she thought she had permission. That’s why reporters shouldn’t use twitter to cover anything more serious than a press conference.

    Twitter is great for witty banter. It’s great for promoting news items published elsewhere. But on a serious story, there is no reason for a reporter to be dumping their moment-to-moment impressions directly into the public record.

    In K’s case there was redeeming news value in this kind of coverage. A story like this should not be told in 140-character bursts with no editorial filter. It would have been better to have Mac relay her impressions to a reporting partner (these people used to be called “rewrite artists” in the glory days of print, it was a legitimate journalistic specialty in its own right). The rewrite artist could at least run the copy by an editor before posting it to the web.

    Ethical journalists balance the public’s need to know against the potential harm to innocent people. There was no particular news benefit in reading about K’s trip to the hospital the minute it happened. As it turned out, the thoughtless tweeting ultimately undermined the credibility of the serious reporting.

    Usually, when reporters tackle sensitive subjects, they have editorial guidance. There are discussions about how to anononymize a subject (first name only, initials, pseudonym?) and what details can be left in without compromising her anonymity.

    Just because twitter is available doesn’t mean it’s the best tool for the job.

  51. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Lindsay Beyerstein July 13, 2011 at 2:12 am |

    I meant, “In K’s case, there was no redeeming news value in this kind of coverage.” Obviously, sexual violence in Haiti is newsworthy, but needless to say, the aftermath of one woman’s rape is not like a football game. We can do without the play-by-play commentary.

  52. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines July 13, 2011 at 4:23 am |

    Those live tweets (linked by Esti in comment 17) are sickening. That’s not quality journalism, it’s tabloid rubbernecking of the most revolting kind.

    If someone from Fox news did that, they would be hugely criticised in these parts and rightly so. Sometimes good faith can go too far.

  53. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable July 13, 2011 at 6:44 am |

    tinfoil hattie: So a self-developed treatment is not the same as a treatment based on sound psychological principles, guided by an educated and experience professional.

    I’m usually on board with most of the things you post, but I think your approach to psychology is lacking some pretty important nuances. The first, and most relevant for McClelland, is that we live in a society where receiving mental health care is DEEPLY stigmatized. People who aren’t already seeing a shrink tend to think that seeing a shrink is for “really crazy people, not me.” This is common, and I have trouble believing you haven’t been overwhelmingly exposed to this attitude. Second is that quality mental health care is not available everywhere and is not affordable for most. But crazy folks like me? In those times, we still need to do something to alleviate our crazies. And we can probs do without the drive-by criticism.

    She’s not advocating this approach for anyone else. If that were the case, i would totally understand the omg-shrinks-don’t-overwhelmingly-agree.

  54. Natalia
    Natalia July 13, 2011 at 7:06 am |

    Thoughts?

    When it comes to personal writing, I usually write about whoever the hell I want. It does get me into trouble sometimes, though I change names or else leave them out all together. Some people are better at reading between the lines than others.

    If someone has specifically asked you to not write about them – you can try to get around it by re-focusing your piece – being more vague on some topics and more specific on the others. It all depends on how you filter the experience.

    Also, if a person is simply scared or worried about getting hurt by something you say, or else seriously worried about getting into trouble of some sort – that’s one situation. Being kind and sympathetic is usually no trouble at all. If they’ve behaved like a giant ass, though, I often find kindness and sympathy to be in short supply. It doesn’t mean I out anyone (some specific information goes right out the window), but it certainly doesn’t mean they get to keep me quiet about, say, that Giant Dick Move that was pulled on me that one time.

  55. William
    William July 13, 2011 at 8:32 am |

    Thanks for the mansplanation, William.

    Hmm. Given that I’m, you know, my beef with what you had said wasn’t “you’re a woman and thus don’t know what you’re talking about” but “you’re not a psychologist and it sounds like you don’t really get how utterly unscientific we tend to be in the clinical world” I don’t think my post was mansplaning. If it came off that way I apologize.

    But I never said psychology is an unchanging science that is written in stone. All of science is mutable.

    Aside from the general and off-topic debate over whether or not psychology is science, theres the bigger issue that psychology is relatively unique because the core of our progress (especially lasting progress) tends to be someone in the field who is fucked up looking for a way to heal themselves. Its fundamentally different from physics or chemistry because there really aren’t many basic rules which apply to everyone. Psychology isn’t just mutable, its subjective.

    But psychology moves along based on new theories of things that have worked, over time, for various psychological conditions.

    Not generally, at least not in the clinical world. Broadly, you have academic psychologists who are building theory based around the responses of bored first-year undergrads participating in a research study for class credit or you have clinical psychologists building theory from their own personal experience and the experiences of a relatively discreet number of patients. The most rigidly controlled research studies tend to either fall apart or boil down to clinician experience and doctor-patient relationship, not theoretical orientation, being the major impetus for change. Several meta-analyses have shown that adherence to theoretical orthodoxy is actually counter-productive if you control for basic training minimums.

    So a self-developed treatment is not the same as a treatment based on sound psychological principles, guided by an educated and experience professional.

    As an educated and experienced professional I can say…sometimes. People are complicated. “Sound psychological principles” don’t tend to apply well out in the field. If I have a patient who finds something that works my response isn’t to guide them through it but to study how it affects them and hang around to contain any unintended consequences. Psychology is a field where experimentation on one’s self is not only still practiced, but still a vital part of what we do.

    But being a licensed clinical PhD in psychology is quite a bit different than being someone who treated her own psychological symptoms through trial and error.

    The narcissist in me would really like to agree with you there. The sad truth, though, is that people tend to enter this field in order to fix themselves. This is part of their trial and error. Those who don’t figure it out become bad clinicians and end up having sex with their patients or doing conversion therapy or being one of the many licenses professionals who enact their own past trauma in the consulting room and charge their patients for the privilege. Those who do figure it out become the kinds of luminaries who future generations of candidates read in the hopes of following in their footsteps. Most of us fall somewhere in-between.

    The bottom line, for me at least, is that if someone finds something that works they ought to go with it because they know themselves better than I do. I can provide supervision, another set of eyes, a containing space for processing, a fail-safe, but ultimately I can’t make anyone do anything. I sure as hell can’t make a sick person well, all I can do is help point the way. Anyone who says otherwise is a carny barker with a treatment manual overstating what therapy can do in the hopes of getting tenure before they fall out of vogue.

  56. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Lindsay Beyerstein July 13, 2011 at 10:02 am |

    As far as I can tell, McClelland’s therapist, Meredith Broome has no credentials in psychology, psychiatry, social work, or any other licensed helping profession. The Bay Area trauma counselor by that name is a privately certified “master” of something called “bodywork.” I found no indication that she is licensed to counsel people in any capacity. I give no credence to her hunches about how to treat trauma. Freud was full of shit in many ways, and his approach to therapy would never be considered ethical in modern medicine, but at least he was an eminent neurologist who was qualified to see patients.

    Whether you think of mental health care as more of a science or a healing profession, the ethic of “First, do no harm” applies. You can’t ethically recommend something potentially harmful as a treatment unless you have a solid body of evidence showing that the potential benefits outweigh the potential harms by a wide margin.

    Preferably, clinicians practice evidence-based treatment backed by controlled clinical trials, but when this is not possible they should adhere to best practices established in their field. Bottom line: counselors should not be making shit up as they go along.

  57. BHuesca
    BHuesca July 13, 2011 at 11:07 am |

    Re: revocation of consent –

    How about, for both journalism and sex, revocation of consent may occur at any time – but – only future acts can be nonconsented to, and informed-and-given-consent cannot ever be revoked for past acts already performed?

    The difference, of course, that consent is required for sex but not for journalism, even though there are some cases where it would very clearly seem to be a good thing to require consent for journalism (this case, children, etc.) …

  58. shannon
    shannon July 13, 2011 at 11:30 am |

    Lindsay, I agree with you. There’s a big difference between me deciding to fix my crazies by singing a magical song to the moon, and me charging someone hundreds of dollars, and possibly causing more problems by suggesting they do that.

  59. William
    William July 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm |

    Freud was full of shit in many ways, and his approach to therapy would never be considered ethical in modern medicine,

    Agreed on the first, Freud had a lot of problematic idiosyncrasies that have had to be boiled out of his theory since. I have to wonder what you mean by his approach being unethical, though. The most significant board certification in modern psychology, The American Board of Professional Psychology, grants board certification to a pretty significant number of psychoanalysts and recognizes psychoanalysis as a specialty in which advanced training qualifies for board certification. More broadly, Freud’s approach is still very much alive in psychodynamic psychotherapy.

    You can’t ethically recommend something potentially harmful as a treatment unless you have a solid body of evidence showing that the potential benefits outweigh the potential harms by a wide margin.

    There are a lot of problems with that statement. First, a lot of clinicians don’t recommend anything. Psychodynamic, humanistic, and existential clinicians tend to shy away from advice and more strict person-centered/Rogerian clinicians avoid giving advice entirely as one of the central tenets of their theory. God knows I don’t usually give advice to my patients. It isn’t my job to tell them whats right or live their lives for them. My job is to help my patients process and give them another perspective on whats already happening in their lives. If I had a patient who came in and said “I think violent sex is going to help me get over my trauma” I’d discuss why they think that, I’d talk about where the idea came from, I’d make connections between other events in their lives, but I almost certainly would not say “thats a bad idea, I should know, I’m a professional” because, frankly, I don’t know. Besides, if I pointed out every bad idea my patients had we’d never get to talking about the whys.

    Second, define “solid body of evidence” and “wide margin.” For that matter, define “risks” and how one “outweighs” them. I’m not trying to be cute, this is a serious problem in clinical psychology. People are different, they need different things, they have different levels of resiliency in different areas. Things which would be ruinously traumatic for some are a pretty good Saturday night for others. When you start looking for wide margins and solid bodies of evidence what you’re looking for are general, universal goods in a discipline which is focused almost exclusively on individuals. One-size-fits-all treatments don’t tend to work out well because to get to that one size you have to appeal to statistical mean human being that doesn’t actually exist out in the wild.

    You’d think we would have learned that lesson from the bad joke that we call diagnosis.

    Preferably, clinicians practice evidence-based treatment backed by controlled clinical trials,

    Thats preferable primarily for researchers seeking tenure or grants, psychologists seeking legitimacy by hitching their wagon to medicine, and all of the various governmental, corporate, and insurance bodies looking to control costs through operationalized, brief, low-skilled treatment models. Patients, however, tend to get screwed on the whole “evidence based treatment” model because of the primarily behavioral (read: normative) ways in which we traditionally have defined evidence. You cannot operationalize a general sense of well-being or personal growth, you can operationalize mad folk engaging in fewer behaviors that annoy people with privilege.

    More importantly, the idea of “controlled clinical trials” betrays some pretty ugly realities about the mental health world. That kind of scientific inquiry requires control groups. It requires taking people who ask for help and not giving them help so you can compare them to people who did receive help. The kinds of people likely to consent to that sort of possibility are people who lack the resources to get help elsewhere. They agree to be in research studies largely because a shot at being in the experimental group is better than no shot at being in the experimental group. The broader implication, though, is that you’re asking poor people to forgo care so we can improve methods that privileged people will eventually pay for because they deserve protection. I find that to be a very bitter ethical pill to stomach.

    Finally, you have the problem of treatment length. Its difficult, expensive, and notoriously difficult to study mid-to-long term therapy models. You need a lot of participants to overcome drop outs. In a world of limited resources that means that shorter-term models end up being incentivized in the “evidence based practices” race even though research continually shows that longer term treatment models have more stable, durable, and sometimes even continuing success after termination.

    but when this is not possible they should adhere to best practices established in their field.

    Except there are no best practices. Clinical psychology is still, going on a century after Freud, pre-paradigmatic. There is no generally agreed upon minimum. There is no standard treatment model. Very intelligent, well-read, experienced people bitterly disagree. Off the top of my head I can think of five credible, competing, mostly mutually exclusive theoretical orientations that are still major fields in clinical psychology. Most of them have myriad sub-divisions which can be radically different.

    Bottom line: counselors should not be making shit up as they go along.

    Except research doesn’t support you. Its an old joke that in clinical psychology patient progress tends to be impeded by adherence to rules and advanced by the experience of a clinician regardless of their theoretical orientation. The meat isn’t in the way we organize our thoughts about our patients but in how well we relate to them.

  60. Anon
    Anon July 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm |

    William: It requires taking people who ask for help and not giving them help so you can compare them to people who did receive help. […] I find that to be a very bitter ethical pill to stomach.

    It would be hard to stomach, if it were true. It is not. In fact, your mischaracterization of how clinical trials work is so staggering that it’s pretty safe to say you obviously have no clue what you’re talking about (which is all the more appalling since you’re apparently a health professional).

  61. EG
    EG July 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm |

    I have to wonder what you mean by his approach being unethical, though.

    If it had been me making this claim, I would be referring to analyzing his own daughter, fixing up his patients, that sort of thing. I don’t know if that’s what Lindsay meant, though.

  62. LC
    LC July 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm |

    Clarisse – I’m going to side with the advice you’ve already gotten. Ultimately, it depends on what stories you need to tell, and some kindness and consideration on your part.

    I find, for instance, that people who abuse and manipulate are often VERY insistent on their ability to control their own story, and feel little obligation to respect that. Others just have privacy issues.

    Especially writing about yourself, I wouldn’t feel constrained. You can always keep details about the ex vague. If they absolutely insist that you can’t write about anything that indirectly references them in any way… too bad for them in my view.

    Keep the focus off of them and I would think you are fine.

  63. Georg
    Georg July 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm |

    Anon: It would be hard to stomach, if it were true. It is not.

    It is.

    In fact, your mischaracterization of how clinical trials work is so staggering that it’s pretty safe to say you obviously have no clue what you’re talking about (which is all the more appalling since you’re apparently a health professional).

    His characterization of how clinical trials work it, on the level of abstraction and generalization a comment thread allows, perfectly accurate. You need a negative control group. You need a significant number of people you knowingly feed placebo. You sometimes also use positive control, ie. people you feed some established old pill instead of the experimental new one, but you always use negative control.

  64. BW
    BW July 13, 2011 at 3:13 pm |

    I feel it’s worth pointing out that Haitian “creole” is spelled Kreyol and pronounced ‘cray – ole”. Just sayin’.

  65. Jadey
    Jadey July 13, 2011 at 3:15 pm |

    The ethical counter-argument for clinical trials, whether involving talk treatment or medication, is that the intervention might actually be completely useless (hence the trials), at which point the control group missed out on nothing, and that the need for evidence-based practice is ethical goal in and of itself (not everyone agrees on this score) which will benefit current and future patients.

    Sometimes control groups are waiting-list controls, which means they are already waiting for the intervention and wouldn’t be getting anything right away anyway. Sometimes control groups receive alternative treatments – either the current standard or something less intensive than the intervention of interest (in these cases they are more accurately referred to as comparison groups). There is something of a trade-off between meeting the needs of clients/patients and best scientific practices, but there are multiple ways of addressing it.

    I don’t exactly disagree with William, but the picture is somewhat broader than what he described.

  66. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm |

    This is common, and I have trouble believing you haven’t been overwhelmingly exposed to this attitude.

    Too bad for you. I haven’t been.

    Read the statistics on how many people take psychotropic meds and how many go to some kind of therapist. It’s not quite the stigma it once was. Hence the mushrooming of “self-help” book aisles, seminars, documentaries, blogs, lectures, & service providers.

    As for you, William, it’s also mansplaining to state that you weren’t really mainsplaining, but since I took it that way, then okay, you didn’t mean to. I stopped reading after that. Your defense of non-psychologically/scientifically based treatment of mental illness over sound practice is ill-informed.

  67. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. July 13, 2011 at 3:26 pm |

    @Jadey,

    I read William’s comments as pointing to the economic coercion inherent in a medical system where poorer individuals who could not otherwise afford treatment are used to test treatments by groups that will later use that research to benefit more well off individuals. This may be less of an issue for people who live where medical care is more readily available, but at least in the US it a dirty little not-so-secret.

  68. William
    William July 13, 2011 at 3:29 pm |

    It would be hard to stomach, if it were true. It is not. In fact, your mischaracterization of how clinical trials work is so staggering that it’s pretty safe to say you obviously have no clue what you’re talking about (which is all the more appalling since you’re apparently a health professional).

    Both wait listing and non-therapeutic groups/sessions are pretty common when it comes to psychotherapy research. Its how you build controls.

  69. Georg
    Georg July 13, 2011 at 3:57 pm |

    tinfoil hattie:
    As for you, William, it’s also mansplaining to state that you weren’t really mainsplaining, but since I took it that way, then okay, you didn’t mean to.I stopped reading after that.

    Awesome.

  70. Anon
    Anon July 13, 2011 at 3:57 pm |

    William: Both wait listing and non-therapeutic groups/sessions are pretty common when it comes to psychotherapy research. Its how you build controls.

    Which is completely different from what you initially misleadingly claimed, namely that

    William: you’re asking poor people to forgo care so we can improve methods that privileged people will eventually pay for because they deserve protection

    Clinical trials that would deny current best practice treatment to patients who would otherwise receive it do not get approved. It is true that in the US, the poor suffer greater exposure to risks associated with participating in a clinical trial. But that is a problem completely different from denying someone treatment.

  71. William
    William July 13, 2011 at 4:17 pm |

    Clinical trials that would deny current best practice treatment to patients who would otherwise receive it do not get approved.

    Welcome to the world of clinical psychology. There is not “current best practice treatment” in psychology. We have a patchwork of competing treatments, some of which use (often poorly designed) clinical trials to duke out who gets to call themselves the gold standard. In pursuit of that, in the US, what that means is that control groups are people who don’t have money to pay for treatment and end up not getting treatment. Sometimes that not getting treatment means 12 or 20 or 24 weeks on a waitlist during which time things sometimes get worse or their situation changes and they no longer have the ability to make it to regular sessions or they get disillusioned with the wait and give up. Sometimes instead they’re assigned to non-therapeutic or psychoeducational control groups (designed to control for the effect of mere interaction with a person) run by people who generally aren’t licensed or experienced and intended to not be therapeutically helpful. It is not uncommon for people to just walk away because, you know, they came for help and they aren’t getting it.

    You can call my characterization misleading, but the reality is that in clinical psychology we end up making poor people jump through hoops in the hopes of establishing a best practice. We don’t have one today, it doesn’t exist. It isn’t like pharmacotherapy where we can test the latest greatest atypical antipsychotic against haloperidol, or test some new bipolar drug against lithium or valproic acid. Someone needed therapy asked to wait three to six months isn’t getting care. I simplified because of the context of the discussion but the reality is that people who can’t pay for care get shit on, especially when it comes to an area so politicized and underfunded as mental health.

    Studies that potentially harm control groups do get approved, some studies are done in the absence of IRBs, and some IRBs act as little more than rubber stamps and litigation filters.

    It is true that in the US, the poor suffer greater exposure to risks associated with participating in a clinical trial. But that is a problem completely different from denying someone treatment.

    I don’t see much of a difference when part of the clinical trial involves a temporary denial of treatment. I consider that an unconscionable thing to ask of someone who is often times literally begging for treatment. Its one of the big reasons I’m against traditional clinical trials in general and instead favor comparison trials where there is no control condition.

  72. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Lindsay Beyerstein July 13, 2011 at 4:24 pm |

    William, not all therapists give advice/recommendations, but Mac’s therapist did recommend that she pursue this simulated rape encounter. Mac makes that clear in the essay and in her follow-up interview with Ms. Magazine. This wasn’t just something Mac wanted to do, it was something her therapist assured her would be good for her, based on some theory the therapist supplied about how the body processes trauma.

    One of the things that irritated me about Mac’s original essay was that she framed violent sex as something her therapist recommended as a treatment for PTSD, as opposed to something she endorsed for one particular patient. This made the BDSM (or whatever you want to call it) seem like it had some patina of authority and respectability as a treatment modality that it actually lacks. If a therapist recommended it, it seems more respectable than someone just doing what they feel they need to do. (This is no slight against BDSM, there are a lot of worthwhile hobbies that aren’t legit psychological treatments.)

    Would you agree that in order to ethically be doing therapy at all, a person should have a lot of training in order to ground their clinical judgement? If therapists can make up their treatments as they go along, there must be some kind of check on who can call themselves a therapist. Otherwise, you’ve got chaos.

  73. Jadey
    Jadey July 13, 2011 at 4:54 pm |

    Lindsay, do you have a link to the Ms. Magazine piece you’re referring to? Because all I can find (including in the original piece) are references to the fact that her therapist was non-judgemental and supportive when Mac raised the issue, and helped Mac come to terms with her desires by referencing similar things found in the literature. Would you rather she had shamed Mac and made her feel “crazy” and bizarre? Because somehow I don’t think that would have been particularly therapeutic. Having been in a similar position (as a friend, not a clinician, because the person in question could not and would not access expert help for a number of personal reasons) of having to talk someone through an incredibly emotionally fraught experience where some of the things they thought and wanted to do were not things I would have recommended, sometimes there is no right answer except to help that person stay connected and not feel quite so alone and hopeless. I just don’t see where Broome was explicitly recommending anything to Mac.

  74. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan July 13, 2011 at 5:07 pm |

    Having been in a similar position (as a friend, not a clinician, because the person in question could not and would not access expert help for a number of personal reasons) of having to talk someone through an incredibly emotionally fraught experience where some of the things they thought and wanted to do were not things I would have recommended, sometimes there is no right answer except to help that person stay connected and not feel quite so alone and hopeless.

    Agreed. Having done a fair amount of “therapy” (ie. not actually at all) as a friend or sibling, a lot of what I’ve felt comfortable doing was along the lines of asking “well, what do you think is best?” to try and help them figure out what they want and then supporting them in it, or saying “well, what’s on your mind?” and reassuring them that they’re not bad people for it, etc. Which is kind of the impression I got of McClelland’s therapist here — that she was not recommending violent sex so much as saying it might be worth trying if McClelland wanted to, that it wasn’t some ridiculous crazy horrible idea.

  75. William
    William July 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm |

    Would you agree that in order to ethically be doing therapy at all, a person should have a lot of training in order to ground their clinical judgement?

    Obviously. My response was less to McClelland’s piece and more to the perception that somehow what McClelland was doing was a bad idea because it didn’t have a long history of research to back it up. Good clinical judgement, rooted in experience and informed by respect for patient autonomy, is what I believe makes good clinicians.

    Honestly, a lot of what I was responding to in your post was the use of the phrases “evidence-based practice” and “best practices” because I feel like those phrases have been used to privilege certain kinds of clinical work over others for reasons which have more to do with the desires of dominant culture than with the needs or welfare of patients. Beyond that I get worked up about the idea of making it up as we go along because I think that there is a perception, a potentially very dangerous perception, that psychotherapy ought to be more like other kinds of medicine: more standardized, more controlled, more researched. Thats not how psychotherapy works because thats not how people work. I have two patients right now with the same diagnosis, who grew up in the same neighborhood as one another, around the same time, in the same social class, gender expression, culture, sexual orientation, and ethnic group. They had many of the same experiences, and share many of the same interests. They even served in the same branch of the military at the same time in the same conflict. Any clinical trial you could possibly develop would say that these two people are ideally matched participants. The problem is, a mix of temperament and parenting mean that the work I do with these two people has to be radically different. They respond to different things, have different concerns, different goals, different levels of subjective distress because they’re different people. Thats a nearly fatal level of variance to traditional research methods.

    These are things I care a lot about, they’re discussions I’m actively involved in. I’m obviously activated by them, and would love to talk about them further, but this is looking like a derail to me. We’re talking about whether a white woman’s means of therapy was OK when the original post is about how she completely disregarded the consent of a poor woman of color about whom she was reporting in order to make money. We’re talking about the ethics of clinical trials instead of the ways white journalists victimize the subjects of their reportage. While I see some parallels, I think its worth thinking about how we got from one to the other so quickly and easily.

  76. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable July 13, 2011 at 9:31 pm |

    tinfoil hattie: Too bad for you. I haven’t been.

    How is this too bad for me? I would love to believe that most people are accepting of mental health care. If this is the case, it’s great for me. I’m glad for you – really I am. I think you’re more likely an outlier, but that’s only because of how often I have to explain my alprozolam use when I “seem so normal” or how much resistance I get when I need to know exactly how much insurance coverage I have for a psychologist. And frankly, I have trouble reading things like this in studies (Probs a trigger warning here): “Stigma also affects family members of persons with mental illness. Referred to as “courtesy” (1) or “associative” (16) stigma, its psychological impact can be quite deleterious. In a Swedish study, 18% of relatives of patients with severe mental illness reported that the patient would be better off dead (17). This figure increased to 40% in relatives who felt that the patient’s mental illness caused mental health problems in themselves (17).” without believing that stigma is a HUGE DEAL in the west. (source). But if you think it’s changing, then great. I benefit.

  77. je
    je July 13, 2011 at 10:42 pm |

    Really disappointed to see that this thread degenerated into another debate over exposure therapy and psychology qualifications. The post was an important one, and I thank you, Clarisse, for writing about it. I was wondering if Feministe would return to this internet-old subject.

    Sauras said:
    “I think the lesson here, if any, is that if we can use our resources to support marginalized peoples in telling their own stories, leading their own movements and finding/implementing their own solutions, the end result is much better than if we try to use our “privilege” or resources to do it “for” them or on their behalf.”

    Agreed.

    I was disappointed with Mac’s article for the way that she appeared to rely so heavily on, to the point of seeming to co-opt, someone else’s story in getting to the part about her having PTSD and fantasizing about violent sex. It raised questions in my head about her relationship with Sybille, who seemed to be little more than a prop in the story.

    BUT.

    I’m also disappointed to see so many people jumping on and villifying Mac, including many of the people who were so quick to support her before this information was revealed. I think what she did was abhorent, personally, but I also think it’s an important lesson to US, the READERS. We should be thinking critically about these kinds of stories – there were red flags before this came to light, and perhaps the women, including many women of color, who were making the early critiques shouldn’t have been written off (silenced?) so quickly. Sure they were flawed critiques, but they should’ve been responded to with respect and a recognition that there was validity to their concerns – which was largely ignored until the literal proof was displayed on the internet for all the world to see.

    I hope that everyone who has been following this drama is a little more skeptical and quicker to consider issues of consent and privilege when reading stories by first-world reporters on third-world subject in the future, whoever the authors may be.

  78. Avida Quesada
    Avida Quesada July 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm |

    I am not an expert on BDSM, but I will not call it violent.

    From my point of view it could be:
    1. Hurtful
    2. Terrifying
    3. Risky
    4. And a bunch of “good” adjectives like beautiful.

    But I don’t get the violence part. A gently “stolen kiss” can be far more violent than a hit.

    So I am not sure I support any language. Using terms like violence to describe the acts of consenting adults blurs, in my view, concepts like rape.

    This is a social problem, pervasive : People use words like f* to denote violence all the time.

    Not good.

    Avida

  79. Tori
    Tori July 14, 2011 at 12:54 am |

    tinfoil hattie:
    Well, if science can’t help individuals, and *some* mental health professionals have messed up, let’s all just treat ourselves, then!We should just figure out shit that works “for us,” and proclaim ourselves cured!Yay!

    On topic, though, McClelland clearly made this entire piece about HER.It wasn’t objective and it certainly doesn’t qualify as good journalism.If she’s that self-absorbed that she can’t respect another woman’s request to NOT have her story splashed about, maybe she isn’t so over her PTSD?Maybe she has more work to do?

    Love how you equate a sign of privilege — being self-absorbed — with a sign of marginalization — negotiating day-to-day life with PTSD. Isn’t that a sign that the general public commenting on PTSD has more critical thinking and reflection — AND ALSO FUCKING LISTENING — to do?

  80. jina
    jina July 14, 2011 at 9:52 pm |

    I’d just like to say that there are ways for privileged, “first-world” reporters to do ethical, commendable, moving work from the “third world.” There a many journalists who’ve done this over the years — Howard French, Jeb Sharp, Obeifa Quist-Arcton, Adam Hochschild, to name the four I think of in 10 seconds… If comprehensive, I think it would be a very long list.

    My personal view is that consent was a problem long before this current debate began. My only view on the essay in question is that the conversation it has sparked is an opportunity for a thoughtful, transparent conversation on meaningful consent in crisis journalism, which is not the same thing (I believe) as consent by traditional rules of journalism.

    I’ve offered some ideas on that here, but I’ve also found in my time pursuing this sort of thing that ideas from readers, and from professionals in other disciplines that touch the lives of crisis survivors, are very useful, and I would like to hear more from others.

  81. Rididill
    Rididill July 17, 2011 at 7:59 am |

    Is no one else appreciating the irony of someone advocating BDSM/violent sex (if you don’t want to consider it BDSM, I’m aware some have disowned this, but then she did say she had done that kind of sex before with this guy which indicates she is BDSMer) being called out for abuse of power and consent issues in another sphere?

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