Friday, November 6, 2009

What does it all mean?

The movie, "Precious", is opening tonight in various major cities. I don't think it's playing anywhere near me. I've been listening to bits about it on NPR, on Oprah and it was reviewed on the evening news. It's based on the book, "Push", written by a woman by the name of Sapphire

Needless to say, it's been getting a lot of good reviews in spite of being a very graphic and painful film to watch. 

The thing is, I'm not sure I really want to see it. 

And I wondered, as I watched an interview with one of the cast members, "what does the fact  that I don't want to see this film mean about me as a music therapist?"

I work with a lot of traumatized people. People who have intellectual and developmental disabilities have often experienced severe and chronic trauma. I hate that my clients have and continue to suffer this way. I hate that anyone suffers, frankly. 

It made me wonder, "Am I obligated, as a music therapist, to go and watch a film that portrays a young woman who is brutally abused by her family?"

It's not as if I'm in denial that people are abused. 

I guess it's pretty obvious I'm having some ambivalence (and guilt- ah, yes, the ever-present guilt) about my decision to not see this movie. 

The best explanation I can give (not that anybody was asking for one) is that I can only bear witness to so much trauma. I have a larger obligation (if we're talking obligations here- and I seem to be) to not expose myself to so much trauma that I can't even function as a therapist to my clients. 

Anyone else want to weigh in on this? Or am I the only one who obsesses about such things? 


dsobsey-icad said...

Roia, I think the question you raise is an important one, and I know it is a question that I have tried to ask myself at times. Turning away from other people's pain is wrong when turning away means abandoning someone that you might actually help.... But you can't help a character in a movie so I don't think you are obligated in any sense. If watching this would make you feel stronger and more ready to help others, that might be a reason to watch it. If it just would make you feel helpless or frustrated or worse make you less sensitive to others suffering, those are good reasons not to watch. Working in the area of abuse is not always depressing and can actually be energizing when one feels that one is helping even a little, but it is depressing when one feels that he or she is just wallowing in someone else's misery.
I haven't seen the movie so I don't know whether it offers any hope or whether it is just painful. If I felt that it gave people some hope, I would want to see it, but if it is just a demonstration of how bad some people's lives can be, I don't need that. I've seen enough. Maybe it is just the trailer that seems so grim, but watching it, I feel a lot like you do.

Roia said...

Thanks, Dick for your thoughtful comments. I think it would be practically impossible for me to be less sensitive to other's suffering, but I definitely believe that I'd respond to the film with a sense of being overwhelmed and helpless.

I had the sense that there actually is a hopeful element to the film. I believe one of the characters is a teacher who teaches Precious to read, and I think that's the perspective from which the book it's based on was originally written.

I'm considering reading the book. I have a good enough imagination, and I've had enough movies with sexual abuse images get trapped in my brain visually forever, and I surely don't need that to happen again.

Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts!

Amanda Ellis, MT-BC said...

I agree with you! I'm tempted to watch this movie, but don't think I will actually get to the theater. It's already been advertised to have a lot of graphic drama relating to the actual abuse and we all don't need to see that. The "will of disbelief" is very strong. I think therapists especially need to filter what they see/listen to in order to remain balanced and not react to trauma in any other way but therapeutically.

Roia said...

Gosh, Amanda, my apologies! I must have moderated your comment an age ago and meant to respond and completely forgot.

For me it's definitely not a will to disbelieve. It's more the element of struggling with extreme secondary traumatic stress (although I wonder if actually observing abusive acts- even if they are on a film screen- is secondary or if it is primary trauma) and intrusive images. If I'm unable to get graphic images out of my mind, I wonder, as you point out, how clinically available I'd be able to be to my clients.

On the other hand, I think part of being a good clinician is allowing some element of our human selves to respond to our clients' trauma. If I tell my therapist I've experienced something horrifying, I want him/her to respond with a measure of humanity as well as clinical empathy- not to get caught up in the drama, but to be horrified on my behalf (if that makes any sense).

Thanks for your comment!