Conversations with Young People in Rural and Remote Places: Transforming the Emerging Self (ANZAP 16th Annual Conference "Trauma and the Transformational Conversation")

Article excerpt

Working with young people can be like working with an echo--an echo of our own youth and sometimes the stereo echo of the youth of our own children if we have been parents of adolescents. These echoes can inform us, mislead us, motivate us, and tempt us to become parents to our clients rather than therapists. This paper describes the laying of a foundation for transformation of the inner world of a young person through the use of the Conversational Model. I describe some of the background of the young people I am working with and the gradual transformation of the emerging self of one young client through the use of the Conversational Model with its relational qualities of recognition (Jessica Benjamin, "Bonds of Love") mirroring, and reflection, and gradually the amplification of aliveness.

For the last 18 months I have been working with young people in a rural and remote part of Australia. There is both beauty and alienation in these areas--for some a relief from too much connectedness and intimacy of the metropolitan environment, but for others, alienation from "self' and isolation from "other."

An alternate title for this paper is, "Is there anybody out there? The words of Pink Floyd (2) "Is there anybody out there: AND Will you hear me?" This title describes more accurately my experience of the inner world and disfigured selves of young people in remote communities--an inner world of isolation and abandonment amplified by an outer world of remoteness and distance.

I am working with young people whose selves have been shaped by extreme violence, neglect, chronic criticism, and abandonment--abandomnent physically from fathers and alternative father figures--and abandonment emotionally from mothers. The emerging self-identities of these young people have also been shaped by extreme financial deprivation, inhibition of choice of alternate models of family, models of community and relationships, suppression of ideas, and prejudice and polarization of social and political views. For these young people, kindness, caring and respect are rare, knife-edge experiences--not to be trusted and to be rejected.

I believe the remoteness of some demographic locations exaggerates the experience of rejection through limitations of the availability of resources, cultures, opportunities, and options. In the book Communication and Culture in Rural Areas, (3) edited by Perry Share, the researchers found that certain social problems were unaddressed and that individuals or families in socially exploitative, abusive, and prejudiced circumstances had far less generous response to their situations than did people dealing with material loss or natural disasters. The study showed that people, including young people, in the rural community with problems of abuse and violence were not only unlikely to receive sympathy from the community, but were likely to be the subject of intense gossip, scandal, and innuendo.

The layers of survival strategies cover thinly like rice paper, the physical and psychological distortions which are visible to me as a therapist. The young men present as brazen, tough, and confrontational or hidden, faceless, and formless. The young women, faces lined with experiences beyond their years, looking blank, emotionless, and ambivalent.

Their histories include:

* Never known or little-known fathers

* Multiple stepfathers

* Male violence toward mothers, grandmothers, and children

* Frequent loss of male figures through violent deaths, accidents, and abandonment

* Violent mothers

* Exposure to sexual abuse and pornography

* Rape from outside or inside the family

* Siblings from multiple fathers

* Poverty, pensions, and government dependence

* Alcohol and drugs available from early childhood and consumed in large quantities by surrounding adults

* Criminal elements in the family

* Spirituality including fundamentalism, satanic worship, superstition, and magic practices

The hopeful signs are that the young adolescents are seeking an education to qualify for the government pension, and maybe there will be a job along the way. …