Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Shell-Shocked: Diagnosing Mr. U.S.A

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Shell-Shocked: Diagnosing Mr. U.S.A

Article excerpt


Diagnosing Mr. U.S.A. .

by Mary Pipher

Client Name: Mr. United States of America Address: Western Hemisphere, North of the Equator, Planet Earth

Description of client: Mr. USA was born July 4, 1776, and was 228 years old at the time of this assessment. He appeared as a well-dressed, rather heavy, middle-aged man with a somewhat arrogant manner. Still, he had moments when he was charming, humorous, and appealingly open. During our interview, Mr. USA looked anxious and exhausted. He was forgetful and had difficulty concentrating. When a car alarm sounded, he exhibited a strong startle response. Parenthetically, a squirrel had inadvertently triggered the antitheft device on Mr. USA's oversized SUV.

Presenting Problem: Mr. USA made this appointment two years after an assault on September 11, 2001, that caused him great physical harm and mental anguish. This tragedy reopened scars from earlier traumas in his life, such as Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, and the bombing of Oklahoma City. A series of bad decisions, including adopting the Patriot Act, a preemptive attack on Iraq, and violation of the Geneva Conventions, has forced him to confront his mental health issues. As this client's life has spiraled out of control, his colleagues at the United Nations have encouraged him to seek therapy.

As we talked, it became clear that even before 9/11, Mr. USA hadn't been dealing with his problems in a healthy fashion. For the last 40 years, he's grown increasingly overwhelmed and lonely. While his fortunes have fluctuated during this period, his overall quality of life has steadily diminished. Especially during these last few decades, he's lost the capacity to simply relax and have fun. Mr. USA suffers from multiple addictions--caffeine, sugar, alcohol, drugs, nicotine, shopping, gambling, watching television, and playing video games. His finances are a mess.

History: Mr. USA reports a happy early childhood, but, overall, he's had a turbulent and violent life. He comes from a family that values education, art, and music. However, he lacks discipline and, given his opportunities, isn't as well-educated as he might be. He's been exposed to many religious belief systems: Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish, Protestant, and Muslim. Currently, he's an Evangelical Christian, although about religion, as in many other aspects of his life, Mr. USA is in conflict with himself.

During the early decades of his life, Mr. USA was in fights, but not seriously injured. When he was in his eighties, he was in a violent altercation that he refers to as the Civil War. Scars from that event still fester. Roughly 70 years ago, he suffered a decade of dust storms, bank failures, high unemployment, and severe poverty. Because he thought clearly and acted decisively, he pulled through that period with admirable resilience. He's fought several other brawls in the last hundred years, some started by him, some initiated by others.

Mr. USA values independence over connection, and freedom over obligations and commitments. He boasts of his Declaration of Independence and War of Independence, and he calls his birthday Independence Day. He crafted a Bill of Rights, but no corresponding Bill of Responsibilities. He's a doer, not a thinker, and fares better with men than with women. He has trouble sharing, compromising, and keeping his promises. His bullying and tantrums have soured numerous relationships. He has an unreasonable, perhaps delusional, view of how he's perceived. He likes to see himself as altruistic, but many of his choices have harmed his fellow nations.

Mr. USA's oldest friendships are with countries in Western Europe; however, currently, he isn't close to any of those friends, except England. He reports that even England doesn't seem to want to spend much time with him. This social isolation could be detrimental to his mental health.

Mr. USA suffers from the effects of his addictions. He has poor vision, essential hypertension, and high cholesterol. …

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